Brotherhood. A roadtrip tale in 3 chapters

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Posing in Prince Rupert on the day of Patrick’s departure.

What could be better than having the time of your life and sharing it with your brother? Luckily, Patrick had already decided to come over from Switzerland before it started snowing in Europe… and so we spent the longest time together since I had left my parent’s house. Not only do we get along really well, we’re also perfect ski buddies: Patrick’s slightly stronger in the downhill (I hate to admit), so I am always a bit pushed to go harder, and he proved to be still strong enough to hang with me uphill despite my huge exercise advantage this year.

Chapter 1: Roger’s Pass delivers

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Shredding pillow lines…

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… and hucking trees in the “Dagobah system”.

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After a week on Roger’s Pass we had six days of ski touring in our legs and it got warm. So we decided to hit the road to the northwest via the famous Icefield Parkway highway and Prince George, where we stayed at our childhood neighbour Klaus’ and his wife Sabrina’s .

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Roadtrippin’ the Icefield Parkway.

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Columbia Icefield, giant photographer.

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All this driving really wears you out.

Chapter 2: Bummer in Smithers

When we got to Smithers, half way up between Vancouver and the northern boundary of BC, on the continental side of the coastal range, there was no sign of the praise it had received in my guide book. Dry, dusty and windy.

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This poor moose, the first one we ever saw, just seems to embody our Smithers experience…

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We did what we would have done in Europe if conditions were bad: Get the summit! Mount Hankin near Smithers was the only one we cared to get in twelve days of skiing.

Patrick proved to be a worthy gipsy in many ways:

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1. When in trouble, double. Slept in the car four times in a row at the Shames Mountain parking lot together with a giant like me in a space as small as 120 x 200 x 60 cm…

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2. Cooked an elaborate pasta dish („al gorgonzola“) with the camping stove at the motel…

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3. Lived off water straight from the stream or melted snow for almost a week…

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4. Went to public swimming pools to get a chance to wash every now and then, even scored a free swim night in Terrace!

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5. Not explicitly a gipsy virtue, but nevertheless noteworthy, he endured two bursts of six back to back days of ski touring, for a total of around 15,000m in vertical.

Chapter 3: And then there was Shames

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Jesus loved us and let us know about it.

We arrived in Shames all depressed after an evening drive from Smithers through the brown Skeena valley. But when we got up in the morning on the parking lot of Shames Mountain Co-op, everything fell in place within seconds: there were 10cm of fresh and the sun was just cracking through. The chair was not operating and we kept being greeted by backcountry skiers who were either locals or also camped on the parking lot.

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Shames felt hippie from day one and soon become an enchanting love affair.

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Meeting the neighbours in the parking lot…

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…and on top of the hill.

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Rippin until the break of dawn! Here on “No dogs!”

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Blue sky for Patrick’s last day.

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Our everyday playground.

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Pro playground?

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One of our more rad lines to Hidden Lake.

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Shames in all its beauty.

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Soppy finale!

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I was very sad to see my brother go home. But I had no clue yet what Shames and Terrace had in store to comfort me the next day…

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The Shining Experience

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Other intruders must have had fun with the stuffed grizzly bear long before we came.

It was one of those ideas that are born around a campfire when a bottle of firewater or to two make the rounds. We all camped at the Roger Park Discovery Center parking lot, in our cars. Right next to it, the abandoned Glacier Park Lodge. Someone mentions he heard beds are still perfectly made with linen and all. Someone else overhears the chat and adds that he has seen a possible entrance to the building via a broken glass door…

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Après Ski.

It didn’t take curiosity very long to win us over and we explored the old Glacier Park Lodge with our headlights. A super-weird experience, slightly creepy but yet quite entertaining. Especially when the alternative is going to bed in your car at 7.30 pm.

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We could still hear the screams of the restless souls of thousands of bagels.

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Texas Chainsaw Massacre reminiscences.

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Patrick and Jonas drank every drop of aged booze they could find.

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Animal rights activists are alarmed.

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Even on hols, my brother just can’t do without watching TV.

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Guest of the lodge used to to be so terrified by the creepy noises they would stand up straight in their beds.

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All amenities included.

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Not creepy? (1/2)

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Not creepy? (2/2)

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Better days.

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What about WiFi?

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Another story to tell at the campfire under our belts.

Trafalgar Square all for yourself

Imagine you go to London and you find yourself all alone on Trafalgar Square, in the middle of the day. Something similar happened to me when I stopped in Lake Louise to have a glance at the famous Moraine Lake: I had the luxury of having it absolutely for myself!

OK, maybe it was because the summer road was closed… and it was a 12km cross-country hike to get in. I even had to set in the tracks on the last 3km.

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Gorgeous and lonely. I had to set in the tracks.

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I dared not to obey.

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First things first: Some restocking is needed after a 12km cross-country hike to Moraine Lake.

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Mighty glaciers in stunning colours.

How gipsy can you go?

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Sleeping in my car on Roger’s Pass (1330m) at -10 degree Celsius.

I had to learn the hard – or actually, the tight – way that imagination easily goes beyond the restrictions of reality. It so happened (again) when I equipped my Ford Explorer with a custom collapsable bed construction. Building it was a lot of fun. But despite the relatively good looks of the construction, sleeping in my car is still a poor option. Not because it would be too cold, just because it is too small for me! I cannot even took off a jacket when lying in there…

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The movement shown her is a simplification. In real life, I also have to find a way to take off / put on my shoes before entering the car / hitting the snow with my feet.

To get out (most importantly, for a leak), I have to 1. position my boots in front of the open door, toes pointing towards the car, 2. pull my shoulders in between the front seats, 3. pull my knees closer to my chest into a embryo position and 4. finally push out my feet and try to slip them in my boots without being able to see them (or reverse for getting in).

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Some planning, but only about seventy bucks (Canadian) went into the bed frame.

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Cutting the beams at Revelstoke’s quasi-public woodwork shop. (BIG Thanks Ken and Katie!)

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Fitting the beams into the back of the car.

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Me screwing (haha, I know it’s actually drilling).

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The setup prepared for bedtime on Roger’s Pass.

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The parking lot at Roger’s Pass. At least in good company.

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Lots of company on the road too.

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On the other side of the road: A chance to warm up in the military bar before going to bed.

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Artillery soldiers from Quebec playing poker at the military bar. They only get to shoot at potential avalanches once every two weeks…

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Good morning

 

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Life-saver (on top, using the stove inside the car is probably rather life-threathening).

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The first night together wasn’t very relaxing. I’m just not a one night stand person I guess.

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Despite patches of blue sky…

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…I decided to skip skiing for the day after a weak tentative and prepared some pasta instead back in the car.

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A lot of pasta.

 

Raising the Blinds: Skiing with Bernie Sanders’ people on Roger’s Pass

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Hail to the chief: Mount Sir Donald.

Just when my fling with skiing tree lines in the Kootenays showed first signs of fatigue (I  started to miss the jagged peaks of the Alps), I stumbled into a new hot love affair: The big mountains of Roger’s Pass.

And while Vermont senator Bernie Sanders was crushing Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, I had to do my best to keep up crushing powder lines with some skiers from said Northeast US State. These guys were no joke: While thoughtfully picking both ascent and descent lines in function of the conditions of the day, McConkey-esque professional trail builder Hardy managed to get us pretty aggressive pillow lines despite above average avalanche hazard. Not mention that he and his girlfriend Katryn were getting the best of me in the hiking segments as well.

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Once again, his majesty Mount Sir Donald.

 

 

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Hardy doing his McConkey thing. (Not sure he liked this – actually quite flattering – comparison, however both his great humor and skiing skills kind of imposed it.)

 

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Steep pillow line on the Glacier Crest north face.

 

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The Illecillewaet Glacier seen from Glacier Crest Creek.

 

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Young’s Peak in fading cloud cover.

 

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The classic signature line in the Asulcan valley: The beautiful colouir beautifully named ‘Forever Young’ looker’s right. Left, ‘The Ravens’.

 

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Youngs Peak and the ‘Seven Steps of Heaven’ (left).

 

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The ‘Cleaver'(?) and some pillow lines below.

 

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The Abbott (I believe).

 

 

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The Wheeler Hut, spacious and cosy for 24. Not to mention that one of them was North American alpinism legend Barry Blanchard, guiding a group of young Norwegians.

 

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This is the longest and wildest my beard has ever been. Not that I was proud or would  think it was particularly attractive… Think I don’t look happy? I just have such a hard time staring at the bright sky without blinking!

 

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After months of surfing and 25,000m to 30,000m vertical gain in 17 days of ski touring, my body weighs now 109kg. When I left banking in June, it was 121kg.

 

4 Days at Huckleberry Cabin. Or: Some thoughts on new and old friends, being alone and loneliness

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Good morning BC snow covered trees, on a bluebird morning.

 

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Good morning BC snow covered trees, on most days.

 

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The cabin from the outside with a 2m measuring stick (in green) for comparison.

 

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The inside of the cabin seen from floor level. Corey and I took turns sleeping on the floor,

 

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…since there was no way of fitting two 2m guys on the bottom bunk bed. (Other than spooning maybe.)

 

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Sarah doing the morning magic: coffee and oatmeal.

 

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Skiing in perfect cold smoke/champagne snow, but sub-par visibility.

 

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Me, Sarah, Corey and Jeb (left to right) chilling on less than seven square meters after skiing.

 

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‘Grilled cheese station’ and low-sodium tomato soup on Coleman grill. Thanks for teaching me this valuable piece of (f***ing ;)) American cuisine, guys!

 

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Someone must have been bored here?

 

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Apparently it must have been a woman with a giraffe.

 

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Everything ends.

 

This week’s readin’:

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Did I just sound like a chicken shitting its pants?

 

Ski Meditation

‘Life is a journey. Meditation ends it.’
                                              Ajahn Brahm

 

1200, 800, 1700, 1800, 2000m. I have been skiing five days in a row now (and eight days out of the last ten). Actually when I say ‚skiing‘, I mean ski touring, or back country skiing, which means that the uphill parts are achieved by ‚skinning’ up. The figures at the beginning of the paragraph represent the daily elevation gains of these five consecutive days. Fitness has come quickly. I have never before done 2000m of vertical elevation in one day. Now I happened to do them on the fifth day of consecutive ski touring, after already having completed considerable elevation gains on the two days before. We actually could have done another 500m lap if it had not been for the fading of the daylight and the monotony of repeating the same ascent for the 10th time in three days.

Ski touring in the Kootenays differs from the back home in some important aspects:

  • First of all, each and every time we had all the mountain to ourselves(!). This means that a) uphill, you have to break trail frequently and b) downhill, the only party to track out the powder is your own.
  • Second, reaching a peak is not so important. Our Canadian friends look for good downhill runs, they hardly care about reaching mountain tops. Many ridges we ski off have no name and forget about the summit crosses you find in the Alps.
  • Third, most of the times, there is a rather long access of poorly skiable road. Canadians love to use snowmobiles to shorten the approach time spent on this. I am not so convinced of their usefulness: On day two it took as longer to by snowmobile than it took me on day three when I skinned. The snow mobile had gotten stuck in the deep snow four times, and each time, three of us had to dig it out with our avalanche shovels.
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Snowmobiles. BC people have them like we have cars.

Only then comes the actual ski hill. Once you get there, you go up and down in laps as long as you please and your legs last. Doing multiple ascents has both advantages and disadvantages: Every hour or two of hiking, you get five to ten minutes of downhill skiing excitement in between. This really matters: Often you are so stoked after a run that you alter your previous decision of ending the day ‚after this run‘. But it also means that you need to take your skins off and put them back on more often. Not only does this cost time, it also requires you to handle your skins with a much greater deal of care, if you want them to keep sticking to your skis properly.

If you ski(n) every day, everything developes into a routine: You get up, do your hygiene and have breakfast (lots of it), you prepare your skis, you hike up. You ski and hike three laps. When it starts to get dark, you go down the mountain. You get back to the cabin, relight the fire, change cloths. Eat. Cook. Eat some more. Eat some more again. You go to bed. Repeat. Routine, together with the huge amount if time spent hiking up the mountain (as well as the absence of mobile reception and other forms of internet access) actually give you a chance to calm your mind, to quiet the voice of your own thoughts in your head down a bit. I have collected a few pieces of advice for anybody who whishes to follow this trail:

Early season advice for the ski meditation adept

  1. Contrary to those concerned mostly with general safety, my advice is actually to go ski touring by yourself sometimes. It will allow you to find your own rythm, go faster or slower as your body demands. You can find out when and how often you need to eat or drink. By the fourth day, I knew exactly what amount of food and liquid to pack to get precisely to the end of the day. If you don’t want to go by yourself, pretend you do it: hike ahead of or trail the others. Let them go by you if they are faster. Why all this? In order for you to be able to
  2. Become aware of the voice in your head. Your mind produces an endless stream of inner chit chat – your thoughts! Let them become loud. Hear them. But don’t listen. These are just your thoughts. They are not the reality. The reality is the mountain under your feet, the cold air around you, the sweat on your front and now
  3. Concentrate on your deep (and probably accelerated) breath. That is something you can focus on. Feel the airstream enter and exit your mouth and nose, feel it go up and down your lungs. As you concentrate more and more on this, the voice in your head will become weaker and weaker. Your thoughts will vanish… for a moment or two. Then you will again think about what you will eat when you get back to the cabin, how great that gopro video will hopefully look or how you need to remember to make that dentist appointment… or any other more or less serious worries and hopes you usually keep yourself busy with. There is only one remedy:
  4. Repeat. Don’t give up. Return to your breath. Fortunately,
  5. There is a short cut. You get to the top of the run, you pack away your skins, take a sip of tea, buckle your boots. Ahead of you is a steep powder run. You want to go fast, you dont want to stop, you want to go down in one flowing motion. You are a anxious now. Because the voice in your head is on a rapid fire: ‘It’s steep! You could release an avalanche! You don’t know this run! You could end up on a huge cliff! And what about the tree holes? And why the hell have you still not bought a helmet?!’ But once you go, maybe after taking a deep breath, all of a sudden the thoughts are all gone. Silence. Your attention is now fully centered in this present, very demanding moment as you fly down between the trees, trying not to hit one while not losing control of your skis or your balance. You have now officially reached a state of Satori.  For a brief moment, you are enlightened. Until you have to stop at one point. Every run ends or maybe it just takes you to a point of hesitation.
  6. Enjoy the glimpse of enlightenment you have just been granted an smile. Then, return to your breath. There is another hike waiting for you. Eat that granola bar, but than forget about it. And about that facebook post you are planning to make about this run, too.
  7. Mangia, Madonna santissima, mangia!! If you want to do this again the next day, eat. And forget about low carb: You need to fill your body up with carbohydrates as much as you can. Eat pasta, rice, potatos like there was no tomorrow. I guarantee, you will remember the day of ski touring after the night you only had meat and veggies for a long time.

 

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Spaghettata around the stove with my friends from Bolzano.

And don’t forget to fill yourself up properly for breakfast too. You need the fuel. Especially if you want to practice emptiness of mind, not emptiness of stomach.

Am Morgen, am Abend

Spaghettata for the mind.

All I wanted

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This is it! Backcountry skiing and new hippie friends dreams come true for me in my first days in the Kootenays.

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Virgin powder.

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Hucking a frozen waterfall with a little help from my friends…

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New weapons: G3 Empire + Fritischi Vipec

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Philipp and Kim hiking up at dawn.

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Arrival at the Lost Ledge cabin.

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Magic Kootenays at sunset.

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The Lost Ledge cabin at night. 

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Coziness above 2000m.

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Let’s have some water.

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Care for a Sauna?

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Our tracks from the day before.

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With Nora and Philipp, who not only share their cabin in Rattelack with me but also extended their invite to the Lost Ledge cabin to me and whom I owe these fantastic skiing days in the Kootenays.

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Well said.

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A few days earlier: 

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After nine hours of continuous driving from Vancouver to the Kootenays…

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… I lost track.

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After almost six months, my first full day of work at North Valley Huts, my workaway “employer”.

 

There are certain places you get to, and you just know it. This is what you really have been looking for all along. And now that you are here, you just want to be part of it. Badly. So it happened to me when I arrived in Retallack, BC after a 12-hour nonstop-drive from Vancouver. But not so fast:

Vilma and I decided it was for the best for both of us for her to fly home. The symptoms of Dengue fever had become unambiguous in the meanwhile and although it had passed already, Dengue commands a recovery period of at least ten days up to many weeks. It was not an easy decision at all.

The next morning, I packed up, got in the car and started to drive out towards Retallack, a place in the heart of the Kootenay Mountains. A very nice couple of young South-Tyroleans, Philipp and Nora, whom we had met at the hostel in Vancouver, were already there and I had contacted both them as well as their landlord Cindy, who runs „North Valley Huts“ and offers board and lodging for a few hours of work every day. The job was defined as „help prepare cabins for ski touring guests“ and was directed at dedicated skiers. No doubt, absolutely ideal for me.

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A day’s drive for Canadians. With all that snow and sliding off the road, 12 hours nonstop for me…

The drive was supposed to last 7 hours and a half and included a lot of mountain passes and one ferry crossing. I left Vancouver in heavy rain that lasted until I reached the mountains. I started driving up, up and even more up towards Kelowna. As I passed the highest point, snowfall started. Canadians drive extremely fast on snowpack in their 4×4 Ford F-trucks. I was hesitant, but when it turned 7pm and I still had an hour to drive, I increased my speed. On an uphill slope, the car started to skid despite the 4×4. A few dreadful seconds later, the car was in the roadside ditch, firmly stuck in snow, wheels turning but without moving the car not even an inch. The adrenaline subsided, a road service car passed by and called a towing service for me. I continued the drive at half the speed. Retallack is not a town, it is actually more of a mountain pass that once was home to a town, a century ago, when miners lived here. To date, there is no running water, no electricity and no network coverage and no buildings at than a few cabins and one lodge. No shops, no gas station, no traffic lights. I actually passed by it the first time I drove in. There was nothing you could see from the street. Just pine trees, and one wooden sign with a red eagle head. The writing „Retallack“ below the eagle’s head was covered in snow. I arrived just before my hosts would have given up on me and would have gone to bed.

The next morning, we joined Tom and Kim for a three-day backcountry skiing trip at their club cabin. The pictures above are from these wonderful days deep into the remote backcountry of the  Kootenay mountains.

At the Gates of Wonderland

We’ve arrived in Vancouver two days ago. Vilma has contracted (Dengue?) fever somewhere along the way, which started to manifest just the day we flew in (for the immigration record: after we passed the controls), meaning that she had medium to high fever and is pretty tired all the time. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but start to get amped for the wealth of snow and mountains that is waiting all around.

I bought a car on the first full day in Van. It was so straightforward, I became the owner of a licensed and insured car only 30 hours after we’d arrived here. It’s a 2001 Ford Explorer 4×4, and it cost me no more than 2500 CAD (or 1700 EUR) with the odometer at 171.000km. The rear seats are fully collapsable, so even a tall guy like me can sleep in the car if needed. It is actually the first car ever licensed in my name. Seems I had to become 35 years old and come all the way to BC to get that accomplished!

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So I’m a ‘Ford man’ now?

Yesterday we’ve been to the MEC store, looking into skis, sleeping bags, guide books etc. We both got really excited about getting on skis. I’ve chosen to buy new skis after thoroughly checking that Craigslist wasn’t offering anything suitable enough… well, almost nothing. I let the lust for brand new gear have the best of me in the end. Stupid.

I started reading this guide book yesterday night and my anticipation went uphill immediately: 450 pages of mountains and corresponding ski trips. And that’s only the coastal range of British Columbia. Let me quote you some of my favourites:

“Snow Conditions: Deep and lots of it! … The Coast Mountains receive the heaviest snowfalls of any mountain range in Canada. The annual snowfall is typically about 10m…”

“One of the most outstanding features of the Coast Mountains ist their wilderness. Roads cross the range only four times along its entire length between Vancouver and Skagway. … Few other areas except Antarctica and the Far North can offer the same degree of pristine mountain wilderness as the Coast Mountains.”

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Source: “Exploring the Coast Mountains on Skis: A Guide to Ski Mountaineering, by John Baldwin

A Swiss shop clerk living here already for 15 years advised me to start by going to the interior until mid February, then go up north, and come back to the Coast Range in March and April. Quote ‘stupid amounts of powder’ are to be found in places like Revelstoke and Whitewater right now, ‘the stuff that you come here for’.

The allure of an almost endless country of snow covered mountains and true wilderness is fueling my inner fire already fiercely. Unfortunately, it seems like I have developed a little illness too now, and and that delays any advance into the inland for the moment.