Dionne / Tantalus massif

Tantalus was a Lydian king of Greek mythology sentenced to spend an eternity imprisoned in water up to his chin that would recede whenever he tried to drink, and a bowl of food suspended over his head that would pull away whenever he tried to eat. For many years the Tantalus range and particularly the East face of Tantalus Mountain would be true to it’s namesake.

My first experience with the Tantalus was not a skiing venture. Stevie Shmaridge had died kayaking in the summer of 94 and his bro’s Trevor Petersen, Eric Pehota, Pete Mattson, Rich Sanford and Jia Condon knew that the beautiful range of peaks that hangs over the Sea to Sky highway outside squamish was a place he longed to be part of. The following winter they came up with a fitting adventure to get Stevie to the top. They would attempt the first winter ascent of Tantalus’ complete North ridge. I was deeply honoured to be  part of the team.

Trvor Petersen and Jia Condon on the North Ridge of Tantalus 1994

Day 1 went well as we traveled up the ridge in 2 groups of 3 to a good camp just below the summit tower. On day 2 Trevor, Eric and I were making our way onto the steepest part of the ridge when an avalanche cut loose above us. With televisions and refrigerators hurtling towards us we ran for it and then dug our axes in as the debris hit. Just as I began to believe I would survive the onslaught ,the slope I was anchored to released as the slide stepped down to a lower layer and I catapulted off,  ice axe, crampons, and me all part of the whirling storm of frozen TV’s and Fridges. When Trev and Eric got to me I was buried to the neck cemented in to the snow unable to move. The rest of the group arrived and helped to dig me out, legs twisted and broken, useless.

North Ridge of Tantalus

The group quickly dug a snow cave, and got me bundled up in down. No cell phones to call in the rescue back then so Eric, Jia, and Rich made the two day trek down to the cable crossing of the Squamish river, hand over handed across the cable (cable car was locked on the other side) and finally made it back to Whistler and informed Blackcomb Aviations Steve Flynn of our impending need.

Meanwhile, I self administered the first aid kit and Trev and Swede went for the Summit. We each had our own portion of Stevie for the summit so I asked Trev to take mine with him. He said “No way dude you’ll have to do that yourself”. They were gone all day and into dusk, but returned successful. After 3 days in a snow cave with 2 busted legs I looked forward to taking the easy heli ride home and as I felt Stevie in my pocket, and in my heart, I looked forward to coming back.

Trevor Petersen on the Summit of Tantalus, January 1994 Photo: Pete Mattson