Madeleine suffering from useless skins and challenging spring forest conditions. 

On this August summer evening, amidst the hot air, you can smell the aroma of heated sap. It's a relaxing odour composed mainly of Douglas Fir and Englemann Spruce. Scents have a way of transporting you to times and places held in memories. Skiing down frozen slopes, a thick winter snowpack still covering the stunted Subalpine Firs of higher elevations. Crusty turns start to swoosh in the softened snow of lower elevations. Needles and tree material surfacing on the melting snow after a winter of harsh winds and heavy snows. 

You wouldn’t think these summer smells would evoke memories of spring ski traversing… Yet here I am reminiscing. The forest smells skiing down were a warning sign of what was to come. 

To provide a bit of background, the Selkirks proved a challenging mountain range to ski traverse. Jagged mountains and valleys meant for routes that connected ‘pass to pass’ rather than staying on a high divide. This meant long ski descents and big climbs. This post focuses on the in between, on the 'schwack.

To understand the scope, I just counted the drainages crossed over the course of this 36 day ski traverse: 42. Some valleys were as low as 900m. Fourty-two individual valleys and though not all possessed the same panazz or character, the following photo essay hopes to take you through the rollercoaster experience of tears, anguish, laughter, bruises, frustration, “use of 4 letter words” and much more. 

First one has to get in the valley. From higher elevation snows, we'd eventually hit treeline. This meant navigating a thinner and thinner snowpack to reach the bottom. Here Steve skies through a burn that has preserved north facing snow. You can infer the thin snowpack depth by looking at the tree well next to him. On the other side of the creek, you can see that little to no snow remains. Choosing the right aspect was important. Notice also the distance still from the valley bottom of Austerity Creek in the upper left.

Logging and their associated roads were often a blessing and a curse. Recent cuts allowed for good travel along routes and sometimes even bridges. This picture provides good contrast for south versus north. Travelling south to north, we could often descend on skis to the valley bottom and would then find ourselves bootpacking up the south aspects. The contrast between the blessing and curse logging provides is evident here in the overgrown road compared to the recent cut across the valley. Here Madeleine emerges from the thicket on the south side of Bachelor Creek. Sorcerer can be seen in the background. 

In the beginning there was snow. Earlier on in the traverse, we often found ourselves travelling through valleys on skis. So what happened? Well, a lot can change over the course of 5 weeks. With a healthy winter snowpack for the 2015-16 season, spring in BC involved record breaking warm temperatures, lots of sun and very little snow. 

 Snow pillow data shows the drastic drop starting mid April. 

Snow pillow data shows the drastic drop starting mid April. 

You can't spend time in valleys without dealing with avalanche debris. 

With warm temperatures came significant avalanches. Wet slides often blanket valley slopes. Sometimes debris would bridge entire rivers providing a crossing. Here Steve and Douglas balance on frozen snow boulders next to Mobbs Creek. One of several slide paths full of debris that have come off the north slopes of Mount Bentley. 

Steve here walks in front of a mountain of avalanche debris. This was likely a size 4+, possibly 5. The size and scale was impossible to capture on foot but we followed this two story high pile of debris for a long distance. It could easily have wiped out and buried a grove of forest after having slid off the steep southwest side of Spyglass Mountain. Steve here only has one pole after losing the other to the river. 

Douglas can be seen crossing the large avalanche tract off of Spyglass Mountain that layed out the debris in the previous photo. That little slope to get out was tough to get up. Compaction and force from the massive avalanche had left all the snow bullet hard. Metal edges had little purchase. Bootpacking up the gouged dirt might have proved better. 

Madeleine crosses an avalanche path that's been stripped of snow.

It was common to be passing over large pieces of avalanche debris. 

Mark navigating the carnage of large climax avalanches in Austerity Creek. Old growth trees uprooted and gnarled, dirt rutted, theres a lot of force at play here. This valley showed signs of significant climax avalanche the previous year also. 

 

Douglas steps past large piles of avalanche rubble. 

 

Valleys presents an obvious challenge: so called creeks. I could write an entire post with accompanying photos about the difficulties presented by creeks and crossing them… So I will. Stay tuned for that post.. 

Mark crossing Ursus Creek. We'll compare this photo later to some of the other rivers met on the traverse (wink). 

 

Slogging on skis through thin patches of snow and bush is to be expected of any ski traverse. However, we experienced a lot of time spent with skis on our backs due to abnormally low snow levels. Sometimes it felt like we'd never find snow again. 

Mark and Madeleine in old growth cedar forests. Skis not necessary here. 

Your truly in the midst of veggie belays in a steep gully. Photo Douglas Noblet

Young trees won't stop the Wolverine aka Douglas. 

Mado dealing with both thick slide alder and creeks. 

Tangled in thin, tightly packed trees in the rain. 

 Finding means across streams

Finding means across streams

Acrobatics in tight spaces. 

 

Not uncommon to end up walking over series of dirt patches. Definitely looking green.

Deadfall mantles. 

Navigating the brush. 

After loosing edge on the alder, Douglas manages to fall on the bank avoiding falling in the alder covered creek (which is deeper than it looks).

Old growth Mountain Hemlock forests in Mobbs Creek near Trout Lake. 

Steep sidehill above Mobbs Creek

Unrelenting heat. Finally a culvert with water. 

 Wheres the snow? 

Wheres the snow? 

For further reading, I strongly recommend Mark Dale’s Bushwack Rating system. Here one can better understand the rating system for “jungle warfare” so that we might all be talking the same language. 

Slow travel pressing through willow.

Steve dangles between a rock and a hard place. Aka bush, cliff and river. 

It might not fully be obvious but its raining hard. Notice the avalanche debris in the background. This was the only snow cover in the entire basin. Following this photo came some intense bushwacking where I couldn't muster any extra energy to take photos. 

When we finally regain snow after crawling out of the valley, Steve's pants and expression say it all. 

After reaching our mountain pass, the next thing would be to head down into the next valley and start the process all over again. 

Douglas skis into Bachelor Creek with Argentine Peak to the south and Sir Sanford south and east in the background. Our next pass could be seen on the skyline left of Argentine. 

1 Comment