Scratching the exploratory itch is what drives a lot of backcountry travelers. Some of the most memorable adventures begin by pouring over topographical maps and Google Earth imagery on the kitchen table. And while skiing the Duffey Lake Road north of Pemberton was pioneered by grizzled mountain men decades ago, the personal emotion felt when summiting a new peak and then descending its prominent line never gets old.
Downton Creek is an area that lies one step beyond the convenience of skiing the Duffey Lake Road. The first challenge is reaching the trailhead. Driving from Whistler north on Highway 99 almost all the way to Lillooet, the deep road-side snow pack seems to have all but withered away. From the parking lot it’s a 13 to 15 kilometer slog up a logging road, which pretty much eliminates day trip possibility without the help of a snowmobile. Good thing we had a couple of two-stroke engines between our party of four this particular day (thanks to Dan and Matt for providing said snowmobiles).
Leaving the sleds at the logging road, the real work began with us tip toeing over an open creek and ascending towards the alpine. Once in the logging clear cut, the snowpack was deeper but still nowhere near the base found around Whistler or other parts of the Duffey. Rocky ridges looked permanently wind scoured and rocks peppered the couloirs. Touring up to the main col was a mix of light treeline bushwacking, steep switchbacks and sidehilling on polished crust. The col was our last rest stop before pushing to the summit of Melvin (2850m).
Those last few hundred meters of scrambling and ridge walking were by far the most challenging of the day. Ice axes in hand and crampons firmly attached to our boots, the nails-on-chalkboard sound of metal hardware scraping against rock became all too familiar as we post-holed through faceted surface snow. It took almost two full hours to finally reach the summit from the main col, arriving with a few holes torn in our pant cuffs from our crampons from the slippery ascent.
The summit itself was surprisingly pleasant. No wind, clear skies and 360 degree view of known and unknown mountains and valleys that surrounded us. We took it all in before readying for the descent, but there wasn’t nearly enough snow to ski from the summit.
Down climbing the first hundred metres or so we picked our way through the jagged fins. We soon found our entrance to the soft and consistent snow on the west face. Dropping in one by one and leap frogging down the wide open slopes and launching off mini features, all the frustrations of the summit climb melted away in pure backcountry bliss.
Legs were collectively toast after skiing away from the 850m descent. Some powder meadow skipping back to the logging road put the icing on the cake before skinning another half hour over flats back to the waiting snowmobiles. A spicy 13-km ride on icy logging roads at twilight back to the trucks and another two hours drive back to Whistler got us home well beyond the dinner hour. A perfectly timed day trip for skiing the Duffey.
Mountain Skills Academy & Adventures offers group and private guiding for ski touring and ski mountaineering in the Whistler, Squamish and the Duffey Lake Road. For more information on our guided adventures or courses click [here]Categories: adventure, ski touring, Whistler, Pemberton