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Garibaldi Névé ski traverse a sight to behold for the bold

Local adventurer recounts recent trip

The sun sets on the Garibaldi Névé. Photo by Drew Copeland.

Travis O'Farrell, Peter Suke and John Gill cruise down as the sun sets behind Atwell Peak and Mount Garibaldi. Photo by Drew Copeland.

Peter Suke skis down the Sentinel Glacier. Photo by Drew Copeland.

Looking at Garibaldi Lake with Black Tusk in the background. Photo by Drew Copeland.

Hours into the Garibaldi Névé ski traverse, Drew Copeland found himself wondering what the fuss was about.

Despite the regular stories he heard that the scaling and descent of Mount Garibaldi was a must-do for adventurers, and the fact it was a journey that had been lingering on his bucket list, he felt wary about those claims for much of the first day during the 40-kilometre traverse in late March. But when he cast his eyes upon the view from the eponymous Garibaldi Névé, it hit him.

"Up to halfway was kind of a slog," said Copeland. "It was mostly uphill and there wasn't much good skiing down. The skiing down was sort of disjointed and segmented but then when we reached the halfway mark, the sun was sinking low and the scenery was spectacular.

"That dubiousness kind of faded with that.

"There are all these claims it's the classic ski tour, but I didn't comprehend what made it so classic until the magic of the scenery set in."

Copeland completed the two-day trip with friends John Gill, Peter Suke and Travis O'Farrell. They set out from the Diamond Head parking lot, about a 16-kilometre drive from Highway 99 and Mamquam Road in Squamish, and ended at the Rubble Creek parking lot, which sits just off the highway.

Among the sites that were visible from Copeland's moment of epiphany were Mount Habrich, Mount Baker, Squamish and Howe Sound, in addition to the glory of nature itself.

"It's like looking over an ocean of snow. It's really beautiful," he said. "We went up to the top of Mount Garibaldi (to complete the 2,678-metre ascent) on the second day, and then we just sent it down to the Rubble Creek car park.

"From the top of Garibaldi it gives you a pretty incredible vantage."

The travellers camped just east of The Tent, just behind Mount Garibaldi, at roughly 2,100 metres. With a long day behind them and another long day ahead, there wasn't any opportunity to reminisce about their sojourn to that point.

"We got to that place as it was getting dark, so we didn't have a lot of time to chat or socialize. If you're not moving, it starts to get cold. We just set up our tents, had dinner and went to sleep," he said. "Everyone was pretty tired, for sure."

Copeland acknowledged he came to appreciate, at least in some ways, the challenge of accessing the beautiful view.

"If you work for it, it'll be rewarding. You've gotta earn it," he said.

And in other ways, the trek made for a weekend that saw plenty of unique challenges, though once they were conquered, they were conquered. The trip was more and more enjoyable as it went on and more skiing was possible.

"What makes this one so great for me is the variety," said Copeland. "At the beginning, it was long and difficult. You have to cross a creek and it's kind of annoying. Some parts are steep and some parts are shallow. Then when you get up a little higher, you're on the glacier, so that's kind of a different experience.

"Then climbing Garibaldi is a really steep, technical section. From there, it's all downhill. You cross Garibaldi Lake, so that's flat, and then you get back below the treeline for the final section and then you ski out. Skiing through the trees (gives you the opportunity) to make tight turns."

Copeland noted he and his friends were fortunate to tackle the journey in near-ideal conditions, with just the right snow — and just the right amount of it, too.

"The snowpack was very thick. It snowed a lot previously, which means that all the crevasses on the glaciers were filled in, which made for more straight-forward travel," he said. "The snow wasn't really deep powder, which can make making trail difficult if it's really deep. It can be challenging to make headway because it'll be physically demanding for the first two people."

In a follow-up email, Copeland stressed the quartet were all experienced skiers with avalanche skills training who put in hours of preparation time to ensure safe passage even in non-ideal situations. Among the highlights were: "studying the route, discussing fallback plans... snow conditions, arranging equipment, running the shuttle to leave a vehicle at the other end."

They carried avalanche rescue equipment like shovels and probe beacons, as well as maps and compasses. As well, all were well aware of how to dig emergency shelters and execute crevasse rescue.

"Having proper equipment and knowledge of how to use it and of the area are paramount to success on this type of trip," he wrote.