Ringing in the New Year
“Be safe, but not so safe that you don’t have any fun.” – My Dad
Saying goodbye to 2015 – an excuse to party, right?
In our case, the New Year is just another reason to take Hobo on an adventure – across the ferry to the mainland for some pow wow fun with some buddies. Sitka stayed behind this time at her favourite cozy den with my friends, who quite frankly, she might love more than me (thanks Joy and Gabriel!)
We made the mad dash to the ferry, squeaked onto the 5 o’clock, and headed through the dreaded downtown Vancouver. We met Justin and John-Mark at Starbucks in Squamish, all smiles and jokes from the very start. This is going to be fun.
We drive up to Lillooet Lake and spend the night so we can get an early start at backcountry cabin finding. Justin and JM are our very first house guests in Hobo! We all cram in, laughing at the hilarity of it all. We all gather around Dan’s laptop, drooling over Google Earth images of mountains to shred and peaks to bag. I love my friends. We set-up “the guest room” (which simply means popping the top), crank the heat, and hit the hay.
It’s morning! Time to explore!
(Back-country cabins are “secret” – at least they are word-of-mouth as far as their whereabouts. So for the sake of sticking with the rules, all cabins will remain nameless.)
Our plan is to head to a “new-for-us” cabin in The Duffey Lake area. We suit up, and skin into the cabin within 3 hours. The cabin is always such a welcoming sight – shelter! warmth! fire stove! heaven.
We devour lunch in the cabin, then head out for 1 lap. We take a rather steep, round-about way to the saddle, but regardless, powder was devoured and pillows were hit. Such a blast.
Upon arriving back at our woodland home, we see that two others have arrived – some wonderful folks from Vancouver who knew the guy who they built the cabin in honour of. One of them was even heavily involved in constructing the cabin. We are so very grateful for the heart, vision, and dedication of the crews who make this mountain havens. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
We eat candy. We eat appies. We eat more candy. We eat dinner. We eat chocolate. We drink tea.
Day 2 in the backcountry is full of ambition and determination. Today we summit Mount Duke! The conditions are primo – blue bird skies, safe avi conditions, and a relatively easy route to the top. There’s even a chute from the summit that is toying with us…begging us to come and play. We decide to take a closer look at the top.
The chute is TIGHT. Tight and poorly covered. Despite half of our crew seeming fairly stoked to ski her, we find our group divided, and backcountry protocol is that no one is ever forced to do something that they don’t feel comfortable with. We’ll ski down a different way.
We are just 100 metres vertical shy of the summit. All the stands between us and the top is a sketchy, cliffy scramble. I’m feeling queasy just looking up the thing. Dan decides to push onward without his gear to see if there’s a safe way up. Justin, JM and I wait at the top of the chute, working on our suntans (just kidding).
Dan comes back 30 minutes later, declaring that there are some tough cliffs ahead, and being as we don’t have rope, it’s a no go. Dang. Maybe next time…?
There’s really no way down other than the dreaded chute, or the same way we ascended up the back side, so we do some mediocre skiing for the first little bit, until we’re back on the other side. We chose some medium angled skiing with some fun jumps and pillows for the boys.
No summit today, but no loss. Backcountry skiing is always an adventure, and often does not go according to plan.
The following day, the boys get up early for a quick and fast lap up to the saddle. I sleep in a little longer, write in my journal, melt snow for water, and keep the fire going. Justin and JM have to head back to Vancouver for NYE festivities with their ladies, but Dan and I are staying out here for a couple more days.
We part ways – the boys go down, we head back up. Our plan is to link our trip to another backcountry cabin that we visited twice last winter – a tiny, cozy, fairly unknown cabin just a valley away. We skin back up the saddle, loaded down with our heavy bags, but still smiling and feeling alive.
We are blessed with yet another blue-bird day, with incredible mountain views. It’s moments like this where I truly feel alive. Away from the hustle and bustle of city life…into the slow, methodical rhythm of my skis making their way up the mountain. One step at a time…swish, swish…slow and steady.
We make it to the saddle in no time and begin descending down the other side of Duke Mountain. The trees get tight. We press on. The snow gets wet. We ski on. The snow gets SOAKING wet; so wet that the bottom of my skis are CAKED with it. Crap.
We stop, scrape the snow off, and press on. Caked again. Crap. We stop, rub some wax on my bases, and try again. Now we’re moving. More tight trees. Skirt around a cliff. Put our skins back on and work up the mountain. Take the skins off and try skiing again. Another cliff. Dang. Skins back on…
So on and so forth. FOR HOURS.
Daylight fades. My morale is GONE. I’m bawling like a baby. We’re hours from the cabin we came from, and hours away from the cabin we’re heading to. I’m sweaty, but getting cold with the fading light.
We’ll have to camp. I have a massive, most likely irrational, fear of winter camping. I’m not sure why, but I completely freak out when I have to camp in sub zero temperatures. While I did jumping jacks in my ski boots to stay warm that evening, it dawned on me that “being cold” may be my biggest fear in my life. I’m so afraid of cold that I will SWEAT while doing winter sports, all in an attempt to stay warm, which ultimately results in me freezing due to cold sweat. Not smart, I know, but welcome to my illogical logic.
I gather firewood, crying hysterically, while Dan sets up the tent. I put on all the down I brought along – 2 down jackets and 1 pair of down pants – and crawl into my down sleeping bag.
I’m terrified. I am convinced that I will die. Dan comforts me. I cry some more.
We melt some water for dinner and to rehydrate, bunker into our beds, say our “Happy New Year”s and fall asleep by 9pm.
I didn’t die! It’s a new day! A BEAUTIFUL new day!!
We manage to continue to side hill our way along the ridge with our skins on, heading up when we hit another cliff area, until we finally find ourselves in a more-or-less open chute. I can finally relax. We have made it out of the cliffed area! We look up at where we spent the last way-too-many-hours, and notice that there are cliffs scattered everywhere. Not the best route to have descended, but we made it. I can breathe.
We make our way along the gorgeous frozen lake, reflect on our mistakes, and make a game plan for the rest of our trip. We are knackered. Tired. Done.
We had planned to stay another night at the cabin, but decide against it at this point. Hobo seems much too inviting, and the prospect of poutine and showers is all too inviting. We decide to head out the 13km logging road to the van.
We get down to Lake Lillooet, stick out our thumbs, and catch the first truck to Hobo, who was another 8kms down the road. What an adventure! What a way to feel alive!
Happy New Year!
Be safe folks. Have fun and take some risks. Dream big, and live the dream.
Love to all!! – T