48 hours later, I was back in the Callaghan in very different conditions for a second crack at Telemagique.
A huge snowstorm had swept in, and the landscape was barely recognizable. The trees were cloaked in white, and there was so much snow on the road that we were able to put our skins on and ski straight out of the parking lot. Since it was our first time in the Callaghan backcountry and we knew it was likely to be a long day, C and I took the easy route in and headed up the deserted Mainline cross country trail for the first 9km.
At Callaghan Lake we left the trail network behind and set out into a windswept void of white and grey. There was something eerie and yet deeply compelling about the lake crossing: the howling wind and creaking snow, the depths of ice and water beneath our feet, the emptiness ahead that could have been anything or anywhere, and above all a sense, stronger than I’ve ever felt, of striking out into the complete unknown.
That feeling – the strange combination of adventure and uncertainty, excitement and fear – is one of the things I love most about touring in a new place. It’s hard to explain how visceral it is, and just how strongly it compels me to keep moving forward. There’s this wild energy that charges through the world when every step takes you a little bit further out, a little bit further away from comfort, security, and all the things that are known and sure.
On the far side of the lake we found ourselves in a snowswept bay where the real routefinding began. C has a lot of experience at finding his way in a new area; me, not so much. We’d decided to approach this one from all angles, including map, compass, and GPS. We left the lake via a creekbed, and began climbing through the trees toward the ridge.
With limited visibility we couldn’t see much in the way of landmarks, so we relied on the map and GPS to guide us through this section. Our overall progress slowed considerably due to the tricky routefinding, and by the time we emerged on more open slopes near Puma Peak we decided to skip the very enticing downhill possibilities to make more forward progress. We were just past the halfway point of the loop by this time, with a long way still to go.
As we climbed through the meadows to what we thought would be the high point of the ridge, the snow – which had been falling softly and steadily all morning – finally eased, and we were able to make out Puma’s south peak behind us as well as a whole host of steeper skiable terrain to our left. This was definitely the prime downhill spot on the route.
Our hopes of having reached the high point turned out to be optimistic as the final draw led to yet another climb, and then still another in the saddle beyond that. We took it in turns breaking a steep trail through the foot or so of new snow, a heart-pounding, lung-searing exercise that seemed to go on forever. The GPS confirmed that we were still on track, but we were both starting to wonder where the downhill was.
After what felt like a million years of climbing, we finally reached a point where the ridge began to descend. We gratefully transitioned, thinking that it would be all downhill from there, but had barely gained enough speed to begin turning before the draw flattened out and we had to put our skins back on for another climb.
What followed was a seemingly endless stretch of rolling, frustrating terrain where we either left the skins off, picked up a bit of speed, then went for an exhausting wallowy sidestep up the next rise; or left the skins on for easier climbing, but lost our opportunities for picking up distance quickly on the downhill. Somewhere along the way there were some fun powder turns, but very few compared to the amount of work we’d put in to get them.
Eventually we both reached our limit with the endless ups and downs, and with concerns about losing the light starting to surface we decided to cut the final corner off the loop. We dropped into a gully to our right and almost immediately lost all of our remaining elevation, plunging rapidly down very steep, icy slopes beneath dense trees and through powder fields where the trees receded. A few minutes later we tumbled out of the forest and back onto the cross country trail, and were on the home stretch back to the car.
The GPS revealed that we’d traveled 26km in just over 8 hours, with 1,000m of elevation gain. It was easily one of the most strenuous days that I’ve had on skis. In spite of the rather skewed ratio of uphill to downhill, it was also a tremendously rewarding experience. Going somewhere new, doing all of our own routefinding, being such a very long way out. Sometimes, that’s all the reward you need.