Glacier school 2020 John Wragg’s Perspective

Out the door and into my vehicle the rain began to patter from above, the forecast for rain was proving to be fulfilled. It was only in line with traditional Voc Glacier instructional trips. passengers in tow we headed to Cypress Peak. Meeting at the turn off parking lot, we cruised up Roe Creek FSR. Brutus my Rav 4, kept up with the 4×4’s without any problems. Apprehension arose when we reached the steep rocky incline on the road, however upon learning that my 2wd made it up with no undercarriage damage the week before, our convoy ascended quickly and happily.

The air was damp, but the rain was starting to hold off. Weary of any impending rain we kept our suits of goretex on for much of the ascent. Upon divvying the group glacier gear, the honour of carrying the rope came upon me, 6-7lbs of extra glacier safety made this the heaviest pack I’ve carried on any trip. Ignorant of the steepness of Cypress’s talus slopes I carried it to the very top. This honourable burden only made me stronger and more powerful in the long run… jokes on everyone else with the lighter packs…

Spotting the creek after the FSR slog, relief filled us as the water proved manageable for a crossing unlike the previous year. The talus afterwards slowed us considerably despite the tenacity and bullheaded endurance of our youthfulness. Alastair White lead the charge and the fordings of the creeks.  We couldn’t see ahead of us, the fogs dancing and playful movements only gave small glimpses of the path ahead. The groups dog Wookie, was unphased by the conditions, bounding up and down the talus like she had ingested a couple caffeine pills. On the difficult sections she mocked us by running, through and around our legs displaying why four leg drive is better than two.

Black huckleberries and alpine blueberries were the bandage to my straining muscles. Deadlines be damned, I will pick the fattest berries on each and every bush within site for my own delight, thank you very much. They were particularly juicy and plump if you’d like to know.

At the top of the talus the mist spared us of the infinite climb by revealing the historic campground to our right. At least what we thought should be the campground. We were the last group up yet no one was even present. A minute later an orange helmet appeared from the glacier’s entrance above the campground. Andrew Wilson and Mirko Moeller’s group was descending from the buttress above. The mist having completely obscured the campground from them they advanced all the way to the glacier beyond the grounds.

Competition arose in our eyes and we hustled  eager for the flattest and smoothest spot of earth for some reprieve. We were ready to instigate combat should the other groups dare to contest our rights to the ground we had staked. We took the rocky outcropping whereas the other two took the greener (IE marshier) terrain for their own camp. The sprawl of kaleidoscopic tents filled the mountainside within minutes. If I had closed my eyes for a minute longer than I did upon setting up and laying down on my sleeping pad, I would have been out like a light for the rest of the day.

I peered over to Alastair’s set up right beside mine, the wind driving forth, the moist mist dampening the mountainside, I marvelled at his shelter. What madness, or brilliance drove him to this choice, only God knows. His thin yellow tarp waved and caught the wind like a sail as he struggled to set up his lines on the rocks. Would those flimsy green lines even hold? The smile of determination and ‘what have I done’ look filled his face as he glanced over to me. I preemptively made space for him in my two person as we feared the worst case.

No rest for the wicked however as the instructors whipped us students up the glacier. I jest. In part. After brief instruction, we set foot on blue ice. Ah the creek and crack of crampon on ice, my first true glacier experience. It felt natural, the axe an extension of my arm, the crampons like claws I’ve had all my life, I felt alive prancing on ice. The sounds of rocks tumbling down the glacier and the gaping crevasses quickly wakened me to the darker reality of glacier travel. We sought for snow on the glacier,  excluding the negligible pockets there was no snow. How would we get to practice self arresting? 50 meters away perched upon the glacier we spotted Natalie Maslowski’s group on the only worthwhile snow slope just at the toe of the glacier. We made a bee line. The firn atop the glacier halted us in our tracks. Opting for the safe choice our leaders turned back to take the long route for us noobies. Just as we had arrived at the slope, Natalie’s group had just finished up instruction. Crisis averted, we could use our axes for their intended purpose…

The slope still sucked big time, but it was all we got.

By 5:00-6:00 PM we were ravenous, my dinner in anticipation for stove debilitating rain, was hotdog buns (because they were cheaper than flat bread, Compliments chips (because they were cheaper than pringles), tuna packets (because I had some), and Mcdonalds sauce packets from last year (because they needed to be used at some point). Bone smack the teeth, this was a meal I wasn’t looking forward to… I should have just packed 2 more bags of chips for an easy 3000 calories. Alas it wasn’t that bad, Wookie sure wanted to eat all my tuna. I couldn’t spread the sauce onto my buns so I licked the sauce off my spoon and then took a bite of my tunadog. It was… dinner, I guess. Mulled wine more than made up for it. Note to myself don’t use tuna packets, they just make your bag reek of fish, hello bears???

Miraculously the weather was in Alastair’s favour that night. His yellow tarp lived to tell the tale. Think of the weight savings!

Day 2 of glacier instruction was spent building anchors and hauling. The weather was clearer and the smoke nonexistent. Hallelujah. How I would have just spent my whole week up there just breathing. We were the last group on the glacier and the last one off. Just as we began to pack up camp the other groups were already departing. The mist once again rolled in for our descent. No vision on the way up, no vision on the way down, we stumbled down blindly following ridgelines and moraines towards the sound of water for the first of two water crossings. We spied Andrew’s group at the waterfall crossing, we thought we made good time, however attempting the steep descent towards them proved challenging managing a party of 7 with rockfall and differing experience levels.

Fatigue began setting in as slips and trips became more common. Crossing some boulders Alastair managed to get his leg stuck between a couple boulders. With a heave and a ho, together Alastair and I moved the boulder enough for him to get his leg out. The story of the fellow that broke and sawed off his arm underneath a boulder came right away to both of us.

At some point further down Alastair began telling us the story about how on one glacier school trip a Vocer with a poop bag strapped to the outside of the pack had it sawed open as it was swinging and being cut open by their ice axe. In classic foreshadowing, the same thing happened to a member of our group, their poop bag pierced open by the pick of the axe. Fortunately no poop was spilled on their bag.

The FSR back to the cars was endless. The allure of chips in the backseat propelled me forward eager for salty goodness. At least Tricouni was popping, it looked too much like a dorito, you can tell my mind was on chips. My car mates who were in another group that came way before us ended up waiting about an hour for us to make it back to the cars so that I could get us going. Besides a motorcycle that was pulled over and caused a bit of a jam after Britannia mine, the drive back to Vancouver was uneventful. How I like it. I always think back to my trip to Whitecap and how a truck stuck in the ditch made us wait till 11pm before we even passed Pemberton… After filling up gas at 1.199 per litre at my local station (What a steal compared to Squamish’s 1.299) , it was a quick shower, dinner and off to bed for a 5:30 AM work start.

Thanks to Alastair and Kelly for leading our group and taking care of us on the glacier. Thanks to Ross Campbell who adopted me for his dryschool group as well.

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One Response to Glacier school 2020 John Wragg’s Perspective

  1. Melissa Bernstein says:

    Another excellent trip report! It sounds like you were focused more on food than actual glacier skills, though. Berries, tuna packets, and chips all sound pretty tasty.

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