There comes a time when an experienced hiker will look for the next challenge. That may entail hiking further from civilization, gaining higher summits or tackling more technical routes. But for those who want to take the next step in vertical, the slow and steady transition towards mountaineering doesn’t have to necessarily involve high altitude climbing or risky routes. Sky Pilot (2031m), a peak accessed from the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, is the perfect introduction to “mountaineering lite” in the Vancouver/Sea to Sky region.
The Sea to Sky Gondola really is a handy piece of infrastructure. It accesses mountain top amenities such as the Summit Lodge, the amazing scenery at on the suspension bridge and viewing platforms and exhilarating activities such as our own Squamish Via Ferrata. The quick and comfortable ride up 850 vertical metres from the parking lot beside Highway 99 is the perfect springboard into the alpine. When you’re ready to return to your vehicle, the express download back down the Sea to Sky Gondola also avoids the long hike back down the hill.
Working Your Way Up
On signboards at the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola there’s a list and maps of easy and intermediate hikes, but the real fun (at least for the mountaineering-inclined folks) starts where these trails finish. Beyond those trails you are entering the backcountry so it’s important carrying sufficient gear, food and water. It’s a 5-km hike out on the Sky Pilot Valley trail before the trail becomes more steep and difficult. Be ready for some light scrambling, creek crossings and hanging off the occasional tree limb for balance as you make your way up.
Getting Glacier Travelled
The climb up the Stadium Glacier will vary with the current snow conditions. If climbing in the summer months it will often stay soft and slushy, but cold mornings in the fall can freeze the slope making it slippery and treacherous. All party members should have boot crampons, an ice axe and a helmet (as a minimum) and a glacier rescue kit. If you are not experienced with this equipment or skill set, it’s worth hiring a guide. The alpine is not a place to be trying stuff for the first time without proper guidance. If you’re interested in staying safe from glacial hazards, check out our list of summer and winter mountain safety courses.
Long Way to the Top
The most popular route to the peak of Sky Pilot is via the West Buttress. After ascending the Stadium Glacier, you can gain the west ridge and begin the scramble to the summit. This route is moderately exposed with a crux at a 50-metre face known as Pink Slab. Some rock climbing experience is helpful here and there is a set of installed belay rings should a party member require being roped up for the climb. The summit push requires negotiating several towers and a few exposed traverses. Again, if you’re new to this sort of terrain, it’s best attempted with a professional guide. Fall danger is very real, even more so when down-climbing from the summit.
Sky Pilot: One Day or Two?
With the Sea to Sky Gondola open until 6pm (8pm on Fridays and Saturdays) all the way until September 23, it’s possible to do the entire summit trip and return in a single day. But if you take two days and camp on the west ridge it allows more time for exploring other sub peaks such as The Copilot. And watching the sun set over the Tantalus Range is well worth hauling in the extra camping gear.
Ready to give Sky Pilot a test flight? We book guided trips daily, so come summit one of the premier peaks of Squamish this fall.