Last week on March 25 a new record for completing the Spearhead Traverse was achieved. Taking advantage of sunny skies and fast snow, Nick Elson and Eric Carter skied from Blackcomb backcountry gate to Whistler Village in a staggering three hours and 10 minutes. If that doesn't resonate, bear in mind that the route is well over 30-kilometres long and involves more than 2,000 metres of elevation gain. Elson and Carter broke the previous record of four hours one minute set by B.C. super-athlete Greg "2 Mill" Hill. Compare this to the first ever completion of the Spearhead Traverse in 1964, which took nine days.
This is not to be disparaging of those first explorers, as their experience was very different to that of today. Naturally there weren't any skin tracks to help them along, there were no lifts to get them started and the area was largely uncharted. The only map existing was one made by Neal Carter in 1928, which although invaluable, only identified the major features in the area. Back then it wasn't even called the Spearhead Traverse, but rather the Fitzsimmons Horseshoe Traverse.
A previous attempt in 1954 had been made to complete the traverse by members of the University of British Columbia's Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC), but the group was forced to find a shortcut out due to bad weather. In 1964 four more VOC members: Bert Port, Alistair MacDonald, Chris Gardner, and Karl Ricker made an attempt, and this time they were successful. The team started from the valley and headed up Blackcomb - their first night's camp was somewhere a little beneath where the Rendezvous Lodge is today - and finished by skiing down the road from the microwave tower on Whistler. In between they passed many unnamed peaks and glaciers, and started to devise names for some of these remote geographical features.
After their return Karl Ricker spent many years working with a committee of people, including earlier explorers of the region such as Neal Carter and Phyllis Munday, to get these features named. Many of his name applications became official, largely it appears due to the very thorough work of Ricker and the committee. Getting geographical names recognized by the government is extremely difficult as there are lots of factors to consider. Ricker jokes "the journey [across the Spearhead Traverse] was the easy part." If you want to learn more about some of the names created by the committee the Museum has a blog post on the subject at: http://blog.whistlermuseum.org/2013/02/16/whats-in-a-name/.
Back to the traverse itself - local ski guide Alex Wigley's website Ski Theory helps to fill in some of the gaps between 1964 and 2013. The first traverse in a single day was made in 1984 by Brian Finnie, Brian Sheffield and Graham Underhill. Wigley also explains how there is more than one way to ski the traverse and thinking up "creative enchainments," (trying to link up several climbing and skiing objectives on a single outing) can be a new way to explore this popular route. The Spearhead traverse, it appears, still has plenty of challenges to offer us.
Sarah Drewery is the executive director of the Whistler Museum.