Jumping all over “!Yes!” in answer to: “Would you like to head out for a couple of nights over Spring Break?”, I was In! Adventure through my first overnight winter back country ski trip was nailed. Two women, alone with the winter wilds of British Columbia mountains. What more could a girl ask for?!
Really, though, although the title of this story is Hut Sweet Hut – and there truly is a sweet, sweet, hut – this is the story of my winter, of finding a new friend and magnificent mentor and – most surprisingly of all – another good life turn well into the second half.
For the past couple of years I’ve dabbled in back country skiing, aka “ski touring” ,”uphill skiing”, “ski-mo” or “ski mountaineering” (the more “macho” version with ropes, harness, crampons and ice axes of which I am not-there yet). Basically, for me, it was the lure of traveling on skis, through the winter – outside of resort boundaries (I spend half my time in the resort town of Whistler) – getting after the quiet and untouched powder while, of course, gazing at vistas and talking to the trees.
The first time I tried it, I dragged along my husband, Michael, and our ski buddy, Dave. Although, previously, I had been invited out with a group of young’uns, “grab your skis! We’ll show you!”, I knew they would want to hang themselves by the time they got through a First Day with me. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, and all that.
So, a thousand (or so) CAD later, we had a date with an Extremely Canadian guide and rented gear. The Guide was oh so “Cool” behind his Varnets, and, supremely fit (not that I noticed). On a bluebird April day he showed us the basics (“this is a skin”, “this is how you put them on”, “now get your jackets back on”… “and off”…). We got some absolutely glorious brag shots for FB. I was absolutely hooked. The Boys: not so much. “Why would I want to climb for 7 hours just for 30 turns?” Different strokes for different folks. I was on my own.
In all fairness, not everyone is into the endurance thing, and Dave is a hard working weekend warrior. His time is limited and he basically considers the day a waste unless he gets – minimum – 40,000 vertical feet of downhill in a resort day. I’m more a quality than quantity kind of gal (although some may beg to differ ;). But he does love powder and trees, and I do love chasing him. On a resort day with a big fresh dump of snow, there is no one more fun to be with. But being “on the clock” all the time – I know it’s all the rage to track everything all the time – but I’ve had enough of that already. Yeah, Stava?! Screw you 😉
As some of you know, back country skiing is a little more like hiking (or trail running) than up-lifts-and-down-runs (aka “front country”, or “downhill” skiing). It is all the rage among mountain-snow-country trail runners looking for a way to “keep fit” and enjoy the winter snow while recovering from the physical and mental strains of ultra-running and competitions. The top guns do it, and it’s hard not to see a cross training article that doesn’t tout it’s virtues. It is said that you can “not step” into your runners for the whole winter but, rather, ski tour…then step right back into your runners in the Spring…without skipping a beat. Just volunteered at my 2nd ski-mo race: and straight from the mouths of local mountain babes, “this is waaaay harder than trail running”. They may have something there…
With hiking/trail running you use expensive runners – and lots of sweat – to scoot, hop, grunt (and occasionally even flow) up and down mountains. With touring you use expensive flexible ski boots, skis and bindings (with releasable heals)/skins – and lots of sweat – to travel uphill. You then rip your skins off, reattach your heals, and ski down those mountains. Same sort of scooting, hoping, grunting while ascending but lots more floooowwwwww descending. Both, as I mentioned, require buckets of sweat…but I must say, going downhill on skis is waaaaay more fun than flying down on runners. Hurts a hell of a lot less (usually 😉 when you end up with your head in snow (rather than dirt), too.
Don’t get me wrong, I love downhill skiing at Whistler. And I probably put in at least as many days with Dave and Michael, front country, this year. But there is a definite lure to the peace and quiet of heading outside the resort. A little bit of excitement in that everything is not nicely laid out and controlled for you. And fresh, fresh, turns everywhere as far as the eye can see.
That being said, everyone who has listened to any news – at all – this winter probably realizes that back country “anything” carries risks. You can’t control weather, storms, visibility, avalanche conditions, equipment failures, accidents. You can, however, try to mitigate these risks. You can take the courses (I took Avalanche Safety Training 1 and 2, in six big days), spend a few days with Guides, build up the basic uphill skiing technique in bounds (ok, you got me: that’s against the Rules at WB), read the bulletins, stalk weather reports, pay attention out there, and back away when the hair on the back of your neck prickles. In the end, the most important thing of all (especially for a Newbie) is: when you “really go out”, go with an experienced mentor.
J . My mentor (who I am gob smacked in awe of, in case you haven’t noticed), J arrived, magically, in the form of a Whistler mom, whom I had seen around, but never really connected with before. Our circles were kinda close, but never overlapped, until I took that AST 2 course, previously mentioned. Her son, a very mature 16 year old at the time, took the course with me. Rumour has it that “Mom” was looking for new touring partners. Kids were growing up and wanted to ski with their own way-cool friends and all that. I can’t remember if Kid set us up, “gotta find Mom a play date”, or if it was “the girls at the office” but, either way, it was kind of like a blind date our first day out. Yes, we Moms get ditched. And that’s not all bad… 😉
J comes from a family of Mountaineers. Summer/winter, all out real deal mountaineers. Sister, brother, cousins, Dad. The mountains are in her genes and her experience is from birth. She, in turn, mentored her two boys from early on and they have grown into fine, nearly ready to fly the coop, mountain men themselves. From what I understand, their Dad is a full-on Whistler guy (skier, biker, environmentalist, teaching skiing for at least 30 years, etc.) but perhaps not quite the back country royalty his wife is. J, I know you will be horrified by this fawning cause you would never brag on social media…like some of us 😉
So, as I mentioned, this is the year the back country bug really bit me. I’d practiced climbing (skinning) the mountain with a runner girl-friend who was there for the sweat – but not so much the downhill skiing – but now I had a rabid-for-powder-AND-sweating mentor to really move things along. Rad running coaches, Gary and Eric (a USA Ski Mountaineering star himself) gave me their blessing to really chill on the running, even after I had taken the better part of over 3 months to recover from what can only be labelled as burn-out now. With their blessing, I’d run very little and ski to my heart’s content. For the whole winter.
J and I had some amazing single days out there. This winter generally was cold – very cold – for the Wet Coast Mountains (I know you folks from PG and the prairies are laughing). But cold brought fluffy snowflake pillows for us to flow and fall over. The stuff ski dreams are made of.
J was (and is) insanely patient. I was always slowing the operations up: tongue hanging out, breathing heavy, steaming my goggles and barely hanging on to her machine-like uphill pace. J, tethered to me, slowing down, eventually stopping and patiently waiting, then moving on again. If I wasn’t gasping, snorting (probably snotting too), or fussing with some part of my equipment, I was often splatted like an half-dead bug on some vertical something (she probably thought it was horizontal), barely clinging on, one set of toes pointed NW and the others pointed SE. She would walk back, and get me out of the mess.
I was like her kids when they were little: but bigger, clumsier, and not nearly as clever. I thought for sure…each time… would be the last she would put up with it. She showed me pity, though, yay. Amazingly, “we” persevered and quite a few times reaped the reward of champagne powder. I am not BSing when I say that – several times – while chasing downhill, I lost her in the cloud of snow. Yes – that snow over your head and neck feeling. There isn’t really much on this earth that can touch that kind of exhilaration.
Yep, but the flipside of the stuff of ski dreams is the stuff of occasional frostbite. And I went there, unfortunately did that. I had to learn how to transition more efficiently (I’m still so slow) so we wouldn’t freeze to death. You see, you sweat up the hill and need to control your layers so you don’t get too wet. Then, at the top, you need to relayer, transition your skis/skins so the standing and windchill heading down don’t get you. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat…
You don’t really “break” with J. You (ok, I) gulp water and stuff food in your face and try to grab a picture when you can (J is not much into pictures, hence absolutely no, none, nada skiing brag shots like the boys get), and transition. I guess this part is kind of like trail running (I just pray more for breaks with touring). Fortunately, we both whoop and holler heading back down into the fluff. J is efficient and never in a frenzy, but she gets just as excited heading down as I do. That adrenaline rush is addicting. The fluffy sweet icing on the cake.
I also had to learn to kick turn my way up steeper and often treed, sometimes icy/rocky slopes. This is where a lot of the bug splatting occurred. Patient J has taken to watching for ascending routes to cater to my newbieness. We’re better to go a half hour off our route than fish me out of some potentially dangerous flounder, she figures, I am sure. For this…I am sooo grateful.
Really, she taught me how to walk, how to turn around, how to get up, how to eat, how to drink, how to dress, how to stay warm, how not to roast. “We” had survived and I guess I didn’t annoy her quite enough to go running back to her menfolk. Thought my smile might break my face when she outright complimented me on my downhill skiing (ok, so I can do something half-assed) and noted that, last year, there would have been No Way I could have kept up to her where we were going. Yay! Now she was going to teach me to…
Winter Camp. This was totally outside of my reality realm, too. I had skied lots, but always returned to a nice warm house, cabin, or hotel afterwards (and before). I was a credit card/lodge sort of a gal. Heck, I hadn’t even summer back country hiked, except for one time last summer with Jane and friends. I borrowed my son’s school camping backpack and packed so heavy and awkwardly I was almost crushed. Clueless, but at least in the summer the cold won’t kill you. Although I shivered through the night…more on that later.
Add to that, was my all-too-real awareness that Jane liked to go long and hard. We didn’t start at 9 and finish at 3, like a lift day. Dawn till Dusk: bring your headlamp! After one day with J , I was flattened for the night: how the hell was I going to do Three In A Row? Fortunately, I had done some pretty stupid things in the name of long distance running before – and survived – so with that “wisdom”, on we forged.
First of all, I had to go shopping: I’d had a ton of trouble with my equipment over the past 2 years. Patient J had put up with all the holdups, but she stated – flat-out – that we could not have that happening 8 or 12 hours out in the Bush. Bindings, skis, skins, all of my stuff had been a Pain In The Ass. Of course I blamed the operator, the newbie (me), but one by one it turned out that I actually had enough bad luck to have picked up 3 lemons. Trying the skis Dave had recommended, I continued on to test 3 different setups over 3 weekends. Then I bought my New Loves. The difference was absolutely amazing (I think even J would agree with that). My credit card may be burning hot, but so is my skiing now 😉 Heehee…
I also had to search deep into my soul and buy some serious cold protection. Speaking with quite a few folks, including a winter running friend, Scott, who does those crazy run/bike/sled, at – 40 something events, I guiltily purchased a down sleeping bag and down jacket. As a vegan, this was tough. Very tough. After coming to the conclusion that nothing was warmer or more compressible than down, I researched the hell out of it, and chose Patagonia as having the highest level of animal “welfare” (triple layers of independent inspection) I could find. I was sickened by live plucking and force feeding – the horrifically inhumane practice of production factory farming – for down. But (and I don’t like buts, but)…I knew I wouldn’t do well if I was injured and had to spend a day in the snow – immobile – while help came, especially when I damn near froze sleeping in a tent and sleeping bag last August (ok, not really, but in my mind that was the case). I don’t have a lot of natural insulation…and when I stop…well…
We looked at two routes: the final determination would be based on weather and avi conditions, closer to the days of travel. If we were to travel the Spearhead, the conditions would have to be perfect: bluebird days for navigation and cold enough that avi danger wouldn’t rise with solar warming (Spring skiing major risk). There were crevasses to watch out for, and I would need some crash learning (she was thinking about getting her youngest son and me together for some review). We would need to carry a tent and sleep in the snow. How scary and cool – and heavy – is that?
The other option would be a small Hut she had travelled to earlier in the year. She loved it, skiing there had been fabulous, and crevasses would not be an issue. As the weather started to deteriorate, fate chose the Hut.
Now, Dear Readers, I am going to tell you right now, that I cannot tell you the name of the Hut as Back Country Tribal Law dictates that you will be thrown out of your Tribe if you blab. Social Media makes it damn hard to be part of a tribe, right?
I followed J’s trip planning checklist to a T. Finalized the emergency contact plan and synced up the satellite devices. Got the food sorted. Packed as lightly as I could, then re-packed lighter. Weight matters a lot. Ladies: count your TP and be prepared to wear the same clothes for 3 days. You don’t need separate shampoo, hand, and dish washing soap. One small tube of sunscreen will take care of ALL of your skin needs. Facecloth will do for all your towel needs. Sporkatula and mini grizzly killing knife (which you will have in your mini-tool kit for your equipment anyway) will take care of your kitchen and weapon requirements. I was not about to repeat the summer fiasco.
We decided to leave a day early as our Spring Break company was leaving then, so why not get at’r. March 24 through 26, 2019. Timing was good as it meant I could get back to work, afterwards, as was needed for instructor shortages. I was to drop my son’s friend, Jai, at the shuttle to catch his flight back to Vermont (and then on to represent Australia in a freestyle skiing world event in Sweden) at 4:15 a.m. The best laid plans.
At 3:45 a.m., I padded down the stairs to wake Jai up. I knew my pack was upstairs by my list – in the kitchen – waiting for last minute reminders and food packing. I would have plenty of time between dropping Jai off at the shuttle bus at 4:15 a.m. and meeting Jane at 7:30 a.m. at her place in Whistler, to do the last minute things I wanted to get done before abandoning my family – again.
Ears perking up…I heard water running. Holy Moses…could Jai be up and showering already? What a great teen, right? Until…I realized it was NOT the shower. Screeching at my sleeping husband, I realized the water was coming from our washing machine: from the water hookup, a fire-hose-like gush had filled my ski boots, soaked my jacket, vest, 1/3 of the lower floor of the house…
Anyway. After shutting off the water, getting out the wet vac, etc. poor Jai did get to the shuttle with Michael…for 4:15 a.m. He left some of his stuff, but at least got his gear and tickets.
My boot liners went into the dryer as did my wet jackets. I used one of the boys’ snow boots that, miraculously, did not get soaked for the car portion of the trip. Thankfully my nearly stuffed pack (complete with down, which does not soak well) was upstairs!
More thanks: that we were home when the flood happened. That I had to get up in the middle of the night…and found the flood. That it was only – maybe – a 15 minute flood: I shudder to think what a day or two would have done and well know that at any other time it would have been a true disaster. Those of you who know us, well know we are not home in Whistler much…
My heart and mind racing, I got down to the business of moving things upstairs and starting the drying process. My anxious mind thought, ever so briefly, about bailing on the trip but my go-to response, throughout life, has always been “when shit happens, put your head down and carry on”, so I did. My mostly easy going husband, Michael, was fine with taking care of the aftermath (you are a God Send, Honey). After 3 hours of full house hustling, Michael went back to bed and I, car fully loaded, went to start the car.
You know what they say about things happening in threes?
Two. I was going to make it in time. Amazing. 8 minutes away from Jane, I turned the ignition. Clunk. I tried to turn the ignition again. Heart rate up, I started to panic a little: friggin’ car! Once a year or so, it just won’t turn. (Yes, I’ve looked into it, but no explanation, just a quirk.) Running upstairs to get poor husband out of bed again, he padded down and got the thing going. At this point, I had texted Jane…she was calm as usual and, in the end, our rendezvous was only held up by 15 minutes. Thank You, Lord.
An hour + drive “up the Duffey” later, we parked my car. Wow…we were here! I was momentarily struck with a mix of anticipation and joy mixed with a bit of an anxiety-hangover after what the past day had wrought. It was a beautiful morning, and if I could just get going, I knew all would be well once we started kick-swishing up the mountain. I knew we’d settle into the weight of the heavy packs (or at least I hoped) and into easy conversation along with the mesmerizing beauty of the mountains that lay before us. My fumbling around to get going was taking even a little longer than usual, but we did manage to get me loaded up, the car locked, and hiked down to the slippery little bridge we needed to cross. It was the gateway to paradise, and I clumsily (but dryily, thank you) made it over. We started the kick-swishing. It was here that, the promised…
Three. …happened: into the first slippery climb, my back heal slipped out. I thought I had it (with the other heal), but before the thought was complete, my other heal was gone, and I was smacking my forehead onto the hardpacked ground. Not wanting to tell J I was seeing stars, I held still for a few moments, catching my breath, and assessing my aliveness. All parts there, breathe. More embarrassing than anything, it woke me up and kicked my ass (through my hard skull). Get on your game, Newbie. She told you – a thousand times – Use Your Arms. This pack is heavy, you are going to need to beef it up. I think I finally got it, Loud & Clear.
Things went nicely after this. The climb eased off, we were surrounded by our beloved trees, and yes, we settled into the saddle. Bypassing a cabin, we stopped for a super mellow lunch break. It was here, that in hindsight, I realized that J was taking it easy on me. I followed her up a steeper, long climb. Head down, it was getting warm, and we were getting into it. The reward: spectacular views and total immersion in the glory of nature.
The next few hours were spent moving through sticky sun-baked snow, stopping only to make navigation decisions, always keeping an eye on avalanche slopes, primarily to our left (south). Many had already run, but it was eerie nonetheless. We crossed a frozen lake and headed up and away from those slopes into the protection of the trees. Another downward funnel (with some consternation from both of us that some – gasp – snowmobilers had already poached it) and we hit a logging road. This would make for an easy skin to our next challenge: a very scary avalanche path, which we would take great pains to go way out of the way to avoid.
J does exactly what we talked about in class: as a strong group leader, she goes at the pace of the slowest member of the group (that being me, obviously), frequently regroups to make decisions with equal input from all members, then checks to make sure everyone is doing ok along the way. She knows her avalanche stuff, and respects my rookie book knowledge. In this spot, however, she took over: we made our way down a treed section running right (but safely protected) alongside the big avalanche path, even though it was tough going and would require at least as much tough going to get around and back up to where we needed to get to to continue along to our destination. When crossing the actual path – way down and around – we moved one by one: J first, then looking back to signal to me when she was safely in the trees.
You had better believe that I booted it across there as fast as my skis could take me. I’m not sure I even breathed but, still alive, I was happy as hell to move on, no matter how tough the climb to get back up on course. The climb was ok and soon we were back in the trees. The next section was marked with flagging tape. We think, now, those snowmobilers may have been working, rather than just poaching “our” snow, to flag that section.
Seems to me that rather soon after that, we had popped out into a meadow (or over a swamp – hard to tell in the winter) and J announced that we were close to The Hut. We just had to find the dang thing in this sea of white and trees. A short time later…Jane spotted the flag. A tiny red speck to show us the way.
It was 8.5 hours into our hike when, honestly, I gasped and squealed with delight at the sight of the Hut. Half buried in snow, difficult to see from all but the front (Canadian flag side) it was more than I could have ever expected. A proper adorable cabin in the total Canadian wilderness. There was a designer outhouse, wood stacked underneath the overhangs of the roof, antlers over the door, and a frozen lake within a few feet. Towering avalanche slopes to the left, and more majestic mountain summits to the right. I now felt I could gawk to my heart’s desire.
Night One. Having done this for Ever, J got right down to organizing us, even though I was still a bit stunned with the gorgeousness of it all. Into the hut, get the packs off, get the stove going, heat things up cause the cold and dark and fatigue would set in soon enough. The cabin did have luxuries for sure: stacked dry wood inside, a nice wood stove, a propane stove (truly a luxury), a proper counter top, dryer racks, hooks and ropes, a lovely sleeping loft with big soft foamies. There were also wine glasses (who knew?) and fresh coffee beans from a previous fan. Dish soap, cloths, towels, buckets for water. Cards, candles, guest books with entries through the years. It was lovely.
No power, no running water, but that’s what headlamps and axes (to get water from frozen lake) and buckets are for. While J got the fire going, she had me scoop snow to melt in a big pot on top of the woodburning stove. We would save the axing of the lake until after skiing the next day. Boot liners and skins out and hung to dry. Packs emptied and dinner ingredients out, while the next days’ food was hung to hold off the mice for a while.
Big puffy Cabin Booties on. Borrowed from J’s son, I had no clue such ingenious footwear existed! They squish into your pack, puff up like marshmallows, are snowproof/water resistant and prevent damage to cabin floors. Good for chopping wood, getting water, doing anything in the cabin and trips to the loo.
Before you knew it, we were polishing off J’s from-scratch couscous, tofu, veggie and pesto dish. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a better dinner but, as you probably know: cold, real hunger and fresh air make Everything taste fantastic. Cookies for dessert and oh my goodness, felt like a baby bear with a big belly. And a Big Smile.
Dishes efficiently “washed” in the snow, more water boiled for the a.m. I could barely keep my eyes open. The last thing I remember that night was Jane reading by headlamp, my leaving booties at the foot of the ladder, and tucking into my new -20C down sleeping bag with my damp gloves (Jane assured me that was the best way to get them dry. Again, who knew your own body could act like a “dryer” in a good sleeping bag?)
Burning (of the first three digits) on my right hand woke me – briefly – at midnight. They were pretty wet and cold during the day (and frost nipped earlier in the winter) so I may have done some temporary damage. Too tired to bother to look…the next thing I knew, we awoke to daylight…12.5 hours later! Now THAT’s a good night’s sleep 😉
Day Two. Sun shining through the window and glistening off snow was a great motivator get out of the pillowy softness/warmth of my amazing sleeping bag and out into the chilly hut. The promise of great skiing prompted us to skip the fire, instead quickly layering up, chowing down, coffeeing up, and stuffing packs with the usual avi/emergency stuff (beacons, shovel/probe, satellite devices, warm clothes, food, etc.), lunch (day 1, 2, 3 sandwiches), snacks (most of our ski fueling was nuts/dark chocolate/c-raisins in one form or the other), and water.
Jane had already spotted terrain she wanted to take on, the day before, while we were travelling in. J was always, always, doing that: quietly analyzing, noticing, observing. While I zoned, she was most likely navigating, or scheming best-lines, or simply filing information away for future trips.
Since it was Spring, our main concern was solar warming of slopes (and rain). Warmth means heavier snow: heavy snow avalanches. She lead us towards a North slope, with a fairly steep, heavily treed and technical climb. For me: very technical. After several of the aforementioned “bug splats”, we arrived at the top of our intended “line”. Gorgeous, however the snow was not the fluffy stuff we had hoped to find. Still whooped and hollared all the way down, but back at the base, J took us back to the easier climb and more familiar slopes.
We spent the rest of the day there. Simply spectacular. Jane laid a track up, and I followed in happily obedient order. Never crossed a track. Grinning and floating, we opened into bowls, squeezed back into the treeline, and finally planted ourselves at the base…and repeat. I think 3 more times? The day, regrettably, flew by.
At one point I was a little spooked when I spotted what looked to me like weird moving snow. “Jane…do you see that?” “Where?” Pointing hard ahead and further up the summit, she spotted it, too. “Just the wind.” Clouds were coming in and the wind was blowing so hard off the summit that it was taking snow dust off like low boiling clouds. I had never seen such a thing: all I knew was that warming + wind + cornices could equal big trouble (and big avis) so it took me a minute or two of frozen gawking before I could settle that “fight or flight” instinct. It was all good. Good to have such an experienced partner!
We had a little difficulty finding the Hut on our way back. Later that night, I would read some of the log entries in the Hut Journal, and found we were not the only ones who had struggled with that. The terrain is like a tricky, tiny detailed puzzle. We went right past it, circled around and came back in – the opposite way we went out!
Standing just off the lake we were able to watch with amazement at the little birds who made their homes (and garden) around the outhouse. Pretty little things (one was actually red/orange – we called her Rosy Finch – but she was a grosbeak) they were digging for bugs on the trees and totally enchanting us. As far as we knew, these were the only critters out there (haha). Us and the Birds. Again, the log would reveal to us that the owners had been followed in by a pack of wolves (they were travelling with dogs). We didn’t even spot mice in the hut. Hung our food, but no problems at all.
Back at the cabin, Jane got us to “doing the chores”. Fun chores. Not like being at home chores 😉 Jane chopped ice encased cut-wood from under the roof extensions, threw them out to me, where I could chip off the ice. From there, she would organize the wood inside the Hut, while I kept chipping. I cut stairs down into the Hut (snow stairs need to be constantly tended to) while she chopped kindling. I gathered snow – to melt, while she got the pot-bellied fire going. We both went down to the lake to cut a hole in the ice and gather nice brown water. Within a short while we had refilled and stacked the woodpile in the Hut, fixed up the stairs, fetched water in one form or the other for the night and the next day, got the cabin warming (along with our stuff hung to dry) and dinner almost ready.
We knew – from the forecast when we left Whistler – that a storm was coming. Sure enough, the flakes started and the wind started to increase just when darkness started to envelope us. Our two-hour fire had warmed the cabin and with J’s cabin kitchen prowess, we were cozy as could be and chowing down on another marvelous chili themed dinner. Perfect for adding Michael grown hot chili peppers. J passed on the hot stuff so, not wanting to carry them back, the whole caboodle was thrown into my dish. (Yum. I have to thank my Indian BFF, Uni friends, and New Mexican relatives for my devotion to all things hot in cuisine.) Anyway, another perfectly lovely dinner, with great company and the promise of another great snooze. Shortly after pouring over the map and making plans for our last day (which could be altered depending on snowfall) it was shut-eye.
This night two, I awoke several times to Hut “shaking”. Heading out to the loo, the storm was clearly on, and I was thankful we were low and covered in snow. For a very brief moment, I wondered if there would be a door when we woke up. This was kind of ridiculous: the storm wasn’t predicted to be that big, but with excitement (imagine the skiing!!!) and trepidation (imagine the avalanche risk) my night-time mind went a little wild. In spite of that, morning came. We could get out the door. And yes, there was fresh snow!!!
Day Three had arrived. No fire again, we layered up (thankful, once again, for my down jacket!!) and got down to the business of getting after that fresh powder! Safety and timing in mind, we had to balance our need to ski with the need to get back to the car – preferably before dark. Even with me as an anchor, Jane figured we could ski till 11:00 and still have time to fully pack up and sweep our way back out the door. Although it took us 8.5 hours to trek in (time on skis), she figured 5 hours back (maybe 5.5). I was a little skeptical: I knew she could probably do it in 3.5, but it was the “me” element that was the wild card. I could get us into some predicaments – for sure.
Still snowing, we got back after it again, wasting no time looking for North slopes today. Tracks covered from the day before, we headed right back for the goods. It was as hoped: long lines, rooster tails, and grins galore. What a glorious morning 😉 We were Very Lucky People.
At the stroke of 11 a.m., we were back at the Hut, finishing our housekeeping and packing. Jane had taught me everything about cabin etiquette while we were there: conserve wood, water, fuel. Re-fill/stack firewood, mind the outhouse rules (for example, burn your TP in the two-hour-fire or pack it out), don’t leave food for critters to be tempted by, fix the stairs, unless you ate it pack out everything you brought in. Leave the place a little cleaner, little more swept than when you came in. Read and follow the listed rules. And, of course, leave a note and donation for the amazingly generous owner.
Such a privilege to be able to borrow a Hut such as this one. Still can’t believe it. And to have it to ourselves? Crazy luck. So grateful.
Since we had started the pack-up the night before, and being that it was such a short trip, we were all skinned/saddled up by 11:30. Snow falling lightly, the visibility started to deteriorate, but looking towards J, she wasn’t one bit worried. In awe of her navigational skills, I had total trust. She backed us right out of there. Across the meadows and back into the flagged forest. Down and over and up and around the worst of the avalanche paths. Up the logging road, then the gully. Back up and into the trees to stay cautiously away from the big naturally sloughing avi slopes, this time to our right. Back over the lakes.
The afternoon warming was making travel tougher. I noticed lots of cracking in the snow, but J pointed out that this was not dangerous cracking (we had been warned about cracking in our AST courses). Still, it motivated me to keep right on her tail, not to dilly-dally or hold things up. Then, as soon as it had started (the warming), the weather changed: cold headwinds had us both heads down and locked into a determined, relentlessly-forward-moving unit.
Wind had scoured across a moraine we needed to bypass making it icy and difficult to grip. I was very, very pleased with my new skins. For the first time, I was able to keep going without having to wince, whine or contemplate taking skis off. For the very first time I was able to take the lead. At the summit we ducked over to the only wind shelter we could find. The hard work was done… and (famous last words)… it was all downhill from there.
I can’t begin to say how exhilarating those last slopes down past Cabin 1 were. We traded off watching each other, ever mindful of the avi risk, but it (the risk) could not take away the sheer joy of that hour. We stopped to look at the moraines before the very last powdery thrill. Heck, I didn’t even know what a moraine was before this trip, now I was practically an expert. Haha. 😉
We knew it was going to be an hour – maybe less – to get back to the car from there. On the way up, two days earlier, J had been scouting out our route home: hopefully an improvement over our path up. We were going to watch for “the bend and the flag-pole ship mast”. Murphy, of course, had other plans: we got a little turned around and had to bushwhack for a while. Of course in my anxious little mind, we were hopelessly lost… J, of course, like a tracking torpedo, got us back.
We ran into our first humans in 3 days (two girls) and made them take our picture. Duffus picture, but we have one, anyway. 10 minutes later we ran into our second group of humans (3 guys). I couldn’t help but smile thinking about how much fun they were going to have in that cabin.
Well, my story is coming to an end. The rest of the trip out ended up taking twice as long as expected. The warming over the past few days at the lower elevation had done a number on the trail. There was a LOT of pushing. 50 yards from the end, I caught a small (but deadly) stick stump, spun around and fell backwards into a ditch. One ski (and pack) basically locked under a log and other ski pointing towards the sky. Crap. Jane was long gone, and here I was turtled all up. Finally managed to get the tips-up ski off, wrangled out of my upside-down-ness and got the other ski off. When just about re-stomping into my skis, Jane had sauntered back to find out what the heck was taking me so long, again.
Red-faced, I was kind of done. Again, my heroine showed me the light: the bridge (the gateway to paradise) was a few feet away, hidden around the bend. A little unsteady across the bridge, I was nervous about falling through the deteriorating snow. Yes, Jane helped me across. She hopped ahead, warning me that the snow was rotten and, calling back, “walk in the high centre, think light thoughts”. Of course I post holed through – up to my crotch – about 2 dozen times. My stupid skis (it had been a love affair up till then) would not stick together and kept falling apart on my shoulders. Jane came back to help, but this time I refused. I do have some pride (ok, not much, but a few molecules) and finally made it up and back to the car.
What an amazing trip.
Feeling suddenly elated, the drive back was easy. Although it had stormed all the way through our trek back, the lower elevations enjoyed warm clouds and some rain. Easy highway drive. Even the thought of heading back to Vancouver (work the next day) couldn’t stress. You know: that feeling when everything is right with the world.
I can’t – ever – thank J enough for her generous sharing of time, knowledge, experience, patience, and humour. J, you are Amazing, Woman!!!
Fully aware that not everyone has the crazy good support of their families like we do: Big Hugs to our Kids and Husbands, too!
One always measures friendships by how they show up in bad weather.