MOUNTAIN LIFE - Coast Mountains | Winter Spring 2017 - page 82

Despite iced-over conditions upstream, a free-flowing river greeted us at our
put-in, the confluence of Taltan Creek and the Stikine River. It’s a significant
spot for whitewater kayakers as it marks the end of the infamous Grand
Canyon of the Stikine (the Everest of whitewater). We sat and reminisced
on our own descents of it inwarmer times, remembering the feelings of
vulnerability and insignificance the river and towering canyonwalls evoked.
It seemed a fitting location for the start of a new adventure.
The followingmorning, explodingmountains of gear and food littered the
beach. Sea kayaks are large, but cramming all necessities for a 16-day
mission into one is a challenge. Armed with 16-foot Jura HV boats from
Venture Kayaks and a bold optimism tomake it work, even if it meant
having equipment hanging off from all angles (which it did), we launched
with skis neatly contouring the kayak curves and ice axes stashed within
easy access in case of deadly ice bridges. We were floating!
When we came across our first ice jam—a novelty as none of us had any
experience hauling 350-pound sea kayaks over crevassed blocks of ice—
we were pleasantly surprised because it was relatively “tolerable.” As the
day progressed, the random ice jams became river-wide, solid ice bridges.
Over the next two days, the situation got steadily worse. Portages became
a common occurrence, and on numerous occasions, the river was ice
as far as the eye could see. We hiked past the small town of Telegraph
Creek, pulling our kayaks behind us. Anyone who happened to peer out
of their windowmust have thought us fools. Doubt plagued us, but we’d
crossed toomany short, walled-in, fast flowing sections to paddle/hike
back the way we’d come.
We concluded that the heli pilot we had spoken with was quite possibly
“full of shit,” but hoped that once we hit the mountains, a warmer,
stormier low pressure systemmust dominate—meaning we’d escape the
clear skies and cold, katabatic winds to hopefully find less ice. Combining
our unbreakable optimism (stupidity?) with simple math, we concluded
that if we could cover 16 kilometres (tenmiles) a day, even hiking the
whole way, we could still get out before running out of food.
This was a far cry form the original plan of floating/paddling fifty-plus
miles in the first day before spendingmost of the trip skiing in the alpine,
but we were fired up to continue and accepted the potentially savage slog
ahead. Moments like these highlight the necessity of choosing awesome
teammates for bigmissions. Onward and (hopefully) upward!
• • •
As the mountains rose around us, things began to change. Each tributary
that flowed in had a profound impact on the ice. The warmer coastal
water createdmelt channels along the riverbanks for hundreds of feet
downstream. Deep snowbanks lined the river, but the ice appeared to
be behind us and ahead: a new hope and the realization that we might
actually get to ski.
Mount Dang is aptly named, as those were the first words out of Brian’s
mouth when he first laid eyes on its epic spines and powerful demeanour.
After hanging food bags and lashing the kayaks vertically to a tree to
reduce the likelihood of sabotage by a recently awakened grizzly bear, we
clicked into our skis and set off.
By 5:00 p.m. we made high camp at 5,500 feet (1,676metres), crushed,
sunburnt, exhausted and overjoyed. We watched the sun set over
Boundary Range and the energy of the area immediately created a state of
absolute bliss that calmed even the most active minds.
In the morning, enjoying continued high pressure, we climbed an icy,
north-facing couloir to gain a summit ridge. Turned away from skiing the
ascent route due to unappealing, inch-thick ice, we were able to time
some good spring skiing corn cycles on nice open faces. Traversing back
to camp, we noticed a change in weather on the horizon. That night, a
ferocious storm hit with gusting winds and snowfall. The only highlight
the next morning was that Parker had left his boot shells outside his
tent like a total amateur. As he dug them out in self-pity, we received a
satellite message, weather forecast—the stormwas to stick around for
four more days. With rumours of natural hot springs downstream, we
made the call to descend.
Armageddonwasgoingoffall aroundus.The
soundof cornicesbreakingand facessliding
echoed throughout themountains.Webunkered
down inasafezone, terrified tomove.ASize2
slide roaredpastussome fivemetres toour right.
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