Sometimes it’s nice to tag along on a trip and not really do anything to plan it. It’s too easy nowadays to completely destroy any discovery when exploring a new area by doing research online. Most places will have pictures of everything on the route, 360’ video panoramas, HD Satellite imagery available in Google Earth, with detailed reports describing every step of the way. (I’m aware of the irony of writing this and posting it online).
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes it’s nice to discover an area fresh without any previous knowledge of what to expect.
So mid last week I received word that a friend wanted to explore the “Hurley Silver Mine” area and potentially summit “Hurley Silver Peak”. I’d remembered reading something about it, and vaguely knew it was off the Duffy Lake Road so I agreed. I’ve never been on a bad hike that started from the Duffy Lake Road.
Saturday morning seen four of us heading North, past Whistler, then Pemberton and along the Duffy. We passed the pullouts for all the popular weekend spots for sledders and skiers and they were packed. Why wouldn’t they be, conditions were awesome and the weather was forecast for bluebird skies. I worried that our chosen area would also be overrun by skiers and sledders also.
Nearing our parking spot I seen it was empty with only an old pickup parked up the road. My friend, Adrien, mentioned that we had to be dropped off at the parking area and that Ben, the driver, would need to park about a kilometer away as there was rumours that a First Nations man might vandalize our vehicle if we parked nearby.
Turns out there used to be a proper, drivable bridge that crosses Cayoosh Creek which runs parallel to the Duffy Lake Road for a while, but it washed out some years back. Since then a new footbridge has been installed, purportedly by this First Nations man who lives on the opposite side of Cayoosh Creek, the side we’d need to cross over to before heading along the Hurley Silver Mine road towards our objective. He has been reported as blocking peoples attempts to cross this bridge.
Whether or not these rumours are lore, past tense or true didn’t matter. It was better to err on the side of caution rather than risk a possible confrontation. We unloaded, moved the car a safe distance away, geared up, then quickly scurried across the footbridge and along the road. The footbridge instantly meant we wouldn’t be listening to the obnoxious sound and smell of sleds for the weekend. We lucked out also in that no skiers seemed interested in skinning up the road either.
Myself and Spring were on snowshoes, while Ben and Adrien had shiny new backcountry ski setups to test out.
The benefits of their skis soon became apparent. Even though they were breaking trail they were only sinking in a few inches. Whereas myself and Spring, on snowshoes, were sinking in up to our thighs in places, even while we walked in their skin track (with their permission of course).
It took us around 5 hours to get to our chosen campsite at 2000m’s elevation. I’m always amazed how much harder everything seems in winter. A 5 hour day on snowshoes when you are overheating while moving and then feeling your sweat turn to ice when you try and stop to gnaw on some frozen snacks feels harder than a 10 hour day covering a lot more ground in late Spring or early Fall.
Anyway, as we neared camp I had my doubts as to how well we’d survive the night. Myself and Spring had brought -12’c sleeping bags (Older MEC Pharaohs) and our NeoAir XTherm sleeping pads. We also had a new winter tent, a Sierra Designs Convert 2, that I had yet to properly test out. We had our down jackets and all our winter clothing also but still, it was a lot colder than I had expected. When we parked, the dash on the car said it was -19’c outside in the sun. As we hiked higher and the sun set it started to get colder.
We passed below a wide couloir at one point where we spaced out due to the potential avalanche risk. As I passed below, it felt like the gully was funneling down much colder air from higher up. I haven’t felt cold like that in a long time, not since I spent part of a winter in Alberta, it must have been -30’c or lower. I could see Springs cheeks and nose turn a bright red before starting to turn white after a while, at which point she covered up her face as much as possible.
We arrived at camp and quickly start to make camp. Myself and Spring had a tent at least, whereas the other guys, Adrien and Ben, had opted to dig a snow cave. As I tried to compress down the snow to peg out my tent only to have my snow pegs pull right out under tension, like a knife through warm butter, I wondered how the guys where fairing trying to dig a stable hollow in this stuff.
We pitched and guyed out our tent as best we could, utilizing ice axes and parts of hiking poles as makeshift pegs in places then went to investigate how the others were faring in digging their cave some 15m’s away. As we approached we found out and seen that there had been a cave in. As they hollowed, the granular, aerated, dry snow just wouldn’t hold a ceiling and had collapsed. Nobody had been buried but still, their snow cave now had an atrium much to their chagrin. As cold as I imagined I was going to be in my tent I imagined these guys would be probably colder in their snow cave-cum-pit as they had similarly rated sleeping bags.
We mentioned that, if needed, we could sardine them into our tent, but only after they had attempted to utilize the warming effects of shared body heat in one sleeping bag. I was being only half serious. We dug out a kitchen, ate dinner and enjoyed just being in the mountains again.
At around the late hour of 8pm everyone turned in for the night. I stayed up a while longer to take some photos and stare up at the stars. The skies were exceptionally clear and I probably stayed out too long watching the Milky Way arching above me. By the time I crawled into my sleeping bag I had a shiver that wouldn’t stop, it took a good hour or more before I finally started to feel warm inside the tent.
We slept relatively warm. Our winter tent did it’s job and it felt a good 10’c warmer inside than the outside temperature. We were woken periodically by dustings of frost that was forming from condensation on the walls of the tent. It was expected so it didn’t bother us.
Early the next morning we awoke to hazy but blue skies. We ate our bagels and cream cheese which we had kept from freezing inside our sleeping bags, drank some coffee, packed, and headed out towards Hurley Silver Peak.
We made good time to the ridge crest then started ascending one of the bumps before the summit. We evaluated the avy risk on the slope and stayed away from the obvious convexities.
We got to a point where the guys could no longer skin up as we were now on the windward side of the slope which was stripped bare of all but a pasting of sastrugi snow. We scrambled on, trying to find a route before reaching a notch in the ridge that halted our progress. We couldn’t pass to the right due to a cornice and to pass to the left would mean descending probably 100m’s down a slope which looked to have a real tenuous covering of snow.
We called it. The summit didn’t need to be reached today and I wasn’t out here to bag a summit anyway. I just wanted to be in the mountains and test out some gear. We retreated, stopped at an earlier bump we had passed and the guys managed to get some turns in on the egress.
As myself and Spring would be moving a fair bit slower on our snowshoes, we packed up our camp and left about 30 minutes earlier than the guys who were going skinning back up the slope to get a few more runs in.
We motored down the FSR. Cutting switchbacks where possible. We found a serendipitous slidepath that bisected 3 switchbacks and cut directly down it. From my GPS I calculate we shortened our trip back by at least 1.5km doing this.
Shortly before reaching the footbridge the guys caught up to us on their skis. Looking fresh as daisies from just gliding down the road that Ben described as “an endless green run”. I guess we’ll have to hang up our snowshoes ourselves in the next while and get skis also.
We retrieved the car, grabbed burgers at Mile One in Pemberton (amazing burgers by the way, cheap and fast and a great atmosphere, love that place) and sped back to civilisation. Another awesome weekend in British Columbia complete!