Mount Tantalus

Elevation Gain: 679m
Distance: 9.68km
Total Time: 11 hours 6 minutes
Date: July 15th, 2023

As you drive south down the Sea2Sky highway and round the corner just past Daisy Lake you’re hit with a 1000m wall of twisted snow and deep crevasses from the mighty Rumbling Glacier. Crowning this impressive formation of snow and ice are the twin summits of Tantalus and Dione. If you didn’t take this route, fear not, Mount Tantalus can be seen from virtually all areas around Squamish and the surrounding summits. The entire Tantalus Range is protected by a small provincial park boundary, but access continues to be a major pain point. There is a major river cutting off foot traffic to these coveted summits, save for the northern most end near Ossa and Pelion. As a result, one must cross the Squamish River and its freezing cold contents. Many choose to do a tyrolean traverse across a maintenance cable system near the base of the Lake Lovely Water approach. However, the crossing is not trivial and even minor things like where to park, dealing with first nations land access, etc, start to pile up the effort for this method. Others may opt to take boat, although the price is not very attractive and you must still do a 2000m+ approach. Finally, the most expensive option is helicopter access. Numerous operators offer, by helicopter standards, one of the cheapest flights in all of BC to ferry would be climbers, hikers, etc to the range.

Andrea had been dreaming about Tantalus since I had known her and we originally planned to cover much of the range over the July long weekend via the cable crossing. Those plans fell through when we both got COVID a few days before. Now another fantastic weekend of weather was upon us in mid-July and we were both keen to get to Tantalus; this time to do a little anniversary celebration as well. With only two days to work with, we went for the helicopter option. That would give us enough time to do Tantalus and another summit on the following day before being whisked back home Sunday evening.

We decided on the standard route from the south, which offers a slightly more technical ascent (up to 5.6/5.7) than the more popular north ridge. Tantalus has numerous great trip reports and topo to work with, however there was still a bit of confusion around the climbing portion just beyond a famous pinnacle known as “The Witch’s Tooth”. However, we’d deal with that part on the day of. In the mean time, we packed up and headed out to Squamish to catch a 9am helicopter ride.

The flight was over in under 12 minutes and we quickly located a flat camping spot near the Jim Haberl Hut. With the tent set up and our bags pre-packed we headed out on the high way of tracks up the Dione Glacier. The glacier was fairly trivial to cross as the approach largely avoided the questionable sections of exposed dry ice and filled in snow fingers lower down. Far above we could see at least 3 parties taking on one of the many climbing routes up Dione’s west face. As we reached the top of a large wind scoop the tracks forked. We took the right most option and then reached a series of gully options at climber’s left. None were filled in with snow, but based on Alpine Select we knew there’s one correct choice.

Andrea on the ride in!
Alpha and Serratus. Serratus north face looks a bit tricky now
Jim Haberl hut!
Andrea starting up the Dione Glacier
Following the yellow brick road
Looking back towards the Hut. Serratus at center left
Climbing up this wind scoop feature
Mount Tantalus and Mount Dione SW Ridge
Aiming for one of these gullies. Not the obvious left one though
The gully directly center is our route

Again thanks to the popularity we spotted two climbers ahead of us in the correct gully and so the choice was easy. We reached the base of the gully, did a quick transition and then started up. The terrain was a fun mix of 3rd and 4th class on bomber rock and we caught up with the climber’s ahead at the top of the gully. Along the way I spotted 2 bolted rappel stations so we’d have the luxury of an easy descent on the way back. At the top of the gully a large section of snow cut off the rock ahead. There was a massive crevasse or moat forming just right of the rock, but we could avoid it on a thin path to the left. Andrea and I continued past the two climbers and followed the snow until it steepened. It wasn’t clear if this was the down climb section on snow to reach the Witch’s Tooth but as I got a closer look I was pretty sure this wasn’t the way. Most of the photos online were during earlier season conditions when much of the ridge is snow covered. I saw evidence that the rock above us was part of the snow covered ridge so decided we should climb that instead and then get a look around the other side.

Heading up the gully
Andrea scrambling up the beginning
A tricky 4th, maybe 5th class move mid way up
The exit and two climbers ahead
Big crevasse at right. Head straight up the rock here. We initially followed the snow until it steepened but that’s off route and had to backtrack
Andrea out of the gully
Down climbing this short section to reach the rock

Sure enough after a short section of 4th class and then easier scrambling we spotted the actual snow line we were looking for. Apparently the top of this ridge is known as “Petite Dione”. Here we spotted some climbers just reaching the summit of Tantalus from the north side and another party combing down from Dione. Apparently it was a high traffic weekend out there! The next section is seasonally challenging as one must traverse a short section of steep-ish snow to bypass Mount Dione and reach the base of the Witch’s Tooth. In late season a massive moat can hinder access to the rock ahead. We had brought an ice screw and snow picket for just such an occasion.

Fun scrambling ahead. Choose your own adventure
Andrea climbing up this short chimney
The vast Rumbling Glacier below
Andrea nearing the ridge top!

At the top of the ridge we transitioned back into crampons and then started the short snow traverse. To our good fortune, there was no massive moat to contend with and a small snow finger extended itself to the rock. We believed that was the last of the snow travel so ditched all our heavy snow gear except for an ice axe as contingency. Now to figure out how to make the traverse across the south side of the Witch’s Tooth. Again, this section must be seasonally dependent. I couldn’t spot any 4th class or lower line from our starting point up. With some rock shoes on though, I had the confidence to climb up a short dihedral with a few tricky moves before gaining easier ground above. This climbing felt like 5.6 at least, but it’s short lived. Andrea didn’t feel comfortable ascending this tricky section unprotected, so I dropped the rope end down to her and then ran it out to a bolted station on the north side of Dione.

The snow traverse to Dione and Tantalus. We climbed a bit higher to avoid this steep section
Just one short traverse section left
Andrea following the existing track
This section can be very challenging depending on the snow line
This looks a bit harder than 4th
About to put Andrea on belay

From there I belayed Andrea up and then we unroped to downclimb a short arete to the base of The Witch’s Tooth. Andrea then lead us up a series of corners and slabs at climber’s right until we were at an obvious rappel station on the south end of the tooth. We then traversed across this ledge system, getting forced out into an awkward exposed move mid way through before reaching a comfortable ledge with a rappel anchor. This had apparently been the 5.4 section of the Witch’s Tooth but we found it quite manageable. The next section was the mystery part for us. We could see the Darling Couloir below but there were several options to climb out of it. Including two gullies and some face climbing routes further out right.

Andrea topped out making her way over to me
Andrea down climbing to the base of The Witch’s Tooth
It’s decently exposed here
Now to gain the ledge traverse on The Witch’s Tooth
There’s quite a few options. Most look 5th class
Staying climber’s left to reach the ledge
Who doesn’t love hand jams?
The 5.4 ledge traverse
Andrea making her way around the crux

First, we had to wait for a party coming from the north side to rappel down. They were using a 6mm Petzl Rad Line and a 3mm cord as a tag line. A setup with thin margins to say the least! However, it seemed to work for them and they were quickly on our way. I lead the rappel into the couloir and dropped all the way down to the junction between the two gullies. Andrea joined and we had a good look at the route options. The right most gully looked best, but it wasn’t clear if we could gain the ridge line again. Based on the alpine select we were hoping to take the “high route” which follows the ridge crest after the couloir. The “low route” was less aesthetic looking and took a ledge system on the face below the ridge.

Andrea rappelling into The Darling Couloir. One could climb up this or…
This (at climber’s right)
Looking south east

Andrea racked up for a lead and aimed for a face route between the two gullies with a plan to traverse right on ledges above. She found a nice 5.7 line albeit a bit light on protection and ran a full rope length out to slung block above. I had to climb up a few meters to give here a bit more rope to work with before I took her off belay and seconded up. I had spotted a more twin crack system and opted to second up that instead. It offered some challenging climbing and would have been a tricky lead.

Andrea starting the lead
Looking down my more direct variation

When I reached Andrea we swapped leads and I scrambled up the gully to discover mostly 3rd class terrain. At the end of the rope length I reached two route options. A branch out right that looked like it would take us to the “low route” and at left some funner face climbing to reach the ridge crest. Andrea seconded up and then kindly offered me the lead since the last pitch was basically a scramble. I climbed up on solid incut edges, ledges and cracks all the way to the ledge. Protection is a bit lacking lower down but lots of options higher up. I’d say this section was maybe in the 5.6 range.

Me starting pitch 2 with Andrea at the anchor
Me starting “pitch 2”
It looks like we can go right here or…
Left it is!
Myself on lead
Andrea reaching the ridge

Now on the ridge crest we had a better sense of where we were on the route and spotted the upper descent line for our return around The Witch’s tooth. Above us was supposed to be a short knife edge ridge and then easy scrambling. However, one more short low 5th class wall blocked access to easy slabs above. It was Andrea’s turn to lead and she wanted to protect this section so we racked up and she pulled the moves with ease. I seconded up and then scrambled the easy slab section. Here we ran into another party making their way through the north-south traverse. We hopped onto the other side of the knife edge to a wide ledge and put all the climbing gear way. It’s a perfect spot to have lunch too so we hung out for awhile to refuel.

One final steep section to the knife edge traverse
Another party on descent. The knife edge front and center
A nice place for lunch 🙂

Further ahead I could see easy scrambling up and around to the summit and so we made a quick pace after lunch across the face. Andrea lead us up a nice 3rd class line with perhaps a few moves of 4th class and we finally topped out on the summit! The views were phenomenal. I’ve stood atop many of the surrounding summits, but few if any rival the views from Tantalus. It’s height is just such that you’re above everything else, but not so high that you can’t see anything below. The proximity to Howe Sound also gives you some unique ocean views and I spent a long long time just taking it all in.

Scrambling across the east face
A nice ledge system to follow
Andrea coming up
Wrapping around to the north side
Andrea leading us to the top
The summit!
Mount Dione across the way!
Andrea on the summit boulder
Myself on the summit

We spent about 30 minutes on the summit before heading down. The descent beta is very well established thanks to this post by Atlus Guides and we started following it after scrambling back to the knife edge section. One rappel lead us past the slabs and onto the north west side of the Witch’s Tooth where we had originally gained the ridge. Then we had an exposed traverse to the next rappel station. Andrea put me on belay for this and then I brought her over. This rappel was a bit awkward as we had to go straight down the west side then traverse over to the east part of the ridge between Tantalus and the Witch’s Tooth. Finally, a rappel back down the Darling Couloir lead us to an easy scramble up a diagonal ramp to the base of the Witch’s Tooth.

Mount Cayley which I climbed last week!
Andrea scrambling down
Traversing the knife edge
Rappel #1
The exposed traverse to rappel station #2
Rappel #2
Looking down at rappel #3

From there we reversed that 5.4 traverse across the tooth to the next bolted rappel station. This rappel got us to the short arete around to the north side of Dione. We then climbded around the slabs on the west side and scrambled around the west side of Dione. On our way up we had spotted a slung block and we aimed for that to see if we could rappel it. Upon inspection the block didn’t look great and based on all the rappel stations so far, I figured there had to be a better one around. I traversed a bit closer towards Dione and sure enough a bolted station presented itself. This rappel got us back to the snow and we packed up all our stashed gear. I skipped the crampons this time and booted my way up the well trodden path up the snow.

The 5.4 traverse in reverse
Andrea doing rappel #4
Another party belaying this section
Rappel #5
Andrea back on the snow
Back up “Petite Dione”

Andrea and I then scrambled down “Petite Dione” to our ascent gully and then scrambled about 1/3 of the way down the gully to a bolted rap station I had spotted on our ascent. This rappel was a rope stretcher but got us to within 3m of the snow and then we scrambled down the short rock section to the snow. Finally, it was an easy traverse back to the hut across the Dione glacier. Although, part way through I missed the tracks that took us high above the crevassed area and blindy followed some new tracks taking a more direct line. There were a few holes from someone leg probing the crevasses and so that put me on alert. With some careful probing we dodged any question able areas and made it out without further incident.

Panorama from Petite Dione
Scrambling down to the gully
One tricky section to reach that small section of snow above the gully
There’s a rappel station just right before the edge
Just about reaching the snow with that rappel
Andrea rappelling down
Time to head towards the hut!
Someone did some leg probing. It was deep here
Andrea as the sun sets
Mount Sedgewick with some sunset glow
Home for the night
Some late comers high on the Dione Glacier

It was a busy day on Tantalus with at least 10 people on the north-south traverse and several parties on Dione, but a great day out to say the least! This whole area has a bit of an alps atmosphere about it with fully bolted rappel lines, a high ridge-line hut and countless parties enjoying some of the best views in the Sea2Sky. I can’t recommend this area enough, but don’t expect solitude.

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