2016 is remembered by most as a year full of foul events, a year that just kept kicking people when they were down! From my perspective, the year looked pretty okay. My family welcomed a second child, I went back to university (AGAIN), and I amidst the mayhem still managed to adventure with many friends. In December, I examined my GPS trip data and discovered that I hiked, kayaked and/or snowshoed more than 60,0000 metres of elevation gain, and more than 700 kilometres of horizontal distance. More importantly, Phil and I checked off more than 30 peaks on our Island Alpine Quest. I was eager to add Mt Derby and Mt Peel to that list of completed peaks.
The Island Mountain Ramblers have a New Year’s Day tradition of hosting a hike to celebrate a new year of adventure. To kick off 2017, I joined my three club-mates on a three-day winter trip to kick of 2017. If successful we would summit Mt Derby and Mt Peel. The trip included two days of alpine winter camping, my first true winter camping experience. As our day of departure approached the forecast brought an arctic outflow, we were looking forward too -if that’s even the right term- temperatures as low as -24 C!
Total Distance: 12. 4 km
Starting Elevation: 420 m
Maximum Elevation: 1160 m
Total Elevation Gain: 825 m
The trip started like most others, we had an early morning departure and reached our destination deep in the Naka Valley, very close to the east coast of Vancouver Island, in good time. On the drive into the valley, we hit snow around 200 metres but it varied in depth as we drove. Eventually, we drove as high as 400 metres before the depth forced us to park and continue foot. Parking so low added several kilometres to our route but we were ready for the challenge.
We left the truck behind us and 10:30 am and followed the logging road for several kilometers. The sun was blazing creating a blinding light off the surface of the snow. At first, the snow had a stiff crust that broke under the weight of me and my overnight bag. Each step became a frustrating trudge over easy terrain. Although we hoped to walk easy logging road right up to 1100 metres we discovered that our intended road was deactivated in parts and required us to walk through some sections of leaf-barren alder. As we ascended the snow changed in consistency. When we reached 840 m in elevation, the snow was well over a metre deep. The frigid air preserved the fluffy snow, it looked fresh. With each step, we sunk over 30 cm, sometimes snow would collapse over our snowshoes making our snowshoes even heavier!
We ascended the steep south facing slope, crossing the half-buried logging slash we aimed for the old-growth forest above us. We created switchbacks up the steeper sections because attempts ascent directly up the slope were met with snow that collapsed beneath us. Phil had the toughest job, probably weighing in around 270 with his pack, he postholed more than a dozen times. He even found himself in a few hidden tree wells. I’m sure it took a tremendous effort to carry himself along.
Once in the trees, we found a deep water course running down from the col. We kept it on our left as we continued up through the snow encrusted old-growth. I was grateful for the sun that cast it’s light between the trees. Although it did nothing to warm the air, it made the effort enjoyable and warmed the trees enough that they dropped snow compacting the ground making the ascent easier.
As sunset crept closer a stiff wind kicked up. We used the landscape for protraction from the wind but there was no protection from the cold. When dusk turned to night the temperature dropped. Frost formed on my jacket and my runny nose was beginning to freeze
While Rishi set up the tent I dug out a kitchen for the four of us to share. By the time the tent was set up and our bedrolls laid out it was well after dark. As sat in our impromptu kitchen waiting for our dehydrated meals to brew, the others tucked themselves in their sleeping bags to cook their meals. I was envious of the idea for about five seconds until we heard a commotion. Someone spilled a meal on a sleeping bag, peanut butter and all– yummy!
It was only 6 o’clock, but even before I was finished my dinner I was begging for the warmth of my sleeping bag. The cold crept into my boots and gloves, and my toes and fingers were losing feeling. As I climbed into bed I worried my sleep system would fail me. Instead of my heavier -7 synthetic sleeping bag I brought a 0 degree down bag, wore extra layers and covered my sleeping bag with an MSR ebivy. Mostly I was warm, but the side that shouldered Rishi was very hot. Inside the small tent my head and feet both pressed against the outside of the tent. Where my feet pressed against the tent, it compressed my dry wool socks and sleeping bag creating a direct conduit for the cold to pass into my feet. At one point I woke and tried to stretch my body out but two of my toes wouldn’t work –frozen stiff! I adjusted and put a wool/synthetic toque over my feet. I slept, more or less until morning.
In the morning I found large chips (not crystals) of ice between my sleeping bag and bivy. As the vapour left my sleeping bag it must have condensed on my bivy and turned into a thick crust of ice. It wasn’t a situation conducive to getting out of bed. I waited comfortably in my sacks until I heard our partners getting out of bed.
I was looking forward to the day of hiking but two more events changed our plans, in the wee hours of the morning. As I lay in my cocoon of down and ice, I heard the others packing when and exclaim an all-to-familiar phase: We’ve got a problem. It turns out that someone placed a frozen Nalgene bottle their sleeping bag to thaw it and as it thawed 700 ml of water dripped out from the unfastened cap into the sleeping bag. As though this wasn’t bad enough another person was cramping and couldn’t walk properly.
Although the summit attempts were a bust I was happy to spend the time with friends. We stuffed our feet into the frozen blocks of ice we call our boots and packed our gear, before heading home we visited the col and admired the view. Our return was fast, just over 2 hours, surprising considering we spend a good portion of the day ascending.
Although 2016 will be a tough year to beat but, I’m going to try! Watch out 2017!