First published in CAJ 66, 1983
Two Miles and a Half
Being an ascent of Mt. Davidson (east of Garibaldi Lake) from Rubble
Creek car park via Panorama Ridge, Gentian Peak, and Castle Towers.
“…there is no quality in this
world,” wrote Herman Melville, “that is not what it
is merely by contrast.” That is what I was thinking, or at
least feeling, as I stretched out prone on the soft green carpet
in Gentian Pass that morning and allowed the sun’s arrows
of warmth to pierce my back. Then I ceased thinking, passed through
a phase of genuine relaxation, and sank into the restorative sleep
that only fatigue can bring. A short time before I had been crouching
with Don Berryman and John Pratt under a boulder high to the east,
staring into the darkness and listening to the patter of “0%
chance of precipitation” as it greased the lichen-covered
rocks on the slopes around the “Castle Towers Hilton”.
Some weeks earlier, in one of our not infrequent
attacks of megalomania, the idea arose that it might just be possible
to climb Mt. Davidson from the highway and return in a day. No one
took the trouble to check the distance or the cumulative elevation
gain involved with the result that the idea did not go away. Indeed,
the prospect of bouncing over Panorama Ridge, Gentian Peak, and
Castle Towers along the way was actually contemplated with pleasure.
The ‘Davidson Day Trip’ had been born! Challenge –that’s
what it’s all about I suppose—that and having a good
time. Set a goal, stretch the limits a bit, go for it! Otherwise
what is the point of dreams?
3:30 am on 10 July 1982 found us padding
up the Black Tusk trail in sneakers, our boots stuffed on top of
our packs and our bobbing head lamps creating weird silhouettes
among the trees. As we passed through the upper meadows the bright
moon faded, the sky turned blue, and the spring snow pack forced
boots and running shoes to trade places. It was a morning to be
alive! Feel that sun! Breathe that air! Gaze from the summit of
Panorama Ridge into the gigantic blue-green mirror of Garibaldi
Lake! Legs and eyes all yelling out for more –it sure was
As children on a great roller-coaster we
trundled into the next col, discovering only too late that Don’s
camera had stayed behind at the cairn. John and I took our leisure
in the sun while the divagatory item was retrieved. Our sneakers
were cached on Gentian Peak and we edged our way into Gentian Pass
on a steep slope of flowers. Mt. Guard appeared as an impressive
turret, putting further crazy notions in our heads. This however
was not a day to stand on Guard so we marched up the ramp toward
the Castle. Unfortunately the drawbridge was missing, and true to
form, we did not choose the best way past the moat, a grotty little
gap at the 7500 ft false summit. Some snow plodding and boulder
scrambling gained for us the westernmost of the three Towers. Once
in the notch we roped for a couple of moves to reach the true summit
at 1:30 pm. Here we took a good long rest, enjoying the sun, the
scenery, the total absence of wind, and all those other tangibles
and intangibles that one in such a situation enjoys but can never
quite put into words.
As might be expected from well designed mountain
topography Mt Davidson is not visible from the topmost turret of
Castle Towers, being hidden by the east spire of the latter. However,
a rappel into the next notch and a quick scramble gave us the desired
view of our objective across the Cheakamus Glacier. The soft wet
sloughing snow and a few open body-snatchers dictated caution for
the descent to the flat neve whose seemingly infinite width actually
took only about half an hour to cross.
The south-south-west ridge of Davidson is
a collection of the nicest granite boulders I have ever had the
pleasure of caressing. We left out packs on some rocks and reveled
in the scramble up the sun-baked steps high above Isosceles Creek.
It had been worth the effort. Instead of traversing some ledges
on the south face (an impressive wall) Don led a single pitch nearer
the ridge top and finally flung a joyous hand into the air with
the wee cairn at his feet. John and I soon joined him. It was 6pm.
We did not conquer the mountain. We did not
subdue it, subjugate or humiliate it as mountaineers are often it
seems, imagined to do. In fact we were feeling rather subdued ourselves,
and I doubt if Mt Davidson even noticed our passage as we reversed
the pitch and toddled back to the packs, not looking forward to
the return slope up the Castle.
More fuel was poured into the human furnaces
and the twice-infinite trudge across the Cheakamus Glacier led us
into the shade on the freezing eastern slope of CastleTowers. A
few humble thoughts about our little ‘day trip’ had
already begun to cross our cumulative mind when Mother Nature decided
to subtly but effectively rub the message in a little deeper. Silhouetted
high on the north-east ridge, two mountain goats post-holed their
leisurely way to the east summit and disappeared. Footprints discovered
later showed that these dumb beasts with neither rope nor ice axe
between them had traversed high on the north face of the mountain,
passing in and out of both notches along the way.
At sunset a tired trio topped the east peak.
From the notch three short pitches in the fading twilight put us
again on the main tower of the Castle. It was 10 pm. The rope stayed
on for the climb into and out of the next gap and on reaching the
west summit we found that the day had gone dark. It was a light
sort of dark though –that in between situation where you can
just about do without the headlamp for a while. Still hoping to
reach Gentian Pass that night we groveled downward until Don discovered,
just before the ugly little false summit, a huge overhanging boulder.
Here we unanimously agreed to ‘take a break’. However,
once huddled under that rock we could not bestir ourselves. We had
been going for more than 20 hours and had completed more that 11,
000 ft of ascent. Tired? You could say that.
Each one put on all his clothing. Don crawled
into the deepest recess and subsequently revealed his presence only
intermittent snoring. John had actually brought his sleeping bad
and managed to catch 60 or 80 winks in a semi-reclining granite
lazy-boy chair. I tried sleeping in different places and positions
but would scarcely nod off when a chill would wake me or my leg
would ‘go to sleep’ alone. I stood quite a lot and danced
to keep warm. Several times I fell asleep standing up, only to wake
instantaneously in time to prevent actually falling over. In fact,
nobody slept very well. Later in the night Mother Nature pulled
a grey shroud over the Castle, and the water that strained through
it made us thankful for our rocky shelter.
When darkness gave way to light inaction
gave way to descent. As the morning clouds yielded to blue sky and
glimpses of the sun we boot-skied into Gentian Pass and stopped
for a real rest. We drank wonderful water, felt the soft grass,
and soaked up the solar warmth. For nearly two and a half hours
I slept; truly it was “sore labour’s bath” and
“chief nourisher in life’s feast”.
The trudge up Gentian Peak was rendered almost
pleasant by a hillside of colourful flowers and by ever beautiful
Garibaldi Lake. A fast boot-ski took us to the next col and thence
to the subsequent grind up Panorama Ridge. Crossing the meadows
below Black Tusk seemed somehow to take forever and for all I know
we might have circled them three times. Direction didn’t seem
to matter much just as long as we kept moving. At 4 pm we plodded
into the parking lot, over 13,000 ft of ascent (and the same amount
of descent) behind us, our 36 ½ hr ‘day trip’
at an end. “One of those heavenly days,” as Wordsworth
said, “that cannot die”.