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Elfin Lakes Hut, downstairs
Elfin Lakes Hut, upstairs
Rules and Regs
Historical Facts
Water for supper
We were planning to do an east face route on Garibaldi, graded "PD+" in the european alpine grade scale (which stands for "peu difficile+", or "a bit harder than a bit difficult"). The route involved a long approach, and then climbed pretty gentle glaciers to a rocky summit tower, with one stretch of 45+ (i.e. 45 or maybe a bit more) degree-steep snow slope. It seemed like an appropriately conservative yet interesting climb.

Not wanting to assume anything, I suggested as early a start as I thought I could get away with. We agreed on getting up at 2am, and being on the trail and walking by 3am. This would allow us to be up on the high part of the mountain before too much of the day had passed. For one, It is always good to be mindful of soft snow later in the day, and secondly, if we were incredibly slow, at least we'd have enough light.
Old Elfin Lakes Hut
Feathery beggar
Elfin Lakes Shelter
We had arrived at the hut early in the day, so we had lots of time to lounge around, play cards, organize our stuff, cook dinner, and go to bed early. As I lay in my bunk, in full daylight (it was about 8pm when we went to bed), I mentally crossed my fingers and hoped that we'd get the great weather that would make our climbing day truly outstanding.
Alpine Start
Cloudy dawn
It took me a while to get to sleep - a combination of an early evening and anticipation of the next day's adventure. When 2 A.M. finally did roll around, we got up, being very careful not to awaken the German couple sleeping in bunks at the far end of the top floor. Downstairs, we had simple breakfasts, arranged our packs, and were standing outside just before 3 A.M., right on schedule.

I was disappointed to see that a low, thick fog had settled over everything. Had the weather turned? were we going to be in for more socked-in, wet weather? The forecast had been solidly in favour of good weather, and I was about to begin a short mental curse to all weathermen, when I noticed that we could occasionally see a few stars straining through the mist, directly overhead. This possibly meant that we were simply in a thick layer of cloud that just happened to be at our 4800 foot elevation level. Not only that, but if a low layer of cloud was present and widespread, then we stood an excellent chance of climbing above it into clear air, and with that, excellent views from above the clouds.
Just visible through the clouds
Ridgetop walking
Through the cloud layer
We headed north on the trail leading towards Opal Cone and Mamquam Lake. Along the way, we again noticed glaring exaggerations in the distances given by the trail signs. Over-stating distances must be an official policy in Garibaldi Park! The trail was a very nice, wide, graded path. It contoured along a southern spur of Mount Garibaldi, passing underneath Columnar Peak and the Gargoyles (two lower summits to the south of Garibaldi), and staying well above Ring Creek in the valley to the east. The night was calm, still, and the temperature pleasant - good hiking weather.

Over several kilometres, the trail contoured and descended, at a shallow angle, to the floor of the valley and to the banks of Ring Creek itself. After crossing a tributary of Ring Creek, we continued north for a little bit, then stopped to consult the route description and the map. It wasn't entirely clear which was the best alternative for gaining the snowfields and glaciers of Garibaldi. In the end, we decided to not ascend via the bottom of one of Ring Creek's tributaries, but instead to climb to the crest of a ridge separating two of the tributaries. The going was very steep, up earthy ground. It didn't take us long to gain the crest, at which point the hiking became fairly easy, with good footing. Looking up, we could see dawn approaching, and we could also see a thinly veiled Mount Garibaldi through a wispy layer of clouds. It looked like we were going to get our chance to climb above the clouds!
Breaking through...
Above the clouds
Above the clouds
The ridge route proved to be a good ascent route - we were soon and without difficulty up onto the snowfields that led up to the Diamond Glacier. The snow was good and hard, so we donned crampons and crunched up the steepening snow slope, noting the change from sub-alpine terrain with scrub and trees to full alpine terrain, with only snow and rock. It was about this time that we finally broke through the clouds into glorious, brilliant morning sunshine. Behind us was a wonderful cotton-y expanse of fluffy clouds. The layer of clouds lapped up against the shore of Garibaldi's ramparts, creating a true island in the sky. I love it when the weather is like this!

Looking uphill, we now had an excellent view of the next phase of our climb. Directly above was the jagged subsummit of Atwell Peak. Below it, the Diamond Glacier. Our route ascended and crossed a flat section of the Diamond Glacier, then crossed a low gravelly ridge. The gravelly ridge separated the Diamond Glacier from the Bishop Glacier, and in fact from the entire Garibaldi Neve (the Garibaldi Neve is a large icefield on the eastern slopes of Garibaldi).
Below Diamond Head
Heading to the Diamond
Across the Diamond Glacier
Stopping just before the edge of the Diamond Glacier, we stopped for a long break and got out our rope gear. It was glacier and steep rock all the way from here to the summit.
A drink before roping up.
Diamond Crevasses
Diamond and Diamond Head
Scary Ramparts
Heading to the ridge
Island in the Sky
The crossing of the Diamond Glacier was pretty easy. The open crevasses were few and easily negotiated, the snow was in good shape, and it was fairly flat, for the most part. Now that we were close to the upper parts of the mountains, we could see how loose and crumbly much of it was. Atwell peak rose up above the head of the Diamond Glacier in an impressive and intimidating fashion, with steep and jagged-looking gullies and pinnacles. The huge apron of rocks peppering the snow at its base and the occasional rattle of falling rocks kept us far away from its base.

The low gravelly ridge that separates the Diamond Glacier from the Bishop Glacier was tedious. It was very loose and dusty, and it took a lot of effort and ungraceful moves to ascend it. And, it also was getting my new rope all dirty! Fortunately, though, it was quite short, and it didn't take us too long to get over it. Once on its far side, we were treated to an entirely new side of Garibaldi. We could see the Garibaldi Neve stretching north and east before us. Above us, we could see the upper snows of the Cheekeye Glacier, and we could see the steep-looking rock tower of the summit itself. Our ascent route wandered up the Bishop Glacier to its headwall, where we would stay to the right of an icefall, climbing some steepish-looking snowslopes.
Ascending the Diamond Glacier
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