After a year of working and traveling abroad I returned home and jumped almost immediately into the ski season. Some friends and I had planned a trip through the Garibaldi Neve, a multi-day ski tour from Squamish to Garibaldi Lake (the base of my previous SOTA adventures in Garibaldi Provincial Park,) then exiting through Rubble Creek. Most parties do it in three days, though a fit group can do it in one (long) day. We opted to spend four days in the park, spending the first night camped on the Garibaldi glacier then the next two nights at the Burton Hut on the East side of Garibaldi Lake. The naming scheme becomes a bit monotonous through this corridor of the park, which would follow considering that these were the first areas explored by the early mountaineers of British Columbia. Mt. Garibaldi itself is a prominent point on a massif of three summits in the Garibaldi group, including Mt. Atwell and the Dalton Dome. It is not so much well-traveled as it is admired from Squamish and parts of the Sea-to-Sky highway.
The trail from the Diamondhead park entrance near Squamish climbs up to Round Mountain (VE7/SL-126), traverses along a wide ridge, then descends slightly to the Elfin Lakes. The day we set out was warm enough to not need insulation and our packs were heavy enough that we were sweating anyway. We dodged the crowds on snowshoes until we reached the Elfin Lakes shelter, where we stopped for lunch, before descending 400m through coastal cement snow into Ring Creek. Crossing the creek has, in the past, involved rock hopping or getting wet feet though mercifully this year the creek was well bridged. From there we climbed 400m back up the river valley towards the Garibaldi Glacier where we spent the night.
We camped that night at 1650m on the glacier enjoying a great view of the Mamquam group to the East. Dinner was a hurried affair and then we melted snow for water and quickly got into our sleeping bags. Temperatures dropped to -15c that night and we woke up to a clear sky with our objective lit by the morning sun. It was a clear, bright day for a summit attempt…above 1700m. As we were packing up a thick valley fog rolled in and we had to climb a hurried 50m in order to escape it and return to the warmth of the sun. As the day warmed up we began to hear audible avalanches from the cliffs above us as we navigated around the worst of the exposure. Three hours of climbing brought us to the base of the summit headwall. We opted to empty our packs of all our overnight camping gear and made the final summit attempt with lighter packs. There was an old avalanche crown near the top of the headwall, which I suspect was formed by an old wind slab, but the rest of the slope was relatively stable. The final 100m to the summit was too steep to climb with skins so we strapped our skis to our packs and made finished the climb on foot.
The summit was uncharacteristically tranquil without much wind and a thick layer of valley fog obscuring everything below 1500m. Distant peaks rose from the mist like islands in the ocean, suggesting but not revealing the massive land masses that lurked below. We snapped some pictures, exchanged high fives, and then I got to work on the radio.
The -15c temperatures the night before had taken their toll on the NiMh batteries in my FT-817 and I read less than 9V remaining, restricting me to operating at ½W power on SSB. This has been a constant issue for me while operating in the winter in VE7. There has been much discussion in the SOTA community about batteries, particularly when operating in the cold and conventional wisdom seems to dictate that an external lithium battery pack stored inside your clothing or heated with a chemical hand-warmer is the most practical solution. To date I haven’t had a chance to experiment with this though that will have to change soon.
For an antenna I brought a linked dipole for 20/40m. While travelling in Australia I was able to observe a variety of SOTA antenna configurations and the linked dipole was, by far, the most popular. I am keen to experiment with a multi-band EFHW antenna for future activations, but it is still difficult to bear the simplicity and reliability of a linked dipole. Mine is usually supported by a 3.2m avalanche probe jammed into the snow and fed with 5m of RG-174 coax. On a skinny summit like Mt. Garibaldi the lower height of the dipole did not seem to pose any issues.
Band conditions were, in a word, horrific. The QRN was unlike anything I had ever heard before and multiple spots on SOTAwatch had little effect. I could (barely) hear voices in the noise, but in the end only made two HF contacts. One on 40m into Oregon, and surprisingly one on 20m into nearby Vancouver, BC to VA7VJ, one of the original SOTA activators in VE7 and a dedicated chaser. QSOs were regrettably short, though even with ½W of power on SSB I was receiving reasonably strong (for QRP) 5/4 signal reports. Fortunately there was plenty of VHF activity from the summit, though it took a while to break through all the chatter on 146.52 MHz. Despite it being a calling frequency there is a tendency for operators to camp out on it instead of switching to another frequency, which is frustrating but not uncommon.
Right around my 4th QSO the patience of my summit party ran out and I packed up my equipment for the ride down. Most southerly aspects had been cooked by the sun that day, but we were lucky enough to score some well-preserved snow on the pure north aspect of the Garibaldi headwall. We contemplated going up for another lap, but decided that it was better to start the trip to Garibaldi Lake and the Burton hut.
We spent two nights at the Burton hut with an attempt on the Sphinx (VE7/FV-002) that was shut down by the weather. Instead we enjoyed some skiing on the Sphinx glacier. On the last day we made the 5km slog across Garibaldi Lake then began our descent to the valley bottom. Fortunately we’ve had a high volume snow year here in British Columbia and we were able to ski all the way to the car.
Well, almost all the way.
For more pictures and a full report, check out the blog!