Life and Times on Mt Waddington
2 bugs, 2 birds, & 2 fighter jets. If it sounds like a bad movie title, you're close, but rather, I was thinking it's the only signs of life we saw on our week long trip to climb & ski Mt Waddington, BC, just under 2 weeks ago.
We knew we were in for an epic week of mountain life when we asked Mike King our heli pilot how many groups would be up in the area during our week. His answer was something like "I don't think there's another group flying until mid June, apart from that there's not another person for 50 miles".
So with 50+ miles of untracked big mountain terrain to ourselves, it was time to get our shred on, or, um, at least try. The hardest part of the mission had been completed… getting our sorry arses from Whistler to Tatla Lake. You wouldn't think it would be that hard, but when one of the team members (mentioning no names, Andre) is 5 hours behind, then finds out his skis & 1 boot are locked in Snowcovers, the start of the trip was looking dicey.
Mad cell phone calls and a lot of shenanigans later, we managed to blitz from Whistler at 2am, drive through the night with a gear bursting roof-rack, and roll into Tatla lake for a late morning flight. But hey, that's what alpine starts are all about right?
Mike heli operation White Saddle Air based in Tatla Lake, BC, is pretty much the only good way to get into Mt Waddington area, with by far the closest range to base camp, and an insane amount of knowledge about the area. We pretty much trusted him to find a good spot to dump us on the 25 km long Tiedemann Glacier, so Rainy Knob it was.
Part of Mt Munday, from Camp.
When the heli buzzed off, jaws dropped and we all pretty much stood there in awe, checking out the peaks around us. BIG mountains, with BIG lines to climb and ski in every direction. That, and even BIGGER terrain that we, nor any like minded skier, would touch with a ten foot pole. Our camp stared right up at the mother herself, Mt Waddington, flanked on 2 other sides with the likes of Mt Munday, Combatant, Tiedemann, Asperity and the Serras, & more. The huge spires and rock walls kinda gave us the feeling we'd been dropped in Chamonix during the ice age, with not a sole or extreme frenchie skier in sight.
Mt Tiedemann & Aspertiy from camp.
Our main objective on 'Mission Waddington' was of course to summit and ski Waddington. Then we figured we'd tack about 5 or 6 couloirs onto the checklist if the weather co-operated. Uh, right. Lets call it optimistic thinking. Day 1 was a scorcher, baking in the sun, building camp, setting up our Iron Chef kitchen, and chillaxin' to the max. Day 2 we'd planned bomb up to the Combatant col, check things out, bag Waddington if we felt like it, or just shred the Combatant Couloir as another option. That sounded all good & dandy until we woke up to the sound of pouring rain, went back to bed, woke up again, and more rain. Sitting on a tent in a glacier for a day is anything but rad, but hey, we knew summer was coming so we crossed our fingers and killed time like nobody's business.
Come day 3, skies were clear and at 2am we were ready to roll, but not ready for the day ahead. Lots of terrain, crevasses & bergschrunds to cover, we found ourselves in late morning with blazing sun and the whole Combatant Couloir still to be climbed, on the OTHER side of the big bergschrund. Strike one, slushy shredding back to camp, and plenty learnt. We'll be back.
Day 4 was destined for failure, but again in good fun. Our sights were set on Waddington, but uh, with everyone sleeping through the alarms, our 11am start turned to 2:30, and we bolted for a closer twisty couloir on Mt Tiedemann instead. That's when Mt Waddington gave us a little 'Who's Your Daddy' to put us in our place. There we were oogling at an icefall bombing 5000ft down the face, slamming into the glacier, and causing a snow cloud that started getting closer, and closer and closer.
"That's not going to reach us is it?" we thought from 500ft above the valley floor, and next thing you know we were anchored into the wall with our ice axes while a hurricane of wind and snow blasted well past us up the mountain side, turning around our sunny morning like a bat out of hell.
Add that to the 15+ crevasses we had to delicately cross before the couloir started, and once again we found ourselves at the mouth of the couloir, with the baking sun fresh on arrival, another mission down the drain, and more tales of mountain learning.
But enough's enough, Day 5 was go time, and a 10pm wake up (yes that's pm) was early enough to get our butts from base camp, through the icefall mazes in the dark, up the Angel Glacier in the light, and finally but barely, to the North West summit of Mt Waddington – the highest peak entirely in BC at 4000m on the dot, 4019 on the main summit.
It wasn't without it's own nonsense, but hey, we got there, skied off the top, and even bagged some powder on the way down – on what must have been a 30 degree day at base camp. Go figure. Mission accomplished after 17 hours of climbing and skiing, followed by an accidental 12 hour sleep that left us with no choice but to rest a day.
In our weary waking state on day 6, we had the choice to call the chopper and call it a trip, or stay to our champagne & JD celebration plan and stick in there for 2 more days before our ride would again be available. Burnt, tired, and melting from inherent flesh eating disease made bailing on the trip tempting, but we decided to stick with it for 1 or 2 more good couloir lines. Good call right? Wrong again guys. We woke the next morning/night to discover nothing had frozen… at midnight. Summer was here, and here to stay. So with no more safe skiing to be had, and a base camp that melted faster than a slurpee in a microwave, we had 2 days to kill… without killing ourselves. The mornings put on a good show with no more than a 30 second pause between thunderous icefalls cascading down Mt Munday and neighboring peaks.
To add the entertainment, what's a remote backcountry trip without hotshot CF-18 fighter jets buzzing right through the valley lap after lap, kart-wheeling and loop-de-looping right over the Combatant Col between Combatant & Mt Waddington. Our own private air-show. Not as pimp as, say, a private flight off the frickin' glacier, but a good 2nd place.
After 2 days of it, we were well and dong with Mt Waddington 2007. Bagged & skied, with no other lines on the checklist but an intense desire to get back soon. Well, until the quote of the trip came out… to the affect of "Waddington is kinda like a chick that you want to sleep with but don't want to date. Fun at first but once you bagged her you want to get as far away as possible." Let's just say that wasn't me, the married guy.
And so it was, in came the heli on day 8 and we were outta there like a kid with a bunny rabbit with dinosaur food attached to it's tail – wanting nothing more than to get as far away from the mountains as possible, jump in a lake, and welcome summer the way normal people do.
But in an ironic turn of events, after only a day's rest, we ended up back in the mountains, with even stupider outfits, hotter weather, and more painful bodily abuse. Who'd have known climbing and skiing BC's highest peak was all just a well calculated training exercise… for Gaper Day 2007.
Until next year eh?
DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS:
Access: Best way into the area is with Mike King at White Saddle Air – 250 476 1182 or firstname.lastname@example.org, based out of the King family ranch at Bluff Lake, near Tatla Lake, West of Williams Lake, BC.
Accommodation: Our shoddy timing left us no time to chill, but if you have time spend a night before or after the trip at Dave & Lori King's B&B – the White Saddle Ranch Country Inn. We've stayed before, it rocks.
Route Info: Look no further than 'The Waddington Guide' by Don Serl. It's a mountaineering guide book, so unlike those lame ski touring books out there in the world, this one gives you the goods on what to climb & ski.
And uh ya, we'll end it on that note…