Who says you can’t do a ski traverse early season? I’ve been wanted to do a more gnarly version of this Northern Dogs traverse for a while, but dropping blind into the gnar isn’t a great way to do things. Thought by doing a Gorman-Quartz traverse early season, I’d get a good look at everything, without feeling I need to hit up everything at the same time.
So, I set off in the cold at the early hour of stupid o’clock. Gorman lake was looking frozen last time I was there, and I skirted the edge of the ice instead of going up and down repeatedly on moraines and thin cover rocks. Went west and up toward the top of Gorman drainage, then north toward the col between Gorman and Lang creeks. I reached the col right at sunrise, 8am, and watched the peaks to the north go from twilight to alpenglow to early morning light as I descended.
Descending from the pass was a slow affair. It always gets colder just after sunrise, something I know from working snowmaking for a couple years. Despite the fresh wax, the skis simply did not want to glide in the cold, where it was steep enough for skiing I was still poling along. Then there were so many convoluted moraines, I had to climb just a couple meters, over and over to get back to a slope heading into Lang creek.
When the idea of doing this traverse in one day popped into my head, I scoffed and started analyzing each step of the traverse to prove that it wasn’t feasible. When I proved myself wrong, I was left with an actual timeline of where I should be at what time, the first detailed itinerary I’ve made for skiing. After the descent into Lang, I was well behind schedule with the slow skiing and frequent warm-ups. I definitely didn’t account for how much time cold can cost. Ascending up toward the little alpine lake at the top of Lang creek though, it was obvious that ascents sure go faster in the cold, a bit of extra encouragement to climb quicker.
I had given myself two options here, one was to go over an easy pass on the NW shoulder of Kingpin into Cirque creek, and subsequently another ascent climb out of Cirque towards Quartz lakes. The other option was to climb up to an upper basin of Lang creek, to a higher pass and round the west slopes of DG13 ontop of the headwall overlooking Cirque creek and use a different ascent route to the Quartz lakes area. Total ascent was a bit lower for the second, but with more technical terrain, and much better views. I was liking what I was seeing and went for the second. To get into the upper basin of Lang creek there was a headwall to negotiate. From my research, I thought this would be the crux of the second, high road option. However it looked great and it led me into the basin, and to the pass by DG13 after.
After all that work, it was time for some skiing! There was a great little descent down a pocket glacier to a tiny alpine lake at 2500m.
Then time to climb again. I had expected to do a bit of scrambling to attain the shoulder of DG14, as it is very exposed to wind and reasonably steep, but it was skinable all the way to the top.
Then time to go down again, on the premiere run of the traverse to Quartz lakes. Here I had again thought out two options: the first was to descend the summer trail from Quartz lakes to Quartz creek logging road and out to the highway, or the other was to again go high over a couple passes to the east of Wiseman peak (2490m) and under the north face headwall down a possibly alder-choked avy path to Wiseman creek logging road, and onto Quartz road and the highway. The biggest downside to option 2 was the 500-odd meters of extra elevation gain, but weighed against a low elevation summer trail and longer exit on logging road, it was anybody’s guess which would be easier.
After the super rad descent, there was still a ways to go on moraines and crap to the far end of Quartz lake. On one creek crossing I broke through and got the skis soaked, and ended up spending half an hour chipping ice off the skis and bindings. Then after more poling, sidestepping, occasional skiing I was at the south end of Quartz lake at 1900m. There were cliffs dropping straight into the water, and I wasn’t about to risk a full submersion crossing the ice. So I skinned up through some really crappy thin cliffy xmas tree infested terrain on the west side of the lake. Such steep narrow lanes between trees you didn’t want to skin, but too many hollows to bootpack through. After a while the cliffs onto the lake relented and I was willing to risk just a wet foot using the ice by the shoreline.
Now, which way to go? I was dead tired, so it wasn’t much of a decision to pass on the extra vert. Plus, it wasn’t far from being dark and I knew the summer trail, the whole north side of Wiseman and the logging road was an unknown. If I hadn’t got wet and had that extra time, I think the Wiseman exit would’ve been better. There looks to be a good lane on the avy path descent without alder to follow most of the way to the road, and the road itself looks to be a more consistent grade to the main Quartz road than the summer trail.
But I was tired and felt I had got what I came for and headed down the summer trail. After a couple hours of torture and swearing I made it out to the road. I was hoping that in a perfect world I’d be able to catch someone heading down the road and back to Golden, but it was near dark and everybody had left already. The road had good sections of packed ice interspersed with gravel, and I abused the skis all the way to the highway, arriving in full dark. I was unable to flag down any oncoming traffic with my headlamp, and called up my roommate to pick up my spent ass. Then an hour and a half to unwind and eat then on to graveyard shift. 2000m of trailbreaking ascent, 2700m of descent, 13km of rad alpine traversing between Gorman lake and Quartz lake, 27km total.