There are few trips where you have the chance to grow your stoke for more than a month. This was one of them.
On March 20th, Sam McKoy posted a traverse of the Misty Icefields onto the VOC message board that would happen in May 2014. He offered to bring a bunch of “newbs” to this trip instead of his usual network of friends. Newb in this case refers to people with backcountry skiing and glacier travel experience who have not been on long traverses. The idea was that Sam does most of the initial planning, but the route finding will be done alternating between the team members. Spending most of my time on the message board, I saw this trip immediately and replied.
The crew was assembled shortly after and after some bailing and reshuffling consisted of Annie Maurer, Cassandra Elphinstone, Frank Zimmermann, Jens Vent-Schmidt, Jeremy Leal and Sam McKoy. Many emails regarding planning and advanced lessons into “how to pack your pack” were exchanged and the date of our traverse came closer. Jeremy had organized the watertaxi across Pitt Lake and the truck-ride to the snowline – no slogging involved, what a luxury.
Saturday before the departure, Frank, Jeremy and I met in my backyard to practise crevasse-rescue skills and to compare the contents of our food rations. It was around that time, when we received an email that the watertaxi broke down and we didn’t have a way to access the Misty. Sam was still doing the Neve at this time and we had no idea where we were about to go two days after. We put some effort into planning alternate routes, and were waiting for Sam to come back and chip in his ideas. He did have a backup planned out, ready with Google Earth file and exit strategies, so we decided to go for that one. The idea was to combine a bunch of known traverses and cross the northern half of Garibaldi Park. Hiking up towards Mt. Currie, doing the Wedge-Currie in reverse, hopping over the Spearhead towards the McBride and then heading out via the northern leg of the Tuwasus horseshoe.
We went for an early start and met at 8am in Pemberton. The stoke seemed to have been through the roof, as both cars happened to meet each other around Whistler way too early. We enjoyed some extended repacking-faff at a gas station and still arrived 10min before the planned time. On the way up to the trailhead, we were greeted by a mother bear with her two cubs. I was quite exited, since those were the first bears I’ve seen in the wild. At the trailhead, we splurged in some more packing and eating faff, took a last look at the cars (read: civilization) and headed up into the adventure.
Extended hiking in skiboots – even after two winters in Canada, this is an idea that I’ve only heard about, but now I got to enjoy it myself. I guess the first hour or two were still quite entertaining, since we must have looked really out of place with our big and heavy packs and the skis, while finding our way through the trees and across boulders. After that, the oddness became old and I was really looking forward to the snow, which meant the end to the mosquitoes; only Frank had bothered to carry bug-spray. We made good progress and reached skinnable snow shortly after lunch. As soon as we poked out of the trees, some clouds and rain appeared much to the disappointment of Sam but those were only transient. We had great views and dry skies for the most part of the day. The sidehilling and way finding proved to take a bit longer than anticipated and we decided to set up camp around 5pm, one valley before Mystery creek – our original plan. This decision was celebrated with good food and amazing sunset views over the sea-to-sky. Another novelty for me was the distinct lack of Whiskey on this trip.
The next morning, I woke up early and jumped out of the bed to have breakfast in the first rays of the sun. It seemed like I was the keenest, but I learned over the days that my bed was the least comfortable. While my tent-partner Jeremy was resting upon his throne-like Big Agnes, I slept on a cold ¾ prolite and my backpack. That’s what I get for being stingy about every gram. Around 2h later, everyone had peeled out of their beds and packed together their packs and we were back on our skis. Annie and Cassandra were leading today’s route. The frozen crust provided easy and fast travel but the sidehilling and use of ski crampons was a new challenge to some of the team members. We regrouped on the top of unnamed col and the slope down to Mystery Creek provided some amazing corn-snow turns. The way from Mystery Creek to Mystery Glacier happened to be a lot more challenging than anticipated and we took our dear time to sidehill across steep slopes. We got rewarded by some sun-bathing and foot-drying at a lake, before we headed up the glacier. On the way down, Annie and I witnessed a new badass ski-move by another member of our team who started with a faceplant and got pulled over by the backpack into a full front-flip. This was foreseeable and I’m still a bit sad that I didn’t take a video. The rest of the ski down onto Weart Glacier was accompanied by breathtaking views and easy skiing. We set up camp close to a lake and didn’t have to bother melting snow. I chose to build the dump-hole with a great view onto Mt. Weart and the Owls which was especially hilarious, because everyone decided to defaff in full frontal view.
Day 3 was started with another shout-out to blue bird and everyone happily tumbled out of bed to eat breakfast in the morning sun. Soon after, we found ourselves crossing Weart Glacier guided by Jeremy and myself. We apparently lurched quite a bit and learned that it can be prevented by picking a point in the distance as reference point instead of chatting along and looking at the snow. Some discussions were had about the names of the mountains surrounding us, but eventually we figured out how to best use map and compass and successfully identified all peaks. John Clarke had called glaciers the highways of the mountains and he was right. We quickly ended up on the other side beside Lesser Wedge and the Spearhead Range appeared in our visual field. A bunch of pictures and route discussions later, we were ready to descent 1000m to Billygoat Lake. This descent was heinous for everyone and brutal for Cassandra who has just started skiing a year ago. Extended tree skiing on heavy slush got all of us quite tired and we were happy about a long break at the side of the lake. We decided not to go up all the way to the Spearhead, but only ascend to a small lake at the foot of Tremor glacier. We set up camp and build a large snow-wall just in case the weather turns for worse.
On day four, we quickly headed up towards Tremor glacier and the Spearhead Traverse. After ascending the wrong valley, we crossed a moraine and were back on track. We had a short lunch break on the glacier and soaked up the views – it was the last ones for while. The clouds came fast and engulfed us as soon as we appeared on the ridge. It was difficult to decided what to do; this was already the fourth day of our trip, civilization was only a short distance away and the weather for the last days might be disgusting. So we decided to do what every person would do and continued our trip. Sam skilfully navigated us through the whiteout; apparently he had done the whiteout-Spearhead before. This was my first time skiing without seeing anything and the experience was interesting. One doesn’t know where the snow ends and the air starts, so a little bit of vertigo is normal. I still tried to get some turns in, which turned out to be a dumb idea, because I sort of twisted my knee and had troubles with it for the rest of the trip. We continued over the Spearhead traverse and descended down the Naden glacier towards the MacBride traverse. After about two hours of skiing unknown glaciated terrain in a whiteout, we finally were below the clouds and enjoyed a bit of valley-skinning in the rain. We set up tents and disappeared to sleep as soon as possible.
The morning was accompanied by more rain and wet snow, so we decided to ignore the first wake-up chat and read/sleep/lie for some more time. It was then, when I got really jealous of Jeremy’s luxury sleeping arrangement; I was cold. Lucky enough, the rain turned into snow and stopped completely around 9:30am. We quickly broke down camp and headed out towards Mt. Nivalis. Few meters beside camp, we stumbled upon a very fresh cougar-track with quite large paw-prints, but we didn’t see the animal. Annie and Cassandra guided us over a steep moraine to the ridge separating us from Nivalis. The clouds came in and out during the day, but it wouldn’t be fair to call it a whiteout. We made good time, but still decided we wanted to navigate Nivalis glacier with better sight. It was one of the cruxes and no-one of us had been there before. The ski down to treeline was pleasant and we found a good campsite close to running water. As soon as we set up camp, the clouds disappeared and awe-inspiring views onto the rugged Nivalis glacier opened up. We discussed the potential route for the next day and spent the rest of the evening with dinner, chocolate and playing contact.
When we woke up, we got surprised by blue skies and quickly got ready to hop over the Nivalis glacier and the ridge. We didn’t calculate the clouds rising up from the valley, so we got surprised by short-whiteouts on the way up. Funny enough, the clouds always surrounded us just when we got ready to take a group picture with the glacier. Jeremy guided us the steep moraine towards the glacier and I took over for the actual crossing. Route finding was straight forward and it was the first time I had to do that on a glacier, good practise. We circumnavigated some crevasses, but the glacier was tamer than anticipated. When we reached the ridge, we had some amazing views of Mt Nivalis and the Misty traverse came into sight. We started the ski down to the large south side of Nivalis glacier which was supposed to be an easy ski. Sam went first and got surprised by the appearance of an unanticipated crux. The glacier had retreated a lot more than anticipated, and a short steep ski section on sun-exposed snow separated us from it. As soon as Sam entered the slope, he triggered half of the hill. I took a place on the side of the hill, covered by a large rock above me and directed the traffic, so everyone skis down one by one. Waiting for everyone to go down was quite exciting, since I saw plenty of natural avalanches coming down to my left and right. Jeremy went just before me and triggered the other half and I only saw a slide moving down before he skied on top of the debris. I went down last and everyone gathered at the bottom on the long and flat glacier. We skied to the end of the glacier and held a little pow-wow about the plans for the day. The decision was to continue up to the ridge underneath Flood Creek to reduce the time of the ski out the next day. It was around 4pm and we decided that the snow on the steep hill is about to get harder again. Skinning up was interesting to say the least. We walked very spaced out and slipping off the skinning track triggered small wet-slides. We passed a lot of avalanche debris, which gave us good rest positions, as it has already slid. The skin up turned out to be quite strenuous and steep and we all were quite happy to have reached the ridge, especially now the snow hardened out and felt less sketchy. We continued skinning till we reached an unnamed bump, which allowed us to set up the most amazing camp ever. 360 degree views of beautiful mountains.
Jeremy thankfully woke us up at sunrise on the last day and we had an amazingly faffy and worthwhile morning. The sun slowly emerged over the ridge and started warming us up. I ran around in my sleeping bag aka banana costume because I saved on clothing weight since I carried my bag anyways. We had tea and warm breakfast and I did an alpine-Yoga sun salutation as soon as the sun was fully up. After the sun got warm enough, we packed our gear and started the ski out led by Frank. Skiing down the ridge was mostly uneventful except once the side we skied decided to be over and to turn into a drop. Sam somehow managed to get stuck and struggled in a hole while bootpacking back up to the ridge. We continued to ski along the ridge and down through the trees. In some sections, the snow changed from crust to slow slush, which made the skiing quite interesting. We soon reached the logging road and got rewarded by another 1.5km of snow, which greatly reduced the slog out. The final 6km on the slogging road passed fast, there was just enough alder to prevent us from getting bored, but not enough to turn it into proper suffering. When we reached the car, Sam wondered that there wasn’t enough suffering and got worried that something will happen to the cars (spoiler alert: everything went smoothly).
Sam and Annie went to get the second car that was parked at our alternate exit road and Jeremy, Frank and I went for a dip in Tsuwasus creek in the meantime. So good to have water running around your body after 7 days in the snow. Frank couldn’t be bothered to put his pants back on, so he went for a wild-west casino style barrel suit made from his sleeping pad. This turned out especially entertaining when we got a hitchhiker to join our car. The other group from whom we had the second car, left a 6er of beer and some chips in the trunk. For some mystical reasons, the beer was still cold and it was just so darn tasty. Filled with those goodies and considering our clothing, we decided to not go for a burger at Mile 1 and went straight back to the trailhead at Mt. Currie to pick up our cars. They were fine except a horde of mice had decided to celebrate a big bagel party in my car and to thank me with a lot of pellety left-overs. After some more beers that had waited in Jeremy’s and my car, we distributed the five of us over the three cars we had and returned back home to Vancouver.
All in all, I had an amazing trip of purely type 1 fun, though some of us might have occasionally entered short sections of type 2. Again, big thanks to Sam for making this trip possible to all of us and to introduce us to this kind of long trip. This wasn’t the last traverse I have done.