It was supposed to be a simple trip to climb Mt. Matier near Pemberton, BC. But we made a teeny miscalculation and things went a lot sideways.
I'm on a quest right now to right old wrongs. Instead of return trips to peaks I know I are a good time, I'm trying to circle back to climb and ski lines that I've either failed on, or always wanted to try. A couple of months ago, I jumped a plane to Vancouver, met up with my partner for the weekend and then headed up the Sea to Sky highway, past Whistler, over to the Duffy Lake Road - home of some of the best coast skiing in BC.
Our objective was Mount Matier - the highest peak in the Duffy's Joffre group. The plan was to sort of take things easy, but set ourselves up for success.
We drove out Saturday morning and parked the car at the Cerise Creek/Keith's Hut parking lot. From there, we toured up to near the hut at a moderate pace. We were in no rush so we were more focused on enjoying the bluebird conditions than charging up.
The plan was to tour up to a common campsite named Motel 66, It's a flat spot at about 1975m elevation. It's sheltered from most hazards and a great place to pitch a tent if you're looking for a shorter summit push and a more restful night than you might get at the busy hut.
Once we got there though, we still had a lot of daylight, the weather was amazing and we started thinking that putting in a longer day would set us up for a quick summit the next morning and maximize our odds of success.
There's a high col between Matier and Joffre at about 2400m elevation. That would put us a little less than 400m below the summit, and given the weather, we figured we could bang that out first thing in the morning and then spend the rest of the day lapping the glacier or something.
We do this stuff a fair bit. Camping in the mountains isn't new to us and we knew there was a risk to heading up to the high col - we would be exposed to the worst of any weather that would move in.
Oh, and there was one more complication - out tent. Flying out to the coast I was bringing a bunch of gear with me and was looking to minimize wherever I could. My partner only had an ultralight MSR Hubba Hubba. Even lighter than the normal version of that tent - this one's inner was made entirely of mesh. She warned me that when she'd used it in the winter in the past, if weather was really bad, sometimes a little snow would get through the mesh.
When we got to our high col, the weather was still great. A little wind but nothing major and I didn't see anything moving in that looked like it was going to be a problem. We set up the tent, and then to be safe, I got to work building a wind break.
I found some nice slabby snow and set up a quarry, carefully cutting out bricks of snow and building a wall along the windward side of the tent to help protect it from wind. Truth be told, I was pretty proud of it - nice and clean, it would block the wind but potentially deposit more snow in its wind shadow (our tent).
After cooking dinner, we crawled into the tent calling it an early night so that we'd be well rested in the morning.
And then everything went to shit.
About an hour after we crashed, the wind picked up. Gusty breezes turned into blustery wind. And then we started hearing snow falling on the tent. And then the wind was howling and the snow was pounding the tent. Before long I was lying in the tent wondering if it was going to collapse. I mean, it was a really light tent.
Luckily, that wall I'd built provided enough protection to let the tent survive. The problem was that we were still getting a bunch of wind and the low pressure air shadow of the wall caused the snow to swirl around. Swirl around and sneak under the edge of the fly. When you've got a tent with 100% mesh walls and snow sneaking under the fly, it turns out it comes right on into the body of the tent.
My first inkling that we might have a problem was when I started feeling a refreshing mist on my face. In the dark though, it was hard to tell exactly how bad it was.
In the morning, it became obvious. While we were warm and happy in our sleeping bags - about a 2-3cm of snow had accumulated in the tent. Pro Tip: If it's snowing inside your tent, you have fucked up. In our case, we could have either picked a campsite suitable to the unsuitable tent we brought (Motel 66 or dropping down to a safe spot on the Matier Glacier below) or brought a tent suitable to the conditions we faced. We didn't even need a winter tent - a 3 season tent with a slightly burlier inner would have been fine.
We woke up in the morning, discovered the thick blanket of snow over top of everything and basically laughed our asses off as the storm raged around us.
It was pretty obvious that a summit attempt was out when a quick peak out the door indicated we were enveloped in a whiteout so we traded a summit attempt for sleeping in until the storm settled down enough to keep breaking camp from being overtly miserable.
The upshot to the overnight storm (both in and out of the tent) was that it had dumped enough snow that we had an absolutely incredible ski down. No summit, but great late season skiing as a consolation prize. Works for me.
So, we fucked up. No denying it. But we also got enough right that we didn't pay for those mistakes. We got lulled into complacency with our camp selection, but the rest of our systems - gear selection and building that wind break - prevented that complacency from biting us in the ass. Lesson learned, light tent OR exposed camp site, not both.
Grumpy, cantankerous, wildly opinionated and so much more! Getting really tired on skis is what makes me happy.