Part I Breaking trail
Today you can do the Spearhead Traverse from Blackcomb Mountain to Whistler Mountain in a day or two if youre in a hurry, the ski lifts are operating, the weather co-operates, and there are some good skin tracks to follow. Most people now take about three to five days, stopping at the Russet Lake cabin along the way.
But back in the spring of 1964 there werent any skin tracks or a ski lift to get you started. There werent any usable cabins. There wasnt even an up-to-date topographical map for the area surrounding the Fitzsimmons Creek watershed. It was as yet untamed and largely unnamed territory.
By all appearances the watershed is a remote and inhospitable bowl of rock and ice, hemmed in by forbidding glaciers and stark peaks with a corridor of trees huddled at the bottom. Aside from a few mining claims here and there, the area was really of interest only to a handful of mountaineers with the same motives that all explorers share.
Whether you label it a geological, geographical or other scientific expedition, the real point of the whole journey to the top of the mountain and back down again is the adventure meeting challenges, facing the elements, and treading into the unknown where few, if any, have gone before.
In 1964, with mountaineering teams criss-crossing the province, tackling one peak after another, the Spearhead ski traverse was finally conquered.
There was an attempt at a high level ski traverse of the area 10 years earlier, in 1954, by some of the more rambunctious members of the University of British Columbia Varsity Outdoor Club, but that group was forced to find a shortcut out through the bottom of the valley when the weather turned ugly.
Their earlier claim to fame was the first ascent of Mount Neal in the north-east corner of Garibaldi Park, named after Dr. Neal Carter, a legendary explorer and mountaineer who made a number of first ascents and discoveries within the park decades earlier.
It would be 10 years before another VOC expedition would make another attempt at the traverse. The group consisted of Albert Port, Alistair MacDonald, Chris Gardner and Karl Ricker, all experienced mountaineers and skiers.
The community of Alta Lake, a collection of lodges and cabins, was usually a three-hour train ride from North Vancouver in those days, which was about three to four hours faster than the teeth-rattling, bone-jarring ride up the rocky dirt road under the power lines.
On a May morning, the day after exams Ricker recalls, the group boarded a passenger train to Rainbow Lodge Station, where Rainbow Park currently sits.