Photo: Kristin Campbell. Jeff Campbell skiing in the sunset.
The weather for the week was light snow showers over night with plummeting temperatures throughout the week. Our coldest day reached a balmy -18degrees F. But these cold temperatures preserved the quality of the snow and even though we did not receive any significant snowfall we still skied daily freshies. The Avalanche conditions stayed between moderate and considerable throughout the trip with our main concern being a persistent weak layer and wind loading. Other than a some storm snow sluffing, the only release was a wind pocket Sakeus found. It had about a 2ft deep crown by 80ft to 100ft across. He managed to stay on his feet but it served as a reminder that the persistent layer is present during this trip.
Photo: Kristin Campbell. Mount Iconoclast from the lodge.
Photo: Jeff Campbell. Kristin Campbell hiking up to Swiss Col.
Photo: Kristin Campbell. Jeff Campbell hucking into some pow in Mario Land.
Photo: Kristin Campbell. Collin Ferris finds some pillows in Boulder Boogie.
Photo: Kristin Campbell. The Nordic Glacier with Nordic Peak behind.
The Sorcerer Lodge is a backcountry ski hut located in the northern most part of Glacier National Park near Golden, British Columbia. The hut itself sits at 2050meters (6750ft) elevation right below tree line in the Selkirk Mountain Range. In the Selkirks there is often a deep, consistent snowpack of 2 to 4 meters, which means plenty of snow fall and epic powder turns! The lodge offers backcountry skiers access to alpine terrain, glacier travel, gladed tree skiing, and plenty of pillow lines. Our trip was self guided with 19 skiers, and one custodian accompanied us.
"The Sorcerer Lodge" Photo: Kristin Campbell
Day 1: Drop-in Day
5am and our alarm sounds. Groggy from last nights reunion with several of our closest friends, we loaded up the cars and headed toward Kicking Horse Lodge. There we were greeted at the lodge by Tannis, a very friendly and knowledgable woman and owner of the Sorcerer Lodge. We all grabbed breakfast and Tannis joked about the 212 helicopter we were almost going to be flying out in. (For those of you who don’t know, 212’s need a running forward start to get going. Not exactly ideal for landing on a patch of snow near the lodge. I would go as far as to call it “sketchy.” ) But fortunately for us, she did get the right helicopter, an A-Star, and we were set to fly in that morning.
"Jeff and Paul looking on at our A-Star" Photo: Kristin Campbell
Once on the heli pad we hauled all of our gear into organized piles and were briefed on helicopter safety. Our pilot, a very serious and straight forward man, pretty much told us, “This is a 2 million dollar machine, don’t try to help or you will just f@$* things up.” Needless to say we all agreed not to mess with is chopper. And then…. the fun began! The helicopter could fit 5 riders, four in the back and one in co-pilot. I will never forget the excitement I felt every time the helicopter came and went. I loved holding down the gear and watching the helicopter appear through the blowing snow. The sound of the rotors pounding in my chest, and the snow blasting my face and filling every open space. Six girls were on the trip, and five of us took the 2nd flight out.
"Inside the heli" Photo: Jeff Campbell
Riding in a helicopter is a weird feeling, you don’t feel anything really. All of the sudden you are peering out the frosting window as your friends get smaller and smaller. Visibility was poor that day and the pilot hugged the treetops. We cruised up a drainage and after 10minutes the Sorcerer Lodge appeared out of the low fog. Landing is the best part, the helicopter tips back as the pilot slows it speed and you land in an impossibly small space.
We helped the others bring all of our gear inside and claimed our beds. The lodge itself sleeps 22 people comfortably. It is fully equipped with a drying room for gear, a kitchen, and even a wood-stove sauna. Dave, who later became known as “Cute Dave” was our custodian. He was a Firefighter from Kenmore, who loved to ski. Dave briefed us on the Lodge and pretty much confirmed that he was a great guy.
"Jeff Campbell dropping the knee" Photo: Kristin Campbell
Once quasi settled we scrambled for our skis and skied directly from the lodge into a gladed tree area known as “Lee’s Trees.” Each lap was 1,000 vertical feet of blower pow that was well worth lapping several times. We ended the day with homemade pot pies from Bridget and Garrett Grove, told stories, and made introductions…
It is a valid question to ask yourself. What does skiing mean to you?
We live in a time where everyone is a “hero.” Everything is being filmed, photographed, talked about and scrutinized. The limits of skiing are being pushed, forcing athletes to face more risk to stay on top. There are less and less first descents, trips that haven’t already been taken, or lines that “that other guy” hasn’t skied first. So why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to be rock stars?
To me skiing is personal. It is the time you spend quieting your mind while hiking 3000ft. It’s skiing that one line on creamy pow, knowing your own lungs and legs got you to the top. It’s sharing experiences with friends and seeing them be so stoked on that last turn.
I had a conversation with Roger Strong, a phenomenal athlete and person, and I will never forget his attitude about the outdoors. The whole experience is more than just the first ascent or skied line. It is about the journey leading up to that ascent or descent. It is about the people you surround yourself with and how they influence you.
In my short time skiing I have come to realize what is most important to me. I love to ski and strive to ski harder, hike farther, and push myself mentally; but at the end of the day for me, skiing is about having fun and by surrounding myself with people who will make me a better person.
December has been an odd month for the Cascades with insignificant snowfall and unusual sunny skies. Jeff, our friend Collin, and I decided we would take advantage of the clarity and explore the mountains around Baring, Washington. We originally had plans to summit Merchant Peak but low snow cover made the drainage we were traveling through unsafe. After some interesting skinning, a few face plants, and plenty of laughter we hunkered down for lunch and enjoyed the view of Mount Baring.
"Jeff and Colin route finding" Photo: Kristin Campbell
The Cascades offer a unique experience for mountain enthusiasts. Generally the mountains are hard to access, especially in the winter, involving a lot of route finding. Although today was more skinning, booting, and scrambling than actual skiing we enjoyed the adventure. Jeff’s phone call to Collin sums it up pretty well:
"It could be potentially amazing… or an epic failure."
Early season for Jeff and I is all about the numbers, trying to log as much vertical hiking as possible to prepare for our larger objectives. This weekend there was a window of sunny skies on Saturday for about 6 hours of the day so we headed to Mt Rainier to do a little recon hiking in an area called Paradise. The recent rain event, wind and sun exposure made for some interesting skiing but the views of Mt Saint Helens, Mt Adams and even Mt Hood were amazing.
This past weekend Jeff and I took an Avalanche Refresher course with the American Alpine Institute at Mt Baker, WA. We reviewed snow science, terrain management and rescue scenarios. There is a wealth of knowledge about avalanche safety in books and online but no written information can replace clinics and personal instruction.
Our go to resource for weather and current avalanche conditions is the Northwest Avalanche Center. This site gives us a baseline to begin to make decisions about our tour. For more info click the link below.
The next day we went on a short tour near Mt Baker Ski area. We skied the Gratto (seen in the above photo). The snow was good with about 4 inches of recrystalized powder on top of last weeks rain crust. It felt good to stretch our legs and get out in the SUN!
Lunch from the Gratto offered a great view of Mount Shuksan.
Now its back to some inbounds skiing and praying for snow :)