Words By: Simon Coward
“I am thinking of maybe doing the Southern Purcells Traverse”… Eric mentioned to me in passing one day earlier in the Winter. “Sounds like a lot of walking in valley bottom to me, how about we go to Freshfields?”… at that point, the idea of a base camp style fly in trip was born.
Over the next few months we rallied a group of 4, Eric Groenveld, Kevin Weir and Bryce Shaw to head to the Freshfields Icefield to ride and explore it’s storied terrain. We spent a bunch of time dialing in the logistics, organizing base camp gear to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable time up there, knowing, that it was likely we would spend at least a day or two tent bound as the weather up there is notoriously bad.
As the trip came closer we watched the weather products like hawks, hoping for an elusive 4 or 5 day weather window. A week out it was looking good, clear skies and moderate temperatures, but as we drew closer this quickly evaporated and changed to a forecast of between 80 and 150cms of snow over the 5 days. It would be unlikely we could even make the fly in, let alone safely put together a trip in poor vis, rapidly changing stability and in terrain none of us had seen before.
So, 48 hours out we made the call to change our venue to one more conducive to the incoming weather and, thanks to Dave Crerar and Tyler Higgins we came up with the Silent Lake/Spillamacheen Glacier zone as our base camp for the week. Nestled at approx. 2100m and mainly out of ear shot of some nearby sled zones, this area provided the best of both worlds. Higher elevation tree/pillow skiing which kept most of the good terrain above the rapidly rising freezing levels and in a short skin distance from the super impressive Spillamacheen Glacier home to Mt David, Cory and Twin Towers.
PHOTO: Eric checking out the terrain after setting up on day 1
PHOTO: Spillamacheen Glacier and Mt Cory
With all that in mind we took off with Alpine Helicopters on Tuesday April 11th and within 15 minutes we had landed at our home for the next 5 days. It was a pretty ideal spot, perched above 350m long treeline pillow runs, an easy traverse out into the big glaciated terrain of the Spillamacheen headwaters and with access to unfrozen water which made the process of obtaining drinking water much less gas reliant. After landing, we spent about 2.5 hours getting our base camp and living quarters dialed in to ensure a comfortable stay.
PHOTO: Staging at the Alpine Helicopters base in Golden, BC
Kevin (who works with Golden Search and Rescue), knows the Alpine guys super well, so, when we heard the chopper heading back to drop of Dave, Ty, Tom and Will he got on the radio and coordinated a heli bump to the col just below the impressive summit of Mt David, this gave us a ‘mechanically assisted” 700m run to start off our trip. Not a bad way to kick things off. We then spent the afternoon exploring our ‘local’ pillow zone located just above camp, we were not disappointed. Well preserved north facing snow, with pillow lines from mild to absolutely wild. Feeling very stoked with our day we headed back to camp for dinner, planning and minor living arrangement adjustments.
PHOTO: First turns of the trip - dropping in from just below Mt David
One of the super nice things about a base camp setup is you can bring some more ‘luxury’ items than if you are doing a self propelled traverse. We ate like kings, burgers, steak and potatoes, curries etc were the norm, so no suffering at all involved on this trip. Quite the contrary to some of the longer traverses people are doing at this time of year!
As the week went on we received about 60 cms of snow, mainly centred around the Wednesday and Thursday. This gave us a great opportunity (and excuse) to just go and rip winter time snow pow laps in the steep trees and pillows on the north side of the ridge we were camped on and across the valley at the treeline toe of a smaller glacial feature a bit east of where we were camped. The snow above 1800m on shady aspects was still super dry and we lapped 1200 – 1500m of vert each day, continuously commenting on how much it still felt like winter up high. It certainly felt more like March weather and snowpack than a mid April one.
PHOTO: Our 'home' shred zone, only a 10 minute ski from camp
PHOTO: Thomas sending some of our local zone pillows on a snowy April day
PHOTO: Eric skiing beautiful April Pow with Silent Mountain in the background
Camp life breezed by with great meals, early nights and the normal restless sleeps accompanying being in a tent in well below freezing temperatures. I think part of the restlessness is going to bed at 9pm…. Not very often I am in bed before midnight when at home, so spending 10 hours in a sleeping bag almost makes one feel guilty.
PHOTO: Camp life, a room with a view
PHOTO: Advantages of camping at treeline. Stormy bonfires
PHOTO: Doing our ecological part.. Groover with a view
On the Friday it seemed we were in a slightly clearing trend with some heavy convective snow falls but long periods of reasonable visibility. So, after a rip to valley bottom and climbing back up to 2400m, we teamed up with Tyler, Dave and Will and headed out onto the Spillamacheen Glacier. The travel was great and the scenery unreal, We picked our way through the huge moraine features and were treated to the bottom 2/3s of our first day heli assisted run. A little bit of wind slab here and there, but overall amazing winter snow conditions in some fun, steep, big terrain. It was a really fitting way to finish up our last full day of riding for the trip.
PHOTO: Big terrain and small humans on the Spillamacheen Glacier below Mt David
PHOTO: Climbing in such a beautiful zone
The final day saw us devouring as much left over food as possible, packing up camp and then we went and did a couple of pillow laps in our storm zone. After that we hung out for an hour or so waiting for our heli ride back to Golden and civilization.
I know Dave and crew got a blue bird day on the Sunday and rode some epic lines from high up on the glacier, I hope to get back there one day with some more blue sky days. However, the pow laps we got were unreal, and we all spent a lot of time getting snow in our face and jumping/falling of things….
Such a great way to spend a week, we rode/skied between 5000 and 6000m of vertical over the 5 days, and being able to just skin up and climb right from the front door of your tent is such a treat. Still lots of season left in the high mountains and glaciers.
I hope the Spring continues to deliver you the goods