OPYA Update: Ha-Iltzuk Ice Field and Mount Silverthrone Trip Report

Or what do 4 climbers do on an incredibly remote glacier for a week with poor climbing weather. An update from a team participating in Our Parks| Your Adventure fundraising challenge to support youth programs.
Tess Wendel Tess Wendel
Our Parks Your Adventure Challenger
July 22, 2017

Last Thursday, Mark, Hadi, Michael and I embarked on a fantastic adventure to the remote Ha-Iltzuk ice field in the Coast Range as part of our Our Parks Your Adventure summer challenge. It didn't go quite as planned....


The trip was the brain child of Mark Scheffer, a long time Seattle climb leader and one of people who taught me to climb in 2013. Mark took me on my two first alpine climbs, one to his favorite Unicorn Peak. As it so happens, that same year Mark also took our other teammate Michael Telstad on his first alpine climb (Unicorn again). When Mark asked me to join him and Michael on the trip to the ice fields, I was honored! How fun to be asked to join on this adventure AND exciting to use it as an opportunity to raise awareness about The Mountaineers Access program by listing this challenge as part of the Our Parks: Your Adventure challenge. 

In fact if you are inspired by this adventure please consider donating. Donations are being collected through the end of July! 

Donate here!

Note: All photos courtesy of Michael Telstad and his excellent photography skillz. 

The Approach

We did a leisurely two day car approach to reach White Saddle Air Services near Tatla Lake in British Columbia. Conditions were typical, with fierce traffic between Maple Valley and Wallingford and then additional construction traffic in British Columbia around Hope. We took HWY 1 northbound, where we stopped briefly to chase a waterfall and then grab dinner in Cache Creek. After dinner we noticed smoke, and passed our first wildfire at 100 Mile House. We spent the night at a beautiful campsite near Lac La Hache, complete with perfect picnic tables. Too bad the bugs were out in force, so it was lickety split into our tents. 



The drive the next day took us through high plains of inland BC until we reached the town of Tatla Lake - and by town I mean two buildings that contained a restaurant and a combination small grocery, post office, and mechanics shop. We took the dirt road to the end of the lake, where we found Jasper the cowdog, his owner Patrick, and the folks at White Saddle Ranch & Air Services who helped us get settled and put us on standby for our flight the next day (due to additional fires). 

DAY 1 - Heli Drop oFF and Camp Set up

Step 1) Extensive tent staking

Step 2) Toilet building

Step 3) Quick trip up to the saddle on the approach to Mount Silverthrone (our primary objective)


Day 2 - Rain then drying out + crevasse excursion

Turns out Mark and Hadi didn't guy out their tent as much as they needed to, so the evening and morning rain resulted in some puddles. While they dried out Michael and I went to investigate our local, larger crevasses. We brought plenty of anchor making materials and were planning on lowering each other into them. Turns out crevasses with no bottom in sight are terrifying so we were content just looking closely from a belay. 


Day 3 - SNOW THEN Rain And a VERY MUGGY WAlk To another Saddle 

It snowed early in the morning then more rain until about noonish. Once it stopped we decided to go for a jaunt to a saddle near Mount Calli and see what was on the other side. We found super slushy snow and really should have had snowshoes. Plus it was  just incredibly muggy. At the saddle, we could see down to a river of ice and clear moraines and perfect demonstration of glacier geology.

Day 4 - Cold(er), clear - sILVERTHRONE Summit attempt!

Crevasses were open and snow bridges were soft and pickets wouldn't have held, so ultimately we didn't summit, but the views from even part of the way up the mountain were stunning and we probably burnt a few calories. 

Oh and then we played some frisbee!

Day 5 - MORE Rain

Our team is definitely feeling done with the bad weather and we reached out to the helicopter service to ask them to come pick us up the next day. In the meantime, it stopped raining about 3:30pm, so Michael and I roped up and go for a jaunt down the glacier toward Fang peak.

Down-glacier we saw some pretty neat crevasses and icefall, but the real highlight of the day was watching Mark make butter bagels served with bacon (backcountry heart attack).


Day 6 - Tarp Day

We woke up at 5:45am to to see if the weather was clear enough to be flown out, and communicated conditions with White Saddle Air Services. In true mountain tradition, it was a white out and rainy. Plus the helicopter was busy that night working on wildfires, so we were stuck on the glacier for another day. 

Michael and I made good use of his tarp because we are tired of being in the tent. We watched the first two star wars movies (not episode 1 and 2 you silly, the original version). 

Also did I mention it only gets dark for about 4 hours which means the whole day feels like you are napping whether its 7am or 10pm??

Day 7 - Helicopter Ride Out and THE LONG DRIVE HOME

We got the chopper in the morning and were told to be ready by 7am. Then, of course, the helicopter didn't come until 8:45am... a serious case of hurry up and wait. 

When we landed, we immediately checked out the highway status and found that we would have to go north AND east (the opposite direction of home) to get back to Seattle. HWY 20 was closed, but we were allowed to leave and ended up driving through miles and miles of charred landscape before heading north to Prince George. 

We passed through beautiful land on the way past McBride, which includes Cariboo Wilderness Area and Mt Robonson provincial park. Talk about turly beautiful Canadian Rockies landscape. Mark, we learned, is an amazing marathon driver and we ended up doing the whole drive back (with the extra 5 hour detour total of close to 17 hours of driving) in one long push. I think we ended up doing close to 1000 miles!!

The team

  • Mark Scheffer
  • Hadi Al-Sadoon
  • Michael Telstad
  • Tess Wendel

Oh and if you really want to get a feel for the adventure check out this awesome video of the trip Michael put together. 

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