(Photo: Grant Baldwin, Peg Leg Films)
There are too many stories from the last 47 days to tell in just one post. No one want’s to hear about the times our route worked, our gear didn’t break, and when we found our food 20m from the pilots gps point. So I thought I would share some “type 3” fun, so at least someone gets some enjoyment out of it. I hope all of you reading enjoy your warm beds, easy access to food, and blessedly unfrozen footwear just a little more this winter on our behalf…
6:10 AM, it’s Day 27. My stomach whines at me in the dark like a beaten puppy and sighing I unzip the sleeping bag and begin the process of trying to get into solidly frozen ski boots. At least I don’t have to put any clothes on, I haven’t taken off my down layers in weeks. The sun won’t rise for another hour and a half. It’s -20C out again. It’s been -20C for weeks, but at least there’s no extreme wind trying to blow the tent into oblivion like last week. Reaching for the beacon handheld and the phone, I step out into the softly drifting snow and resume walking in 20m grid lines for the second day in a row. This is absolutely the last thing I want to do in the world.
Three hours and kilometers of zigzags later, with the phone (our gps) battery dead, I return to the tent and feel the urge to cry again. Mum looks relieved I didn’t fall into a crevasse while she was sleeping, yesterday I disappeared in the whiteout suddenly and she thought I did. I got back to camp just as she was rushing off to search for me with all the rescue gear in tow. Just another “at least“. She recharges the phone and heads back out to search. I want to believe she will find it but I know she won’t. The beacon must have broken when it fell from the plane, or the batteries froze in the -20 temps, or maybe it’s still emitting a nice strong signal from inside a wolverine’s belly somewhere – along with all our carefully prepared food. I can’t stop thinking about the toblerone bar that’s probably buried somewhere just a few feet from the tent under a foot of snow. We’re also out of toilet paper but at least there’s lots and lots of snow to use. Lunch is a couple of spoons of ice tea crystals in warm water and a meager handful of nuts with some butter. It’s the last of our food. At least the stove (nicknamed “Princess”) worked that time, sometimes it takes 4 hours of tinkering and pleading to get enough hot water for a meal.
Hours later, phone battery down to 20% again, mum returns and announces it’s time to give up. Our next food drop is 6 days away and the weather forecast indicates our Squamish based pilot will not reach us for a resupply for at least 4. The closest helicopter option is just a mere $3100 bill away. At least we don’t have to burn calories trudging in zigzags anymore. There’s always an “At least” on the Coast Mountain Epic I’ve learned. No matter how bad things are, they could always be worse, and indeed they probably will be very shortly. We pack up camp and start the descent down the Goddard Glacier. “Shoulda been named the Goddamn Glacier in my opinion” I call out as we crest a roll and look down upon a sea of broken ice and crevasses as the wind picks up and the whiteout closes in again.
In case you were wondering what walking in zigzags in a whiteout for 2 days looked like… (Blue pin in the center of the mess was our camp and the gps point. Not all of our food drops were such an epic – The exceptional flying skills of Douglas Noblet with Todd Weselake, flying all the way from Nelson BC to do these drops for us often has us finding our food 20-60m away from the gps point in only minutes. Mostly we won, sometimes we lost.
Just so you don’t think we’re totally insane for undertaking this journey, this is what makes it all worth it! Check out this magical ice cave below that we found on the way!
Another magical place we really enjoyed…
Sunset over the Klinaklini glacier
Tania picks up a much needed resupply of food dropped on us by Glacier Air on the scenic ridge of Mt.Mu after storms slowed us down reaching our 2nd food drop. You can see the plane in the background!
Tania navigates through the lower Stanley Smith Glacier
Sunrise on the Pemberton Icefield
If only we could have a hot tub every night! We thoroughly enjoyed this quick stop at the Meager hotsprings
Overlooking the Lilooet Glacier
Being storm-bound at the Harrisson Hut was like visiting a spa. We relaxed as the winds howled and the snow piled up outside the door.
The talented Swiss pilot Bastian Fleury of 49 North Heli out of Campbell River flew in our last food drop after 2 separate fixed wing plane attempts to reach the Waddington area failed due to poor weather conditions. Bringing us oodles of delicious chocolate from his homeland and simultaneously bumping us 40km west over the scenic, but extremely difficult to cross Klinaklini River valley, he won our undying love and gratitude! Todd Weselake assisted with navigation on the flight and ensured an end to our 2 week toilet paper drought, along with other essentials like the first clean socks we’d seen in 40 days. Heaven.
Still smiling after 40 days!
The giant Mt.Monarch reigning in the background.
Reaching blessed treeline after an epic thrashing through the alder and hemlock chocked valley of Ramrose Creek.
Tania takes a break as she crests the ridge after a sketchy 3 hour long, 55-60 degree, no fall zone bootpack dragging 60 lbs of gear.
Grant and Fix compare sausages on the Monarch Icefield. We hadn’t seen any sausage for a long time so we were intrigued.
Having the boys join us for a few days of filming on the last leg was a really fun opportunity to be social again. We also took advantage of a heli flight out with them down to Bella Coola as well, thereby avoiding a big upcoming storm and another giant logging road slog.
(Photo: Grant Baldwin Peg Leg Films.)Props to the talented boys for not only dragging giant toboggans worth of camera gear and a drone, but for capturing some amazing footage from it!
Just in case you forgot it wasn’t all sunny days and pretty views. If you can’t read it the sign Tania is pointing at says “planted 1977”. This meant more alder and washouts than logging road in the Klattasine, Homathko and Scar Creek drainages. I nicknamed that slog “The Week of Suck”.
For now we wait contentedly in the beautiful Bella Coola Valley for the skies to clear until we can fly our next food drops out for the next leg to Terrace. We are considering renaming the expedition to “Coast Mountain Epic Treasure Hunt” as it seems more of a gargantuan effort to acquire goodies like food, maps and toilet paper, then it does a ski traverse at times.
We couldn’t have done this without the monumental flying and logistical efforts from our team of pilots – Todd Weselake, David Safarik, Douglas Noblet, Bastian Fleury, Mike King, (49 North Helicopters, Glacier Air, Kootenay Lake Aviation, White Saddle Air) as well as from our committed team of weather forecasters for sending us the good news and the bad, the terrible jokes, and cheering us on every day. Also a HUGE thank you to Kerry Phillips (Boileau) and her family for hosting us in her beautiful home in Bella Coola this week and helping us with so many logistics. The community here has been so welcoming and helpful and the valley is incredibly beautiful. If you’ve never been to Bella Coola we definitely recommend a trip – Don’t worry, you can fly or drive or boat in, you don’t have to walk for 50 days from Squamish if you don’t want to.
Words and Photography by: Martina Halik – Raven Eye Photography