Don Berryman fording Nesaquatch Creek en route to Mt Rexford.


  Don Berryman on the summit of Mt Davidson, Garibaldi Park.      

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 grand!

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”.
Sandy Briggs