Devlin had earned his turns for twelve straight months but had been denied the thirteenth during our defeat on Mt. Pootlass. With the month nearing an end and Devlin staying with the grandparents on Quadra Island, we decided to take a run at the Comox Glacier. We’d attempted this twice last year—the first time we got up on top of a ridge and verified that there wasn’t any snow there and that the glacier was a really long ways away. We ended up at Brandywine for our turns that July. We returned in October and didn’t make it a huge distance farther but did encounter some vegetation that had enough snow lubricating it to get a few more than seven turns in.
Shamelessly getting the turns in last October
This time was going to be different. With Devlin a year older, we were going to make it to the glacier, go up it and summit Mt. Arthur Evans in style and ski down in a blaze of glory. I was going to get a ferry reservation to make sure that I was to Campbell River nice and early Friday evening, collect Devlin from Quadra and sleep in Campbell River too so that we’d be at the trailhead before the first ferry (7:05 am) even sailed from Quadra.
Everything was going according to plan until I tried to get ferry reservations. Nothing was available at all that went to Nanaimo, so I got the 3:00 pm to Victoria. It was an annoying amount of extra driving but would get me there in time to get us both to bed before 9:00 pm and ready for an early start, still. Shortly after arriving in Victoria, I discovered that the highway out of Victoria was this enormous parking lot. Because I go to Quadra all the time to see my parents, it’s been something like fifteen years since I’ve driven between Victoria and Nanaimo, so I wasn’t aware that the highway is one lane each way out of Victoria. Everyone in Victoria trying to get up island for the weekend meant two and a half hours of stewing in the truck, dreaming about air conditioning and sweating.
We got to bed at 11:00, and Devlin was pretty tired. We agreed to a 7:00 alarm, which was aggravatingly late. If I wasn’t two hours behind, it could have been 5:00.
Devlin had some nightmare about disembodied floating lips making bizarre sounds and had a terrible sleep, so even with a very late wake-up he was still hard to rouse. We had our oatmeal and then set off. The logging road that leads to the Comox Glacier trail was deactivated sometime between our last attempt and now, so it was a tedious water-bar party to get there. It was something like 10:00 before we were hiking.
The trailhead starts at about 400 m, and the ceiling was maybe 450 m, so the theme of the day was fog.
Foggy and Soggy
Slugs have this thing on the right side of their head called a pneumostome. It’s the porthole to the single slug lung. If you flip up the mantle (foreskin-like thing over the head) you’ll find the slug’s anus and genitals in front and just below the pneumostome. A very, very small portion of slugs have something go wrong and they’re mirror images, with the pneumostome and other bits on the left. They are unlikely to find love, as the slugs mate by facing each other, with their pneumostome/genital side in contact. Normal mating slugs are thus clockwise. Two successfully mating left slugs would be counterclockwise, but this is just not a thing that happens because they’re so rare.
One of very many slugs with a pneomstome on the right.
I made the mistake of telling this to Devlin, and we had to stop and verify that every slug we encountered was right-handed.
Once we left the fascinating world of gastropod anatomy and the valley bottom behind us and got onto the ridge (about 1400 m), we verified that it was pretty foggy still.
A rare moment of relative clarity.
At the very least there was enough snow there to get some skiing in even if we failed at everything else.
Lunch was a bit of a fiasco on two fronts. First, I discovered that my stove doesn’t work properly when you don’t remember to bring any fuel, and second we were tormented by the most aggressive whiskey jacks I’ve ever met. Normally you just have to keep your food in front of you, and they’ll take someone else’s sandwich instead, and when there are no other suckers around, crouching around your food is good enough. These guys were really persistent, though, taking charges at the bagel while I was pretty much wrapped around it. I ended up spreading the peanut butter and jam with one hand while swinging the other around to keep them at bay.
One of our tormentors taking a break.
When you prepare pasta primavera with cold water it’s definitely still edible, if a bit crunchy.
To get to Comox Glacier, in theory you go up the trail onto the ridge, gaining 1100 m, along the ridge with about as much gain as loss, drop 100 m or so into Lone Tree Pass and then up another 200 m to the glacier, and 300 more to summit. By the time we started our descent into Lone Tree Pass, it was 3:00 pm and summiting was off the table, but the glacier still seemed realistic. The drop into Lone Tree is a bit of a scramble, and not being able to see more than the trees right beside us and fog for most of the time didn’t make us any faster.
Descending to Lone Tree Pass
There are a lot of trees on Lone Tree Pass
We got up to the other side and were on more snow than anything else, and we could hear the water coming from the glacier very clearly, but we couldn’t see the glacier or anything else. It was 4:25 pm. We decided to abandon the glacier and just ski for a while, which we did.
My touring boot finally died. A could years ago I was rammed by a snowboarder, and the lever that makes it go into touring mode got broken in half. To switch from touring to downhill on that boot I had to move both sides of the lever. I think what happened to the boot is that while I was walking, one half of the lever got flipped down, and the lock mechanism ate itself while half-engaged. Bottom line is that putting both halves of the lever down meant it made a click as it went through where it was supposed to stop but didn’t make any attempt at locking in place.
On the way back down we met some people staggering up to camp overnight. They thought we were pretty bad-ass even though we knew that we were failures.
We made pretty good time on the way down, despite having to inspect all the slugs for left-handedness. It was 9:30 pm when we got driving, and I bottomed out the truck a few times trying to save some time on the water bars, as getting the 10:45 pm ferry to Quadra was in question.
We arrived at the ferry terminal at 10:47 pm. I drove up to the ticket window just in case and the ferry angel was there. You wouldn’t know that she’s an angel by looking at her—there’s no halo or wings—but having been late for the last ferry a bunch of times over the years, I know how it works; if the ferry angel is the one selling the tickets you get to board, and if someone else is there you don’t. She saw us drive up and took the CLOSED sign off the window.
“Because you’re here and you’re the greatest?”
“(eye roll)—because they can’t leave yet because there’s a cruise ship in the way. I’m glad it worked out for someone.”
When we got to my parents’, I told Devlin that we had to shower because we were gross. He said he was too tired to shower and that we were fine, but I insisted and let him go first so he could get to bed. He agreed and came out no longer disgusting a few minutes later.
“Now that I’ve showered I can tell the difference; you don’t smell so good.”
Sunday morning I headed back. As I was driving through Campbell River I saw a shipwreck, so I pulled over at the chainsaw carvings. As an aside to an aside I’ll mention that the chainsaw-carving competition at Campbell River gets more impressive every year. Fifteen years ago the winners were always kind of fun, but not particularly amazing. These days, though, they’re getting shockingly good.
Runner up (!) in the Semi (!!) Professional category.
Anyways, back to the shipwreck: it was hung up on Willow Point Reef, so I went out to take a look. There were a lot of townsfolk out taking a gander and a picture. When I was directly downwind from vessel, I could smell a very strong diesel smell. I was wondering if the vessel lost power and was blown into the reef or if the dude was just driving like he was drunk. Out of the blue this dude with a hat came up to me and told me that he works on the vessel sometimes and saw it going down the passageway too close to the shore on a low tide as he was going into the store (there’s a strip mall at Willow Point), and as he was leaving the store he saw it run aground and came right out to see, meaning it just happened. The Coast Guard was already there putting up the booms. I walked into the water to get a good picture, with my shoes on because it was a festival of sea urchins.
You’re not supposed to do that.
I don’t know if it’s just me or if it’s an issue with the rest of humanity, but when I get seawater in my shoes, they get a zillion times stinkier than if they get soaked through other means. In order to avoid a fiasco I took a walk around in a stream under the highway.
Destinkifying my feet
Highway 19 looks not so big from the creek.