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.

Inspired (Thanks, Fat Dog!)

She came to me after running 100 miles, with a sparkly headband adorning her oversized trucker hat. At this point, Tara was in the lead for women of the Fat Dog 120, an epic long ultra race in Manning Park, BC, a land of dramatic mountains and amazing trails that go on forever.

Tara after 110 miles.

Tara after 110 miles.

Tara had been leading the race for about 80 miles, and she had barely stopped at aid stations. It was double her longest distance run to date and one of the hottest days of the year, but that didn’t show through. She was getting this thing done, in a big way.

As seen from Skyline.

As seen from Skyline trail.

Tara’s race (she eventually finished 2nd after an awesome comeback by Angela Shartel) was a major part of my sense of awe this weekend. And the more I looked around, the more inspiration there was to be had. Driving around as crew, I felt so much love from all the people who had gathered to support the runners. It was inspiring to think that these people came from all over to support this dream; of running as far and as fast as our imagination through the forest. During my pacing duty, I got to meet volunteers who hiked gallons of water miles straight up to the aid stations in the Skyline section. When I met them, they were sitting merrily in a swarm of flies, so thick that I had to dance to Usher (Yeah!) keep the flies off. (Okay fine, I wanted to dance, anyway.)

Hello, Hozomeen Mountain!

Hello, Hozomeen Mountain!

Aid station volunteers manned their stations for the entire weekend, and many of them sacrificed sleep to run their little forest oasis, making amazing burritos, broth, and other delicacies for runners. (And even pacers! Thank you Lori!) Then there was Linda Barton-Robbins and her being an awesome mom for her toddler while also running the race! And at the finish line, I met runners who had completed the course and other runs like it, who were more than double my age. One of these men was planning to run Cascade Crest in two weeks’ time! Aside from these moments, there was this energy and intensity from staring up at the menacing peaks of Hozomeen Mountain, or down at Ross Lake– which is so huge & great that it cannot be contained by international borders, or over the entire Cascade mountain range through meadows of wildflowers.

Tara on a high stretch of Skyline.

Tara on a high stretch of Skyline.

Thank you, Fat Dog– everyone who took part, for giving us an adventure to inspire, and to be inspired. Congrats to all you runners who achieved something incredible out there. (Tory, Hilary, Linda!) At the end of the day, I think these races are an amazing way to demonstrate the best qualities of humans: compassion, work ethic & determination, appreciation of the natural world, and sacrifice for a greater good.

Ross Lake from above.

I see Ross Lake from the Canadian side, and I can’t help but think of adventures I’ve had with Jordan, Tara, Julien, Ryan, Nancy, Jeff, Nate and Meredith down on the US side, running to the Stehekin bakery, hiking up Easy Pass, and all the possibilities that await. Ross Lake alone is a huge source of inspiration for me! My mind wanders…