I remember every day.
You can point at a map and ask “how was this day?” anywhere along our route over the last 5.5 months and I can tell you what the weather was like, where we camped and how hard or surprising or unique that day was. That is an unexpected effect of the journey. Normally I am like everyone else, in my day to day life if asked what I did a week ago I will struggle to remember. I guess it’s a product of living intensely.
It’s been a week since we walked off the mountain and stumbled onto the midnight streets of Skagway. In that strange northern twilight so near to the solstice, I tried to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be walking up another mountain the next day, or the day after that. Traversing had become our life.
Mostly what I felt was relief, but there was more mixed in there. The mountains have unequivocally changed me. As the full weight of the realization hit me I actually started to cry. Grant cried too – he had been there since the very beginning with his camera and drone and incredible skills capturing the essence of our trip. Even though he only filmed with us a little under 2 weeks in total I think the experience changed him as well. The only person not crying of course, was mum. For her I think, it was just the end of another trip. She just smiled and threw down her ginormous pack and celebrated by taking off what by then were some pretty offensively smelling ski boots (not that mine smelled like violets exactly).
Over the last year mum has completed 2 major expeditions, spending 9 months travelling and living in a tent in some of the most remote wilderness Canada has to offer. Even now she hesitates to go home to Invermere. While I plunged straight back into photography work in Fernie this weekend, she begged a canoe off a friend in North Vancouver and portaged it to Cheakamus lake for a paddle.
We met Celine and Ben randomly at a potluck in Terrace. They asked to join the epic for a few days and we were excited to have them! It was Celine’s first traverse and she totally killed it. Strong, independent and beautiful women like her are so inspiring and fun to hang out with. Ben was awesome too and we were sad to say goodbye to them after reaching the Brucejack gold mine.
It never really got dark after April and we carried headlamps for the sole purpose of exploring any ice caves we happened to stumble upon…
We managed to squeak through the mountains with very few wildlife encounters even though evidence of large carnivores was everywhere. Can you imagine the size of the grizzly that made these tracks?!
Juneau was one of our favorite towns from the entire trip. Rick & Deb Driscoll (friends of Ben’s) made us feel so welcome and totally spoiled us while we were in town. They also made sure we didnt miss the Stanley Cup playoffs!
One of our Juneau adventures included a unique airy fishnet adventure strung through the treetops of Rick’s neighbor’s place. They called it “surfing the net”. Picture playing on a hammock on a major scale.
Tania surveys the rapidly retreating Sawyer Glacier. Last year it was reported to have retreated 3/4 of a mile! In a few decades a traverse like this may not even be possible anymore.
When we first set out we were hoping to have to carry no more than 40-50 lbs of gear. Ha! We soon found ourselves consistently carrying/dragging almost double that as we could only get food drops every 3 weeks instead of weekly.
The days below the snowline were some of the hardest. Having to carry our gear instead of dragging it was a lot harder and alder just added to the struggle. It took us 8 hours travel 4 km to reach the shores of Whiting Lake where the float plane could meet us.
This was a hard day for me. The biggest storm of the whole trip had kept us tent bound as around 2oo mm of precipitation dumped on us over 3.5 days. This was the day after it finally cleared and we got our first look at the Devil’s Thumb rising up from the Stikine Icecap. The infamous mountain claimed the lives of two of the most heroic and tough mountaineers in Canadian mountaineering history, Guy Edwards and John Millar. It was hard to see this sacred place and think of them still out there somewhere under the ice and snow. As huge slab avalanches released all around us that day when the sun hit the slopes for the first time since the storm, I vowed to stay as safe as I possibly could for the rest of the journey. They were the first pioneers of the Coast Range Traverse and while we came close, we could not accomplish what they did – traversing the entire coast range in a single winter season (we skipped a couple hundred kilometers including Terrace to the Nass River and Whiting Lake to Juneau.)We made mistakes, we got lucky. It’s so unforgiving out there. I firmly believe our greatest accomplishment was surviving in those mountains for 5.5 months, over all that terrain and never having to pull out the first aid kit for more than a band-aid. I hope people never forget the two brave men who accomplished so much in such a short time. Guy was the same age as I when he climbed the Devils Thumb and John was even younger. They will always be my personal heroes and I feel a great privilege to have been able to visit their final resting place.
Even though the weather for the most part got warmer and less stormy, we still encountered some formidable challenges.
I often joke I have PTSD from all the bushwhacking. Baby hemlocks and alder act like a trigger and I burst into tears at the mere sight of them now.
We took a page out of Lena Rowat’s book and decided to finish the traverse in style. From Juneau to Skagway whenever the sun peeped through the clouds (which was only about 3 days out of 2 weeks) we’d jump into some sequined tutu splendor and laugh and laugh until we almost peed ourselves. Sometimes the headstands worked and sometimes they didn’t, it was hilarious regardless. We also gave Grant a good surprise when he popped by in a helicopter to join us for the last two days of the Epic.
I don’t know about anyone else but I think mum looks pretty damn hot in that thing! Who says harnesses and sparkles don’t go together?
Everyone wants to know what’s next. Both of us are keen to share our experience with the world. We are going to start working on writing a book that shows our very different viewpoints of the same journey. We’ll probably name it something lame and predictable like “Epic”. Meanwhile the incredibly talented Grant Baldwin of Peg Leg films is hard at work editing his documentary for the Knowledge Network called “This Mountain Life”.
It’s going to be incredible.
You want to see it.
As for the next adventure? Mum says she never needs to do something so long and difficult ever again. I kinda don’t believe her, she’s said silly stuff like that before.