Kickstart to the NewYear

I was tempted to just post some photos and let them tell the story, but that made me feel like I was shortchanging such a fantastic trip, so I’ll have to tell the stories as well.

The first is the mid-night arrival of part of our skiing crew. My cell phone rang a few minutes before 4 am and I was up out of bed to let in a Lesley and Pat who had spent the night driving Highway 2 in less than ideal conditions to accommodate a late night flight into Edmonton International. I was excited to get out of the house and go right then instead of heading back to bed, but sleep definitely was on the menu for the wearied travelers. Waking up at what would normally be a very lazy hour the next morning we loaded up and set out for the trailhead after a dose of caffeine and a few bites of breakfast. I can’t speak from personal experience but it seemed like enough sleep was had during those short hours by my skiing comrades to recharge adequately for a day in the mountains. Either that, or there was significant horsepower being absorbed by osmosis from the beautiful surroundings that we were skiing through. Considering the number of disclaimers placed that they had few skills and little prior experience they were quick on the uptake. Pat started out as a rather shaky kneed skier but gathered his wits about him quite quickly. Luckily though, I was the one carrying a dozen eggs.

Photo from gallery: Backcountry Skiing 2009-2010
Photo from gallery: Backcountry Skiing 2009-2010

We made good time along the trail, not because we were traveling exceedingly fast but mostly just due to the fact that we weren’t taking very long of breaks. That and a little bit of not wanting to be going “too slow” while leading the group meant that whoever was up front was huffing along and then the others didn’t want to let them get out of our sights. Then whomever else took over felt the need to keep up the pace, the problematic pattern perpetuated itself and subsequently some solid skiing ensued. We’d made a good choice with the waxes and no-one struggled much which was a huge bonus for the morale. Additionally we were left some encouragement in the snowbanks along the way by our friends who were up the trail by a few hours.

Photo from gallery: Backcountry Skiing 2009-2010
Photo from gallery: Backcountry Skiing 2009-2010

Our arrival at the cabin was earlier than anticipated and we had nearly caught the other 7 members of our group who were just taking off their boots when we pulled up. It was about this time that we unloaded food onto the table from our respective bags and realized the magnitude of the task at hand. It was going to be quite a feat to even eat half of the food we’d brought in.

Photo from gallery: BlackBetty Photostream

The menu for the trip wasn’t meager pickings for (at least) seven reasons.

  1. Carrying good food makes it easier to rationalize why you have a heavy pack. If it’s full of stuff you only marginally want to eat it could lead to complaining. If it’s all gourmet, there is less opportunity to bemoan sore shoulders and an aching back.
  2. No-one has ever developed scurvy in two days but we certainly didn’t want to risk it. Better bring some fresh vegetables for our omellettes to ensure we don’t develop anything like that. We were bringing along a med-student but not a real doctor to diagnose and treat big problems like scurvy, better to rather play it safe than sorry!
  3. Pat needed to be fed, and everyone knows that he can really pack it away when he decides to.
  4. Olives, figs and wine were good enough for all those Roman emperors so they’re good enough for us too. And if Marcus Aurelius would have known to have stuffed his olives with Camembert I’m sure he would have been all over that too.
  5. I’d heard concerns about Oatmeal being too boring, so the obvious solution would be to bring it up a notch with cranberries and orange zest.
  6. Good chocolate keeps the ladies happy – fact!
  7. This was New Years and we were supposed to be celebrating!

Our stay was two nights and our intermediary day was spent on a day-excursion from the hut up towards Assiniboine Pass. The attempt would end at 2:30 when we had to make the prudent choice to turn around instead of pushing onwards to see what we may or may not be able to see from the pass proper. The day ski had us enjoying a fine balance of gently falling snowflakes and sufficient visibility to enjoy the surrounding vistas. If it had been any more clear, the beauty and vastness of the entire valley at once could have been too overwhelming for us; and like I said, we only had a med-student along and not a doctor to perform a potentially necessary resuscitation. There was also a moose spotted along the trail, it had a beard but was definitely still female.

Photo from gallery: Backcountry Skiing 2009-2010
Photo from gallery: Backcountry Skiing 2009-2010

Following our excursion we cooked up some fine tomato lentil curry on rice with a side of garlic butter mashed potatoes and gravy for dinner. After giving our stomachs a lengthy 4 minutes to digest the meal we pulled out the figs, olives, chocolate, crackers & Camembert, cookies and pistachios and got into the port. There was a short debate as to which time zone we planned to celebrate new years in. A long and tiring day of skiing by some parties had them voting to even celebrate on a half hour increment representative of Newfoundland. The suggestion was quickly overruled and Dave set an emergency alarm in case we all somehow managed to fall asleep before midnight, to wake us up at ten to twelve. A few games of speed scrabble ensued, amazingly everyone was able to win a round, some Garden Beans were grown, traded and harvested. There were some stories recounted and then, sooner than anyone would have guessed, there was an alarm going off and the countdown had begun towards the beginning of 2010.

Photo from gallery: BlackBetty Photostream

The masses bundled up in multi-coloured down jackets, fleece pants, mitts, toquies and hut booties and then headed outdoors to ring in the New Year from the boundless serenity of the creekbed instead of the cramped quarters of the cabin. Predictably some hilarity ensued, and upon return to the cabin we headed out to kick off the new year with a short ski through the night under a full moon.

Photo from gallery: BlackBetty Photostream
Photo from gallery: BlackBetty Photostream

The next morning we were treated to a few patches of blue sky, an excellent breakfast of cheese and chive eggs on english muffins with cranberry orange oatmeal, and we were off. Once rolling we were rather quiet as a group. I’m not certain on the reasons why. Perhaps people were exhausted from a few long days in the outdoors without much sleep, maybe they were mad about someone absentmindedly dripping paraffin on the red bean crop, perchance they were concentrating too hard on not falling over to have a conversation, or possibly they were just sick of being with one another. My guess is that is was none of these: we were too captivated by the beams of sunshine coming down through the forest, too busy relishing the glimpses of mountaintops peaking through the gaps amongst the trees, and finding ourselves entranced by the swishing sound of our skis along the tracks pressed into the snow. It was a contented silence. In the week since, that’s one bit of the trip that I’ve been consistently revisting in my mind. The closest thing to contented silence I’ve had since being back in the city was scrubbing the kitchen floor with my head in front of a dishwasher that was loud enough to drown out the rest of the sounds in the house. Obviously it’s almost time to get out of town again!

Photo from gallery: Backcountry Skiing 2009-2010

The ski out was fantastically exciting and we made good time down much of the descent towards the cars. The mile-long-hill was almost as much fun on the way up as it was on the way down two days earlier and soon enough we were standing in the parking lot making comments about not really wanting to be done yet.

Photo from gallery: BlackBetty Photostream

By day 3 the shaky kneed Pat was still a rather shaky kneed skier but he was a heck of a lot more confident and quick as evidenced by the following video footage of the weekend. (Lesley’s out front in Pink, Pat’s just in front of me). Clip 1 is from the tail end of Day 2 and Clip 2 is from early on Day 3.

My full gallery of my backcountry trips over the Christmas break is here and Dave’s Flickr set of the trip is here.

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