Adventure. Adventure is essentially planning something and then finding out while doing it that plans are only the faintest and fickle of guides. Plans only shape the adventure they do not define it. The adventure defines you, and what you do with it defines your life and the experience you have in it.
The Plan. The plan was to drive 150km into the Kananaskis backcountry to enjoy a winter trip to view the Matterhorn of the Rockies, Mount Assiniboine in British Columbia. At 11,870 ft high, Assiniboine is named after the Indian tribes that hunted on its slopes. Every trip is an adventure but this trip was a special one, my first overnight trip in the dead of winter and the first attempt at Assiniboine.
We would drive to the Mount Shark parking lot early in the morning of February 21 2002 and ski 14km to the Bryant Creek shelter. From there we would spend the first day exploring the area on snowshoes and setting up camp. The second day would be a 20km ski to view Mount Assiniboine, followed by more exploration on shoes. The third day would be the 14km ski out and the ride home.
Anyway that was the plan...
The People. After I decided on the trip in late November 2001 it was time to invite the fellow adventurers. Jeff Wiersma was an obvious choice number one. He and I have spent many hours tramping through the wilderness up and down mountains, on and off trails. He is a strapping lad well over 6 ft tall and tough as nails. He doesn't give up very easily and can push himself further physically than anyone I know. Gus Rus was the second choice. I've known Gus only for a few months but he's a scrappy farm kid from Edmonton with a no bullshit attitude and a stubbornness that I can appreciate. The third guy I met at the Calgary study weekend in 2001 and came recommended from Gus, Ed Louwerse from Edmonton. Gus and Ed had previous winter camping experience in Jasper that wasn't entirely successful and were hoping fervently to turn their luck around on this trip.
Ding dong. Ding dong. Ding dong. WHO is ringing that dang doorbell so early in the morning? My sleep is rudely interrupted by an overeager Ed who wasn't supposed to come around till 06:45. "Gus's house was boring" was the explanation. The adventure actually started already the day before for Ed. Ed was so busy trying to find Gus' house that he failed to notice the van stopped in front of him. Front bumper of Sprint meets back bumper of van and Sprint loses! We pile our gear into the little car and go to meet Gus and Jeff at the sports rental store where some gear is awaiting our credit cards. On the way to the store I note with some trepidation as the front hood of the shortened car tried to free itself. Ed is talking about the car maybe overheating because the rad fan may have been damaged by the big crunch. I'm thinking that we may have kick-started our adventure a little too aggressively and we're not even across the city!
We're at the sports shop renting our gear. Jeff gets the longest skis and Ed the shortest. There is a small argument with the rental dude about the snowshoes being different for each foot. Since I have my own skis and rented my shoes from a different place I'm content to scan the latest weather bulletin pinned up by the door. Our desire for warm sunny weather has apparently gone unnoticed and is going to be usurped by clouds and snowfall warnings. We squeeze the skis and shoes into the Sprint and Geo and head off into the gray morning.
(At this point you should take note of a few things. Notice that the cars are both tiny and that there is a heavy snowfall warning. Also note that the plan is already changing and we aren't out of the city yet.)
The mighty Sprint has made it! We're cruising nicely down the Smith Dorrian road. As we gain elevation the snow banks beside the road are getting bigger and bigger Tom Petty is setting the mood and doing a nice job of it. We arrive at the Mount Shark turn-off and follow the red Geo across a small bridge.
Oh how the mighty have fallen! The Sprint and Geo have been bested by a 10 degree slope with about an inch of snow on it! We are turning around and are going to take a 1km run at the hill. Gus speeds his mighty steed up the incline and burns out again. We pile out of the cars and proceed to push Geo up the hill. It's Ed's turn. Since Sprint is shorter and lighter and has better tires we make it up the hill. We speed down the other side and after a 5km trip on a twisting backcountry road end up at the parking lot.
With snow gently brushing our faces we head off onto the Mount Shark trail system. Ed and I are pulling sleds loaded with our gear while Jeff and Gus are beasts of burden with their backpacks weighing them down. Gus jumps into the lead with Jeff, Ed and I follow somewhat slower. As we find our rhythm I notice that my legs are having a tough go of it. I shrug it off to a lack of sleep and push on.
Ed is saying something. I can't really hear him so I keep going. My legs are getting really tired and I'm thinking of ditching the sled and hoisting my gear onto my back. I've never felt the sled pull so heavy and it seems as if everyone else is just gliding along effortlessly while I'm struggling. The sled is also tracking all over the place in a sine curve instead of following in my tracks. I listen a little more carefully. "Maybe if you didn't have that rope under the sled it would pull easier." Dang! Ed becomes my new best friend as his wisdom is applied by pulling a loose rope out from under the sled. The sine curve flattens beautifully and the weight drops from my legs as I power along smoothly up the next hill.
We are about 12 km in and everyone is doing pretty good. This is only Jeff's second time on x-country skis and he is having a bit of trouble with his wax. It seems that the skis wanted to slide both forward and backward. In case you don't ski, this presents a big problem. It's the old problem of walking in sand. Each time you go forward you slide a certain amount back. This means that you are effectively travelling almost twice the distance of anyone else you're with! Now try this going up steep hills. Jeff claims he can now bench press 20 lbs. more than before because he worked out his arms so much trying to get up all the hills! Ed is eating his 7th chocolate bar and is riding a great sugar high up the next hill. Gus is steadily eating up the terrain and I'm shuffling along pretty good myself. On the last downhill section my sled almost took me out but I gained some sort of control and managed to stay on my feet. Ed who was in front of me unfortunately did not stay on his. I unfortunately did not see Ed until I was on top of him. Oh well, good thing he is REALLY flexible.
Hold the bus! Remember how 15 minutes ago we were all trucking along at a good pace? No more trucking. We are now plodding very slowly up a very steep incline. The reader should take note that there is an initial 60 meter height loss from the parking lot, followed by a total of 400 meters height gain to Mount Assiniboine. It's about 100 meters height gain to the shelter - our destination today. Good news? We're almost at the hut. Bad news? What the guide book doesn't tell you is that most of the height gain is just before the hut. Famous last words: "We don't need to look at the map. The trail is obvious."
Made it. We're in the hut now and everyone is still more-or-less alive. The steep uphill was followed by an invigorating downhill. Gus took invigorating to a whole new level with a class 1 face plant right at the bottom of the hill. He blames me for yelling at him to turn. I say that turning and face planting are not the same thing if you know how to ski. I can't repeat what he says to that! The shelter is really nice. It has three rooms. The main room has two picnic tables and another long table in it and there are two rooms on either end of the main one with 3 plywood bunks in each. There is a wood stove in the main room and a sign near it encourages us to be sparing with the wood because it is flown in. Jeff proceeds to ignore the request and soon a huge fire is going in the stove - warmth at last!
Apparently the bunks are each supposed to hold 3 people because the ranger I talked with said we would have 14 other people joining us on Friday night. Yikes! Ed goes on and on about how a group of young college nurses are sure to be skiing the backcountry and we keep his fire small with images of crusty old guys ruining our evening. Undaunted, he offers to be the odd man out (he'll sleep with the strangers). For now we're all alone so everyone grabs a bunk and goes for a nap. I can't sleep so I head out to go exploring for a ranger cabin that's rumored to be only 800 meters up the trail.
I'm sitting by myself in a clearing high above the shelter. I carefully walked up the hill through the pine trees on my snowshoes. The shoes kept me floating high above the ground on fresh powder. Whenever I lost my concentration I would sink to my knees and my poles would be buried right to the handle. As I sit here I can hear absolutely nothing except the sound that snow makes when it travels through thin mountain air and alights on my garments, slowly accumulating in little piles. I can't see any peaks because of the falling snow but I can sense the imposing rock faces around me and what I can see is jagged and lonely. I feel alone sitting here. It's a good feeling, one I've been looking forward to for months now. There is a frozen waterfall above me and I stare at it wondering at the beauty of a frozen world. Someone once told me that there was no snow and ice in the newly created world. When I sit here I don't know how all this beauty could be a result of sin. Some questions go unanswered I guess. I sit for quite a while until the loneliness becomes eerie and now I see movement in the shadows of the forest and my heart catches in my throat. There are wolves and cougars in this country and I'm sure that they know we're here. The shadow disappears with my imagination and I get up to make my way back to the shelter.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. <not repeatable>. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. <not repeatable>. <not repeatable>. Thunk. Thunk - Gus and I are busy trying to supply the tribe with fresh water. We followed a trail to the nearby creek and are using an axe to reach water through the ice. The problem is that we are so deep that the ice has become dirt and we're really not looking forward to coming back empty bottled. We decide to walk downstream for a bit to cool off. Being the efficient engineer that he is, Gus decides to cool off extra fast and delivers a solution to our problem. He takes off his snowshoes and immediately sinks into the snow, through the ice and into the stream! He's cooled off, we have fresh running water and I'm provided with live entertainment - how sweet is that?
As I walk up to the cabin door I hear a dull roaring sound. When I walk into the shelter the dullness disappears and I am blasted with heat and noise. Ed's gas stove is making like Apollo 13 and the wood stove is a mini furnace. Jeff eagerly scoops a re-hydrated meal onto everyone's plates. Evidently Jeff may have been a little to eager and the re-hydration a little to short. The rice and hamburger oozes down the pipes and lands with a heavy "thud" in our stomachs. Ed is a one man eating machine. He gobbles down 1/3 of an ice cream pail of rice and follows that up with a cup of soup followed by hot chocolate and a big hunk of sausage from Gus. I make short work of my soup and judging the noise about the rice I wisely avoid the heavy fare. I have some cheese and crackers with dehydrated meat and a cup of hot chocolate. Yum.
The snow is coming down fast and furious and our headlamps illuminate the flakes as they missile out of the black night into our faces. We are snowshoeing in the dark. Gus decides he doesn't need the light and moves off ahead - in the wrong direction. Ed and I head after him as he disappears suddenly from in front of us! When we get closer we realize that a huge snow bank has swallowed our intrepid explorer and we fling ourselves over the edge after him landing in a jumble of snow, poles and shoes at the bottom. We head off down the creek back towards the shelter, we hope. Shadows jump out at us as we negotiate the stream and find the path. The warmth of the shelter covers us like a big blanket as we step back inside and hang up our gear to dry off for the second time today.
"I'm unhappy 'cause I'm fat. I'm fat 'cause I'm unhappy" grumbles Ed as he and I sit in front of the stove. Gus and Ed have been quoting movies all day and amazingly enough I don't recognize most of them! I assume he's quoting again and leave him alone. Gus and Jeff are sleeping. Ed and I are trying to get sleepy but aren't quite there yet. It's too hot in the shelter and no one is using their down bags but instead we're all in our underwear layer trying to cool off! We played cards earlier and I conquered at 'butt' lost miserably at 7's.
The shelter is shaking. Every five minutes or so Jeff is letting off a blast of snore noise. Gus has moved away from Jeff's side of the shelter and we are trying to sleep amidst the commotion. I comment that it smells like smoke but Ed reassures me that it's only the smell of burning sap and that he will immediately wake up if there's any smoke in the cabin.
I've just dozed off when I hear an exclamation, "What the heck?" I fight to open my eyes only to realize that even with my eyes open I can't see anything except a murky gray sea. The first thing I realize is that the gray sea is smoke. The second thing I realize is that Ed is still sleeping soundly but Gus is awake. We make sure that Ed and Jeff are breathing and then wake up Ed to inform him that his ultra sensitive nose doesn't work very well. We open the window and the door and wait the air to clear.
Once again the shelter is shaking. This time Gus and Ed are on the warpath. We were all laying quietly in our bags, trying to ignore the rattling blasts coming from the far end of the shelter and for the smoke to clear when we started hearing scurrying noises from the main room. "Is that you Ed", asks Gus. "No", comes the reply. We lay there a little longer. The scuffling noises start in earnest. "MICE!", we all whisper loudly. We draw up the battle plans. I will stay on my top bunk huddled in fear while Gus and Ed will sneak up on the little vermin and extinguish him with a heavy flashlight. I lay in the darkness trembling as the warriors do their hunt. CRASH. BANG. CRASH. CRASH. "C'mon over here in the corner!". "I hit him!" "Where is the little bugger?!?!" "He's in the other corner!" "Sh_t we lost him!". This goes on while Jeff continues his snoring and I continue my huddling. We must have traumatized the whole colony of furry creatures because after 30 minutes the scurrying was completely eliminated with no loss of life on either side.
I wake up to the harsh noise of someone chopping wood on the shelter floor. Gus has decided that we've all had enough sleep and it's time to get the fire going again. I decide Gus is an idiot and Ed and Jeff don't decide anything because they keep right on sleeping! I get out of bed and put on the warm layers. I head outside to get water and am greeted by a world of white and a fresh 12-18 inches of snow.
Gus' incessant hammering on the shelter floor has everyone out of bed and eating breakfast. We're discussing last nights events while sucking back omelets, thick pasty oatmeal, fresh eggs and tea. Jeff is mildly embarrassed by his snoring but seems the best rested considering he's been sleeping since 21:30 last night! We embark on a lively discussion about what to do today. It seems fairly mild today and the flurries have dropped off a little. We decide to push to the Assiniboine Pass and back. If there are no views than we might turn around early. Jeff isn't sure he's joining us but it doesn't take long before he's packing his water bottle. We set off from the shelter into the pale morning light with fresh snow pushing against our gaiters.
It's only been one hour since we left the shelter and I am fading fast. I broke trail the first 2.5 km and it pretty much toasted me. Gus has been going for the last while and is doing really well but I think he's tired too. As we ski along we hear a deep rumbling noise across the valley to our left. Ed tells us to stop and look so we wait. All of a sudden we spot it. A huge plume of snow comes tearing down the near-vertical walls of rock with a deep roar. The cloud slowly dissipates and we trudge on, glancing warily at the slopes above us. We all know the danger of avalanches is way beyond extreme because of the fresh snowpack. I have a family waiting for me at home so I'm determined to be extra cautious. The week before, 2 backcountry adventurers were caught and killed in a slide about 100km west of this very spot.
So far it's been obvious where the trail goes but now we've come to a wide valley and everything is a sea of white. I consult my map and realize that we have to cross the meadows and travel beneath the avalanche slopes on the far side. We decide that we will take a look and turn back if it is too dangerous. We head off into the sea, sinking down to our waists and struggling to get back on top of the snow. After a while we realize there is a camp buried nearby and we eventually find the trail and set off down it well away from any danger.
WOW. If you think you're in shape try skiing in heavy powder up steep slopes! Remember that I said there was a 400 meter total height gain to Assiniboine Pass from the parking lot and that the shelter was 'only' 100 meters? This implies that for the remaining 10 km to the pass there is a 300 meter height gain. This implies that we have almost 1000 feet to climb in the heavy fresh champagne dump of the last 24 hours. This implies extreme exhaustion. If I was fading 1.5 hours ago you can imagine where I am now. At least my wax is working. The other guys are really fighting their wax and are having a tiring time in the deep snow and the steep terrain. Gus is looking pale and has decided he's not having any fun. It's good that he's recognized his limit but it makes me a little nervous that he's heading back alone. Ed, Jeff and I have decided that we really need to reach the lodge in the Assiniboine meadows to warm up and recharge our batteries if we are going to make it back to the shelter. We're 'only' about 3 km from the pass!
Now we're in a spot of trouble. The terrain has been unrelentingly steep for the last kilometer and the snow is coming down really hard. We've crossed several dicey avalanche tailouts and the mountains are shedding snow all around us. Every time we look up at the steep cliffs beside us there is snow sluffing down the face. It's a little worrisome because we can't see very high on the mountain due to all the snow and cloud. Ed has taken his skis off to climb the last section and Jeff is also tired. I'm exhausted and dreaming about a warm shelter. We only have 1 litre of water between the three of us. Gus' decision less than an hour ago is looking better all the time! Notice how quickly the situation goes from pleasant to tricky to really darn tricky? "This is what it's all about" Ed says softly.
Here is where many people have made mistakes. They figure that the pass is "just ahead". They figure that it's better to keep going because it's a shorter distance than going back. They run out of water and energy. Many of them barely make it, some of them don't. We think about all these things and stop to calm down and take our bearings. I have a suspicion that we aren't as far as we think. This happens all the time in the mountains. You think you've done a lot more than you have. You under estimate the power of the mountain and the thin air and the vertical gain. I suggest we'd better turn around and race back as fast as possible while our trail is still broken (not filled with fresh snow) behind us. It should be mostly downhill and I figure an hour should be sufficient to get us back. I give Jeff my water and I take off down the hill ahead of the other two.
I'm on my own going hard. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest and my legs are getting weak. My vision is slowly tunneling as I get more and more dehydrated and tired. My heart rate is about 160 and I feel both good and terrible at the same time. I'm talking to myself - don't worry I do that regularly! It feels like when I run 16 km and forget to bring extra water. This time I'm in the middle of a swirling world of white by myself with no idea where Jeff and Ed are. I've found Gus' gloves in the snow, he must have dropped them on his way back. It's not cold out but we're all soaked with moisture from sweat and snow. When we stop, convection against our wet skin instantly starts cooling us off increasing the danger of hypothermia. I pause to leave a message in the snow for Jeff and Ed, "I'm going on".
I know I only have 3 km to go to the shelter but it seems to take FOREVER. "Where did this hill come from?!" I yell at myself. "I hate this crap!" "Keep pushing you're almost there" "I need water" "Relax you're almost there" "I'm getting more sleep tonight" "Relax you're almost there"'
FINALLY!! The cabin is just around the corner. The last 700 meters seem like 100 km as I slog up the path to the cabin. I imagine kicking off my skis and entering the warmth. At last I reach the door and stagger in. Gus is sitting calmly by the stove stoking the fire. I collapse on the picnic table and my heart rate slowly decreases to normal as I gulp down fresh water from Gus' canteen. Ahhhhh. There is nothing as sweet as fresh mountain stream water when you've just skied 9 km and are totally dehydrated!
Ed and Jeff stagger up the path and push their way into the shelter. They are sopping wet and beat but we all agree that it was a "kick ass" trip! We all did it. Pushed ourselves to the edge and came back.
Picture this. Ed wearing nothing but a kilt pelting snowballs at the outhouse that I'm sitting in. Trust me, it's happening! Now you're probably wishing you didn't picture it! We all ate some hot food and drank lots of liquid and are recovered quite nicely. I'm sitting on the thrown with snow flying in the cracks as snowball after snowball crashes into the 'palace'. Suddenly I hear Gus, "Vern, crash out and attack Ed, he's not wearing anything!". I burst out of the outhouse and dash after Ed. He is brought down and is thoroughly drenched in wet snow. Revenge is so good!
16:00 Friday:Sometimes you meet people in the wilderness and you wonder two things: 1) How did they get this far without killing someone? 2) When will they kill someone? Four people have just entered the cabin covered in wet snow. There is an exuberant guy and his energetic wife who have done Assiniboine in the summer 7 years ago and then there is another couple. The guy looks ready to drop and his wife looks ready to lay down in front of the warm fire for a good long nap! We assume that these folks are staying for the night until the happy dude starts talking about heading up the pass. I can't believe it! They tell us that it took them 5 hours to reach our shelter (it took us 3 hrs) and they expect to make the pass in 3. The dude tells us that the tired two have no idea about the elevation gain that awaits them. I instantly try to hint to the other two that they can never make if before darkness falls. The dude basically talks over me so that they don't catch on and I shutup, but I'm not happy. They will obviously spend a very cold night camping in a snow storm and I don't understand why they don't just stay in the warm hut and concede 'defeat'. This is the problem with cowboys out here. They think it's a game and that they have to win. They go about their trips with reckless abandon followed by bragging afterwards about surviving a night in a snow storm. Or maybe a funeral. Oh well - I guess we're all adults out here and the other two aren't being forced to go. I silently wish them luck as they head back out into the swirling snow and the first hint of approaching darkness.
17:00 Friday:Ed and I decide that it's time to go tobogganing! Remember that big hill just before the shelter on the way in? We decide to revisit it with the intention of flying down it, bobsled style. After an hour of playing around in the snow we are side-tracked by a 20 foot high cliff with lots of powder at the base. Being the responsible guys that we are, we poke around at the base of the cliff with our poles to make sure that nothing bad (read "hard') is sitting under the snow. Satisfied that all is good we clamber to the top and proceed to hurl ourselves off, landing and sinking up to our necks in the soft stuff. We repeat the venture till the soft stuff isn't so soft anymore and head back to the cabin for supper as night settles in on our valley.
19:30 Friday:There is a bump in the night- we have visitors! A couple of wet-but-happy girls clamber into the hut and with that the peace is shattered. Their names are Lara and Rebecca one of them is a doctor and the other is a physiotherapist from Banff. They immediately prepare to head out back on the trail to find the rest of their group who is straggling behind. We offer to help and everyone is just ready to go out when a whole mass of humanity piles in. We are now at 14 in the hut with 2 more on the way. Everyone seems to be either a doctor or physiotherapist with an occasional athlete thrown in - an interesting crowd to say the least! Everyone seems quite young (30ish) so we look forward to a fun evening. Gus is off immediately filling water bottles for everyone and Ed is looking all starry eyed - he got DOCTORS, even better than nurses!! We are happy to learn that the Canadian women have won gold and the men's hockey team beat Bangladesh, or whoever it was.
Finally the last 2 strangers stagger in, the girl is ok but the guy is suffering the first stages of hypothermia. Apparently he was hallucinating and trying to lay down for the last 3 km! Remember it's pitch black outside and snowing hard. I talked to him later and found out that he is studying in Calgary on a swimming scholarship. He was shocked by the hard time he had skiing in because he's in superb shape but it was his first time skiing. It goes to show that different sports mean different things and that being efficient at skiing makes it MUCH easier to do. It also shows that no matter how in shape you are you can still have an off day when your body doesn't feel like it. Ed, Gus, Jeff and I head out on snowshoes to do some more cliff jumping and to give the newcomers some more room to get organized.23:00 Friday:
The cabin is at a low hum of activity. Ed's lantern is casting a pale yellow light through the maze of wet clothes hanging from the ceiling. A couple are playing a board game and others are already in their sleeping bags trying to get some sleep. Gus is sitting by the fire chatting with a guy and Ed, Jeff and I are trying to get a card game going. It is warm in the shelter and humid from the wet clothes. The window by our bunks is standing wide open to balance the temperature a bit. We've been talking with the group about the conditions back at the parking lot. It doesn't sound good. They had to park about 3 to 5 km from the lot because of all the snow. They also don't remember seeing our cars so the question is: Did they not see our cars because they weren't looking or because they were buried?
Jeff, Ed, Gus, Rebecca and Laura are playing hearts and I'm watching and learning. We are doing more chatting and visiting than playing but no-one seems to care. It turns out that Rebecca was a bicycle tour guide in Amsterdam for a couple of years so she's very interested in the fact that all of us are dutch. She is also engaged to be married soon so Ed turns his attention to Laura. (I'm picking on Ed because he's the only single one in our bunch.) After talking about our lives and our church and a few more rounds of cards it's time to turn in. The girls are taking a group up to Assiniboine Pass tomorrow where they will spend Saturday night in huts and a bunch of people are heading back, including the swimmer and some others who aren't up to making the pass.
I'm still awake. I have a hard time sleeping at the best of times but with Jeff snoring above me and Ed kicking him every 5 minutes to make him shutup and with all the rustling of people moving around in their sleeping bags I can't sleep. Since I'm also very warm I get up and sit on the picnic table in front of the fire for a while - just thinking about stuff. I live for moments like this. Looking back on it, it's surreal. I see the fire burning and hear it crackling. There are clothes hanging all over the place and I can hear the wind outside curling around the shelter trying to get in. People are sleeping all over the place and Jeff's snores rumble out of our end of the cabin every once in a while. I'm very tired so I head back to bed and eventually drift off to the land of Sleep.
Never go on a trip if you want sleep! I just woke up to the sound of something trying to break in. Turns out it was a very cold lady trying to get back in after a late night bathroom break! She apologized profusely for waking me up and went back to her sleeping bag. I slowly drift off again...
It's a new day! Gus and I are the only ones up and cabin is still drenched in silence and wet clothing. The snow has tapered off and we can see some of the peaks surrounding our valley. I go outside with my camera and get a few pictures. The weather has turned colder and we get a roaring fire going as soon as possible. "Did I snore last night?" Jeff asks sleepily. "Didn't you feel Ed kicking you?" "No!"
Noise is back. Ed's stove is roaring along with a few others and everyone is getting dressed to match to cooler weather. (Getting dressed in a cabin with a bunch of strangers is a different experience, the key is speed and dexterity!) I'm not feeling too good today - probably has something to do with all the exercise of the last few days and the serious lack of sleep. I don't eat very much knowing that I'll regret it later. Ed makes up for me by wolfing down some very thick and sticky oatmeal along with other various tidbits that he can find. We step outside for a group shot, say good-bye to our new friends and head off down the trail on fresh snow.
The biggest problem with humans as far as I can tell is that we consistently fool ourselves. We tell ourselves things that are completely untrue and pay for it later. Right now I'm paying big time! I had myself convinced that the way back to the parking lot was all downhill. The first two hours were. The last bit is NOT. I forgot the little detail about first losing 60 meters elevation on the way in and then gaining 400. When you lose on the way in, you gain on the way out. AHHHHHHH. Jeff and Gus are plowing ahead at a good pace and Ed and I are struggling up a very long and very annoying hill. Every time we turn a corner we pray that the hill will end and it never does! At this point I hate skiing and really hope against all odds that our cars aren't buried in snow.
We've made it to the parking lot. We skied out in record time of 2.5 hours! We're all quite tired except for Gus who seems to have lots of energy. The cars are buried up to the doors but it doesn't look like there was as much snow here as up the valley. We are a little nervous about the conditions of the road, it certainly hasn't been plowed for a few days and there are very few tracks coming in. We push the cars back through about 100 feet of deep snow till they're on the tracks and load our gear up. At this point we're all looking tired and my feet are blocks of ice. I don't have a very positive attitude so I keep my gaiters and shoes on, unlike the others who seem to think we're in for a nice drive out.
Yeah. Remember my negative vibes? I should patent them. Gus got stuck on the first hill. We took a good run at it but to no avail. We all piled out of the cars and proceeded to push. And push. And push. And guess what? Push some more! And guess what? We're still pushing. And pushing. And pushing. And pushing. This is where the adventure goes too far. We had our adventure and now we want to go home! NOPE. On the bright side, my toes no longer exist so at least I don't have to worry about them getting cold anymore!
Hey! Guess what? We're finally struggling up our last hill! We got this fortunate news from a pair of skiers who were merrily skiing up the road because only a FOOL would drive on it. (I'm a little bitter here) We are dizzy from fatigue and exhaust fumes and my legs will hardly move anymore. We've pushed the cars about 2.5 km up hill and none of us have much gas left in the tank. Surely nothing else can happen.
Famous last words "Surely nothing else can happen". I should know better! We're sitting a McDonald's in Canmore right now, very thankful to be alive. The drive turned out to be interesting. I was a little concerned about the drive back because of a narrow winding 14 km stretch of backcountry road that we had to navigate. The road was clear of snow but very slippery. On one occasion Ed and I were negotiating a one vehicle wide bridge over open water when all of a sudden we were doing donuts straight for the edge! Luckily the guardrail held and no damage was done - save a couple of years off the life expectancy of my heart. In other incidents Gus and Jeff plowed into some heavy snow banks damaging Gus' car and just before Canmore Ed and I found ourselves again doing donuts except this time there was a very steep cliff to one side and a car coming up the hill. Hmmm. Next time I think I'll drive... (Actually it wasn't really their fault, it was extremely icy)
Home again! Happy to be alive, happy that Canada is on the way to winning gold, happy that once again an adventure could help define me. Not looking forward to the boring office on Monday but I guess that's just the way it is! I thank God for helping me enjoy another slice of His vast universe. Hope you enjoyed it almost as much as I did!