Word on the street had it there was already decent snow in them thar hills near Black Tusk this early in the season. Together with my partners in crime, the intrepid Katherine and Breanne, we concocted a plot to take Cinder Flats by storm (or clear weather) via the Helm Creek trail. We announced our intentions and recruited Spencer and Jeff to our gang.
Over the Lions Gate before 7:00am, we reached the Helm Creek trail head by 8:30am. We carried our planks through tall, thick old growth and over the Cheakamus River. Finally putting our skis on was a treat for which we had waited all summer. It wasn’t Katherine’s first ski of the season, but this fluffy goodness at negative three was better than the tease of “coastal cream cheese” under her skis the previous weekend. We swiftly gained elevation on our skins in thinning trees with neither wind nor breeze. The winter freeze gave us sprinter’s knees as we squinted to see through the splinters of trees the glinting frieze on the horizon.
Then the behemoth showed itself. Piercing upwards from the remains of the stratovolcano that bore it, the Black Tusk is a radical sight from any angle. Our approach from the Northeast was a new angle for me, having only seen it up close from the South before. Helm Peak came into view and potential routes to its summit were discussed before continuing to Cinder Flats. We noticed footprints that ran loosely parallel to our route but with a meandering zig zag to them. Was it a bear or just a confused, inebriated person? I pondered a bear’s quest to maximize caloric intake before hibernation.
The moon rose rapidly with a rosy grin. Camp was made by 4:30 and Breanne brilliantly brewed a bubbling pot of tea to warm our glowing souls in the fading light. With our lighter packs on our backs we attacked Cinder Cone, skinning halfway up and digging a pit to investigate the snow pack: a respectably stable 1.3 meters. We took note of a fresh layer of hoarfrost on the surface for future reference. The ski down under the stars was refreshing. One by one, our moonlit run with tasty turns was tonnes of fun.
We quickly cooked quite a feast of curried quinoa and cheese.
Breanne shared homemade Limoncello as the wine began to freeze.
Jeff, Katherine, Spencer, Breanne and I, we numbered five.
Good company in rugged land makes me happy to be alive.
With slushy wine we dined ’til nine and soon we felt inclined
to quit the booze and have a snooze and get up when we’d choose.
The night was chilly but we were really warm surrounded by down.
Clear sky at night with stars alight, counting rhyming nouns.
Venturing beyond the womb of a warm sleeping bag to the frozen world outside can seem a monumental task at first. A regular routine of jumping jacks between stove tending tasks can help warm blood disperse. We pooled our breakfast resources and unanimously concluded that our oatmeal needed chocolate in a major way. Two halloween chocolates ghosted into the oatmeal instantly but the chocolate almond fudge cliff bar stubbornly resisted assimilation. Full of oats and tea, we carefully wove a path up the Northeast slope below the Tusk. We skinned up a moraine and took our skis off to walk along its bare, wind scoured ridge line toward an outcrop, where we admired the view. Wary of the small glacier to the West of us and large cornices to the South, and nearing our turnaround time, we prepared for the descent. We enjoyed a blissfully mellow ski down, including another quick snow stability test pit. Some of us had a few collisions with rocks that lurked beneath the snow like chocolate chips in ice cream but not so tasty.
While gathering our overnight gear, Breanne produced a large, delicious piece of Brie cheese. It was essential that it be consumed, lest we be burdened by its mass without benefiting from its energy and deliciousness. On the way back down the trail, we were briefly accompanied by the only other party we saw, two guys traveling fast with day packs and interesting snowshoes with smooth bottoms and skins on them. Apparently they had seen a bear in the area recently.
Keeping one’s skis on as long as possible as you approach the snow line is about so much more than efficiently sliding downhill and postponing carrying your skis. It’s a riveting game you play with the difficulty level inversely proportional to altitude. I thoroughly enjoyed this game but I now need to do some minor p-tex repairs to my skis. Somehow Katherine managed to escape with skis unscathed. We arrived at Jeff’s van after dark and met up with friends at the Shady Tree pub for a well deserved meal. Thanks Breanne, Katherine, Jeff and Spencer for the awesome trip. Looking forward to the next one.