Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Amazing, Inspiring....Really?

Well about a month ago I arrived in Whitehorse to start preping to go into the mountains for the mid section of the NOLS Yukon Semester. This semester is 79 days in length and is composed of 3 sections: Hiking for 30 days, mountaineering for 24 days and whitewater canoeing for 25 days. One of the coolest things about it is that you are out for 54 days straight learning how to travel and live in the wilderness before coming back to the front country. I was fortunate enough to get to fly in, by float plane, to meet these students to walk, eat and climb our way through some of the most spectacular terrain in the world.

After spending 3 days in Whitehorse preping we loaded the float plane and headed for Big Duff Lake, southwest of Whitehorse, in the Coast Mountains. We landed and in 45 minutes the plane was flying back toward Whitehorse with the hiking instructors and all the garbage from the past 30 days. We being, Roger, Liz and I, started to get the students moving and introducing them to there new gear: mountain boots, crampons, ice axe, rock gear, snow and ice pro, glacier rig(short and long prussic, 2 lockers and 2 non lockers), helmet and 4 season tents.

Once the students had their new gear we went over our route and had a relaxed afternoon of eating and going over goals and expectations for this section.

Over the next 7 days we taught snow school, walking in crampons, roping up, glacier travel, glaciology, conflict resolution, rock climbing and team haul. We also did a few peak ascents and had students leading on rope teams. Those 7 days where jam packed with fun and great weather.

Glaciology class.

We planned for a 3 day window for the Helicopter re-ration and unfortunately with got socked in with weather on the 14th of July, the last day of the ration period. The following days where filled with sleeping, conserving energy, tolerating the fact we had no food and all 17 people having their fingers crossed for a break in the weather. On the 17th the weather broke for about 3 hours which was enough to get the chopper in. After a quick and well run re-ration be the students everyone started eating, energy started to pick up, motivation to get moving and start more climbing all pick up again. We taught arresting as a rope team, snow pro/anchors, mechanical advantage and Z-haul crevasse rescue after we receive our ration.

Arresting on a rope team


Could you ask for a better start to a mountaineering course? No not really good weather for window's to climb and teach, then get hammered by weather and have to hunker and not eat for a few days....... hmmm mountaineering anyone. All I can say is those 13 students had a powerful few days.

As people's energies started to come back we packed our bags and headed into the meat and potato's of this mountaineering course. By this time they had the skills to rope up efficiently, travel out front on the rope teams probing their way across the glacier and navigating in harsh conditions.

The area we moved into allowed us to ice climb, travel through steep snow, rock and ice terrain, and climb some peaks. Myself and 4 students went for a stab at Mt Redemption 2435m. This climb involves navigating through some large cracks up to a saddle and then climbing a steep, 40 degree, snow ramp to the ridge and a boulder scramble to the top. Unfortunately we had to turn around due to weather.

Redemption is on the left and Battlecat Buttress on the right.

The Castle on the left and Greyskull on the right.

The next day was blue bird and our move to The Castle/Greyskull area was spectacular! Nice work Pat for leading us through the Firn Zone! The camp was suppose to be or next re-ration but due to the 2 day cleanse :) we left our 3rd re-ration where we started ration 2 and planned on back tracking.

This campsite could be the most beautiful and inspiring spot I've been! We had 3 days of great weather and got to climb Snow Dome, The Castle and go exploring up and down the glaciers. On the last few days before getting back to our 3rd ration Liz, Sarah (the proctor, an instructor that works all 3 sections of the semester) and I wanted to take some students for another crack at Redemption. So we organized a team of 4 students Dave, Cam, Chester and Pat. We got started at 4am with a plan to meet Roger and the rest of the group at the ice fall before heading up to the food cache. The climb was amazing with a quote like " this is the most amazing thing I've ever done in life". After getting back to the glacier we still had 7km to go to get to the rest of the group..... mindless walking is what was needed and mindless walking is what we did. The walking ended around 8:30pm and the 16hr day didn't seem that bad as soon as the bellies where filled with the last of the foods ration. The next day we ascended up to the last food drop.

Pretty much one of the best kitchens in the world

Good times!

Sorry Abby had to do it... deep into the NOLS Glacier Travel Curriculum 

Liz leading up the snow ramp on Redemption.

Summit of Redemption.

Traveling up to the cache was challenging due to some heavy winds, sideways rain and low vize. Once there the weather really kicked in! So a strong team effort saw all the tents get put up without blowing away, the re-ration sorted, and everyone happy with hot drinks and food in their tents.

We tried waiting out the storm and after 2 full days we needed to leave to have time to make our pick-up.  After getting over the first saddle weather to the east started lifting and we where able to get off the ice and start the 3 day walk out to the Haines highway.

From the base of the glacier it was about 38km to the road and we had 3 days. If you've spent sometime mountaineering especially longer trips you know when you hunker in your tent you eat more food right.... so these 3 days food was rationed in each tent/cook group so everyone would be able to sustain the long days as best they could. And you often do the most walking at the end to maximize your climbing time.

On the second day we got into some terrain that took full advantage of the 40 metre contours. So this slowed our movement and had us camp early. That night Roger scouted further and found a route to the ridge but with the cloud cover couldn't see into the valley. We planned for a team to get up at 6:30am to scout and mark a route to the top of the valley. Chester, Will, Roger and I headed out and found a good route to the high end of the valley and as the others came down at 7:00am we scouted further and found a line that lead down out of technical terrain into the dense alder/dwarf birch and willow valley bellow.

The bush slowed our progress and we had to move our pick up to the next day, a day late, to everyones dismay of course. Fortunately this crew knew that hardship and having good tolerance gets you further then complaining and we set up camp for one more night (should I mention we walked in a bog for most of that afternoon and into the early evening then had to combat camp in it).

We had 10kms of bog and bushwack before an old dirt road, 5km, lead to the highway. The morning was slow moving through the rest of the bog and the bush only let up slightly until a game trail showed its face. We followed it for the best part of 8km and arrived at the old road at 1:30pm. Students and Instructors alike where very happy and another lift in energy come into our team. At 3:30pm we made it to the bus and Bri (an All Star by the way) had both breakfast and lunch waiting for us. One thing these students didn't do was waste food, burnt or not they ate it. So needless to say they ate everything that was presented to them.

Then it was on the road to Whitehorse for showers, evaluations, and getting the students ready for there whitewater canoe section on the Hess River.

I'd like to through out there that some of theses students, before this trip, had never slept outside before and have grown to a point of pushing beyond a point they have ever known. All I can say is nice frigging work team!

The Team.....
Right to left: Derek, Chester, Laura, Will, Sarah, Roger, Jeff, Pat, Abby, Laurel, Brian, Dean, Stefan, Liz, Dave, Cam, Skookum Gus, and Me

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