Unlike other stories, that is how this one ends.
Mark & Morgan - a pair of talented young climbers
Rob - climber, mountaineer, practical joker
Guntis - not a climber, but a pretty decent veggie belayer
Setting the scene
Rob and I (too old for Lululemon, too young for flannel & jeans) show up in long pants and full packs. The young guys…t-shirts and 2L of water between them.
The Sea to Sky gondola didn’t open until 10am. Too late for us. We 4 tall people stuffed ourselves like clowns into my Suzuki and drove up the service road to the gate. Starting our hike at 8am was both leisurely and pleasantly cool. The entire day would turn out to be a comfortable 20C day.
The Long Walk
It’s a long walk to the end of the Sky Pilot Valley Trail. But not as long as it used to be before the gondola was built. Walk, walk some more, and then, once you reach the glacier, the elevation gain really gets going.
It is possible to completely avoid touching the glacier at this time, although some microspikes or crampons would probably make life easier (so as to avoid much of the loose moraine).
We made our way up the shifting rubble heaps, gradually covering ourselves in dust and grime, until we broke free and arrived at the first crux (the infamous slab).
My research and reading of previous reports had me nervous, but the exposure wasn't what I expected. You walk up to it on a flat ridge, with an angled climb of about 40 feet. Enough to be dangerous, but not the airy type of vertigo I had been expecting. Mark and Morgan both sought out the most difficult route they could find and climbed up effortlessly. I followed far less gracefully, but without any problems.
The views are stellar along the way. Combined with the ongoing relaxed conversation in our group, all my thoughts of impending doom were properly stifled.
A route-finding comment:
Make your way to the base of the gendarme. Then work your way around to the (climber's) right until you reach the first gully. On the return, make sure to return along the base of the gendarme again, staying high, until you can't proceed, then descend. We descended too soon on our return and had to traverse over a really loose slope. Quite unpleasant.
The gullies are steeper than the pink slab, but there are lots of holds. I grunted my way up while Morgan sought out more challenging alternatives.
The most exposed section (in my opinion) of the Sky Pilot scramble is not a climbing section. It is the narrow path past a short wall just before the final gully.
A short climb later, and the spectacular summit is reached.
We enjoyed a half hour at the top, soaking in sunshine and views. Mark and I shared some black licorice while the other two cringed. What is with people who don't like licorice? It's so good!
We downclimbed carefully but uneventfully, meeting another party on their way up. Descending the pink slab seemed easier, and it was, as I took the angled break in the rocks this time (instead of my straight-on ascent path). Since I was first down, I got to observe some nice climbing technique from the others.
We met more people coming up at the glacier. Everyone looked capable, probably due to it being mid-week. After the glacier, Rob and I paused to pull out our hiking poles. As we pulled ahead of the younger and more fit guys, slipping and sliding on the steep dirt trail, I called back, "I bet you wish you had poles now!"
We came across a Flicker on our walk back along the lower trail. It kept teasing us, hopping or flying ahead on the trail as we walked down. When I tried to take a picture, it would fly far ahead. Then, when I put my camera away in frustration, it allowed us to get within 5 feet of it, calmly waiting. Grrr.
And that brings us to the title of the trip. We finished up with some cold Sky Pilot Pale Ale while sitting on the sunny deck, looking back at the formidable yet scenic summit.
I had gone through 2L of water and 750mL of Gatorade. Our young climber friends had only gone through 1.5L between them. Is that what being in your 20's was like?
It is justifiably rated a Difficult scramble. I brought a rope and harness in the event that I'd be too nervous to climb unprotected, but I ended up being fine.
4 crux sections:
pink slab - steep, difficult, but not as exposed as I expected (there is even a brand new anchor at the top if one wants to rappel down).
3 gullies - even steeper, also difficult, but more things to hold onto, and being a gully, it didn't feel exposed either.
The one truly exposed section is basically walking past a short wall with a big drop next to it.
I had done stuff at this level of difficulty before, but only for short distances. On Sky Pilot, there are several difficult scrambling sections linked together. For me personally, it helped that I was with 3 climbers. I knew if I got into difficulty, they'd be able to talk me through it. That confidence and the fact that we were chatting the whole time kept me relaxed throughout.
It's not a beginner scramble. My advice: go do the West Lion and Black Tusk first, and then try this one with someone who's done it before.
Stats (from service road gate):
1450m cumulative elevation gain