Loose and Sketchy Ė Fissile Peak Ė Sept. 11, 2017 (Part 1)
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Back in July, I climbed Blackcomb Peak. Whistler-Blackcombís odd pricing for summer lift tickets meant that since I had had an EDGE card last season, I was able to get a summer season pass for a mere $5 more than a single day pass. When I knew that I had a week-and-a-half window of opportunity to go hiking in September (my wife took the kids to Ontario), my top priority was making sure I did a hike that would take advantage of my season pass.
My plan was to hike to Russet Lake, stay overnight there, and climb Fissile, Whirlwind, and Overlord. All three of these peaks are in Matt Gunnís Scrambles book and seemed like worthy destinations. Russet Lake can get pretty busy on weekends and since I prefer to keep away from the crowds as much as possible, I was pretty pleased when the weather looked like it would hold for me. I decided to take a couple weekdays off work and take advantage of my nearly-free lift to the top of Whistler.
Even though it was a Monday, Whistler was still super busy. There were mountain bikers and tourists everywhere and I had to endure a surprisingly long lineup to get on the Whistler Gondola. Once off the gondola, however, the crowds didnít bother me too much. I hiked the short distance down to the Peak Chair and took the easy way to the top of Whistler Mountain.
My plan was to take the High Note Trail from Whistler Peak, then take the Musical Bumps Trail to Singing Pass, followed by the Singing Pass Trail to Russet Lake. I started off by soaking in the views from Whistler Peak and getting a good look at Overlord, Fissile, and Whirlwind to the east. They looked pretty far away!
The High Note Trail was incredible! It initially drops elevation and loops around to the west giving nice views of the Whistler valley before curling south and back east again on the south-facing slopes of Whistler Mountain. With the September sun low(ish) in the southern sky, the lighting was tricky so the pictures donít do the views justice.
Directly across the valley to the south were the familiar peaks between Castle Towers and The Black Tusk.
The trail kept traversing east and soon the vibrant colours of Cheakamus Lake started to come into view.
I felt very out of place with my massive overnight pack among the day hikers, trail runners, and tourists.
This part of the trail was a real pleasure. The views were non-stop and continued to impress. Lighting continued to be a challenge for photo-taking as increasing cloud cover meant that everything was in shadow, but the clouds were brilliantly white. Neither my iPhone nor my dSLR knew how to properly handle it (Iím sure a proper photographer (of Photoshopper) would know what to do with a dSLR in that lighting, but Iím definitely not up to the task).
I finally left all the crowds behind when I left the High Note Trail and took the Musical Bumps trail up to the top of Flute Summit. The change was welcome and the solitude was unbroken for most of the next 24 hours.
On the east side of Flute Summit, I left Whistler-Blackcomb behind and entered Garibaldi Park. I was excited to see Fissile getting closer, but the building clouds were a concern.
The deeper into Garibaldi Park I went, the more impressive glaciers I could see.
Just shy of 3 hours from Whistler Peak, I reached the junction with the Singing Pass Trail. I now had a 250m climb ahead of me before dropping down to Russet Lake.
Just before dropping down to Russet Lake, I passed by the construction site for the new Kees and Claire Hut, the first of 3 huts proposed for the Spearhead Huts Project. Itís location is pretty epic, looking down over Russet Lake with Fissile looming above, Whirlwind tucked away behind, and Tremor, Shudder, Quiver, and Macbeth across the valley.
I followed the trail down to the north end of the lake, trying to scope out my route up Fissile.
When I got down to the lake (under 4 hours from the top of Whistler), I roamed around a bit trying to decide on where to set up camp. There was one other tent that I could see and a couple people roaming around. I settled on a little spot out on my own with fantastic views down to the toe of the Overlord Glacier.
Down here, Fissile looked much more impressive with its rugged northwest face looming above.
After setting up camp and stashing most of the weight I had been carrying, I practically scampered up towards Fissile. The weather wasnít looking promising, but my plan was to climb Whirlwind and Overlord the next day and I wouldnít have time to do Fissile as well.
There are a few stretches of trail close to the lake, but soon I left any signs of a trail behind and set off finding my own route across the boulders.
I was making my way up to the moraine at the bottom of the pocket glacier in a bowl on Fissileís southwest side.
I took a bit of a shortcut to reach the moraine which was a little trickier than the route I took on my descent, but it wasnít too bad.
I stashed my poles, pulled on some work gloves, and began the scramble. For the first part, I trended left until I reached the ridge. It was incredibly loose and at one point I scrambled to my right in an attempt to find more solid ground, but in the end it was worse: loose rock on top of solid rock. Counter-intuitively, it was better to stay on the purely loose stuff.
This short diversion off-route actually helped me because I gained some confidence descending the loose scree as I discovered it was more predictable than I feared. I continued my leftward, upward trend and soon reached the ridge.
The scrambling got a lot easier from that point on and would have been easier still if the wind hadn't been so blustery. I stayed low and used lots of handholds as I made my way ever closer to the top.
Just before the summit, there was a short down-climb and a notch to cross before what appears to be a near-vertical climb. As is so often the case, however, the closer I got, the more doable it appeared.
In short order I was on top! I had climbed into the clouds and was now too high for good views all around, but I got an awesome look down over the impressive Overlord Glacier.
I often forget when solo, but this time I had the presence of mind to remember to take a self-timer summit shot. This pose is a nod to Cody (here he is on Fissile back in 2014).
The clouds did clear enough for me to get a view back down to Russet Lake...
...but the tops of all the surrounding mountains were cut off.
I was up to the summit in about 1:45 from the lake and was on my way back down after less than 15 min on top. The scramble was actually easier on the way down, but I was still glad to return to my hiking poles and get back on to relatively solid ground.
My total return time from Russet Lake to Fissile was 3 hours, which was nice because I was able to eat dinner and get settled in the tent for the night before dark and before any rain started to fall.
Part 2 of my Russet Lake trip.
Whistler Peak to Russet Lake (one way):
Distance: 11.6 kms Elevation: 680 m Time: 3 hours 46 minutes
Russet Lake to Fissile Peak (return):
Distance: 4.6 kms Elevation: 599 m Time: 2 hours 59 minutes
Wow, thanks, that was a great trip you had! I must get up there next year.
Great stuff; too bad weather didn't stay as nice as it was in the beginning.
Musical bumps ridgewalk, despite being fairly 'civilized', is 1 of nicest I've done on BC Coast
I think you do a better me than me!
Work gloves! Now there's an idea!
Damn, that is awesome! You're getting a lot of mountain time before it all snows in! Looks like you tend to go solo. Do you prefer solo adventurers for most of your treks?
Nice hike, Redbeard, and beautiful photos. You write "I’m sure a proper photographer (of Photoshopper) would know what to do with a dSLR in that lighting, but I’m definitely not up to the task." All you need is a graduated ND filter, which you can buy in any camera shop. The top is dark, and the bottom is clear. This will enable you to take defined cloud pictures, with the bottom part of the image (a landscape) clearly defined as well. These ND filters can be plastic (about $25) or glass (about $100). You can also buy a screw-on adapter for your camera lens, but you will also find a few photographers here simply hold the filter next to the lens ...with their fingers. No holder required.
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