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Eric Carter completes Squamish’s Sea to Summit endurance challenge

Carter completed the 82 km loop combining running, paddling and skiing to the summit of Nch'kay (Mount Garibaldi) and back to the ocean

Photo by: Eric Carter

At 10 p.m. on May 1, Eric Carter dipped the toe of his running shoe into an inky black Howe Sound. He returned at noon the next day, having completed a human-powered circuit of running, paddling and skiing to the summit of the Squamish skyline, Nch’kay (Mt. Garibaldi), and back again. The endurance coach and ski mountaineering champion normally spends his spring prioritizing big objectives in Tahoma and Kulshan, WA. However, B.C.’s travel restrictions inspired him to look for gruelling adventures close to home. The Sea to Summit (and back) was the perfect challenge. 

The Sea to Summit follows a loop ascending Elfin Lakes trail to the Garibaldi Neve and on to the summit, then descending via Brohm ridge and paddling back to the Squamish Marina. In total, Carter’s day tallied 82 kilometres and over 3400 metres of elevation gain. Carter said he was inspired by following the flow of water from the highest source in Squamish all the way to the ocean. “Following the watercourse on skis, foot, and paddling was a really cool experience,” he wrote.

Skiing solo across the Garibaldi Neve. © Eric Carter

While Carter’s time of 13 hours and 53 minutes was certainly fast, he acknowledges that this challenge has plenty of time to be shaved off. “If someone wanted to go faster there’s many ways to do that, such as not napping for 25 minutes right below the bergschrund on Nch’kay,” he said. His choice of an Elfin-Brohm loop was intended to maximize his enjoyment and see different terrain rather than prioritizing efficiency. Carter took breaks when needed and tried his best to soak in the experience. For those interested in taking on this objective with a race pace, Carter said travelling up and down Brohm ridge could possibly be faster. “For me it was more about having a big fun adventure in the mountains and testing out how I’d feel overnight with a really long run under me,” he said. 

Whether a Fastest Known Time (FKT) or a long day out is your goal, future Sea to Summit suitors should closely study the weather above treeline before going for it. “I couldn’t have gotten it much better,” Carter said. “You want a firm melt-freeze for the traverses and the undulating Brohm ridge. [It’s] normally a mind-numbing skins on, skins off affair, [but] conditions allowed [me] to skate on crusts.” Carter estimated that this aspect alone saved him an hour of excess skinning. The downside of this melt-freeze cycle is that skiing the 45-degree upper face of Nch’kay can quickly become icy and very dangerous. Thankfully, fresh snow had recently fallen and bonded to the surface below, allowing for incredible powder skiing from the summit.

Justin Sweeny riding from the summit of Nch’kay. © Eric Carter

Carter said beginning the Sea to Summit at night came with a specific set of challenges for him. As an endurance athlete with a racing background, he is accustomed to beginning each event in the best possible headspace. “Your body is trained, then tapered and you’re well rested. You are well fed and very relaxed,” he said. But endurance events in the mountains are almost never in that perfect scenario. Carter said his body was running on fumes after being out all night. But starting in the dark also comes with its benefits, “When the sun comes up you get a big mental boost.”

Catching the sunrise from high on Nch’kay. © Eric Carter

Partners were also an invaluable asset to the Sea to Summit. He began the night running with Stuart Witt, where he was thankful to be with someone as howling coyotes echoed through the forest. “The dark is always easier with a friend,” he said. At Nch’kay’s snowline, he traded his running shoes for skis stashed at a car and continued on solo. After crossing the glacier through the night, friends Justin Sweeny and Paul Greenwood joined him at the bergschrund with a rope to the summit, then skied and paddled the remainder of the challenge. Carter said he could have completed the climb by himself, although soloing Nch’kay’s bergschrund would have drastically increased the day’s hazard. “For me it wasn’t about going as fast as possible, it was about having an adventure,” Carter said.

Carter and Sweeny paddle down to the finish line. © Eric Carter

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Lead photo: Eric Carter