Time in the mountains can be a lot of things. It can be time for self reflection, time pushing the limits of your will and wit, and other high-minded nonsense of the sort. Other times, when the tides of ego are low, and the cups runneth over with stoke, time in the mountains is simply a hell of a lot of fun. The 2020 not-so-beginner “introduction” to backcountry part 2 was one such time.
We began our adventure, as many before us had done, at The Blue Moose in Hope. We sat down for coffees and breakfast burritos and got ourselves acquainted. Genuine smiles all around – a good sign. Just under an hour later we were suiting up at the trailhead off the Zopkios exit at the Coquihalla summit. At the behest of our trip leader, Mike Cancilla, we set about a brief gear check, followed by an open discussion as to each person’s limitations and intentions pertaining to the trip. The responses suited the stated goals for the intro-level trip, building confidence with backcountry decision-making, improving up-track skills and fitness, etc. Tabea Stephan, still recovering from an epic incident last summer at Lake Lovelywater, spoke on her limitations regarding the injuries she sustained on that trip. The rest of the gang were thankfully in good working order, and able to offer Tabea support if any were to be necessary (spoiler, it wasn’t, she persisted through it the whole weekend like a beast). On the way out, into the grey cloudy beyond, we set one final lofty intention – to find sunshine in them there hills despite the winter storm headed our way that night. On this front, we did not expect success.
After a brief faff session trying to find the trailhead for all the snow, we set off on our way into the trees around 9:30am. Shortly thereafter, we realized we had ended up on the wrong side of the creek. No matter, with some careful risk-assessment and a can-do attitude we mounted an entirely underwhelming creek crossing about 300m up the trail. Undoubtedly the best kind of creek crossing in the winter. We then completed our beacon check and were off to the races. After some rough struggles (particularly from novices like myself) getting acquainted with the tighter kick-turns of the ascent we were really making moves. Around 12:00pm we had arrived at our campsite and set about making our home for the weekend. Tent pads were stomped out, cozy canvas cottages were erected, and a masterfully-crafted camp kitchen (complete with tarp roof) was prepared for the ensuing lunch. We shared a nosh, remarking on the incredibly high ratio of camp stoves to people and the waste of weight that entailed. Ultimately, we settled on being thankful for over preparedness being our greatest burden.
Mike warned of the brutal winds which we would soon be encountering as we trekked the ridge over to the base of Needle Peak, but were pleasantly surprised to find the winds remarkably calm. As we made our way, just over the peak, the elusive glimmer of sunshine toyed with our emotions as we slogged through the alpine fog. Along the way, Mike offered answers to our multitudinous questions regarding the avalanche hazards apparent in the area (though there were very few major concerns afoot). We discussed the apparent wind slab which had been called for in the avy forecast, and noted that its influence only loomed large on the opposite side of the from where we intended to drop in. A relatively short hike later, we found ourselves standing at the base of the final scramble up to the peak. We tabled the idea of attempting the summit in favour of pursuing some hard-earned powdery turns. The slope looked *chef’s kiss*, open and pristinely untouched. As if orchestrated by the gods themselves, the clouds broke and the sun’s light prevailed, giving us awesome lighting for our first descent. And while the pristine powder of our dreams turned out to be not but a sprinkle of dust on a thick bed of crust, we still shared many a wholehearted “yeeeeeeeeew!” on the way down. We headed up for one more lap, switching leads to give everyone a shot at fresh tracks, and the clouds continued to hold off to provide us with a truly picturesque evening lap in the waning sunlight. We made once more for the ridge and clicked on our headlamps to light the way for a brisk nighttime cruise to our encampment. We enjoyed dinner together, and reflected on our intentions for the day, fully satisfied at having achieved full send on all fronts. Mike cracked a backpack beer, and Ross Campbell shared some whiskey. After preparing some hot water bottles to keep extra warm through the night, we caught some well earned sleep around 11:00pm.
We awoke the next day, at the exceedingly casual hour of 9:00am, to a thick blanket of fresh pow covering our campsite. With more snow coming down at quite a pace, we were thankful for the shelter of the tarp during our breakfast preparations. After breakfast, as we made for the ridge, we were overtaken by another pair of skiers who were out for the day. They were headed in the same direction but had a bit more gumption in their stride so we were happy to let them bye. Shortly thereafter we encountered them once more, battered back by the apparently resurgent ridge winds which Mike had warned us of the previous day. We decided that we were better prepared than our compatriots, fully kitted out with goggles and buffs, and made our attempt at the ridge. We did not make it far. The winds quickly proved to be more than we were willing to take on, and so we decided to make for some laps on the west facing slope. The additional ~20cm of snow which had fallen over night made for some truly epic laps. After our first lap Tabea decided that she would prefer not to make another hike for the day, and as we were only a short distance from camp, and already up on the ridge line away from any dangerous avy terrain we agreed that it would be safe enough to let her go alone while the rest of us enjoyed another rad one for the books.
After another cozy meal in our homely kitchen tent, we broke camp and made for the cars around 4:00pm. After what ended up being arguably the best lap of the day on the way down the ski out, we hiked a short distance back along the highway back to our cars. The overnight snow had buried the cars in pretty well, but with the buzz of our collective stoke still there to push us though we made a collective effort to dig out a path for each vehicle. We were out of there right around 6:00pm. All in, everything went off without a hitch, and everyone came out with a weekend’s worth of great memories. Couldn’t have asked for more!