On February 19th, we met at Ski Tak Hut in Courtenay to gather the final pieces of backcountry ski gear needed for our day on the mountain. Lisa and I watched the sky, hoping that the hard rain would let up – or at least, that it was snowing on the mountain. Our original plan was to ski Mount Becher, but the rain forced us to reconsider our options; we decided to take our chances with Mount Elma instead.
We gathered at Raven Lodge, our second rendezvous point. Somewhere around 600 metres elevation, the heavy rain turned to a light snow. There was a visible line across the landscape that marked the rain line; one moment there was green in the trees, and the next they were covered in snow. In the parking lot, Lisa offered advice gained from her years of backcountry ski experience. We gleaned all we could from her before heading out. Throughout the day, each of us would have some sort of issue with our gear, but I’m sure it would have been far worse had we not had her instructions to guide us.
We planned to travel up the east ridge of Mount Elma, with an approach via Battleship Lake – a route that is commonly used by hikers in the summer and snowshoers in the winter. Today was a busy day in the backcountry, and we crossed paths with multiple groups, including a large group of scouts coming home from a winter camping experience–I trust it went well, because they were still smiling as they made their way home.
I discovered the silence of ski touring as I crossed Battleship Lake. When I looked back across the lake, I saw that my partners were lagging far behind me. I didn’t feel as though I was pushing hard, but my long stride must have contributed to a fast glide and pushed me well ahead of my group. We gathered on the Lake Trail for a snack break. The fluffy gray jays chided us to provide them with tasty morsels — I offered them only snow.
On our way again, we followed the Lake Trail for a short distance and cut off an old snowshoe track leading into the bush. Eventually, those tracks diverged from our desired route and we continue toward Mount Elma. As we ascended, the snow changed, becoming a crusty ice surface below just a dusting of fresh snow. Ascending the steepest sections, we cut switchbacks across the slopes, using kick-turns to change directions. Adrian is a skilled downhill skier, but this was his first time trying backcountry skis; he picked up the skills quickly.
On the steepest and iciest sections, we faltered. Because of our late start and equipment issues, we stopped 50 meters below Mount Elma’s shoulder and turned to head home. As I’m only a beginner, I took my time coming down the hill, one short turn at a time. I’m happy to report that I’m getting better and more comfortable with each trip, and I hope by the end of next season that I’ll be able to ski some of the tighter terrain so common on Vancouver Island.
All in all, we had a good day in the mountains, with one concern: our feet! My boots still need to be punched and heat-molded again, and Beth’s rental boots all but ruined the whole day for her!