Behind the Photo: Malcolm Sangster — Above a Sea of Clouds

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Where is this? Who is this and what is he smiling about?
This is my good friend Callum Paterson on the north ridge of Tantalus Mountain along the Tantalus Traverse. I think he’s smiling because we’d just finished having a break up there and finally getting a drink of water. We flew in the night before, climbed all evening, bivied and then that morning we didn’t really have any water so we just climbed for 3-4 hours and this was the first water we found. This was in August and the cornice was dripping in the morning heat so we just sat there, downed a litre or so and enjoyed the view.

He’s rocking a pretty compact pack, how long was the expedition?
The whole mission was flying by the seat of our pants. The whole thing was just over 30 hours. The weather was not looking great but it eventually cleared a bit and Black Tusk Heli dropped us on the col between Mount Tantalus and Zenith at around 6 pm.  We did six or seven pitches of pretty vertical rock to get up onto the ridge. Then we spent the night, it was a chilly one as I opted out of bringing a sleeping bag and just had a thin bivy. The next morning was the mega day: 17-18 hours of rock, snow, ice and coastal jungle. This picture is at about 2300 m (7545 feet) and was taken at about 9 am. We got to the Squamish River crossing and eventually the car, at sea level, around one the next morning.

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“Once you leave the computer and crap at home and get up there on a 16-km traverse, there are multiple ways to go and it’s like a big puzzle—what works for your team on that particular day is in constant flux.”

The Tantalus is something most Sea to Sky locals know so well from a distance but few have seen up close and personal.
It’s amazing, that range. Everyone sees it from the highway and it really looks so close but it is a mission to get there on foot because of the river and starting at such a low elevation. Once you get up there, you see all these points and pinnacles and spires like the Witch’s Tooth. It’s big and technical and wild but then you have perfect cell reception and can see the nighttime lights of Squamish and Vancouver glowing to the south. It’s a remote alpine experience but you can still check your iPhone in the bivy sack.

Do you think Internet guides and GPS blogs take away from the adventure or mystique of challenging natural places like this?
I think every ski tourer loves Google Earth because it can really help dial your route and get into zones you haven’t thought of before. Maps get you stoked at home in your armchair before a big mission but with all of it there is always a level of vagueness. Once you leave the computer and crap at home and get up there on a 16-km traverse there are multiple ways to go and it’s like a big puzzle, what works for your team on that particular day is in constant flux.

What’s the best thing about being above a sea of clouds?
There are lots of shapes and faces and shadows in the clouds that all move and play off each other as the light changes.  And what’s really cool is just the peaks are pointing out so it hides the comfort of the green valleys below. You just see snow and rock and ice and sky.

What’s the most important piece of non-life-essential gear to bring on a trip like this?
Your camera. You are going to want to remember these experiences and be able to dig up those photos and get stoked.

 


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