Sky Pilot

I did this summit before I had or used GPS, so I’ve just posted the standard AllTrails route.

Distance: 17.9km
Elevation: ~1243m
Total Time: ~7 hours 43 minutes
Date: July 4th, 2020

At the beginning of 2020, I decided I wanted to try more technical hikes and scrambles in the coming year. I did a classic search for “Best BC Scrambles” and Sky Pilot consistently made its way onto all of the lists. So on the weekend of July 4th, I persuaded my friend Mike to join me on an attempt to the top.

This was the first real technical scramble of my “career” and so I was a tad anxious about what we might encounter. Sky Pilot is located just south east of the Chief in Squamish and is easily accessible from the Sea 2 Sky gondola. The route involved a small glacier crossing and a crux known as the “Pink Slab”. In my research online, I had read a lot of mixed reviews about the true difficulty of this section. Some were rating at is class 5 and others were saying it’s a mere walk up. For those reasons, the Pink Slab was on the back of my mind in the days leading up to our attempt.

On July 4th, we set out to the Sea 2 Sky gondola and arrived around 9am. It was a beautiful morning with partially cloudy skies and moderate temperatures. There was the option to take a trail all the way from parking lot to gondola terminus, but we opted for the easy ride up, as the route was already plenty long.

Coming up the gondola
All 3 peaks on the Chief visible as well

The gondola ride itself was amazing and provided some really breath taking views of the surrounding scenery. We made it to the top just after 9 am and started along the trail to Sky Pilot. The first 5-6km are a pretty uneventful plod along a well maintained spur road. Mount Habrich loomed above on the northern flank of the trail and just after we passed it, the trail took a sharp right southward and up the first steep pitch of the trail.

Looking back the valley we came from
Mike winding up the first steep bit through the forest after the spur road ends

We continued up a winding steep trail through the forest before reaching a snow-covered slope about 250m in elevation below Stadium glacier. The snow was firm and steep so we donned our cramp-ons and then pushed upward. There were about 8 others making their own way to top here as well and it was at this point I realized how over-prepared we were in terms of gear. Most people had a lightweight pack, ice axe and some traction devices for their boots. Meanwhile Mike and I had brought several back up layers, lots of water and so on. Oh well, better to be over-prepared than under.

The snow slope just below Stadium Glacier

Once we reached the top of this first snowy slope we were officially on Stadium Glacier. There was a thick layer of cloud obscuring most of our surroundings, but from what I could see there were no crevasses or other objective dangers in our way. We crossed the glacier through some rolling sections, but it was largely flat until the last snow pitch at around the 1750m elevation mark.

Mike pushing up the final snowy slope after the flat section in Stadium Glacier. We followed the group of two visible just barely at the top of the image.

From here it steepened, but the snow conditions were soft enough to get a step in and not too soft to slip out. We zig-zagged our way up a narrow chute, following a group of 2 just ahead of us. When we topped out on this slope, it appeared to be the last snowy part for the remainder of the route. We continued east on the ridge to the summit over decently solid rock and an established trail.

It didn’t take long for the Pink Slab to appear in our sights. Once we reached the base of it, my fears vanished. The wall looked super straight forward to ascend and I could already pick up a number of possible routes. I spend a decent amount of time bouldering indoors and so to me this wall was very much just simple slab problem with big chunky holds. For anyone with some amount of time climbing indoors or outdoors, I don’t think the Pink Slab will pose any problem whatsoever. There is a touch of exposure, but the angle of the wall is mellow enough that you likely won’t notice.

Mike coming up the Pink Slab. I took more photos of this section on the way down, so keep an eye out below.

Mike and I proceeded up the Pink Slab in quick enough fashion and then continued up along the ridge. There’s more class 2/3 sections just above the Pink Slab, but no real exposure and solid rock all around.

At about 1950m in elevation my hamstrings/quads started to seize up. I realized I had totally neglected to drink water and in the midst of scrambling class 4-2 sections and it was not a great situation to be in. I told Mike I needed to pause and drank as much water as I could hold down. I sat for 5-10 minutes and finally my legs started to feel better. With a bit more water in me, I decided, this close to the top, that we should definitely keep pushing.

The next big technical section after the Pink Slab is a series a class 2 maybe class 3 chimneys that snake in between the proper summit and a secondary lower spire. The chimneys didn’t have a lot of exposure and there were big holds to grab onto all along. At the end of the chimney section is one last scary set of moves lasting about 12 feet. You have the option of sticking climbers left where the holds are smaller and more technical or going climbers left where the route is a few simple steps, but big exposure and likely big injury or death if you slipped.

Here’s me coming up the chimney section.
Mike following up shortly after.
Just after the final crux of the route. Not pictured is the steep cliff to the left and the route I took up. Here I’m looking down at the less exposed route. Mike was just below, hidden by the rocks at bottom left. I continued onward to the summit alone.

At this point Mike felt he had reached his technical ceiling and did not want to proceed up the route any further. I still felt comfortable and despite my cramping leg muscles, decided to solo up the rest of the route. I opted for the exposed section climbers left, without really thinking about it and was already up and over the section by the time I considered the risks. To the left was a steep, crumbly spire that I soon discovered (thankfully) was not the summit.

The spire that was not necessary to climb

I was entirely in the clouds at this point, so I just followed the cairns as best I could. All of the technical sections were out of the way and the summit was a brief 5 minute walk over some mild class 2 terrain. Again at the top my leg seized up and so I paused for some more water. After a small I break I got up to get a few quick photos at the top and head back down. Mike was waiting for me, so I didn’t want to linger for long.

At the summit. Not much to see, unfortunately.

Down climbing back to Mike was not terribly difficult, but I was cautious and mindful of my footing until we had linked up. We climbed back down the chimneys and soon arrived at the top of the Pink Slab. I picked out a line fairly quick and with some careful hand foot placements arrived at the base of the wall unscathed. From there, I guided Mike to some good foot placements, but he was largely able to down climb on his own.

Here’s me down climbing the Pink Slab.
Mike following shortly after. As you can see, the route isn’t so bad.

We found our way to the top of the snow chute we first ascended and carefully down climbed. Once the steepest part was out of the way, we basically ran/slid down the remainder. From there it was a basic plod back down to the gondola. I felt a sense of relief with all the technical parts behind me and a big sense of accomplishment for being able to summit Sky Pilot. I was already thinking about the next scramble to attempt on the way down…

Mike continuing down, just after the Pink Slab.
Some climbers coming down Stadium Glacier
Posing for one last shot on the way down.
Mt. Habrich coming out from the clouds.
The gondola at long last!

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