The mountains opened early for ski this year for skiing in November. There was snow falling in the mountains, and I was ready to do some late-season hiking, bringing along my skis just in case there was enough snow to ski on. Our destination was pretty top secret (as you can tell from the blog title), somewhere hidden in Pemberton, tucked away in the mountains where the only sounds in the winter are the endless brapbrapbrap sound of sledders trying to run over skiers. I mostly joke about this last part, but one of my photos ended up on the Vancity Buzz facebook page, and somebody posted a comment like that. But November was too early for that, and not many people would have driven up the Sea-to-Sky that Saturday morning, in the miserable rain.
To prepare for our first day of ski touring this season, Alex Maddy Cam and I first toured the cafes on the Sea to Sky. We stopped at Cloudburst Cafe in Squamish, followed by Mount Currie Coffee in Pemberton. These stops were necessary, as the Pemberton BC Liquor Store doesn’t open until 10am. Even if the skiing was horrible, we could sit around and eat some very good food and drink beers in the warm hut that evening. Our timing was impeccable though. By the time we drove up the Hurley, and then the Branch 12 road, the rain had stopped. The road up to the trailhead was snow free for the last time this year.
We felt like being badass ski carrying superhero hikers this weekend, so we took our snow sliding equipment for a walk in nature this weekend. The trail from Branch 12 contours at the 1500m for a few kilometres, which was also the snow line. There was just enough snow to skin, but walking was faster. Alex and I stopped for a mid-trail beer break while waiting for Cam and Maddy, who had switched to skinning earlier than we did. Beers are heavy!
|Just bro-ing out on the trail. Photo by Cameron Coatta.|
Alex going full speed towards the Tenquille Lake Cabin. We were not the only skiers here, and some more snowshoers and hikers showed up afterwards. I think there were 19 of us comfortably inside the cabin.
After the long approach (2.5 hours), we were at the Tenquille Lake Cabin. The snow line was at the freezing line, and we carried skis until there was enough snow to skin on. At the hut, there was 40cm of snow. Alex and I joined some new friends on the slopes below Fossil Pass, where we slashed epic turns in the fading light, possibly taking more photos than turns in order to post obnoxious photos on social media about how the skiing was the best day of the season so far. Early season skiing can be contrived. Usually it’s a lot of work carrying skis, just to get some to milk a few turns. You then rush home, and try to post as many photos on social media to make it look like it was fun. The snow depth was rock deep, and the visibility was poor, but we skied anyways.
The Tenquille Lake cabin is quite comfy, and the volunteers who built it have done a great job with the interior layout. There’s two big tables for food prep, a wood stove and even solar lighting. There are plates and cups, and propane stoves that take the 1lb canisters. Tonight’s menu consisted of pan-fried ricotta and pea dumplings, followed by rice and beans.
After the best day ever, I went to bed, listening to the sweet lullabies of people downstairs talking about the latest outdoor fashion available from the Equipment Co-op (EC), and the gear you needed to be a backcountry skier; $3000 and an avalanche course.
A light dusting of low-density snow fell overnight. I wandered down to the lake, catching the sunrise as I sipped on my hot chocolate and ate my granola. I was lucky this morning, catching Tenquille lake in a glassy calm state, with the perfect reflection of Sun God Mountain in the water.
The film crew never showed up, but we decided to go skiing anyways. Back in the summer while hiking in the area, Cam and I were buzzed by a helicopter dropping off bikers on the ridge near Mount McLeod. I was also expecting a helicopter to be dropping off skiers today too! We left the cabin, the only group of skiers in the area today. We skied up to the base of the northwest ridge of Mount McLeod, which looked too rocky to continue further on skis.
Alex high above Tenquille Lake. The fastest access in the summer is from the east side, via the Birkenhead FSR. In early season, you can drive to snowline on the Tenquille FSR, but you’ll need a snowmobile to get up here in mid-winter via that route.
We lucked out with the weather today. We had blue skies, and valley clouds below us. Having low expectations leads to happiness. If I had high expectations for every ski day last year, I don’t think I would have left my couch. Instead, I was able to get out for forty days of skiing, having a blast in the mountains. When you have low expectations for skiing, it’s pretty easy to have fun, whether it’s powder, crust, ice, windcrust, sastrugi, elephant snot, or no snow.
Cam ski touring in a winter wonderland, with Mount McLeod behind him. It was only 3 months ago when we were here on our Owl-Tenquille Lake traverse.
Cam with questionable powder farming techniques. Fortunately the powder conservation officer was not around, as we did not follow any standard practice for powder harvesting on this opening day of the season. We were stopped by the Conservation Officer on the drive down, who inquired if we had gone hunting. “No officer, no animals, just powder” “Any guns?” “Nope, not the kind that you’re thinking of” *flexes arms and legs
|The mountains are open, and so are the lakes! Photo by Alex Gibbs.|