Attacked from behind at Red Heather and the mashed-potato snow–Dec 19-20, 2015

Probably if I’d had some challenge and excitement at any time during my first fifteen years of life I probably wouldn’t have got into nearly as much trouble in school and been a lot happier. I’d always vowed that things would be different when I had a kid. With that in mind going up to Red Heather and snow-caving with a seven-year-old seemed like a reasonable thing to do.

We had a bit of a slow start as we had a friend couch surfing and trying to get out the door without waking her up was a bit of a challenge. If there’s one good way to make sure that getting snow chains on takes too long it’s having to fend off accusations from your kid that you’re taking too long with your snow chains.

When we got up to the parking lot I told Devlin to just head up the trail while I had my gear faff. He was almost at the first switchback when I caught up with him which I thought was pretty good. The rest of the hike was a long way from fast but it wasn’t painful waiting for him so I thought that was pretty good.

We found a log. It had the remains of a chainsaw in it which I thought was special.

Chainsaw Bones
Chainsaw Bones

We stopped for lunch at Brandvold Falls. I cooked up the flavour of instant crud that Devlin always wants to eat and we were quickly surrounded by Whisky Jacks.

Whisky Jack
Whisky Jack Plotting our Demise

When Devlin was eating his bowl of pasta a whisky jack landed on his head. He immediately put his chest down over his bowl and encircled it with arm thereby preventing any ingress of whisky jacks which I thought was a pretty veteran move. The whisky jacks decided that the French crew beside us were easier targets and landed on some dude’s head. He didn’t know the drill and put his hands up it the air whereupon his sandwich was confiscated.

After lunch we met Roland and family coming down. I commented on the chainsaw and Roland told me that he watched the chainsaw crew get it stuck this morning. I found that intriguing.

There is a Lot of Snow
There is a Lot of Snow

Once we made it up to the warming hut I buried a pack with a beacon and Devlin found it eventually but I’m still pretty sure I want someone else around if I’m buried. We celebrated this muted success with Swiss fondue. One of the other people in the hut asked what fondue mix I was using which I felt was an interesting question. We revelled in molten cheese until well past dark and then I went out to start digging our cave. Devlin remained inside because he was partying with other random people that were hanging out in the hut.

I started digging the hole a bit off of the summer trail. It’s a reasonably sloped area, easy access to the outhouse but relatively low traffic. I’d seen other people snow cave there before so it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. After digging the hole and tunnelling in a ways I stuck my head up and saw a headlamp approaching from the East. I looked it at long enough that I was sure that it’d seem my ridiculously bright headlamp and went back to digging. A while later I stuck my head up again and it was closer, so I looked at it some more until I was satisfied that there was no way it couldn’t have seen me. I dug a bit and popped up one last time. The headlamp was ten metres away now. It looked bright so I could only assume that my very bright headlamp looked even brighter to it. Satisfied that it had to be aware of my presence I went down again.

I had my head and shoulders in the cave but my ass, in obnoxiously bright orange rain pants, was out of the cave and adding a splash of colour to the hole I was in. All of a sudden then was a snowshoe on my ass and then the dude fell on top of me, knocking the front of the snow cave down onto my upper body.

I waited for the dude to get off of me before chatting with him. And then I waited some more. I began to really wonder if the dude knew he was on someone.


“Uh, what happened?”

“Well you stepped on my bum and then you wrecked my snow cave.”

“Uh, but this is the trail.”

“Well, not really…”

“But my Google says it is.”

From there we had a discussion about how in the winter you normally follow the marked winter trail, how you’re not supposed to sleep in the warming hut, that I wasn’t even on the summer trail and that he’d just aimed for my tracks while somehow not observing the hole. I also asked him if he saw my headlamp and he said that the did but that he thought it was “something else”. I didn’t grill him on what he thought “else” might entail.

Just so that we’re all on the same page, I didn’t gloss over the part where he got off me. He was still on my ass and the remains of the snow cave were still on my upper body during the discussion.

After we wrapped things up there was a long awkward period. Eventually I decided that he just wasn’t going to get off of me so I decided to just slowly rise while lifting him out of the hole. When I started to get up he started making a commotion and told me to wait because he was going to get off himself.

Then he didn’t get off

“Uh, I’d like to get on with re-digging this snow cave at some point so I have a place to sleep tonight.”

If you’re starting to think that I’ve really jumped the shark here you need to remember that I’m not even making this up.

“Just give me a minute.”

I gave the dude a fairly large number of minutes. Eventually he verified that punching through more of the cave and pushing on my head wasn’t going to get him out the hole so he turned around and reoriented himself so that he was standing on my ass instead of being flopped over it and got himself out of the hole. He started walking away from the hut so I told him he was going away from the hut. He asked how far it was and I told him that it was twenty metres and that he could see it. He replied that he couldn’t see it.

“Well I can see it and it’s definitely that way.”

He walked in the right direction for about ten metres and then turned ninety degrees. I did some hooting and hollering and he turned towards that hut again. I don’t know if that’s because he heard or saw the hut, but either was he was probably going to make it without dying.

I dug for a while and then went into the hut to see how Devlin was doing. He seemed happy and was spouting off about some board game. The people in the hut asked how the cave saw going. I looked around and did not see the dude, so I assumed he was on the john or got lost or something and said “well, I was attacked.” Then I told the story. Then someone asked “do you mean that dude?” He was there, hidden by one of the tables, engaged in some gear faff. I felt kind of like an ass, but not so much because he did what he did and I didn’t use any judgemental language as I relayed what happened.

A while later I went over to him and told him not to worry about what happened but for his own good I’d really recommend looking where he was was going, especially in the mountains in a snow storm at night, but in general as well. He rebutted that he was looking where he was going. I didn’t really have a tactful response to that so I let it go at that. I went out and built a fence of poles, skis and shovels around the cave such that someone’s white-and-red cane would definitely find one before walking into the cave.

Once the snow cave was dug Devlin asked me about animals that might eat us at night. I told him that the bears really wouldn’t anyways but that they’re hibernating now so all we had to worry about was whisky jacks.

“But what about the killer weasel?”

“There’s no killer weasel.”

“Then why does it say that”

Devlin was pointing at the hut door where someone had carved “Beware the Killer Weasel”

Bed Time
Bed Time

There was a lot of snow in the night. I had left the door open in case Devlin had an emergency run to the john in the night. That was the wrong decision because every now and then there’d be a gust of wind that take some snow onto my face. Devlin was a little further in and on the sheltered side so he was fine. The quick escape was for naught as the entrance drifted completely over anyways.

After Burrowing Out
After Burrowing Out

I noticed that something else had burrowed out in the morning as well.

Little Snow Cave
Little Snow Cave

The snow was fairly heinous to attempt to ski in. It had a relatively soft wind slab over a soft but dense layer. Skiing down from the hut was 90% flailing around trying to move and only a bit actually skiing. The snow would form crumple lines coming from my ankles and extending out in a fan in front of me past the end of my skis and I’d come to a stop, pull myself free and repeat. Devlin thought this sucked and I agreed with him. It wasn’t wet cement snow, but it was still sub-optimal. Devlin called it mashed-potato snow which I felt was appropriate. He was pretty happy when we met the Sunday crowd going up and could ski down their up tracks.

Escaped from the Mashed-Potato Snow
Escaped from the Mashed-Potato Snow

Then we decided that packed snow was where it was at and went to Whistler.

This entry was posted in Ski, Trip Reports and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Attacked from behind at Red Heather and the mashed-potato snow–Dec 19-20, 2015

  1. Roland Burton says:

    I didn’t actually watch the chain saw getting stuck but I did notice that it was stuck. It was so far through the log that I assumed they had properly tried to finish the cut from under the log, as anybody who had ever used a chainsaw would do. Maybe the Parks people are so short of funds that they can’t afford to hire somebody who has used a chain saw before. On the way down we verified that it was cut from above the log, guaranteeing the cut would pinch.

Leave a Reply