Qua Yurt Skiing
February 15-18, 2008
Qua Yurt Terrain Map
It took a couple tries to get this trip done, and even then it almost didn't work out. The trip was originally planned for New Year's Weekend, but at the last minute, Trevor, from Ymir Yurts, emailed Andy and told him he accidentally overbooked. Hard to believe, but as it turned out Kirsten and I weren't actually supposed to be on the trip then, so when Andy rescheduled it for President's Day Weekend, and Marcus and Anastasia told us they couldn't go, we signed up. After hearing a few stories about how disorganized the outfit is, we were a little concerned about how troublesome it would be getting in and out of the yurt. On top of that, the weeks leading up to the trip brought high avalanche conditions, so we waited until the day before we were supposed to leave to finally decide that we were going. The avy report that day showed that conditions were moderating, so we figured we could safely find mellow terrain to ski. Unfortunately, Pete needed to stay home to take care of some things, so we only had a group of 5 going in.
Kirsten, Becky and I left Seattle at 4:30 PM on Thursday, about five hours after Andy & Todd. As we were driving through Ellensburg, Andy called us from the border crossing to let us know it closed at midnight. We were several hours away and figured if everything went smoothly we would make it in time. After driving through Spokane and heading north for the border, we arrived with half an hour to spare. Shortly after entering Canada we pulled into the tiny town of Ymir and found our hotel, the Ymir Palace. The manager had left the door to our room open for us, so we didn't have to check in, just found the room that was open and sacked out. Nice!
We hooked up with Andy and Todd in the morning and met Trevor at 7:30, then drove out to the trailhead where we loaded up two wooden boxes with seats. These would be our carriages that the snowmobiles would toe us in. The ride was 25 kilometers up to Wildhorse Ridge where they dropped us off with our daypacks. We skied down into the North Clearcut where our instructions were to skin most of the way up to the Seeman-Qua Pass above the yurt, where the cat would drop off our overnight packs. We started skinning up, but there was a low cloud cover and we couldn't see much of the terrain around us, but there was one pretty obvious pass that we could see at the head of the gully, and we found skin tracks heading toward it, so off we went.
At a rather crucial point I lost the skin track, but kept heading for that pass. Shortly after, we began noticing that there were no signs of any snow vehicles or ski tracks on the slopes below that pass. I checked the map and compass and it showed that we were bearing too far south and needed to backtrack and head up in a more western direction. We all dismissed this, figuring there was some unexplainable reason why the compass was wrong. We kept skinning for a few more minutes and then finally heard the snowcat behind us. We watched the snowcat come toward us then slowly work its way away from us, heading west. This of course was the direction the compass had indicated. We tried to understand why we had doubted the compass, but it was one of those things where we were betrayed by a strong feeling of going the right way. How funny that we would let that lead us astray. But it gave us a sly slogan for the trip, "If it feels right, and looks right, the compass must be wrong."
To make a long story short, we made it to the yurt. Kirsten, Becky and I missed the message on the yurt website that said to pack light, and each had around 50 pound packs, which made the ski down from the pass to the yurt a little tricky. After making ourselves at home, we went back out and took a lap on the slope we had skinned up. The snow was pretty nice and light, about a foot of recent powder on a firm base. On the way back up we noticed that Trevor had left a package of toilet paper for us, which was a pleasant acquisition. Friday night, after doing a few things to get the yurt in shape, like getting pilot lights lit in the stove and chipping ice away from the door so it would close, Andy and Todd cooked up their prawn pasta and we took turns plugging in our mp3 players into Andy's docking station. Unfortunately the battery died within just a few hours and we all tried to remember how we used to pass time before mp3 players. Before turning in for the night, we flashed our headlamps around the yurt and noticed a fine coating of mold growing on the interior walls and on some of the mattresses. Yum.
That night, we were awakened by the sound of a critter scampering around outside by where we had hung our food. We figured it must be the inquisitive pine marten that we heard about, but when I got up to bring the food inside, I hesitated for a moment as my sleepy mind began to ponder the possibility that it might be something other than a pine marten. I tried to decide what the best way to confront the creature would be -- either a stealthy cracking of the door to give me a peek at whatever it was out there, or a sudden throwing open of the door to (hopefully) scare it away. Kirsten sensed my hesitation and asked, "Are you going to get the food?" The only words I could form were, "I'm scared." This gave everyone a good laugh. And of course, it turned out the creature was just the pine marten.
Saturday, the weather forecast was for high pressure to build over the area. But we woke up to clouds and a couple inches of new snow. Because we couldn't see any terrain, we just traversed over to the slopes south of Hidden Bowl. We climbed up to a point at about 2200 meters on the ridge, then took a lap down about 500 meters through widely spaced trees and nice, light snow. It was good enough we decided just to lap it again, and as we skinned back up the clouds started to dissipate. We took another run and by the time we were done the skies were almost entirely clear. We took lunch and climbed up higher on the ridge to a point where we had a line back to the yurt. The sun was starting to bake the south facing slopes we were on so we skied to the yurt, took another break, then went back up the saddle and took a run back down the slope we skied on Friday. As we skinned back up to the saddle, the sun started to set and painted the whole landscape a beautiful pale red.
Saturday night, Becky cooked up steak pasta and then the hilight of the trip: smores. We roasted the marshmallows over the stove and the candles, then warmed up the chocolate by holding it on a fork over a candle. It was such a treat. We were pretty knackered from the long day and went to sleep early.
Sunday morning we found crystal clear weather outside. We had scoped out the northwest shoulder of Qua Peak the day before and we wanted to go up and check it out. It looked like a nice, long 600 meter run with a consistent 30° pitch, but we had to climb along the wind-loaded, corniced north ridge to get there and halfway up it started getting tricky skirting around the cornices and trying to stay off the exposed rollovers. Instead we peered down over the east side of the ridge to the slopes on the north side of Upper Seeman Bowl. Upper Seeman Bowl itself is perched below steep, open avalanche-swept slopes extending down from the summit of Qua Peak, but around the side of the bowl to the north where we were, the slope angle was mellower and there were areas of nicely-spaced trees, so we wooped and hollered our way down about 400 meters and went back up for another. There was plenty of open slope left, but a nice looking slope above the yurt was beckoning, so we headed that way, stopped for a half run down past the saddle, then tried to work our we up the southeast ridge of South Seeman Peak. It was badly wind-effected and skinning was difficult, so we cut our losses and traversed out above the yurt and took one last run.
Sunday evening we found conditions at the yurt were getting worse. The sun was melting the snow on the roof. The meltwater was dripping on the porch and refreezing forming the beginnings of a slippery stalagmite. It was also leaking in the yurt worse and worse to the point where a puddle was creeping out from wall under our bunk bed and soaking my backpack that was stored under it. We were starting to feel ready to leave the yurt. We didn't want to leave all the nice ski terrain that we had all to ourselves, but the yurt was starting to feel a little gross. After eating most of the chili that Kirsten and I made, we occupied ourselves by playing cards and making more smores, then settled down for one last, damp night.
The weather was still beautiful on Monday morning, and we packed up our stuff and started skinning up to the saddle at 8. The ski back down to the North Clearcut with our big packs was pretty fun because the snow was good and our packs were much lighter than they were on Friday. Within 15 minutes of arriving at the clearcut, Trevor and Doug arrived on snowmobiles to haul our packs back up to Wildhorse Ridge. We were pleased by Trevor's punctuality and it seemed to us that while he may not be great at communicating his plans, he does seem to have a pretty good system worked out, and we had no problems with him at all. After skinning up to Wildhorse Ridge and meeting up with Doug and our packs, we loaded up one of the wooden box sleds and started the snowmobile ride out.
This turned out to be the most terrifying experience of the trip. I'm not a snowmobile person at all. This is the first time I have been transported by one, but he was driving down that road like his house was on fire. He had no qualms with taking corners so fast that the snowmobile skis were coming off the ground. He assured us that the sled would keep the snowmobile from tipping, but even so, every time we went across a narrow bridge with those skis tipping up off the ground I thought we were going to get dumped into some frozen stream bed. And then there were the chunks of snow that were pelting us in the face. When we arrived back at the cars, we all staggered out of the sled like we had been at sea for 5 days and joked about how we were all secretly thinking of the best way to save ourselves if the sled went off the road. But we laughed it off and changed into street clothes and started the long drive home around noon. A quick food note: there is a great little restaurant in Metaline, WA, just south of the border, called Cathy's Cafe. If you ever find yourselves in this remote part of the state, and are in need of food, this place is delicious.