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Here's a reprint of an article I wrote for Bivouac in 2005, another disastrous year for backcountry skiing plagued by a series of atmospheric rivers or "pineapple express" events in January. Both winters are characterized as weak El Niño by the Niño Oceanic Index http://ggweather.com/enso/oni.htm. The trip date was March 12, 2005. The photos were taken the previous September on a climb of Mount Hatfield. I took my dog Muffy and the other participants were Jos Van der Burg, Larry Kost, Brett McConachie, Denis Lalonde, Alistair Teele, Stas, Bruce Cassels. The first snow we encountered was at 7,000 feet at a high col just before the summit block. 

A fortuitous trip to Mount Manson at the head of Eleven Mile Creek in early March revealed just how bare of snow was the entire south side of MacLeod Peak. You can blame El Nino, global warming or both but this was the lowest snow pack anyone could remember on the extreme south coast. A series of tropical storms hit the south coast in January and decimated what was otherwise a usable snowpack for backcountry skiing. It was followed by a record-breaking month of sunshine and warm temperatures in February. All this was sufficient to clear the snow off the south-facing slopes of MacLeod Peak pretty well to the summit.

None of us had yet done the lower west summit of MacLeod Peak. The weekend after the Manson trip saw us back in the area. We drove up Eight Mile Creek road to deadhead a vehicle. We thought we might descend the west ridge. Then it was back up the highway to the Hope Slide and the turnoff to Eleven Mile Creek road.

We bashed our way up the road to our usual parking spot about 1km in from the highway. The foot of snow on the ground the previous week was all gone. Daytime highs were near 18 degrees C in Vancouver and had reached 21 degrees in Abbotsford.

Taking the spur at mid-valley, we thrashed down the road to the washed out bridge. The water level was low and it was an easy crossing. On the other side it was a short distance through logging slash to the base of gully 4. I had taken to numbering the gullies from west to east for reference. Between gullies 3 and 4 lay our route, which was an unclimbed rib of MacLeod’s west peak. We followed the gully a few hundred meters before it started rising in a series of steps and waterfalls. We cut back to the left and gained our rib by traversing across mossy ledges. The lower part is sparsely treed and is an easy Class 3 scramble. About 1/3 of the way up the rib, dirt and trees lessen and rock predominates.

We stopped for lunch here at a spot the goats use for resting. Brett and Jos picked a few deer ticks off themselves and Larry entertained us with tales from his childhood in Greenwood spent wandering in tick-infested woods. Larry’s mother found the best technique was a red hot needle placed near the ass-end of an engorged tick. I guess Larry and his bro's didn’t wear underwear in the summer because he had us in stitches about the times his mother employed the technique on his cojones... well, never mind. He wanted one of us to check him out after lunch but there were no volunteers. Sorry, Larry.

There was a rock step above the lunch spot which we partly avoided on the right but eventually we were forced up and over it. There was a bit more scrambling and then another steeper buttress about one pitch high. This would have been a problem for me and the dog but then a goat appeared out of nowhere and I just followed it. Everyone else was still below having decided to tackle a Class 5 section. The goat easily outdistanced me and the dog but by this time we were in the upper reaches of gully 4. The dog and I continued up to the knife-edge ridge separating the north and south sides of the mountain. There was a bit more rock climbing and then a narrow, snow-filled couloir and the dog and I were on the summit. It was fifteen minutes before the others showed up. I guess the Class 5 step took them a while.

In the meantime, I had checked out the descent via the west ridge. It was going to be time-consuming. The descent by the rib we came up was going to be a lot faster. Once everyone else was on top we set about enjoying the scenery which was considerable. Mount Outram being 300m higher was the highest thing east of us and covered in a white mantle. It looked very wintery. It's amusing now to realize that fellow Bivouacer Drew Brayshaw was at the same time on the other side of Outram looking at cougar tracks in the fresh snow on his way to climb the Ghost Passenger route.

After everyone else checked out the west ridge descent option, there was unanimous assent to descend the south side. Fortunately, Alistair and Stas had oggled the next rib east of gully 4 (rib III)and thought it was a go all the way to the bottom. We downclimbed our peak and then traversed high on the ridgecrest around the head of gully 4. Above the descent rib we spied a coyote with an enormous bushy tail hunting in the gully below us. Maybe the marmots and voles were already emeging from their winter dens.

We crossed the coyote tracks to rib III. The descent was good except when someone postholed through the crust. The snow below was isothermal and unconsolidated so it was tedious when this happened. The rib was never harder than a Class 2 walk and got us back to the logging road just upstream of the creek crossing.

The return trip to the parked vehicles took 8 hours including a leisurely lunch and summit rest.

Macleod Peak from the summit of Hatfield. The geologic contact with the Mount Barr batholith is the diagonal slash across Macleod. The pointed summit in the rear is the peak we climbed on this trip.
_Macleod Peak from the summit of Hatfield. The geologic contact with the Mount Barr batholith is the diagonal slash across Macleod. The pointed summit in the rear is the peak we climbed on this trip.
Trip Reporter
24.01.2015 (1417 Days Ago)
Trip Report TitleWeak El Nino comparison 2005 and 2015
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  •  PaulK wrote 1399 Days Ago (neutral) 
    Hi Marie,

    Thanks for the link. I had to remove the blanks from the link. Something about bcmc.ca is adding blanks into the link. If anyone pastes the link into the browser address bar be sure to remove blanks or the %20.
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  •  Marie wrote 1399 Days Ago (neutral) 
    Hi Paul,

    Very interesting comment about the weak El Niño. I think you are right: have a look at this very interesting article on the subject:

    http://www.theweathernetwork.com/ne ws/articles/januarys-el-nino-update /43720/

    Apparently, weak El Niño bring unusually warm temperatures on the West Coast (while stronger El Niño don't).

    Baker also posted some historic data on very bad years on their website and in addition to the 2004/05 season you mention, there is the 1976/77 season. And that year was also a weak El Niño year. However, for both seasons, the weak El Niño ended in the middle of the winter and the springs were good. But this year, we might not be that lucky: according to the weather network article above, the weak El Niño is forecast to maintain for a couple of months and there is thus little hope that things will get better.
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