A few weeks ago I read a trip report by Robin Tivy on Bivouac describing a two day trip to Manning Park and an ascent of an obscure peak – Nordheim. This was possibly the first recorded ski ascent of Nordheim, and it was mentioned that “if you really want glory”, Norske was up for grabs. I’m not one to usually look for glory, but it seemed like a good enough excuse for a trip into a relatively untraveled area. I emailed Piotr Forysinski who was eager, and Phillip Zielke came along too. Phillip had arrived to Vancouver in December (from Germany) and had only skied several times before this trip. The only constraint was that I had to be at the airport on Sunday at 1am to pick up Maya (my wife), but it seemed there was no way I would be late for that. This was supposed to be an easy and relaxed trip. I had never been on a two day skiing trip, so this seemed like a perfect “Introduction to Backcountry Skiing” weekend trip. What an introduction.
I woke up at 5am after a not too refreshing sleep of less than three hours and picked up Phillip and Piotr and we were off to Manning. At Allison Pass we pulled out the maps, since our starting point for this trip was not at all obvious. A truck stopped beside us, going in the other direction, and told us that there was a rolled over vehicle with injuries at the nearest brake check and that we should get help. We drove to the snow shed and the people there radioed for help. We continued slowly, looking for our logging road, and then saw the pickup truck: the windshield was broken and there was a dent in the side. Skis and other equipment were scattered on the snow bank. There were two teenagers near the truck, one of them with a bloody nose, but besides obviously being shaken up they seemed fine. They claimed they had hit an icy patch on the road, although the road seemed fine to me. After a short chat, we parked our car at the brake check, hoping it would still be there when we got back. We almost left a note, but couldn’t find a pen and paper.
We had seen some ski tracks which looked like they might be heading in the direction we were going in, so we hiked along the road for a bit and then skinned on the snow bank parallel to the road. After about five minutes we intersected the tracks and it was quite obvious that we were on the old logging road we were looking for. The TR mentioned an “easy to miss” turn off on the left, to a smaller road, but we were surprised to see a compact ski trail up that spur. Soon the reason for this was apparent – there was a small temporary structure, perhaps a camper, at the turnoff. There were skis outside and two people inside warming up with a wood fire. The trail showed obvious signs of continued use: they had been using the trail as their toilet (yellow/brown snow) and dumping their charcoal on it too.
We continued on along this trail which switch backed up the mountain, making relatively fast progress. At the top the forest thinned out somewhat, and we arrived shortly to the top of the bump that is Kelly Peak. After that the tracks disappeared, and we broke trail along the ridge towards Nordheim. We finally saw some blue sky and sun, and as Piotr remarked it seemed more like spring than the dead of winter. I even stripped down to a t-shirt. When we were close to Nordheim, Piotr’s skins stopped sticking to his skis, so he resorted to hiking and carrying his skis. We skinned up the SE peak of Nordheim as it was getting dark, skied down a bit on the other side and found a flat and somewhat sheltered spot on the ridge. We pitched my two man three season tent and Piotr built an impressive wall. It was snowing at this stage, and probably continued snowing for most of the night. We had a dinner of noodle soup, gummy bears, chocolate, No-Name mushroom rice (yuck!) and chocolate, in this order. The tent was severely crowded – three people in a two man tent, and I was cooking in the vestibule, which I’d like to think of as a good excuse for me spilling part of our dinner, but no one complained. We spent an hour melting snow and filling up our bottles for the next day. Piotr scraped his skins and tried to dry them out in his sleeping bag.
Our original plan was to summit both the peaks of Nordheim, continue along the ridge to make an attempt on Norske, and then return the way we had come. Over dinner we discussed alternate routes, and due to the skin problem we even considered ditching Norske and just returning the way we had come. The descent from the NW peak of Nordheim suddenly seemed too steep (on the map), so we decided to skip it and concentrate on Norske. Somehow we managed to convince ourselves that it would be better to summit Norske and then return via an unknown route along a ridge which would drop us down at the road about 10km from the car, but seemed shorter (at the time).
An early start was in order, so Piotr set his alarm clock for 6am. At the prescribed time, I said “Good Morning”, heard grunts from the others and we all promptly fell asleep again. At 7:30 the sun woke us up, and we poked our heads outside to glorious views all around and about 20cm of powder. After breakfast we headed down the side of the ridge, and enjoyed some good turns in lovely powder on a sparsely treed slope. We were aiming for a col on a ridge that would lead us to Norske. This involved a mellow ascent which got steeper and steeper, and eventually we had to cross some avalanche slopes with a long runoff. At this point both Phillip’s and my own skins started falling off too. My skis are twin tip backcountry skis, so they have a round tail. This means that the tail of the skins keeps coming off, since if it gets tugged hard enough from the side it will just fall off. The ski tails with the groove in the back seem much more practical. Piotr discovered that using the edges of the skis to scrape the skins clean of snow works well.
Eventually we reached the top of the ridge and continued along it, passing several bumps and finally arriving to the summit of Norske. It looked exactly like all the other bumps we had passed along the way. The names of these mountains: Nordheim and Norske, do not appear on the government maps. They were named to reflect nordic ski history: Nordheim is the name of the guy who invented the telemark binding and Norske means Norwegian. We had lunch and enjoyed the views, and started descending. It was already after 2:30pm, and it was starting to look like this trip would end in the dark. The ski out involved traversing the ridge, ascending a bump and then a descent through the trees. We could barely see anything through the trees, so at this point we relied completely on our master navigator’s skills (Piotr), and followed the estimated bearing of the ridge.
The trees got thicker and thicker and the slope got steeper, so we had to keep our skins on. Then night came and it started snowing. We continued skiing down the slope at an agonizingly slow pace, stopping to drink and eat snacks. Every now and then we had to take off our skis to climb over a fallen tree. Piotr suggested that hiking would be easier and faster, and it was, but we kept on falling into the deep snow. Eventually we dropped down into a ravine, and here it was even worse – dead fall everywhere, and our feet kept on punching through the snow to the stream bed. We alternated between skiing and hiking, and each switch was a welcome change as both were a nightmare. We used Piotr’s altimeter to follow our slow descent, with the meters to feet conversion offering a welcome diversion and source of mistakes (why are BC maps in feet?). Eventually we started seeing headlights through the trees and hearing the distant rumble of trucks. We reached the road just before 11pm. I let out a celebratory howl, but the ordeal was not quite over.
My car was still at least 10km along the road, so we tried waving down the little traffic on highway 3 at this late hour. The third truck stopped – it was a sand truck. There was only room for one of us and no equipment, so I got on with just my shovel and car keys. I had a nice chat with the truck driver – he works four months a year, and spends much of the year on Sumatra in Indonesia, “resting from life”. The car was covered by snow, but the brake check had been ploughed. I tried to drive the car forwards, but it didn’t budge.
After driving back and forth to compress the snow underneath the car, I managed to drive out. I had this nagging feeling that I would miss my friends and just keep driving, but spotted them easily and we were soon driving down the snowy road. Piotr joked that arriving at the car before midnight is a treat – the weekend before he had returned at midnight from a winter ascent of Black Tusk. We were all hungry and tired, but don’t forget we still had to go to the airport. On the way we had some communication problems with Maya – for some reason the cellphone didn’t ring when it was supposed to, twice. We got to the airport about ten minutes after Maya had given up on waiting and caught a taxi home. I drove Phillip and Piotr to their houses and arrived home around 4am, ready for a series of dinners and a hot shower. It took me several days to recover, at least physically, but perhaps I have yet to recover mentally…