Ashlu-Elaho Traverse

Ashlu-Elaho_6841.jpgThis is a beautiful, rarely done traverse in the very backyard of Squamish. Washed out logging roads make it now a bit more complicated to access but it is still very much doable for a dedicated party. The reward will be absolute solitude just 50km west of civilization and fantastic views of the seldom-seen ridges and valleys.

The following is a trip report from late April of 2008 when our group of four did it over 4 days. I hope it’ll provide some useful info when planning your own traverse of the Ashlu-Elaho divide. The disclaimer is that the route we took might or might not be passable today because glaciers move. The exit at Porterhouse Peak end, which we feared the most, was no problem back then and should be still good in a good snow year. The 20-km walk on Ashlu Main back to the car was not fun back then and would not be good today either. Would I pay $1,400 for a heli pick up if I had that money? Maybe… We all have our own adventures 🙂

Day 1:

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Fording Buck Creek

To get to the start of the route we drove on Ashlu Main Rd to km 8.5 and turned off onto A-700 where we parked the car at a washout at Buck Slide (N49 56.174 W123 21.702). We forded the creek and walked on A-700, turning onto A-730 and finally onto Mt. Wood Spur just before A-730 crosses Pykett Cr (~8km on logging roads total). We encountered thick slide alder on A-730 before Stuyvesant Cr which we had to ford as well.

To reach the Ashlu-Elaho divide we used a ridge on the E side of Pykett Cr basin turning off from Mt Wood Spur Rd and into the trees at N49 58.362 W123 25.369. That’s when the fun begins – the forest is steep. A thin layer of wet firn-snow slid easily on top of a hard layer, so we used ski-crampons for better grip. The situation was rather inconspicuous but would have been treacherous without this great help. Steadily gaining elevation (1600m total from the car) we reached high ground just west from where steep slopes drop into the drainage of Stuyvesant Creek and made Camp 1 (N49 58.399 W123 23.967).

Day 2:
Next morning, while packing tents, C. managed to drop one of my tent poles. Not a big deal. Except – she dropped it and it glides over spring snow for about 500 vertical meters, all the way to the valley bottom . I did not have enough willpower to go down and retrieve it – a decision we came to regret the very next night.;-)

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The summit of Mt. Charlie

Anyway, we continued on to Zig Zag Pk, dropped our packs on the glacier NW of Zig-Zag Pk, climbed it  for an awesome ski back down and continued NE through a pass further north to gain gentle slopes east of Mt Storey (a.k.a. Mt Wood). A short steep slope gave access to just below Mt. Storey’s summit, which we also climbed. Then we continued towards Mt Charlie Charlie. The terrain is relatively mellow and we only had to climb a short steeper section on glacier due east of the north summit of Mt Charlie Charlie. We dropped packs once we reached a flat spot on the glacier and headed out to claim the south and higher summit of Mt Charlie Charlie. There is some scrambling involved with a slightly airy gap only feet away from the top.

Continuing on towards Pykett Pk we needed to gain 500ft more to reach a huge wind cirque at the foot of Pykett Pk where we make Camp 2.

It rained hard that night. Our improvised one-pole shelter leaked badly. Both me and C. occupy about 6 sq ft of the last dry floor left. Not much sleep to be had.

Day 3:

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Most of the divide is easy travel

P. & S. were all burly and heading out to climb Pykett Pk in the morning. The peaks along the divide are only a short climb from our traverse route and easy to bag. We contoured the glacier west of Icecap Peak to gain the col W of the peak. P.& S. duo then headed off to bag that peak too, first trying the W ridge until the slopes become broken up with bergschrund.. Fortunately, a narrow gap allowed access back over to the SW slope and the S ridge which was an easy scramble. We continued north of the ridge stretching W of Icecap and down the glacier to the pass with Amicus Mtn.

To get up to the col W of Amicus Mtn we had to do a nasty long bootpack as the terrain was too steep to skin up and prone to wet snow sluffs under the snow conditions we encountered. The weather caught up with us at the col W of Amicus Mtn so we make Camp 3.

Day 4:
In the morning P. & S. add Amicus Mtn to their collection of summits and we continue west across the icefield. Crossing it is an adrenalin sport as the glacier is fairly open and we need to navigate around numerous crevasses sending Peter first into harm’s way. Ashlu Mtn and Porterhouse Pk came into the view as we were approaching W end of the glacier. By the time we reached the narrow gap immediately east of Porterhouse Pk we’re in a whiteout again. We had to wait for the clouds to lift a little as the next part of the route is critical – it’s the way out.

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Looking down Porterhouse Glacier towards the exit “gate”

We used a ridge that stretches S from the gap, on the E side of Porterhouse Gl. We stayed high on the W slopes of the ridge, always traversing back to the ridge where possible and reasonable, avoiding cliffs and rock bands. It turned out to be a relatively easy and safe way down past the Porterhouse icefall. We exited the glacier basin via a ‘gate’ (N50 01.951 W123 32.147) between bands of rock that constrict its S end and skied out via a narrow chute that most probably hides a small waterfall beneath the snow.

We followed W side of Porterhouse Creek down to A-1400 logging road only to find out that this spur was washed out by raging Porterhouse Cr. Forced to bush-bash we continue through a clearcut instead all the way down to Ashlu Main which we reached at 3:30pm. We’re almost done. All there is left is to do, is to put the skis on our backpacks and WALK out 20km on Ashlu Main back to the car. Home by 1 AM. Gotta love BC!

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