Pemberton Ice Cap

Editors Note: This page was originally published on my old website wayyy back in 1996. Since then the Pemberton Ice Cap has changed dramatically with changing conditions attributed to global warming.  Glaciers have receded, trailheads have changed or been relocated, grooming has improved and much has changed. The photos are scans from an old 35mm camera and were downloaded from an old site of mine – not the best quality, but all that I have.

The Pemberton Ice Cap is a huge expanse of glaciers connected together through mountain valleys and ridges with a large annual snowfall.  It is located in Southwestern British Columbia, in an area north of Squamish, south of Pemberton and west of Whistler.  It covers several hundred square miles of terrain, mainly above alpine with huge treeless expanses.

Access can be made through several unloading and staging areas along Hwy 99 between Squamish and Pemberton.  Brandywine and Callaghan are the most used access points – just south of Whistler along a 4-lane stretch of highway.  These areas are often heavily used by folks from the lower mainland of Vancouver and Washington State.  Very few riders actually get to the Pemberton Ice Fields from these locations because of the difficult terrain further back in.   Because these points have commercial touring companies operating on the trails, they are well groomed and maintained.

The Rutherford access point is less known and has less grooming.  No commercial operators are using the trail.  The trail starts next to the Rutherford Creek bridge on Hwy 99 just a few miles south of Pemberton.   The parking area can accommodate a few dozen vehicles.  The trail to the alpine is about 16 miles, following a logging road through the scenic Rutherford Creek valley.  The last few miles consist of several moderate climbs to the top of a logging slash, then into the trees and up to the snowmobile club safety cabin.

The trail is maintained and groomed by the Pemberton Valley Snowmobile Club.  It costs about $750.00cdn each time it is groomed and the club only has limited funds.  If you use the trail, drop off a donation into our donation box located by the cabin.  It will be much appreciated.

The trail goes past the cabin and opens up onto a large meadow.  The meadow is filled with large open holes and creeks.  Be very cautious going through here in the early season.  Past the meadow and over the first climb is Appa Lake.  This is the play area for those that are a little timid about venturing up onto the glaciers.

Appa Glacier is the first of a series of interconnected glaciers that make up the Pemberton Ice Cap.  There is a very steep climb up the ‘toe’ of the glacier and then it is wide open, full throttle, untill you need more gas.  Appa Glacier is about  a 1/2 mile wide, five mile long expanse of gently rising play area.  The top is known as the ‘Gas Drop’, where everyone drops their spare fuel to go play.

From the Gas Drop riders can head south down onto Longspur Glacier, then west over the glacier to Ryan Lake.  It is about a twenty minute, full throttle pull to Ryan Lake from the Gas Drop. This is a favourite play area for the local riders.  It is far enough in that not many people unfamiliar with the area can find it.

This is not an area for the un-initiated.   Large wind holes and crevasses can be found quite unexpectedly.  Last year we found a seriously injured person on the side of Longspur that needed to be heli-evacuated from the site.  She was riding with a partner that probably didn’t know the area as well as he thought.  She drove off a 35 foot cliff into a large wind hole.  From above, the hole was invisible until she was in the air falling into it.

The rider was extremely lucky the the Pemberton Valley Snowmobile Club was out in full force that day.  Some of our members are firefighters and members of the Pemberton Search and Rescue Team, as well as ambulance paramedics.  We had radio contact with a heli-skiing chopper in the area and got her out within 40 minutes of finding her.

Avalanches are a frequent occurrence on the ice cap.  It is extremely important that when riding there, you are properly equipped.  Most of the local riders are equipped with avalanche beacons, shovels and probes.  Our safety cabin is equipped with radio equipment, a covered evacuation toboggan with oxygen, clam-shell and rescue basket, as well as a large first aid kit.

Past Ryan Lake is another climb up onto the Pemberton Ice Field.  This is a huge expanse of ice and snow about 5 miles wide by 10-15 miles long.  It is fairly flat with some large wind holes on the west and east ends.  There is a small dome at the west end that you can climb up for a spectacular 360deg view of the Pacific Coast Mountain Range.  Elevation is about 8000 ft.

  From there, you can venture further back over several more glaciers to Harrison Hut.  This is a small cabin constructed by the UBC Alpine Club and is situated on the Stoltmann Trail connecting the Upper Squamish Valley to the Meager Creek watershed.  It is only accessable in winter by snowmobile or helicopter and is very hard to find if you don’t know the way.  Extra fuel is a must if you plan on venturing past the viewpoint atop the Ice Field.

As you can see, the views are spectacular and the sledding is awesome.  There is something for everyone up here.  The best time to venture forth into this huge area is after the winter storm cycle – late February till early June is best.  If chest deep powder is more your style, come on up in January and February during a clear break between storms.  It is truly a rare opportunity to get out into some of the most remote and rugged backcountry BC has to offer.