August 2012

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Summer Reading

Here are some pocket reviews of a few other books I’ve read in the past few months:

Shantaram: Of all the books I’ve read this year, Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram stands out far above the others, and as I read it a few months ago, I’m shocked to notice that I haven’t mentioned it before.  A truly remarkable book in all regards, it is a semi-autobiographical novel of Lin, a young Australian convict and former drug addict who flees to India and is forced to build a new life in Bombay.  Starting in the slums, and rising through the criminal underworld, Lin is a character of extraordinary depth, and Roberts is a writer with extraordinary insight and pathos.  Almost all of the characters are unforgettable, and the detailed description of the motivation and sensation of heroin abuse about 80% of the way through the novel is among the most harrowing pieces of writing I’ve ever read.  Highly recommended.

The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings:  I’ve read a few of Bart Ehrman’s popular nonfiction books in the past, and decided to try and gain a deeper knowledge of the early evolution of Christianity by reading through his introductory textbook on the early Christian writings.  If you’re interested in the subject, this is an excellent book to read through.  The writing is clear and engaging throughout despite its textbook nature.  Reading this wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but I found it to be both entertaining and eye opening.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High:  Business / Life-Skills books like this are really hit and miss, and the vast majority really don’t have much more to say than to find 200 pages of ways to re-state the book’s title.  Fortunately, this book rises above that level.  It is a quick read, and although there are few meaningless flow charts in it, I generally found it enjoyable and worthwhile.  The conversation tools presented are well thought out and elucidated, and it’s clear that the authors spent a lot of time thinking about the essence of making an effective conversation and thinking about how to present their thoughts.  Not an absolute must read, but absolutely worthwhile for some food for thought.

Great Expectations:  I’ve loaded a few more Dickens novels onto my Kindle lately, and by chance the first of these that I happened to open was Great Expectations.  Great Expectations is one of his more famous novels, although critical opinions of it greatly vary.  Personally, I found it to be decent, but inferior to some of the other Dickens novels I’ve read, such as A Tale of Two Cities.  For whatever reason, I just didn’t find Pip to be a very engaging protagonist.  So often he was too dense to understand what was plain in front of him, and similarly too many of the other characters failed to gain my sympathy.  Still, this is a Dickens novel and even a mediocre novel of his is better than most other novels out there.  Like his other novels, Great Expectations features a long and deeply wound plot, but unlike his other novels that I’ve read, for much of the novel, I simply failed to care strongly about how things wound up.  Decent, but not great.

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Trip Date: August 17-19

Participants: David Carne, Michelle Lapin, Brittany Zenger, Geoff Zenger

Staying at Lake Lovely Water and the Tantalus Hut has been on my list for years now for its beauty, quality of hut, and remarkable closeness to Squamish.  Luckily, Britt had the foresight a few months ago to make reservations at the hut and to take it upon herself to organize a trip to the hut and to explore the area around it.  Thank you Brittany!


We had an early start from New Westminster on Saturday in order to arrive with plenty of time to spare before our scheduled helicopter flight at 8:30, and arrived at the Squamish airport to find that Black Tusk Helicopter’s large helicopter had been commandeered for fire fighting duty.  No worry, they had a smaller helicopter available and their masterful pilot, Steve, had both loads of us and our gear up to the heli landing area near the hut by 9:30 or so.  It was my first time in a helicopter, and I had a great time flying in to the hut.  I think I’ll have to try and do more heli-access trips in the future!

The weather was warm and beautiful as we arrived at the hut, and we took our time to unpack our stuffed bags (fresh food on a backcountry trip!) and introduce ourselves to the party of VOC and MECers that had arrived just before us and that was going to be staying at the hut until Wednesday.  Nonetheless, as the forecast had been poor for Sunday, we got ourselves ready to head up towards Pelops and Niobe and departed for them some time around 11.

The initial route into the Omega-Niobe basin is straightforward, and we didn’t have any trouble finding our way onto the flatish part of the glacier that needs to be crossed on the way up to the Omega-Iota col.  Nonetheless, we definitely took a route higher and further to the right than the one indicated in Gunn’s book (we went right and over the “prominent grey buttress” instead of left of it).  I can see why some parties would feel it unnecessary to rope up for the short glacier crossing, but you never want to end up the idiot at the bottom of a crevasse with a rope in your bag, and so we put on our harnesses and roped up to cross the glacier.  Once across, it is easy to follow a fun series of class 2 ramps and ledges up to the Omega-Iota col, and from the col, despite its steep appearance, we quickly and easily made our way up Iota.

From the summit of Iota we had our first glimpse of the incoming weather system, and didn’t linger long before descending the backside to the Iota-Pelops col.  The scramble down had some unexpected moderate exposure, but is quite easy, and from the bottom, we made our way to the left through the dense krummholz to the trail leading up Pelops, and in short time found ourselves on the summit.  From here, it is reportedly a quick jaunt of less than 30 minutes over to Niobe, and there didn’t appear to be any major difficulties to be surmounted to get there, but we had started to hear thunder and see lightning approaching from the south west and made the hard call to turn around without bagging Niobe.  I’ll have to head back someday to get Niobe, perhaps by a different route, such as the NE ridge.

Heading down from Pelops, over Iota, and back down to the lake was easy and uneventful and despite the visible rain and lightning in the distance, it never reached us.  We were back at the hut just as the evening was darkening and settled in for a great dinner made with fresh ingredients.  As we had been up early, the four of us headed to bed early and slept long into the next morning.


With a poor Sunday forecast, we had made the decision to spend the day exploring the lake, and after a long sleep and relaxing breakfast, we headed out in the late morning to take out one of the row boats on the dock by the hut.  As soon as we got into the row boat, however, we noticed that it leaked!  Luckily we had the foresight to go back to the hut and grab a pot to use to bail out the boat periodically and keep it afloat as we explored the lake.  We spent all day exploring the lake and docking at its various beaches, and while we were doing so the weather continually improved, so that by the time we went back to the hut in the late afternoon it was once again a hot, sunny day.  As on the previous day, we enjoyed a wonderful meal of noodles and fresh vegetables and settled in for a comfortable evening in the hut, passing the time away playing a version of Trivial Pursuit left in the hut by another party.


Monday was always going to be a quiet day as we had an afternoon helicopter pick up to catch.  Nonetheless, we made the most of the time we had and followed the flagged approach trail up to the east shoulder of Alpha.  Someday I’d love to come back and climb the East Ridge of Alpha, and it seemed worthwhile to check out the approach route.  Alpine Select says that there isn’t much of a route, but we found it easy to follow on the ground, and generally well flagged.  At our high point we could see a group coming down after being fogged off of the East Ridge of Alpha.  Although the weather was good below and the day had a great forecast, the East Ridge and summit of Alpha were shrouded in dense fog, rendering it unclimbable that day… such is the unpredictability of mountain weather.

Steve returned to pick us up a bit before 3 o’clock, and once again made two trips to pick up our gear and us.  The flights were short and sweet, and by 3:30 we were sitting on the patio at the Watershed, enjoying a warm and clear summer’s day with a great view back up to Alpha and where we were.  Lake Lovely Water really is a beautiful spot.  I was actually surprised by the ruggedness of the terrain and the lack of hikes within a typical hiker’s ability.   Nonetheless, it is surrounded by a wealth of challenging scrambling and moderate mountaineering routes, and I hope to get back there in the next year or two with the time to tackle some of those routes.

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Trip Date: August 5-6

Participants: Max Bitel, Brittany Zenger, Ed Zenger, Geoff Zenger

Difficulty: 1 (Illal), 2 (Coquihalla), 3 (Jim Kelly)

Report: A long debate between the four participants over what an acceptable destination would be for everybody eventually led us to the idea of doing an overnight trip to Coquihalla Mountain.  Other than Ed, who climbed Coquihalla back in 1992, none of us had been to the area and we had heard that Illal Meadows was a great place to camp.

We didn’t leave Vancouver until early in the afternoon, and it wasn’t until 4:30 that we parked Ed’s X-Trail 1.5km up the Illal Creek road (out of a maximum of 3km) due to extreme bush.  Despite being late in the afternoon, the temperature was hovering around 30 degrees, and to avoid overheating, we moved slowly as we made our way up to Illal Meadows. The directions in 103 hikes are accurate and easy to follow, and we were up in the meadows by 6:30.  We bumped into two women camping low in the meadows, and they informed us that another party was camping at the tarn directly below Jim Kelly Peak, and so we elected to camp at a flat spot next to a creek along the east edge of the meadows.  A powerful warm wind blew over us all evening that kept the bugs away, and after a relaxing evening near the camp, settled in for a warm night under an incredibly bright moon.

We woke up Monday morning just after 6 and after breakfast, headed out for Coquihalla Mountain.  Ed had previously climbed the NE ridge, but as this was intended to be an easy hiking trip, without any major scrambling, we decided to head for the mellow South ridge of Coquihalla.  One major mix up had us bushwack through steep dense bush down from the ridge below Jim Kelly to the col between Jim Kelly and Coquihalla, only to realize at the bottom that there’s a well trod trail in good condition all the way down from the low point on the ridge between Jim Kelly and Illal down to the Coquihalla-Jim Kelly col.  Oh well.

Traversing around the east side of Coquihalla was straightforward, a mix of grass, talus, and occasionally patch of snow, and it didn’t take us long to find ourselves south of the main peak of Coquihalla, where we started ascending the obvious rib, occasionally finding bits of ribbon but never needing to think too hard about the route.  High up on the ridge, there is a short rubbly scrambling section if you go straight up the centre of the gully, but this can be avoided by ascending larger boulders to either the left or right of the gully.  Both Max and Ed’s watch altimeters indicated that we had about 500ft left before the summit, but at the top of the gully we found ourselves unexpectedly on the summit!  It was only around 10 o’clock, and we took our time to enjoy the warm air and clear views all around.

We all departed the summit around 11, and worked our way back towards Illal Meadows.  Max and I decided to head up Jim Kelly while Ed and Brittany went over to Illal Mountain.  From below, Jim Kelly looks like quite a formidable rubbly scramble, but as we made our way up it, we found that by moving left and right, we were able to avoid most of the rubble and never encountered any major difficulties.  It only took around 20 minutes to scramble up to the summit of Jim Kelly from the bench below the summit.  On the summit there is a massive fallen down cross, and we had our first glimpse of a dark thunderstorm to the south east of us, over in the direction of Manning Park.

Max and I were back down on the bench below Jim Kelly at 1:30, and I decided to make a quick solo trip over to Illal before the thunderstorms hit.  The round trip time from the bench to the summit of Illal, then down to our campsite was only 50 minutes, and as the storm was clearly approaching rapidly, we packed up camp quickly and began heading down around 3.

Not long after leaving camp, the unexpected storm hit, and we were drenched as we worked our way back to the car.  The descent took around an hour and a half, and we were all extremely grateful to have packed a change of clothes as we were all completely soaked!  Nonetheless, the trip itself was an absolute success, and can be highly recommended as a moderate trip off the beaten track.

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Trip Date: August 11, 2012

Participants: Brittany Zenger, Geoff Zenger

Difficulty: 2 (minor 3rd for SW ear)

Report: I last hiked to the summit of Golden Ears almost exactly 10 years ago, in the summer after grade 11, and Britt had never attempted it before, so a mid-summer day with a perfect forecast seemed like a great opportunity to head once again to this popular area.  We arrived in Golden Ears park soon after the gates opened and set off on the West Canyon trail shortly before 7:30am.  The trail is easy to follow and well marked, and we made quick time up to Alder Flats and upwards towards Panorama Ridge, and reached the new emergency shelter (put in just a couple months after I last ascended the peak) just before noon.

We stopped for a quick lunch as the crowds hadn’t yet arrived, and made our way up towards the summit over enjoyable easy scrambling terrain, and reached the main summit at a few minutes before 1.  I quickly made my way over to the lower SW ear (very short section of 3rd class scrambling) to take a few photos, and made it back to the main summit as a couple other parties made it to the main summit.  The day was warm and bug free, and amazingly, while describing the routes up Edge and Blanshard to some of the other people on the summit, I looked over to the ridge of Edge to see somebody (Alexis?) working his way quickly along the ridge, making a solo Blanshard-Golden Ears traverse.  We lounged on the summit for well over an hour before beginning our way down the mountain.

Despite the number of people we saw hiking up the trail to attempt the summit as a day trip, only a handful of parties achieved the summit, as it seems that the majority of day trippers ran out of steam around the emergency shelter.  The route down was pleasant enough down into the forest, after which the mind numbing tedium of the walk out kicked in, eventually leading me to zone out and take a nasty slip on the logging road above Alder Flats.  Nonetheless, we made it out to the car right at 7 o’clock, capping another excellent day in the mountains.

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