Pemberton Icecap Loop - my story

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Pemberton Icecap Loop - my story

Postby Sfly » Sat Jun 03, 2017 10:10 am

Pemberton Icecap Loop – May 28th, 2017

I had a hunch it might be the day, so I packed a very light bivy kit of a bug net, poncho, metal cup, fire starter, soup packets, and sardines, just in case. We used to scheme about flying over Brandywine and along the divide to Squamish, though over the years, the dream evolved to follow the sun and wind around the more obvious thermal loop on the map, following the Elaho north to Meager and familiar terrain. Initial forays were never very promising, the wind always seemed ragged and down flowing by Metal Dome and Mt Brew. But maybe today, with a forecast of easterly switching to southerly, would be the ticket to the other side.

On my second try I crossed over the snow covered pass at the head of Brandywine Creek, just barely soaring over the snow slopes on hopes, dreams and lucky little bits of lift. I was so engrossed with making the pass, and committing to Shovelnose valley, that I lost the option to turn back, or chicken out. I wasn't so much worried about landing out as everywhere was snow covered, and I knew I could walk out in a day, or re-launch and fly down to logging roads. Alas, I had made my choice, or it had made me - so on I scratched, in and out of a small hanging valley with a snowy meadow in the bottom, until I was right in on the lower third of the massive wall of the unclimbed Vulcans Thumb, an El Penon Grande. There were no visible LZs though I was certain I wasn’t about to need one with the vertical face looming above gleaming in the sun - sinking out was not a worry. Here I was happy to be on my wing instead of climbing on the face. It was an impressive spot, an amphitheatre of loose rock, cascading avalanches, and thundering melt water. Likely the vilest spot I have ever flown without a motor. All along the face I was braced for violent lift and finally caught it coming off the south ridge. Just as I was yanked skywards, I was surprised to see a mountain goat amongst the krummholz on the craggy snow covered buttress, and he was even more surprised to see me. When I crested the summit of Pyroclastic Peak with the ravens who then landing on the spire, I circled and circled without gaining height, thinking long and hard about my last chance to turn back and glide downwind over the Powdercap into the Callaghan Valley. It would relieve my burden of fear - of whether the route was safe enough, whether the winds and thermals would persist or worsen, and what would unfold throughout the day. It was a struggle to cut the umbilical cord of a comfortable home beckoning back eastwards, but at the same time, I was glad to have the luxury of casting off. Although not as hungry for intense experiences as I used to be, my soul still wanted the adventure of not knowing if the route would go, where I might sleep, how far I might have to walk out, and from where, or what I might have to do to survive. I didn't have to be at work on Monday, my time was mine. I convinced myself that except for max climbs to only 2700m, the reliable lift and wind direction were excellent for such a journey. And besides, the next step wasn't too committing, I was already on one of the cruxes. I turned west on glide towards the Elaho Squamish confluence, and finally relaxed, heading away from civilization.

There were many LZ gravel bars visible in the vicinity of the bridge and confluence above the rising freshet, and it felt good to have made that decision. I settled into the experience, and pushed bar. The wind was cross, coming up from Squamish, and I easily made the large east facing avalanche path at tree-line on the divide between the Squamish and Elaho Rivers. Climbing to 2800m I glided over the Blanca Lakes plateau into the upper Elaho near Sims Creek, greatly relieved to have totally bypassed the Elaho canyon. Many gravel bars and logging landings were visible all the way up the valley to the start of the Upper Elaho Valley Conservancy and the old growth. Wresting my curiosity away from the geography unfolding below me and glancing upwards, wisps of a cloud street were beckoning me to hurry onwards north along the sun baked west slopes of the Icecap. The forest fire of 2015 ransacked the valley. Huge swaths of old growth had burned in sections between the cut blocks and up the valley sides to the alpine, but the terrain sure generated thermals. When the burned and logged slopes of the valley ended, I worked hard to reach the ephemeral cloud base now at 3000m, and then straight lined over one of the very few unlogged forests of large trees left in SW British Columbia. As expected, there was no lift over the Hundred Lakes plateau, and the dreaded sink begun, down into the head of the Meager Creek valley. For this section, all my outs would need to be above tree-line on snow, requiring great self discipline to not scratch too low, but land safely up high, then re-launch when and where favourable. I was resolved to a probable out landing with a hike towards the Harrison Hut. So with the wind at my back, I pointed across the plateau towards the closest tree lined slide path, and watched my cherished elevation bleed away. It was my first major sink of the journey, and I clung and scratched downwind along the west facing slopes, eyeballing the distant washout of the Capricorn landslide, wondering if I would be blown all the way down there, and whether it would be smooth and silty, or just boulders. I wondered if I could then ford Capricorn Creek, and I knew I could cross a tree planters zip line over the Lillooet River.

In the heat of the afternoon, I turned my attention back to the warm lift over the sun baked forest, stopped sinking, and skirted along the ever steepening slopes below Overseer Mountain. Soon I was climbing up a monster avalanche path to crest above the Meager/Lillooet confluence to embark on a lee side glide across the Lillooet River valley to Mt Spindrift, and the familiar route back along the ridge to Pemberton. For a few moments, while bucking a headwind on the crossing, it was tempting to turn downwind and continue the adventure to Mt. Athelstan and land high for the night, but I didn't have my comfy bivy kit, I was alone, and the high pressure was ending soon. I thought better of it – thinking that taking one step at a time in this great game of paragliding adventure would be best, safest, and most fun.

Eventually the headwind coming off the Pemberton Icecap eased, and the day started shutting down. I cruised by upper McKenzie launch hoping for the evening restitution to close the loop back to Whistler. But no luck, I had to take my first motorized vehicle of the day 30 km back home, to where I started.

Scott Flavelle

Harry Siempelkamp
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Re: Pemberton Icecap Loop - my story

Postby Harry Siempelkamp » Sat Jun 03, 2017 10:18 am

Wow. Amazing flight , excellent write up. Thanks for sharing with us.

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Re: Pemberton Icecap Loop - my story

Postby Claudia » Sat Jun 03, 2017 10:48 am

Congrats to an amazing flight, and thanks for posting the write up!

Spot track download/file.php?id=2189
Leonardo Track

(And a much better title than 'Elaho Loop' ... see my post viewtopic.php?f=3&t=9391 ;-))

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Re: Pemberton Icecap Loop - my story

Postby AlexR » Sat Jun 03, 2017 12:51 pm

Great flight Scott. Thanks for sharing in such detail.

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