Empetrum Peak: A Photo Essay

Sunset Silhouette

For most people seeing a forecast of straight sunshine through the weekend would be reason enough to jump up and click their heels. It usually would for ourselves also if it wasn’t for the unseasonably warm weather pushing the freezing level way up. Freezing level is important to the Spring time Mountaineer. Ideally a Mountaineer wants the freezing level to be at least at the elevation of the beginning of the route to ensure the snow will be firm and relatively stable to move across.

With the freezing level way higher than any of the mountaineering routes we had our eyes on we changed our plans. Empetrum Peak had been on my mind for a while. The peak itself is relatively benign and getting to the summit is pretty straight forward from most aspects.

Some mountains are interesting in and of themselves, while others, like Empetrum, are interesting, at least to me, because of the vantage point they offer on other mountains in the vicinity.

Empetrum sits just North of the ubiquitous and aptly named “Black Tusk”, a volcanic plug that is an icon of Southwest British Columbia. From this vantage point you can see Mount Garibaldi, directly to lookers left and Mount Tantalus, directly to lookers right of the Tusk, both iconic mountains themselves.

I planned for us to spend the night on the summit to see the sunset and sunrise. Being North of the Black Tusk would allow us to see it’s West face painted at sunset while it’s East face would be dark, and then vice versa at sunrise. From a photographic point of view I really like this stark contrast of light and shadow on mountains.

One consolation of the high freezing levels was that the temperature on the summit of Empetrum Peak was forecast to be mild with low winds so myself and Spring chose to sleep out under the stars in bivy sacks and forgo bringing a tent. I find a tent to be a mental crutch sometimes, a little piece of civilized space that we bring out into the wilderness with us so that we can escape the wild when we feel at our most vulnerable whilst sleeping. Whenever possible I try to bivy as that connection with nature is never broken. Through the night I’d stir awake and be free to gaze across at the silhouette of the mountain ranges in view and the countless stars above me. The security that is lost from not having a tent is more than made up for in the sense of freedom that is gained.

We made two new friends on this trip, Jess and Hailey. As I said to them at the parking lot after our ~40km+ return trip, through blinding brightness, wet cement snow and stifling heat, was over: “You have the one quality that all mountain goers require, you both suffer really well”. I expect we’ll get out with them again in the future.

Foreshortened Tusk

Summit Party

Snaffleshounds view of the Tusk

Contemplative Tusk

Crazy for the Tusk

Sunset watching

Sunset Tusk

Starry Night Tusk

Suffering for Sunrise

Snafflehounds Sunrise

Bivy Tusk


Too hot to look at Tusk

Author: Leigh McClurg

I grew up in County Dublin, Ireland and moved to British Columbia, Canada with my wife in 2010. I fell in love with being in the Backcountry and Mountains that are all around me here and try to spend all of my free time exploring those wild places. My main goals are to chase happiness, see as much of this planet and its cultures as possible and grow every day through knowledge and experiences.

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