Sep 10, 2011Three of us decided to do a serious hike to Overlord mountain in one day. This trip was going to be epic from the beginning. The Lion's Gate bridge was to be closed at 6 am for a bike race. Therefore, we started at 5:30 am and by 5:45 we were trying to get to the bridge. Most downtown streets leading to Georgia street that leads to the bridge were already closed and we found ourselves looping around trying to find the way in. Fortunately, we found the way to the bridge 8 minutes before closure. But that was not all, Taylor way highway entry was already closed and we had to rush to another highway entrance before it's too late. We saw a big lineup of cars on the highway trying to get past exit 13. It was almost 6 am and we were stuck in the traffic jam on the highway. To make it even more tense, while in the jam we were passed by the traffic flow overriding truck that started to prepare blocking the highway for a race 300 m in front of us. The traffic moved painfully slow but at the end we escape to freedom in the last moment. I think they closed a highway a minute or two right after we passed the cut point since I've seen only a few cars behind us and after we stopped for a snack at Squamish for 10 minutes the highway became empty.
At 8:30 am we were ready to go at the empty parking lot near a bus stop. We started our epic hike with missing the sign post and going 50 m in the wrong direction before we've got to the bridge and realized that since we shouldn't cross the creek we are going the wrong way. Finding the right way, we proceeded to the Singing pass in relaxed tempo averaging about 4 km/h and in less than 3 hours we were there. The trail is so long that we didn't even notice that we gained 1125m. Without stopping for more than a couple of gulps of water, we proceeded to the Russet lake and at 11:50 am we made a long stop on the hill in 300 m before the lake to eat and to apply a sunscreen since we were out of the woods in an alpine now. The day was perfect for our epic hike: absolutely clear sky, warm but not too hot (glaciers helped). There we met another hiker who was going the same direction but his destination was only to make Whirlwind peak. Nevertheless, since we were planning to be on the Whirlwind peak too we joined for a short period of time.
From the hill we went to southeast around the Fissile peak. As we came to the old moraine we stopped to discuss our direction. The person we met earlier decided to go straight up the pocket glacier between the Fissile and Whirlwind peaks and headed there. After a short discussion we decided that the snowfield, as we saw it, is quite small and this time of the year is quite safe to cross. At the foot of the pocket glacier we noticed fresh human footprints with crampon marks. We put on crampons ourselves wielded ice axes and quickly started gaining elevation following close to the left edge of the snowfield making sure that we won't accidentally find a hidden moat. We did it mostly following somebody's footprints, which looked promising going only one way. After a short but intense ascent we finally found a moat right on the saddle between the two peaks. It seemed like the glacier was at least 5 m deep here. Whirlwind peak was already very close. As we crossed the top of the tiny glacier we had two options one is trying step on the rock over a half a meter wide and a meter deep moat on the left or to step over a small ~30 cm wide and ~3 m deep crevasse on the right and then proceed on the soft volcanic dust. For me the moat crossing looked no good since the rock on the side was smoothed by the abrasive glacial movements. Therefore there was no question for me where to go and I stepped over the crevasse, others followed shortly. Right before the summit we fount a 5 m tall and ~ 75 degrees steep mound of unmelted and hard packed snow sitting on the flat and soft dust leading to the summit. Two of us, who still wore crampons at the moment decided to climb it others went around it. That's the safest mountaineering that you can get and it's a lot of fun. I can imagine you can make a kickass photo of yourself in the middle of it with the Overlord glacier and surrounding peaks in the background that would seem extremely exposed but quite safe in reality. Thus, at 1:50 pm we were on the summit of the Whirlwind peak.
We spent almost 40 min on the Whirlwind peak eating, resting, making pictures and discussing the plan for the way back where we decided to skip glacier traveling again and go along the ridge and a moraine top as was suggested in the book. We could clearly see our destination for a day that seemed not that far already. We said goodbye to our temporary companion (he headed back to Whistler) despite our invitation to join us to the Overlord mountain, and headed down to the other side of the peak. The rest of the hike was fun up and down scrambling along the ridge interchanged with couple of flat snowfield crossings till Overlord mountain with gorgeous views 360 degrees around and impressive drop by the left side. The scramble was easy if a little bit exposed at few places. Somewhere in the middle we met a person who left those crampon footprints on the glacier. It was a man who was quite older than us but still in good shape. He said he camped at the lake and already summitted Overlord and a neighbouring Benvolio mountain. We chatted with him very briefly. Upon hearing that we are going all the way from the village he suggested that we might want to bag Benvolio too. :) I actually would have loved that but it was already close to the return time. Shortly after, at 3:41 pm we summitted Overlord mountain. Thus, we spent 7 hours 11 minutes to get to the top. It was truly an amazing view there... glaciers, peaks, snow and rock and all that you watch from the high point on the edge of a cliff... fantastic.
I planned to spend around 30 min on the top before heading back but we stayed there for more than an hour. It was so nice there. Unfortunately, one of my companions got a knee problem (not good for such a long journey) and our plan to go very fast down didn't happen. But what epic trip can be without difficulties. The hardest part was to summit Whirlwind again, after that we started to descend along the shallow snow patch. A group of mountain goats with their kids was moving along the ridge too but seeing us they ran away at full speed down the steep slope in different directions. We continued down the steep slope to the moraine with snow collection on the side. It haven't melted still in September. When we found a gap in the snowy cornices on the side I tried to descend on the very steep volcanic moraine gravel mixed with the dirt. The soil gave way under my feet and I started slowly drifting with it to the bottom of moraine. I didn't have in plans to be a part of the mud slide, so, I jumped to the side on the steep snow and enjoyed the boot-skiing ride instead of a mud ride. Apparently, that worked for me much better. At this point we ran out of water but it was according to the plan. To prevent carrying too much water for the trip I brought water filter with me. We found a stream coming from the glacier and refilled our depleted water reserves there. The sun was setting and we were back on eastern part of the small plateau where the Russet lake is. And when the sun disappeared behind the horizon we already stepped on the well defined Russet lake trail and enjoyed a full moon rise. If our trail were in the open we would not even need head lamps, so bright was the moon but after Singing pass we turned them on and dove into the dark forest that covered the trail back.
Going few hours in the dark forest is not very eventful but at the end we have to scramble the large ditch in the dark, which was not that easy, especially considering we were a bit tired already. We finished our epic hike at 11:20 pm, which means it took us 14 hours 50 minutes from the start. Out of these time we were hiking 10:43 and resting 4:07. Our average hiking speed including stops was 2.7 km/h, average moving speed was 3.7 km/h. Cumulative elevation got a glitch on a GPS and showed 0 at the end. :(
I want to thank my hiking buddies who agreed to follow me on this epic adventure and who were able to return on their two legs :) The trip was organized via Wanderung mailing list. And thanks all the people who warned me about the morning bike race that made this trip possible.
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