Last December Leigh and I decided to take advantage of a good weather window and make an attempt of the NF of Slalok in the Joffre Group. This was going to be a day trip and it was going to be a long one!
The alarm went off at 3:00am and shook me from sleep. I kept thinking it was too early to head out into the cold dark morning, but if we wanted to summit that day and still make it back home in time for a late dinner we need to get out on the road. Hesitantly we got ourselves up, dressed and ready to go. Stepping outside the moon seemed unusually bright, but the fact that we could see the moon would bode well weather-wise for the remainder of the day, so off we went.
To save time we decided to skip eating breakfast at home (or making lunch) and go for the traditional Canadian experience and get a drive-thru Timmy’s. Unfortunately as we soon found out they do not serve breakfast before 5:00am, so we ordered bagels for breakfast and bagel sandwiches for lunch(as they didn’t have rolls ready for sandwiches)….mmm this was going to be a bagel filled day.
Heading north up the Duffy in the dark the conversation often turned to how tired we felt, how dark it was, how cold it was; but we kept driving. Once pulling into the Joffre Lakes car park, knowing that the estimated temperature for the day was supposed to dip to -20c, we stepped out in the frigid cold and started to layer up. With numbing fingers we both looked at each other and Leigh said “Are you feeling it?” Deep down I thought about the comfort of my warm bed at home and how if we turned around right then I could be back in bed within 2 hours. But I knew I would regret not attempting the peak more than I would regret not getting back into bed, so putting on a brave face I said “Let’s just check it out, we’ll start feeling better once the sun comes up.”
The trail to the upper lake was uneventful, just plodding along trying to follow the trail markers in the dark and continually moving forward in hopes of reaching the warmth of the sun. Upon reaching the upper lake we could see some ski tracks headed across the lake tending towards the shore, rather than straight across. It was still early in the season and wanting to save time but still be smart about it, we decided to makes tracks across the lake as close to the shore as possible, while still cutting off as much distance as we could.
Now at the other end of the lake we could see our intended route very clearly. The summit was obscured in clouds but our route up the couloir towards the football field sized glacier was definite. Once at the base of the couloir it was a quick change over to crampons, trying not to freeze on the spot and then UP was the only direction to go. Leapfrogging our way up,we made up the distance slowly despite the relatively supportive snow, sinking even a few inches was sapping the energy from our already tired bodies. Once we got to the top of the couloir we decided to rope up as we would be be ascending on glacier from then on. Stop for a quick snack break and a drink…oh wait that’s right we both brought bladders with tubes which froze very early on so we couldn’t access the water! Rookie mistake. So a nice dry snack it was and then we kept moving.
You know how difficult it is to judge distance on water right? A small island can look close but in actuality it could be miles away. Well this is exactly what we discovered travelling the expanse of the Slalok glacier was like. With no land features to mark progress it felt like we were crossing a vast white body of water. We started counting our steps to mark our progress and to know when to let the other take over lead…48,49,50, can’t be more than 200 steps to the base of the summit. I lost count, after all we were here to get to the summit no matter how many steps it took. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
After our seemingly endless trudge up the glacier we finally reached the base of the summit. Whoa was it cold! We stopped to layer up in as much down as we had and climbed up the last few steps to the summit cairn. We couldn’t stay up top long as there was no where to shelter, so we took obligatory summit shots and went back to where we stashed our packs below the summit. There slightly sheltered by some rocks, we decided to take a brief lunch break. Did I mention that it was cold? Well not only was our water frozen, so was our lunch. I tried to gnaw on the brick I called a sandwich, but it wasn’t really hitting the spot, so we called it and decided to head back down.
We followed our tracks back down the glacier to the top of the couloir. Here we unroped and made our way down. The snow made for very quick travel on the way down. It was a mix of styrofoam-like-snow(sinking down a few inches) in spots to a thick hard crust which required down-climbing a few of the steeper sections. Now, usually Leigh is a bit quicker than me on the descent, but for whatever reason this day I made quick work of that couloir. Once I was out of the couloir and past the steepest sections I decided to just sit and wait for Leigh. I looked out there right in front of me was the the frozen upper lake where I could faintly see our tracks in the snow, the expanse of forest hiding the winding trail we hiked earlier that day and Cayoosh off in the distance now radiant with a late afternoon winter glow. Sitting quitely in the snow, tired, thirsty but feeling perfectly warm, I felt what I can only describe as one of those perfect moments in life. One of those moments you get where you feel the deepest sense of contentment, like the moment and place you are at right then is the only place you belong. The beauty of the moment, the stillness of the winter scenery and the success of the day made for a perfect mix.
Back to the lake, snowshoes on, it was all easy travel from here. Despite following a few frustrating and circuitous ski tracks in the dark, we made it to the car in good time. After a long tiring day, all we could think about was getting something to drink and maybe something to eat that wasn’t frozen solid. It was still a long drive in the dark on winter roads to Pemberton, so I gave in to crunching on a gatorade slushy and munching on a thawing, rather spongy, bagel sandwich. I will admit this was not my finest culinary moment but my choices were severlely limited.
I always find it funny to look back at past trips and try to remember the way I felt back then and how much I have changed since then. How much progress have I made? Would I still look at this trip the same way if I did it today? One thing I know for sure, well maybe two things, I would bring a different hydration system, preferrably one that didn’t make ice and no bagels, frozen or otherwise!