I couldn’t believe it when we finally began. We were taking our first steps up the Portal river beside the Marmot Basin Resort in Jasper, AB and weren’t coming out until we reached the highway beside Lake Louise, a mere 320km and 24 days away.

The dream team of Dave Graham, Danielle Touche, and myself were paralleling the Icefields parkway attempting to complete a traverse through the Canadian Rockies known as the Great Divide.

Now I think that a big reason I enjoy long trips is the preparation. It’s kind of like adventure foreplay. Planning meals, printing maps, learning peaks, dehydrating food, drawing routes, making repair and first aid kits, dehydrating more food, packing and repacking, making it abundantly clear that you eat A LOT of food and dehydrating MORE food, going through your route for the twentieth time on Google earth, realizing how much food you dehydrated and maybe we should bring a bigger pot?, checking the weather forecast one more time and just trying to think of all the impossible nuances that will help you on your trip. But no matter how prepared you are there will always be questions that you can’t answer and situations you can’t foresee for no matter how prepared you feel. The real beauty though is once you hit the trail. All your prep is done, all the little details that you’ve been stressing over disappear, and there’s nothing but the adventure you’ve been planning in front of you. And hopefully a food cache…
For this trip we had three food caches. We spaced them out equally so we only ever had to carry a weeks worth of food at a time. Carrying seven days of food along with all of our personal gear and group winter camping supplies solely on our backs was about as much as any of us could handle! We had two caches flown in by helicopter – the first to the Wood River Valley and the second into the Mons Hut. The third we skied into the base of Mt. Columbia on the Columbia Icefield and buried it deeeep! We put all our food into wooden boxes so we could burn them once we had our food and didn’t have to carry them out. We also all shared a comfortable three-person double wall winter camping tent. You could do it without a tent at all but we decided it was worth the weight. As was bringing two whisperlite stoves with 150ml/person/day of white gas and a 2L and 1.5L pot. After honing in our layering systems, tuning our skis, and double-checking we had enough snacks, we were off!
If the morning we were leaving for our trip was any indication of how it would go, I probably would have turned around and just driven to Lake Louise. Not only did we have to replace a broken tent last minute, Danielle lost her mountaineering axe, we missed the bus, and worst of all, I lost my pants! Where could my pants have gone? After grabbing a new pair and a ride to the trailhead with a cabby, we were finally able to revel in that feeling of hitting the trail and not looking back. We helped each other hoist our enormous packs and started up the valley at 11:00 on April 8th, 2018. After eight hours on the move we realized we had only been moving for five. The packs were heavier than we had anticipated and our backs were feeling the strain. But we were stubborn and our hearts were light! Before totally wrecking ourselves on day one we decided to camp close to where we were hoping, just beneath McCarrib Col. We were more or less following the route laid out by Chic Scott in the ‘Summits and Icefields’ book. The only difference was we planned to stay out of the valley bottoms and do I high ridgeline version. After enjoying a cheese fondue (no joke!) for an appy, followed by quinoa salad with goat cheese for supper by master chef Big Wave Dave, the trip had officially begun.
We awoke on the second day to light snowfall but decent visibility, a forecast that could be true of the next two weeks. We ate breakfast and cleaned up camp in a respectable two hours before heading over McCarrib Col. This proved to be a pivotal moment in staying positive as this was the morning where Dave first announced as we struggled to get our packs on that his butterfly wings were feeling lighter today! From then on, they were our wings. Not a burden weighing us down and making our lives miserable, but rather pleasant wings giving us the freedom to explore the backcountry and accompanying us on our journey. What a great sentiment. But despite our lightest thoughts, skiing knee deep, breakable crust that turns into sloppy, grabby soup halfway down to the valley through tight trees was downright dangerous! If you fell downhill facing forward and those light feathery wings decked you in the back of the head forcing your face under the snow with no way to free yourself you were in trouble. We all took turns laughing at each other as we fell before biffing it in turn. Dave was for sure the best skier, I tell myself Danielle and I are comparable although I know she’s got me beat! After a long struggle downhill we hit a trail that brought us right to the Wates/Gibson hut. This was a huge hut with lots of space to spread out and get a fire going. Dave and Danielle’s feet were both showing signs of wear already – must have been the additional 60lbs on board. We enjoyed our night and played around a little with crevasse rescue upstairs before going to sleep. This was going to be our last hint of comfort for the next twenty days.
Turns out you actually move slower in the morning leaving a hut than a campsite, who woulda thought? After a casual two and a half hour morning, we started out braving very strong winds up to and across the Simon and Frasier Glaciers. We then skied down to the Simon River where the winds eased up for lunch before crossing it and starting the climb to Mastedon Ridge. Following a contour which turned out to be a debatable strategy, we eventually stopped for another break before climbing up to Blackrock Col.
I got to break most of the trail next two and a half hours until Danielle took over and crushed the final steep skin track and bootpack while Dave and I watched closely. The weather began to sock in so we couldn’t quite see the Tonquin Valley but enjoyed what little we could see. This was a fun point in the trip because we skied down into what we considered to be the point of no return. We were losing views of the highway, of lights, of civilization and felt we were officially on our own. It had been a 9.5 hour day of hard work and Dave and I caught a fleeting glimpse of Danielle’s hanger after skiing down as we decided on a camp at treeline. Thankfully Dave readied a hardy meal of pasta with coconut oil butter, tofurkey for me, and two sausages roasted over a fire for the two of them. It began to snow quite heavily as we climbed in the tent for the night.
The morning was the best weather we had seen so far! Basking in the sunshine felt great as our bodies were really beginning to feel the burden of the wings and consecutive days on the trail. Before we knew it, three hours had passed and we hadn’t even packed up! We had our sights set on Beacon Lake Col. After traversing across the treeline and making our first of many but minor navigational errors over the trip, we corrected ourselves and shortly arrived at Beacon Lake. The climb up to the Col felt amazing. There is something about the change in perspective that makes climbing up into the alpine from treeline an exceptional experience. Watching your surrounds fall below you while the surrounding mountains come into focus…whoa! That being said the only thing that rivals those climbs up to those Cols is the view once you arrive! It’s amazing when you can look back from where you came from and also try to figure out where you’re heading next! We skied the East side of the Col down to Whirlpool River through nicely spaced trees and decided to continue climbing up the other side as there was still lots of daylight. Once reaching the treeline on the opposite side of the valley we found a beautiful camp with great views west back towards where we had come from. We even managed to muster up the strength for a fun run! I’ve never felt lighter than after ditching my wings for a quick rip! My first turn to make dinner and finally lose some weight out of my pack – loaded miso soup to start followed by quinoa and barley with pasta sauce nutritional yeast, TVP, and parmesan cheese! Our delicious meal was accompanied by a very enjoyable sunset over our tracks down from beacon call in the distance.
We had all been looking forward to day five. We knew it would be a big one, but it’s tied in my mind as the longest day of the traverse. We were settling into our morning routine and everything from breakfast, to tearing down camp, to packing up the wings was becoming second nature. In anticipation of the long day ahead we were up at 5:30, fed, and on the trail by 7:00. The previous days afternoon sun and overnight freeze made for a slippery skin in the morning. Nonetheless we made it up and over Mallard Col enjoying a view of the impressive Needle peak directly to our North. Before we disappeared back into the trees, we watched an impressive avalanche roar down the NW face of Mt Evans across the valley. After not seeing much activity, it was a good reminder about where we were. We then descended a steep, tricky slope in crusted, knee wrenching schmoo, through very tight trees and topped with a maze of blow down until we reached Middle Whirlpool River. It may have been advantageous to practice jump turns with a heavy pack before it became a necessity! Our efforts were rewarded when arrived at the valley bottom and indulged in fresh stream water. A pleasant change to the melted snow that always seemed to taste like just a hint of whatever was last cooked in the pot. Once rehydrated Dave broke trail up through more tight trees in knee deep isothermic snow. I distinctly remember appreciating all Dave’s hard work because of how nice it felt to turn my brain off and just follow his uptrack. After a long push we arrived to a steep slope that would take us to the next Col. It was early in the afternoon but we all remember looking at the 150-200 meter bootpack up a very exposed slope measuring over 50 degrees that was just coming into the sun ahead of us. WE had seen no signs of instability so we moved quickly. Dave and I relaxed from a distance as we watched Danielle break the first half of the bootpack. It was steep and we could see how hard she was working from where we sat! After an hour or so I hurried up her steps as planned and joined her to bang out the second half. I’m not sure if it was the warming temps, the waist deep snow, or the uneasy feeling we all shared about the ominous slope, but it was the first time I didn’t think about the weight on my back and just pressed on as fast as I could…which was actually quite slow! Dave followed once I made it to the top and we proceeded over to the main event – SYP (Shit Your Pants) Col. It was getting late, we were getting tired, and the weather was deteriorating. We knew another storm cycle was blowing in and with any amount of fresh snow the stability would deteriorate so with the peace of mind that it was the same incline and aspect as what we had just done, at 17:15 we decided to push forward. The goal was to skin up a small couloir as high as we could, bootpack to the bottom of a large cliff band, and then traverse in between cliff bands to the Col. It’s called Shit Your Pants Col because it’s super steep, there is definite overhead danger, it’s very exposed, and there’s no avoiding it! Dave started setting the skin track up the steep couloir and by the time he put his skis on his back had decided that those were “the steepest kick turns I ever done did put in!” We booted, scrambled and climbed the rest of the couloir through facety, unsupportive junk up to the beginning of the traverse. Dave was already a third of the way across the final traverse as both myself and the storm arrived. One more section and we were through possibly the most technical part of the traverse. Danielle followed Dave and I brought up the rear. You will be glad to know that despite all the pressure and complications with the storm blowing in, no pants were shat in. Two hours after staring up the couloir, we skied down onto the Hooker Icefield in a whiteout and set up camp at 19:15 – it had been a twelve-hour day. Thanks to Dave’s hard work during the day I cooked a monster meal of edemame noodles with tepei while he and Danielle instantly fell asleep. I think this was the first time we had enough leftover supper that we even got to save some for breakfast!
After the previous days adventures, we rewarded ourselves with a sleep-in until 7:00! Despite the continued complete whiteout, we figured we were on an Icefield so we could just route-find via a GPS/compass combo. One of the funniest memories I have is after a quick selfie with Dave taking a dump in the snow in the background, Danielle left camp and within the first twenty meters had done a 90 degree turn! It was super white! In retrospect a compass bearing would have been the right way to go but I ended up strapping a GPS to my wrist and tracking. We made slow progress and used a lot of battery but continued through the storm. Four hours and four kilometers later we were across the Icefield and began to descend off the Hooker Glacier. All of our calculated risks had paid off so far but now we had no idea what was in front of us, where the crevasses were, how steep it was, how long it was, where it ended, nothing. We began down a steep slope but after only a couple of turns decided to retreat back up to the Icefield and wait out the storm. It just felt too risky to continue. We would have to spend the next 36 hours in the tent. It was a hard call to make because we were only a day away from our first food cache and if you’ve ever waited out a storm in a tent before, the only real activity is eating. We piled all our remaining food together to see what we were dealing with. Our situation wasn’t dire and it looked like we could ration another day. The only issue was the snack bags that lived beside the sleeping bag. Anytime it was quiet it would just whisper sweet nothings into my ear. “Oh Ryyyyyan. I’m a dried mango, look how delicious I am. Wouldn’t I go well with…a chocolate covered almond?!?! Mmmmm. Those ginger chews sure look lonely. I bet you could survive it you just finished the dried bananas but left a handful of applechips for tomorrow. Oh shoot I just made direct eye contact with the peanut M&M’s”. It was sheer torture! We were excited by a slight break in the weather at 18:15 but we decided it was too late and too in and out to commit to the descent. Better to wait until the morning.
Good thing we waited until the morning! The weather was good not great when we woke at 5:15 but we decided we needed to escape our confines and head for fresh sustenance. Big Wave Dave descended first. It was steep, very cracked up, and quite complex terrain. He threaded through the cracks and we followed his tracks closely. Within an hour we were out of the clouds and into the trees. With a mix of luck and a little bit of navigational savvy we popped out at the Wood River right where we were hoping and were excited to see that we would be able to cross it without much hassle. We took our boots off and waded across two separate braids that were roughly knee deep. It actually felt quite good on worn down feet. Well, actually it felt cold, super cold, but we told ourselves it would be good for our feet! Only one section of climbing left before we arrived at our much anticipated food cache. However, the stipulation for this coming section was described in the book as ‘character building’. You know that moment when you instinctively discern exactly what a rather obscure description is hinting towards? We all had that. As it started to rain, I decided this was my jam. I was going to build the heck out of my character. I started up steep, tight, awkward sets of trees and gullies leaving little remnants of a skin track behind me as I weaved under, over and through the alder and willows. I was reminded of bushwacking after a rainstorm in Alaska when everything just gets completely soaked! The rain turned first into white rain and then snow as we climbed higher and higher. After making an unexpected detour under a really steep, sketchy cliff, we realized we had made a mistake and slowly turned into blocks of ice as we figured out what went wrong. A little backtracking and a flash of screaming barfies later we were back on track. Considering we thought we already had plenty of character, I’m pretty sure we each managed to build just a little bit more over those hours. Not to be discouraged however because all our character building came to an immediate end as we saw two orange flags docilely waving in the sunshine two hundred meters ahead signifying our food cache. As we hustled through the final push a thought did cross my mind. We had nailed the boxes closed with all our contents inside but hadn’t exactly brought anything to open them up. This worry was short lived as a mob of swinging ski boots and splintering wood flashed before my eyes. The box was open, the sun was shining, and we were elated. Dave absolutely crushed one of my favourite suppers of the trip – pearled couscous with spicy nuts topped with salmon – it was sure paying off to have a chef on board! We gorged ourselves as we listened to the sun pull off tons of impressively loud, loose wet avalanches from the west facing cliffs surrounding us that had been freshly topped with snow.
I was woken up at 2:15 to the winds absolutely given’er! The tent walls were rippin and rockin making it almost impossible to fall back to sleep. They hadn’t quit by 5:15 so I snoozed the alarm and at 6:45 it was still crankin. After we contemplated Dave’s very reasonable statement “do we have to go out there?” we decided to go out there. We pulled our goggles down and our facemasks up to brave the icy wind. Loaded with another seven days of food, the weight of our wings was reminiscent of that first day at the trailhead – heavy! But as we hoisted them up on our backs and began walking, we could all feel how much stronger we had become. It was fair to say that the weight was only crushing our backs now, no longer our souls. We began climbing up to Bruce Col and struggled with the layering. When the wind was howling, you pretty much needed to protect yourself with a gortex cocoon. When it let up for a hot sec and the sun poked through the clouds, you would just melt into a puddle. We spent four hours struggling and were rewarded with a thirty-second ski down the other side and into a ping-pong ball. Oh that’s why there was so much wind – another storm! Actually this was fond memory. Using Mt Sharp as a handrail we descended the Clemenceau Glacier. Or at least that’s what the GPS said because we had no clue where we were. I attached a five-meter prussik to the bottom of my ski pole and began skiing down. Waving the red prussic cord along the surface of the snow in front of my skis gave me enough contrast to see I wasn’t going to ski off a cliff – how reassuring. I guess from behind me it looked a lot like I was fishing as Danielle began to sing that song… “you and me goin fishin in the dark…”.It didn’t take long before we had our own remix: “You and me goin’ fishin’ in the white So much snow we’ll be spending the night Listenin’ to the winds blooooow Down on the glaciers in the broken crevasses We’ll be look at each other wonderin’ if this bridge passes I don’t really knooooow You go first I’ll staaay I can keep you safe with a belaaaay” We thought it was clever  The clouds did decide to lift ever so slightly in the afternoon releasing us from an eternity of very stressful fishing just in time to ski the best runs of the trip so far. It was five hundred meters of pleasant, cruisy turns down mellow terrain with no cracks and even some fresh snow! It wasn’t until we were at the bottom of the pitch that we realized we had skied off the wrong side of the glacier. It was like being kicked straight in the balls. I’d love to blame the whiteout but it was very obviously a navigational error. As deflated as we felt after being so pumped up from the ski, we climbed back up onto the glacier and put in an agonizing push to camp at the bottom of the SW face of Mt. Clemenceau. This way if the weather miraculously cleared, we were ready to climb it. Spoiler – not only did we not get to climb it, we didn’t even get to see it for the full three days we were in its presence. We were totally soaked from a mixture of sweat, snow and tears as we crawled into our sleeping bags. It had been another challenging day and we prayed it didn’t get too cold during the night or it would make for a long one. Maybe the heavy packs were tougher on us than we thought.
No break overnight but the clouds kept the temperature reasonable. Twenty centimeters had fallen on top of everything that had accumulated from the previous days and it was getting really deep. It was easy to snooze the alarm a couple times, but very hard to walk away from Mt. Clemenceau a few hours later having not even caught of glimpse of its majesty. Due to all the fresh snow, we spent the next three and a half hours walking down the Tusk Glacier, a struggle that in more favorable conditions looked like it would have been a lovely twenty-minute ski down. It was funny at the time but this would quickly become an absolute source of pure frustration. Our morals were in need of a boost so once off the Clemenceau Icefield, we spread the fly of the tent over our skis to get out of the wind and snow to have lunch below the Clemenceau Glacier. The climb up to Apex Col would boast a 1200 meter gain over six kilometers. The snow had become so deep we had to break trail hockey shift style. Each of us taking turns out front for five minutes at a time before falling to the back for a break. But imagine if there were no whistles, no periods, and no end. Just shifts and shifts and shifts for hours and hours and hours! I was in my element, this is what I’m build for. The trench we were creating with our skis was impressive – I’d say forty centimeters deep. We managed to climb four and a half kilometers that day gaining a mere 850 meters but taking a staggering eight hours. We were working super hard and didn’t have much to show for it. I will say that the scenery was fantastic. The glacier was super broken in places although easy to navigate and Dave finished the day with a massive push to the bottom of Apex Col so we could hit it early in the morning.
We were faced with a steep broken headwall first thing in the morning. Danielle set the skin track first but after a very physical previous day was making slow progress up the steep face. To her admiration, she was breaking trail in like 88mm underfoot 160cm super lightweight G3 skis that sunk to her hips in the fresh snow. I joined her with my 108mm underfoot 180cm Armada skis with a scoop nose and we pushed up the wall making steady progress. A little mistake in the uptrack put the last kickturn through a steep precarious spot directly over the first half of the track. Basically if I kicked anything off it was going to go down and potentially hit Dave and maybe Danielle. I tried to correct it but ended having to wait until they got through the potential debris field which then put us all on the slope at the same time. A little stressful! Thankfully it was an eventless climb and we all reached the top getting our first view of the Apex Glacier. I think we all kind of lost it a little when we pointed our skiis down the other side and despite a slope angle pushing thirty degrees we didn’t move a centimeter! I actually have to just write word for word what’s in my journal. I’m normally quite patient but it’s apparent that sheer exhaustion was in full effect.
“I had to wait a day before writing this one. Totally exhausted! The slogfest continues. Started to leave at 8:00 but low visibility and more snow postponed our start up Apex until 9:30. Looked like a very broken up headwall with a couple options. We chose a beauty right up the gut that didn’t go quite as planned, but worked. The ski down the other side was LEGENDARY, SO DEEEEP! (Sarcasm) We slogged down, then slogged across 4.5 kilometers to Eden Col with little climbing but a LOT of work. We then got to slog downhill another 4k on the other side leaving a 40-50cm trench behind us. Slogging downhill, not a huge fan *angry face*. The sun did come out, but quickly warmed the snow and created the most amazing 4’’ stilettos for everyone. 10 steps, whack, 10 steps, whack – still going down! We got to camp totally wrecked and feet destroyed. Oh yea, and we decided that the slow progress meant we were going to get to the next food cache behind schedule so we should start rationing. SO, after ALL THAT, we ate half a supper and froze our asses off all night. Ridiculous but hopefully the sun settles the snow and makes for more reasonable travel tomorrow.”
Ha Ha I can literally see how I tried to start out positive but was totally over it by the end of the entry. What I think happened was Danielle and I switched skis during the trek over to Eden Col. Her tiny skis felt so light that I broke trail almost the whole day and by the time we were slogging down towards Chaba Col, I was totally spent. Then the sun came out and warmed up the snow to create those ‘stilettos’, which basically means that as we were walking downhill mre and more snow was accumulating under our heels with each step and forcing us to basically walk downhill on our tip-toes. Every step would smash your toes into the front of your boots and was inconceivably painful and frustrating. To cap it off Dave said our pain and effort wasn’t worth it and if we stopped and camped we could make way better time in the morning once everything had frozen. In retrospect this was a great idea. In the moment however, this turned into my biggest regret of the trip – I told Dave that if we stopped and camped every time he wanted to we would still be in the Tonquin valley! We had to keep pushing because we were so far behind and we were never going to make it to the next food cache. Being the champion he was, he persevered on and within five minutes I had realized my mistake. It was most definitely not worth the effort and nobody was enjoying themselves. We marched down to a good campsite and after stomping out the platform and cooling off, I apologized to him and we hugged it out. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but I still feel like this was a tiny smudge on an otherwise wonderfully cohesive group. After we ate half of our allotted supper we settled in to our sleeping bags, tired and hungry.
And the suuun was shiiiiiining! The clouds cleared up overnight making for a frigid morning but our friend the wonderful glowing sky orb came out to greet us. On the twelfth day of our journey we finally basked in our first bluebird day. Undocumented but to my recollection, we all hated rationing the food so much we ended up eating breakfast and then the other half of supper and decided that we’ll suffer when the food is gone and there’s a reason to suffer! This made me especially happy! We relished in as much sunshine as we could and with full bellies quickly began moving up towards Chaba Col. This was our first rappel and we wanted to get there while the slope was still frozen. With a brand new anchor that had been replaced the previous year we each took a turn rapping off the 30 meter cliff and onto the slope below. Note: we learned an important lesson. When rappelling with a heavy backpack, either send your pack down first or use a chest harness. Danielle learned that lesson the hard way when the weight of her wings overpowered her strength and even though she was attached to the rope with her harness, her wings were slowly flipping her upside down. Lucky for us she is a very resourceful rock climber and used her rope skills to transfer her pack onto the rope, lower it, and then follow. I was trying to figure out what the heck was taking so long and then I heard the faint shout “lower your backpack first!” I followed the directions and had no problems at all. Thanks for the tip Dani! Once we were all back on solid ground, we set our goals on getting down the unnamed pocket glacier and heading up the other side towards Triad Col. We put on our skins and started downhill. After a short while the steepness of the glacier increased to the point where we noticed a crazy phenomenon that happens in the mountains sometimes. Anyone who is an avid backcountry traveler will recognize that when a snow covered slope becomes steep enough, you no longer have to walk and your skis will literally just start gliding across the snow with little to no effort. Crazy right!?!? Well about halfway down the glacier our minds just about exploded when the consistency of the warming snow and the incline of the slope reached a tipping point and we began to slide! Happiness, joy, glee, delight filled our souls as we actually skied through an amazingly aesthetic icefall and into the valley bottom. The literal and figurative storm had ended and all was good and right in the world. We slapped our skins back on after a big lunch and began what I consider to be the second best climb of the trip. I don’t know whether it was the sunshine creating a warm and wonderful atmosphere or the comparably effortless trail breaking of boot-top snow through the flowy, moderate terrain, but I was loving life again and full of appreciation for where we were and what we were doing. To the point where I finally stopped myself after almost two straight hours in case the others were upset I got to break trail up that whole slope. Turns out they were just fine with that. We continued up and over Triad Col and camped just on the other side below Mt. King Edward and the beginning of the Columbia Icefield.
After a quick breakfast, we were anxious to get moving as this was the day of the much-anticipated Columbia Trench. We scooted across a nice frozen layer early in the morning but after an hour or so we were greeted with the most heinous breakable crust I have ever had the pleasure of ripping my shins up against. It was so bad that not even Dave, the top dog skier, could manage a turn. We just railroaded until we stopped, turned around, and then railroaded back. We contoured all the way under the south/southwest face of Columbia and deep into the trench praying we didn’t fall and wreck our knees in the crust. There was luckily still enough snow to catch the high ramp up through the cliffs on the other side. Given how tough that climb was, I can’t imagine having to drop another couple hundred meters just to have to earn it back. It was steep, exposed climbing and the hot sun was deteriorating the snowpack quickly. Breakfast was long gone and about halfway up through the cliffs I totally bonked. Danielle took over and I just remember thinking I have no idea how she is doing that, I’m toast! By the time I caught up to the other two, they were in T-shirts and enjoying lunch in the sunshine. I grabbed my snack bag and before I knew it I had devoured the whole thing. Half because my body was begging for calories and I couldn’t stop and half because I suspected we would be getting to our second food cache which lay just on the other side of the Col the following day. I felt the energy instantly and put in a good effort climbing up the remaining 1200 meters to the Col. For the record, 1200 meters is a looong climb, especially in deep snow with heavy packs! And during this climb we noticed the weather go from good, to not so good, to bad, to really bad. The higher we climbed the more it snowed and blowed. By the time we reached what we thought was the Col, we could not figure out where the heck anything was. I threw the prussik back on my pole and narrowly avoided walking off the edge of a cliff with Danielle right behind me. We couldn’t tell which way was up, down, or sideways. Eventually we decided to set up camp at a flat spot we found and wait out the storm so we could unturn ourselves around.
Much to our surprise, we woke up in the same whiteout. This normally wouldn’t have been that big a deal but if you remember, we had eaten almost all of our food, or at least I had. After all of our stress about time and progress, about whether we were going to run out of food, after working our literal asses off breaking trail up AND down, we ended up stuck in a storm less than four kilometers away from our glorious cache…again! After breakfast we pooled our booty to see what we were working with. Snack bags were off limits which was a bummer because I did a terrible job rationing that bad boy and mine was gone. This is when I have to own up to making perhaps one of the biggest mistakes of the trip. The plan was to use the remaining falafel mix to make falafels and cheese with salsa. Simple enough. I combined the two bags of falafel mix together in the pot but I quickly realized my mistake when the tent started to smell a lot like peanut butter. I had mistaken a bag of powdered falafel mix for a bag of dehydrated peanut butter! It didn’t take long to start improvising and before I knew it for lunch we were having…and I quote “falafel, peanut butter, and refried beans with cheese and salsa on a tortilla.” I had used up all of our remaining team food master crafting a straight up delicacy! But About an hour after lunch the tent came ALIVE. We had to introduce the rule that the zipper of your sleeping bag had to be zipped to your nips before you could fart in the tent. And boy the brass band came out hot! We also decided that you technically weren’t farting on someone if there were more than six layers of separation. It was a long, comical night playing battle farts but I think Dave won the grand prize! Now I’m not sure if it’s because we filled our tents with farts for the rest of the day or some greenhouse effect happening during the storm, but the inside of the tent rose to 12 degrees! All of our stuff dried out and our feet reveled in the fact they weren’t squeezed into ski boots and compressed by our permanent sixty-pound loads. We were so hungry I ended up finally inReaching my Dad to get a weather forecast and it was so accurate he became our new weather guy. Word on the inReach was weather would be clear enough to make moves in the morning.
Famished and partially asphyxiated we woke first thing. I think that may have been the coldest night/morning of the trip. As a positive to the lunch debacle, we were each able to keep warm enough inside our sleeping bags, and sometimes thanks to the help of a friend. I quote from my journal “we used all the gas being so close to the food cache that we had no coffee, no tea, no hot chocolate/protein powder mix, and no hot breakfast! Just up-and-at-em’! Frozen boots, frozen bags, frozen tent poles, and hands and feet just barely hanging on!” It was so cold that we all broke separate trails as we left camp to try and get the blood running back to our hands and feet. We covered four and a half kilometers in just over an hour –the same feat took eight and a half hours only five days before. We were running on skis! We skinned into the sun and finally warmed our chilled bones as we arrived to our second food cache. Luckily we had a GPS coordinate because we skied right over top of the orange flag attached to the bamboo stake we used to mark the sight where we buried our cache. It had snowed over a meter in the month since we buried the cache and our markers were gone. We dug down the three meters and pulled up the two glorious boxes full of forgotten surprises – it was the ultimate bittersweet moment. Sweet because we had officially completed the North and Central Rockies and had what we needed to sustain us for the Southern leg. Bitter because we would be doing the next leg, and the remainder of the trip, without an integral part of the team. At the time, we had no idea what was causing the blisters on Dave’s hands to continue to worsen. They began as small annoying blisters days ago but had been growing every day to the point where they began to connect and envelop the entirety of both his hands. They were too painful to ignore and only continued to plague him during the night making much needed sleep almost impossible. Rather than continue on knowing his condition would only intensify and put the team as a whole at risk, Dave made the selfless choice to ski out the Athabasca and head to a hospital on his own. It was tough saying goodbye to such a positive driving force behind the team but we wished him luck and watched as he disappeared out of sight and back to the highway. Despite our differences I was so happy to have shared all those memories with such beauty! Danielle and I continued on across the Columbia Icefield and around the East side of Castleguard Mountain. As we rounded the corner, we were greeted with a most stunning view of the Southern Rockies. Best of all, we were expecting no less than five days of bluebird weather! We skied down a long and mellow Castleguard glacier and followed the Castleguard River until the challenges of continuing through valley bottom isothermal snow proved to be more effort than reward. The distance would be much easier to travel during the morning once everything had refrozen. The two of us crawled into our three-person tent with mixed emotions but wishing the best for Dave.
With the morning came a rock hard freeze. The clear skies had done their job and good thing because I was up early and chompin’ at the bit! From the moment we began planning the trip this was the day that I was looking forward to the most. You might think it was because there was a nice long ski, or an awesome summit, but in reality it was because there was an epic climb. Now epic is not a word I like to just throw around, even though I have a tendency to do just that, but this was in fact, an epic climb. It was going to be a climb over 2,000 meters from valley bottom at 1,560 meters to the top of the Lyell Icefield over 3,505 meters. After racing down the Castleguard River for four more kilometers, we rounded the corner into the Alexandra Basin. My adrenaline is pumping just remembering the sheer magnificence of the terrain before us. After filling our bellies and our water bottles from the stream, we began to climb. Words will never substantiate what we experienced for the next ten hours as we climbed, and climbed, and climbed, and climbed…and climbed! We first climbed out of the trees up to a bench that connected us with the steep Alexandra glacier, which plateaued underneath the striking Northwest face of Lyell I, II, and III. We then continued into the shadow of Farbus and underneath it’s impressive 700-meter vertical walls. Thanks to a good snow year, we continued with ease up the super steep slope leading to the Col between Ernest and Farbus and began up the East Ridge towards Ernest. The whole of the Southern Rockies became visible in an instant and my heart melted in my chest. The entire Icefall tenure where I had been working for years, my backyard, along with the entirety of the Southern Canadian Rockies filled my spirit with a determination to never stop exploring. It was 20:15 by the time we reached the Col between Lyell II and III, Walter and Ernest, so we quickly dropped our wings and hurried to the summit of Walter to watch the sunset. Despite frigid bone-chilling wind penetrating our sweaty layers and trying to balance on our shaky, jello-like legs, that was a moment that will forever be burned into my memory. We had made it from 1500 meters at noon to watching the sun set over a cloudless sky at 3505 meters, what a spectacular day. We were both brought back to reality in a hurry once the sun disappeared behind a sea of mountains and the temperature dropped fifteen degrees in less than five minutes. We skied down to our wings, hurriedly threw them on and continued down re-frozen crust to our campsite on the SW Lyell Icefield. It had been an intense thirteen-hour push and it was time for supper!
A well-deserved sleep in was in order after the previous days efforts. It just happened to coincide perfectly in that the sun didn’t hit our tent until around 9:00. Once we felt adequately rested and warm, we packed up and headed off to summit Lyell V, Christian Peak, before skiing down to Mons Hut. A long ski down and a quick skin up and before we knew it we were basking in full sun outside Mons Hut contemplating a decision we had yet to deal with. What are we going to do….with all this food?!?! With Dave having left, our final food cache meant for three people was bursting with too much food for just Danielle and I to possibly consume. We had also managed to reach it in just three short days and still had two days worth of food in our packs. Now, imagine having an insatiable appetite, arriving at Costco and hearing that all the food was free, but you can only take what you could carry. Right? We spent the next four hours going through all the food, turning our pre-portioned meals for three people into two-person servings and trying to figure out what would fit in our packs and what needed to be left behind. I will say that I think after sorting through that food cache, Danielle and I’s packs each weighed no less than seventy pounds. Probably pushing 80 in my opinion. Excluding a 75L pack I once filled to the brim with water and hiked for a mere three kilometers, this was by far the heaviest backpack I have ever lifted, let alone tried to ski with. We did eventually have to leave a box full of non-perishable foods in Mons Hut with a label that read “Please eat me. I’m free. I was meant for a traverse but my human didn’t make it this far. Enjoy!” As I understand, all the contents were ravaged by the next group through the hut in conjunction with a guided traverse heading to Icefall. We’re just happy no food was wasted. Our new wings were absolutely, soul-crushingly, painfully unbearable. The only solace was we were planning to go just six kilometers further climbing 500 meters before setting up camp. For me it was perhaps the hardest six kilometers of the entire traverse. I don’t know how Danielle arrived at the campsite still smiling and as motivated as ever. Perhaps because this would be our base camp for our attempt to climb Mt. Forbes. I didn’t know if the prospect of climbing Forbes or not having to lift my wings again for an entire day was more motivating, but I was psyched. Forbes had been one of my goals for the trip as I had been staring at it for the past three years during my time working at Icefall, and the weather looked like it was going to cooperate.
Everything was perfect! Perfect weather, perfect conditions, perfect day and perfect visibility….from the summit of Mt. Forbes. Danielle and I had started very early, climbing the south face and south/west ridge, arriving at the summit of the tallest peak in Banff National Park just after noon. Despite a questionable down climb, a super facety boot pack and some mellow alpine ice, we summited to a completely blue sky and mountains as far as you could see in every direction. What a spectacular view. It was also a unique feeling in that the solar panel we brought along with us was unable to keep up with the demands of our phones so we were left with no way to take a picture to remember this moment. We just had to…remember it. Like, in our minds. Luckily, I will never forget but I still think about the significance of being up there, just us two, feeling ever so slightly disappointed that there was no way to share this moment with anyone else. Did that take away from the glory of the moment, and in turn our achievement as a whole? Is it wrong if it did? Damn phones. A strong consistent wind blew around our elated selves reminding us that we were on a cool summit but should retreat back to where we had left our skis under the main summit block. We then enjoyed a 1050-meter descent down the North Glacier of Mt. Forbes and onto the Mons Glacier where we began our climb back to camp. Eight and half hours after we left camp we were back, lounging in the sun and staring up at the peak we had just had the fortune of standing on top of. I put a special bottle of whiskey in the food cache for this exact moment. We had no qualms partaking in a celebratory nip! We crept off to bed nice and early, dreaming of what adventures were to come.
Knowing we had another rappel in the morning, we rose early and were at the Col by 9:00. Because this one was a little more complicated as there were two rappels, he initial plan was for me to down climb the first section of the slope and find a belay station. Based on what our previous experiences indicated about rappelling with packs on, I left my backpack at the top and started down. It took a while but after some careful footwork on a steep, exposed slope, I found the first anchor and secured myself. I called up to Danielle that I had found the anchor and waited for the packs. I guess our first of a couple crucial mistakes this day was lack of communication, classic. I assumed our packs would be lowered to me, Danielle would then down climb and we would continue. Although making all the sense to me, this plan was not communicated effectively and was unclear. After an hour or so of waiting with near impossible communication, I finally saw Danielle down climbing….with her pack on! Huh? Well where’s my pack. She assumed I was just going to find the anchor and then go back up. I was unknowingly waiting there like a dummy and when she finally showed up, I had to climb all the way back up, get my pack, and climb all the way back down. As all this was happening, I was sweating noticeably more as the hot sun began to rise higher in the sky and heat up the snow. Temperatures were rising rapidly and the natural shape of the bowl we were standing at the bottom of amplified the radiation. The snow on the steep, southeast facing cliffs was already starting to peel off and it was only a matter of time before we were faced with the same dilemma in our the south-facing bowl. We rigged the ropes and Danielle took off down the pitch. Again, very tough communication but what should have taken only minutes for an experienced mountaineer seemed to be taking ages! Trying to learn from our previous mistakes, we left all the bags at the belay station. This way, Danielle could rappel without any weight, I could lower all the heavy loads, and then rappel down to meet her. After a long while, I began to worry as there was still tension on the rope. What the heck was going on?!? I figured she was just having trouble finding the next belay anchor. All of a sudden I heard a rumble from above me and tucked underneath the rock outcrop I was standing next to as an avalanche from the warming snow rushed by me. I know she was trying to figure things out below me but I didn’t feel safe here anymore. Once I felt the rope go slack, I lowered her bag down to her. After what seemed like ages of fiddling to me in my increasingly anxious state another avalanche roared past me and down the gully we were supposed to have already rappelled down. I knew it was only going to get worse as the temperatures climbed and I was over it. I pulled the rope up, attached my pack with my skis and rappelled down with the whole package. I reached the end of the rope and instantly realized what was going on. The ropes were too short! I was totally stuck, dangling five meters above the ground. This is what had been taking Danielle so long to figure out. When she got to the end of the rope, she noticed a fixed line off to the side and had been trying to traverse across to it and secure herself while managing the rope for when the bags were coming down. How did this happen? Danielle was spotting me from a safe place off to the side when she warned me of another avalanche coming down. A slurry of snow, rock and ice rained down over me and I tried to relax. Easier said than done, I was probably more worked up than ever! Once the last few rocks zipped by I dropped my pack off the end of the rope and watched as my wings, my skiis and everything I relied on to keep me safe in the mountains bounced off the rocky slab and plummeted to the snow below. It was time to get out of there. Holding my breath I clung to the wall, pulled the rope, down climbed as far as I could then jumped off the wall. This probably sounds more extreme than the reality was but this is how I remember it. Once I hit the snow I grabbed my stuff as quickly as I could and skied to a safe location. I surveyed my things, and remarkably nothing was broken or damaged – just lots of holes and tears in my pack from tumbling down the rock. I watched Danielle ski down from her safe place o meet me and without much discussion skied down the rest of the slope. Once we had descended all the way down to Forbes creek we could finally relax. Well, I say relax but the intense heat had affected the snowpack in the valley bottom to the point where it was giving way under the weight of our skis and locking us up to our waists in what acted like wet concrete. On top of everything, my pack, sleeping bag, pad, clothes, everything, had become soaked during the tumble down the snow-slope. Eventually we made it to a nice plateau by a river where we strung up a clothesline and dried out all our things. It was a great way to decompress after the intensity of the situation and regroup. We pressed on up Forbes creek toward Niverville Col after a nice break and some lunch. We had no ideal camp for the night and we worked as a team that afternoon encouraging each other to continue and push higher and higher toward Niverville Col until we arrived at the flattest spot we could find just below the Col, it was 19:00. The steepness of the Col and length of the climb was intimidating from 200 meters below but after everything we had surmounted, we could definitely handle it!
Another B-E-A-Utiful morning! The temps cooled right off last night and froze the snow solid. Or so we thought… We muscled down a quick breakfast but were anxious to get climbing. After only a couple of kick turns, our skis were on our backs and we were boot packing up Niverville Col. It started out just fine but as the terrain grew steeper and the snow shallower, the climbing got harder. The snow was so facetted that it was impossible to get purchase on anything. Anytime you committed your weight to a foot, it would blow through the snow and you’d be back were you started. Anytime you gained a half step was a big win. The wings made the climbing feel extra cumbersome with the addition of the skis and the added weight seemed to stress each fragile footstep. Eventually it got so steep I actually had to clear snow away from in front of my face so I could look up! I didn’t get an incline on the slope due to my dead phone but I would imagine it was pushing sixty-five degrees. Despite only needing to climb ~200 meters, it took over two hours of difficult work. Eventually we both made it to the top and thankfully the sun was there to greet us. When you’re using your hands in the snow, there is no way to avoid your gloves becoming soaked. I have learned to use thin gloves that will dry quickly and deal with frozen hands instead of using my thicker leather gloves, which will keep my hands warm but are nearly impossible to dry once they are wet. When the temperature is that cold though, you don’t really have a choice. I soaked my good, thick gloves that morning and prayed the sun would help me to dry them during the day. All worries were cast into the wind however when we saw what was awaiting us, the Freshfields! The sun had already cooked the East slope we were heading down so after digging our feet out of the familiar wet concrete a few times we had arrived at the tow of the Freshfields. We climbed the very mellow Freshfield Icefield, taking in all the surrounding beauty, particularly Mount Freshfield and Solitaire Mountain. After six kilometers and two hours under the hot sun, we reapplied our zinc and prepared to climb up to Lambe Col. Looking quite similar to Niverville but perhaps a younger sibling, we decided that the southwest-facing slope would be reckless to climb in the late afternoon. After a tough call, we set up what may have been the most scenic camp of the trip. There was a little buttress underneath Lambe Col overlooking the entire Freshfields. It was only 15:00 when we arrived so we spent the afternoon setting up our stoves outside on a big rock, enjoying the view, and sticking our bare feet in the snow. It was fantastic. That was until we saw a huge wet avalanche rip down the slope behind us. After a quick revisit to SYP Col, we saw the slope that had slid was the one we had opted not to climb. It felt good to know that our tough call was positively reinforced and that we no doubt made the right decision! Shortly after there was another avalanche that came awfully close to our camp. We felt like we were in a safe spot up on a buttress of sorts but there’s nothing like watching those big, wet, heavy blocks of snow flow around your camp to make you feel quite small and insignificant. It would be nothing at all for one of those blocks to wipe out our whole camp and leave us in utter disarray. Nonetheless we slept soundly once the temperature dropped and sun set on yet another remarkable day.
We were starting to get used to getting up in the wee hours of the morning. Our alarm rang at 4:10 to a peaceful silence, the air was calm and cold. We worked our way up towards Lambe Col each selecting the way we felt would work the best. Danielle engaged her ski crampons against the hard crust using her thin, light skis to float across the surface. I opted to match my personality and use brute boot packing force. Neither was a good choice. I just don’t think there is a right answer to three centimeters of breakable crust overlying a meter of isothermal snow on a 50+ degree slope. I tried to climb close to the rocks so I could use them to help but true to every climb so far, it became increasingly more challenging the steeper it got, and it was always steeper than it looked! It took a half an hour to climb the first 200 meters and an hour and a half to climb the final 100 meters. I was very happy to be moving on to the second Col of the day and back into the sunshine. We skied down the Lamb Glacier 1600 meters from Lambe Col #2 all the way to the Blaeberry River in one push! Very long, steep, loud, glacier skiing over frozen runnels that bounced you around pretty good but super scenic and I will never again complain about skiing conditions if it means I’m actually skiing and not slogging downhill. Bring on the crud! We skied all the way down to the Blaeberry River where we had a nice lunch before crossing it. The biggest challenge crossing this river was trying to pick a spot to climb out the other bank without punching though the sharp, frozen snow with numb, bare feet – we persevere. I think the climb up to Parapet might have been the hottest day of the entire trip. It was so hot in fact that I was forced to remove my safety blanket, my Patagonia R1. It was the first time in twenty-one days I had taken it off but I felt totally liberated climbing up that sweltering hillside in just a base layer! Danielle even took off her base layer under her snow pants so when she opened the vents….holy legs 😉 We followed a bench along the treeline and finished the day facing up what we coined the gauntlet. There was a narrow valley with loose wet avalanche debris coming from the steep walls on both sides all the way to valley bottom. We had learned our lesson and decided to wait until morning to tackle this monster. You know you’re getting soft when after you go to bed you have to decide whether or not to take off your sunglasses, it was 18:30.
We knew our streak of sunshine, lollipops and rainbows was coming to an end but morning came along with…rain? A lot of rain. In fact, it had started raining at 2:30 and continued all night. Now I very much enjoy falling asleep to the soft sounds of snow lightly brushing against the tent walls. I find it soothing. Rain on the other hand, I have always found to be more abrasive makes it and harder to relax. But rain was no reason to roll over so after milking the comfort of the dry tent as long as we could, we packed up and sent the gauntlet. It only took about two minutes of being outside to become completely saturated but Gortex is an amazing thing. You just wrap yourself up in a cocoon and bring it on! Your whole outside is drenched and the inside is perfectly dry. Once we got up into the alpine and the temperature dropped, the water turned to ice, we cracked off the ice, and it was like we were never even wet to begin with. A hefty breeze dried up any lingering moisture and we were happy as a couple of soft poached eggs on an English muffin. Thank you Gortex. The one thing that Gortex could not fix was yet another whiteout. We had climbed up into the cloud that was raining on us and were in an all too familiar situation. Break out the GPS, check Gaia, orient yourself and away we went. We walked for a couple of kilometers using mostly the feel of the terrain to make progress. We were heading across a slope but didn’t want to gain or lose elevation so just used the feel of the slope to gauge a straight line. That is until we hit a super steep ice wall on the final climb up to Barbette Col. It took a second but we figured out a way around said ice wall and descended a steep slope into Wildcat Creek. Visibility was marginally better closer to the trees but we still used Barbette Mountain and Mistaya Mountain to handrail us until we could ski fall line into the basin. The weather was much better in the Mistaya Basin and we stopped for a short lunch as the sun began to poke through the clouds. With the improvement in the weather and feeling pretty strong, we decided to continue on knowing that there was an 800-meter gain over the next four kilometers on the way to Baker Col. We could find somewhere to camp along the climb. So with no reason to stop, away we went, climbing, and climbing. I do distinctly remember the sun creating this awesome greenhouse effect about halfway up the climb that nearly killed us both but being in the zone we kept pushing. I think I asked Danielle like four separate times if we should stop and camp, which was silly. No way was she going to be the first to fold, and no way was I going to let her know I was slowly dying inside. We just looked at each other like ‘well, we’ve made it this far right?’ and off we’d go again! It was nuts, we not only pushed all the way to Baker Col, but then continued until we got to Peyto Hut! For anyone keeping track, in eleven hours we cruised three Col’s, climbed over 2000 meters, descended 1500 meters over more than twenty kilometers, large portion of which was in a whiteout – what a partner! This was the other tie for the longest day. Well the climb up Alexandria was long one too. And so was the Chaba Col day. Now that I’m recalling all of this, I think they were just all long! What were we doing?!?! It seemed like everyday we covered more ground than we could possibly have imagined. Anyway I think our fitness level was pretty insane. Not to say that we weren’t gassed when we pulled in to Peyto Hut at 19:30 but what an epic day. And to stay in a hut again felt so cushy. We had the whole thing to ourselves and used it accordingly! We cooked up some supper on the gas stove, drank tea until our stomachs ached, and drifted off to a wonderfully deep and restful sleep.
Our original plan was to end the traverse at Peyto Lake. We wanted to spend more time in the areas that were harder to access, like the Northern Rockies and the Clemenceau. However thanks to our robot legs and how I will positively phrase our stubbornness as, unwavering willpower, we had set ourselves up nicely to finish where the traverse should finish – at the Great Divide Lodge along the highway south of Lake Louise. I had been in touch with my Dad, forecaster extraordinaire, and he finally clued me into a secret. He and my Mom had flown all the way from Boston to meet us at the finish line! He wanted to make sure he was in the right spot and could be there when we came out. He also took a very generous request for choice food and beverages upon our completion. This sentiment was exceedingly appreciated and the support they showed for us by coming all the way here meant more to me than anything. It was hard not to notice that this also meant the beginning of the end. We were on day twenty-two and for the past three weeks had only thought of where we were, the beauty that surrounded us, the challenges we faced and of course, how much time until we get to eat again! We had seen exactly two tents and four people in twenty-two days and after weeks of planning, months of visions, and a lifetime of memories, our long anticipated adventure had a palpable conclusion.
We had what felt like a lazy morning, enjoying the small comforts of the cozy hut, but still managed to get out the door by 7:30. Starting out in a familiar whiteout, within four minutes of leaving the hut I found myself floating through the air and abruptly crashing into Danielle. With zero visibility, she had accidentally skied off a two-meter wind lip a minute before I arrived and without me noticing and I did exactly the same thing and toppled down on top of her! A great start for the lemmings. I guess you can spend as much time as possible perfecting your whiteout navigation but when it comes down to it, it’s just freakin’ hard to see! We crushed the four-day, eighteen kilometer Wapta traverse skiing from Peyto to Scott Duncan in seven hours. We did stop for over an hour at the Balfour hut for lunch so maybe closer to eight hours in total. We were strong, our wings felt lighter than ever, and we enjoyed every moment of our final full day of travel. Oh and the whiteout eventually lifted, as did our spirits. We wanted to spend one more night in the mountains so decided to spend the evening at Scott Duncan and ski out in the morning. I fell asleep to Danielle scratching busily into her journal, I assume it was something along the lines of how much she’s going to miss spending all this time with me but I guess I’ll never know.
We both woke up at the same time despite not setting an alarm. We had become totally synchronized. We cooked everything we had left for breakfast and cleaned up without having to say much at all. A comfortable silence that only nearly a month of solitary togetherness can fashion. Both of us deceptively attempting to convince ourselves we were ready for the trip to be over, we hit the trail. It was nice that the entire day was downhill. I think I even packed my worn skins deep in my bag as if to say goodbye…or f*ck you. I had mixed emotions. We left Scott Duncan, skied around Mt. Daly and down to Sherbrooke Lake. We stoically skate skied across the flat frozen lake and down a surprisingly challenging trail that seemed to last forever. The first human I spoke to other than Dave and Danielle in twenty-four days was my Dad. He had hiked up the trail to greet us and take a video of us finishing the Great Divide in all our glory. I turned around to congratulate Danielle, but she was nowhere to be found. She had been right behind me! Right as I began to worry, even though I had trained myself not to worry about her as she was and will always be way tougher than me, she popped back into view sporting a huge grin and her distinct laugh. I think she fell off the trail into the trees just before the end! Shortly after we reunited, we skied out of the trees and into a parking lot where my Mom gave me a gigantic hug. I forget who cried first but the moment was short lived after I saw her face looking at my face. I had caught a glimpse of it for the first time in a mirror in Peyto hut and I looked rough! The sun had worked over my face pretty good and my nose was raw and peeling from the constant wiping. My trash panda tan was all-time as I didn’t take my sunglasses off for the whole trip leaving clean white circles around my tired eyes. My patchy, scraggly facial hair looked sad attempting to cover my gaunt cheeks and my long disheveled hair just really brought the whole look together. I could tell she was happy to see me, but didn’t really want to look at me. As we demolished a full pizza, a fresh veggie platter, a Harvest Moon hemp ale, and began to reminisce and tell stories, sure as shit the clouds rolled in and it started to hail. We had officially finished The Great Divide!

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