Since there are only 35 million Canadians in the world’s second largest country, you could probably say that the opportunity for adventure is higher than anywhere else in the world. With this in mind, I decided to stay in my own country for my yearly expedition. There are many ways to have an adventure (this trip report will be proof of that), and finding areas that haven’t been explored with skis is my favourite. Jon pulled an objective from a hazy memory bank, but after spending the Autumn searching in vain for any photos that would confirm the quality of the area (I guess it was too remote!), we quickly switched focus when Tobin spotted some lines on Google Earth. I contacted the pilot in the area, and was pleased to hear that no one had ever landed a plane there. So the ingredients for our adventure had been chosen: 3 weeks in an unskied zone in the St. Elias.
This season was interesting. A dubious beginning laid the groundwork for a sketchy snowpack. Combine that with a couple of pesky injuries at key points when the skiing was good, and it felt like I couldn’t get any momentum. Then a bad knee bruise 6 weeks before this expedition had me longing for summer. But we’d been planning this thing since last summer, so I thought that the worst-case scenario would be for me to sit on the glacier and scratch my photography itch. Besides, all the flights were paid for (Thanks MEC and Tasc Performance). 2 weeks before departure I left my month-long cocoon on the couch and started exercising. Not sure it helped, but I was soon at the Kluane airport, in the Yukon, with Chris, Jon, and Tobin.
Crammed into the co-pilots seat of our tiny ski plane, my eyes scanned the endless untouched peaks and ridges. As the mountains got bigger, anxiety started to grow due to the realization that I was heading into one of the world’s great ranges in absolutely horrible physical shape. But this soon disappeared as my old ski descents on Mt Vancouver and McArthur came into view. It reconfirmed my belief that the upper Northwest face on Mt Vancouver is the probably most ski-worthy feature in the area. After an hour in the air, I jumped out of the plane and immediately dropped about a foot into the isothermic snowpack. I soon began to sweat in all my winter layers. Our pilot then informed us that due to the rotting snowpack, he would not be able to pick us up in 2 weeks. Let the real adventure begin . . .
The next morning we packed 3 days of food and headed towards our first theoretical line. It looked a bit icy from the plane, but we still wanted a closer look. As we toured along and took in our surroundings, we knew things weren’t right. You have to expect that there will always be ice on the bigger lines in the bigger ranges, but there was ice everywhere! Our bigger objectives were all ice, and even our smaller ‘easy’ objectives had a surprising amount as well. Jon discovered the reason as he examined a serac across the valley. The snow on top of it showed a nice cross-section of our entire snowpack. It was about 1 foot deep! Either the last few days of warmth had melted the entire snowpack (not likely), or it didn’t snow the entire winter (more likely). Then Tobin pulled out his probe and began to test the strength of the snow bridging a crevasse (at home we would’ve strolled over it without thinking). A few feet of facetted sugary-mank separated us from the bottom of the hole.
So here’s the basic evolution of our thinking within 8 hours of landing: “Oh, it’s a bit warm, sucks we won’t be skiing powder.” To “It’s a bit icy, but we’ll still find something to ski, since we always do.” To “Oh shit, it’s all ice, there’s nothing to ski here.” And finally, “Holy shit, the crevasses are hidden death traps and we can’t go anywhere without crossing over them.” With the rope taut between us, we bailed on our objective and scurried back to camp.
To be continued . . .