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3 Days on the Spearhead Traverse, Whistler

3 Days on the Spearhead Traverse, Whistler

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The Whistler Blackcomb backcountry is beautiful and relatively accessible thanks to lift-aided access. The jewel of this backcountry area is probably the Spearhead Traverse which takes you on a U-shaped ski traverse from Blackcomb Mountain to Whistler village (or the other way around) passing glaciers, summits and passes along the way.

It’s not for the faint-hearted and requires a strong level of fitness and skiing ability (or lots of different types of terrain and snow). You’ll also have to have a very good knowledge of travelling in avalanche terrain and glacier travel; especially if you’re considering doing this without a guide.

My weekend on the Spearhead Traverse was tiring and hot and the snow kinda sucked but the views were incredible and it was awesome to feel so far away from civilization yet also be not that far in reality.

If you’re planning on doing the Spearhead Traverse, here’s what you need to know.

Not sure what to pack for the Spearhead Traverse? Here’s what I packed!

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About the Spearhead Traverse

This stunning ski traverse in Whistler Blackcomb has grown in popularity recently and this trend looks set to continue with the Spearhead Huts Project. It’s considered a classic Canadian Ski Mountaineering objective and here are some of the key things you need to know.

Where is the Spearhead Traverse?

The Spearhead Traverse is in the Whistler Blackcomb backcountry. Most people go from the top of the Showcase T-bar on Blackcomb and then traverse around the back of the resort in a U shape, before coming down Singing Pass or over Musical Bumps to Whistler Village.

How long is the Spearhead Traverse?

The traditional Spearhead Traverse route is 35km long crossing 13 glaciers and 11 mountain passes. However, you can make it longer if your main objective is to peak-bag.

This map shows backcountry ski routes in the area and these are the ultimate guides to the Spearhead traverse.

How much elevation is on the Spearhead Traverse?

The standard route has around 1,700m.

How many days to do the Spearhead?

Most people take 2-4 days to complete the entire Spearhead Traverse. Our group spent 3 days on the traverse and we met several people doing it in 2 or even 1 day!

The fastest known time for completing the Spearhead Traverse is about 6.5 hours according to this site.

When is the best time to do the Spearhead Traverse?

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The best months to do the Spearhead Traverse are said to be between March and April. We completed it in mid-April and though there had been a lot of snow leading up to our trip, it was baking hot the weekend we completed the traverse.

This meant our route had to deviate from the traditional Spearhead Route due to avalanche risk from warming. Yet, the weekend before temperatures had reached -15C overnight and it was still -12C on our first night.

The main advantage of doing the traverse in March and April is that you get more daylight. One of the main downsides is that the gondola and lifts will open later, or not at all since the resort is closed by mid-April. This pushes back the time you can start which is critical when you’re doing the traverse in warm weather!

Are there huts on the Spearhead Traverse?

cabin packing list

There is currently one hut, the Kees and Claire hut, along the Spearhead Traverse Route. However, there are plans to add a couple more huts along the route so that the traverse would be a hut-to-hut traverse. At the moment if you’re planning to do the traverse over multiple days you need to camp.

Unless you’re starting from Whistler, or doing a three or four-day traverse, you probably won’t stay at the hut since it would make for very long days if doing the traverse in 2 nights.

Reservations for the hut must be made in advance and they book up quickly.

Where to park for the Spearhead Traverse?

There are several overnight parking spots in Lot 4 at Whistler village. These overnight spots are on the right-hand side as you drive into the parking lot at the edge closest to the village. You should leave a note in your car explaining that you’re doing the Spearhead and pay for 1 day’s parking during ski season.

I have also heard it’s possible to pay for multiple days if using the parking app.

If you’re doing the Spearhead outside of peak, you can park here for free.

Do I need a permit or pass for the Spearhead Traverse?

If you are planning on camping you will need a wilderness camping permit from BC Parks. You can get those online here.

To get the Gondola you will also need a backcountry day ticket. These cost $62+ tax and you will need to show your avalanche safety gear at the time of purchase. These tickets allow you to use four lifts to get to the backcountry access gates.

Our Spearhead Traverse

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excited to start skinning!

We were a group of 6 who booked a guide through Altus Mountain Guides based out of Squamish. Unless you have several years and a lot of backcountry days of touring experience, winter camping and avalanche knowledge in the south coast mountains I wouldn’t suggest doing this trip on your own.

Altus Mountain Guide provided us with glacier equipment including harnesses, ice axes, ropes, and cooking stoves and the guide set up a cover for us each evening where we could enjoy dinner together.

Due to warming temperatures and avalanche risk, we couldn’t complete the traditional ski traverse and descended into the valley on day 2 before climbing back up to the Kees and Claire Hut on day 3.

Our route is below.

Day 1: Blackcomb Base to Pattison Col

spearhead traverse ski trip (9 of 29)
spearhead traverse ski trip (9 of 29)
spearhead traverse ski trip (9 of 29)

We all met at Blackcomb Base to distribute group gear and wait for the gondola to open. Since this was outside of typical resort opening days the Blackcomb Gondola didn’t open until about 10am.

We took the gondola and runs up to the bottom of the Showcase T-Bar only to find patrol had closed the T-bar and weren’t letting people skin up from there due to avalanche risk on the Blackcomb glacier.

This meant we took 7th Avenue towards the 7th Heaven ski area and started skinning up from there.

We traversed the base of Decker Mountain and had our final climb up onto Pattison Col where we set up camp for tonight.

Pattison Col is actually one of the locations cited to host one of the Spearhead Huts! It would be an absolutely beautiful location for it!

Day 2: Pattison Col to the Valley

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Our tents from Mt Pattison
spearhead traverse ski trip (9 of 29)
Morning views from Camp 1
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Frosty tents
spearhead traverse ski trip (9 of 29)
Bootpacking up first thing in the morning day 2
spearhead traverse ski trip (9 of 29)
spearhead traverse ski trip (9 of 29)
spearhead traverse ski trip (9 of 29)
spearhead traverse ski trip (9 of 29)
spearhead traverse ski trip (9 of 29)
spearhead traverse ski trip (9 of 29)
right before we turned around

An early morning to try and beat the heat we started off with a steep boot pack and traversed around the back of Mount Trorey and down onto the Trorey Glacier. This little descent was the best bit of skiing we got over the weekend!

From Trorey Glacier we climbed up to a ridge just south of Mt Pattison and over to Tremor Glacier.

A steep climb up Tremor Glacier finished with a descent onto Platform Glacier, up to Quiver Peak and then down onto Ripsaw Glacier. At this point, there was a steep descent where our ice axes were put to good use!

Naden Glacier was next to traverse before a climb up onto Iago Ridge.

At this point, our guide did a few ski cuts to test the snow on Iago Glacier. As the snow fell it rolled into larger and larger balls and so we made the decision to turn back and go into the valley. Given the forecast change in weather for the following day, waiting until then didn’t seem to make sense either.

From here we descended to the south of Mount Macbeth all the way to Fitzsimmons Creek in the valley. We did get to enjoy a much warmer night’s sleep though!

Day 3: Fitzsimmons Creek to Whistler Base

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Camp day 2
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spearhead traverse ski trip (9 of 29)
Making our way back uphill
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spearhead traverse ski trip (9 of 29)
spearhead traverse ski trip (9 of 29)
Signing pass bridges
spearhead traverse ski trip (9 of 29)

We had a long climb ahead of us to get up to the Kees and Claire hut but it was picturesque!

We started with some bushwhacking through the forest before climbing up around Russet Creek and near Overlord Glacier.

Eventually, we made it to Kees and Claire Hut where there was only a tiny climb left before a long, long descent.

Unfortunately, the snow was awful for our descent. Huge slabs which I found almost impossible to turn on with tired legs and a heavy backpack. Then we had the challenge of making our way down Singing Creek.

I’d heard a lot about Singing Creek and none of them were good. I wasn’t sure I believed it could be as bad as everyone said, but I definitely did not have fun coming down.

The path is narrow and if you don’t want to pick up too much speed you’re angling yourself into the slope putting pressure on awkward spots in your already tired legs and in your back. The only consolation is that it’s not too steep at any point. Just take a quick break as needed!

Alternatively, you can exit via Musical Bumps. This involves a little bit more up and down and wasn’t an option for us since the resort was closed and they were ploughing the roads. If you’re doing the Spearhead Traverse when the resort is open, you could consider this route to avoid the dreaded Singing Pass.

Don’t forget to celebrate with a beer at the end. You’ve more than earned it!