Winter 2015 Hard Trip: Stein Divide Traverse

As with any elective activity, enjoyment of the outdoors can wane when the same experience is repeated without variance. To keep outdoor recreation interesting, variety is nice in the types of activities I do (currently hiking, skiing, packrafting, fishing etc.), who I do them with (usually with my wife Tara or solo, but more friends would be nice) and how ambitious my trips are.

In the past 3 years I’ve found difficult trips rewarding during the initial experience, the reflective period afterwards and more unexpectedly, in the effect they have on subsequent leisurely trips. I enjoy a casual trip even more when I have the contrast of a recent hard trip to help me appreciate regular things like good trial, nice weather, low miles and campfires.

Tough conditions in the 2012 Bob Marshall Wilderness Open were a good learning experience.
Tough conditions in the 2012 Bob Marshall Wilderness Open were a good learning experience.

Hard trips aren’t just about fun though, they often entail a great deal of suffering such as the 2012 Bob Marshall Wilderness Open where I couldn’t walk properly for weeks afterwards. On that trip I simply overdid it but there’s still something valuable about going beyond your limits. Through that experience I learned what my limits are, and the importance of paying attention when I’m approaching them. Hard trips are always learning experiences that help one make better decisions in the years ahead, which is perhaps the best reason for doing them.

I’ve recently decided that two hard trips per year – one winter and one summer – is probably a good balance for continued development as an outdoors person without getting caught up in the single dimensionality of limit pushing for its own sake. To that, I’ve planned a sweet hard trip for February 10-14. A 60 mile solo ski traverse across a piece of the coast mountains.

Closer look at the route
Macro Route Overview with the smear of Vancouver at the bottom.

Quick Stats
Miles: 59
Miles above treeline: 42
Elevation Gain/Loss: +/- 28,000′
Highest point: 9700′
Length: 4 days with 5 days of food

Stein South Divide Traverse
Stein South Divide Traverse

The trip gains the alpine via an old logging road and then uses the uncommon “Stein Divide Traverse” alpine route across the heavily glaciated divide between the Stein River and Nahatlatch River watersheds. This alpine route has only been completed a few times – always in spring, always in groups and always in 7+ days. Where this route bails off the watershed divide and exits out a logging road to civilization, my route continues into terra incognita. The divide becomes less glaciated and more rugged, so my route bails off the true divide on a few occasions to avoid slopes of high exposure or avalanche risk. It loosely follows the divide for another 20 miles, including up and over the highest peak in southwestern British Columbia (Skihist, 9740′). After Skihist the stress is off and it’s mostly low angle snowfields before the exit out the Stryen Creek where there should be an okay trail to find once I hit treeline. 4 days is the plan, which I think is quite do-able in good conditions and too dangerous to attempt in not good conditions.

Stein Traverse Elevation Profile
Stein Traverse Elevation Profile

Obviously there’s potentially a lot of risk from glaciers, avalanches and winter conditions. Accordingly, there’s high chance it won’t happen. I’m only willing to go if the avalanche forecast is low or moderate, and predicted to stay that way for most of the trip. Cold weather is okay, big snowfalls aren’t. I’d say the odds of an attempt are 40%, and the odds of success if I try are around 50%. I’ve spent a great deal of time studying these glaciers using summer arial photos and I have a well developed understanding of their integrity. There is one bergschrund in particular that I’ll give a wide berth. I’m also quite wary of avalanches which is why I’ve planned the route so it’s on the lowest angle terrain possible. I’ve also got a slew of bail options, most of which involve a lot of bushwacking but they should be safe and simple enough.

Either way, I’m going to get out for a good winter trip. I’ve got a 40 mile plan B route that is still awesome.

Stein Traverse Gearlist

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