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Conquering Golden Ears


A group of six real men and women – make that fearless and a touch foolhardy – from the Simon Fraser Recreational Club stood in the parking lot arguing about the need for tents on our overnight hike to Golden Ears Provincial Park outside of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Alouette Lake, Golden Ears Provincial Park. Courtesy of Tourism BC."Who cares if it goes down to 0 (Celsius) tonight," said one. "It probably won't rain, and if it does we have a couple of tarps," said another. One of the girls piped in that she had not bothered to bring food for the overnight trip. She claimed she didn't need it. For pure toughness, she easily outdid the rest of us. In the end, we carried two small tents for all of us. Somebody would be sleeping outside. I looked forward to a night under the stars.

The 50-pound packs were surprisingly light as we walked down an old gravel trail towards the base of the mountain. It seemed like a Sunday stroll in the park; our mood and step were lively until we came to a ladder that led us down a 12-foot bank. After climbing down and scrambling across a gully, we came to a walkway over a clear rushing stream, the path a mere foot above the water. The walkway skirted a huge root-ball before we reached the stairs that took us out. At the top where the path turned, a small patch of ground had fallen away between two roots revealing clear water ebbing underground.

The trail soon arrived at Alder Flats (so named because it is flat and populated with alders). The valley was a dead-end, caught between a high ridge and a jagged peak. The only way was up. Straight up. The trail began to ascend in switchbacks over loose fist-size rocks. It was hot and the sweat began to roll down our faces. We stopped for lunch and Aline, the foodless one, sloughed off all offers to share a meal. She said we'd need the food later. Then she stared at us with her puppy dog eyes and accepted a few of our scraps.

The trail became too steep for stairs. It went straight up a rockslide, endlessly. We used our hands to help us climb. Our legs reluctantly carried the extra weight of our packs as we scrambled up. At the top of the ridge the path continued to the final official campground at the edge of the snowfield below the peak. A man passed us, bruised and bloodied. His warning was grim and omen-like, "Don't wander out onto the snowfields. If you start sliding you may not stop!" We thanked him for the warning and continued on. Unfortunately, we had left our ice axes in the car.

The campground didn't look too spectacular so we continued, hoping that the jagged peak would have enough room to allow us to unroll six sleeping bags. The peak rose like a crown above a treacherous permanent snowfield.

Golden Ears Peak. Copyright Oliver Rathonyi-Reusz.It was too steep to summit on all but one tricky side. This mountain was known to be a challenge to hikers, even without packs. As if to remind us of how cold it becomes at night, tiny streams emerging from beneath the snow refroze as ice around the rocks. The hoarfrost was thick in places from weeks of buildup. I was glad it was a sunny day.

We skirted the snowfield as best we could, crossing it only in places that were relatively flat. At times we had to squeeze between ice and rocks. The rocks were too steep to climb and the ice too slippery to walk upon. The ice wall was 12 feet high and the rocks so slippery we would have to brace ourselves against the freezing ice for support. A path was intermittently evident in a few places.

On the way. Copyright Jason Harvey.Members of the group soon began to mutiny. The climb was too steep and tricky. We were frequently using rock-climbing skills to conquer obstacles. It was no easy feat with our balance altered by heavy backpacks. When we weren't climbing, we were crawling under stunted trees on ledges, pressing our bellies towards the ground whenever our packs wedged under a tree branch.

A scouting party was sent ahead and reports were favorable. The climb was no worse ahead then behind. Onward we climbed until we reached the summit. With relief we took off our packs and danced for joy. Vancouver was laid out at our feet, and Vancouver Island could be seen in the distance along with the Olympic Peninsula and all of the Gulf and San Juan Islands. The occasional recreational aircraft flew below us. Most of them circled upwards to get a better look at us. One came so close we could see the surprise in the pilot's eyes. By then we had set up our two tents and dinner was underway. Perhaps he hadn't expected civilization at this altitude or maybe he had come by to see what was for dinner.

The sun set slowly over Vancouver. The lights of the city grew brighter as the sun dimmed. The cold began to creep in and a light wind added to the chill. Only the two girls climbed into a tent. Everyone else was left to sleep outside, wedged in between cracks in the rocks.

Golden Ears Ridge - North. Copyright Jason Harvey.The tents occupied the only two spaces large enough to accommodate even half a tent. The girls had invited me in; insisting it was too cold to be sleeping outside. I happily obliged.

The sunrise came soon. We all woke to enjoy the large orange globe's struggle over the mountains to greet a new day. Waterless, we packed up and headed down to the tip of the snowfield for breakfast. In a hurry we decided to test the ice in order to gain some time. The first one who ventured onto the ice landed hard and didn't stop. He gained speed as he whipped over the small bumps, pack on back. One hundred and fifty meters later, he began to slow as he entered a snow bowl at the bottom. The rest of us opted for the long, rocky way around. Thirty minutes later we joined him by the stream at the end of the snowfield. Our precipice poodle (someone or something to test the ice) was unhurt, but a little shaken. We, too, had been lucky. One short, three-meter band of ice we crossed had been so slippery that many of us fell. Luckily, everyone caught the rocks and avoided slipping sideways onto a particularly steep part of the snowfield that would have sent them flying off the mountain.

After breakfast we continued home. Yesterday's elevation gain of 5,000 feet had taken its toll. Towards the bottom we became lazy and clumsy because we were exhausted. Slips and falls, blisters and sprained ankles began to plague us. The return trail seemed longer and never-ending. The occasional cleared landing pad for rescue helicopters reminded us of how treacherous this route actually is. The last kilometers ended in a hobbling, near-run by many of us in a vain effort to end the pain sooner. My pack had become excruciatingly heavy and my legs too tired to carry me. The sight of our cars brought broad smiles of relief. It had been an excellent experience pushing many of us to the limits of our endurance, but we were all glad it was over.

When you go:

Golden Ears is located 48 kilometers east of Vancouver in the Coast Mountain Range. This hike is recommended for late summer and fall due to the high elevation. The hike is accessible from the south parking lot of Gold Creek and is known as Golden Ears Trail.

For more information on the park go to:

www.bctour.com/glder/glder.htm or

www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/golden.htm

Visit the Tourism British Columbia at www.hellobc.com or contact them at 1-800-HELLO BC.

Warning:

Camp on the summit is not recommended. The elevation gain and distance for this particular hike is very strenuous. The peak is very exposed and vulnerable to sudden weather changes. As with any wilderness trip, be prepared before you go.

The sun set slowly over Vancouver. The lights of the city grew brighter as the sun dimmed. The cold began to creep in and a light wind added to the chill. Only the two girls climbed into a tent. Everyone else was left to sleep outside, wedged in between cracks in the rocks.

Golden Ears Ridge - North. Copyright Jason Harvey.The tents occupied the only two spaces large enough to accommodate even half a tent. The girls had invited me in; insisting it was too cold to be sleeping outside. I happily obliged.

The sunrise came soon. We all woke to enjoy the large orange globe's struggle over the mountains to greet a new day. Waterless, we packed up and headed down to the tip of the snowfield for breakfast. In a hurry we decided to test the ice in order to gain some time. The first one who ventured onto the ice landed hard and didn't stop. He gained speed as he whipped over the small bumps, pack on back. One hundred and fifty meters later, he began to slow as he entered a snow bowl at the bottom. The rest of us opted for the long, rocky way around. Thirty minutes later we joined him by the stream at the end of the snowfield. Our precipice poodle (someone or something to test the ice) was unhurt, but a little shaken. We, too, had been lucky. One short, three-meter band of ice we crossed had been so slippery that many of us fell. Luckily, everyone caught the rocks and avoided slipping sideways onto a particularly steep part of the snowfield that would have sent them flying off the mountain.

After breakfast we continued home. Yesterday's elevation gain of 5,000 feet had taken its toll. Towards the bottom we became lazy and clumsy because we were exhausted. Slips and falls, blisters and sprained ankles began to plague us. The return trail seemed longer and never-ending. The occasional cleared landing pad for rescue helicopters reminded us of how treacherous this route actually is. The last kilometers ended in a hobbling, near-run by many of us in a vain effort to end the pain sooner. My pack had become excruciatingly heavy and my legs too tired to carry me. The sight of our cars brought broad smiles of relief. It had been an excellent experience pushing many of us to the limits of our endurance, but we were all glad it was over.

When you go:

Golden Ears is located 48 kilometers east of Vancouver in the Coast Mountain Range. This hike is recommended for late summer and fall due to the high elevation. The hike is accessible from the south parking lot of Gold Creek and is known as Golden Ears Trail.

For more information on the park go to:

www.bctour.com/glder/glder.htm or

www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/golden.htm

Visit the Tourism British Columbia at www.hellobc.com or contact them at 1-800-HELLO BC.

Warning:

Camp on the summit is not recommended. The elevation gain and distance for this particular hike is very strenuous. The peak is very exposed and vulnerable to sudden weather changes. As with any wilderness trip, be prepared before you go.