Alpha Solo & Update
I set off Wednesday night after work, with my bike, all my gear, and a belly full of sushi. My destination is Alpha, a 2305-meter mountain in the Tantalus range which lies north west of Squamish. My plan was to cycle to the Squamish River at the base of the mountain (about 90km), climb up this beautiful mountain, and come back all in my three day weekend.
Leaving the bustle of the city I made my way over the
Lionsgate and up to the Upper Levels Freeway. I was felt
great: the temperature was good, the sky was an indescribable hue,
and the traffic on the Sea to Sky Highway was almost
non-existent! There is nothing more medative to me than the
fluctuating hum of your bicycle tires reflected off of the cement
guardrails. In the process of paring down I decided against
bringing a tent, so the Furry Creak sign would be my shelter for the
night (For those of you who don’t know the Furry Creek sign,
it is a faux-rock sign that is constructed of plywood, foam, and a
I have only stopped at this sign on one other occasion (biking back from an attempt of Mt. Garibaldi with the Self-Propelled Outdoors Club) during which I failed to notice that the ground under the sign is composed of uneven, cement. Due to the proximity of the sign to the highway and the railroad track, I do not recommend this as a campsite. I had a breakfast and a 20min nap at Brittania. Life is good. I ate breakfast at Brittania and then headed for Squamish, but, not after a twenty minute, full-belly, shaded nap. Life is good.
The morning was pleasantly hot and the cycling was easy and I was so drunk on the scenery I hardly noticed the hills. Passing under the grandeur of the Stawamus Chief, I join the other oglers in trying to spot climbers on the massive granite wall. About 12km north of Squamish I turned west, (away from Alice Lake Park) and rode to the Squamish River. Here, there is an inaccessible-to-the-public cable car that crosses the river. Many hikers opt for a canoe crossing at this point, however I was not interest in hauling a canoe on the Sea to Sky so I have chosen a different method. Equipped with a climbing harness and tethered to two short lines (which are clipped to a cable above my head) I find myself precariously tightrope walking across the 30m river. The whole tower structure is swaying. I know that if I fall walking off the lower cable that I am protected from plummeting into the river. None-the-less, the whole mental/physical process is tense at best. My sweat glands ought to be named as a major tributary of the Squamish R.
Four hours later (7:00pm) and about 1100m higher I reached the Lake Lovelywater cabin. Ohhhh! The cabin! This must be the most beautiful cabin placement in the world. Spaghetti and hot tea made this decidedly so. I ate my dinner between Alpha (2305m) and Omega (1860m) with a spread of eight or nine more peaks and a couple of glaciers feeding the chilly Lake Lovelywater. While you gaze at all of that, Black Tusk is hiding directly behind you on the other side of the Squamish Valley. After stacking six inches of green bedding foam on top of my Therma-rest, I passed out.
I awoke at 7:30am; eleven hours of sleep!!! Caffeinated(!) tea and the leftover spaghetti for breaky. I feel rested and motivated. Everything is both still and quiet in the Lake Lovelywater basin. Hiking in the cool morn is more than pleasant. Bush Tits and Chickadees dart in and out of the shrubs and I take frequent breaks to snack on the blueberries, huckleberries, and raspberries that garnish the trail. Fresh deer tracks lead the way through forests, alpine fields, and eventually into the moraine field of the Ionia and Serratus glacier terminus.
This is my third time into Lake Lovely water area. The first time I came here we drove and canoed across the river. I spent a day at the lake swimming and pretended to read; I spent most of my time distracted by the mountains. I was, without knowing it , slowly falling in love with this mountain called Alpha.
One month later, I was back. I had cycled from my rental home in Point Grey to down town, taken the express bus to Horseshoe Bay, hitched with my bike to Squamish, biked the hour to the cable car, crossed the river (trapeze-style) and hiked up to the lake (one full day). Unlike my previous visit, I planned to climb to the top of Alpha. Unfortunately, after retching for forty minutes with a numb tongue (I had inadvertently ingested DEET), I spent a night shivering, alone, in the glacial winds of the valley. By morning, I had already admitted defeat. I spent the day lounging by the sunny lake and being rocked to sleep by the mountain lullaby. I went home the next day. That was three years ago, and despite several concept upgrades (IE: cycling the whole way), I had made it there again. This time, however, with a well developed respect for Alpha, the mountains. and our fragile environment.
I wove my way through a labyrinth of cliffs and waterfalls, slowly ascending high above the moraine into rockslides and snowfields. There is a peculiar source of energy that propels my battered body upwards; that energy source is from neither the energy bars nor the wasabi peas. It is what some call ‘summit fever’. I think I can reach the top of the mountain; energy boosters up ten percent. At 1950m I pop up into the col between Serratus and Alpha. How exciting! Only 350 more meters to the top and plenty of time to get there. There is but one problem. I did not translate the route description of ‘not difficult’ to the terms of an exhausted, inexperienced, cyclist/climber who is all alone on a big mountain. I was also concerned about the dark clouds moving closer to the range. Despite al the effort to get to this point, I decided to head down off the mountain. I worked my way down the precarious scree slopes and ran the fingers of my mind through the last forty hours tangled emotions. It is surprising, and yet not surprising, that there is no disappointment to be found. This trip has been amazing. I cannot help smiling the whole way back to the cabin because I am already planning when I will come back. Ice calves off the glaciers across the valley and in an amazing display of sound and spectacle. Chunks explode like fireworks and cascade down the cliffs like hot, white embers. A few hours later, while I was consuming the comforts of the cabin, the wind and downpour began.
On the ride home I felt good; the smile from the day before was unfaded. I looked upon my 12speed Apollo with fond eyes and verbally professed a love for it. Adventures had been had, but adventures would not stop until I stepped in through my front door. All went well until the Upper Levels.
Right out of Horseshoe Bay, the freeway begins to slope slightly upwards. For how far, or at what angle I am not sure, but it was crushing. My mind was reeling: How was it that every pedal stroke seemed like I was towing a BC ferry? No thanks to a Highways employee, the freeway was marked out in five meter intervals: 3.775...3.780...3.785...3.790. Bastards! The time between each marker was an eternity and growing. I realized that since I left Squamish four hours ago, I’d managed to eat less than a whole Cliff Bar. I stopped. I ate a Rebar, some gorp, wasabi peas, and drank some water. I took a fifteen minute nap/rest, remounted my bike. I had so much energy. One minute later I had picked up that ferry again. It would seem that almost three days of heavy physical exertion were taking their toll. Even downhill seem impossible. But slowly, slog led to bridge views, then to sunset, and in through my front door step. I am home.