The seed for this trip was planted five years ago. Maya and I were cycling up the east side of Harrison Lake, a majestic turquoise jewel. It was a beautiful spring weekend, and we kept on admiring the snow capped mountains of the Chehalis Range, on the other side of the lake. But my eyes were drawn to another mountain, at the opposite end of the lake, easily visible despite being 60km away. Last weekend I finally made it back, to stand at the top of that pointy white giant, the same one which had appeared so far and out of reach.
I woke up at the ungodly hour of 5:30am, picked up four sleepy friends and dashed off east, and up a bumpy logging road. With five people and their heavy backpacks, our car was even lower than usual, and a few of the potholes caused it to bottom out. We were lucky to have Piotr and Steph with us, who had intimate knowledge of the route, having spent two days in the area last year in a vain search for Mt. Breakenridge, which consisted of lots of bushwhacking, crossing of raging rivers, and precious little snow.
This time it was all smooth. We began hiking up the gravel road with our skis strapped to our packs. We reached snow much sooner than expected, and Ignacio continued hiking with his sandals despite hiking through shin deep snow and sloppy quicksand, which Piotr suggested might be a new form of matter. The ski through the forest was easy, and we made good use of the shady trees to hide from the strong sun. It’s a curious thing, I feel like I spend half my life searching for sun and the other half hiding from it.
Marcin carried up some tequila, and even before setting up camp, the lime snow tequila salt shots began. In truth, I much preferred the snow with lime to the one with the tequila, it’s really a disgusting drink (sorry, Ignacio!). Despite the jokes about pole dancing (Marcin and Piotr are Polish), there was precious little dancing on this trip (thank god!).
From camp we could clearly see Mt. Breakenridge, where we’d be heading on the second day, a very pointy mountain from that angle. We dug a comfy snow kitchen, and had a luxurious dinner, and even Piotr wasn’t able to finish his rations. Sleep came easily and early, one of the (many) bonuses of a weekend in the mountains. Despite warnings about a possible chainsaw starting up in the neighbouring tent, I heard nothing, and 6am came way too soon.
After a cold breakfast in our sleeping bags, we skied the death crust down to a small lake, and began climbing up a wooded ridge. The snow was very icy and it was hard to get an edge in. I was a bit worried we’d slide down the icy slopes, out of control, and indeed Steph went for a short slide, but I caught her and lowered her into a tree well. A few more sections like that, and we emerged from the trees, the full length of Harrison Lake right at our feet.
We followed the ridge towards the looming Mt. Breakenridge, which still looked awefully pointy, but a snow ramp on the left side began emerging, giving us hope that we might actually make it up the beast. The final slope was steeper and icier, and then we traversed the supposedly “knife edged ridge” which didn’t seem so narrow, although the drop off the side was considerable. Standing on the summit indeed felt like we were on the top of the world, just like that well chewed cliche, especially having 60km of flat lake to look at, and the Chehalis beyond, a range I have yet to begin exploring.
After a break to enjoy the scenery and location, we skied down the headwall. I thought the most enjoyable part was skiing along the ridge, the unbelievable alpine scenery flying by like a movie, just better. We put on our skins briefly to climb up another small summit, and then skied a long fall line ski back to camp. We hit the slope almost perfectly, not too hard and not too soft, and that lake below, yes! From the small lake below camp we found a much better ramp to lead us back to camp, where Ignacio prepared a very late but tasty lunch of quesadillas with refried beans. With the great company, food, views and warm sun, it felt wrong to be leaving.
We packed up our belongings and skied out. When we arrived to the car, we found that one of the front tires had gone flat. It was a miracle that our spare tire actually had any air in it, and soon enough we were crawling down the logging road at 30 km/h, fully aware that another flat tire would mean an extremely long walk. After driving 60km on gravel and 140km on paved road, we finally arrived back to Vancouver, more than four hours after leaving the trailhead. Even the vegetarians in the car were prepared to eat a horse by that time, but it turns out that at 1am precious few restaurants in Vancouver are open. Piotr led us to his favourite cheap pizza on Commercial, where we got our fill for a scant $6, and headed back home, finally hitting the sack after 2am. I was a bit of a zombie the next day, due to the late night and slow drive, or perhaps just due to the memories of that jade lake and the snowy mountains beyond…