Background

Over the last few years I have grown less and less interest in ski traverses (I know, how can you grow less…you can). I’m much more interested in plumb ski lines. However, the Spearhead Traverse has bumped around in my brain for the last few months, mainly since I stayed in Whistler over New Years. At the time Lane and I pondered doing it in a day from the ground; we didn’t end up doing it, instead we went to Rogers Pass.

The ski season away from Washington has continued, as spring has only brought drippy and cloudy conditions. It’s been a good excuse to move out of the backyard. With a weekend looking good up in Canada, I bounced around ideas with Anthony, Letty, and Erin. I really wanted to linkup Mt. Matier and Slalok up north of Pemberton, but the drive time and lack of weather window made it seem like a lot of investment cost for not enough ‘return’. Instead, we agreed on the Spearhead. None of us had done it and our buddy Michael had a few weeks prior, only saying good things (aside from much suffering).

Trip Report

We hatched our plan the night before so it couldn’t be all that dialed. We would drive out in the morning, aiming to arrive at Whistler/Blackcomb around 8AM or so. That meant a 3:30 AM wake up from North Bend…yay. We didn’t really know what the weekend would hold so we semi-planned to stay over in Canada.

At the border crossing I made the mistake of being too honest to the border guard.

“Do you have a place to stay tonight,” border guard asks.

“Uhhhh…not yet. We were gonna figure that out later,” Idiot Sam replies.

“When did you plan this trip,” now confused border guard responds.

“Last night…”, Dumbass Sam answers.

Yay for last minute plans.

We met up with Anthony in Surrey and continued on north towards Squamish. We stopped for breakfast at a Tim Hortons in Squam. By 8:30 AM or so we were dropping Anthony’s car off at Blackcomb and shuttling back over to Creekside. Shenanigans began…

We bought lift bump tickets, opting to forego the 5k’ of elevation gain through the resort and instead save it for optional side peaks along the way. It was 45CAD (~$33USD) for a backcountry lift ticket that got you 4 scans on lifts?! What a deal!

Lift bumpin.

We searched for a place to buy a water bottle for Letty, then hopped on the lift to go to the top. In the gondola I asked the group what each person wanted/needed out of the day, trying to align goals and intentions better. Anth wanted to summit Tremor; I wanted the opportunity to ski Fitzsimmons and Decker’s north faces; Letty and Erin wanted to enjoy the scenery.

On the second lift ride up shenanigans unfolded; Letty dropped her helmet off the lift, and as we realized it Anthony dropped his glove. Dialed group of backcountry skiers! Anthony and Letty hustled off the lift to grab their items. Erin and I, meanwhile, clicked in for a nice groomer warmup. Our second lift bump went similarly faffy, as Letty’s pack got stuck while off-loading the lift. We’re so dialed.

By 10AM we were at the top of Whistler Mountain, quite the alpine start! I didn’t really have a calculus in my head of how long the tour would take, obliviously just looking ahead at all the amazing terrain to cover. The snow was bullshit refrozen crust to start and it was quite windy and cold.

Doing the Spearhead from Whistler-to-Blackcomb is technically reverse what people ‘usually’ do, but it makes way more sense to me. The Whistler-side of the traverse is pretty mellow and uninspiring, to me at least. We down-skinned most of the descents until Kees and Claire Hut. It was quite pretty but also low angle. The terrain is huge and scenic; you look around and feel Alaskan, not 4hours north of Washington.

Letty and Anth looking at the south aspects of Fissile.

There were skin tracks all the way past Kees and Claire, as many people day tripped Fissile Peak. The climb up from Kees and Claire to Whirlwind Col was hot and sluggish. Still super pretty! The snow was getting much better as we headed further into the traverse.

We got our first real descent down from Whirlwind Col towards the Overlord Glacier. We were going to bypass the normal rappel over the rock step on Overlord and instead ski down through the icefall on Overlord Glacier. There were some squiggles already marked in the snow; the low angle glacier kind of looked like an infinity pool, ramping off into the skyline.

Erin skiing down the Overlord Glacier.

Skiing down through the ‘icefall’ was comically easy. We picked just about the hardest line possible; given that it was early April, the glacier was quite filled in. Trending further skier’s right would have just been a purely covered low angle snow slope. Instead we skied through some seracs and crevasses. The terrain felt dramatic.

Skiing down through the Overload icefall. There are easier ways to skier’s right.

From the Overlord Glacier the trail breaking began. We had departed the ‘day trip’ zone and were entering the Spearhead Traverse, I guess. I was glad that it wasn’t going to be a highway the whole way. Gotta earn it!

We switchbacked up towards Overlord Col where we got a great view of the north side of Fitzsimmons and Lago. Fitzsimmons’ north face is a well-known ski descent: steep and exposed. It looked pretty nice, but Mt. Lago’s northwest face to it’s looker’s left looked much more appealing. Plumb, steep, and pure. I couldn’t help but notice it.

Lago is the obvious fin on looker’s left in the sun. Fitz N Face is the ramp in the shade just to looker’s right.

We all looked over, discussed, and agreed that Lago looked like a better option than Fitzsimmons. There was an option to ski the shoulder to skier’s right off the summit if anyone wasn’t feeling the steep face directly off the top. Plus, it was going to be less of a detour than Fitzsimmons. We continued across between Overlord and Benvolio, where we crossed paths with a group of 4 that was finishing up their own Spearhead Traverse. They had 135km/h winds day one, then white out the last 2 days. Today was their first good day of weather. Oof.

We descended down around Fitzsimmons and passed another group, this one looking guided. Here we were in the heart of the Fitzsimmons Range; we looked over at the north face of Cheakamus. WOW. Gotta go back. It’d be really cool to spend a few days in the Fitzsimmons Range, so many steep ski descents to do!

We spotted a small gully that climbed up the backside of Lago; on the map it appeared to be a shortcut. We opted to boot up it rather than skinning around and wrapping up. It indeed led us just a few hundred feet short of the summit; the final ridge was a cool, steep snow ridge. Full value!

Letty climbing up the final ridge to Lago.

We topped out Lago around 3PM, again the 10AM start doing us well :/ I was stoked out of my mind. The position, conditions, and vibes were so high. I was excited for the steep ski descent ahead, but more than anything, was ecstatic to be feeling myself. I’ve been having a rough emotional month, grappling with a lot of ‘adulting’ which I have brought on myself. For a brief moment it was nice to be out of it.

I went first down Lago, going to ‘fuck around and find out’ what it had to offer. The conditions could not have been any better, soft spring snow that sluffed but was predictable and consistent. YUM! I made a few turns down to the steep roll-over/constriction. It was proper steep but the snow was primo. I easily passed through the constriction and radioed back up to the group that it was great and they should join too. Anthony followed, similarly ecstatic. Then Erin. Then Letty. I was stoked to see Letty and Erin leaning into steep skiing, embracing their ‘challenge zone’, and crushing it!

Looking down the steep NW Face of Mt. Lago.

From just below the constriction we still had 1500′ or so of fall-line steep skiing. I let Anthony take the first pull and he was excited to open it up. Unfortunately he forgot about the sluff management that was required and skied a bit carelessly. He got caught in his own sluff, started tumbling, and skis and poles ejected. We all watched carefully, keeping sight of him the entire time. Thankfully he was uninjured and we were able to locate his poles and skis. Erin helped retrieve his poles and Anthony skied out without harm. A free lesson to not ski out of control on steep committing lines. He was pretty shaken up and upset at himself for skiing out of control.

I skied down a panel on skier’s right of the fall-line the others took and it was quite lovely. Making progressively rightward turns to avoid sluff, I found good consistent snow. I met back up with the group at the base of the Fitzsimmons Glacier and we identified our low angle ramp back up towards the Naden Glacier beneath Mount Macbeth. The group hit a collective emotional low for the next 1-2 hours, grappling with the near miss we just had. Long days sometimes can feel like rollercoasters; this one was feeling like a trough for a minute. We also began to come to terms with finishing in the dark and that added to the gravity of the hour.

Our pace slowed and as the vibes were low it felt like a crawl up to the Ripsaw. We thankfully had plenty of food and everyone was healthy and uninjured. The ‘grind’ feeling just set in for the entire climb up to the Ripsaw. We worked through it but for a while it wasn’t the most Type 1 fun, as the rest of the day had been.

There was one steep cross-over from the Naden to Ripsaw Glaciers that was quite firm and icy; other than that, the entire traverse over to Tremor Mountain was pretty uneventful. I’ll re-iterate that going from Whistler to Blackcomb makes more sense. If your descents were all south facing on the Blackcomb side you’d be missing out on some good stuff.

Anthony and I opted to add in the summit of Tremor Mountain. There was a skinner most of the way up and I spotted tracks off the summit on the steep west face. We summitted just before sunset with lovely light. The line we picked off the summit was pretty damn steep off the top with some sub-par snow quality. Fun jump turn practice! Quickly enough we met back up with Erin and Letty and began to traverse over towards Mount Pattison.

Erin’s pic of me skiing the W Face of Tremor.

The climb up Mount Pattison began the night section of our trip and everyone clicked into a different gear at this point. We’d all pushed through our ‘low’ moment and were now in the delirium that comes after. Anthony sang the Star Spangled Banner as we ski traversed beneath Mount Trorey; not sure why, but it was pretty damn funny. He said he was ‘trying to scare the Canadians’.

Two small climbs were left; up to Decker Col, then a short bump up to a saddle between Decker and Blackcomb Peak. From there we traversed out to the summer trail beneath Blackcomb Peak and back into the resort. There was so much refrozen chunder that we did not enjoy. Letty’s headlamp died, but thankfully Anthony had a backup with power.

The traverse out was pretty uneventful until we got into the resort. We had a small section of enjoyable corduroy to a cat track before I almost got smoked. I was skiing fast on the exit cat track, completely unaware of how low tide the cat track was. In the dark, I went from a section of full snow to full dirt and rocks and full-on ejected and superman’d out of my bindings. Scary! Letty said she saw sparks fly off my ski edges. Yikes. I thankfully was uninjured but pretty stirred. It happened again just a few minutes later. Yikes. After that we had some of the worst skiing of the entire day, skiing down a blue run in the resort in full-on icy mogul shitfuck. YUCK.

We finished in Whistler Village at 11 PM; at this point, even though the day had been so lovely, I felt pretty beaten and defeated after my crash on the cat track. My hardshell was ripped and my back and shoulder felt bruised. We hobbled to the car, wiped. I knew that this wouldn’t be the defining moment of the day. I hadn’t had a day like this in the mountains in a while. Good reminder!

We got McFlurry’s, french fries, and drinks at a mini mart and found a place to stay in Whistler. By 2 AM we were asleep, fully filled by a day in the hills.