Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sorcerer Lodge

Sorcerer Lodge, B.C.
elev: 2,050 m (6,700 ft)
February 10 - 17, 2007

Finally, the trip we've been waiting for all winter. This was Kirsten's and my first heli hut trip. It's not easy for me to get away from work during tax season, but this is just one of those ones we had to do. Marcus began organizing the trip almost a year prior, and after hearing people rave about this style of ski trip for a few years, we were determined to make it happen. So despite having spent almost all of our travel funds and vacation time on going to Russia and getting married and going on a honeymoon, we managed to scrape up enough money and time to go.

Sorcerer Lodge is a private, commercial hut in the Selkirks north of Rogers Pass in British Columbia. We drove all the way to Golden, BC Friday and after a stop in Revelstoke to pick up a couple kegs from the Mt. Begbie Brewery, we met up with the rest of our crew of 16 at the Kicking Horse Lodge. Saturday morning we got up early and caravaned to the heli pad between Golden and Rogers Pass. Ah, helicopters. There's something about all the adventure involved in riding a helicopter that really gets you amped up for the trip. "Don't lift your head under the rotor blades"; "Don't go near the rear rotor"; "Don't kick any part of the helicopter"; "Don't touch the emergency locator beacon"; "Wear your ski gear in case we have to make an emergency landing."

We all arrived at the lodge without incident, and settled in rather quickly. So quickly in fact that we had time for an afternoon ski run. As we all huddled around the map on the lodge wall, we picked out runs that looked like they would be close and quick. I learned quickly that reading the Candadian topo maps requires you to recalibrate your judgment of distance and elevation when you're used to U.S. topos. Skiing and climbing just a handful of contour lines is quite a bit further than it is in the U.S. What looked like a couple hundred feet of descent on the map, would turn out to be a thousand feet.

I would love to recount all the individual trips that we took during the week, but that would turn into much too long of a report. Basically, our concern going in was that the region had not had much new snow in the last couple weeks. But fortunately, the forecast was calling for pretty continuous snowfall. Sure enough, it snowed every day. And it was good. This, of course, meant the visibility was pretty consistently bad. Because of that, we didn't get to do any big tours, and we didn't get to climb Iconoclast, which is a pretty prominent 10,000+ foot peak in the area, but there was plenty of terrain nearby to keep us quite busy skiing untracked powder all week. And the long dry spell preceding our trip meant the old snowpack underneath the new was quite stable.

It was great not to have to worry too much about the deeper layers, but we still had to respect the danger of point-releases, or sloughing. The sloughs were entraining and running a very long way and building up to a not-insignificant depth. The scariest example of this came right on the heels of the scariest fall of the trip. Mike and Andrea and a few others went up the Wizard and skied a line down to the col above Ventigo Lake just past the Heinous Traverse. But the line was pretty bony and Andrea took a hard fall, landing on a rock, partially dislocating her elbow and bruising her hip. They decided to head back to the lodge via the Heinous Traverse, whence they learned the source of that name. As they were traversing, large sloughs of snow were naturally releasing from the cliffs above. They crossed eight slide paths on the traverse, and one of them came down right on top of them, burying them from the knees to the waist. Mike saw the snow billowing down the slope toward them and yelled to Andrea, "Hunker down!" and thought to himself, "I really hope those aren't my last words." They were able to extract themselves, and it certainly made us all acutely aware of the danger.

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful in terms of danger. It really was much more of a powder fest then an objective-achieving trip. And we became very fond of the lifestyle. Get up at a decent hour, say 7-ish and have a short breakfast and a cup of coffee. Leave the hut around 8:30 or 9 and go ski light, knee-deep powder until 3 or 4. Come back to lodge and maybe help restock the water and firewood supply, or just hang out and play games or read a book until dinner-time. If it wasn't your turn to cook dinner, you could go sit in the sauna for a while and let the heat melt away the soreness in your muscles. And because it was only your turn to cook one night out of the entire week, that meant a lot of evenings of just relaxing and eating.

There is the matter of the piss-pica which should be addressed. One day I was utilizing the assigned pee-hole for boys, minding my own business, when suddenly a rodent with a rather distressed demeanor was poking his head out of the hole. Unsure what the proper protocol for such a situation was (do I play dead? make myself tall and act fearsome?), I took half a step back then realized I had the upper hand so I continued to fend him off with my golden shower attack.

And who can forget the hut caretaker who joined us. Dave, the firefighter from Canmore, Alberta, was a pleasure to have with us. He take good care of the hut and had a great sense of humor. Most importantly he liked to ski anything and happily went along with us no matter the destination. And when us Cascade-folk would hesitate to ski something we were unsure about, he would willingly take one for the team and go first. It was a big sacrifice for him to make, to be sure, but it almost seemed as though he enjoyed getting the first tracks! He also made sure we didn't have any leftovers from dinner to deal with, which was nice.

Alas, the day of our departure sadly arrived. It was on the heels of a terrific storm which dumped a large amount of snow accompanied with high wind. It was so windy and so much snow was falling that snow was blowing up through the eaves of the outhouses and the water hole in the lake got buried under a foot of snow overnight. There was some concern about whether we would be able to fly out Saturday morning, but unfortunately we did. We were all kind hoping for a couple free extra days.

Back in Seattle, the adjustment back to the real world was predictably difficult. I think back on the trip with nothing but fondness: one week in a comfortable hut with 16 friends skiing our own private stash of sweet Selkirk powder every day. That's hard to beat.

Other Links:
- Ema's pics

Sorcerer Hut from A. Toyota on Vimeo.