by Cassandra, Isabel, Tom and Roland
Participants: Tom, Benoit, Roland, Isabel and Cassandra
This trip was altogether a special trip!
Even though we set out to visit and fix up three of the four VOC huts in a week, only one of us made it to all the huts in the end.This was a trip of firsts for most of us.
After an extraordinary amount of faff and organization, Roland, Isabel, Benoit and Cassandra set out Friday afternoon, for the Phelix Hut trailhead. Being Benoit’s first VOC trip we had the opportunity to admire the spectacular scenery of the Sea to Sky through fresh eyes.
Isabel: I was amazed by the optimism of Benoit, whose weather forecast of sunny days was always spot on and his curiosity and stoke was contagious. He listened attentively to the stories of mountains and people that Roland knows to tell in such a special, funny and grounding way.
The drive up to Phelix was great! We removed a slide that blocked the Phelix logging road and we carefully crossed the 2 tonne bridge with the unusually heavy Jeep packed full with the chain saw, brush saw, and all of our gear for the next 8 days. Cassandra used the chainsaw to cut a huge log that had fallen across the road but because it was getting dark we only removed enough of the log to make the road passable. After setting up camp near the Phelix trailhead, we cut some alder with the brush saw, and we attempted to remove a small log across the road using the bow saw. Benoit set up his first tent!
Saturday we headed up to Phelix with daypacks and snowshoes. We nailed down new mesh onto the one log bridge. The bridge seems to be rotting a little and will need to be replaced in the next few years. Benoit hiked on snow for the first time! The snow was very wet and slushy but we quickly made it up to the hut with the help of the snowshoes. At the hut we measured its perimeter for wire mesh that should be installed to prevent flickers from drilling holes into the hut. As well, we took measurements of the door frame for the new door and collected the hut money. That evening back at the Jeep we enjoyed a campfire while eating canned soup and chilli as well as a slightly over ripened (distressed) mango.
In Pemberton Sunday morning, we disposed of the broken catalytic heater from Phelix. Before uniting with Tom in Pemberton, we joyfully filled our stomachs with saturated fats. Tom arrived on the bus from Vancouver and we managed to squeeze him and his stuff into the Jeep.
This was my first trip longer than 4 days or so, and I was nervous about a few things – weight and ski crampons chief among them.
As I tend to leave things (like my addition to this trip report) to the last minute, I figured I would get an early start and buy things for the trip on the Tuesday before we left. Initially dismayed by 2 week wait times for special order down sleeping quilts (lighter sleeping bags that are great for side sleepers like myself), I was able to find a quilt that would reach me before I left, and also ordered some ski crampons, all to be delivered by Saturday to Point Roberts.
On Thursday, I had my first after hours adventure at the Broadway MEC. I’d just bought a significant amount of stuff for the trip, including the lightest ice axe MEC sells (which was especially light because, at 50cm, it was too short for me). I got back to my bike and could not for the life of me find my bike key. I was tired and frustrated, and went back to the doors of the store. Someone came over and, after searching around the customer service area, where my panniers had been, was able to find my bike keys in the men’s washroom. Phew.
Friday I exchanged my 50cm ice axe for a more reasonable 60cm one and bought some merino wool boxers at MEC North Van. I wanted to make sure they fit, but are they really an item one wants to try on…? In the end I decided they were to be tried on over existing boxers, and found a reasonable pair.
Saturday was going to be busy, and started with a quick and uneventful trip to Point Roberts to pick up ski crampons and sleeping bag. However, when I got to my friends house and started trying to install the ski crampons (to be installed only by trained ski technicians with an understanding of how ski crampons work), we soon realized that the ski crampons would not fit with my current heel riser setup, with long climbing wires forward. This led to some panic, and a call to Vancouver Ski and Board, where the lone attendant almost laughed when I asked him whether he’d be able to mount ski crampons that day. I considered giving up on the ski crampons, but remembered a few recent trips (Baker and Cayley) where ski crampons were much missed by me. Not what I wanted with the heaviest pack I’d ever carried.
Luckily, MEC Vancouver was able to mount my ski crampons. I brought the skis, boots, and crampons in, and found that the crampons would fit with my wires reversed. Phew.
I went home, and soon got a call from MEC that my skis were ready. I asked if I could pick them up later, sometime before 7 that Saturday. Sure, come in anytime before the store closes, said the attendant.
I made a whirlwind trip to Famous Foods, where I scrapped my alternating Nutella/PB lunch plan in favour of the simpler Nutella every day plan and also bought the two ingredients for my chalky protein powder and oatmeal breakfast. I then headed over to MEC, getting there at 6:20 or so, with plenty of time to pick up my skis before 7 – or so I thought.
As I approached the store, something seemed wrong – the doors weren’t opening, no one was coming in or out. I go to the doors, and read the terrible news: MEC closes at 6pm on Saturdays. What an idiot I was! I rapped on the door, but the staff studiously ignored me. Other potential customers came up, also to discover the store was closed.
I was distraught. I considered borrowing a friend’s skis, but they would be too heavy. I realized my boots were also in there. I was panicked. I called a long time VOCer, who no longer works at MEC (which I knew but somehow did not prevent me from calling him). He expressed his regrets but said there was nothing he could do.
I called home, where my parents remembered hearing 7pm over the phone – but that was me saying it, not a staff member.
I went up to the doors, and begged. Someone came over, and said the store was closed, there was no way they were opening the doors. I pleaded – my skis are in here, I’m leaving for a traverse at 7am. Eventually they relented. They let me in. However, the store’s payment system was off for the day, which had me worried. I pulled out cash, offering to leave money. They said it would be too complicated, but that it would just be on them this time. They had me stay near the customer service desk while they went and got my skis. I was relieved. My panniers and ski boots were over there, so they escorted me there and let me pick them up.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I left the store with my skis, with ski crampons mounted.
The next morning I packed all of my food. Not wanting to add too much sodium, I held off adding the flavour – mushroom powder, freeze dried peas, vegetable powder, and onion soup mix – to my nightly dinners. In the mad dash to get out the door, I ended up leaving my flavour at home. Seven nights of dinner, with no flavour.
Luckily, the Greyhound stopped in Whistler and I was able to buy some soup base, filling my need for flavour/sodium.
We did not quite move at the 240km/h speed of the Meager landslide but got to the hut / hot springs junction in good time. We dropped our packs for the night and Roland was bursting with energy. Before Benoit could determine the purpose of all the excitement, we decided on a little 10 km side trip before we set up camp.
Monday, we began the hike up to the hut. We had lunch before the Barr Creek bridge and a beautiful butterfly decided to make friends with Roland. That evening at the hut, Tom, Isabel and Cassandra sat around the maps and analyzed the route across the Pemberton Icecap and Powdercap. We also got a lesson on how to fix stoves from Roland and managed to fix the pump on Cassandra’s stove.
Isabel: Bringing the packs, skis and boots up to the hut made me curse. Enjoying a Campari during sunset at this beautiful hut with people that were all so different and special let me gratefully fall asleep.
At 5AM Tuesday morning, Cassandra, Tom and Isabel set off for Brew with six day packs, and plans to meet Roland at Brew a few days later. The weather was perfectly clear and we made good time getting onto the Pemberton Icecap.
Cassandra: The ice was endless and the scenery was spectacular! As we skied down the Squamish glacier we had a front seat view of a massive thunderstorm that luckily decided to avoid us. There were grizzly tracks crisscrossing the icecap but we did not run into any of these furry friends. Looking back at the glacier we could see the crevasses and occasional cliffs on the icecap. Over a few hundred square meters, small worms, presumably iceworms, seemed to inhabit the glacier! I had never seen this before but perhaps they were the offspring of the infamous snow snakes that leave their winding trails in regions frequented by skiers.
Isabel: We skied to the terminal moraine of the Pemberton Icefield the first day! We found a great spot for our camp near Little Ring Mountain, overlooking the icecap we had crossed.My aesthetic senses got satisfied by the beauty of the white and soft contours of the mountains against blue skies. My sense of camaraderie got satisfied with the company of two beautiful people as we wound our way through the gentle terrain. Three little birds came visiting us along the way, one curiously coming closer to look at these strange creatures we were, roaming the icecap all bundled up like pirates to be safe from the sun.
An early 5AM start on Wednesday morning helped ensure snow stability and we set off towards Ring Lake and the Powdercap. Here, however, things went a bit awry. Cassandra’s skis and backpack went in opposing directions and the knee was angled quite strangely.
Cassandra: Before I knew it my leg was twisted at a seemingly impossible angle. My tele-ski bindings did not release and I felt a sharp pain up my leg. Using voile straps and shovel handles we fashioned a splint and continued up to a col some kilometers away.Skiing felt a bit awkward because I had to keep my leg bent at a strange angle to avoid pain but slowly I dragged it up the skin track.
When we reached a high point that amazingly was equipped with a first aid station and cell phone reception, we stopped for the night watching storm clouds on the horizon head our way. After setting up the tent overlooking the steep Callaghan glacier, we called Phil to let him know that we were planning to exit early out Callaghan Lake and that it would be great if Roland could pick us up there.
With the arrival of the rainstorm, we spent the evening discussing our options. At some point, Cassandra tried to exit the tent and was surprised to discover that without the splint she could barely walk. With a rainstorm now in full force around us, calling a helicopter began to seem like a real possibility.
Cassandra: I felt that a helicopter rescue should only be used in a life threatening situation which this did not seem to be. However, I could see that if my leg got much worse I might not make it to Callaghan Lake which was our closest exit point.
We went to bed, deciding to sleep in, believing that it was about an 80% chance that we would call a helicopter Thursday morning. Luckily, the swelling in Cassandra’s leg had gone down a bit and the weather along with her mobility had improved. We splinted her knee again and she tried skiing downhill before we made any final decisions. Skiing down was okay so we loaded up our packs and continued on our way.
The route we were on was riddled with avalanche slopes and as the day progressed the snow quality declined rapidly. Our group had an abundance of caution regarding wet slides because of past experience. By the time we had skied down about 600m vertically, the high avalanche risk led us to search for a relatively safe camp in trees away from obvious avalanche paths. Shortly after we set up camp, a huge avalanche came down off Ring Mountain adjacent to the route we were headed. Sometimes one has the opportunity to know the decisions made were good ones. The rest of the day (still Thursday) we spent napping and meditating.
Isabel: During our sleep/ meditation time that day I had some interesting and enlightening moments, reflecting on our ancestors and how they first found their way through their environment without google earth and maps, not knowing which route would lead to which challenge, which cols, which rivers to cross, which sheer drops, the next water to drink, the next source of food. Now we were sitting in “comfort” looking at the map to find the best and most moderate route out. A luxury it seems regarded from that perspective, but too far from a hospital other minds might say. So small we feel surrounded by something so much bigger than us, like little ants we must have tried different routes in error until we finally created maps, taming the wild environment into the frame of a sheet of paper.
We woke up for dinner, deciding to get up at 2AM the next day and ski all the way out to Callaghan Lake while the snow conditions were stable.
Tom: The girls also laughed at my dinners throughout the trip, especially my pork floss/pork slice (see http://www.bkhjerky.com/shop/pork-floss.html). However, I loved it and only regretted not bringing more of it (my dinners were a mix of it and textured vegetable protein, which is sort of small bits of flavour vacuum).
We were very glad for the thick crust and well frozen snow that we discovered when we woke up early Friday morning. The sun rose while we were traversing beneath Ring Mountain and we got some amazing views looking down on the cloud banks below us. We skied down into Ring Lake in a whiteout but luckily we found snowmobile tracks to follow. Once we got to Ring Lake we stopped for a short break, jubilant in having safely reached this point. Our trip fun had, however, not run out.
We discussed the poor ice conditions on the lake and decided to traverse around the side of the lake. Tom, however, decided for fun to go for a short skate ski beside the lake. After two kicks, one ski flew off his foot and headed straight for the center of the lake. Tom started to try to run after it but without both skis, quickly discovered how deep the snow was. Cassandra had just taken her skis off and watched horrified as the ski glided frictionlessly down the hill and straight into the center of the lake. Isabel took off rapidly after the ski and looked like she would almost catch it but it was going too fast. The ski sat out in the middle of the lake, tempting us out onto what looked to be partially frozen ice. Tom looked ready to run out onto the ice to retrieve it but after some yelling from us decided this was not the best option. We thought about trying to lasso the ski with some rope. Eventually Tom set up an anchor and Isabel (being the lightest and the only one with two good knees and skis) set off towards Tom’s ski. She retrieved it without incident and we continued on our way.
Cassandra: Skiing down from Ring Lake with a bad knee was interesting to say the least. My leg felt a bit like a wooden stump, that I was dragging down the tree covered hill while trying to balance a heavy pack. We had decided at our last camp to replace the avalanche shovel splint with two tree branches in case we needed the shovels for more urgent work. This new splint worked quite well but when I looked down at my leg I did wonder what exactly I had gotten myself into. Here it was decided it would be safest if I dropped my pack and skied down to the base of the hill without it. Isabel returned with Tom to retrieve the pack. I could not believe how lucky I was to have them helping me.
There was still more fun ahead since a creek needed to be crossed in order to get onto the Callaghan cross country trails. We took our boots off and crossed the creek carefully, freezing our feet in the ice cold water. Finally, once we made it to the cross country runs it was very quick travel on the snow.
Cassandra: Unfortunately, the snow ended about a kilometer from Callaghan Lake and with gratitude, I passed my pack on to Tom who generously carried it this last snowless distance since my leg was not up to much walking.
Tom: Coming down some parts, I had a bit of a heavier pack with some of Cassandra’s things. My knees were not super happy either, and this made me a bit worried for my knees. For the last km or so of trail, I was also the sacrificial post-holer, putting in a trail for Cassandra. This worried me as well because hiking in tele boots gives a lot of potential for hyperextending the knee when what you thought was firm snow ends up being a rock or log at the toe and nothing at the heel. Luckily, no significant harm occurred.
Luckily, Saturday, two campers at Callaghan Lake offered to drive us into Whistler where we got burgers and caught the Greyhound back to Vancouver. Tom’s father picked us up at the bus station in Vancouver.
Cassandra: I picked up my things from Roland’s house and headed back to Vancouver Island that evening. When I arrived in Nanaimo, I went off to emergency where many hours later they determined I had probably torn my ACL and potentially torn the meniscus in my knee. This was a great trip with many aspects to it. I will remember it for a long time. I am so thankful for all the amazing people on this trip!
Isabel: It was my first time in a rescuer position and I admire Cassandra’s will to get out herself, her stamina to deal with a 2.30 am to 7pm day on a well-splinted but destructed knee. All that without any emotional meltdowns but a calm and sunny spirit. My relief was probably greater than the mountains we had left behind when seeing the first car, knowing that we made it out without further damage. This trip was great! The group was colourful and a pure joy that we could help out a bit with the huts. This gave the trip some purpose other than pure leisure and I could discover new terrain. Now I am looking forward to taking the brush saw and wire-mesh back to Phelix and fix things up a bit.
Roland, in the meantime, was the only one of us to complete the 3 huts tour by completing his journey to Brew!
Benoit and Roland’s Adventure
Tuesday we left the Harrison Hut and headed back to our camp at the half-way-to-the-Jeep-point, where we had stashed the tent. My back was giving me a lot of trouble so we stopped for the night. Benoit started off for the hot springs but turned back short of the destination when it began to rain. A few couples passed by our tent, going down to the hot water.
Wednesday we headed back to the Jeep, removing some rocks on the 4WD portion of the road. Driving towards Pemberton, we encountered a large black bear, which pleased Benoit greatly; they don’t have wild bears in France. In Pemberton we put Benoit on the bus as he had business in Vancouver. By now I greatly missed the loss of my travelling companions, so to console myself I bought a night in the venerable Pemberton Hotel, which was fortunately being renovated, so fairly quiet, not counting the alarm going off in the beer and wine store three or four times during the night.
Pemberton is an interesting place. Everybody knows where to get chainsaws fixed. You can buy stovepipes. There’s health freaks and organic produce, yuppies selling $5 cinnamon buns, lots of first nations people, and most of the female population sports tattoos. The kids get bussed from all over the valley to attend school. It’s a bizarre mix of tourism and active logging. I like it.
Thursday I got the chainsaw fixed, bought some distressed butter tarts, some Tylenol, and headed for Brew. Car-camped at the trailhead after nailing up a bunch of trail markers and working on the start of the trail a bit. Last time I worked on that bit of trail, it was with Steffi.
Friday morning I still had back trouble and decided I had to pack very light for Brew. No mat. Not much food. No snowshoes. I was at Brew well before noon and spent an enjoyable afternoon fixing things around Brew. See http://www.ubc-voc.com/phorum5/read.php?3,112329
Saturday I hung out until 3pm and headed down, narrowly missing several thunderstorms that passed up the valley. Camped at the Jeep again. I do like car camping, Ninja-style.
Sunday I hung out at the trailhead until noon. I found a solitary person with a chainsaw, a splitting axe, and a pickup truck, getting in some excellent firewood for the winter. Finally I had my two cylinders of restorative Starbucks instant coffee and headed for Vancouver. The drive was uneventful until I drove into my garage with the brush saw still on the roof and bent the saw’s antlers somewhat.
I’ve always claimed that group dynamics makes the trip for me, and I could not have done better than we did on this trip. You might wonder why I spent so long at Brew. Well, Jens and Ruanne were proposing to bring in about 20 people for a prenuptial bash, and though I thought this unlikely, I didn’t want to miss it if it happened. And there was still the possibility that the traversers would exit via Brew, though this seemed 50-50. Finally, there was work to do up there, and it’s a nice place to be at.