April 19 - 21, 2005
Troy Jungen, Douglas Sproul, Jon Walsh
130 kilometres and over 30,000 feet of ascent and descent through the wilds of the Columbia Mountains.
Depart: Asulkan Parking lot, Rogers Pass at 7 p.m.
Length: 130 KM
Total runs: 19
Total Time: 80 hours
Total ski time: 64 hours
Total break time: 16 hours of which about 10 hours were spent sleeping.
Pack weight at start including food / water: 24 LB
1.) Rogers Pass to McMurdo Hut in 28 hours
2.) International Hut to Bugaboos in 32 hours
All cruxes done at night:
1.) Deville Chimney
2.) Malachite Spire
3.) Syphax Mountain
4) East Cirque
5.) Bugaboo / Snowpatch Col
We're laughing in the image above because we know that we are about to hurl ourselves into a place were none of us had tread before. I don't want to sound too dramatic about it, especially since I have had time to reflect on what it all means to me. People have driven themselves to far greater extremes (Vostock Station, E. Shackleton, etc.)
For us anyway, it was a pretty big deal. The backpack on my back in the photo above weighs 24 LB. That is with all of the gear that I was going to bring including most of which, was food and water. This had to get us to the International Basin Hut which is about halfway.
We live in a mathematical universe so naturally, we had our own mathematical equation for the trip: gear + style = zero room for error.
A couple of friends were on the traverse a couple weeks before us. One of them got in a nasty avalanche and the team ended up flying out. They offered up their cache to us and we graciously accepted. Having that cache helped us go even lighter. Thanks Gregg and Karin. This was the only cache we used for the trip.
"Wait a second...isn't this the Bugaboos to Rogers Pass Traverse? What's with the 'backwards' direction?"
Through the years as the style has progressed, so has our preparation, training, travel tactics, etc. There's a lot more to it but the direction of travel choice is for a couple reasons. Hobbling along from north to south means that the majority of time will be spent on north (shady / cool) aspects. This has some advantages. Since most of your time will be spent in cooler temperatures, this means less dehydration, heat exhaustion, stroke, etc. As an added bonus, you drink less. Getting beat down by the sun is big time hurtsville.
Another reason we chose to go north to south is the amount of time spent in the fickle snowpack of the solar aspects. There are lots of issues that can arise to stop skier's in their tracks during a traverse but this is one of the usual suspects. Going from south to north means that the majority of time is spent ascending solar aspects. North to south travel however is overall, a safer method of doing these traverses with speed.
Let me make something hopefully clear here: This is not meant at all to promote skiing the Bugs to Rogers 'backwards'. That's ludicrous! Obviously, the skiing is way better going south to north. And most people, i am certain, don't ever want to be in such a rush anyway. This story is referring only to traversing it at speed.
We were in good shape this season. The three of us had trained for this trip all year. Many awesome days and nights were spent out until the spring arrived and the season of the Grand Traverses. The year before this, Jon and I had undertaken our first Grand Traverse in this style; the Southern Cariboo Traverse.
That one took 79 hr. and 48 min. with no caches, only the gear on our backs. That trip had some exciting moments, but that's another story. We had now spent the past year with that experience and more application and tweaking of our new knowledge. Progression I suppose.
The Rogers to Bugs is a burly traverse. It just so happened that every time we approached a crux, it was dark. Other than the Deville, we didn't plan it that way, it just happened. The darkness and sleep deprivation did make it more difficult but in another way, it's kinda nice; not being able to see too much!
Most teams do this traverse in the other direction (south to north) that we were doing it. So naturally, those lucky folks get to rappel the Deville Chimney instead of having to climb it. The Deville is rated PD, 5.1 in summer condition. The three of us were comfortable with the climbing prospects so we went light.
An avalanche had stripped the entire chimney of snow on a traverse party that had been through the day before so it was in fine shape for no crampons, a cheesy aluminum axe, a webbing harness, a 37m half-rope and a few slings...
...Just kiddin'! It was fairly engaging. We'll leave the rest up to the pics to tell that story. Jon was amazing in the chimney. He's a dude. One of them Rockies hard-guys. His lead was solid. It definitely had to be. We ended up finding one old anchor, which we gratefully utilized and an old piton on the crux bulge. Other than that, I don't remember any protection between the three of us, all tied together on a 37m half-rope. Jon was the only one that had a steel ice axe and steel crampons. Throughout the traverse, we traded these items around to split up the weight.
Troy and myself were stuck with no crampons and the mini aluminum 'snow walking tools'. Pulling the crux, crampon-less boots scraping on patches of ice or compact Quartzite woke me up. Sheez, I was getting a bit tired after that epic slog across the Illicilewaet Neve. We pulled the lip of the Chimney and there is Jon with the sun rising behind him and a fat grin on his face. I look down to his boot-axe belay and can only grin back. It had taken us just under three hours to climb the Chimney. Such a short rope, so many 'belays'.
We didn't think we would get a chance to be here, standing around on the crest of the Deville Neve. We knew it then and reflecting back, I know even more that for this trip, it was now or never.
The Spring of 2005 was a warm one. That is putting it lightly. Unseasonably warm temperatures had moved into the province in early April and stayed with us until the end of the season. A Selkirk Washout. Had we not gone for it when we did, it would have been even tougher as the snowpack in lower elevations was rapidly deteriorating and the creek crossings were already getting difficult. On top of that is more difficult travel conditions and of course dangerous avalanche (stability) issues.
So this brings us to the toe of Mount Wheeler were we sadly have to point our skis down into the Beaver Overlook headwall and enter into the slog of slogs: the Beaver Valley in above freezing temperatures! Good shit! Solid suffering. What a major drain of energy that was. Although we were clearly disappointed having missed linking the Grand section into the tour, we got over it. Our choice was likely the good one. Every day, the mountains were literally falling apart by late morning and although we had brought the absolute minimum for crevasse rescue gear, we had zero rescue or communication gear of any kind. I think we may have brought along a few of the ten essentials though.
This wasn't going to be the last time we would have to deal with the warmth and isothermal conditions.
By the time we made it to McMurdo Hut, we had been on the move for 28 hours. Most of this was night travel. The experience of night travel through the mountains is so wicked. When there is a full moon and clear weather, nothing beats cresting a ridge or a peak at sunrise. Or a challenging walk up an unknown creek following tracks of the Gulo.
We wanted to make it to our cache at the International Basin Hut which was sorta close, yet kinda far. So we laid down and fell asleep. I remember waking up cold and looking over to Troy who had covered himself with a Space Blanket. "He brought a Space Blanket!" Damn what a smart guy. He looked comfortable.
Some hours passed and molded into one. Once again we were on our way to our cache and skied up elegant terrain above the hut. Having quickly arrived at the hut, the stuffing of food into faces began. It was awesome. Like Christmas as a kid. We didn't know what we would get and what we got was awesome! I was more of a Gu astronaut at this time in my life so getting the taste and energy of real food was crucial. We ate for hours. Jeez, thanks again Gregg and Karin!
It was so warm. Too warm. The timing was not right for going over Malachite and Syphax. We had to wait. We ate some more.
Eventually, the snow froze enough to allow passage and once again, we were off just before sunset. This time with full bellies and a good amount of food restock to hopefully get us to the Bugaboos.
We had a plan. We wanted to reach Climax Col by nine-thirty in the morning. It was around 25KM and 8500' of vertical with two of the tour's crux's thrown in for good value - Malachite Spire and Syphax Mountain.
It was a wild night on the mountain!
I know much more about these areas since we had done this traverse. I now know where the standard route is and we definitely didn't take it. We were onsighting the entire portion of the Purcells up until The Bugaboos area. We had limited, fuzzybeta on where to go over Syphax or any of it for that matter. We figured the mountain will let us know which way to go. It was awesome. We went for the peak. Ascending direct up the north face up a nice steep couloir. Passage was allowed to a steep, hanging ramp on the west face. Then it was possible to traverse (pretty Gulo like) just underneath the summit and to the top of a CMH heli-run that just happened to be fully illuminated by the full moon - Wohooooooo! - Good push boys!
We were charged by elements of the universe. Our experience was happening. The run down the glacier after Syphax was so ridiculous that to even attempt to describe it would be laughable. We were super stoked. The mountain gave such an incredible gift after our personal engagement with it.
Troy, Jon and myself don't talk much when we're doing these trips. We have known each other long enough that we mostly understand what the other is thinking or doing. The times we do speak are usually navigation / hazard related. Conversations are kept to a minimum. It saves a lot of energy.
I'm not sure how we got so lucky but nearly every time the sun was rising or setting, we were lucky enough to be high up to experience it.
From Sypahx, the tour was pretty mellow as it rolled through micro-terrain for a bit. The next crux was Climax Col. Climax is not as serious as Deville or Syphax. It's basically just a steep snow climb up a cirque on the west side and a gargantuan, albeit mellow avalanche path on the east. For us , the cruxy part was once again, the rapidly rising temperature. So the next logical step was to haul ass as fast as we could to Climax and scootch down to the valley and gain the Conrad Icefield. From there, the tour is on high glaciers and icefields. We could ski non-stop to The Bugs. All we had to do was make it onto The Conrad.
Well, that was plan A anyway. The two photos above and below are from another forced rest in Crystalline Creek, just shy of the Conrad Icefield. We couldn't make it even with meeting our goal of Climax Col at the exact time we wanted to; 9:30 a.m. on the button. The snowpack was deteriorating so quickly that it forced us off of the standard route and immediately down into the valley. As fast as we could!
I remember seizing up during the break. A heinous condition given our present location. There remained much terrain left to travel to the end. Short naps were kipped in the baking sun. Soon, each awoke and walked around in circles, ate some, drank some, more circles...
"Such a small piece of terrain" we humbly discussed. To gain the Conrad from this side is pretty much puppy piss. Easy-peasy. It's basically a one-move-wonder and then it's over to smooth sailing on the Icefield. Not so at the moment. It had shut us down and there we sat and ate and drank and seized.
Seizing up can hurt sometimes. Sometimes not as much. The worst is when the attempt is made to to get back after it shortly after having an episode. This was pretty out there for us country folk. The whole trip was like: AND GO...AND STOP...AND...
Once again the snowpack had slowly come around to re-freeze as the now-creaky skiers set off up and onto the Conrad Icefield. We laughed after gaining the the small entrance that stopped us. If we had arrived maybe an hour earlier, it likely would have been possible to continue right through without the stop. Now that would have required some pretty Voodoo planning. Such is the life on the mountain.
Touring through the Conrad was memorable. Something that really stood out was two recent climax avalanches. 'Keep moving'. The crest of the Conrad was gained and the three skiers slowly descended into a fairly crevassed glacier. Oh, if I only knew then what I know now. Another direct variation I suppose. It was a pretty wild line. I don't even remember a word being spoken at the top. We just went. Of course, none of us knew anything about it. Dropping into the awesome cirque of East Creek and the land of the Vowells was definitely a memorable highlight of the trip.
So close, so tired. Such inspiration, wandering around the towers in the moonlight. Inspiration that fed us the drive to finish. The ascent to Bill's Pass was not easy but it wasn't difficult either which was a nice break. A chance to re-gather momentum for the final crux; the Bugaboo / Snowpatch Col.
This is when the hallucinations began.
Jon apparently got a bit more of a charge or he is just plain stronger than us and was able to dust us just before the col. Shortly after, a fog moved in onto the icefield. Shortly after, it disappeared. Then it was back. It slowly got thicker until cresting the col when my mind told me what I wasn't seeing. It wasn't a fog. It was illusion.
I ask Troy "Hey, do see that?" "The fog?" he replies. We talk. We realize. We are both having the same hallucination. Time to go home now.
Whacking down the BS Col on re-frozen ski tracks in the dark was wonderful. About as good as it gets. The sting in the tail to be sure we have received our proper punishment. We slithered into the Conrad Kain hut where some of our friends were staying while on a guide's exam. It was sometime in the wee hours of the morning so we snuck upstairs and faded amongst the mass of sleeping bodies. We were certain that Jon was somewhere in the room sleeping soundly.
A blessing came in the morning in the form of fresh coffee and pancakes from the exam folks. Thanks for that! A mellow departure brought us down off the glacier and into the valley where the first signs of spring were beginning to show.
Myself and I am certain that Jon and Troy feel the same, would like to sincerely thank Marc Piche and Hans Gmoser (R.I.P.) for being so kind to us while busy attending to a proper show of their own. It was Nostalgia Week at CMH. I believe I remember it being the fortieth anniversary of CMH. Most of the original people were there. Hans had them flown in 'special occasion.'
It was so awesome being amongst them. There were some real legends in that crew. Some of them were actually interested in our tour. Rockies legend Sepp Renner was especially interested. He would come out back every once in awhile with a few new questions and then he would disappear, no doubt processing what we had said, then return and do the process over again.
Marc walks out of the door to three stinky, haggard looking dudes loitering on the west patio during Nostalgia Week with three plates of classic CMH gourmet and three bottles of suds. And a coffee.
Dude! Thank you so much.
Hans Gmoser needs no introduction. I mean, he made the first ascent of The Yam and he owns the joint that we were walking around in smelling like Orcs. Standing there while Marc briefly told him what we had just done, I watched with interest as Hans began to stutter. "W-w-what. I c-c-can't believe it..."
In that moment, it had hit me. I smiled as I realized what we had accomplished:
Eight years have passed. I don't believe I have done anything this ridiculous since.