Dates: June 22nd - 23rd, 2022
by Christian Veenstra
Also bushwhacking, plenty of bushwhacking, in addition to the biking, canoeing, and skiing. But I didn't really fully appreciate that at the outset, so I sold it to myself as a triathlon. Anyway, this is the story of a solo, self-propelled, and self-supported ~320 km, ~10,000 m, ~4.5-day trip I did this "spring" where I linked together chunks of 3 classic ski traverses - the Misty Icefield, McBride Range, and Garibaldi Neve, followed by skiing over the Mamquam Icefield, in order to drop back to my starting point near the Pitt River Hotsprings. In order to make things more interesting I would get to/from the hotsprings by bike and canoe right from my doorstep. First I'd tow the canoe through Metro Vancouver to the South end of Pitt Lake, then toss the bike into the canoe and row up the lake, before biking up the Pitt River FSR where I'd leave the bike near the hotsprings, hike/bushwhack into the alpine, and do my ski traverses. I'll split the TR into a couple sections to break things up a bit. This first section describes getting to the hotsprings. The alpine section is described here, and getting back home here.
This year, due to a covid-induced collapse of our childcare situation, I've been working a bit of an odd schedule - up at 4:45 am, bike in to start work at 6, leave to be back at noon in order to take over childcare from Line who works afternoons, then work from home after fixing the kids lunch and putting our youngest down for a nap. Today, Wednesday the 22nd, was a bit of an exception in that I had the afternoon off to bike all the kids over to F's school for their year-end showcase. Now, back home with all the kids, I've finished off my packing and am setting up for a quick nap. I've got about 3 hours before I'm going to get up, read the kids a bedtime story, and then head off into the night. I figure I'm going to need the sleep as the tide and solar schedule make it the most logical to start at night, and my strange schedule has meant that I haven't been getting the most sleep these days, generally.
But first, what am I doing? Well, this spring, Line came up with a great idea. The Misty Icefield traverse has been on my to-do list for a while, but the logistics are complicated as you start at the North end of Pitt Lake (which is not road accessible) and end up near Lillooet Lake (a 220 km drive from Vancouver). I've been hoping to just do it opposite some other party, but the opportunity rarely surfaces. Her thought was that, perhaps, one could do it as part of a larger horseshoe traverse and return to your starting point. The obvious adder, then, would be to do it completely self-propelled door-to-door. Once the seed was planted we had to make it work. I spent my free time meticulously planning the route, making small modifications to my equipment, and even made an oarlock attachment for the canoe in order to facilitate rowing (the first few iterations weren't great, nor was my skill as a rower, but both improved quickly). Then we watched as every single weekend in May and early June (the typical long-fast ski-traverse season) went by with unstable weather. There were occasional breaks in the weather, but it usually didn't go for more than 12 hours with some precipitation and complete whiteout in the mountains. Nearing the end of June, but with still a record snowpack in the alpine, it seemed like my weather window was finally here. Time to go for it.
And so, at almost 9:30 pm, after a 3-hour nap, reading the kids their bedtime stories, and getting them all tucked in, I was headed North and East on the bikeways of Vancouver with our giant 100 lb, 20' long, family canoe strapped onto my home-made bike-canoe trailer along with my touring skis, 6 days of food, some high ambitions, and lots of blinking lights. As always with the canoe I received a lot of accolades from others on the bike path, but nobody noticed the skis. As I got further East, into Burnaby and Coquitlam, traffic petered out and eventually I was mostly alone passed by only the odd car. This was fine by me, especially when it came to the bridge deck on the Mary Hill Bypass where the shoulder is a bit narrow. Things were going great, up until Port Coquitlam and Pitt Meadows, where it soon became obvious that in these communities there is a different standard for bollard/obstacle spacing at junctions with bike paths.
Rowing the lake was relatively uneventful most of the time, although I did hit a bunch of wood. There's just a lot of debris floating in the lake, and you face backwards when rowing, so if something is low in the water I might not notice it during my brief intermittent shoulder-checks. So there was a good clonk every once in a while. Towards the end of the lake, as the sun came up, it started getting pretty windy and I needed to drag one oar and row on just one side to keep the boat straight. This also made it slightly tricky to navigate the log booms workers were constructing at the head of the lake, but overall I made good time and reached the docks in just over 5h20m.
After talking to some workers about the best place to lock up the canoe and re-arranging myself for biking I was on my way up the Pitt River FSR. I was surprised at just how populated the area still was - there are dozens of vehicles parked near the docks, and even aside from all the logging activity, no shortage of lodges and private cabins along the way. Still, if the dust/scat on the side of the road is any indication, the road is mostly used by bears. I saw several. As I got higher along the road I caught glimpses of the mountains I'd be skiing over and was happy to see there was still a fair amount of snow on them, with the snow line looking to be perhaps as low as 1000m. The weather was still generally cool, and (in the mountains) overcast - the forecast high-pressure system wasn't scheduled to arrive until the evening. 2 hours later I'd checked out the hotsprings and found a good spot to set up camp not far from them. Turns out the river was high enough that the hotsprings were flooded and not hot at all... I guess no lazing around in the hotsprings for me on this trip.
I'd been trying to balance getting a good amount of rest with not pushing myself too hard during the approach, leaving myself with one of my longer "breaks" for a while - 7 hours to setup camp, make a bear-hang, eat, rest, get up, eat some more, and then transition to skiing. I brought a tent with the intention of leaving it at this spot along with the bike - it's mostly for bugs/rain and I'd have no need of it in the alpine. I was excited and a bit nervous but did manage to get some sleep or, at least, a sort of relaxed daylight meditation.
River of Golden Dreams
Triple M Triathlon - Misty, McBride, Mamquam
Recent tips and thought
Boxy: Our kid hauling bike
Putting skis on a bike
Making a low DIN tech binding
What is in our backpacks?
The bike canoe trailer
Making kids crampons
Digging a snowcave
Make a kid towing harness