My first ski traverse: or how I learned to ski ballet and had a rad weekend with five amigos!

Powder Mountain Horseshoe - Clemens

Heading up onto Powder Mountain. Photo: Clemens

April 9-10th, 2016

Trip participants: Clemens Adolphs, Elliott Skierszkan, Martin Cermak, Mirko Moeller, Jeremy Leal, and myself, Kasia Celler

I’m not into making large goals lately, so I wasn’t too ambitious for this winter. I thought to myself that it would be really nice to make some tele turns (first tele turns of the season: November 7th! check!) and afterwards, once I’d gotten an amazing ski season in, that it would be nice to do a ski traverse. I’ve been skiing for quite a long time, but mostly just in resorts, and only recently in the backcountry – well, but ski traverses always seemed quite epic to me, resulting in stunning pictures of little people on large expanses of snow or glacier – so, you see, I really wanted to do one myself. One could argue that ski traverses are a springtime thing (yes, it is now spring) – but since they involve skiing, they are still in my wintertime bucket.

The weather was turning for the beautiful and so I prodded Clemens a bit (nudge, nudge… wink, wink… traverse, traverse…). Freshly through his final PhD defense, he was tired, but eager to go. As it happened, Elliott posted the Powder Cap Horseshoe traverse on the trip agenda, and so we were set. Completing the group were Martin, Mirko and Jeremy (team photos courtesy of Elliott!).

The crew - photo: Elliott The crew (almost) jumping - photo: Elliott

The plan for the first day was to start at the dog sledding outfit at the beginning of the Callaghan Valley, and then (option 1) either go directly up to the Brandywine Glacier and then over and down to Powder Lake, or (option 2) go through the valley and up to Powder Lake. Day two would involve the Powder Mountain icecap, Banner pass, and then descent via the Solitude Glacier to Callaghan and back to the road via the XC ski trails.

Serenaded by the haunting howls of sled dogs, we geared up and started skinning right from the cars, despite worries that the warm spring weather would have already melted the logging roads bare. Feeling strong, happy, and ambitious, we opted for the longer option (option 1), and, at the end of the logging road, started in the direction of Brandywine Glacier.

Heading up through some beautiful old growth forest, we had some streams to cross, but luckily these crossings were not too exciting. Then, at some point, we came across a tree that had a bear in it. It leaped out of its tree hole, and scurried away. Shortly after, we came to a point with some stunning views, and then afterwards had lunch at Iditarod lake. According to the internet, the word Iditarod comes from the Ingalik Indian word, Haiditarod, which means “distant place”. Considering we managed to get there by lunchtime, it seems that this lake was not so distant from the cars. A butterfly joined us for the break.

River traverse - Clemens

Our first stream crossing. Photo: Clemens

After lunch came the ski ballet. The snow was quickly turning into very soft and slushy stuff and at the same time, we had some steep skinning to do to gain the ridge. Fortunately or unfortunately, my tele bindings do not have a free pivot, so instead of using the graceful kick-turn technique, I resorted to the V-triangle-fan method.

Once on the ridge, the views became truly spectacular: we could see the glacier surrounded by sparkling mountains. Our hearts began to beat faster.

Heading onto the glacier - photo: Jeremy

Heading onto the glacier. Photo: Jeremy

We put on harnesses, but opted not to rope up, and headed up the glacier and to the col. At this point, I think I had applied 60 SPF sunscreen already three times that day. There was not a cloud in the sky, and it was blazingly hot. Although we could see snowmobile tracks, we didn’t see any sleds, and had the entire place to ourselves.

First glimpse of Cayley - Clemens

First glimpse of Cayley. Photo: Clemens

At the col the views opened up again, with a stunning vista of Mt. Fee.

Mt Fee - Kasia

Mt. Fee. Photo: Kasia

A plan was made: ski around to a knob above the next glacier, the Powder Mountain ice cap, and then decide whether to camp there, or descend down and camp at its foot. The little knob turned out to be a beautiful sunny haven, with an amazing panorama and widescreen view of Cayley, so we decided to stop there. We even had some nice rocks to cook our dinners on, and a inviting patch of snow to sleep on. A platform was made, and after we ate and watched the sun set and the stars rise, we crawled into our sleeping bags. I tried to watch for shooting stars, but I didn’t manage to stay awake long enough.

Our rocky haven - Clemens

Our rocky haven. Photo: Clemens

Mountains - photo: Kasia

View from our rocky haven. Photo: Kasia

The next day a passing bird gave us our wake-up call at 6:15am, precisely between 6:00-6:30am, just as Elliott had requested. With that fortuitous start, it was clear it was going to be an amazing day.

Cooking up some breakfast - photo: Kasia

Cooking up some breakfast. Photo: Kasia

It started with a spicy descent down to the glacier. On the map it seemed that you could traverse across some slopes to maintain elevation. Jeremy started across, and the rest of us followed, but the slope became extremely steep and, in that morning hour, was very icy. After starting to traverse across, however, we were committed. And so gritting our teeth, hearts pounding and knees wobbling, we dug our edges in and tried to make it across as fast as possible. Afterwards, my legs felt like spaghetti and I questioned the reasonableness of traversing across that scary section just to maintain a few metres of elevation. We all agreed that if we would do it again, we would simply ski down to Powder Lake where the slope was not so steep, and then start skinning up the glacier from its base.

After this adrenaline rush, the gentle glacier was a true pleasure. Travelling under the towering majesty of Cayley, we headed towards Powder Mountain. With the sun beating down on us, it was a huge sweat fest. When we reached the flat summit of this mountain, we contemplated the other peaks around us, naming all that we could. Elliott took a panorama photo, and I think it would be cool if he were to label all the mountains and print it off.

An endless expanse of white - photo: Jeremy

An endless expanse of white. Photo: Jeremy

Admiring the view - photo: Martin

Admiring the view from Powder Mountain. Photo: Martin

Next came the ski down to the Powder Mountain ice cap. We flew down and then across the white expanse as fast as we could. Snowmobiles appeared on the horizon, like bad guys in a movie or annoying mosquitoes. We knew we could never outrun them.

After Banner pass, we were rewarded with an amazing spring ski down Solitude glacier and into the Callaghan Valley. At the top the snow was still firm, and then it turned to butter, and then to slush, but it was all fun. Down in the valley, we were quick to hit the cross-country ski runs, and started practicing our skate skiing technique. Some of us enjoyed this more than others. I was imagining I was Ole Einar Bjørndalen, Norwegian biathlete extraordinaire, “King of the Biathlon” and most-medaled athlete of the Olympic Winter Games. That guy is a cardiovascular beast! Still, despite the fun I was having, I was happy to find out that from the Callaghan Lodge we had not thir-TY kilometres to go, but a mere thir-TEEN.

Yes, and though the first kilometres through this incredibly scenic valley were mostly enjoyable, as time passed, I could feel the skin coming off of my feet in open sores. Some of the others had struggles too: Clemens had loads of skin glue goop on his skis, effectively making every up and downhill hard work, and Martin’s boots were starting to chew up his feet in an incredibly painful way. But with every step or slide, we came closer, and in this way, made it to the road. Shortly afterwards a large Suburban-type vehicle pulled up, Jeremy and I hopped into the trunk, and we got a ride back to our cars.

Getting a ride - photo: Elliott

Getting a ride! Happy not to have to walk those extra 4 kms… photo: Elliott

The evening ended at the Howe Sound Brew Pub, where we compared our glacier tans and burns.

Thanks to all for an amazing first traverse!

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2 Responses to My first ski traverse: or how I learned to ski ballet and had a rad weekend with five amigos!

  1. Elliott Skierszkan says:

    This was a five-star trip and thanks to you guys for awesome company, and Kasia for the entertaining TR.

    I’ll consider your request for the panorama with peak names noted and can work on that when I get back to Vancouver!

  2. Michael Cancilla says:

    Whew hew ! Sweet folks!

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