Sunday, September 10, 2017

niobe, wedge, nesakwatch, cloudburst, habrich

Summer 2017 has been primarily about alpine climbing on our local mountains. Several reasons. One is that Leo's interests have moved in that direction, so it seemed like a good idea to try to pass on my (limited!) knowledge. Long spells of very settled weather, often too hot for serious rock climbing, have also been an encouragement. Finally, my two nephews, Jeremy and Ollie, came out from Britain for one week in July, and demanded to be exercised. This resulted in some hikes that were good research for more ambitious trips after they had left.

Summit #1 was Niobe in the Tantalus, which I have wanted to climb since looking across at it from Alpha in summer 2016. Leo was easily persuaded by the required helicopter flight (his first) and my agreement that he could take the splitboard, as there still seemed be plenty of snow left from the unusually prolonged 2016/17 winter. Good snow cover also held out the possibility of ascending the oddly named "Niobe without Pelops" route, which follows an aesthetic snow couloir below the col between those two mountains. The standard route later in the season is a more roundabout trudge over the very minor Iota then Pelops to reach the same col. The trip went very well. Leo used crampons and ice axe for the first time and notched up splitboard descents from halfway up the ascent route on two consecutive days. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the trip was the overnight camp. Our intended site, the sandspit beach on Lake Lovely Water, was buried by about 50-100cm of snow, so we had to construct a flat snow platform and pitch the tent on that. On the positive side, we had that fantastic location entirely to ourselves.

Niobe from across the valley on a hazy day; approx line of "Niobe without Pelops" shown 
Snow camp halfway through construction
Sunset over Lake Lovely Water
Snow campfire
Dawn over Lake LW
Ascent couloir, col between Niobe and Pelops above
Lake LW from Niobe summit, still partially ice covered
Alpha from Niobe summit (Cloudburst visible over the ridge centre-right)
View north-west from Niobe summit. Black Tusk, Wedge and Garibaldi all visible on the skyline. Omega centre-right.
Strapping in to ride down

Post-swim cup of tea

During Jeremy and Ollie's visit we hiked in to Black Tusk via an overnight at the Taylor Meadows campground. James and Leo (and briefly Ollie) rode snowboards most of the way down from just below the summit.

A few days later Ollie, Jeremy and I visited Wedgemount Lake, another spectacular location in Garibaldi provincial park. At Wedgemount I saw the north side of Wedge, the park's highest peak, for the first time. It was also still retaining early season snow cover late into July. Leo and I had been contemplating trying Mt Garibaldi, but read that the bergschrund on the standard route had become impassable. I suggested Wedge as an alternative, pointing out that it is actually higher than Garibaldi; in fact, it is the highest mountain in the provincial park. Two weeks later we headed up to do it. The weather was slightly unstable and quite warm but having studied SpotWx carefully we identified a very specific window for 24 hours in which clouds would clear just before evening, night time temperatures hopefully cool enough to re-freeze the snow on the route and clouds stay away until lunchtime the next day, by when we hoped to have already summited. Remarkably this is exactly what happened.

The North Arete of Wedge is described as a Coast Mountains classic in the Alpine Select guidebook and elsewhere. As far as I could tell it was a step up from Niobe, being longer, steeper and having much more glacier travel, but oddly I couldn't find anyone who had actually done it. One friend had climbed a harder parallel route nearby many years ago and suggested we might need twin ice tools for the steep part - we did so, but they weren't necessary. The earlier parts of the route are quite mellow snow-plodding, finishing up on an easy but exposed ridge. Beyond this there is a short section (100-150m?) of climbing on the mountain's actual north face, kicking steps up 40-50 degree snow while weaving between loose rock outcrops. Later in the season I guess there might be both more rock and some bare ice, making it more demanding. We kept a rope on throughout this section and "pitched it out" with ice axe and snow fluke anchors. Then we reversed the same process in descent.

The most unexpected moment of the day was seeing a very fast-moving solo climber coming up behind us. He arrived on the summit about five minutes after us. It was Jim Sandford, Squamish 1980s/ 1990s sport climbing legend, who has taken up alpine speed ascents in his late 50s. He had left the valley trailhead that morning at about the same time as we had left our tent, 1200m vertically below us! Jim gave us our best quote of the summer. Just before heading down he spied Leo's Phantom 4 by the summit cairn and exclaimed "that's a f***ing drone!". He then insisted that Leo film him as he descended the arete but by the time Leo had the machine ready he was an almost invisible dot far below.

A very foreshortened Wedge seen from the toe of the glacier - red line shows ascent route
Upper part of the route
Our camp, by a small lake below the glacier
Leo by our camp
Leo looking out over Wedgemount lake from our camp - with cup of Yorkshire (actual?) Gold tea
High on the glacier next morning
Leo leading steep snow up to the start of the proper ridge
Leo on the summit, looking east
Local legend Jim S on the summit looking north (from his FB page but arguably my © as I pressed the shutter)
Leo descending just below the summit

Leo became quite buried in academic work and preparation for a piano exam after Wedge. Smoke from wildfires in the BC interior also made alpine trips unappealing. However early in August my friend Chris H convinced me to venture south to the Chilliwack Lake area, which I had not visited before. The peaks there are part of the North Cascades range straddling the Canada-US border. The specific objective was the Nesakwatch spires, enticingly described as a mini-Bugaboos by some people. The hike up there with camping gear and a full rock climbing rack was somewhat brutal but fortunately my legs were still in good condition from the trips in July. On the first day we climbed the easy West Ridge of Rexford. Mostly scrambling except for a couple of roped pitches at the top. On the second day we attempted Dairyland, a five pitch route on the steep South Nesakwatch spire. Though we succeeded on the route, it was a tough day. We had route-finding issues low down then Chris succumbed to some mystery sickness on the last splitter crack pitch, abandoning the lead then vomiting at the belay while I led it! (Heat exhaustion perhaps? The air was also very smoky, making it slightly hard to breathe at times.) I made a final wrong decision on that pitch, leaving the crack prematurely to exit up a burly overhanging chimney.

Excellent camp spot on "the" giant flat boulder (the guidebook mentions one but there are several)
North and South Nesakwatch spires and Mt Rexford from the camp - ascent lines shown in red
Chris showing good back-and-foot form on the final chimney on Rexford
Chris getting ready to rappel from Rexford; Nesakwatch spires behind
South Nesakwatch from Rexford west ridge - my last photo before dropping my camera (how I got it back is a long story ...)
In the last week in August Leo got his workload under control and the smoke cleared. He and his friend Nic did an ambitious day trip to Cloudburst, a complex mountain just north of Squamish (but visible from our house). Their main objective was to check out the forest road access to the mountain with the winter season in mind, but they ended up reaching to the summit. I was impressed. They brought back some scary stories of soloing mossy 5.6 and ice axe arrests on steep snow; I am nervously filing all that under "learning curve".

A few days after that, Leo and I also climbed Habrich, the pointy rock peak visible from many points in Squamish - notably Leo's school. Also the star feature of this photo collection. It was my third time up there but of particular interest to me this year. In May I played a leading role in discouraging a large-scale project to build a via ferrata on the mountain. We climbed the Escape Velocity route which links short sections of clean rock with heather ledges. Not the most dramatic alpine rock route but easy to follow and entertaining in places. Leo led the nice final pitch which ends abruptly on the summit. He had led some trad pitches before but this was his first pure onsight without knowledge of the placements. It seemed to go OK. We spent a little time on the summit gazing over at the Sky Pilot bowls, trying to figure out our route when we took snowboards there during a low-visibility day in May. Rappelling down went fairly uneventfully aside from some rope twisting and ledge piles which Leo got his share of managing. It was his first multi-pitch rappel experience. I made a mental note to teach him about prusik backups before we did it again - bad dad.

As we had plenty of time to catch the last gondola and conditions were amazingly warm and stable we explored the ridge system west of Habrich for an hour or so before heading down. Leo flew his drone and I stumbled over prayer flags hung in a hidden spot overlooking Squamish. (A memorial to this guy, I believe.)

Habrich from Sky Pilot showing the approach trail. The Escape Velocity route is just out of view on the west ridge
Leo finishing the second pitch of Escape Velocity

Leo leading the last pitch of Escape Velocity

Habrich summit looking north
Prayer flags hidden on the lower west ridge of Habrich. Cloudburst just left of centre skyline, Garibaldi up to the right
Some time in early August the fifth anniversary of our move to Squamish passed. No official family celebration but I paused for reflection on that date. Obviously I am happy with the decision to come here. I feel very far from exhausting the potential of this place. Options keep expanding and the to-do list only grows longer. Aside from the Chilliwack trip, all the locations mentioned in this blog post were accessed from trailheads within an hour's drive of home!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

the Squamish 12d issue

For the first year or so after I relocated to Squamish, my efforts at sport climbing were blatant grade-chasing. I sieged my way up a 5.13a and then a 5.13b. Embarrassingly I then realised that the underlying improvement in my performance didn't really reflect that level; I was still finding routes at a much lower grade hard. So, from mid-2014 onwards I decided to go into reverse and "build a pyramid" - a process recommended by many climbing coaches. Essentially this meant climbing a lot more 5.12d sport routes. I made a list of eight popular 5.12d's across a range of styles and focused on completing them all through 2015 and 2016. I ticked the last one off, the horrifically thin Vorpal Sword at Murrin, in September last year. I also climbed several more at the grade that weren't in my initial list, including a couple of new routes confirmed by others as 5.12d.

My main observation from this exercise was that the 5.12d grade is not a very useful guide to difficulty. I came close to flashing one on my list but needed seven days to complete another, the brutal Mr Negative at Chek. Discussing this with other climbers, I heard a common opinion that in Squamish there is resistance to admit sport climbing routes into the 5.13 zone, which is seen as much more prestigious than 5.12; consequently 5.12d is "broad", as it has become over-populated with routes that might elsewhere be given 5.13a. Being an empirical kind of person, I wondered if this theory was supported by any data?

Helpfully the excellent route database supports filtering by area and grade to create route lists. Furthermore, the grades are consensus from the site's users, so usually correct obvious anomalies in guidebook grades. I copied and pasted from sendage into Excel and then did some easy calculations to create a frequency distribution of incidences of routes across a range of grades. For further context, I ran the same analysis for Skaha, the other area in BC with a large number of sport routes, also heavily visited by users.

These are the results in chart form, Skaha first:

Frequency per grade for Skaha sport routes with two or more reported ascents, with exponential trendline
(data extracted from
And Squamish:

Frequency per grade for Squamish sport routes with two or more reported ascents, with exponential trendline
(data extracted from

A few observations from the data:
  1. The Skaha chart shows the frequency distribution I assume to be "normal" for a fairly large and diverse sport climbing area: that with each increment in grade there are fewer routes. The only data point that doesn't fit the curve neatly is the 5.13a grade, but the variance isn't pronounced.
  2. As anticipated, and in contrast to the Skaha data, the 5.12d grade does appear to be over-represented in Squamish.
  3. However, the 5.13a grade doesn't appear under-represented in the Squamish data. It fits the curve.
  4. The 5.12c grade looks significantly under-represented in the Squamish data. (So does the 5.13b grade to some extent.)
So where does that leave the theory that people are reluctant to give routes 5.13 in Squamish? Seemingly not very well supported. The simplest conclusion is that there is a "12c issue"; 5.12d is broad because a proportion at the soft end really belong in 5.12c. I have not spoken to anyone who thinks that make sense, but the data "is what it is" (a Canadian platitude that irritates me - but that's a whole other topic!).

Alternatively, if you stare at the chart for long enough, it is possible to imagine the data fitting the curve through a more general "smoothing": push about five 12b's into 12c, similarly about five 12d's into 13a and a few 13a's to 13b. In other words: there isn't a specific "sticky" grade - Squamish sport climbing is systematically sandbagged. This seems to resonate with many people's experience. Significantly it is much easier to get suggestions for upgrades (*) from people than the converse: suggestions for downgrades. So I am inclined to run with that conclusion.

For completeness, here are those two rival theories re-plotted:

Frequency per grade for Squamish sport routes with two or more reported ascents, with exponential trendline
ADJUSTED with five routes moved from 5.12d to 5.12c

Frequency per grade for Squamish sport routes with two or more reported ascents, with exponential trendline
ADJUSTED with 5 routes moved from 5.12b to 5.12c, 5 routes from 5.12d to 5.13a and 3 routes from 5.13a to 5.13b

Before anyone says it, I should add that I am fully aware that this analysis rests on a few questionable assumptions. The main one being that the plot of grade frequency for an area should have some specific shape at all. For an individual cliff, it would obviously be ludicrous to expect that each increment in grade is less populated. In fact it is easy to think of counter-examples. On the other hand, I am reasonably sure that it is a correct assumption for the total data set of sport climbing routes worldwide, at least down to the grade below which people tend not to be interested in developing routes. It has been decades since I last studied statistics but, as far as I recall, sampling theory - in particular the minimum size of a sample that can be expected to represent the whole - is well established stuff. So it should be possible for someone to do the math and state whether the data set of Squamish sport routes is a large enough sample. But not me.

I should also state again that this topic is only about sport climbing grades in Squamish. The style differences between sport and trad here are so great that I don't see much point in in trying to compare grades between the two. People, especially americans, will endlessly tell you how some popular Squamish trad crack would be three grades easier in the "Valley" or the "Creek". Whatever.

* For what it is worth: my upgrade list would include Ty Man from 12b to 12c, Mr Negative from 12d to 13a and Ibiza from 13a to 13b.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


In the fall of 2015,  I started work on what became my longest climbing siege of the last three years, the curiously-named Jesus Save the Pushers at Horne Lake. I first heard about this route back in 2010 from expat Brit friend, Colin Spark. At that time I hadn't visited Horne, but Colin described the route so vividly that I built up a very strong mental image that stuck in my head for several years. JSTP is spectacularly steep: about 20 metres of net horizontal movement in 30 metres of climbing. An early ascensionist, Mike Doyle, described it as "the best 5.13a in the world". Overall, an obvious candidate for obsession.

Lowering off Jesus Save the Pushers at Horne Lake
Projecting routes at Horne Lake has some strong positive and negative issues for Squamish-based climbers. On the plus side, during the often-wet fall season, the Amphitheatre at Horne works like an umbrella and only gets wet once seepage works through cracks in the limestone after several continuous weeks of rain. In comparable conditions, almost everywhere at Squamish has long since been shut down.

On the minus side, every trip to Horne requires a ferry crossing from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo and back, which is both expensive and tedious. (Well, some say tedious ... having been chauffeuring son #1 to and from soccer matches for about nine years I am very used to killing time on demand; a ferry is essentially just a sort of giant floating Starbucks with extra seating.) Given that, I am indebted to the people who accompanied me to Horne from the mainland for my attempts: the afore-mentioned Colin and on other occasions Chris, Travis and Todd. A climbing friend from my UAE years, Vanessa, also picked me up from Nanaimo on two occasions, allowing me to save on the vehicle portion of the ferry ticket.

A good metaphor for describing my efforts on JSTP would be extricating a vehicle stuck in mud or sand. Lots of tire-spinning and going nowhere, punctuated by abrupt, but usually short-lived, progress and significant amounts of sliding backwards. The first half of the route is an awkward overhanging 5.12b called Plastic Jesus, with its own anchors just off the line of JSTP. It is often attempted as a route in its own right. I onsighted a 5.12b at Horne back in 2013, but for whatever reason never really felt solid on "Plastic" and needed three days just to get the redpoint. In particular there is a strength-sapping sequence at the lip of a horizontal roof just before the chains, where it is easy to hang almost indefinitely off a jug and cammed heel hook, but weirdly hard to actually move. I spent much time trying to find an efficient sequence there but my beta always felt improvised and sketchy.

Just before the end of "Plastic", JSTP goes right for a couple of moves into a peculiar alcove sandwiched between big overhangs. Allegedly there is a good rest to be had there but I never found anything better than an uncomfortable and mentally-draining "butt scum" wedged out of balance on two opposing tufa features. From there the route breaks out through another big horizontal roof on spaced pockets to a difficult clip, a tenuous perch on the lip then a pumpy set-up for a dynamic and blind move on the merely-overhanging wall above. The trick there is a complicated sequence of knee bars - four "knee swaps" in total for me - to avoid cutting loose and to recover some strength. This section I did get dialled from around day 6 of my siege but it never felt easy.

Above is a long "slab" section (it probably overhangs 20-30 degrees) with good holds broken by an OK rest on a knee bar at the amusingly-named "Garden": an often-wet niche with a single tiny fern. Then the climbing gets hard again with an awkward barn-door'y traverse then another near-horizontal section ending on two unhelpfully-flat small holds. As most normal people are seriously pumped at this point, the moves off those holds are generally regarded as the redpoint crux: a campus-like throw to another flat hold then a committing lurch sideways on a shockingly-small gaston to big holds and a stem rest. The chains are just above. For some reason, when discussing Pushers no-one mentions that this crux section is hideously run-out with a guaranteed fall of maybe ten metres or more. This makes it hard to work the route as it is really hard to regain contact with the cliff after falling. Furthermore, some sadist placed the bolt after the crux in a hard-to-clip spot, so the consensus strategy is to just skip it and push on to the chains.

My last three days on JSTP in the fall of 2017 (I took eight days spread over a year in total) all involved taking the big whip from the top section at various points. Unsurprisingly, stamina seemed to be the primary problem as I always felt out of gas at the twin flat holds. I addressed this issue in two ways: back home, trying to improve my stamina through some monotonous "foot-on-campusing"; on the route, looking for greater gains from the available rests. As seems typical of prolonged sieges, I also developed some irrational neuroses, of which the primary one became BC Ferries coffee! I concluded that I was drinking too much of it (hard to avoid on a 90 minute crossing), that it was over-caffeinated and toxic, and that I was therefore arriving at the cliff too jittery and uncomposed.

Just say no (to BC Ferries coffee)

On my last day there, aptly accompanied by Colin who had first got me interested in the route, I tackled the coffee issue by bringing my own flask and strictly rationing my dosage whilst on the boat. I also requested that Colin use his phone to time my rest at the "butt scum", to ensure that I didn't set off too soon. Perhaps predictably, none of this worked and my first burn terminated at the four-knee-swaps spot - my lowest failure for some time. I threw a classic sport-climbers' tantrum whilst lowering off and vowed to give up on the route for the rest of the season ...

... a vow which I reneged on about three hours later. It would be an overstatement to say that my psyche returned; more accurately I accepted that honour required at least one more token try. However I made sure the deck was so stacked against me that there could be no risk of success: belaying Colin for long enough to get thoroughly cooled down and for good measure necking the remainder of my coffee to ensure I was too hyper to focus. I then sealed the deal by forgetting to wear my knee pads and not realising until the fourth bolt.

The problem with assured redpoint failure is that despite being mentally excused any annoying pressure to "try hard" there remains the small matter of actually succeeding in falling off. Despite the "oops-no-knee-pads" shock I failed to fail anywhere on the Plastic Jesus section and found myself back at the terrible rest. The obvious next strategy was to leave that rest too quickly and make sure I pumped out at the four-knee-swaps section but somehow I bumbled on through that part too and reached the knee bar rest at the "Garden".  At this point whichever part of my brain handles optimism experimentally fired a few neurones whilst long-term memory reminded me that I had never fallen off the next few moves. My overall mental state shifted subtly from total indifference to "well, fuck it then: let's at least get high enough for a respectable fall".

Autopilot then carried me all the way back to my usual high-point at the twin flatties. Where a miracle occurred. Someone had once told me that there was a final knee bar possible there, in a short wide crack, but I had never found it. But this time my right knee just slotted in without any conscious effort. I considered the situation and realised that this was actually a sort of rest and that I could de-pump modestly for a few seconds. All sorts of good brain chemicals then kicked in hard. I nonchalantly crushed the pop to the higher flattie and nasty gaston move, spat dismissively on the un-clippable final draw and whooped to the chains.

POSTSCRIPT: What do I learn from all this? It is stating the obvious but: to succeed on these kind of routes, you have to just keep showing up and trying them. Which requires a certain stubbornness (plus time and willing partners). But beyond that, does it matter what else is going on in your head?

Specific psychological training seems to oscillate in and out of fashion in the climbing world, but there is usually at least one coach out there pimping a book or course on how to think your way to success. However the very accomplished Scottish climber, Dave Macleod, wrote an excellent blog-post a couple of years ago debunking the whole topic:

"The cult of positive thinking, both in society and in sports psychology, is looking increasingly like it may be among several major diversions from the path of progress of sport and health in recent decades .... A determined performance with 100% effort can exist just as easily in any state of mind, positive or otherwise. The key point is to give that effort regardless of your state of mind."

For what it's worth, this seems right to me. Ideally it would be great to suppress the mental chatter before or during a climb, but, otherwise it is just seems best to ignore it. My Pushers' send was the most farcical experience I have had of succeeding against all expectation but it has happened to me before and I am sure will happen again.

Friday, October 28, 2016

west of the river 2: alpha

A couple of months after visiting Echo Lake, I ventured into the Tantalus mountains again, to attempt Mt Alpha. The mountain has been on my mind for years as it is the most striking of the peaks visible from the Sea to Sky highway north of Squamish. There is even a popular viewpoint on the road from which tourists frame their selfies with it 365 days a year. I am a sucker for mountains that look like mountains, irrespective of their actual difficulty. Alpha is satisfyingly pointy.

Alpha in winter
I know many people who have climbed Alpha. Two of my friends have soloed it in a day, starting and ending on the valley floor with an altitude gain of 2300m. One of them did it door to door from his house, cycling the not-insignificant distance to the usual start point. Unfortunately, being a defiant aerobophobe (is this a word? - if not it should be) that kind of madness is not for me. Thus my ascent waited on the discovery of a climbing partner both as lazy as me and with the financial stature to pay for a helicopter ride: Chris. Over the last year or so he has become one of my most regular climbing partners, almost wholly on sport cliffs, but we only recently confessed to alpine urges.

Helicopter access to the Tantalus is laughably convenient. We met our pilot at Squamish airport around 6:45am, had the payment and a safety briefing complete by 7:00 and were landed by Lake Lovely Water at around 1000m altitude by 7:10. We bagged a camping platform by the hut there, tossed beer into the lake to cool and had begun our ascent well before 8:00. Our plan was to climb up and down the East Ridge route. The more standard itinerary is to descend to the west on a lower-angle scrambling route but a study of numerous online trip reports suggested that 1. everyone gets lost 2. the hike back alongside the lake from the west side to the start point is long and tedious.

The trail to the start of the east ridge is reasonably well-flagged through the initial forest section but then less distinct on more open heather-and-talus slopes above. But it doesn't matter too much as it is fairly clear where you are headed: a slight col on the ridge above. However it was buggy; I was glad to have brought a head net. At the col, where you meet the glacier, there was more wind and temperatures were cooler, so bugs less of a problem. 

The last section of the approach trail
The East Ridge from the col
The East Ridge breaks down into three sections: scrambling on the crest of the ridge or snow plodding at varying angles to its right; a short 5th class climbing section where a rope is a appropriate; a final few hundred metres of scrambling/ easy climbing. We had both chosen to wear approach shoes rather than heavier boots, and correspondingly did not have crampons, though we did each have an ice axe. For the first section, Chris chose to scramble the ridge whilst I took my chances with the snow. With hindsight his choice was probably better, as the snow was a little harder than I had expected, and I felt insecure at several points. We met up again at the notch under the 5th class section, where we dumped the ice axes and roped up.

Niobe and Lake Lovely Water from the start of the east ridge
Chris below the short 5th class section
The roped climbing was straightforward and obvious with just a couple of steep crack moves around 5.8 then the rest much easier. We did it in three short pitches, of which the last was definitely unnecessary. Above that section we dumped ropes and the other climbing gear, though I chose to continuing wearing climbing shoes (a comfortable pair of Mythos).

Route finding from there to the summit was confusing at times, with multiple options. It reminded me of easy ridges I had climbed in the Swiss Alps as a teenager. Not technically demanding at all but definitely "mustn't fall" terrain in a couple of spots. When I was much younger, that kind of casual unsensational risk-taking never troubled me much, but as I grow older it hovers around the edge of my conscious thought rather more. There had been a high profile fatality in the Coast Mountains a few weeks previously. The accident was on a much bigger and tougher peak, but my understanding is that the victim's critical slip was on easy unroped terrain. I had actually met her briefly at a Squamish cliff earlier in the summer, as I was climbing with one of her mentors and friends. She seemed energetic, thoughtful, experienced. A unfathomable, sobering loss.

Chris starting the final summit tower
Chris and I spent about twenty minutes at the summit eating lunch and taking photos. Views were excellent. Eventually we were spooked by some cloud starting to form on the nearby, but higher, summit of Mt Tantalus, so decided to head down.

Dione and Tantalus from the summit
Looking south to Howe Sound and the Georgia Strait
Looking across the valley to a very bare Mt Garibaldi 
Descent was mostly uneventful. We drifted briefly on to the glacier hoping the snow would be softer but then reverted to the ridge. Very near the end of the unroped down-climbing I had an uncomfortable moment when I pulled off a loose hold in a slightly comical slow-motion way. But I had a solid hold in my other hand and didn't fall.

On the descent
We were back at the lake mid-afternoon with significant time to kill. Bugs were still bad, so we drank beer rather claustrophobically in the tent. I also had an experimental swim in the lake: very cold, very refreshing. Later we drank more beer by the lake with a small, possibly-illegal campfire to keep the bugs at bay. A couple of other climbers joined us and described the west descent of Alpha which we had avoided. It sounded like quite a chore so we felt vindicated in our decision.

Did I mention the bugs?
Last light over the lake
We had booked our ride out at noon the next day. This gave us an opportunity to wander around the lake on the opposite side from Alpha and admire the previous day's route. Also to research the approach to the north side of Mt Niobe, which we both thought a worthy objective for a future trip.

Alpha east ridge in profile, from the lake
Chris checking out boulders at Niobe Meadows
A SUP out on Lake Lovely Water
Back at camp, I had a final swim. Lake Lovely Water is well named; it is a very very aesthetic spot. With its glacier-fed water and high alpine backdrop it is reminiscent of the Rockies' famous Lake Louise, but without the ridiculous faux-chateau and thousands of tourists. Indeed, at least fleetingly, I had the lake all to myself.

When diving into cold water, there is a distinct and interesting interval, just after the conscious commitment to launch but just before the inevitable "christ, it's freezing" shock. In that moment, I was unexpectedly overwhelmed with elation: that I was alive in a beautiful place, that the world was as perfect as it could possibly be, that kind of hippie stuff. Sensations like that don't often hit me these days, and being a jaded old cynic about most things I can easily rationalise it as post-fatigue endorphins or perhaps even the childish anticipation of another helicopter ride. Anyway: it happened and it was uplifting, and it reminded me why we go into the mountains for pointless adventures.