Dec 17-18: North Joffre Horseshoe fail turns to Cayoosh success

4:30 – alarm.  5:15 – Alfred pulls up.  5:45 – car switch at Taylor Way.  7:30 – Pemberton.  The urban alpine start is always a blur of a bare minimum of groggy, absolutely necessary movements and half-sleep until one really has to be awake at the trailhead.  This Saturday was no different and I can happily report no incidents before we arrived at the trailhead for our North Joffre horseshoe traverse mission.  After moderately minimal faff with skis and packs, we were on our way up the logging road by 8:30.

Sadly we had to quit this thoroughfare quite quickly and embark into a maze of half-frozen swamps and forest.  This being only my second real backcountry ski outing – with the first a beautiful but tame weekend up at the Elfin Hut – I was brutally introduced to the magical genus of fauna that is slide alder.  The mediocre snow cover meant that in addition to crossing and recrossing creeks and logs at every turn, our group of six had to continuously deal with the beastly brambles of this ferocious plant much to the chagrin of any notion of quick progress.  Things only got worse when we started to move uphill and an impromptu team meeting was called in the rain amongst the trees around 10:30.  Seeing as we had made perhaps 50m of elevation gain and had at least another 400 to go until reaching the alpine, the decision was made to cut our losses and find a new objective for what remained of the weekend.  Before making it back, two members of the team, including the author, also almost received a complimentary ice bath spa treatment as an additional slap in the pants from the North Joffre area when a perfectly stable looking snow bridge turned out to be entirely supported by two glorified twigs.  Disaster averted and/or beautification opportunity wasted, depending on one’s point of view, our retreat continued without further incident and we were back at the cars with our tails firmly between our legs before noon.

Lacking time for a different larger traverse and given the rain it was not hard to decide that a hut might be a good alternative for the night.  Steep Creek, Keith’s and Cayoosh were considered and the last was chosen with an ascent of Cayoosh Mountain being the new objective for Sunday.  A quick drive and uneventful two-hour skin up a logging road brought us to a clearcut above the hut and a short treed run brought us to our home for the night.  Thankfully the clearcut had not been extended and the hut was still standing.  (A note to others planning on using the Cayoosh hut in the near future: the area in the immediate vicinity of the hut is flagged and may be cut in the near future, meaning the hut could no longer be there.)  Not knowing what to do with ourselves given that it was only 2:00 when we arrived, it didn’t take long for Artem’s suggestion that we go out and ski some more short runs down the clearcut above to be taken up by all six members of the team.  A couple hours of pleasant skiing until dark worked up our appetites and we quickly got to cooking dinner upon our return to the hut.  The evening was taken up by Contact, a tricky word game (again Artem’s doing!) and although we went to bed early, some of us spent the early parts night suffering from mental torture and anguish due to Tom’s turn at the game and the number eight…others suffered (still unconfirmed) rodent attacks…but all ultimately slept soundly and woke up at a leisurely 7:30 the next morning.


Sunday dawned gorgeous and sunny, and after an unhurried breakfast we set out up Cayoosh.  Although slide alder and forest made a repeat appearance, this time both were surely conquered in good time and fairly soon we were skiing up open slopes in the sunshine headed for the summit of Cayoosh.  After a short lunch break on a plateau below the summit, we continued upwards with amazing views of Cayoosh’s rocky sub-summits on both sides.  The grade soon got too steep for skinning and we bootpacked it up the last hundred metres or so to the summit with short sections of slow-going deep snow ensuring that we didn’t have too much time to spend on the summit.  After the obligatory summit shots we headed back down the summit rock to our waiting packs and bootpacked back down a bit as the very top slopes seemed a bit risky from wind loading.  Soon enough though we had our skis back on and set off on the long run (over 1000 metres of elevation drop) back down to the hut.  Smooth turns in some nice powder snow brought us down to treeline, at which point began the slightly less pleasant task of navigating the forest down and across to the clearcut above the hut.  Donning headlamps part way we made the clearcut perhaps not in record-breaking time but at least incident free and enjoyed one last run down to the very hut.  A quick stop to repack and we were on our way back down the logging road to our waiting cars.  It was 7:00 by the time we got the frozen-shut doors on one of the cars unstuck and we back on our way to Vancouver.  With families waiting at home, there was scant time for burgers and beer – only a quick stop at McF%&# – but as a result our arrival back in town was still at a decent hour.

Despite the change of plans, the weekend has to be counted amongst the successful; thanks to Sam for organizing the trip and Artem, Rich, Alfred and Tom for the good company!


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