A Return to Ski Touring

T and I have been enjoying the slow life since we left the city and our jobs 3 weeks ago. We’re not really in a hurry to get anywhere, so if we’re rambling down a logging road and realize we’re low on caffeine, we’ll just pull over and brew some up. “Relax, we’re on vacation” is a common refrain anytime we find ourselves rushing or stressing.

In the photo below, I wanted to drive up an FSR to check the snow line, while T was getting a bit “hangry” and wanted to eat. I dropped her off on the side of the gravel road with the stove and she brewed coffee and scrambled eggs for us, while I bumped along for a few more kilometers.

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For the last 3 weeks, most of our attention has been focused on trying to catch the tail end of the winter skiing. We’ve visited several of the huts nestled in the Whistler/Duffey Lake area backcountry. Most of the huts are under-the-radar with not quite legal status, and they’re great. Being able to pack in less gear, sleep warm and dry our gear is so much nicer than tenting it in the winter. There’s something to be said for both, but a remote cabin is a nice way to ease into it.

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It’s been really nice getting back on the skis. Back in 2008 – 2011 I was putting in 60-100 days a season living in Whistler, but since then I’ve only been getting out a few days a winter. The ~15 days I’m now at this season still isn’t much by comparison, but the last few weeks have felt like getting back in the groove. The technique is coming around a little.

I’m also firmly a backcountry skier now. Having logged hundreds of days at Whistler (with a staff pass), the idea of paying $100 for a day competing with the hoards for tracked lines doesn’t have any appeal. Only the best lines get me excited these days. So that takes effort, research and waiting for the right weather. I’ve had to turn around on a lot of summit attempts over the last couple years, including two weeks ago where we ran out of daylight in otherwise perfect conditions, but somehow that makes eventual success that much sweeter.

I’m also kinda proud of myself that I’ve developed the maturity to know when to push ahead and when to call it. Five years ago I never would have turned around on anything if there was the slightest chance it would work, whereas now I can accept when something isn’t going to work and make the right call to turn back. The challenge now is not getting soft and turning back too easily. The temptation is there to turn back on everything hard and declare myself mature, while really just getting soft. If you’re semi-consciously trying to find a reason to turn around, you always will.

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Thus far April in the Coast Mountains has been really wet, with snow almost every day. It’s kept us mostly in the trees and off the summits but we’ve found some really nice snow. Finally last week we managed to wander up Steep Peak (2350m) in excellent weather and with good snow stability for a nice descent down the front side. As usual, the photos show mostly that day and not the other 10 days of grey conditions while we waited for it.

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In total, we’ve skinned about 10,000m (33k feet) of vertical so far in April. Only a few weeks ago the legs were wobbly after 2 years at a desk, yet already they feel much stronger. Yesterday we did a low elevation hike that gained 700m in 55min and it felt tough but sustainable – I could have done it again. If I can keep this up, I’ll be in decent shape for the start of our Great Divide Trail thru-hike on June 1. Much better shape by far than our PCT thru-hike in 2014 where a single 3 mile walk was the extent of my physical prep.

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We’re continuing to hope for clear weather so we can get in some longer alpine traverses and summit a few more peaks on our list. We’ve got about 15 bluebird days worth of trips on our list and not that may days left in April. Hopefully the warming weather is also accompanied by some sunshine soon, so it’s not just mushy, overcast conditions. Right now the forecast is for another week of warm rain with a freezing level 90% of the way up.

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On the way up Steep Peak

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