The skin on my nose hadn’t even finished peeling off from my trip across the Wrangell’s as I hoisted up another pack full with six days of food, fuel, and freedom. It was March, 2020 and Tobin, Fabrice, and myself were beginning an 18-day trip through the Northern Selkirks. The weather looked splitter for the first couple days and the avalanche rating was Low/Low/Low – there was no time to waste!
We left Revelstoke at 07:00, driven by Fabrice’s girlfriend, Sophie, and began the 150km drive North along Highway 23 to Mica Creek. The drive was filled with a familiar balanced energy of nerves and excitement as we went through the checklist for the eighth time. We wanted to ensure that we had absolutely everything we needed because along with the risks that come with long traverses through the mountains, we knew that Search and Rescue operations had been curtailed as Canada slowly began to put in place measures to combat the Codiv-19 crisis.
We drove through the rather quaint town of Mica Creek and only a kilometer or two North of the town we found the start of our journey on a logging road that would take us into the Mountains.
Before we left we took a couple pictures with big smiling faces in front of a background filled with white-capped mountains outlined by a deep blue morning sky. We were all elated to see what adventures lay ahead of us.
Luckily the road to adventure was basically paved! For the first 2 km there was a very nice logging road that had been packed down by old cat tracks that made for fast travel.
We left the main logging road and continued to head up Mica Creek following what seemed to be a smaller logging road decommissioned long ago. The snow was wet and heavy in the surprisingly hot, late-March sun, and quickly our skins began to glob. Knowing that it was going to be warm, we brought lots of glob-stopper and lathered our skins in hopes of keeping the sticky snow off the bottom of our skis. I kept motivating myself by affirming I would much rather deal with the globbing and the hot sun than the steady -30 degree temperatures of my last endeavor – plus we weren’t pulling sleds! We caught up with the creek at the valley bottom and indulged in a nice long re-hydration from the Cold, clear, fresh mountain water.
It was only 1 o’clock in the afternoon when we realized we were almost at our projected camp. I always like to plan the first camp as a short day because you never know what could happen the morning you’re supposed to be leaving. Logistics, last minute packing, obsessing over details, heavy packs, and the fact that we’re not exactly in traverse shape yet can all lead to unexpected delays. Lucky for us we were all experienced, prepared, and excited to get moving! We cruised past camp 1 as we patted ourselves on the back and began the climb up to ‘Mica Creek Col’. We climbed roughly 650m through nicely spaced, but very steep trees before we could see the Col. Once we saw how benign it looked, we decided not to kill ourselves on the first day but rather stop while we were enjoying ourselves and set up camp to watch the sunset.
We rose early on the second morning, scooted up and over the Col, skied down to yellow creek, and climbed a gradual slope up to Anemone Pass before 11am. The weather was still wonderful and we wanted to use it to our advantage in covering lots of ground while the snow was stable and the views were spectacular!
As we rounded the corner that lead us up to Northeast Mountain, we were reminded why the snow was so stable. There had been an intense wind event a week or so earlier and it, along with the hot sun during the day and freezing temps at night, had locked the snowpack in place. It was like skiing along a concrete sidewalk! This worked really well except when you couldn’t travel on flat ground. Steep side-hilling on hard-pack snow has always been a bit of a pain in my butt! As we contoured up to the Northeast Mountain Col we were forced to side-hill for probably two hours on this wind hammered concrete! Thanks to ski crampons helping us to grip the snow and not just slide down sideways every step, we eventually made it up to the Col at 2850m. I have a new bone-spur in my right foot and I’m pretty sure it’s from this single event! But all the painstaking side-hilling was TOTALLY WORTH IT! The views from that Col were spectacular. Mountains, in every direction, as far as you could see! After letting our feet rest and transitioning to ski mode, we prepared for a much anticipated 1800m vertical descent to Bigmouth Creek in the valley below. Not sure what we were anticipating but over the 1800m we encountered about every different type of variable snow you could imagine! Variable snow – I’ve learnt that’s the passive phrase guides use to tell their clients that ski conditions are miserable! We managed to get down via a combo of a couple of pizza turns, side-slipping, side-stepping, and side-sliding. I even tried just walking for a bit! Eventually we got down and set up another fantastic camp right beside the creek.
Our camping set-up was quite nice actually. We brought Fab’s mid, a floorless tarp shelter that we all slept in, along with two stoves and two pots. We had chosen basically the same set-up in Alaska so it was fun to see Fab’s tips and tricks in conjunction with what I had learnt. By the third night our system was dialed! We would arrive at camp, one person got the stoves going while the other two set up and dug out the mid. By the time the mid was up, the water was hot and we could blow up pads and lay out sleeping bags as we sipped hot soup. By the time the soup had warmed our bones more hot water was up for supper and while we ate a well deserved meal, we melted snow to fill our bottles. Fab and I elected to bring and cook our own meals while Tobin opted for the quicker and more convenient freeze-dried packages.
The nights were cold, dropping to temperatures below -15C, and the days were warm in the sunshine. We would generally get up at 06:00 and be moving by 07:45. But we definitely got faster as we learned each others’ habits and mastered our own techniques. After a long and beautiful day, we would set up camp anytime between 16:30 and 19:00 in order to enjoy the last of the warm sun and perhaps dry out a sleeping bag before calling it a day around 21:00. Ten hours of sleep a night is always cherished after big days in the backcountry!
By the afternoon of day 3, we were a full day ahead of schedule. We were cruising thanks to fast travel conditions (going up!) and supreme weather. We had begun the morning following Bigmouth Creek for three kilometers before climbing up another steep bank of trees. After a strong effort through thankfully shaded, cool North facing trees, we arrived to the Hanging Valley and stared up at the cirque of beautiful peaks above us. Trident, Dolphin, Neptune, Rhea….all connected with beautiful, steep glaciers under a bright blue cloudless sky. We decided that even though it was getting late and we probably wouldn’t arrive to the Col before 17:30, this looked like a challenge best suited for good weather, and we had it. We filled our bellies with snacks and put our heads down as we began the almost 1000m climb.
Long climbs have always been enjoyable to me! I love starting in the trees, not really being able to see much around you, and slowly, with every step, the views around you begin to open up as the trees get smaller, the terrain gets bigger, and the ridgelines fall below you. It’s easy to get lost in thought and all of a sudden you’ve climbed 400m and everything around you has changed! Other than a ~100m bootpack up a heinously steep/wind hammered section and a sneaky crevasse field, this climb was no exception! And the Col was just phenomenal! Another perfect view as the sun began to dip low on the horizon, Dolphin Peak towering on one side and Rhea on the other. We gritted our teeth as we prepared for another 1850m descent down to Austerity Creek.
Austerity Creek was a pleasant day! It started out with a nice sleep-in until 7:15 because we had arrived to camp quite late. Tobin had accidentally lost a ski pole in the river trying to cross it in the dark the previous night and Fab, being the legend that he is, found it first thing in the morning! Tobin was sure happy to see it and we were all in good spirits! We had also agreed that after a couple of big days and a later start we wouldn’t push too hard that day. We had our first food cache waiting two days away at Fairy Meadows but were not in a hurry to get there. We followed Austerity Creek up the Valley and were all floored by the scenery. There were huge towering walls on either side, sheer rock with piercing blue ice frozen in magnificent falls all along the cliffs. The river provided much needed hydration as the hot sun beamed down and we caked our faces with zinc and our skins with more glob stopper to prevent the moist snow from sticking and weighing down our skis. We made it 12k up the valley and at 16:30 decided to set up camp. It was a great spot by the river and set us up right below the 1200m climb up to the Col that would put us onto the Adamants Icefield and within reach of our much anticipated food cache. We lay our wet sleeping bags and pads in the sun to dry them, filled our hungry bellies, and were in bed by 19:30!
At around midnight I woke up to an unfamiliar feeling. After eating dehydrated food for a couple days, everyone’s digestive system is susceptible to the odd cramp or feeling of discomfort. Nothing a good dumper, or at least a lengthy and melodic root-a-toot can’t take care of! The feeling I had though came alongside aches and cold sweats. I got up to see if I could take care of it the old fashioned way but by 02:30 I knew I was in for a treat…I was ill! I have no idea what happened but I was the only one who got sick and by morning, the man flu was real. I couldn’t eat breakfast, I was super Cold, and the thought of packing my things was enough to make me want to give up on life, let alone a full day of traveling to Fairy Meadows. But that was the motivation I needed. No matter the struggle we were heading to Fairy Meadows, I just had to get there! So I painstaking packed up and told the boys I might not be able to break much trail and would prefer to keep my head down and just walk. Every step got harder and harder, and as we climbed so did the snow. The snow had been absolutely hammered by the wind and there was no way around steep side-hilling with slippery kick-turns and foot-high sastrugi. The climbing just involved a level of effort I could not give and after I fell and slid ~50m down a particularly hard section, I was almost in tears. I was moving incompetently slow and concentrating on every breath and every step By the time I got to the alpine and I reached the boys who were waiting for me, I was quite literally in tears. Every step took more energy than I had in my whole body. I was learning that I turned into a gigantic baby when I got sick!
As we approached the Col, the climbing got very steep and I was moving so slowly I had time to mentally reconsider all the disdainful things I’ve ever thought about partners who test my patients with their slowness! Fab and Tobin had picked up on my physical and emotional struggle and Fab had elected to stay behind with me while Tobin charged forward to set the track and start the bootpack. Just seeing how small Tobin was against the background of the climb, and how little progress every step was granting him, the task seemed almost insurmountable. And then I threw up! It consisted mostly of dinner from the night before and the couple sips of water Fab urged me to drink. That meant that I had not digested hardly anything in over 24 hours, which explained the complete lack of energy and focus. But now I felt great! And what timing! I picked my head up from between my legs for the first time that day to admire the stunning scenery and using that super strength that you get after tossing your cookies I climbed up to meet Tobin. We all bootpacked up to the Col and enjoyed a beautiful view right as clouds began to fill the sky for the first time on our trip. As that great feeling wore off and left me feeling like my insides wanted to be on my outsides again, we skied down and into the Adamants. Even in my gloomy mood I couldn’t help but revel in our surroundings. I think Tobin almost became the second person to cry that day although his for very different reasons. We stood on a glacier beneath a cirque of black granite in which 7,12, maybe 15 peaks sprung out of – Each summit daunting but inviting with long, tight couloirs of snow in between their oppressive condescension. It seemed you could spend a lifetime exploring just what was right in front of us and we all understood immediately why there was a hut built in these mountains.
Ohhh, the hut! Now on skis pointed downhill I was in better shape but in between dry heaves I used the thought of the hut to continue pressing forward. As we got closer and closer to the hut, we wondered what scene we’d run into. Usually this is one of the busiest Alpine Club of Canada locations. They no longer accept ‘first come first serve’ bookings as they do at most other huts but due to the high demand to use this hut during the winter, the ACC has changed to a lottery system. Everyone who would like a week at Fairy Meadows enters a lottery, the ACC will select one name per week for every week of the winter, and that person assembles a crew to go use the hut. For this reason we were obviously expecting to arrive to a lodge filled with 18 excited ski tourers and no room for us to actually stay there. In fact, during my correspondence with the ACC I was told they were happy to fly in the food cache and we were more than welcome to check out the hut but not to disturb the guests or stay there. We were all fine with that and planned to move on once we had our food. However as we got closer and closer, we noticed a discernible lack of ski tracks around. We started to get excited that perhaps the lodge would be empty?!?! Once we finally arrived, we realized the hut was completely empty and there was note that read the following; “Ryan, this hut is shut down [due to Covid-19]. You can stay the night. Be sure to empty all water and sauna tank when you leave.” Well we just about lost it! One of the biggest, most popular ACC huts, in an outstanding location, was waiting just for us! And there was a sauna! How lucky were we. Well we immediately spread our stuff out, lit a fire, carried several buckets of water inside, and began to relax. It had only been six days but the immense effort and long days with heavy packs takes a toll on the body, especially the feet in ski boots. It’s always nice to kick off the boots and enjoy the heat of a wood stove knowing that all you’re things will be dry. In fact, it was only 15:00 but once my sleeping bag was dry I said goodnight to the boys and retired upstairs for the foreseeable future.
While I was trying my best to relax, sleep, and restore my energy, the second phase of the sickness began kicking in – The Hershey Squirts. Every time I got comfortable enough to fall asleep, I had to get up wander to the outy with a fresh delivery of poop soup. Whatever was in me was trying to get out! Tobin came up around 20:00 to notify me the sauna was hot if I wanted to join them. It wasn’t hard to convince myself that not only good scrubbing, but also trying to sweat out whatever had invaded my happiness was a good plan. We had a wonderful sauna followed by watering-can shower and I think it definitely helped, if not just my morale. Afterwards I had a tea and headed back upstairs to my warm and dry sleeping bag.
Again, midnight rolled around and I was rudely awoken. This time I rolled over and as a breath of air escaped past my face and out of my sleeping bag, I noticed a rather foul odor. I was no stranger to displeasing aromas escaping the sleeping bag I have spent over 200 nights a year in over the past four years but this was particularly offensive. Thinking my guts were just more repulsive than usual, I smiled as I was secretly impressed with myself and closed my eyes again. That’s when I noticed that it wasn’t just a smell that was different but it was accompanied by another strange sensation…ohhhhh noooooo!!! I immediately talked myself out of thinking the inevitable but as I sent a delicate reconnaissance finger for inspection the results were undeniable. I had shit my pants while I was asleep. Like actually. Inside my sleeping bag. Diarrhea! Once I realized this I just kind of laughed because I really had no idea what to do. They don’t train you for this kind of thing! As much as this will live in my memory forever, I will spare the gruesome details. Thankfully, THANKFULLY, I was wearing boxers and a baselayer that contained most of the offending sludge. Long story short I spent the next three hours boiling water to wash with, using a box of Clorox wet wipes, half a roll of paper towel, bleach, dish soap, and treating myself to another sauna shower. All in all I felt pretty good about how well everything cleaned up! I just kept being so immensely thankful that we were at a hut and I had these facilities at my disposal. I couldn’t imagine that mess if I had been sleeping in the mid! By 03:00 everything had been sufficiently cleaned, bleached, and dried. To be honest I was a little afraid of going back to sleep because I was not prepared to do this again. To make myself feel better I spent 20 minutes making a diaper out of toilet paper, paper towel, and duct tape and snuck back to bed. What a crazy experience.
In the morning I was wrestling with whether or not to tell the boys. Normally it’s important to talk about pretty much everything in the backcountry because…well other than talk there’s not that much to do, but also for safety. If anything happens it’s nice to know what was going on before the incident. It’s a much better group dynamic if someone were to say – ‘hey I have a wicked ingrown toenail that’s killing me today so I might be slow’ even though it may be a bit embarrassing, instead of pushing themselves, still being slow, and now also angry because their in pain the whole day and nobody else knows what’s going on. With taking that into consideration, I absolutely did not say a word. If they’re reading this it will be the first they heard of it! I just told them maybe I need another day before I could be a productive team member, which they both graciously agreed and we spent another day resting at Fairy Meadows.
The rest day wasn’t all bad though. The clouds that had begun to close the sky the day before were now dumping copious amounts of snow. Along with the 30cm that was still accumulating, the afternoon brought a forceful wind to accompany the storm. It might not have been the best day to travel as it were and as it snowed and blowed outside, we opened up our food cache. The first thing we saw, sitting right on top, was a bag of my absolute favourite All Dressed Ruffle Chips that I snuck into the box before I dropped it off. I had not eaten anything besides a soup, mashed potatoes, and some crackers Tobin shared with me since I had first gotten sick. I think the other two were lucky they got any of those chips! I devoured the bag, trying to share, but it looked like my appetite may have been returning. We sorted the rest fo the food, ate some more of our special treats, lounged by the heat of the fire, and decided that in the morning we should try and continue.
It was tough saying goodbye to Fairy Meadows. I was feeling better but having a whole lodge to ourselves was pretty amazing! It was still snowing a little and the ceiling seemed low but our rested legs were ready for some action. It wasn’t long before we realized it had actually snowed about 40-50cm! We were equal parts delighted, because it was going to improve the skiing drastically, but ungrateful because now we had to break trail through 40-50cm of fresh snow! I was feeling much better but had almost no energy due to lack of calorie consumption which became apparent when I tried to break trail for 10 minutes and almost collapsed. Tobin and Fab picked up my slack and we trudged up and over Friendship Col towards an attempt at Pioneer Peak. The new snow was unstable though, the wind was still strong at 2800m, and the visibility was poor at best. We waited in the cold spindrift in a rock moat beneath Pioneer Peak for about 45 minutes before we decided to abort mission and ski down towards Thor Pass. The clouds opened up just enough for us to check out a different Col, which we ended up skiing down, and past the Gargoyle. It was surprisingly convoluted and complex terrain to navigate through a whiteout but we got down to the Southern Adamants Icefield without incident. I had snacked hard during our wait under Pioneer Peak and threw some Lara Bars on top of that while we transitioned. I had slowly been feeling stronger and thought I had enough energy to break trail to Azimuth Notch. Luckily I was right, and just that hour or so out front had me in the best spirits I had been in for a while! We unfortunately misread the map at the Notch and descended a dangerous, intensely steep and very exposed face that none of us felt comfortable on. Grateful it worked out, we made it down and were dumped onto the Silvertip Glacier where we skied down to Great Cairn Hut with our tails between our legs knowing we had gotten away with something. Not a great feeling.
What was a great feeling was the Great Cairn Hut! We arrived just as the sun was bathing the summit of Mt. Sir Sanford in alpenglow and it was absolutely breathtaking! The hut itself was a quaint, one room cabin that had a bunk beds, a small table, a wood stove, and no wood! We were disappointed but still had warm and dry gear from Fairy Meadows so it wasn’t big a deal. We were just happy to spend another night out of the snow!
We had originally thought we’d spend more time in between Fairy Meadows and The Great Cairn Hut exploring all the great mountains the Adamant Range had to offer but the Covid-19 thing had us thinking more cautiously. We all agreed that for that reason, coupled with poor weather and an un-motivating forecast, to continue covering ground on the traverse. This meant that we left Fairy Meadows with 4 days of food, and arrived to Great Cairn the following day, where 5 more days awaited us. Due to my lack of appetite, I even had two more days of uneaten food on top of that – It was the least excited any of us had ever been to arrive to a food cache! We lifted the box and sighed knowing that the weight would soon be on our backs. Lucky for us Tobin was a veracious eater and was keeping up with his rations. He ended up taking a whole gallon zippy of my snacks, a couple granola breakfasts, and at least three suppers. It would have been easy to leave some food at the hut but wanting to be responsible backcountry travelers and pack everything out that we packed in, we loaded our bags with nine days of food and headed out the door.
We spent the next day climbing up Haworth Glacier, skiing down onto the Sir Sanford Glacier, and crossing to Sir Sanford Pass. I was given some beta that skiing down the Goat Glacier was going to be quite tough as it was very broken up and littered with crevasses. When we got to Sir Sanford Pass the clouds were thin but just substantial enough to make it impossible to see any details on a sea of white glacier. We waited for the light to improve for an hour or so as Tobin regaled us with stories of his dad, who is a ski guide, telling him stories about falling in crevasses. ‘Just don’t!’ seemed to be the big take-away! A bit of an ominous topic as we waited for the light to clear before skiing through a series of crevasses. The light seemed to tease us as we waited until I finally grew impatient. We could see the slope we wanted to ski down only 100m away. I decided to just go have a look to see if we could get there. I took three cautious steps from where we had stopped to wait and all of a sudden just started falling! It all happened super fast but what felt like 10 seconds later I stopped falling. I couldn’t see because my sunglasses had filled with snow but I wasn’t hurt, it didn’t seem cold, and I wasn’t being squished. I cleared the snow from behind my glasses and saw that I had not fallen in a crevasse! I had fallen roughly 10ft off the side of the glacier and landed on a steep moraine slope underneath. I shouted up that I was ok, and then saw two heads poke over the lip I had fallen off. “Watch your step guys, it’s kind of a big one!” I yelled up. Sometimes you have to make a quick joke so the adrenaline rush doesn’t immediately explode your heart. Once the others navigated much more capably around the edge, we skied quite an amazing run down to the moraines. We looked back up at the glacier and I saw that I got real lucky in more than one way. It was not a crevasse, which was fantastic, and the other gigantic seracs that led off the glacier were hundreds of feet tall. Had I fallen off the wrong serac it would have been a much different story. I got lucky though and learned a valuable lesson. We finished the ski down to Moberly Pass and began the climb up to Bear Glacier before stopping to camp at Treeline. We found another lovely spot and it was actually quite nice to be back camping in the snow! We had a nice talk about risk-taking and I apologized for putting them in a precarious position earlier in the day. We laughed about it but all knew that it could have been a serious mistake. It’s amazing how fast things can go from totally fine to all of a sudden you could be in a lot of trouble!
The next morning I finally felt back to being myself. Part of the reason I love these trips so much is because of the crazy level of psych all the time. Everyone is always blown away by the views, the food is always delicious, the campsites are always amazing, the sunsets/rises are outstanding, the trees are shining, the clouds are smiling, everyone is extra nice, nobody can do wrong and nothing breaks our spirits. I was trying to stay positive and stoked throughout the sickness but it was hard for me to enjoy it in the same way I usually can. During the climb across the Bear Glacier to the Centurion Glacier I actually had to stop because my pack was sliding down onto my hip flexors. This happens often with a heavy pack and normally an easy fix is to just lift the pack with your shoulders and tighten the hip belt. When I went to tighten my hip belt though there was no more hip belt! It was as tight as it went. I had lost so much weight that my pack didn’t fit around my waist anymore. We had to slice off a piece of my closed cell sleeping pad and tuck it underneath my harness to help build some circumference so I could tighten my pack! It worked well but was a grim reminder of my physical state. I was just so relieved though to finally feel good again! I mean GOOD! I was enjoying the views again, eating the delicious food, basking in the shining trees and smiling back at the clouds.
We were actually racing a storm that day. We knew there was weather moving in and we wanted to make it up and over Pyrite Pass before we got stuck. We had an early morning and were walking by 07:15. We were walking in perfect light with blue skies above but were all intently watching the approaching darkness from the south. First the winds picked up as we arrived to Centurion Glacier and as we crossed it the skies began to darken. We followed a ridgeline as the winds began absolutely rippin’ and made it to the climb up to Pyrite Col around 11am. I tend to have a favourite climb every trip I go on. Not sure why, I just love the feeling of climbing up big slopes, in good snow, with heavy packs, and the feeling of your legs and skis working together and all the muscles activating and ouuuuu! Well the climb up to Pyrite was one of two favourites on this trip. While only 450m vertical, the terrain and the snow just worked together to make for a very memorable climb! Once we reached the Col and after I pulled myself together, we navigated a steep headwall on our way down to Bachelor Creek and enjoyed a 1250m ski down. The snow had in fact made a grand difference and skiing became very enjoyable again! Before we knew it we had crossed Bachelor Creek and it was only 14:15! The weather seemed to be holding out so we decided to continue and climbed up towards the unnamed Col that was actually the boundary of Rogers Pass National Park! We could just barely feel that we were in the tail end of our trip.
Good thing we decided to climb up a little bit before we set up camp because that night we got a forecast that kind of put us on our toes. Tobin’s Dad, the ski guide, was our weather guy and everything he had sent us had been on point. That’s why we kind of shuttered when we heard that there was another storm heading our way. This one was carrying with it 40cm of fresh snow and 75kph winds! We had just spent the day dealing with the wind and were not excited about the speeds almost doubling. After some quick calculations, we realized that Sorcerer Lodge was just under 20k and almost 2000m vertical away. If we could shelter the storm there it would be no problem. The only issue was that would be our biggest day so far, and we’d had some big days! If we didn’t make it to Sorcerer, there was really no good place to camp in between – it was all above 2000m and would be in the worst of the storm. We didn’t really have a choice but to go for it unless we wanted to just sit around and see what happened, granted we had enough food to do that!
We rose at 05:00 sharp and were skinning before 07:00, our fastest morning yet! We climbed up some really lovely moraines to a Col which yielded the second best ski of the trip. No glaciers, no headwalls, no steep moraines, just good clean turns in boot-top pow! We then climbed up through super steep trees and rock hard south facing avalanche debris. A little white out navigation by Tobin brought us to another lovely ski down under a sky pockmarked with blue. The greenhouse effect was strong as we began another climb up towards an unnamed glacier on our way towards Mt. Iconoclast. We continued around the southside of Iconoclast and met up with my second favourite climb of the trip. We skied/poled across a large moraine field that didn’t look nearly as big as once we were in it and worked our way towards the base of the 400m climb that would bring us to the South Col of Mt. Iconoclast. Tobin broke trail up this monstrous looking climb that began with a huge rolling convexity over a cliff band and then mellowed out as it climbed up against the sheer walls of Iconoclast. We both arrived to the top and looked at each other a little surprised. Was that it? It felt like there was going to be more. Like it needed to be longer. I think we were getting stronger! Once Fab arrived we ripped our skins and contoured over to Ventego Lake Col and into Sorcerer’s tenure. We then skied down to Ventego Lake in decent light. Well it definitely wasn’t perfect because I was skiing first down a lovely and very straightforward run when all of a sudden I was in the air again! After a few seconds I landed hard in some soft snow and turned around to see a huge wind-lip right in the middle of an otherwise completely planar run that was invisible as I was skiing! I rightfully had some laughs at my expense and we continued down to Ventego Lake.
None of us had any familiarity with the tenure and we were trying to decide between an indirect, but safer, option to get to the hut and a more direct route, coined the ‘heinous traverse’. After everything we’d been through and knowing there was a storm and it was late and we were tired from a long day, we decided to go around the ‘heinous’ traverse and climb the extra little bit up to Swiss Col. We were learning! After the climb we survived some pretty bad wind hammered breakable crust, and ended up at Ventego Creek for some very needed hydration after the long haul! Knowing that Sorcerer was right around the corner and crossing our fingers it might also be empty, we climbed the last 300m up to the lodge. Just over halfway up the steep moraine, I was greeted with the first skin track I had seen since we started our trip 10 days before. I followed it right to the lodge where I was greeted by Freya, the dog of the owner of Sorcerer Lodge, Mike, who was there with his partner Cara. They had sent all their clients home earlier in the week due to Covid and had decided to stay there for a few weeks to wait out the chaos of the world.
Mike was quick to welcome us to the lodge and fire up the sauna. Two sauna’s in one trip, what luxuries bestowed upon us. We helped haul some water, spread our gear out to dry yet again, grabbed all the snacks, and headed to the sauna. This was definitely a highlight of the trip for me. We were almost through our amazing trip, we were feeling healthy and strong, and our companionship had only grown stronger every day. We had spoken to Mike about what was going on in the outside world and had definitely learned lots. While we had been out, Covid had been wreaking havoc. They had not only closed Rogers Pass but the whole backcountry to recreationalists, Search and Rescue had been stripped to the bare bones, and everyone was instructed to stay home. This was all news to us! We had planned on spending three days walking out from Sorcerer on a route that had been recommended by Mike but after a long discussion decided that we just needed to get out as quickly and safely as possible. We decided on walking out Mountain River and instead of taking it back to Rogers Pass, we would just follow it to the road.
This plan presented another problem though. We had three more days of food flown into Sorcerer for our walk out! It had only taken three days to get to Sorcerer from Great Cairn! Despite Mike’s offers to hold onto the food and fly it out whenever he leaves, we decided that we weren’t sure enough we’d be around to pick it up and it made sense to just carry it out ourselves. So after an amazing breakfast of eggs, toast, potatoes, and coffee, we again loaded up our packs with an exceptional amount of weight and off we went. The storm had been raging all night but seemed to have let up in the morning. We had enough of a window once we left Sorcerer to make it through the high terrain before we skied down to Mountain Creek and the storm continued. We were definitely disappointed not to be exiting via our intended route but it wasn’t the time to be pushing the limits and the weather wasn’t looking great. We skinned up to Perfect Col and then had what I would consider the longest and best ski of the trip down Perfect Backside! We were proper powder skiing for the first time! Eventually the powder gave way to mashed potatoes, which turned into heavy slush, which landed us at the bottom of the valley. Travel down the river was quite nice! It was a small meandering river that provided a welcomed change of scenery to the glaciers and alpine from the previous couple of days. The downside to this lovely oasis was instead of snowing, it was raining on us! Within an hour we were completely soaked and officially in slog mode.
Based on the terrain we had planned to take two days to exit. We didn’t leave Sorcerer until 10:30 and weren’t particularly in a rush during the day. Around 16:00 when we were walking down beside the river, totally drenched, and only had eight kilometers to go, we decided we should go for it! There was no point setting up camp in the rain, already soaking wet, soaking everything else, waking up in the rain, packing up in the rain, and slogging the rest in the morning. Why not just get it over with! Once we made our decision, Fab contacted Sophie again and arranged a ride. We were officially committed. And right as that happened, the river got bigger and we all got strangely incompetent. Granted conditions were tough, we were falling all over the place, our terrain choices were constantly wrong, and my skins had completely given up and would not even stay on with ski straps! We had pizza and beer on the brain and it was showing! Eventually the darkness fell upon us as we made it down the river, along the train tracks, down an old logging road and hit the final stretch before the highway. As the distant but familiar sounds of transport trucks became closer and beams of headlights began to break through a wall of dense trees, we walked in silence all trying to revel in these final moments before our trip was officially over. Once we skinned into the parking lot, after the high fives and congratulations, after the small celebratory bottle of whiskey, after the remainder of the snacks were eaten while we waited for Sophie, after the rain stopped, and after the feelings of intense accomplishment had subsided, we were all left with brilliant memories of an extraordinary trip!
And one final shared first is not to be forgotten – this was the first time that any of us had ever, in all our trips, finished a trip, with heavier packs than when we started!
Thanks to Tobin and Fab for such an exceptional adventure.