(IN ONE DAY?)
By Chris Christie
Ive always got the most out of life
by trying to avoid schedules, knowing what Im doing in
two weeks gives me claustrophobia, so when Mike Traslind invited
me on the Wedge-Currie Traverse in the Blackcomb (British Columbia)
backcountry. It was short notice, but there
was no question how I would welcome my (ugh) 31st birthday.
We talked about logistics, avy conditions,
weather and amount of time it would take to complete our objective.
The forecast was calling for perfect weather for the first day
and a weak system the second. Our approach to the traverse was
alpine style, which meant light and fast. With the impending
change in weather Mikes brother Andy suggested we should
try and do it in a day. For the most part I look at the recommended
time for these routes as a guideline (guidebook suggests 4 days)
with good snow conditions, long hours of daylight and a fitness
base it seemed a reasonable challenge. We would however bring
a stove and bivy gear in case of blind ambition.
At 6:00 am four of us, (Mike Sampson from
Deep Cove Bike Shop joins us) started up the trailhead to Wedgemount.
With light packs we moved quickly, arriving at Wedge Lake 2.5
hours later. As we continued on, the mixed weather higher on
the glacier gave me an uneasy feeling, I hoped this was not the
next system moving in prematurely. The combined sun and cloud
made for some amazing photo ops so we stopped every now and then
to take a picture and have a drink.
Soon after topping out on Wedgemount Glacier
the cloud broke and we were able catch a glimpse of Mount Currie.
Dropping into Weart Glacier from this point pretty much commits
you to completing the route. I always fight my personal demons
in situations such as this, whether it be kayaking a new river
or skiing an exposed line. I have an attraction to finding my
own boundaries and keeping within them. As I reasoned with myself,
Andy started cursing, we all turned our heads to see his water
bottle sliding out of sight towards Wedge Lake.
We took a bearing and continued on down the
Weart glacier. The snow was buttery on top of hard pack making
for some amazing spring turns. We took notice of some recent
avalanche activity and were careful not to cross under loaded
slopes obviously waiting for the afternoon sun to end their season.
The beauty of the surrounding peaks gave off
positive energy for our screaming bodies as we climbed past the
Owls. When we topped out everybody agreed it was time to refuel.
One of the attractions in a single day traverse is the amount
of food you can eat, trying to conserve for multi day trips is
a challenge I usually lose to gluttony, leaving me no choice
but to grovel for leftovers.
At this point we traversed over to a Col above
Mystery Glacier and dropped down a short steep pitch and crossed
debris from slopes that had previously climaxed. We discussed
what route to take from here, the drainage looked like the obvious
choice, but we opted to climb the ridgeline to gain a better
view. I accept part blame for not bringing a topo map that extends
to Lillooet Lake; it is after all our objective to get there
safely. Descriptions in guidebooks are generally useless without
a map. From this point on the words, "think", were
highly overused. The view revealed no secrets, so with our scratchy
info we decided to follow the drainage despite my best impersonation
of Adam Sandler's mother in The Waterboy, "My mama always
told me ta stay away fwom dwainages."
One at a time we descended, it was a relief
to be losing altitude; we should be sipping beers and telling
stories at the car in no time. The snow at this point became
rotten and was a chore to freeheel, so I opted for alpine style
turns as the drainage narrowed and steepened. Soon the rate of
descent slowed, our moves were more of a hesitant gesture in
an attempt to delay the inevitable as the horizon dropped off
and the tops of large trees began to disappear.
Going back up was not really an option; I felt slight relief
when we spotted a possible way out. Mike skied over to get a
better look and he reported that there was a gully dropping down
to treeline. Fortunately it had already avalanched. The lack
of confidence in his voice indicated the escape route was sketchy.
He dropped in first and then 5 minutes later called out that
he was safe. I dropped in next and found the route to be a 400
foot, 50 deg couloir just wide enough for my skis. Halfway down,
the shoot became concave, only allowing for my tips and tails
to hang on. I focused on what little edge I had and headed to
an alcove where the drop split into two. Mike and I yelled up
to Andy to come on down followed by the other Mike who barely
squeezed onto our tiny shelf. We concurred that the right side
was the safest line of descent but because of funky snow and
rock some felt it would be best to take their skis off and frontpoint
down. I opted to leave my skis on and slowly made my way to the
next safe zone, another 200 feet away.
Soon the four of us were together talking
as if the difficulties were over with. We skied over snow bridges
and weaved in and out of old growth forest losing altitude quickly;
this drainage just might work out for us after all, we thought.
Some time later the creek steepened, leaving
us to negotiate slide alder, which was fine when covered with
snow. It wasnt long before the skis were on our packs and
we carried on towards what I quietly hoped was not a waterfall.
Again the horizon disappeared and our initial hopes sunk. We
sized up our options and moved NW in an attempt to trend around
the backside of Currie looking to get our asses out of this mess.
As we climbed in and out of one drainage after another I dubbed
the area Grand Central Drainage. At one point it
took 45 minutes to move 200 feet, The slide alder and devils
club was doing its best to force a bivy.
12 hours into the day the terrain indicated
that it would lead us down lower angle slopes. We caught a glimpse
of Grivel Creek and could see that the only obstacle in our path
was some heavy bushwhacking. When your six foot 3 you have to
develop a technique for walking up, over and under thick brush
with skis on your back. I never did find a consistent style;
I just accepted it as punishment for thinking the hardships were
Once we got to the creek we proceeded downstream
expecting to see the Pemberton Airport or something to indicate
where we were. All logic told us it should be just around the
9:30 pm arrived and it became obvious it was time to concede
to darkness and stop for the night. We brewed up some tea, ate
some food and grumbled about our wet feet as we climbed into
our bivy sacks for the night.
4:30am was first light, before anyone was
up and moving Andy spotted a female cougar 100 m up wind from
us. She still had no idea we were there until the four of us
stood up and made some noise. I guess we gave it a good shock,
it stopped momentarily, had a look to see it was outnumbered
and took off.
With a jumpstart to the day we continued N
and found a cut block with a logging road leading out, this ground
was shear luxury until we came to our first mileage marker. I
chose to ignore the 22-km sign and resigned myself to going the
distance. I didnt look back once, we were on safe ground
and I had a gut feeling there might be contractors doing road
work and did not want to miss an opportunity to hitch a ride.
14 Km into the walk I heard an excavator operating on a branch
off the mainline. I threw down my pack and sprinted up the hill
to see the machine driving away from me. My luck the thing is
moving the same speed as I can run with T-1s on. After
about 10 minutes I finally caught up to the machine but now the
road was too narrow to get around him to get his attention. It
must have been 5 more minutes before he noticed me. The look
on his face was bewilderment; I must have looked like a mountain
freak with the abuse I had just gone through.
I told him my story and offered him some cold
beers for a ride to the Pemberton Airport. He called his co-worker
and she agreed to drive us out. By this time Andy was waiting
by my gear and the two Mikes were making their way down so we
went and picked them up. The road out felt long even sitting
in the truck, but short in comparison to our 19-hour tour. I
dont regret taking the ride I believe events like this
are what adventure is all about.
Taking it as it comes.
The author airing in the Blackcomb backcountry.