Cathedral Lakes and the Fat Dog 120: Part 1

Having spent ample time running up and down Frosty Mountain and the Skyline Trail in Manning Park these past few summers, it would have been virtually impossible to not have at least heard of the adjacent Cathedral Lakes Provincial Park & Protected Area.  Topping out at 2426 meters/7959 feet, Frosty Mountain is arguably the best alpine hiking trail in Manning Park, but I’ve been itching to explore some other options in the area.  Inside Manning, I’ve been planning to run/hike Goat Mountain and Poland Lake, and just west of the park there’s also Mt. Outram, which climbs over 1500 meters to top out at over 2500 m. But it wasn’t until I started prepping to crew a friend for the Fat Dog 120 that the area which straddles the geographical divide between the Cascades and the much more arid Okanagan popped out at me.

Continued on RunSkiDrink, Andy’s and my new site.

Wells Gray: Trophy Meadows & Mountains

I’ve been itching to get out to Trophy Mountain in Wells Gray for a couple of years, and after multiple cancelations due to bad weather, I finally got my chance at the end of July.  As an alpine, backcountry destination, the Trophies have a bit of everything.  Our plan was to run the trail to Trophy Meadows, continuing onward to Plateau of the Lakes, up the col between Long Hill and Trophy 2, along the ridge line past Cwem Cwem lake to Trophy 1, and from there, using some directions from local trails expert Doug Smith, a GPS, and a bit of luck, to pick a route back via Plateau of the Lakes.  (The Backcountry Mapbook for the BC Interior/Thompson-Nicola has an excellent map of this area that includes topographical features, access roads, and trails.)  The alpine flower show in Trophy Meadows was in full bloom; much of the route above tree-line, and the ridge to Trophy 1, a Class 3 scramble.

Unfortunately, around half an hour into our run, I felt something tugging in my right calf and within a couple of minutes, it was pretty clear to me that although the pull felt relatively insignificant, continuing to run would be disastrous.  We power-hiked the rest of the way into the meadows, beyond which the trail became mostly un-runnable anyhow.

Sooner or later, most runners have to sit a few weeks (or months) out due to an injury of some kind.  Thankfully, at least until now, I’ve had luck on my side.  Apart from a bit of achilles tendonitis, which goes away if I stretch properly and use my orthotics, and one brief bout of IT band syndrome a few years back when I ran a 50k race without training for the distance, I don’t seem to get injured.  And I run quite a bit – typically 5 days a week for between 1-1.5 hours, with a longer run every other weekend or so.  I do try to be vigilant about prevention: I have an elaborate stretching regime, am careful to limit speed and other quality workouts, keeping most of my running at an easy aerobic pace, and I do pay attention to things like quality nutrition and sleep.

So what happened?  I’ve gotten a bit lazy about stretching as much as I used to; I’ve been pretty carefree about running this spring/summer – planning less & doing pretty much whatever I’ve feel like in the moment.  I’ve cared less (not at all) about “training” for specific races this year, and more about keeping it fun and spontaneous.  In doing so, I accidentally ramped up both quality and distance at the same time – a surefire formula for getting injured.

Getting injured in the backcountry can also, obviously, be dangerous.  I’ve noticed quite a range of preparedness (and lack thereof) among the folks I’ve done longer backcountry runs with, and it’s worth emphasizing that in places like Wells Gray, where, if you break a leg somewhere off-trail (as any of us could have in an unstable boulder field we crossed), it could be hours or even a day before SAR finds you.  For me, it goes without saying that a (summer) trip into the alpine necessitates, at a bare minimum: a shell, gloves, warm hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, emergency blanket, headlamp, water purification tablets (or a filter), at least a liter of water (more if you’re going somewhere without streams), some first aid essentials, lots of extra food, a knife and a whistle.  On hikes, I also typically bring a puffy and hand warmers, as I get post-exercise hypothermia pretty quickly whenever I stop for more than a minute or two, and I sometimes also bring rain pants.  Mountain weather changes quickly and it’s easy to get caught in unexpected rain or hail.  Andy also has a SPOT which is a great device for getting emergency help via satellite, and for letting others know when you’ve arrived at your destination safely. Furthermore, I tend to bring bear spray and/or bear bangers, at least in places like Wells Gray where I know there are significant grizzly populations.  This tends to generate some eye-rolling, but rather than get into “the great bear debate”, I’ll just say that I’ve heard enough first-hand stories from folks who’ve used it effectively to say that for me, when in grizzly country, it’s worth the added weight.

Cwem Cwem Lake

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Trophy Meadows with Raft Mountain in the distance

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Me watching Natalee and Todd scramble up a long rock slab.  Yep, that’s a bug net on my head.  (The sticky rubber soles on my new La Sportiva Bushidos would have been killer on that slab.)IMG_2193

Andy picking his way down to Cwem Cwem LakeIMG_2179 (1)

Todd, Natalee and Andy approaching Cwem Cwem LakeIMG_2181 (1)

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Todd and Natalee scrambling the ridge between Trophy 1 and 2IMG_2172

Me on the ridge between Trophy 1 and 2IMG_2169

 

Rogers Pass

After injuring my calf on the Wells Grey Trophy Mountain circuit, running the 55 kilometer Kootenay National Park Rock Wall Route as planned was pretty much out of the question.  So, instead, Andy and I decided to spend a few days in Glacier National Park (the Canadian one).  We camped in the shade of old growth Cedar trees at the immaculate and quiet Illecillewaet Campground, and over three days, hiked Abbott Ridge, the Hermit Trail, and the Mount Sir Donald Trail.  It was sunny and hot with temperatures as high as 32C in the alpine during the days, but thankfully it was cool and breezy in the evenings.  It was, as Andy’s taken to calling it (mainly in response to the 40+C temperatures we’ve had in Kamloops this summer) “Good sleeping weather.”

Abbott Ridge: Starting from the Illecillewaet Campground, this trail climbs just over 1000 meters over 6.5 kilometers into the alpine, where from Abbott Ridge, you’re rewarded by panoramic views of the Illecillewaet glacier and Mount Sir Donald.

 

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Hermit Trail: Said to be the steepest trail in the park, this route climbs more than 800 meters over 3 kilometers.  The trail begins 1.5 kilometers east of the Rogers Pass visitor’s center on the westbound side of Highway 1 and climbs through old growth forest to an alpine campsite with about 6 tent pads and bear proof food caches.  From there, you get stunning views of the Asulkan glacier, Mt. Tupper, and the peaks of the Mount Rogers Massif.  IMG_7344  IMG_7338

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Mount Sir Donald Trail: Leaving from the Illecillewaet Campground, the trail climbs just over 1000 meters in 5 kilometers to the col between Mount Sir Donald and Mount Uto.

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Eagle Pass Mountain

Located not too far from Revelstoke, Eagle Pass Mountain is the perfect destination for a challenging, but not overwhelming, day trip into the alpine.  photo (5) (1)We hiked it one afternoon not too long ago on the Canada Day long weekend, which was probably a bit too early given the not yet cleared blowdown on the Crazy Creek FSR and the amount of postholing required once we were on trail.  From the trailhead, the route climbs about 800 meters over 3.5k to a lookout on the peak at 2281 meters (7483 feet).  The last 50 meters of the climb is a teensy bit scrambly and a bit exposed; there are definitely a few spots where if you fell, you could expect to drop a good 400 meters with a hard, rocky landing.  At the top, the lookout is really just the stone foundation of what was probably originally a fire or forest service shelter, and it frames panoramic views of the Monashees and Selkirks.

 

Ski-touring the Cascade Volcanoes: Part 1

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When Andy asked me if I wanted to join him for his annual spring “volcano-fest” (ski-touring a succession of the Cascade Volcanoes), I was excited, but also a little nervous.  I knew nothing about glacier travel, and apart from a vague childhood memory of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption, had been basically oblivious to the mostly dormant volcanoes that made up part of the circum-Pacific belt or “Ring of Fire“.  Nevermind the fact that I’d really only been downhill skiing for one season (and hadn’t exactly proved to be a natural). “It looks steep,” I quipped, squinting up at Mt. Shasta’s intimidating 14,179 foot peak as we pulled into the parking lot at the Bunny Flats trailhead.  Andy, patient as ever, reminded me that the slopes almost always looked deceptively steep from a distance, and that there was really nothing to worry about.  Certainly, with our crampons and ice axes, I was unlikely to actually fall off the mountain.

Mt. Shasta

Due to this year’s drought, the snowpack at Shasta was significantly less than is typical of late May.  Whereas Andy remembers skiing all the way to the parking lot as late as early July in previous years, this year we hiked for at least a few miles through the woods before the trail disappeared under enough snow to warrant skis & skins.

After about 6 km’s and 3,500 feet of climb, we arrived at Helen Lake, a somewhat sheltered spot where a few others had pitched tents & seemed to be set-up to spend the night.  The uptrack had been relatively easy until that point; the climb had been strenuous to be sure, but not overwhelming, and it hadn’t been too hard to stay in the skintrack, even with occasional patches of icy snow.  But all of that was about to change.  From Helen Lake, we climbed from about 7,000 feet to over 10,000 feet, putting on crampons partway up when the pitch steepened & the snow became too slippery to skin.  Thankfully the elevation didn’t bother me much, although it was certainly slower going and I found myself pausing to catch my breath every couple of steps once we got up to around the 8-9,000 foot point.  But the views from up high were every bit worth the work.

Looking down toward Helen Lake

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To my enormous surprise, the ski down was fun, and not at all, as I had imagined, too steep or technically challenging.  Andy had certainly tried to reassure me that volcano corn snow would be mellow and easy to ski, but because I sometimes think he overestimates my skiing abilities, I hadn’t fully believed this.  I was wrong by a long shot, and on subsequent volcanoes, started to actually look forward to the ski down (as opposed to being utterly freaked out in anticipation of bodyslamming trees, as I typically am in the woodsy places we skitour in B.C.)

What I hadn’t been fully prepared for was the effect of a full day of solar radiation at elevation. Thankfully I’d picked up a pair of volcano glasses beforehand, so my eyes survived the intense glare, but foot cramps from dehydration and electrolyte depletion, and skin that felt like it had been microwaved made me realize that even SPF 50 sunscreen applied just once in the morning wasn’t going to do the trick.  Nor would one liter of water see me through a long day on the mountain.

The plan was to tour several more volcanoes over the course of a few weeks, including S. and Middle Sisters, Mt. Bachelor, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Baker.  Unfortunately, bad weather forced us to call a few of these off including Hood just before getting started at the ungodly hour of 2 a.m. when gale force winds threatened to blow us out of the parking lot, and Baker, due to rain.  But the rest of the trip went ahead and before I knew it, three weeks of vacation had blown by.

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“Rock-skinning” part of the Middle Sister uptrackIMG_7195

Crevasse on South Sister

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Mt. Adams: SW Chutes

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Near the peak of South Sister: Andy contemplating the incoming clouds

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Baldy

Ostensibly at least, this blog began as a forum for writing about running and hiking in and around the Kamloops area.  Running and hiking were absolutely, for me, entry points to a broader ouvre of backcountry outdoor pursuit – avenues that I imagine I’ll continue to write about for as long as both continue to function as means of exploring, both outward and inward.  At the same time, however, curiosity and a sense of adventure have always lead me in a variety of directions, and as I’ve increasingly witnessed what skis (and maybe a bit of climbing chalk) might render possible, my gaze had begun to turn in those directions.  I’m always looking around … The world is full of so many options, and seeing them, I’ve let myself start and abandon all sorts of things.  I’m aware of a lifelong tendency to struggle with and oscillate between the value I recognize and know in repetition, practice, commitment and the resulting depth of knowledge versus the sheer excitement of the new and the deeper philosophical kick I get from getting into a beginner state of mind.  Maybe there’s a more simple & forgiving way to frame all of this: when I say running and hiking, I’m speaking figuratively.  I might as well be writing about skiing.

And so … last weekend, Andy and I hiked, then skinned up Mt. Baldy – the one accessed via Little Fort in the Wells Gray/Cariboo B.C. interior.  We drove as far as we could get on a forestry road, then skied the rest of what turned out to be about 9 kms (18k RT), around 900 meters up.  Baldy has one of those classic tin wind shelter shacks held taught by wire at all four corners at the peak.  Inside, there’s a ratty mattress, a chair, a woodstove and a load of cedar.  The whitewashed walls have been appropriately tagged by every teenager since 1982, and as with every interior B.C. landmark, they bear full testimony to the Grateful Dead and Neil Young.   But the best thing about Baldy is the stunning view it affords of Dunn.

Dunn from Baldy

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Dunn from Baldy

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Heading up the forestry road

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Love shack on Baldy

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Andy and shack on Baldy

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Near the peak on Baldy

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View from inside the shack on BaldyImage

 

Suddenly  … the view …IMG_7140

Getting pretty close to the peak
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The end of the forestry road – for us.  Loading up …10365775_10152042862540872_4362929329071066778_n

The Gorge: backcountry ski near Sicamous

A few weekends ago, Andy and I headed east to ski a spot in the mountains just past Sicamous known as the Gorge.  We’d heard good things about the terrain & were excited to check out a backcountry ski destination so close to home.  The only catch seems to be that the access logging road isn’t regularly plowed, so most of the time you probably need a sled to get in.  Despite temperatures hovering around -20C, logging operations had swung back into action that week, so the road was plowed & we drove right up to the start of the skin track.

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A bluebird day, the sun took the edge off the biting cold, and I even broke a bit of a sweat as we skinned up around 800 meters through the trees, and then across a large bowl & up to the summit.  It’s shocking just how quickly you chill down in those temperatures.  Out of direct sun, all it took was a minute or two for me to feel my fingers freezing up, and if we hadn’t had Hot Shots, things could have gone south very quickly.

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From the top, the skiing was really really nice: wide open subalpine, knee deep & almost totally untracked powder & a handful of possible routes.  I’m comfortable admitting that I’m still very much a student of this sport.  (Apart from a few months nearly 15 years ago, this is my first real season on skis).  I had never downhilled in powder this deep before, and the slope also felt significantly steeper than anything I’d ever attempted.  The result was undoubtedly a bit challenging to watch: I couldn’t seem to keep my skis above the snow & I felt gravity pulling my torso down the mountain ahead of my skis.  And then I would fall – face first, cartwheeling basically, head over heels again and again down the mountain.   Andy was amazingly calm, picked routes where I was less likely to body-slam trees, and talked me through some tricky steep bits in the trees.   I felt pretty calm through it all, and just focused on the terrain at hand.  And apart from a bit of a torqued knee, which resolved itself in a day or so, I managed not to injure anything.  What’s more, I resolved to nail this powder skiing thing … or break my legs trying.  The mountains are just too beautiful to abandon during the winter, and although I’m definitely more about the uptrack, the skiing is (mostly) a ton of fun.  99% of the time I feel relaxed about doing something that takes me totally out of my comfort zone.  It’s humbling to try to do something you utterly suck at – to put yourself in the position of being a beginner.  And it’s 100% worth it.

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