Day 9 and we have skied ourselves into a trap. The temperature keeps rising, creating unstable snow. Skiing by night has been the only option. A layer of stable ice that freezes overnight called ‘crust recovery’ is our lifeline to moving forward. Today is the first day without a crust recovery and every south facing slope is collapsing.
Months ago, Daniel Kliger and I decided to attempt a ski traverse from Vancouver to Pemberton. The days of preparation seem far away as we watch bus-sized chunks of ice fall off Thunderclap Glacier and wet slide avalanches self-trigger. We have just spent the last 3 days in our tent waiting for a weather window to get over a col and down a valley and into Tuwasus creek. Convincing ourselves the area is stabilizing, we make a push up. At the col, the valley below is socked-in with fog, but we aren’t turning back. As we ski down, it clears and we are hit with a terrifying realization: both opposing wall-like faces above us have slid (or avalanched). We are now navigating through snapped adult trees ground up with rock and dirt; we bounce over detached cornices and other debris. Exposed, vulnerable, and not wasting time, we approach a wooded area and keep to the original plan. We have to follow this creek, pass Mt. Sir Richard, and find our buried food cache. The creek, which we hoped would still be frozen, is now ragging and unpassable. An overwhelming sense of failure hits us.
When planning a trip, you’re constantly imagining scenarios. You select tools and objects that will help get you out of these imagined situations. Experience helps here -- as you think on times when a trip went sideways and either wishing for equipment or glad you remembered.
The wildcard is yourself. You can’t pack a stable, calm, calculating leader when planning routes and selecting equipment. Risk tantalizes you when packing; you think, ‘I wonder what situations we’ll find ourselves in, what problems we’ll have to solve, what hard decisions we’ll have to make.’ My future self is always bolder than my present self.
In the prison of a raging creek, we discuss options. We have a 30 km slog down the creek’s fork exiting at a logging camp, back out where we came in, or call search and rescue (SAR). To complicate our decision making, we have gone over our planned food and have started to reserve our meager leftovers of cereal and soup. If we plan to wait until another crust recovery, which could be days, how much do we eat per day? The unknown makes me sick and anxious. Quickly the slog is off the table, and the situation hadn’t yet become ‘life-or-limb’ for a SAR rescue. We decide to wait, and watch our thermometer. Waiting for an unknown time is painful and becomes an unnatural break from our typically over-planned work days. Time moves by like stress dreams and a powerful feeling of selfishness attacks over both of us: ‘Why do I do this to my parents?’ and ‘What was I thinking?!’ The realization while waiting for the temperature to hit that emancipating number is that risk hardly only affects you - it affects everyone you know. Everyone who cares about you, who likes your stories, your presence, who you make laugh and feel comforted. If you take risks, consider the total impact. Consider hurting others.
I wrestle with sleep and this emotion, but then hear a beep that launches me out of my bag. It’s our window, and we feverishly breakdown camp. 1AM: a clear sky and a full moon guide us back up, tip-toeing around sleeping giant piles of debris. We clear the col and work the ridge, the sun rises, we keep moving. We hit Greenmatle glacier, pass the Three Bears, then more ridges, cols and glades. 17 hours later we break and set-up camp at the top of a logging road. In the morning, we will descend to Skookumchuck and meet our friends, beers, and sandwiches waiting.