Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dirt-bagging is in my genes... and a Father-Daughter climbing trip to the Tantalus Range

I grew up in a very outdoorsy family. Pretty much everything we did for fun together revolved around some type of outside activity. Most of my favourite memories from childhood are from hiking trips in the Valhallas and Goat Ranges of BC, canoe trips down the Slocan Lake and backpacker-style budget travel abroad. Pretty early on I began to understand that the necessary cost of adventure was occasional discomfort. When I was 12 my parents, sister and I all slept in a compact rental car in the Sheraton Parking Lot in Hawaii after finding ourselves on the “wrong side” of the island with nowhere to camp and a fancy hotel stay beyond the budget. Closer to home, I remember laying awake in a tent pitched on an exposed ridge with my Mum and sister while a thunderstorm raged, worried that even if I didn’t get electrocuted, I’d get eaten by a grizzly because I had stashed a pack of Juicy Fruit gum under my sleeping pad. The climax of the night was when my Mum, worn down by my fearful whining, rushed out of the tent and tossed the gum dramatically off the ridge, where it was snatched by the wind, slender sticks of fragrant Juicy Fruit raining onto the adjacent mountain slope where those foul breathed grizzlies could chomp on it freely without having to claw their way through our tent first.

Of course, most memories from my MEC-catalogue upbringing are more positive. One of the biggest bonuses of going on hiking and camping trips was that, for once, my sister and I were given free reign to select treats that were otherwise verboten in our millet, lentil and tofu laden family cuisine. I still remember the taste of a Jello pudding cup I ate at the Lake O’Hara campground in the Rockies. I think it was butterscotch flavour. God, it was good. But seriously, I think my affinity for the life lived outside was born on childhood camping trips. What could be better than reading a book while sprawled out in the fragrant padding of an alpine meadow or taking an icy dip in the bluest of blue tarns? Playing Super Mario Bros and eating CoolWhip? If you had asked me then, I’m afraid I probably would have preferred the latter. Clear proof that kids don’t know what’s best for them.

My adult life has evolved into a natural continuation of the outdoor adventure I first experienced on these trips with my family. The main difference is that I can watch bad TV whenever I want and instead of buying bottles of Pepsi with my allowance, I opt for red wine. Actually, the main difference is that I spend a ridiculous percentage of my waking hours rock climbing, something that neither of my parents had experienced much before I got into climbing in my 20s and began guiding them on the rock.

I bought my Dad a climbing harness for his 50th birthday and taught him how to belay in the Gunks. I had only been climbing around a year, but thought that since we were on a family trip to visit relatives in Montreal, we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to check out the quintessential trad destination. I sketched my way up 5.5s and 5.6s, and wondered why my Dad seemed so scared to trust that I knew what I was doing. He eventually grew to trust the rope, and me, and we have been on numerous climbing adventures since. This summer my Dad turned 60, so to commemorate that, and in some ways, 10 years of our climbing adventures together, we went climbing for 5 days in the Tantalus Range near Squamish, BC.

My Dad's photos of me revealed that I was committing a few Alpine Guide Fashion (isn't that an oxymoron?) Faux Pas: apparently NO ONE tucks their pants into their gaitors any more (I missed that ACMG memo) and it doesn't inspire confidence in your skills as a guide if you look like a 10 year old wearing your too-big baseball hat crooked. Luckily for me, I am not a real alpine guide and my Dad is many things, but fashionista, alpine or otherwise, is not one of them.

It's really hard to believe we are related...

The trip began auspiciously, with a solid forecast and an amazingly scenic heli flight into the Haberl Hut, where we were delighted to find we were the only occupants. This Alpine Club of Canada Hut is no slummy bivy, boasting huge windows showcasing amazing views, a BBQ, and bright, clean interior. Because we flew in, we were able to bring in fresh veggies, salmon and steak for our first few nights in the alpine, not to mention a six pack of beers we kept literally glacier-cold by stashing them on the glacier right out our door. If all alpine climbing was like this, I'd probably do it a bit more often!

Happy in the sun upon our arrival at the Haberl Hut

Slumming it

Hungry mountain climbers need good fuel

Q: Which of these things is not like the others?: ROCK, ICE, LACE, SNOW, KOKANEE BEER

We were visited one evening by a bride and groom who had flown up just to take some photos on their wedding day.

In our first few days in the Tantalus, we climbed the classic steep snow and ice of the North Face of Serratus and the pleasant glacier approach and moderate rock climb up the South West Face of Dione. Our third day was spent hiking from the Haberl Hut to the Tantalus Hut at Lake Lovelywater. We completely underestimated the time, effort and energy it would take to hike the few kms between these two huts and by the time we finally made it to the trail along the shores of Lake Lovelywater, we were tired, hungry and I was being plagued by a swarm of black flies that were obsessed with crawling in my eyes, nose and mouth. My heavy pack had chaffed my hips and sacrum raw and I was wondering why I had opted to carry all the heavy stuff, when in reality, my 60 year old Dad is probably at least as fit as I am. After a big meal and long sleep, the trials of the previous day reduced to faint bruises, we were ready to get after it once again, and went up the East Ridge of Alpha. The approach and route were enjoyable, but just as we made it to the summit it began to snow, and then it began to rain. The descent route was slippery and a bit treacherous, particularly on the steep vegetated slide paths above Lake Lovelywater, but we picked our way slowly down and survived yet another climb unscathed. Our last day was spent canoeing on Lake Lovelywater and hiking down the steep trail to the Squamish River, where we were picked up by a boat and brought back to all the luxuries and distractions of life in town.

Winding our way up the North Face of Serratus

The Mountain Man on the summit of Serratus, Tantalus and Dione in the background

Dad takes in the morning light on the way up to Dione

On Dione's South Ridge

The East Ridge of Alpha

Mist on the way up the East Ridge of Alpha

Summit of Alpha, just as the snow and rain begin

Paddling one of the Tantalus Hut's canoes on Lake Lovelywater

Descending into the coastal jungle on the hike down to the Squamish River

I feel tremendous gratitude that I was raised by parents who made wilderness adventures a fundamental part of their lives. Sharing climbing trips with them brings me closer to a feeling of contentment than anything else I do. And in retrospect, I totally appreciate all the processed food and bad TV deprivation of my childhood; I can treat that with measured doses of DQ soft-serve and Glee.