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Grizzly Den Weekend

I took another step and swore under my breath. My skies, firmly attached to my ski boots, were getting heavier with every step I took. The sticky wet snow was balling up under my bases. The only way to get it off was to lift my leg and bang my ski pole against them. I tried waxing my skins but the snow still stuck. We had hoped to arrive at the cabin three hours ago, at noon.

I was feeling a little pissed. Apart from the horrible snow conditions, God knows why I can’t pick a cold weekend when the snow is powdery, to go out skiing, the fourth member of our party was having knee problems and feeling a little unsure because this was his first time on backcountry skis and I was beginning to realize the trip wasn’t really shaping up to be a skiing weekend but more a bushwhack/slog on skis.

At 7 a.m. when we left town we didn’t know that. At the highway turnoff to Grizzly Den, we unloaded the sled and rode twelve kilometers up the snowy, logging road to the trailhead. It had been raining off and on. As I climbed the steep, waterlogged, snow-covered trail I tried not to think about what the return trip would be like.

After ten minutes we reached Eight Mile cabin. Here we picked up our male companions. Now we were walking on our skin covered skies, through trees. Despite having resigned ourselves to the possibility that we might be forced to drop “Down Hill Skiing” off our weekend want list we felt exhilarated and glad to be outdoors.

Realizing we weren’t going to make the Grizzly Den cabin by noon we stopped among the trees for lunch. The fourth member of our party wanted to turn back because his knee was hurting and he was worried he was holding us up. Eventually, dosed up on ibuprofen, he decided to continue.

We forged on. It was like walking through Peace River clay in the springtime, something you only do once then try to avoid thereafter. The second member was behind me at this point. Grizzly Den cabin was almost his second home. “See that clump of trees,” he said, “when you come around the corner you should see the outhouse.”

I forgot about my heavy snow-laden skies, sure enough, there was the A-frame roof of the cabin. Taking the shovel off the hook above the door I cleaned the snow off the steps. Someone chopped some kindling, someone else lit the fire and we filled all the pots up with snow. Within minutes it was dark. We lit the lantern, unpacked our down sleeping bags and settled in for the night.

The next day was full of blue sky, sun, three centimeters of new snow, and the mercury hovered around minus one. Yay! It was not perfect but way better than the day before. In single file, we set off towards one of the surrounding peaks for some skiing. But the fourth member had problems getting any kind of traction on the steep slopes, he kept sinking.

Once again our pace slowed. I stopped to take photos of the fabulous view. The peaks in front of us, across the valley where the Fraser meandered by, were in Kakwa park. I recognized Mount Ida and Mount Sir Alexander from the fabulous trip I took there this summer.

At the top, we ripped off our skins in delicious anticipation of the ride down. We weren’t disappointed. The shiny sun and blue sky more than made up for the less than optimum conditions. By the time we arrived at the pass over to the cabin, it was one o’clock. The thought of negotiating the icy lower slopes tempered our decision not to attempt the peak again for another downhill ride. We ate lunch at the cabin then set off for the bottom.

The second member, determined to salvage the day, insisted we follow his old flagged trail from last December for an awesome descent. It would have been awesome if there had been more snow to cover up the dead-fall, willows and devils club. Instead, we spent ages hacking our way through. We put on our skins hoping they would slow us down on the icy steep stretches. I still fell down a lot. By the time we reached the bottom, where the sled waited, it was dark.

The sled, a tiny Polaris, could only handle the weight of two people. I decided to ski along the road with the second member catching the sled on its way back. We soon discovered the logging road had been plowed. Later we found out they had done it mere minutes after we zoomed through on the sled. If we had only known …

We skied about three kilometers then the ice on the road completely disappeared. We took off our skis and started walking. Around the corner, we came across the stranded sled. The fourth member had volunteered to put on his running shoes and jog the remaining nine kilometers back to the vehicles, what a trooper. At this point, all I wanted to do was go home. I collapsed on the sled to wait, snuggle into my down jacket and look at the stars. An hour passed then thirty minutes. It was getting colder.

We decided to walk towards him. All kinds of scenarios went through our minds, perhaps he had slipped on the ice and broken some body part or had difficulty backing up the SUV with the trailer attached. The moon played tricks with our minds, making us think we saw headlights shining on the road up ahead. We walked almost two kilometers before the light we saw on the road turned out to be the real thing. What a relief. What an adventure. On my next ski trip, I want there to be champagne powder and lots of it. Surely it’s time.

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