Back­coun­try

SkiTrax - - Contents - By Steven Threndyle

by Steven Threndyle

Ev­ery skier wor­thy of the name needs to try a tra­verse at some point in his/her ca­reer. Sure, lift-ac­cessed slack­coun­try of­fers some se­cu­rity and easy first tracks. And it's pretty great to be able to sit down and dry your socks and pow­der-soaked jack­ets in the cozy con­fines of a back­coun­try lodge.

To truly ex­pe­ri­ence wilder­ness, though, you need to throw off the cloak of ex­ter­nal com­fort and im­merse your­self for at least a week in the high moun­tains of Bri­tish Columbia. The Bu­ga­boos to Rogers Pass tra­verse was first com­pleted by a group from Cal­gary, Alta. that in­cluded the leg­endary Chic Scott way back in 1960's, and had seen very few cross­ings since, due not just to its re­mote lo­ca­tion – the start near the CMH Bu­ga­boos lodge is pretty much heli-ac­cess only – but also be­cause of sig­nif­i­cant route chal­lenges – in­clud­ing a ver­tigo-in­duc­ing rap­pel be­tween two mas­sive glaciers. The trip was guided by in­ter­na­tion­ally cer­ti­fied moun­tain-guide Karl Nagy of Can­more, Alta. and or­ga­nized through the Alpine Club of Canada.

Food, cloth­ing, tents and stoves were car­ried in over­stuffed ex­pe­di­tion back­packs. On most days, we tied ropes into our climb­ing har­nesses while ski­ing on glaciers creased and gashed by crevasses. When the sun came out, it was blaz­ing, but that heat also cre­ated thick af­ter­noon clouds that could also brew up flash snow squalls and brief, vi­o­lent storms. It of­ten took a cou­ple of hours to roust off the ef­fects of fa­tigue and to care­fully fold and pack all of our gear into our bulging packs and then heft 'em up for sev­eral hours of skin­ning.

One day, the fresh snow that had fallen overnight heated up so quickly that avalanches thun­dered down the moun­tain­sides around us. On two oc­ca­sions, slides oblit­er­ated our tracks mere min­utes af­ter we had fin­ished travers­ing a slope, mean­ing that speed was of the essence when it came to ne­go­ti­at­ing the heavy, sloppy snow that, by now, was stick­ing and weigh­ing down the climb­ing skins af­fixed to the base of our skis. On the fourth day, Nagy had us rope up and then guided us as we war­ily snow­plowed down a crevasse-strewn glacier in a white­out.

With­out doubt, though, Nagy's most stun­ning trick was to set up a se­ries of be­lay sta­tions on the sheer cliff face of the Deville Ice­fall and then low­ered all of us – and our packs – down a se­ries of ver­ti­cal pitches. Through­out it all, he re­mained the pic­ture of cool; as thor­oughly at home in the moun­tains as most of us are be­hind a desk. Dur­ing a lunch break, Nagy said that he had spent more than 300 nights in ei­ther a tent, snow cave or hut in the pre­vi­ous year – a mod­ern-day moun­tain man!

On the fi­nal day, low clouds and fog once again ob­scured vis­i­bil­ity. Snowflakes swirled and darted from dark clouds and our fear­less guide was once again hunched over his faith­ful com­pass and topo­graph­i­cal maps, chart­ing our course to the Trans-canada High­way and Rogers Pass. We fol­lowed our Pied Piper of the Selkirks out from un­der the mist and found per­fect an­kle-deep pow­der on the Il­le­cille­waet Glacier, where you could hear the train whis­tles and trans­port trucks grind­ing up Rogers Pass well be­fore you could see the road. Cruis­ing along the val­ley bot­tom, all ob­jec­tive dan­ger was rel­e­gated to the back of our minds. It was oddly com­fort­ing to be head­ing home (my wife was preg­nant at the time) and the en­tire ad­ven­ture seemed mildly ir­re­spon­si­ble. And isn't that what you hire guides for: to lead you through ter­rain that can kill less-ex­pe­ri­enced and fool­hardy peo­ple? Trag­i­cally, Karl Nagy would die in his beloved moun­tains sev­eral years later while in­struct­ing a group of as­pir­ing young moun­tain guides near Mo­raine Lake in Banff Na­tional Park. There is now a schol­ar­ship fund set up in his name to both men­tor and de­velop home-grown guid­ing tal­ent.

(left) Renowned cer­ti­fied moun­tain-guide Karl Nagy died in the Cana­dian Rock­ies in 2000 - the Alpine Club of Canada has a schol­ar­ship in his name.

(be­low) Karl Nagy leads an Alpine Club of Canada group through the Selkirk Moun­tains.

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