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Tantalus Range - July 2004

See our (partial) GPS tracks [MapSource + Garmin Legend].
Trip Summary
Starting from the eastern shore of the Squamish River, our party of three, Matt Brown, Reid Holmes, and Steph Durocher, spent five days in the southern and central Tantalus range visiting the summits of Alpha, Dione, Serratus, Pelops, and Niobe. Bivies were spent at the Russian Army Camp, the Red Tit Hut (2), and the Sand Spit Camp on Lake Lovely Water. Highlights included the tyrolean traverse and route-finding on Dione and Serratus.

Located just northeast of Squamish, Tantalus Provincial Park contains some of the most spectacular alpine terrain on the West Coast. Amazingly, although this alpine playground contains dozens of quality peaks in close proximity of Vancouver, the area appears to remain uncrowded due to its isolation from the Sea to Sky corridor by the Squamish River. Parties typically fly in or ferry across the river. We chose to limit our mechanized access to the drive and began our trip with the tyrolean traverse across the water.

Also see Matt's panoramas and Reid's photos.

Matt crosses the Squamish River.

Lake Lovely Water and the Russian Army Camp as seen from near the Serratus-Ionia col

our bivy at the Russian Army Camp
Day 1 - Thursday July 15 - Squamish River to Russian Army Camp
After a quick getaway northbound from Vancouver at 7:00 am, we were soon stepping into our harnesses below the renowned steel cable on the eastern shore of the Squamish River [elevation 40 m]. Steph went first, choosing to secure himself to the cable on a single (60 cm) sling and his pack to the main biner on a double (120 cm) sling. This made the traverse unnecessarily strenuous by requiring and upward pull of the arms instead of a lateral pull. Reid traversed next and significantly improved the technique by doubling his single sling to 30 cm, bringing him much closer to the cable. His genius was also made evident by securing his pack to the cable independently from himself, but keeping a tether line attached to it. This method allows for the climber to traverse a few metres, stop and pull his pack a few metres, and repeat. In summary, after two river crossings, here was our method of choice (please read the disclaimer above):
gear required per climber for the traverse:
 3 large locking carabiners
 3 normal locking carabiners
 1 short sling (30 cm) (single-length sling doubled-over)
 2 double-length slings (120 cm)
 4 - 6 m accessory cord (5 mm to 7 mm)
additional gear to secure climber to tower:
 2 additional locking carabiners
 1 additional double-length sling
1. The climber secures him/herself to the tower.
2. The pack is fastened to a double-length sling by a girth hitch through the pack straps to a large locking biner around the main cable.
3. A long accessory cord is clipped to the sling with a carabiner; the other end of the cord is secured to the climber.
4. The climber secures him/herself via a locking carabiner through his/her belay loop to a short sling then to a large locking carabiner around the main cable.
5. The climber secures him/herself on a backup safety line via a locking carabiner through his/her belay loop to a double-length sling to a large locking carabiner around the main cable.
6. The climber removes the tie-in from step 1.
7. Traverse the cable hand over hand.
8. Reverse steps 6. through 1. on the opposite side.

things to keep in mind:
-Be careful getting on and off the cable; secure yourself to the towers at all times while getting set up on the cable.
-The main biner from the climber to the cable jumps forward in rapid jerks; keep your hands well away from it so as not to pinch your fingers.
-The two weighted biners get quite worn by the traverse and should be retired from climbing after the traverse.
-Consider rapping off the eastern tower since the lower half of the ladder has been removed.
-Gloves or tape will help avoid blisters.
-A bike u-lock may be used instead of a large carabiner.

Total time our group of three required: 1 hour.

Now back to our main story. After packing our harnesses we expected to start off on a few hours of hiking. Things wouldn't be so simple as the trail from the cable soon fades and it took us nearly one hour to find the main trail. We added flagging tape on the return trip which will hopefully make things easier for future parties; the trail basically follows the Squamish river 500 m upstream to the sandy riverbank boat landing. By 11:00 am we had found the trail and from here we slogged uphill towards Lake Lovely Water. While stopped at one of the streams to fill water bottles Matt watched as his digital camera jumped out of his pack and rolled into the water. He quickly recovered it but alas the camera had taken in much water and no was longer functional. The slog uphill continued and we arrived at the Tantalus Hut around 3:30 pm [elevation 1165 m]. After a quick break we continued past Lambda Lake to the Russian Army Camp at 6:00 pm [elevation 1380 m]. This fantastic setting is surrounded by hanging glaciers remeniscent of the Plain of the Six Glaciers below Mount Victoria.

"Huh? What time is it?"

Matt on the West Ridge of Alpha

Alpha as seen from Serratus

the Red Tit Hut with Dione behind

Our British friend admires the views from the hut.

The large bergschrund on the righthand snow line prevented us from taking this route (South Face Couloir) up Serratus.
Day 2 - Friday July 16 - Alpha
We rose at 5:00 am to very low-lying clouds and fog obstructing the peaks overhead. We headed upward slightly right of the right-hand gully toward the Serratus-Alpha col. Here we dropped our packs and headed up the West Ridge of Alpha. The route is mostly straightforward third-class scrambling with only one tricky wet fourth-class corner outfitted with a fixed rope. We soon reached the summit [elevation 2305 m] by 9:30 am. The fog almost broke and we caught a quick glimpse of the Dione and Tantalus above the clouds. If time allowed, after crossing over to the Serratus-Ionia col we hoped to climb the South Face Couloir on Serratus. The traverse below the long South Face of Serratus involved much loose scree and soft 35°-40° snow slopes. We roped up just after crossing the col before arriving at the Red Tit Hut [elevation 2050 m] at 2:00 pm. To our disappointment, at the base South Face Couloir was an immense bergschrund, 6 m up and at least 15 m down into an overhanging moat. The surrounding rock looked mostly bleak except one possible line to the right. However, crossing the moat did not seem possible by any safe means due to its consistently huge width and depth. Instead we scrambled a small nearby rock ridge for views of the area and took the rest of the afternoon to relax in the sun at the hut. Of note are the exceptional views from the hut: one can see both Whistler and UBC, from Swartz Bay to Strathcona Park on the coast of Vancouver Island, Baker, Shuksan, and Glacier in Washington, and most of the southern Coast Range.

the view pre-dawn looking east from the hut

Matt (likely dreaming about his ladyfriend) before our climb of Dione

early morning on the Dione Glacier

three goofs on the summit of Dione

the South Ridge of Dione with Alpha behind as seen from the summit of Dione

Reid rappels off the South Ridge of Dione back to the Dione Glacier.
Day 3 - Saturday July 17 - Dione
After a 4:30 am rise we were headed across the Dione Glacier for the South Ridge of Dione. Having left our overnight gear at the hut we enjoyed travelling light. After two hours we reached southern end of the ridge where the rock breaks through the snow. After gaining the ridge we spent the next two hours trying to find an easy way across a 15 m gap in the ridge. Failing to find one, we headed northward across the Dione Glacier to the Southwest Couloir (described in McLane as an alternate route on the Southeast Face). The snow climb quickly gains a few hundred metres in a narrow 45° snow couloir flanked on both sides by moats. After kicking steps to the top we scrambled to the col on very loose rock. This gully collects much of this falling loose rock and is not recommended as a descent route. Once at the col, we examined various possible routes to gain the Southeast Face, with most of the challenge arising from the ever-present large moats. Reid found the best route by reversing back down the couloir 10 m. From here the scramble to the summit is very enjoyable. We reached the top [elevation 2590 m] around noon in perfectly clear skies.

Dione and Tantalus from the south

relaxing back at the hut after Dione
On descent we used an existing rap anchor to get us directly onto the snow and avoid returning into the couloir. Not wanting to descend the couloir, we followed easy snow and rock along the South Ridge to the obvious rap slings indicating the descent. From here, two raps lead back to the Dione Glacier. We were back at the hut by 3:00 pm. Again, we considered going up Serratus and decided instead to try the Southwest Couloir (descent route in McLane) in the morning when the snow would be better. We enjoyed another relaxing afternoon in the sunshine on the Serratus-Dione col.

I had to take the photo: Serratus on Serratus.

Reid and Matt descend the Southwest Couloir of Serratus.

the South Face of Serratus as seen from the Russian Army Camp
Day 4 - Sunday July 18 - Serratus, Pelops, Niobe
Again we rose at 4:30 am and headed across the Serratus-Ionia col where we left our packs to climb Serratus. The couloir faces west and the snow does not see sunlight until late morning. As a result, the snow stays quite hard and required front pointing and a good effort kicking steps to the top (thanks Matt!). Above the snow, one can choose between loose third class or more solid fourth-class rock to the summit. With perfectly clear skies we reached the summit at 8:00 am [elevation 2326 m]. After returning to the col we began our descent below Serratus down the nearest gully back to the Russian Army Camp [elevation 1380 m]. After faffing around trying to find the trail back to Lambda Lake we were back at the Tantalus Hut on Lake Lovely Water by 2:00 pm. Shortly thereafter we made our way to the Sand Spit Camp [elevation 1165 m] also on the lake. This campsite is certainly among the most spectacular anywhere: a small sand peninsula juts out into Lake Lovely Water with a complete uninterrupted 360° view of all surrounding peaks: Alpha, Serratus, Ionia, Pandareus, Lydia, Niobe, and Omega. Best of all, no crowds here; we had the place to ourselves on a sunny July weekend. After a quick break Reid and I decided to scramble the nearby summits Pelops and Niobe while Matt wisely opted to spend the afternoon taking in rays at our beach campsite. After a quick dip in the (cold) lake, at 3:00 pm Reid and I headed up toward the Omega-Niobe basin with Matt Gunn's route description in hand. After boulder-hopping across the basin and a long snow climb we hiked up the heather and rock second-class Southeast Face to the summit of Pelops at 5:30 pm [elevation 2015 m]. Only 100 m in elevation separate Pelops and Niobe by their col and 45 minutes later we were on the summit of Niobe [elevation 2021 m]. After a quick descent (much boot skiing) we were back at the excellent Sand Spit Camp by 8:00 pm, tired and hungry.

Reid and Matt at the Sand Spit camp

Reid takes a break on the summit of Niobe. Behind are Serratus on the left, Dione and Tantalus in the distance, and Alpha on the right.

Niobe as seen from the Tantalus Hut
Day 5 - Monday July 19 - down to the Squamish River
After such a perfect vacation who could complain about a little rain? At around midnight the rain started. Perhaps unexpectedly, all three of us stayed completely dry in our bivy sacks. The rain conveniently halted for almost one hour at 6:00 am allowing us to pack before beginning the hike down to the Squamish River [elevation 40 m] in the rain. In one final stroke of good luck, the rain stopped again during our tyrolean back across the river. Having discovered the proper technique, this time things were much easier. Reid generously dragged both his and my pack across for us meaning I had a very pleasant time traversing on the cable. After rappelling from the eastern tower we drove off at around 12:30 pm and headed directly to 7-11 for an essential slurpee.

Canada NTS 92 G/14 Cheakamus River 1:50,000.

Alpine Select. Kevin McLane. Elaho Publishing Corporation. 2001.

Scrambles in Southwest British Columbia. Matt Gunn. Cairn Publishing. 2005.

A Guide To Climbing And Hiking In Southwestern British Columbia. Bruce Fairley. Gordon Soules Book Publishers. 1986.


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