Last year, we hiked up to Tenquille Lake in mid-November for the first turns of the season. We left Vancouver late on the first day to avoid the rain, hiked in and squeeze in some turns above the hut, and finished off with a spectacular sunny day on Sunday. While the turns were good, it was mostly the freshly wrapped dumplings that I made in the hut that stood out. After so many powder turns, they sometimes get lost in the memory. Those warm bundles of cheesy pea filling, wrapped in a crispy wonton wrapper were hard to forget.
The night before, Alex asked what would go well with dumplings. I didn’t have a good answer, Alex could figure that part out. We showed up at the trailhead, having driven up the water-barred Branch 12 road off the Hurley. Stepping out of the truck, Alex declared that he was bringing up two pies. The bad news that that one of the pies was store-bought, barely acceptable but I would let that go this time. As a group, we are definitely pie snobs. Last season, we started off the North Shore Pie and Ski Club. One of the best nights was when we skinned up to Brockton Point and the apple pie was still warm.
To access the Tenquille Lake hut, we drove to Pemberton, up the Hurley FSR and onto Branch 12. It’s a toss-up whether driving and hiking via the Hurley or Birkenhead FSR is faster. There was sign of snow on the road and on top of the trees higher up but only a trace amount at the end of the road. Not much has changed since our last visit here – waterbars on the road require a high-clearance vehicle to drive to the end. The trail head is well marked with the nice Pemberton Valley Wildlife Association sign and climbs quickly into the forest. We hit snow soon, post-holing in ankle deep snow. The trail changes from a west to south aspect and contours around 1500m. You might be post-holing to your shins crossing Mowich Creek, round the corner in the forest and find that there’s little snow left.
However, there was more snow this year and we changed to skins earlier, in the meadows shortly after crossing the first major creek (Mowich). The only other sign of traffic were fresh grizzly prints in the snow. It was mostly consistent skinning, aside from a few small creeks to cross and some patchy sections. Just enough snow to skin on, but definitely not enough for the way down.
Snow depth increased dramatically as we skinned up towards Wolverine Pass. There were cars parked at the lower Tenquille trail head, but no tracks from there. They turned out to be a group of four hikers, with only one pair of snowshoes between them. They had fun in the waist deep post-hole to the cabin, hitting the snow line just before the junction with the Branch 12 trail. This approach is exposed to the large avalanche slopes south of Goat Peak, something to keep in mind when traveling here with poor stability. The approach time from the end of Branch 12 to the hut was approximately three hours.
Approach shoes with cold feet
Knee deep blower. You know it’s great skiing when the snow piles up in front of your boots, building up to a mass that you have to stop, push off, before making another turn.
Last year, we shared the hut with seventeen others. Half of the group were skiers stoked for the early season snow and the other half, hikers who were caught surprised by the amount of snow up here. Nobody was up here yet today. It was warm, but still snowing heavily. The freezing levels were around 1700m and visibility was poor. The short ski down from Tenquille Pass to the hut on very sticky snow did not motivate us to go for turns immediately. I started planning out in my head how I would prepare dinner, while Alex and Maddy took care of Harrison, who was not in 100% shredding condition today.
In light winds and grey skies, Alex and I set off into the fat snowflakes, heading up towards the north-facing slopes between Copper Mound and McLeod. At our high point at 1950m, the snow consistency was far from what you might describe as hero powder. But it was still skiing, powder even. If this snow was on the North Shore mountains, it would be the best day ever at Cypress Mountain. Waist deep powder, not a single track around and no visibility. Alex skied first, making effortless telemark turns as always. It was very graceful, except when his ski tips submarined into the unconsolidated snowpack. Alex is Mr. Telemark on the South Coast this year. He’s organizing the Whistler Telemark Festival (WTF), held on March 18th, 2017 at Whistler Blackcomb. Save the date and go check it out!
We went back to the hut to find Maddy. The other four hikers had arrived. Harrison was passed out under the table. We convinced her the skiing was amazing.
“Best powder day this season.”
“North Shore blower”
And it was that good! Back up and back down. No visibility. No signs of Typhoon Songha, approaching off the Pacific Ocean and fizzling out in the hype. The beers were now cold and it was time for our long and complex dinner plan.
Beers on display. Meidjo telemark binding. Red Racer Pale Ale and Copper Ale. Hearthstone ippa.
As mentioned above, the only reason we came here was to eat dumplings after skiing. At home, I prepared the filling in my blender – a mix of Parmesan cheese, green peas, lemon zest, garlic and ricotta. I laid out plastic wrap on the hut table and got to work folding dumplings. Alex was in charge of frying the dumplings, the fat of choice was coconut oil today. We might have only skied two laps of powder, but we made up for it with triple laps of dumplings. The key is to have somebody frying, while somebody else folds all the of the dumpling. Somebody also needs to retrieve the beer while this is all going on too.
In hindsight, this was enough food and we should have gone for a headlight ski to burn off some of those calories. But it was time for business. As members of the South Coast Pie and Beer (and sometimes ski) Club, it was time to uphold the first mandate of the club. We warmed up the pumpkin pie, leftover from Thanksgiving. I brought my MSR Dragonfly and my Backcountry oven – a heavy luxury but warm pie is essential.
We saved the store-bought apple pie for breakfast. It was time for a freshly baked apple pie. I had prepared the pie crust at home but brought up my rolling pin to roll it out up here. Despite the lengthy transport, the pastry stayed intact and the butter marbling still present. The filling was also prepared at home, sliced apples, cinnamon, sugar, and tapioca starch. I’ve only baked cookies in the Backcountry oven. A double crusted pie with a heavy wet filling would be the most ambitious thing I’ve attempted. I told Maddy and Alex that if it didn’t turn out, I would just eat it by my myself.
The pie was baked for forty minutes. The backcountry oven isn’t particularly durable. Weight savings come at the cost of durability, and the top lid was warped. This happens in high heat. This results in a longer baking time as heat escapes. I think sometimes in my hurry to heat up the oven, I have the temperature too high. It’s best to keep the stove at a low flame and slowly bring the oven up into the “Bake” temperature. I took the lid off for the final minutes to “brown” the top. If you’re baking pizza in the oven, you’ll want to go topless too. It’s not the same as your home oven though, or maybe I just need more practice. We still ended up with a delicious apple pie, with a crusty bottom and soggy top, just like the current South Coast snowpack.
The dumpling factory at the far end of the table. Photo by Alex Gibbs.
|Apple pie preparations. Photo by Alex Gibbs.|
There’s no firewood at the Tenquille Lake Hut, nor any dead trees in the area to cut. Numerous signs warn users not to cut down any live trees. Bring your own firewood if you want to stay warm here.
The next morning, it was pie for breakfast. Half of the apple pie from last night and the entire other apple pie. Last year, we were treated to clearing skis and views across the Pemberton Valley from the ridge top. This year, I was just happy it wasn’t raining outside. It’s been a very wet October on the South Coast, the primary reason for all this early season skiing we’re enjoying. There was 15cm of new snow in the past 12 hours. We were optimistic that it would be lower density snow overtop of the heavy stuff, but it was still much of the same. New windslabs had formed on our uptrack slope from strong winds overnight.
I actually had to be back in Vancouver for my family’s post-poned Thanksgiving dinner, so I was motivated by that to get as much skiing as I could that morning. We skied as much as we could. But there’s only so much mashed potatoes that you can ski in one excursion. I had to save room for later. We were also out of pie and beer. After endless pie shots up on the slope, we skied back down to the hut. Visibility was poor, Tenquille Lake could only be seen at times when the fog bank cleared up. We cleaned up the hut and skinned back up to Tenquille Pass. With only 50cm of snow, I kept my skins on through the meadows with all the meandering creek crossings until the slope angled downwards. In the warm and wet conditions, we slashed epic jealously inducing turns into the super deep powder. A few rocks were hit and then it was time to take off the skis . We only skied to a point below the junction of the two trails. With all the undulating terrain and creeks on the Branch 12 trail, there wasn’t enough snow to ski below 1500m.
The warm rain overnight melted out of the snow in the lower reaches of the trail. The footbed transformed into creek. Ski boots stayed on, splashing through the wet puddles. My softshell jacket and pants were barely staying dry. I almost pulled my goretex jacket out. Early season skiing isn’t always glamourous. At times, it seems like you’re grasping desperately for those early turns. But if you don’t mind being outside, in any weather, the journey to earn those turns is just as enjoyable as the turns themselves (if not more sometimes!). We were back at the truck after two and a half hours of skiing/hiking. Everything was soaked, the price of admission for ski touring in the Coast Mountains.
Best ski weekend of the season so far!
|Rich skiing down. Photo by Alex Gibbs.|