Free Drop Off to the Bow Valley and Calgary
Lake Lovely Water Circumnavigation - A Trip Report by Leif Godberson
The alarm goes off at 2AM. Today is going to be a long day.
I’m in Squamish. Eric and I shuffle down to the kitchen to force down some meager breakfast and caffeine, we’re going to need it. We grab our packs and make our way down to the car already loaded with the two paddle boards we'll use to cross the Squamish river, something I’m not overly stoked on. A half hour drive later, the river stands between us and the trail which will to take us over 1000 m higher up to Lake Lovely Water. The granite peaks that surround Lake Lovely Water are what we’re here for, hopefully all of them. We unload the boards and throw on life jackets and extra layers thinking that if I fall into the water it might keep me warm. The thought of the cold water at 3 AM isn't so inviting, but thankfully we scoped out this river crossing the day before. Across we go, paddling at a good effort to avoid floating down the river to Squamish. It’s uneventful, perfect. Quickly we stash the boards in the woods. Hopefully they’re still here when we get back.
Eric working his way up the lower section of Alpha
Going up the track to the Lake goes by swiftly and steeply. In an hour and a half, we put the 1200m of elevation gain behind us and arrive at the lake with the first light of the day. It’s a beautiful spot and seems busy with campers surrounding the lake shore, most of whom are still sleeping. From here, we set our sights on the first objective of the day, the east ridge of Alpha Mountain, another 1000 meters above us. Being unfamiliar with the range, I didn’t think much of the scale of the terrain as the biggest peaks here are only around 2300m. When you start from sea level though, every meter has to be earned. After pulling out of the trees we jump onto a small glacier on the north side of Alpha, this delivers us to the east ridge proper. The path to the summit goes by fast made up of primarily 4th and low 5th class terrain, some of it very high quality clean granite.
Eric downclimbing good rock on Alpha
After quickly downclimbing a bit of terrain to the Alpha-Serratus col, we start making our way up the long east ridge of Serratus. I would later find out that this route has a history of epics, likely due to the numerous gendarmes and overall convolutedness of the ridge. Challenging terrain to pitch out. After a bergschrund crossing and a rappel, we arrive at the top of Serratus. The climbing on this east ridge was some of the finest we would experience all day. At times it reminded me of the classic Kain route on Bugaboos spire. Then I had the realization that we had about five more Kain routes to do today yet. We meet a few other climbers on the summit of Serratus, they climbed up the north face route and inquired about the east ridge. We reply how awesome it was, we’re having a good time. The decent from Serratus involves scooting down a good size couloir. Eager to see the condition it’s in we race off.
It’s still fairly early in the day. The sun has yet to really soften up the snow in the couloir. We don crampons onto our running shoes. The new pair that I am using is supposed to fit better on soft shoes but needs to be strapped on in a not-so straight forward way to work. Aware of this, I had practiced a few times in the days prior knowing that if I was going to need crampons, I'd be very happy to have them. Eric takes off first and announces that the snow is indeed quite firm. Perfect. I jump of my little ledge into the steep couloir and almost immediately my right crampon begins to twist off. Far from ideal given the snow conditions. Fortunately, Eric's steps in the frozen snow are just deep enough to fit the toe of my shoe. A few hundred meters of tedious downclimbing later, we set foot on the Crescent glacier. The clear sunny skies and reflection off the snow make it feel like the thermostat was just cranked up 20 degrees. We start sweating, a lot. Fast travel from here will take us up to the Ionia-Pandareus col. It feels good to make some good time up on the glacier.
The descent couloir off Serratus that would take us down to the Crescent glacier
Gaining the summit of Ionia proves to be interesting. The initial climbing is on excellent granite slabs, but this soon deteriorates to more broken terrain. We tag the summit and make use of a top rope on our 6mm cord to climb back out of notch we rapped into on the ascent. Arriving back at the col we start to make our way up Pandareus. The most interesting thing about Pandareus is how the summit block is made of boulders stacked on top of each other. Just below the summit, a short but steep corner is climbed, topping out onto a very narrow ridge made entirely of these blocks. Spooky business. From the summit we heard hoots and hollers off in the distance. Friends of ours have scrambled up Lydia and are now hanging out on its summit offering us encouragement from afar. Great boost to the morale. The summit of Lydia appears close enough, but we know it will be many more hours before we make it over there.
It’s at this point that we have a serious conversation about our next objective, the Red Tusk. This peak is unique as it’s comprised of shattered volcanic rock and promised to be remarkably loose. After deliberation, we decide to bypass it. We are simply not "psyched" on it. It would eat up a significant chunk of time, particularly to descend, and would expose us to serious objective hazards. Doing something in a fast and light style reduces the margin of safety in some aspects and it’s important to be aware of that. The ability to quickly bail or modify your plan is critical to keep this style safe in the mountains. Being able to retreat quickly is equally as important as being able to go up quickly.
Stretching the legs on the Crescent glacier. Photo by Eric Carter
From the summit of Pandareus we now need to make our way back down to the Crescent glacier via a steep headwall. Luckily we are able to down climb most of it except for the last hundred meters or so. A few straightforward(ish) rappels via slung blocks and pins take us down to one last rappel followed by a bergschrund. At this point, we have to go over a significant snow plug about the size of a small house. Rappelling down a hanging huge snow mushroom and into a bergschrund is an interesting experience. Back on the glacier proper, it is time to head up to Lydia mountain in the sweltering heat. The ascent of Lydia is very enjoyable with a few small cruxes. One of these is gaining a high col where the glacier has started to melt out significantly. A few engaging and good moves on slippery rock lead us to easier terrain. The descent off of the southeast ridge of Lydia feels like an eternal ridge and the heat of the day is starting to make us feel a little less energized.
An interesting rap over a snow plug then down into and out of the bergschrund
Four more peaks to go. We eye up our ascent route for mount Niobe. To our delight, we can jump onto a snowfield and take it to all the way to the summit. It is a welcome change from all the scrambling and climbing we have been doing up to this point. We make quick work of this ascent, spurred on by the desire to escape the relentless heat of the sun on the snow. A relatively quick boot ski down Niobe followed by a brisk scramble has us on Pelops mountain. Gazing out on the range from the top of Pelops, we look back at the skyline of ridges and summits we have already covered. We are progressing fast but there is still a ways to go. The descent off Pelops delivers nice rock and enjoyable downclimbing sections. Iota mountain, the smallest peak of the day, is our next destination. Minimal effort is required to get up this one to our delight.
Eric dropping the hammer on the climb up Niobe
The final summit of the day, Omega, lies ahead. We optimistically work our way towards it, hoping that the route up its steep south face will suddenly appear. It didn't. We end up spending a significant chunk of time ‘exploring’ this face, climbing up and down only to find dead ends. I remember at one point climbing up a steep crack hoping it would lead to a ledge system only to find overhanging and featureless terrain above. I wasn't keen at all about down climbing the crack I had just climbed. Fortunately, we finallyfind a perfect ledge system that provides a good route to the top. The sun is about to drop for the day and we still have a convoluted descent ahead of us. Most of the terrain ends up being straight forward with only one rappel required. Soon we are back in the trees for the first time since the morning. To our displeasure, the route through the thick forest is everything but clear and we end up getting turned around more than once. By this point the sun is long gone and we are bushwhacking through seemingly impenetrable alders. Eventually, we find a real trail which leads us back to the lake Lovely Water.
Last light of the day. The top right peak is Alpha mountain, where we started our day and then followed the skyline counter clockwise
We bomb back down the trail quickly to where stashed our ‘big’ headlamps. Before hitting the steep decent back to the Squamish river, we opt to put on dry socks. After searching all over Squamish for extra socks the day before, I have been carrying multiple pairs of the precious cargo all day. Our feet look gnarly from being wet most of the day. We should have done that earlier. Dry socks feel utterly comfortable at this point. Surprisingly, likely due to the dry socks, Eric an I both get another wind and bomb down the remainder of the decent. We don't want to end the day in a slow slog back to the river. We quickly locate the stashed paddle boards and prepare for the final crux of the day. I'm not a paddleboarder. It appears that a layer of fog is sitting over the water to further add challenge. Once in the water, we notice two headlamps on the opposite side of the river. Aided by the lights we make it across uneventfully and are greeted by Justin Sweeny and Paul Greenwood who have a pizza and drinks waiting for us. Huge appreciation for these guys coming out especially considering it is midnight. After crushing the pizza, we load the paddle boards up and headed to McDonalds for Ice cream.
All in all, an awesome day out with a great partner.
Just a sweet picture of Eric having a good time on the east ridge of Serratus
Leif Godberson is a Bow Valley climber, runner and mountaineer. When he is not busy working his day job, he spends his time running and climbing all over the Canadian Rockies. His approach to the mountains involves having a really nice time, helped by a healthy amount of fitness, technical ability and an appetite for danger. His favourite coffee is a good espresso.