15July 2020

Is it worth it?

He had only ever been to the Bugaboos in late summer, when all the approaches to the climbing routes meant stumbling through endless stretches of loose boulders.

The time of the year when the only sound is the constant creaking and clunking of granite – settling into new positions after its annual eight months of being trapped by snow and ice.

More than once, he said to himself, “I gotta come back here with skis on.”

Jeff and two friends just learned: turns out that’s still doable in July.

From the trail head and parking lot, frequented by porcupines that will literally chew the tires off your car if given the opportunity, it’s a 4000 foot climb to Applebee campsite, a bare and exposed stone platform at over 8000 feet.

Here’s a curious (maybe obvious) thing:

Hiking in summer is great. Ski touring in winter is great. Ski touring in summer is really freaking hard.

You need gear and clothing for two seasons, and you need to be able to carry it all on your back for the hardest and hottest part.

Over sixty pounds, plus skis and boots tied on, was the monkey on their backs as they trudged the three hours up, up, up.

That’s a load that’s heavy enough to make your arms go numb. Heavy enough that it feels like your collarbones could snap. All you want to do is take it off, but you’re not sure you’ll be able to heave it back on if you do.

They were trying to time a window of weather – getting to elevation during the storm and being ready and in position for a clear morning and hopefully, fresh powder.

That meant the climb happened in the rain.

Ah, yes. The suffering of it all.

Heads down, they trudged up the muddy trails, past several sets of fresh grizzly bear tracks. (Bonus adrenaline rush.)

At the snow line, where they could at least move the weight of their skis and boots to their feet, the rain turned to sleet.

Finally at the campsite, they spent the first hour in a cave among the boulders, watching the snow/rain mix come down, trying to stave off being soaked through.

Praying to Ullr all the while, that real overnight freeze was ahead.

Sure enough, a change was on the way. After a night of a steady wind rattling their tents, they emerged at 4:30am to calm, clear skies and -4C.

The precip from they day before wasn’t exactly powder, but it was SKIING, damnit! Soft turns, even!

A few more hours of hiking rewarded them with a 500-metre run, ending with a 45-degree descent from a tight col down to camp.

As Jeff says “Unless you prefer walking downhill, which I do not.”

Was it worth it?

Jeff’s answer: always.

Was it fun at the beginning? No. It definitely sucked.

But, the pain is temporary. The pride, and the memories – they stick around.

You know it’s worth it because of the size of the grin on your face. Your willingess to pump your fist in the air even while your shoulders are burning.

You know it’s worth it when you want to go back and do it again – once your calves fully recover and your gear dries out.

You know it’s worth it because it was some of your precious life minutes spent doing what you love most.

This is the post-game analysis.

But how do you know BEFORE you go that it will be worth it?

Actually, it’s easy:

Power. Reach. Exclusivity. Freedom.

That’s the unbeatable recipe we cook up when it’s actually winter, and when the helicopter is back in the picture.

None of the slog. All of the adventure. All to yourself.

Go small, and get it all.


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