Tear Stained Skin Track & Pepper Filled Lungs
Edgy enough title for you?
In the lasted zine for March (wahoo, one year of spouting nonsense later!) A moment for that really. I'm grateful to have had an opportunity to put my energy into something like this when the alternative was a lot of stress, worry, and unknown. As a mountain rambler, I do feel quite fortunate that my world doesn't change immensely when I'm out of service, and I'm not actually sure I'd be living this way without that ultimate shift last year, so I appreciate all of you who take the time to check on how I'm just trying to figure things out.
I digress; time to talk about the big type two fun, suffer-fest I had the pleasure of experiencing.
The evening of February 20th, we convoyed our group of 5 down south a few hours to Castle Wildland Provincial Park. My boyfriend Kyle and I spent the first night in the van, Ben in his truck bed, Kevin and Gentry took the bold route and dug out a snow cave half heartedly protected with a tarp and a bit of gear to sleep in for the first night before Day 1. All of us got pelted and shaken around by the blizzarding winds, as you'd guess though, some of us more than others which made for a sluggish morning packing up the sleds, but the psych was still very much alive. Sleds stacked, ski's on, and off we were...for maybe half a meter before our sled tipped and would continue to tip for the next few kilometers and a little less for the rest of the day. A balancing act we unfortunately could not get situated. The snow was still whipping all day, and although not insanely cold (I figure it may have been around -8 to -10 which after the week of -40, was a treat) the wind did cut and the wind with snow made it feel like quite the epic.
We moved. Very. Slow. In the fall, Kyle and I had tracked through this valley and back in one day. 32km in 6-ish hours with a 5 am start. But we only had the heavy packs and no trail to break. Some sleds would shed pieces of wood, the heavier sleds would tip and topple over on weird corners or if you looked at it funny, surrounding trees would cling for dear life on any of our gear or us even. Fair, we were in their territory and I'm not sure the last time that they would have felt an ounce of affection, I'd be pretty desperate as well. 4 hours in and less than a quarter way there, I was starting to feel it. The rope attached to the sled had been digging in my hips, the pack had begun what I'd find later to be a blister on my tail bone, and the early signs of bruising start to show on my collar bones. Feet were fine though. At this point we sort of figured we would not be getting to the back of the valley in one day. Trucking on for another few hours until our grey surroundings started turning a tiny bit darker of a grey, it was time to find a spot to set up camp for the night.
Queue the sudden panic. Digging out our site, placing down pine branches, and setting up the canvas tent and wood stove. Organizing our gear and picking our spots through tight options, it had settled in. We weren't turning back, it was getting dark, I'm sore, tired, and scared of the cold. I feel like a huge baby, but not only was winter camping brand new for me, but I've never even backpacked, hiked overnight (sort of, unless you count hiking for sunrise starting at 11pm hiking overnight), amongst only starting most of these mountain activities in the past two years. Overwhelmed was a bit of an understatement. I think for big trips, or new experiences, or uneasy situations, it's immensely important to have someone around that is familiar. A small piece of home if I dare make it that cheddar...and for me that's my Nalgene!
Just kidding, it was 100% Kyle, while he was also learning something new, he had been much more collected and supportive which eased most early signs of panic.
So, we're back to 'why the heck are you doing this, it sounds uncomfortable and you obviously aren't having a good time'. And you're right! I was not...in the moment. I felt out of place and not cut out. We set up camp though, got the fire going, got some food started and a few things organized, and everything felt okay. Just a bunch of kids around a wood stove with blueberry whiskey, in a canvas tent, out in the middle of nowhere during a blizzard. And then it was the morning.
Cold! Sore! Holy heck, we have another day of this, but now we have to pack up our temporary home. Less scary, but the comfort of the previous (albeit rather sleepless) evening had worn off. Off we went for round two, and I'll save the repeated details of route finding, sled toppling, and body bruising. I'll just say I looked like this majority of the time.
It wasn't any quicker today, but instead of gaining the very end of the valley, we stopped a bit earlier this day to take some extra time in setting up a camp for the next two nights, and that way, only need to bring limited gear for the day tomorrow to scope out any ice to climb.
Day 3, ice! Small(er) packs stuffed with gear and emergency supplies, we split into pre-planned groups according to the grade of the ice each group were after. The day prior we had started to notice a lot of 'whumph'ing in the snow beneath us as the snow pack settled. A bit unsettling on flat terrain, sort of like you're whole body just dropped an inch, anything steep though and it's a pretty bad sign and an early tell of a possible avalanche. The clear morning quickly turned into more snow fall, while pretty, didn't help with the overhead hazard. A few of us had caught up with the first group to leave at a slope that dropped down to the base of the climbs where we'd ditch the skis and start the approaches. From here we could get a good look at some of the climbs, a particularly steep single line that was the money climb from the beginning in the distance, with a massive cornice hanging over it which honestly could break off at any point. Paired with the steep slope below to even gain the ice, we had to make the call and back off.
The strange part of a massive trip like this where it does have a goal, and that goal was to climb ice that has (as far as we know) never been climbed before, and have that unfulfilled should maybe feel like a disappointment or be considered a failed trip. It didn't though, and part of that was the work it took to get there was a full adventure in itself. I think the goal was to figure out how to survive, and well, we're all still kicking. Success right? A few turns on the skis and a speedy return to camp, a few who hadn't suffered too many blisters took the gear we wouldn't need out to our first camp and returned that evening, it was decided that we'd wake up super early and spend the next day getting all the way back out, no matter how long it took, and stay in the lot for at least one night of rest before trekking back home. (Bear with me just a bit longer, we're almost there)
I think the only night I felt fearful about animals was this one, ONLY because of all the fancy meats the guys had brought along and decided to toss on the wood stove. One of which was coated in peppercorns, probably the closest I've come to experiencing the agony that would be bear spray. Our whole camp reeked of fine meats, so naturally how could any animal resist? Happy to report though, no sightings other than a few cat tracks (lynx I'm guessing...or hoping) that crossed our paths from a few days prior.
The last day, a very cold start that would quickly turn into an absolutely clear and beautiful day. The day we needed for this whole trip really. Despite a few sled adjustments periodically and issues I had keeping my skins in my skis, we were cruising. Hard to believe it took as long as it did when we were moving so well in greater conditions. An absolute scam. I think all of us were doing pretty okay until the last 5 kilometers. Your mind starts to recognize signs of the beginning on this trip, it's time to stop, or almost anyway, but you have to keep pushing. Everything is tender, knees are sore, we're all tired and most of us blistering.
It almost seemed cruel that we had parked on the other side of a fenced range, our end goal in sight the entire time, but heads were back down and we were still trucking, one step at a time. The second I was within range, skis and boots were kicked off, bagged was dropped and I went straight to the ground. I'm not sure how deep inside any of these feelings were sitting, but I was ready to fight someone. I was so tired and sore and aggravated. Luckily, this feeling passes relatively quick and here we are, early afternoon, tons of sun, and gear-free. Immediate reflection starts and everything you told yourself as to why you would never do this ever again start to dissipate. A great example for this love-hate-love relationship I have with mountain sports. All I hope is that everything following this trip will feel immensely easier...
At least, until I go and try to climb Nemesis (what's this?! a suggested cliff hanger?!)
Thanks for sticking with it, and following along while I try to figure this whole outdoor thing out. From a novice solo hiker to full on mountain rambler jamming in every new activity I can in the last two years apparently, here's to me suffering, so you don't have to.
A side note I'd like to include is the after. I've watched films of people doing some epic things, but I never expect the comeback and how that feels. You ride a bit of a high from doing something that feels quite difficult and amazing. As we reached the city and blended right back into traffic, those feelings start to feel foreign, you feel like you have this secret and no one would have any way of knowing what you just experienced. You return and bee-line to some take-out and beers and maybe a funnier style of movie to recover and celebrate this accomplishment. And then you go to work. Nothing has changed, you try to relay the story, but it's never quite the same. Starts getting repetitive and soon feels as if you were only watching it rather than living it. This isn't to end something on a bit of a bummer, but it's a very strange transition that I haven't quite figured out how to express. Thankful for ease once again, but excited for another challenge down the road, soon even.