Last week Katherine and I were trying to figure out what to do with our weekend. We knew we wanted to ski and we figured that this early season, we should stick to someplace where we know what the ground looks like underneath so we wouldn’t destroy our skis. We batted around ideas like heading up somewhere in the Duffy or maybe heading up to Phelix to ski Return of the King, but after watching the weather forecast, it looked like it was the ski to sky corridor that was going to get the most snow, with more than 20cm being called for between Thursday and Saturday. There was the Black Tusk party headed up to the meadows which we briefly considered joining but we decided we would rather sleep in a nice warm hut since it was even odds as to whether we would get rain or snow Saturday night. I was also hoping to get to drive my car up some logging roads to find out if the most recent round of ‘replace the rotted bits of rubber masquerading as seals’ had actually succeeded in preventing my engine bay from billowing smoke every time I got to the top of a logging road.
We got a good alpine start to the day, I picked up Katherine exactly 10 minutes late (which is five minutes early for me) at 7:40 and we then drove directly to the Timmy’s on Alberni to increase the odds that we’d make it to Squamish alive. After reaching the Chance Creek FSR, we headed up to the Powder Mountain Cat Ski shed where I stopped to check out the smoke levels. There was definitely smoke. My mechanic had warned me that I might get some residual oil burning off but that it should quit pretty quickly, so we drove farther up the road. The road is in amazing condition right now. Even I was comfortable driving up it despite my general belief that the smallest of potholes will destroy my car. We eventually dumped the car on the far side of the bridge at km 5 or so and discovered that my engine bay was no longer smoking. Fingers crossed that it stays that way.
We loaded up our packs, while watching an almost non-stop stream of logging trucks heading up and down the road and then hiked up the road, cowering in ditches every time one of the massively loaded trucks went by. When we got to the R200 turnoff we discovered that it’s seeing heavy logging use at the moment. It is now impossible to miss that turnoff.
Can you spot the R200 turnoff?
We continued up the R200 branch, half expecting to find that the trail we just built through the clear cut was now once again an actual road (the trail follows an old, overgrown, deactivated logging road for a couple of hundred meters), but the trucks were heading farther up the branch. After negotiating the Hillary step up to the summer trail, we followed it up to the new summer trail which we followed to the signed trail head. From there to an elevation of about 1200m we hiked in our ski boots (well, me in my ski boots, Katherine and her mangled ankle were in trail runners which is somehow less painful for her). At about 1200m (give or take 50m) we switched to skis. The skinning was highly entertaining. There is currently too much snow to comfortably hike through, but not enough to comfortably skin up. The boulder fields in particular were a lot of fun as the snow was covering the gaps between boulders which would swallow your feet if you stepped in them, so we attempted to skin up the boulders. This was slow and required balance that I don’t really have, but we succeeded. On other boulder fields we would just bushwhack up beside them but this was sometimes even slower.
At a slightly lower elevation, I’d noticed some boot prints in the snow headed up towards the hut. There was only one set and they only went uphill and they had partly filled in with snow, therefore the owner of the footprints had probably headed up on Friday, so we were expecting to either run into somebody on their way down or be sharing the hut with a solo traveler. I commented at one point that the footprints were really small, but Katherine pointed out that they were roughly the same as her midget sized feet so I started thinking that the possibility of getting to share the hut with an AYL was looking up and we basically just followed the prints for a km or so. I seriously revised this opinion after finding a ‘boot print’ in a sheltered patch of snow. What we had identified as tracks from the illusive ‘solo AYL’ that we had been following, were actually bear tracks. We decided that the fact that the bear was unerringly following the VOC’s trail was a testament to the trail’s quality, but that we should probably have loud conversations and keep our eyes open. Shortly thereafter the bear tracks left the trail but our paranoia level stayed high.
We had chosen Brew because we figured it presented the best chance of finding some fresh powder. What we found instead was fresh cream cheese. The snow was ideal for building snow men, but without a supportive base below, you sank deep with each step and would push long columns of snow ahead of your skis with each step. The density of the snow was also somewhat higher than that of uranium, and the fist sized chunks of snow that would ride along on top of your skis each weighed upwards of 20kg. Katherine thinks she managed to build up her shoulder and arm muscles this weekend just from lifting her ski poles which would develop huge snow balls on the baskets.
Once we made it above about 1500m though, the snow started getting a lot lighter, the terrain opened up and the skies opened up and, more tired than we would have expected or chosen to admit to, we made it up to the hut a truly embarrassing 7 hours after leaving the car (average speed: 1.5km/h).
Katherine, breaking trail up through the meadows.
We made dinner and checked out the rum capacity of my new flask (lots) and mercilessly mocked our significant others for being at a Halloween party instead of cold and wet in a hut (quickly solved with the stove). We also noticed that the hut is clean, like eat of the tables clean, the guys who did a cleaning job for us were not screwing around, they really scrubbed the place and the new ‘rags’ they left don’t smell like something died in them.
Morning came, we slept in, then attempted to eat a pound of bacon and six eggs between the two of us and discovered that while this sort of food math works when Vicky is around, two light eaters can’t eat that much (we failed on dinner too, Katherine packed it up to bring back to Vicky who considers wasted food an offence worthy of the death sentence). We then discovered that what had been nice light(er) snow around the hut was now a nice thick layer of coastal concrete thanks to the freezing rain that had fallen the previous night and then melted in the morning sun. Due to hangovers, a whiteout and the prospect of skiing through concrete, we briefly considered simply staying in the hut another day and hoping for better weather, but realizing that I would probably get fired, we decided to try and battle our ways down to the cars. We were really not super excited to face the boulder fields on the way down.
Coming down out of the meadows was fun. Katherine actually had to break trail down hill despite not having her skins on all while trying to avoid barely covered (or not) trees and rocks and we discovered fresh bear tracks following our skin track. At about 1450m we gave up on skiing and switched to boot packing which involved a lot of slipping off rocks, falling off soggy dead fall, falling through half frozen slightly deeper than boot height puddles and getting hung up on branches (all mostly by me). It was good times. We did however actually make better time than expected (I had called Vicky to tell her that we would probably get out late, if at all). We had been bracing ourselves for it being a real battle to get out, but what had been freezing rain up high was just rain down low and the snow level was much lower than on the way up making the boot packing a lot easier.
Despite leaving the hut at 11:30am, we were sitting down at the Shady Tree at 4-4:30 or so debating whether or not we should admit to anyone that we had even done the trip let alone thought it would be a good idea.