Tantalust, Part I: my little Everest

To say I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the Mountains would be an understatement. While other mountaineers likely dream about far off high places in the Andes or the Karakoram, I spend most of my time thinking about those right on my doorstep here in British Columbia, Canada.

You see, I’ve lost the taste for commuting. I imagine I will travel to other mountain ranges in the future to test my mettle but for now I just don’t want to invest my time in Planes, Trains and “those aren’t pillows!”. Coming from Ireland, a quaint Island on the edge of Europe, going anywhere new usually required hopping on Planes and wasting hours of my life in Airports.

It seems self-evident now, but a quote I read many moons after leaving Ireland eloquently describes the epiphany I had that fateful day when I decided to leave, for good, the home I had grown up in:

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” ― Seth Godin

I was living and working somewhere that I couldn’t wait to escape from for a few weeks of every year. Time was ticking by and I was about to enter that financial quicksand that is the 30’s grind of getting a mortgage, having some kids and getting into a lot of debt and then trying to work my way back out of it.

There had to be another way. So, “why not go on a permanent vacation?” I told myself. Why not live in the kind of place that I’d like to escape to? It’s seems straightforward enough but it’s surprising how many people I meet that pine over a vacation location they hated having to leave who have never investigated if they could move there. The idea of a “Holiday” now seems so strange to me. I’ve been in Canada for 3.5 years now and apart from a few days just over the border in the US to visit some mountains I haven’t been to any other countries, and apart from one work related flight I haven’t been in any Airports either.

For me now, the summits of Mountains have become the Capitals that I wish to visit, and the Ranges they lie within the Countries whose borders I wish to cross.

One such Range abuts the very town that I live in. It stands like a medieval fortress, flanked by a wide treacherous moat, with high, dark Watchtowers on all sides. The Tantalus Range.

The first time I laid eyes upon Mount Tantalus back in 2010.

The first time I laid eyes upon Mount Tantalus back in 2010.

I had been making plans to travel East to visit some Peaks within the National Parks of the Rockies but as time went by I began to lose enthusiasm for the long drive there. I don’t usually view driving as commuting, it’s more like reconnaissance as I’m free to view conditions of other mountains and areas along the way, but, I’d come to the conclusion that I’d prefer to go to the Rockies when I feel I am capable of climbing some of the stiffer, Class 5, routes there. So, I instantly turned my attention westward towards the Tantalus and began putting together a plan.

In hindsight, the plan I devised was pretty audacious, with hopes to summit 11 peaks over 8 days with a few Class 5 sections to overcome. It would only go if conditions and weather were perfect.

Just a few of the jagged, seldom visited, peaks of the Tantalus Range.

Just a few of the jagged, seldom visited, peaks of the Tantalus Range.

I left this plan with some trusted friends and then, after borrowing a Canoe (Thanks Chris!), myself and Spring set out to cross the Squamish river on the morning of the 17th of August, 2013, with the impetus to not return for over a week.

As we put the Canoe into a calm eddy about 1.7kms upstream from the start of the trail we’d be using to access the Tantalus Range we were questioned by an older First Nations man about our experience with river Canoeing. We’d taken an introductory course to 2 person river kayaking a few years back on an adventure holiday in Scotland, but that was a very different craft to this Canoe. We had almost no experience in a Canoe, and the experience we did have was gained on a lake, not a river. Truth be told, I was a little nervous about the crossing, and this man in the peanut gallery wasn’t helping. Eventually I realized that he was more of a Salesman than a wise Oracle. He, along with some other First Nations men were ferrying people across in a motorboat and running a bit of a racket it seemed. I guess it behooved his enterprise to scare people away from crossing the river themselves for free and to avail of his overpriced water taxi service.

Crossing the Squamish River on the first morning of our trip

Crossing the Squamish River on the first morning of our trip

We loaded the Canoe and pushed off, out of the eddy and into the flow of the river. 10 minutes later we reached the trailhead. The crossing had gone fine. We took the Canoe out about 100m’s upstream of the trailhead so that we could hide it in the forest. We found a good location for it that was not visible from the trail or from the river and then chained it to a nearby tree trunk. These precautions might seem excessive but we’d been told that Canoe theft was common in this area. We decided that we’d rather be over cautious than return to the river a week later only to find our means to cross back over the river was gone.

We bushwhacked through a tangle of alders until we broke out onto the worn trail we’d need to take. This trail would take us to Lake Lovely Water and our home for the night, The Tantalus Hut. We set out at a brisk pace fueled by stoke for our burgeoning adventure. As we pushed through the bush which was wet and swollen from some heavy rain earlier in the morning my left boot slipped on a wet rock and an old ankle injury screamed for attention. Thoughts flooded back to me, about that day, when my body had failed me, reducing my left ankle to an inoperative mess. Thoughts, almost exactly a year old, of when I had hiked in on the exact trail that I was now on again, but had never hiked out on. Was the Tantalus Range firing a warning shot?

Continue Reading: Tantalust, Part II: Dreams and Reality

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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  1. 14 Adventures in 2014 - […] our difficult experience in the Tantalus Range in 2013 I was a little bit apprehensive about revisiting these mountains. […]

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