Pelion Mountain: Pupils of Chiron

 

Pelion Mountain, like most of the peaks in the Tantalus range was named according to a Greek god theme… It was by legend one of the last holdouts of the race of centaurs in the Archaic era, and was where Herakles (Hercules) was tutored by the wise centaur Chiron, who was known for his learning. – bivouac.com

On Saturday, the 12th of May, Dean along with Adrien, two climbing friends of myself and Spring pulled up outside our place in Squamish around 9am. Our goal for the weekend would be Mount Pelion in the Tantalus Range. From the pickup spot we could see bluebird skies over Alpha, Omega and Thyestes, the stoke was high. Myself and Spring quickly loaded our gear into Deans Jeep and headed out.

We started out on the Sigurd Creek trail shortly after 10am. We’d be snow pitting it so we didn’t have tents. Nevertheless, I’m sure each of our packs weighed around 50lbs at least with all the heavy metal you need to carry for mountaineering.

We tried to move as fast as possible on the trail. We got within 700m’s of the first checkpoint, a lookout at ~900m’s elv. before the snow started. Thankfully it was still early enough in the day that the snow was still firm and held our weight. We would not be as fortunate on our return trip.

I was glad we were still under the tree canopy for another few km’s. The heat in the open was stifling.

We roughly followed the summer trail and in no time at all we were at the Sigurd Creek crossing.

Good news! The bridge that had been in disrepair in seasons past was still intact.
Bad news… we had no way of using it due to high snow banks.

We contemplated a few options, but I think everyone wanted to use a snow bridge of some kind if possible rather than expending the energy to try and make a means to cross the creek. We followed the banks of the river for a while upstream before we came to what seemed like a recently collapsed snowbridge. It looked iffy I won’t lie. It was compromised underneath by the running water and softening up quickly in the sun.

Dean crossed it first to test it. Then I, as I’m the heaviest in the group. This was referred to as “Leigh-proofing”. The bridge passed my test and everyone else crossed without incident. In no time from there we were below the glacier between Ossa and Pelion. We headed up to climbers left of of the glacier and onto the NW ridge. At around 1400m’s we found a good location to camp and dropped our packs.

  

We set about digging our snow pits right away and were both finished within 30 minutes or so. Dean and Adrien in one, myself and Spring in the other. I’ve really grown fond of snowpits. You never have to leave to get water, your shelter is made of frozen water. You also have infinite options in how you want to construct storage space, a kitchen… etc, and they’re quiet, compared to tents.

Anyway, we promptly had dinner, boiled water for the next day, watched the sunset around 8pm and then turned in. We’d be up in 6 hours for an alpine start at 2am.

2am rolled around all too quickly. Surprisingly it wasn’t difficult to get up. I was really stoked to get going and up this mountain. We had some bagels and cream cheese that we’d kept from freezing in our sleeping bags with some instant coffee then geared up and headed out at around 3:30am.

The snow conditions were perfect. The crust was holding our weight and we could move swiftly up the ridge. In no time at all we were at 2000m’s and the summit was within striking distance. We switched to crampons and roped up and left our snowshoes behind to be collected on the way back. We followed a beeline directly for the summit. Using running belays in places of exposure above an open crevasse or bergschrund on the glacier. We topped out on the ridge around 2200m’s beside a rock pinnacle. From here we started the exposed traverse of the ridge towards the summit.

  

We got to a point where we decided to start protecting our progress with pickets and belaying each other forward until the person leading could place another picket. Personally, I don’t believe these pickets would have held if someone had taken a whipper. Although there are psychological merits to placing pickets that shouldn’t be discounted. Realistically, if someone had started to fall, the other person on the rope was going to have to fall off the other side of the ridge crest to stop their descent. We had discussed this as a group beforehand and agreed to be aware of it.

Time was critical and I believe we would not have summited had we taken time to dig out and bury the 5 or 6 pickets we placed. I also believe it would have been more dangerous to have still been on that ridge an hour later than we were, the snow was already starting to lose cohesion as we descended.

Anyway, progress slowed as we realized that we’d need to each go to summit one at a time. We all couldn’t fit at the belay station directly before the summit also. I stayed back at a relatively flat section of the ridge as Dean, Spring and Adrien set up a t-slot anchor using a picket. Dean led ahead and built another anchor around a rock horn just below the summit. From here Dean traversed around a rock ledge and reached the summit. Slowly, we all followed and reached the summit one at a time.

It was after 9am at this point. It had taken us 3hrs to gain ~850m’s and get to ~2250m’s. It took us another 3hrs or so to go the final 60 odd meters to reach the summit.

  

Anyway, we all traversed back along the ridge. Instead of following our route up we cut around a rock tower onto its south side and dropped down to 2100m’s, circling around to pick up our snowshoes.

We descended down the ridge and reached camp around 11:30am. We were all feeling the heat and the oppressive glare of the sun so we ducked into our snow pits to cool down and rest for a bit.

After about an hour or two we packed up and headed out. The snow was softening up quickly now which made our descent quick. We used the same snowbridge to cross Sigurd Creek and motored along our bootpack. We took one last short break shortly before the lookout bump then dropped down into the trees. Our snowshoes were off by this point and the snow was a postholey mess this late in the day. Each of us was getting caught frequently in postholes up to our waists near deadfall, trees, streams running under the snowpack… etc.

We finally dropped below the snowline and the rest was a blur of roots, rocks and dirt. All in the Sunday was probably a 15hr day, counting all our breaks and our 2hrs at camp.

Overall I really enjoyed the trip and especially enjoyed walking that knife edge ridge in the early morning sunlight looking out over Tantalus and the range of mountains that bear the same name.

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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