"Daddy - what's an adventure?"
"It's when you don't know how things are going to turn out."
"Why did you call this an adventure?"
"Well, we didn't really know how things were going to turn out..."
It was the first overnight trip without mom for F and I (sort of - we did go up to Cathedral Lakes for a week this summer, but Mom couldn't stay away and had decided to come up and join us after only a night). The plan was for me to tow/carry her up to the VOC's Brew Hut. We figured it would be our last chance before the snow really closed in for the season and we could no longer drive the first 10 km along the Chance and Roe Creek FSRs. Line and N would have a relaxing weekend at home, and avoid the storm that was supposed to settle in on Saturday night.
After F and I finished grocery shopping Friday night (I've learned that one of the key ways to get F excited for a trip is for her to pick the food) I put her to bed, packed the things, and made some final tweaks to F's towing harness (which had been prototyped while skiing the previous weekend). It was probably 1am by the time everything was set, but we weren't getting up *too* early the next morning, since we'd planned to drive the road and only had to travel ~5 km. I picked up our good friend Norkio who would join us for the trip at 7 am.
Shortly after leaving the highway, at about km 2, we ran into the classic gong-show of multiple cars trying to turn around and leave or park on a narrow logging road. Uh oh. There was snow on the road, and if that wasn't enough to dissuade you there was a downed tree too. I got out and ran up the first bit of road to check the snow depth and the tree. Snow was ~1/3 the tire diameter, all super wet and heavy. It seemed we could drive under the tree at the very edge of the road. The snow was from earlier in the week - just a single storm's worth - that we'd expected should have been rain at this elevation... just like it was raining now. I'm not normally one to risk getting myself stuck... but with 8 km more road and snow that wasn't too deep I figured I should test the waters. With 4-low, real winter tires, and chains on all 4 wheels the vehicle made slow but steady progress uphill. But I didn't feel I had the safety margin to push it for the whole 8 km so we turned around and parked. While sorting ourselves out for skiing some guy showed up in a jacked-up 4-runner and tried to make it up the road using momentum and mudder-tires... it's not really clear to me if he thought he was going to drive the whole road on momentum, or how he was planning to go around the tree at that speed, but he got stuck at the end of our tracks, then un-stuck, then almost slid off the road, then almost slid into a different tree, then almost slid into my car. I held F well off to the side of the road for the display.
We started off with F being carried. Norkio helped me shoulder the load, with an additional small pack strapped to the back of the child-carrying pack. It felt pretty heavy, but manageable. After probably less than a kilometre F wanted to come out and be towed instead so we got her out, clicked into her skis, and started towing. F has actually gotten pretty good at being towed, so we were making reasonable progress... at least whenever she wasn't falling over and laughing about it. Mostly, though, she just sang or talked to Noriko while cutting out of the skin track so she could make her "own track in the fresh snow". A dozen more downed trees made the towing more challenging, and washed away regrets about not driving the road. F shuffled on her skis through the occasional bare patches where flowing water had washed away the snow. A few hours of towing and a few snack breaks later, near the bridge over Roe Creek (km 6) F requested a break, so we loaded her back into the backpack so she could nap while I carried her. This time she felt really heavy. I was having difficulty shouldering the load and keeping up to Noriko. The pack felt like it was stabbing me through the hip belt, and no adjustment could fix it. I thought maybe I was starting to get soft - I haven't hit the gym nearly as often since N was born - but in retrospect I think it was the extra water weight (see the end of the report). We struggled on, passing by a number of parties (mostly daytrippers) on their way back after bailing on their own Brew Hut plans.
At around 1:30 pm, 3 hours from dark this time of year, we made the call to turn around halfway up the R200 branch (km 8.5ish). F had woken up from her nap very wet and a bit cold, and the rain that had been following us all day had turned into wet heavy snow. There was a cold wind. The storm was coming in early, and it was pretty clear that we would get hammered by it in the alpine, in the dark, breaking trail looking for the hut in a whiteout. Now, I've done more than my fair share of alpine-storm-whiteout navigation, but there was no way I could be sure I'd be able to keep F warm and safe. This was the first time (for F) that we weren't going to complete our nominal objective. F was crushed (even though I started trying to prepare her for it the moment we hit snow at km 2). F is often pretty vocal when she's upset, so I didn't realize just how crushed she was until she managed a "get the tears out of my goggles" in between sobs. She had literally *filled* her ski goggles with tears, and the water line had just reached the bottom of her eyes. I was simultaneously heartbroken and stunned that it was physically possible to generate such a large volume of tears. I drained her goggles and actually started heading towards the hut again for a few minutes before I came to my senses.
I got F warm by putting my primaloft sweater (the only spare clothes I was carrying for myself) over top of all her clothes and changing her mittens. Fortunately she quickly warmed and cheered up a lot on the ski back down. Even more fortunately Steve Grant, who I loosely know from all his positive contributions to the outdoor community, overtook us on his own ski back down to the car. We chatted a bit and he tipped us off to the location of an old trappers cabin not too far from the road, about halfway back to the car. The goal switched from making it back to the car in the dark to trying to make it to the cabin before dark. We experimented with a variety of techniques:
With about a half-hour left before dark we came to Steve's unmistakable markings - a little snow wall, and "cabin" scratched into the snow. I ran off on reconnaissance while F and Noriko hung out - the last thing I wanted to be doing was go bushwacking around in the dark with F looking for a cabin of unknown quality/location. But it turned out that Steve had truly saved our day by hiking all the way to the cabin and back - it was easy to follow his tracks straight there. The cabin was small and with some obvious rodent problems, but it was dry inside, it had a wood stove, and there was even some only-mildly-damp firewood. I retrieved F and Noriko and we rolled in just after dark. F was so excited to be in "the secret cabin" and to make the sea-animal-shaped mac' and cheese she'd selected. I was excited to find some soap so we could properly clean up after the rodents. We even managed to (mostly) dry out our soaking wet clothes.
The next day we made some snowmen in the ample slush-rain before hiking back to the road and skiing out. F insisted on walking back to the road herself, and she did, except for the part where all the recent precipitation had turned it into a river. I carried her through that. Then more skiing/towing down the logging road. We only had one meltdown, when F became unconsolably upset/scared that some snowmobiles were going to come and that they would be really loud. Other than that pretty smooth sailing. When we made it back to the car I declared that the weekend had been our first "real" adventure together, and then needed to explain what that meant.
When I got home I gathered all the wet stuff I'd been carrying (as well as F) and weighed it. 97 lbs. I could swear it wasn't that heavy before - it had just soaked up a lot of water (of course, most of the food was also eaten by this point). So, I guess I'm not getting so soft. Line asked F what her favourite part of the trip was. "The slush-rain!" she declared.
I have since invested in a cheap all-plastic adult-sized raincoat for F. It fits over top of all her ski clothes, is long like a trenchcoat in the body, long enough to completely cover her mittens in the arms, and I put little clips on the edge of the hood to keep it from blowing back off her helmet. We tested it rain-skiing at Cypress this weekend - she was bone dry under there, even after standing in the water pouring off the roof. Perfect...