Oh, winter. It’s been a tragic start this year, with everything below about 1500m pretty much bereft of snow and most of what’s higher just shark’s fins and rain crust. The same pictures of bony terrain everywhere, from the Duffey down the Sea to Sky and all the way out to the Coq.
But it’s winter, dammit, and we should be skiing. So last Sunday a determined group of us drove up Glacier Creek road, strapped our skis to our backs, and went for a long slog up the bare earth of the Heliotrope Ridge trail and an icy Hogsback in our ski boots. (Bad mistake on our part; we should have taken approach shoes.) The first part of our day was just a pleasant walk in the woods.
Then we crested the ridge, and there they were at last. The jumbled blue blocks of the icefall, the wind-rimed rocks of Colfax and above it all, the towering peak of Baker. A wind we couldn’t even feel tore spindrift from the summit, and I suddenly realised that the last time I was on skis I’d been standing up there, inside the sky, higher than I’d ever been.
As we set out onto the Coleman the rain crust creaked beneath our skins and the deep green of the valleys behind us told the sad story of the snow that hasn’t come this year. But it didn’t matter. With each step the world fell a little further behind us, and I was finally back in the landscape I’ve been missing since the moment I left it. It’s such a wild, staggering beauty that we find out here in the mountains, in places that were never really meant for people.
I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope for the ski down, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. On the Coleman the rain crust wasn’t icy but very dense and chalky: a glacier groomer. We flew down as far as the Hogsback, then clattered over ice to the bare earth of the trail and a very uncomfortable 5km hike back to the car. It was a lot of walking and not the finest skiing, but that was the last thing I cared about. It just felt so incredibly good to be back in the mountains.