My Arm Flew Into a Rock: hitchhiking from the Spearhead Traverse

The day was young, and there had not been nearly enough coffee.

At 7am Mike, Nate and I were galloping shuffling through Whistler Village, with our eye to completing the Spearhead Traverse, a hugely popular ski route.

Except, we didn’t have skis, and we weren’t planning on getting any. On this September day, we were planning to generally follow the idea of the popular ski traverse, but as a run & hike alternative. Skirting below the glaciers and above the trees, we thought we could do it in about 40-50K, one adventure day.

The goal is to get over to that ridge across the valley, through the path of least resistance. Photo credit: Mike Rose.

The goal is to get over to that ridge across the valley, through the path of least resistance. Photo credit: Mike Rose.

It was all Mike’s idea. With a summer off completing any big 100 mile run and months spent cooped-up in injury, he was jumping at the bit to run as many big Sea to Sky routes as he could before snowfall. He had just pioneered this other great run, Elfin Lake to Garibaldi Lake, and he was on a mission to complete as many grand Sea to Sky traverses as he could. Part of what made it exciting is that you just don’t find trip reports of people doing these traverses as a run. Mike’s adventures were entirely new, exciting, and full of unknowns.

Just the start of the adventure.

Just the start of the adventure, reaching the hut at Russet Lake.

I had just suffered from a cold from running one too many laps around Buntzen Lake, but I seemed fine enough to join the party. So at 4am when the alarm sounded, I jumped out of bed immediately, ready for the fun.

Loaded down with tons of gear, we slowly ran the first part of the route, the standard trail up to Russet Lake near the top of Whistler Mountain. From there we could roughly see where we wanted to go, the ridges of the Spearhead Traverse, which lead all the way to Blackcomb Mountain, across the valley. It seemed so close yet so far, all at once.

And now... how to get there? Photo credit: Mike Rose

And now… how to get way up over there, just under the glacier?
Photo credit: Mike Rose.

Passing Russet Lake, our first task was to find a nice line across to the Blackcomb side, skirting under Overlord Glacier. As actual legit skiers, Mike and Nate are naturals at picking out lines in the alpine, and they looked ahead at the slope, determining which ways we could ascend. I stared ahead and sort of followed, thankful that these guys have much more of a knack for the alpine.

Our first obstacle was a little steep rocky slope. Maybe 45 degrees, for about 100 feet. Falling here wouldn’t be life-threatening, but you could get a few good scrapes or maybe hit your head if you descended awkwardly. I immediately entered Gramma mode, which led me to crab-walk down a small gully formation in the rock, only after spending a good two minutes frozen, holding up the whole group with my ass facing down the slope. (!!) Finally I got into a good crab-walk down the gully, and things were looking up. I got 50 feet down, and yelled up to Nate that he could start descending.

The rocks of wrath. As usual, they picture always looks so benign, how could anything bad happen here? Photo credit: Mike Rose.

The rocks of wrath. As usual, they picture always looks so benign, how could anything bad happen here?
Photo credit: Mike Rose.

Then, a rock came flying down the gully where I was perched, about the size of two grapefruits. It was my worst nightmare. Of all the places the rock could travel on this huge slope, it was coming– right for my head. I had no time to think, react, or change my position. The next second, the rock rocketed forward and hit me good in the upper arm, and immediately I was in shock. Perched on the slope, suddenly lightheaded and my right arm totally numb, I felt helpless and useless. I wanted to get off the slope, but I couldn’t move. I think I let out some kind of audible surrender.

Somehow I slid my ass down the mountain and started mowing my chocolate croissant to regain the upper-hand over my body’s physiological upset. By now, Nate was talking good sense into me, suggesting that him and I could turn around right about now. I knew Mike was going to continue one way or another, and I wanted nothing more than for him to complete the adventure. Still feeling lightheaded, I started to weigh the options. Don’t be a wimp, I thought to myself. Some curious thoughts floated around my head. Maybe, finishing this adventure is a kind of dividing line between being tough or not… maybe this moment will define me… But thankfully, Nate’s voice countered those stupid thoughts.

Mike ran and got me some glacier ice for my arm, which gave me a good ten minutes to decide whether to carry on, or turn back. I couldn’t lift my right arm, but that didn’t matter to me. (Runners don’t need arms! I thought.) More concerning was that I still felt a bit lightheaded from the shock, and I was already in sub-optimal condition to begin with, recovering from being sick. Now I was a bit of a liability. And there was so much uncertainty about what lay ahead. Looking forward, we didn’t know what was on the other side of the ridge in front of us.

Suddenly it felt dumb to continue, with so much uncertainty about the challenges ahead, coupled with a whole list of known ailments. And suddenly, I realized this could become a hitchhiking adventure!

Choose Your Own Adventure: find your favourite line around the glacier! Photo credit: Mike Rose.

Choose Your Own Adventure: find your favourite line around the glacier! This is a shot looking back at the base of MacBeth from where Mike carried on solo. Photo credit: Mike Rose.

I absolutely love hitchhiking, I’d say, equally to the amount I love running. And so, with a fresh opportunity to hitchhike and with Nate as a poor sucker of a friend to come along, I decided the remained of the day would best be spent as an urban, gas-fuelled, stranger-filled adventure.

The second our thumbs flipped up, we were scooped up on the side of the Sea to Sky Highway. Our hero was Ramon, a Mexican entrepreneur/father from Mexico City, who had moved to Canada to help his family escape sketchiness in Mexico City. For the entire drive to Vancouver, we were treated to the inspiring story of how Ramon moved his family to Canada, how he had suffered from fraud with his first venture here; a restaurant he purchased which he had to bankrupt, and how he was not even acknowledging any setbacks, now a Locksmith to support his family and planning a second Mexican market and deli. We told him about running and biking on trails, and we were the first people he had met who do long distances. At the end of the car-ride, he said we somehow had inspired him, that he was going to start running in North Vancouver. In that moment, I didn’t care about the Spearhead Traverse. Connecting with Ramon, and hearing about what constitutes a great tamale, was so much cooler.

And what about Mike? Of course, Mike completed the route. Going most of the way solo, it took him about 10.5 hours including the first aid picnic, and he didn’t have to cross any glaciers, or anything sketchy.

Mountain or urban, it doesn’t matter. The Sea to Sky brings nothing but great adventures and inspiration, even on a day when things go south.

Up high. Photo credit: Mike Rose.

Up high.
Photo credit: Mike Rose.

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Adventures in Fernie: how I fell in love with a remote mountain town

My mom first moved to the BC Kootenays to teach about five years ago, when I was only interested in running on roads, and the mountains just meant pretty views. I recall a visit where I ran the shoulder along the highway between Sparwood and Fernie as my fun long run. Or, a day where we roadtripped to Banff, and I ran along the Banff highway as my long run!!!! Fernie is famous for skiing, and of course I wasn’t into that, either. On my first visit in winter, I completed a 3-hour pool run at the Sparwood pool. Yes. The mountains were staring me in the face, but I had nothing to say to them.

I loved the tarmac.

I loved the tarmac.

How time changes!

Thankfully, my love for mountains has grown and evolved dramatically during this time that my mom has lived in this wonderful place. Somehow, I was reacquainted with skiing, and I fell for Fernie’s snow, just like so many others. I loved the fact that a “busy day” in Fernie was like a slow day in Whistler. I fell for the look of the antique streets lined with snow, and at some point the combination of old-fashioned brick buildings filled with high-tech ski touring setups made my mouth water. One year my mom bought me a lesson to learn skate skiing, and this became a big, self-respecting step forward from my good ol’ long pool run routine.

Snow!!

Snow!!

At some point I started trail running. I found the most amazing mountain biking trails, which provided endless fun. I discovered the amazing flowy trails of Fernie Provincial Park, and fell in love with the cushy singletrack, lined by tall meadows. I stared up at the interesting granite mountains surrounding the valley, Hosmer and Ghostrider and others, and envisioned future scrambles with friends. I couldn’t wait to come back and spend more time exploring.

Late in the day during the Trail to Ale challenge. This is just above town on the way down from Hyperventilation!

Late in the day, this is just above town.

Then this past visit, I was overwhelmed with the possibilities. First there was the Fernie Brewing Trail to Ale Challenge, a fun adventure that challenged me to run an unplanned 50k, linking together three trail systems in order to earn a free beer (and handmade medal!). Then I discovered that you can run up a beautiful rolling trail to grab a snack or beer at Island Lake Lodge, before heading out on some amazing, well-marked alpine trails from the lodge, then running back down. (!!) Between those two runs, I found a nice and easy riverside run right from town, and saw the sun set on the Lizard Range. I was in heaven.

A shot from the Mount Baldy loop at Island Lake lodge. I saw not a single person on this beautiful 10km loop in the alpine.

A shot from the Mount Baldy loop at Island Lake lodge. I saw not a single person on this beautiful 10km loop in the alpine.

 

A shot from the FBC Trail to Ale Challenge. These awesome little trail signs were made for each of the goals along the way, and we had to snap a pic with our time for evidence!

A shot from the FBC Trail to Ale Challenge. These awesome little trail signs were made for each of the goals along the way, and we had to snap a pic with our time for evidence!

 

A part of the Old Stumpy/Elk River run, just a few kilometers from town.

A part of the Old Stumpy/Elk River run, just a few kilometers from town.

Just as I thought, Fernie, screw off. You’re a remote small town, and I can’t fall in love with you… I need to go back home to Vancouver. — a lively band started playing in the town center, in a beautifully repurposed train station that now serves as the Fernie Arts Station. Local beer and wine flowing, a cafe owner tells us it’s Wednesday Night Social. I look around at all the happy people dancing, all ages intermixed together, old men and women with hardcore mountain bikes, and I felt so at home.

Wednesday Night Social at the Fernie Arts Station!

Wednesday Night Social at the Fernie Arts Station!

I tried my best to avoid falling in love with this town, but it’s like Fernie was beckoning me. A quaint book shop displayed a selection of entrepreneurship and creativity books, exactly the kind I like… Cute little restaurants sat with gardened patios, with the perfect ratio of sunlight to shade… Everyone was biking, everywhere, so happily. Cafes, yoga and breweries seemed to outnumber any other kinds of stores… And when I sat down for coffee, articles in Fernie Fix magazine seemed to be written just for me. Even the garbage cans were beautiful, with local artwork decorating them!

Fernie is one of those places that has something special going on. But beware… if you go, you may just find that you have to keep coming back… 😉

Another from the Mount Baldy Loop

Another from the Mount Baldy Loop… remote mountains forever!

If you’re heading there, grab a trail map from the helpful folks at GearHub, ($10) and check out the awesome local trail running group by Abi & friends, called Stag Leap. In the summer, be sure to grab some bear spray and a bear bell for further fun times. For a nice, easy 10k trail & river route from town, you can follow this route I made on RunGo.

Till’ next time!