Elevation Gain: 1,510m
Total Time: 10 hours 20 minutes
Date: March 31st, 2022
Mount Matier is one of the many classic mountaineering objectives around the Joffre Lakes group and happens to be the tallest in the area. The standard route involves an ascent up the Anniversary glacier and then a steep snow climb up to 45 degrees to reach a narrow ridge line summit. For these reasons late winter/early spring make for the ideal conditions, when the glacier is filled in and the slopes and summit ridge are adequately covered in snow.
I had arrived back in Vancouver after a long trip abroad and sent out a post to the SWBC Peak Bagger group about teaming up for some more technical objectives over the week. Brayden reached out about summiting something on Thursday when a weather window was appearing. We threw a few ideas around and eventually landed on Matier after seeing a few other successful summits earlier in the year. Avalanche conditions looked good with M/L/L, but the weather was a bit more on the marginal side. Either way, I was willing to take a chance on it and Brayden recruited his friend Mark to join in. The plan was for Mark and I to car pool to the trail head while Brayden would meet us in Pemberton for around 4:45am.
On the day of, my alarm went off at 2am with a meager 2 hours of sleep to my name. I drove over to Mark’s for 2:30am and we reached Pemberton as scheduled for around 4:45am. Brayden drove up shortly after and we were at the trail head by 5:30 and hitting the trail around 20 minutes later. By chance a separate group from SWBC Peak Baggers was there, but they were waiting on one other member so we got started ahead of them.
I initially lead the group through the forest across a small creek bridge and then followed orange markers indicating the trail. The snow was hard packed and icy and made for some bambi on ice moments. About 15 minutes in Brayden checked the GPS and realized we were on the wrong trail. Unbeknownst to me there were two routes to the glacier and I had taken us on the slightly longer summer route. Seeing as we were already a ways in, we just continued on. The routes aren’t significantly longer in any event.
We eventually popped out of the forest and onto an old service road of sorts. The early morning light was now more than adequate and so head lamps went away while Brayden lead the charge through the packed down trail. By 7am we had reached the toe of Anniversary glacier and the firm snow gave way to a thin crust and loose snow underneath. None of us were keen on continuing the post hole procession and so stopped briefly to transition to snow shoes (and skis in Mark’s case). While we transitioned, I had a quick double check of the GPS and realized we were off course from the standard Keith’s Hut/Motel 66 traverse.
Rather than back tracking, we ascended straight up the lateral moraine at climber’s right and then linked up with the slopes to Motel 66. This actually ended up being much faster than the standard route. For good avalanche conditions, I’d pick this over the longer winding route any day. By the time we reached Motel 66 the weather had closed in and visibility diminished significantly. It’s conditions like these, in vast and challenging terrain that really makes me cognizant of the forces of nature. We were all a little concerned about the summit conditions now, but the forecast was calling for better weather soon so we pushed on.
I lead the traverse from Motel 66 across the steep flanks of Joffre where it was getting increasingly difficult to make out the footing below us. Part way across the steep side hilling, we swapped snow shoes for cramp-ons and then pressed forward. No snow shoes meant breaking trail through the unconsolidated top layer of snow. It wasn’t particularly deep, but I was definitely struggling breaking trail. About 100m below the top of the glacier, Brayden took over and broke trail for us the rest of the way to the col. As we topped out the weather finally started to clear and we were getting better views of the route up Matier.
The GPS track I had called for a traverse around Matier’s base and then a direct ascent up to the summit on the north western slopes. Brayden suggested a slight variation, taking us up the north eastern slope, directly from the glacier, to an opening in the ridge and linking up with the route from there. It appeared to involve a steep traverse above a big convexity near the top, but the conditions were bomber so we agreed on the plan. I lead us up the first steep roll and then Brayden swapped leads again until the traverse. Here I lead the way kicking steps in until we linked up with the standard route.
We paused after the traverse for some food and had a good look at the route up. To climber’s right the slope was less steep, but more exposed and so we figured the middle section offered the best way up. Looking at the map, the steep section was only about 150m or so to the summit. There was quite a bit of exposed rock along this route, but we’d cross that bridge when we got there. At this point we ditched our poles and swapped for two axes each.
Brayden started the way up after our break and took us to the base of the first rock band. He initially traversed towards a less steep ramp around the rocks, but found the snow thinned out quickly. I spotted a clean line at climber’s left and lead the way through the steep channel. There was a brief section of thin snow, but it was manageable. Unfortunately, the conditions were such that my two ice tools weren’t long enough to plunge down directly in the snow. After a few changes of technique, I found a more horizontal orientation gave adequate protection to ascend and pressed on.
After the first rock band, Brayden took the lead and quickly out paced us to the summit ridge. I followed up after with Mark directly behind me. Once on the summit ridge, it was a short traverse to the top with a few exposed, but straightforward, sections. While the weather was closed in on most of the nearby peaks, Matier remained unveiled with Joffre and Slalok occasionally peering out of the clouds. Considering the earlier conditions, we felt very lucky just to have any summit views at all. On the summit ridge we had spotted that other group coming up not far behind and so opted to wait on the top until they arrived to avoid kicking debris down on them. Perhaps 25 minutes later and the group reached the summit where we exchanged some congratulations and then started our descent.
Brayden lead the descent with Mark in the middle and myself tailing behind. There was some concern that all the foot traffic would deteriorate the snow for the final person coming down, but I didn’t find it too problematic. I was a bit on the slow side while figuring out the down climb technique but eventually got into a good rhythm. The weather also began to close in again and I could only see around 15m below me before the terrain merged into the clouds. Nearing the bottom of the slope, I started to get pelted with snow debris from above and realized the other group was now descending. Unfortunately, there was no way to communicate with the level of the wind so I sped up my descent to get out of the firing zone.
Once I was below the first rock band I could face outwards again and rejoined with Mark and Brayden waiting near the bottom. Mark transitioned to his split board while Brayden and I plunged down the soft snow of the north east slopes. Shortly after Mark whipped by carving his way down to the top of Anniversary glacier. We met up again there and then decided on a direct descent down the middle of the glacier where we’d rejoin with Mark at the bottom. The snow was perfect for plunging down and with a few glissades mixed in we made a quick descent. We didn’t notice any sagging or obvious signs of crevasses on the descent. Mark pushed on from the bottom on skis while Brayden and I made the long plod back to the trail ahead on show shoes and micro spikes. The return was straight forward and we were back at the trail head perhaps an hour or so later.
Matier ended up being a full on day and exactly the type of adventure I was looking for. It was the perfect mix of technical terrain and I’d suggest it for anyone seeking to build confidence in steep snow and big mountain environments. There’s no shortage of avalanche terrain you have to cross though, so save it for the best of conditions if you’re not experienced with avalanche hazards. As a final aside, the steep snow section is for the most part an exercise in methodical and repetitive motions and makes me second guess the fun factor in prolonged couloir routes now.