Monday, October 27, 2014

How not to get lost

How not to get lost in the Whistler Backcountry

Please review Whistler Blackcomb's mountain signage before heading out can be found here...
Wb Mountain signage-->


This sign indicates the edge of the Whistler Blackcomb’s patrolled area. Skiing or riding outside the area is done at your own risk and it is strongly recommended that you have the essential personal safety gear. Education (avalanche courses), information (Avalanche Advisory), and a qualified guide are also a must! People requiring rescue from the backcountry can be charged for their rescue. In early season, “Ski Area Boundaries” often exist within the ski area. These boundaries denote parts of the hill that are not yet ready to open. As a result, there is no hazard marking, no patrol and no sweep. Can you go there? Yes, but be prepared!Click to View
Click to View


This sign indicates a non-permanent boundary line to denote areas that are considered unsafe to open up to guests due to snow conditions and natural or man-made hazards. Guests will see these TEMPORARY BOUNDARY signs most often during early and late season. Major hazards within the temporarily boundarized area may or may not be marked, and the area is considered to be not skiable in its entirety. The TEMPORARY BOUNDARY will be denoted by bamboo poles, rope and the new red signs; there will be no gates. Guests should not proceed under the ropes. If guests choose to duck under the ropes, they do so at their own risk. This area is not patrolled.Click to View
Click to View

This area is not patrolled. This means you should have competant partner, and avalanche safety equipment!!!

This sign indicates the edge of the Whistler Blackcomb’s patrolled area. Skiing or riding outside the area is done at your own risk and it is strongly recommended that you have the essential personal safety gear

How not to get lost, and stay out of trouble........

Back country users in the Whistler area should be prepared to navigate in whiteout conditions, have knowledge of local terrain, proper outdoor gear, a buddy capable of companion rescue, first aid skills, and avalanche training. Cell phones work in some areas, and not in others if your lost conserve your batteries. Always tell someone responsible where you are going, and your time of return, or file a itinerary with the mountain. If you are lost in the back country find a location where you will be visible from the air, and note any prominent landmarks, make a shelter, and stay put. Dial 911 for assistance and don't waste your cell phone batteries.

Whistler SAR would like to remind people that often they will not be reported missing early enough in the day to launch a search, and therefore stand a very good chance of spending the night out. Very likely there will be consequences to your actions.. Many tracks have been spotted from the air from people in precarious situations off the backside of Whistler mtn. Many of the incidents have gone largely unreported probably because no one knew they were out there. Orient yourself using google earth and get a good overview of the topography of the Whistler area. High resolution imagery is available so if you want to scope that new line plan your trip using google earth.

If you leave the ski area boundary into the back country you will most defiantly see signs, and probably duck a rope. Signs are attached to tree 10-15 feet in the air depending on snow pack.
You are leaving the ski area boundary
The minimum you should have with you

1. Avalanche transceiver 457khz(on your body)
and demonstrated ability to use it
2. A knowledgeable partner that would go out of their way to help you.
3. Shovel/ Probe
4. Knowledge of the terrain and your ability.
5. Avalanche knowledge
6. Knowledge of local avalanche conditions
7. Basic First Aid/ Survival equipment
8. Food / Water
9. Charged Cell phone, VHF radio, or Sat phone, contact numbers
10. Navigation equipment.
11. Good back country ski/ board
equip in good working order/ ability to ascend

• know this winter’s snow pack layers
• know the recent snowfall & type
• know current CAA Avalanche Center forecast, Whistler mtn Forecast
• know today’s weather forecast (snowfall, temperature & visibility)

Getting lost / How not to get lost
Legend--All maps.
Ski area boundary--pink
Out of bounds/ Caution areas--yellow
Area's to get lost in-- !

Common Mistakes:

Down at the lake: Cheakamus lake is easily accessed during the summer, winter is a different story! You may find yourself 15km away from any civilization. Just a bunch of stinky empty pit toilets full from the summer! Also popular shelters for unintentional night outings!


Cheakamus lake on a beauty day!
Cheakamus at nightfall as the temperature drops to -10c

A cold night in a creek

If you find yourself here STAY THERE!! It's one of the first places we look! (look for a red or black heli hovering low) Make yourself visible from the air at the shoreline. Helicopter rescue will be your only choice.
This picture is the exact spot and a popular spot to spent a cold night. Stay off the ice it's usually thin! Once again people have died here! There is a map on a bill board near the entrance to the river in a partial clearing near toilets!

Backside Whistler: (South West)
Khyber overview.kmz (google earth file)
-KHYBER PASS / LEFT OF THE KHYBER-  Khybers....(not the real name!!) This is beyond the ski area boundary. The Stu inn serves as a jumping off point for many adventurers. Always travel with a buddy. You will be charged for rescue if mountain resources are used for your rescue. Expect a bill in the order of $500 plus depending on what resources are used. If you break your leg expect it to be alot more. Don't go too far left off STU inn, or more than 700 vert ft down slope, or you will be wandering aimlessly through steep gullies, and eventually cliff bands. You have to clear the pass at this elevation by exiting to the right. The patrol has flagged a low route out (last season) with orange flagging tape follow it to your right. (this route is a little low but will return you back to civilization.) Some side stepping required, or get sucked toward Khyber cliffs, and the Cheakamus Lake area.The terrain is very convoluted in here and  goes up, and down all over the place, very disorienting even to locals. If you continue walking along and not regaining the main divide you will end up at the top of Khyber cliffs.  You might be left standing on top of a 2000ft cliff just as the sun goes down, and your cell phone goes dead. Exit through the cliffs is not recommended unless your a mountain goat. The main exit from the Khyber is via road in clear cut back to creek side. Don't go unless you are with someone that knows where they are going 100%. Alot of people will tell you they know where there going...Find someone that has been here for 5+ seasons to show you around.
Khyber Pass Area
Cliffs if you screw up and go too far skiers left!

Backside: (South) (Our most popular)
-CAKE HOLE Anywhere off the back of the Peak Chair will put you in here. It is a terrain trap on south west side Whistler mtn ends at a waterfall 2/3 way down flanked by cliffs. Also a Avalanche path. Ducking a rope off the back of the Peak chair (south side) will put you in here. Once your in sucked in it becomes increasing harder to escape the beast! Stay away if you don't know what your doing, you may see some tracks only to find other people lost in the cake! The trail out is at the bottom of the open area below waterfall near to the summer trail 2900ft. Then it 8km of flat back to civilization.
Waterfall at the bottom
A popular place to spend a night!

North East side:
-BELOW CAT ROAD ON HARMONY OR PICCOLO NORTH SIDE: A trail provides access to Singing pass don't miss the trail (marked with reflective markers on trees) or you will be in the creek which is a tangle of logs and is flanked in places with cliff bands, and gullies. Fitzsimmons creek is a ugly place.
North Side Whistler Mtn

-BACKSIDE PICOLLO- South west side Whistler mtn starts in steep terrain flanked by cliffs. Also a huge Avalanche path with big potential for big avalanches. Prepare for a cold night at Cheakamus lake 11km to the road!!! There is a summer trail out but it's hard to follow in winter (marked with reflective markers on trees) Stay out and don't ski off the back of Piccolo.
Avalanche path runs for 3500ft

Whistler's back country includes the musical bumps, and is more mellow than Blackcomb offering excellent back country skiing.
Garibaldi park boundary line / Stay left of Yellow line

-EAST SIDE FLUTE/ BACKSIDE- Ducking the rope of the back of Flute is a popular back country area in Garibaldi park. Many ski tourers, split boarders use this area. The usual exit is from the singing pass trail. Buy a map! Even locals in a whiteout have a tough time navigate it's broad featureless summit area. The backside of Flute towards Cheakamus Lake (going too far right of yellow line!) Will end you up in terrain you will wish you had never entered! Serious avalanche gullies start here and run right to the lake. Even it you make it to the lake you might as well be on the backside of the moon! Exit to the right via cheakamus lake trail (if you can find it!)Don't go east up the lake to what is called moose meadows, putting yourself even further away into the middle of nowhere!! The usual entrance to the park is along the ski area boundary sign line about 2/3 of the way along it. (going left off summit follow rope then cut right towards oboe) If you don't have back country equipment do not use this area!
Backside Piccolo / Cheakamus Lk
Moose meadows on not such a nice day!

From the heli looking for two lost skiiers



South side
-BELOW 7TH HEAVEN: A tangle of steep terrain, tight thick trees, and bluffs, if you make it to the valley you are in the middle of Fitzsimmons creek just as it gets dark. 8km away from any Civilization, you might find a snowmobile tour down the valley. The peak to peak now adds some reference fo navigation.

Below 7th Heaven
-BELOW BLACKCOMB GLACIER SKI OUT: A forest that isn't worth anybodies time. Flat tight trees with two canyon like creeks running on either side. Stay out !!
Blackcomb and Horstman Creeks

Blackcomb's backcounrty is huge! Full of big glaciers/ crevassed areas, cliffs, icefalls, gullies, and big mountain terrain. If you don't know exactly what your doing, and are very good at it please stay away. You will get spanked! Blackcomb backcountry is a place to explore once you've mastered your route finding abilities, and snowpack evaluation.

-DECKER MEADOWS: You can't get here unless you hike!!! Usual exit is via the col between Disease ridge and Decker.If your going to Corona or Husume know where your going. Blindly following tracks will lead you to Whistler Heli ski pick-up. Only to find the tracks vanish. Don't follow heli-ski tacks. The other main travel route is via a large bench on the back of Phalanx back towards the poop chutes. If your going into the Blackcomb backcountry buy a map and know how to navigate in white out conditions. A wrong turn will leave you in Wedge creek for a very cold night in a creek! People have died here before from exposure. 6-8 hours to road if you know where your going! Buy a good map and you'll be looking at a lifetime of skiing.
Decker Meadows
Decker Area

They are absolutely to be respected. People have died many times ducking ropes!!!!!
Duck a rope and be prepared to get yourself into a mess of trouble. Patrol will be pulling passes of individuals not respecting these closures. (your pass could be gone for a year including summer). Consider that there may be a fire in the hole (bomb above your head). Then patrol will have to stop what they're doing, and deal with you! Thus stopping their avalanche control route which then delays opening the rest of the mountain. Poaching these boundaries not only puts yourself at risk, but others who will follow your tracks.

Area's are closed for a good reason..... People routinely die here!

Enter only through gate

Travel with competent companions, and be prepared for self rescue.
If you require assistance dial 911..

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Spring in Whistler

With the snow melting away slowly more people will be out and about in the valley. Hiking and travelling in the back country of Whistler.

Update May 20, 2014:
Quite a bit of snow around north facing above 3000ft, south facing trails are dry, and in good condition, snow above 3500ft

Snow above 4000ft is disappearing quickly. Our current alpine snowpack has had lots of melt up high after a hot stretch of weather in early May.  Snowpack is currently isothermal for the most part. Snowbase is currently at 113cm, at Catskinner and creeks and rockfaces have melted out.

Spring in Whistler 

Communication: 911 Service is available throughout Whistler.

Contact: Search and rescue through local RCMP, Whistler SAR can be paged through RCMP. We utilize helicopter rescue in most cases, and are equipped with helicopter long-line, high angle rope, swiftwater and mountain rescue equipment. Making yourself visible from the air in a open location can help, along with co-ordinates of your location from your GPS unit can greatly expedite your rescue.

Ambulance: Air ambulance service is available throughout the Valley if your at a site that they can easily land. Available though EHS. Usually about 1hr away.

Being able to call for help is essential, and can greatly add to your survival. Carry a cell phone, and charge it before you go. Most mountain top locations will have cell service in the immediate area. Cell sites are located at Black Tusk Microwave, Whistler peak, Alpine, Alta lake road, Emerald, Rutherford. Remote valley bottoms tend to have poor coverage. It is of utmost critical importance to be able to communicate to the outside world for assistance. 

Choices best first
1)Sat phone /Personal Locater Beacon/ Delorme Inreach
2)VHF Radio /Cell Phone.
3)Spot ME (the only problem here is you can't tell some one what your situation is)
4)Ground to air signals. Smoke, SOS etc....

Also make sure you tell a responsible person where your going, and your time of return.

Making a detailed trip plan, and leaving it with a responsible person. One way to do this is preview your anticipated route in google earth, draw a path by clicking on the plot a path icon along your route, even plot campsites etc. by adding new place marks, and then save as a .kmz file. Under places select your current route and right click on your route (save place as)
Open Google earth and click on examples

A route along the musical bumps
A planned campsite
A day trip to Russet Lk

A picture is worth a million words, and Whistler SAR can easily upload this file from your designated contact.

Conversely, it is generally inexperience and lack of good judgment that gets people into trouble. Not only must we have the proper equipment -- including the ten essentials plus four -- and know how to use them, but we must also cultivate knowledge and wisdom related to the backcountry activities that we engage in--thru self-study, courses, and leveraging off the experiences of others. It is usually a series of bad decisions that leads most people into trouble.

The most important essential , however, is not on the list--"Common Sense". Having the right gear is one thing, knowing how and when to use it is quite another. Most often, it's not a person's equipment that saves their bacon. It's their experience, know-how, and good judgment. Learn to be extra care full, and not take extra risks toward the end of the day, in bad weather, high avy conditions, or in remote locations.

The essentials

0.Communication Equipment
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
1. Map/ GPS
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
2. Compass
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
3. Flashlight / Headlamp
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
4. Extra Food
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
5. Extra Clothes
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
6. Sunglasses
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
7. First-Aid Kit
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
8. Pocket Knife
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
9. Waterproof Matches
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
10. Firestarter
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Four others...

11. Water / Filter / Bottles
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
12. Whistle
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
13. Insect Repellents or Clothing
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
14. Sunburn Preventatives
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1. Map | GPS | Altimeter

Always carry a detailed map of the area you will be visiting. If alpine scrambling 1:50,000 or otherwise navigating cross-country consider the 1:100,000--they reveal considerable detail. Local Maps 92J/2 Whistler, 92J/3 Brandywine falls, 92G/15 Cheakamus river cover the entire Whistler area. Available at the Escape route in Whistler or MEC in Vancouver. For traveling on lower trails, many local maps are available in 1:25,000 scale with trails overlaid on them is a good choice, mountain bike maps are excellent with contours  and show almost every trail in the valley. The point is to carry a map appropriate for the area you will be in and the activity you will be undertaking--and know how to use it ! GPS now have built in base maps. OK if you have lots of extra batteries for a day trip. The newer ones work in most places, and tend to work well in the forest if turned on and acquired a position in a open area first. Altimeters are useful for finding your elevation on a map, and to calculate how much vertical you've done.

2. Compass:
Carry a compass, at all times, in the back country -and know how to use it ! Some features to look for: 0 to 360 degrees, preferably, in 2 degree increments;
liquid filled, which protects the magnetic needle and its jeweled bearing and minimizes fluctuation; a base plate--3" to 4", in length-- which can be used as a straight-edge for taking map bearings and determining distances on maps; an adjustable declination to account for the difference between Magnetic North and True North. The compass responds to Magnetic North, whereas, maps are based upon True North. Therefore, the compass needs to be adjusted to compensate. An adjustable declination feature lets you turn a small screw to "permanently" adjust declination to match the geographic area you will be in, so that you don't need to calculate your bearing each time. Declination in Whistler is around 19.5 degrees east of Grid north, a fold-out mirror for sightings. The mirror allows for more accurate readings because you can position the mirror such that the mirror and the distant objective are both visible at the same time. A clinometer is useful for measuring vertical angles and, thus, measures slope steepness. This feature is helpful in determining avalanche potentials, and for determining position on a map.

3. Flashlight / Headlamp:
Flashlights and/or Headlamps are important even on day trips. You never know when you might need to spend the night or make that last mile or so after sunset, or due to a minor problem your running late! Here's some features to look for:
lights which are water resistant--they function reliably in all weather. Look for rubberized bulb housing and battery compartments, or at least adequate rubber gaskets. Lights which come with extra bulbs stored inside their housing.
lights which have rotating head or body as the on/off mechanism. Avoid lights with on/off switches which can accidentally be turned-on as it is jostled about in your pack.

4. Extra Food:
Unless you plan on eating squirrel stew, or pack rat flambe. Whenever you go out, even for a day trip, bring extra food in case you are delayed by emergencies, foul weather, or just get lost. A one-day supply, at the very least, bring one good meal more than what you need. The food should require little or no cooking. If your extra food will require cooking, make sure you also carry extra fuel for your stove.

5. Extra Clothing:
In addition to the basic layers you would normally take on an outing, bring extra clothing which would get you through an unplanned bivouac through the worst conditions you might come up against. Extra clothing means a little extra beyond what you would normally carry, just in case of emergencies. Synthetic or wool should be your only choice. Cotton kills.

In addition to the extra clothes, carry an emergency shelter such as a waterproofed tube tent or mylar Space Bag (or blanket). The Space Bag only weighs about 2.5 ounces but will completely encase you and keep you warm and dry. Another option is a VBL (vapor barrier liner ) The VBL can be used on a regular basis to add warmth to your sleeping bag as well as serve as an emergency shelter. It's a little heavier than the Space bag -- 6.5 ounces.

6. Sunglasses:
Your eyes can experience damage from the intensity of mountain skies, ultraviolet rays, and light reflecting off of snow. As elevation increases so does the intensity of ultraviolet rays. Snow blindness feels like getting sand thrown in your eyes. Adequate eye protection is a must!

7. First-Aid Kit:
Carry first-aid supplies for minor injuries. In particular, carry plenty of adhesive band-aids and sterilized bandages, because they can't be easily improvised in the woods. What to carry ? A good book to reference is "Mountaineering First Aid" 3rd edition, by Lentz, Macdonald, and Carline, published by The Mountaineers.

Once you are familiar with the supplies you need, you can purchase a kit or make your own. If you purchase one, you'll most likely need to add to it ( items like CPR mask, rubber gloves, etc. ) since most commercially prepared kits are inadequate.

Also, If you spend any time in the back country, it would be a good idea to enroll in a mountaineering first aid course.

8. Pocket Knife & Tools:
Your basic backpacking tool kit. A good example of a single piece of gear which has multiple uses. A good quality 4-6" hunting knife can be a lifesaver.

At a minimum, knives are useful for first aid, food preparation, cutting moleskin strips, cutting rope and making repairs. However, scrutinize your needs before you go out and buy a honker like the Victorinox Swiss Champ which has many tools you probably don't need and weighs 1/2 pound ! If you don't actually use a feature, then you probably don't need to be carrying it around

9. Waterproof Matches:
Carry a BIC in a warm pocket, and carry matches which have been waterproofed or wind and waterproofed, or else carry extra strike-anywhere matches--along with something to strike them on-- in a waterproof container. Keep these matches separate from your regular match or butane lighter supply. Keep them available for emergency situations.
There are many commercially prepared waterproof/windproof matches available on the market, e.g., "Hurricane" and "Cyclone" brands of wind & waterproof matches and Coghlan's waterproof safety matches.

10. Firestarter:
Fire starters are useful for quickly starting a fire, especially in emergency situations. They are also useful for igniting wet wood. There are several commercial fire starters available: magnesium blocks w/striking flint; chemically-treated fire sticks, etc.
In addition, numerous home-made fire starters work just fine: plumber's candles (wax); compressed balls of dryer lint mixed with or covered with melted paraffin; small strips of waxed cardboard (from old produce boxes); small flammable containers--individual egg-carton cups filled with mixtures of wood shavings, wax, & lint; etc.

11. Water / Filter / Bottles:
Carry plenty of fresh water. If you are familiar with the area in which you are traveling, and can be sure that water sources are available, carry enough water to get you there.

If you aren't bringing your water from home or a public source, treat the water you draw from the back country  regardless of the source. These days, everything is suspect.

Use water filter, purifier, chemical tablets, or boiling to treat the water before consuming.
For transporting inside your pack, use lightweight water bottles, such as Nalgene 16 oz and 32 oz lexan polycarbonate or high-density polyethylene wide-mouth bottles. Some folks use other containers such as old plastic pop bottles. That's okay too. Be careful they don't crack and/or leak, though. Hydration resevoirs are good, but can be fragile if not properly protected, and turn your pack into a watery mess.

12. Whistle:
For emergencies: when you're lost, someone else is lost, or you're hurt and need help, etc.

13. Insect clothing or repellents:
Three options
(1) practice letting them eat you
(2) use repellents
(3) Wear clothes they can't bite through

(14. Sunburn preventatives:
Remember, the higher the elevation, the greater the intensity of the sun. Although each of us has a different capacity -- a.k.a. different pigmentation -- for withstanding the sun's onslaught, the message is the same--the penalty for underestimating your need for protection is severe.

In sunny conditions, wear light-colored clothing and cover exposed skin, at least, with SPF
30-50 rated sunscreen appropriate for you, at least 30. A big brimmed sunhat can save you from heat stroke and sunburn and can be a real savior on a hot day in the mountains.

Travel with competent companions, and be prepared for self rescue.
RESCUE MAY NOT BE POSSIBLE!! Prepare to be self sufficient.

If you require assistance dial 911..Whistler SAR is available through Whistler RCMP.