Elevation Gain: 1,970m
Date: June 24th, 2022
Total Time: 12 hours 15 minutes
Mamquam is one of the more recognizable mountains around the Sea2Sky area and almost everyone whose done a hike around Squamish it will have laid eyes on it at one point or another. It stands guard above the Mamquam ice field, sprawling out across a complex of sub-summits and outlier peaks such as Delusion Peak, Pyramid Peak and The Spires. Access to this peak has changed several times over the years with creek crossings/trails being removed by parks officials and then re-instated by volunteers. Lately, it seems that situation has stabilized and a semi-official trail and log crossing ease the difficulty in reach the ice field. The most common route starts from the Watersprite Lake trail and continues separately over Paranoid Creek and up the southern flanks of the Mamquam massif. From there a few options exist to access the summit block with some ascents approaching around the south east and others from the north west.
This summit has been on my radar for a long time as it’s a challenging objective with a long glacier crossing, fun scramble and/or steep snow ascent and it’s highly prominent amongst is neighbors. It even made it on my 2021 goal list, but I never got around to getting a team going. My priorities shifted this year, but by some luck I was invited by Elise, Mel and Iliya to join them on a summit attempt in the coming week. I had just finished up an oncall shift and was planning to take the Friday off to unwind, so the timing was perfect.
Our plan was to leave Vancouver at 2AM and make a push from the Watersprite trail head around 3:30AM. At the last minute Phil planned to join us, but would meet us at or near the trail head as we had a full car already. The night of, I got to bed around 11PM but slept only an hour and half at most. My alarm went off at 1:30AM and I swung by Breka Bakery (24/7 bakery) to grab a coffee and breakfast and then drove over to Mel’s to meet everyone. We had a brief hiccup as one of the party members missed an alarm, but we eventually got everyone on board and headed towards the Watersprite trail head. As we drove down the road we kept our eyes peeled for Phil’s orange Kia, but it unfortunately never made an appearance and before long we pulled up to the trail head one group member short. We opted to continue as planned as it wouldn’t be feasible time-wise to scan the road from beginning to end again in search of the vehicle.
The start of the route followed the BCMC’s very well maintained Watersprite Lake trail and we made quick work through this section. After 2KM we forked off from the trail and continued down a decommissioned service road that was beginning to grow encumbered by slide alder. The previous days rainfall made for a bit of a miserable bushwhack as the alder took turns whipping us in the face and soaking through our clothing. Despite that, summer had finally arrived in the alpine and the warmer temps alleviated the wet clothing situation enough.
1.5KM of bushwhack later and we arrived the famed Paranoid Creek crossing. The log crossing was still in, however no hand railing was present as in previous years. This necessitated that we traverse the bridge au cheval style, but we all made it across without issue. After the bridge, the forest opened up significantly and we made light work of the forest ascent; following well flagged section out in to the alpine.
At around 1600m we crested onto a ridge and the treeline slowly faded to snow covered talus and frozen tarns. Our route trended north to reach the ridge and then we had to back track almost a kilometer eastwards to reach Darling Lake and the access point to the Mamquam icefield. In years with a shallower snow pack, most of this area would be a long talus field ascent, but even by late June we had a fully snow covered approach to take advantage of. From Darling Lake we ascended 200m to a cirque of sorts with a frozen tarn at the centre. We traversed climbers right around the tarn and just as we reached the northern end, hit a steep icy section. Ben and Iliya had wisely put snow shoes on before the slope, but Mel, Elise and myself had to improvise and set up crampons at the steepest point.
With the crampons on, we continued up again and ascended up another 400m up a narrowing channel until we finally topped out on to the beginning of the Mamquam ice field. Ben and Iliya lead the charge up initially and when the rest of us finally caught up we paused for some snacks before a cold wind forced us to continue. Ben pushed out in front and plotted a course for us through the glacier. We plodded along a foreshortened route through the glacier, reaching the base of Delusion Peak after ~1.4KM. The glacier looked exceptionally well filled in with know signs of sagging or crevasses.
At the base of Delusion we decided we might as well tag this summit first since it’s a short ascent to reach the top. First we’d have to negotiate a massive bergshrund that openly spanned half of the ascent slope. Mel and Ben were the first to start up and reached the suspected line the Bergschrund would run under the snow. After a short probing session, Ben discovered that only a thin layer of snow covered the massive ‘schrund and it appeared to span the remainder the slope. In order to safely climb, we’d have to belay one another across and that’s when the decision was made to tag Mamquam, our primary objective first, and if we had time gear up as necessary for Delusion.
For the final stretch to Mamquam’s ridge we opted to rope up as the hidden Bergschrund discovery had eroded our confidence in the glacier. I lead the rope party across the glacier and up the tame north western aspect of Mamquam. Here to a large bergschrund ran the perimeter of Mamquam’s slopes. However, it appeared to disappear under a large steep bulb of snow near the ridge. I probed continuously as I trended climber’s left around the visible portion of the Bergschrund. The snow was quite isothermal, making confident assessments tricky, but my axe never punched all the way through and I continued on until cresting onto the summit ridge.
On the summit ridge we all gathered together and dismantled the rope setup to take on the steep parts of the ridge. I went to get a good view of the final section by trying to climb an adjacent rise of rock, but it proved futile. The sun soaked rock had warmed the surrounding snow pack and I sunk up to my waist before ever successfully reaching the rock band. Mel opted to climb up the first steep roll and called out the route was in, so we followed her up.
The final stretch of the summit involved one short steep step and then a quite exposed summit ridge. Typically this is a scramble in late June, but this time the whole summit ridge was covered in snow; increasing the exposure level. Seeing as we had brought all the necessary equipment, Mel and Elise set out building an anchor and the decision was made to belay each climber individually to the summit. While that was going on, I was suddenly stricken with light headedness, fatigue and nausea. I thought it might be some stomach cramps and did my best to alleviate the issue, but it was to no avail. Elise suggested I might be having some heat exhaustion and some snow on the back of the neck might remedy the issue. It started to help, but I was checked out while Mel lead the summit push and Iliya followed up on his turn. When it was my turn, I just decided to struggle through it as best I could, because I wouldn’t deny myself the summit so close to the top.
I roped up and made the short ascent up the summit ridge. I hardly spent more than 10 seconds on the top to get a photo and started the descent as I was feeling in bad shape. Mel kindly took over my belay duties for Elise and I continued to rest while Elise topped out. We descended back down the summit ridge after and roped up again to the base of Delusion Peak. When we paused here for some lunch I finally felt some reprieve. Indeed, a healthy dose of snow on the back of my neck and ditching the wind proof jacket seemed to do the trick.
With the sun now really beating down on Delusion’s slopes we made the call to skip on an ascent. Any snow bridge across the bergschrund was now likely significantly weakened and we were content to get the primary objective as it was. After lunch, we back tracked our steps across the glacier and here issue number two reared its ugly head. A sharp pain was coursing through my knee from what felt like some sort of strained ligament. It forced me into a hobbled limp at times and weighting it increased the pain further. Then as soon as it started, it’d stop, if only briefly. I had to struggle through it as there’s only one way down. Mel and Elise very kindly offered to carry the rope and some extra gear down and the lowered weight really helped my knee.
Now the focus was on exiting the glacier. We reached the top of the slopes that lead down to Darling Lake and decided to glissade each one in succession. This greatly sped up our descent and before long we were re-ascending up the ridge line and traversing down into the forest. We snowshoed down as far as we could, but eventually the snow got sloppy enough that it warranted using boots only. At around 1500m we reached patchy snow and then normal forest floor soon after.
The descent down to Paranoid Creek was straightforward, albeit hampered by flare ups in my knee. Mel patiently waited back with me as I had to take my time coming down. We regrouped at Paranoid Creek and made the log crossing without issue. Now we had that 1.5km alder bash to deal with, but everything was dry this time making it quite manageable. Around 12 hours after we left the truck, we finally reached our starting point again.
Super stoked to summit Mamquam as its caught my eye for years now. We had an unusual year for snow which made for a very different route than in previous years, but nonetheless we were able to adapt and make an amazing day out of it.