The Glacier Project Returns to a COVID-19 World

After 8 days in the remote wilderness of Vancouver Island, a group of adventurers returns to a drastically different reality—and they have to learn to live in ‘the new normal’.

Man sits in a boat off the coast of Vancouver Island.
Blue skies for a whole week in Tofino is an unheard of blessing.

words :: Matt Mcrae & Jeremy Allen photos :: Jeremy Allen 

We arrived on Vancouver Island to uncommon winter scene: blue skies, uninterrupted wilderness, calm winds and an ocean teeming with life. The typical winter swell of Vancouver Island is in slumber, and from afar the ski conditions look favourable for skiing.

Most people heading to the island this time of year are looking for big surf or some great storm watching. Our goal? We aimed to ski Vancouver Island’s last south facing glacier, Mount Mariner. 

Man sitting at a camp on the beach.
Hard to beat campsite #2, The North Face hut booties highly recommended.

The objective is part of a larger project undertaken by myself, a filmmaker, Matt Mcrae, a ski guide, and Javier Munoz Santos. The Glacier Project is an educational project to educate the public on our rapidly melting glaciers. By definition, a glacier is a persistent body of dense ice that is constantly moving under its own weight. Just 50 years ago Vancouver Island was home to 170+ glaciers. Today, there are only 4 that just barely pass as “glaciers” by the traditional definition. We all look north for the melt problems, but for major cities like Victoria (on the southern tip of Vancouver Island) and Vancouver, melting glacial ice is a problem happening right in our backyards. 

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What we were not aware of at the time was that the state of the world was in rapid decline.

After months of planning logistics, it was time to get into our comfort zone. It’s this process that makes a good trip, being both fully focused while completely void of thought, alone – yet together. 

Our paddle was incredible, with bluebird skies and cooperative tides, we breezed through our 2 day paddle to the mouth of the Bedwell River. The ocean was teeming with life, endless sea birds, seals, sea lions accompanied us through the Clayoquot Sound. The one path to gain the Glacier had 15 feet of fresh, chunky avalanche debris. We came to the conclusion that our safety was and always should be the most important. After attempting two different routes up to the glacier, we decided to turn around and return in September for The Glacier Project. We were where we wanted to be all along, disconnected from everything, yet connected to all.

The Clayoquot Sound took good care of us during our 30km paddle.

What we were not aware of at the time was that the state of the world was in rapid decline.

Upon our departure, COVID-19 was nothing but a distant imposition on the other side of the world that couldn’t possibly affect us out here, right? But when we returned, we were faced with a drastically different reality than the one we had left behind at the docks just a week before. 

Borders closed, national and provincial parks closed, schools shut, public washrooms closed (shit), and needless to say our week long craving for Tacofino was never fulfilled.

A textbook night for camping, stars shining, basecamp set up, and arms heavy from kayaking.

It happened fast for everyone, we were only gone for 8 days in the end. We went from the most freedom you can experience to a full quarantine in a blink of an eye. Restrictions in place to help prevent the spread of the virus is necessary in a global pandemic, but how quickly the people changed their state of mind was the biggest shock of all. 

Could fear be the biggest threat?

The whole trip we had sunshine, on our last day when we were back in cell reception, it all changed. Pathetic fallacy fell into place as we watched our week-long trip come to an end. The oh-so common winter rain was back on our last day, humbling us on realizing how lucky we were to have sunshine for 7 days in a row in Tofino.

When we arrived back at the docks to unload all of our funky smelling gear, to our surprise we were greeted with silence. A rare occasion in the small, yet busy town of Tofino. No boats in what is usually a popping marina, no sounds of engines and cars, nothing.

The first sign of change was seeing our first person, walking down the street with a stormtrooper mask on. It was clear there was something going on that we were unaware of. 

The common mood from Tofino, foggy and rain falling in the distance.

We turned to our phones and social media had a whole story to tell us. Messages from friends flooded in wondering where we were and how we were reacting to the unfolding situation. 

Matty got laid off from his job, guiding courses cancelled, work cancelled for the summer and no signs of when any of it would return..

Jeremy’s roommate had to leave on a dime because he lost his job. Shoots cancelled, adventures postponed all the whilst nature is recovering.

It was as if the sky was falling on top of us, everything coming down on our heads. All we could think about was sitting by the fire without a care in the world.

Days earlier we saw a plane fly over head and made a joke about how this meant the world was business as usual and the luxuries of society were waiting for us back at home. In this case that wasn’t a safe assumption. People were not only avoiding us physically by crossing streets, but it seemed by peoples mannerisms that eye contact was enough to transfer the highly contagious virus.

Blessed with a colourful sun rise on our last day of paddling out.

 We took some time to digest the new world we had just entered. 

Where did all this madness come from? 

What do we do?

Where do we go? 

Take us back. —ML

The Glacier Project is aimed to educate a the general public on our rapidly melting glaciers around North America.