Flying into Anahim Lake, we were picked up by helicopter pilot Mike King, who drove us to White Saddle, informing us that with the weather forecast he wanted to leave for the mountains immediately. Cue rushed unpacking of freeze dried dinner from cardboard boxes and rushed stuffing of tents, crampons, axes, harnesses, ice screws, food, gasoline, stoves, pans etc etc…
The flight in was stunning, but unexpectedly heavy cloud made finding his way hard for the pilot, Les. But we found a great spot to stash half of our food and fuel in the middle of the icefield and finally managed to find Klattersine Creek. As we flew down Klattersine Glacier we were happy to see it looked passable, with not too much crevassing. Cruising up and down Klattersine Creek we found a high, flat clearing perched on a medial moraine, with what looked like a reasonable descent to the valley floor which we could then follow uphill to the glacier. Thick, wet snow fell on us through the night and the next day but we found a route up onto the glacier.
The second morning we awoke to perfect blue skies and bright sun which set off an almost continuous stream of avalanches from the south-facing side of Klattersine Ridge. We wove between crevasses and continued to climb to the col topping the glacier; here we expected an easy ski down to the base of the Homathko icefield, which stretched away ahead of us. 30 minutes later we were bogged down in a complex crevasse field, and ended up escaping onto the left bank where a gully appeared passable and uncrevassed.
We unroped and packed our sleds onto our packs (shockingly heavy!); Jonty fell into a crevasse and we all struggled with deep, wet afternoon slop and our progress slowed to a crawl. We began triggering small avalanches and so immediately exited the gully and followed a set of snow bridges back onto the glacier. Exhausted, we stopped and camped.
The next morning we finally managed to leave the glacier, at least 18 hours later than we thought the previous afternoon(!) and made it onto the icefield. Ahead lay a complex crevasse field at the top of the Jewakway glacier, barring our way. More in Part 2.
We had an auspicious start, with two solid days of good weather that saw us well established on the icefield. However, it quickly became unsettled again, a common feature of the weather in the Coast Mountains! We were often able to make distance across the icefield, but it was always too poor for downhill skiing.
Occasionally storms would pass through and we’d be woken by the tent flapping and vibrating in the gale. We built high walls from snow blocks to prevent damage to our thin nylon and aluminium shelters, and once we were safe we opened the whisky and lit our pipes, broke out the books and the iPods and enjoyed some downtime. Roger built an igloo as the latrine kept filling in with snow, but before we ruined it we had a Scotch and Christmas cake party inside, happy to be both a) out of the wind and snow and b) standing up!
Eventually time grew short enough that we had to think of leaving we had a boat to catch and so we used our Yellowbrick beacon to request a forecast. Fortunately a break in the weather was expected so we holed up, kept digging the tents out and waited for the sun…
Given the sustained bad weather we’d been sitting through, we were surprised when the forecast came true and blue skies appeared. It took a long time to dig everything out of the snow, but eventually we were packed and bid farewell to the igloo. The 2-3′ high ridges of snow that had built up between the tents were impressive and showed a fair amount of snow had been moved around during the storm.
We were starting from Sasquatch Pass, where we had left our food cache on the flight in, and figured three days to be a reasonably generous amount of time to get to the Franklin Arm of Chilko Lake, where Roland Class was going to pick us up with his boat.
Immediately after cresting the pass our first obstacle was the Alph Glacier, which passed surprisingly easily despite a steep serac band. Ahead lay the final hanging valley, guarded by very steep slopes. We stopped early in the day so that we could tackle these slopes in the cold of the morning when avalanche risk is much lower.
The second morning we climbed into the hanging valley that would give access to our exit route, swapping skis for crampons on the steep and hard snow. By late morning we found ourselves looking along the long ridge leading to Snowsquall Pass. Our plan was to reach the pass and drop onto the Stilly Glacier by the evening, but below us a series of ramps beckoned invitingly.
We made the decision to get onto the ramps an into the final valley floor as quickly as possible before the sun made the slopes too soft. What followed started as a worrying crossing of big, steep and heavily loaded slopes but ended as the only good downhill skiing of the trip; good soft spring ego snow allowing long lazy turns despite the steepness of the slope. We then had some fantastic easy angled tree skiing into the head of Nine Mile Creek and, we thought, the trip was pretty much done. Turns out those final nine miles would be the longest of the trip! More in Part Five…
Crossing the Jewakwa was easier than fear and so, finally on the icefield, we settled into a basecamp and decided to ski a small peak nearby to warm up for what we hoped to be several days of a mixture of travelling and downhill skiing. Unfortunately the weather deteriorated as we climbed and though the summit views were ok we descended in a whiteout, carefully snowploughing our way along a GPS track to avoid crevasses.
After this we spent several days moving a few hours at a time in weather windows. It’s possible to travel in much worse conditions than you can easily climb peaks in, so we had no problems making progress across the icefield. When the weather REALLY closed in we enjoyed tent life to its fullest with pipes and Scotch…
Flying into the base of the Klattersine Glacier, our access point for the Homathko Icefield. We struggled with low cloud, and several times found ourselves over the horrendously chaotic Jawakwa Glacier; there was nowhere to land and no way to ascend it, so it was a tense 15 minutes as we searched the surrounding passes and cols for Klattersine Creek.
However, we eventually found the right valley and found a flat spot high on the lateral moraine, just a couple of kilometres downstream from the glacier’s snout. The pilot Les dropped us off and, having left Vancouver that morning, we found ourselves alone in the backcountry. Our adventure was finally beginning.
Being just nine miles long, we felt that however bad the vegetation was in Nine Mile Creek, a day would be enough time. We were in no way prepared for it taking two entire days.
The first day and a half we had to keep skis on the majority of the time, making the steep and convoluted ground between the trees extremely difficult and very slow. At one point the ground suddenly opened up and the snow disappeared, allowing us to make very rapid progress on foot but within a few hours we were bogged down in incredibly heavy deadfall and Alder from hell.
We made an unplanned open bivouac in the woods, unable to get the tents up, but a fire allowed us to dry out from the rain and wet snow that had soaked us during the afternoon. At this point we were just 2-3 km from the beach and so we rang Roland Class, telling him we would be at the beach at 15:00 the next day (we thought we should add plenty of hours to allow for complications). In the morning the vegetation, amazingly, got significantly worse. We were climbing deadfall six feet high and dragging our packs through Alder so thick that during the first two hours we gained only 300m of distance towards the beach. We wove back and forth across the ridge with increasing desperation and under the strain our gear finally began to break up; ski boots were disintegrating and my pack began to shed one of its shoulder straps.
Finally, at long last we began to make progress. Game trails allowed to to move steadily and we navigated towards an area of braided river where we hoped we would really make progress; this worked out at first, but soon we were backtracking and struggling to cross the many streams. In the end, with time pressing, we started to just walk across and down the streams, struggling to stay upright in the knee deep glacial meltwater.
We emerged onto the beach at 15:40 and to our relief there was Roland with his boat. We were exhausted and collapsing under the weight of our packs, but it had been an incredible trip. Ironically, the best adventure was had in the final nine miles, with no skis on our feet, but that’s exactly why we came to Canada. It provided almost everything we came for and I will be back for sure.