Monday, flight in: we’ve stayed in Nakusp, British Columbia, overnight and in the morning head south along Arrow Lake on highway #6 to a small helicopter landing zone on the shore of the lake. We are flying into Naumulten Lodge, one of the two backcountry lodges run by Martin and Shelley Glasheen as part of their Valkyr Adventures backcountry business. The valley is cloudy but as the helicopter climbs up above the lake it soon breaks out of the cloud and then drops us next to the beautiful lodge, close to tree-line, in a stunning, gentle bowl surrounded by ridges to the north, east and south and with a grand view across Arrow Lake, covered in valley fog, to the west.
Upon arriving at the lodge we unpack our gear and food and get a tour of the lodge from Martin himself, who will be looking after us, and the lodge, while we are here. After lunch, we get out and spend a couple hours practicing transceiver search before heading out for a quick afternoon ski in the suitably named Sunset Trees, an east-facing slope of sparse forest that regularly catches the last rays of the sun. It’s still very early season, and there is not a lot of snow on the ground yet – around 1.5m – but the snowpack is firm and stable, and we are the first group in for the season and so the whole area is untracked.
The lodge is of beautiful solid wood construction, cosy and well-laid out. Water flows down from a small lake via a buried pipe, powering a small generator that charges a battery bank and provides the lodge with electricity for lights, charging batteries, radio and internet. A super-efficient wood stove is the main source of heat, and hot water is provided by flown-in propane, also used for cooking. A small building houses a sauna, and an indoor toilet and shower completes the luxury setup – a fantastic place to spend a ski week!
Tuesday, day one: the day dawns beautiful and sunny. What a perfect way to start the new year! Just back from a trip to Perth, Australia and my internal clock hasn’t adjusted yet, so I’m still getting up early, around 5, and head out to take some moonlit photos. Get back in around 6 and work with Darcy to make breakfast of hashbrowns and toast. Its fun being on the breakfast crew, up early in the quiet hut as folks are filtering downstairs, groggy eyed and looking for coffee around 7.
After breakfast we ski up towards Lovesky Pass, immediately north of the hut, and ski super fun trees, then an open avie chute down into Fish Lake, where we do two runs in quite steep terrain. Skiing a tight couloir and hit a big rock and take a flip and tumble. Back up to the ridge and drop down Stoney Creek, which is a super fun open creek with lots of rollers and little jumps. A long skin track takes back to the ridge, almost 600m, and while there was talk of a 2nd run at the bottom of the creek, by the time we all stagger to the top of the ridge everybody has changed their minds and it’s time to get back to the hut.
Afternoon clouds have come in, so I give up on shooting stars tonight and hit the sauna, have a fantastic dinner, get into the wine, and at some point in the evening, Sheena comments that the stars are out. Gotta bundle up, pack up the gear, and get outside. By the time everything is setup, and the star tracker is aligned, the sky is starting to brighten with the rising moon, and the light washes out the Milky Way, which is only visible on truly dark skies. Still a beautiful night of course!
Wednesday, day two: again I’m up (too!) early and head outside to take some photos before taking on breakfast duty, this morning with Jeremie. Breakfast this morning is pancakes and fruit, and we make two batches, with a competition over whose are better, my apple pancakes or Jeremies crepe-style. Once again folks wander downstairs around 7 looking bleary-eyed. As the pancakes get delivered everybody laughs at the contest and devours the endless flow of yumminess before getting ready for the day.
We head up the ridge of Naumalten Mtn under beautiful blue skies and pick our way carefully down the Crei du Coeur, which is thin, wind-hammered snow with plenty of rocks and quite challenging skiing. Getting to the meadows, we decide to skin up to Rollins Ridge to look into the Rollins area. From the top of the ridge there are numerous steep descents to the east and one mellower shoulder that comes off ridge.
John, Paula and I head along the top of the ridge, to the high point, to see if there are other descent options and find a fun landscape of large granite boulders, a cliff on the left (north) side dropping into the Viking area, and steep trees with large boulders on the right side. We are also investigating whether it is possible to come UP the ridge from the Rollins area at the end of the day, but past the high point where the large boulders are the ridge drops steeply to the north-west. We retreat and head back to the mellower shoulder line. Others in the group have taken steeper, rockier lines down, but John is on telemark skis today and we are still feeling out the stability of the snowpack, so we take the most conservative line down. The shoulder is a good 30 degree pitch, rolling off steeper on either side, and ends at a small bench where there are several choices of 30 degree lines to get down into the Rollins drainage. Beautiful south-facing glades in the trees (Rollins Glades), north-aspect trees further down the valley, and the steeper, rocky rolls off the ridge to the west.
One lap of the south-facing glades and we find the snow getting heavy from the sun, but the terrain is excellent and the skiing fast and fun. At the bottom the group breaks into two, with some folks heading to the north aspect trees while Jeremie, John, Paula and Mike and I deciding to go back for another run in the sun. After that 2nd run we follow their up-track which is aiming for Rollins Pass. We get a call on the radio that the up-track is “not the best” and “you may want to make your own”. Wonder what we’ll find when we get there. Upon gaining the meadows below the pass, we are faced with lots of fairly steep, open alpine terrain leading up to the pass. We short-cut the lower track and join the existing track as it climbs the steep open terrain. The slopes are big and the track far more exposed than we like, but there are no better options and the snow stability is excellent, so up we go.
The days are very short, and as we top Rollins Pass we see all the terrain between us and home. From here, we need to descend Heart trees, cross the meadow, then climb up and around The Prow, traverse the west-facing slope and get to Heart Pass, ski a quick run down through the aptly-named Sunset Trees, then climb back to the hut. It’s around 2:30 and we feel the urgency of time, as the sun sets at 4:00. The run down from Rollins Pass is excellent, mellow glades, then we put the skins on in the meadows and ski up towards the Prow in no-nonsense mode, moving quickly. Rounding the corner of the Prow, the view is stunning, with the sun just above the horizon of gentle mountains and an ocean of softly-colored clouds below, filling the Arrow Lake valley. The light is magical as the sun sinks into the ocean while we climb up the Prow and then
traverse towards Heart Pass.
The thin late-afternoon clouds that have been coming in clear out after sunset, and once again the starry night sky is stunning. I’m not on dinner duty tonight, so I pack up the night-photo kit (warm clothes, tripod, star-tracker, battery, camera) and head outside. It’s such a treat to be able to just walk out of a warm, comfortable building into stunning dark night skies, far from the light pollution of the big city. Staring at the stars and forming the mental image of the fragile little ball we live on, spinning through the vastness of space. I enjoy the dark skies almost as much as I enjoy the skiing, laughter and friendship of these trips. Capturing the lodge and the glory of the full, dark night sky requires about 15 frames, each of which is a 2-minute time exposure, plus some shorter frames to properly expose the ground. Time goes by, I miss dinner, and after a couple hours of shooting my fingers are frozen, the camera is starting to fog up and it’s time to come in. Entering the bright and warm lodge, the party is in full swing – thanks, everyone, for saving some leftovers and not drinking all my beer!
Thursday, day three: Another stunning blue sky morning, and John, Paula, Mike and I head over to Heart Glades, first going up the ridge to Naumalten Mtn (2476m) and skiing down the wind-hammered Crei du Coeur (Cry of the Heart), which I give 3/10 giggle points as the snow is either consistent hard or soft, but readable by the surface texture. Other folks disagree… After that we lap the ridge, finding beautiful open glades with a smattering of small cliffs and tight trees to keep things interesting. The sun has been baking the snow for the last two days, and the conditions are more like spring skiing, with snow softening and sun-crusts forming on south aspects, water melting and snow balls falling of the trees. Lunch in the meadows is a warm and relaxed affair, basking in the sun and soaking up the beautiful terrain.
The afternoon ends very early, and suddenly its 2:45 and we’re at the top of Heart Trees and don’t have any time to waste to get down, then climb the Prow, traverse around, drop down Sunset Trees and get back to the hut before dark. We make it to the Prow in time to watch the sunset over the ocean of clouds, and make it back to the hut just before dark. Wonder how Gemma, Darcy, Sheena and Jeremie are doing, on their way back from McBride. Once back in the hut, we see their headlamps as they ski across the meadows, getting in around 5:00.
In the evening we have a group-effort stir fry, with Andre taking most of the cooking duties and everybody else pitching in for chopping and preparation. The sky is beautifully clear, and I’m super keen to get out there, but wait until after dinner, instead of rudely skipping dinner to shoot stars like last night. Andre and Phil are keen to come out, and we hatch a plan to do some flash-lit powder skiing under the stars. Fun digging a powder-pit and capturing Phil crashing into it and exploding the powder, while Andre snaps a flash to illuminate it all. After an hour we’ve had enough and they go back in, while I take a quick semi-pano as a bank of clouds come in from the south.
Friday, day four: the weather that came in last night is still here, snowing lightly and blowing. I’ve been looking forward to a relaxing hut day, so spend the morning writing up notes, reading, and chatting with Martin, the owner and builder of the lodge. Lodge was built 2005, which was a bad forest-fire season, and so they could not get helicopters for bringing in construction material until august, then they framed, roofed and sealed it by November, and spent the winter finishing the interior. The plumbing is kept from freezing by keeping an incandescent light-bulb going in the pipe-chase area, which is well-insulated. The light bulb is powered by the micro-hydro system, generating a constant flow of around 300W, via a pipe, buried in the ground, running from a small lake above the lodge.
Martin’s father was a photographer and pilot, mother a writer, and the family moved to Ghana at some point in his youth. The stories that Martin tells are amazing, including traveling the world for a few years while working on freighter ships, being crushed by an avalanche of logs (“my back hurts now”), and a three-month long solo trip down the Amazon by foot and boat, where he survived by eating fish, snakes and frogs. Can’t really top stories like that….
Martin and Shelley Glasheen have been involved with the Valhalla Wilderness Society for a long time, and tried to make this area into a park, but the government was not interested because there were not enough people. There are polar opposite attitudes in this area towards development: logging and mining vs preservation and tourism. When the park was turned down, Martin decided to build this lodge and “develop” the area in a very low-impact way by starting the Valkyr Adventures business. In the summer, he runs the hiking routes without trails, where everybody walks on a different route, so as to not create trails. Most of the guests are very respectful of this, especially those who are willing to hike and ski up mountains.
Martin and Shelley use llamas to bring supplies in and out of the hut during summertime. Horses cause much more damage to the trails, eat more, and carry less. Llamas can carry about 25% of their body weight, and have a split hoof, with pads like a dog, and are therefore very gentle on the ground. They also eat less and do not overgraze an area. They have run a farm in the valley for decades, selling goat cheese, eggs, birds, and llama wool.
Martin talks of the fight to save Incomappleux river drainage from logging. Home to giant 4m diameter trees, some of which are over 1500 years old, there is currently a proposal in the works to have it declared a park. Here is information on the Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park Proposal
Saturday, day five: folks are pretty tired today after some late-night game playing and wine drinking, but there’s maybe 10cm of fresh snow thats been moved around by wind overnight. We all ski up towards the Grizzly area, being lead by Andre and Phil, who were in there yesterday. The only entrance to Grizzly Bowl is a narrow gap in the 10-20m cliffs rimming the bowl, a straight forward side-stepping and sliding affair down about 10m before turns can be made among the rocks. After that it’s great skiing down treed steps into a gully and then more trees. We break trail up a low-angle ridge that splits the bowl in two and do two excellent laps of the ridge, fun steep trees for the first lap and then a more moderate but very fun run of open trees and little pillows and drops. Then traverse to the west and head to a flagged trail built by Martin that leads up very steeply through a cliff band.
“Alaska Jeff” shows up in the helicopter. He’s here to help with chores and, most especially, learn from Martin the art of hut building. Originally from Utah, he’s full of interesting stories, including living in a snow cave for three years so that he would not have to work to pay rent, and could therefore ski as much as possible. Now living in Seldovia, Alaska, he says the best way to find him to to “Go to the bar and ask for skier Jeff”, they’ll know where I am. Jeff is planning on setting up some lodges on the Kenai Penninsula, south of Katchemak Bay state park. The peninsula is a stunning looking area, very remote and wild. A good place for an adventure at some point…
Sunday, day six: There’s a big group of us skiing the ridge south of the hut, and too many people track up the snow, so after doing one run together, we disperse into two smaller groups. Sheena, Gemma and Mike disappear into the thick forest at the base of the ridge, the wander down to check out a lower bowl, while John, Paula and work our way through the forest towards the base of ridge to see what we can find. The main ridge runs and east/west and has smaller ridges coming off of it to the north. In between these smaller ridges are bowls full of boulders and fresh snow, blown around by the wind last night.
After finding ourselves at the bottom of a beautiful bowl topped by a steep couliour, John, Paula and I ski one run in the lower part of the bowl, digging a couple pits to see how the recent snow has bonded to the base before venturing into steeper terrain at the top of the bowl. On the second run up the bowl, we decide to work our way up the couliour. We keep the climbing skins on as the slope gets steeper, making zig-zag turn, until it is just too steep and narrow, and we are forced to take the skis off. The snow is solid enough that the boot-packing up is generally not more than knee-deep – except for the parts where it’s chest-deep. The wallowing through the deep snow continues, and what looked like a small slope turns into close to an hour of kicking steps and struggling slowly up past the vertical rock walls that edge the couliour.
Once on top we have a snack and a drink. Martin can see us from the lodge, and calls in on the radio, wondering who’s bootpacking up the slope. We laugh hard when he tells us that we’ve just done a first ascent of The Hourglass! Most people ski into it from the top but we didn’t know that route…
Since I made most of the steps up, Paula and John graciously give me first tracks down. I’m a little concerned about the 30cm or so of wind-deposited snow sluffing on the steep slope, so on entering I do a quick turn across the steepest portion and scoot to the edge, then do a couple more turns and wait again. Nothing is moving and its time to dive in to the glorious, steep and deep snow. Amazing skiing! John and Paula follow, one at a time, a few minutes later, whooping and hollering and they descent the steep, perfect snow between big rock wall. Unanimously voted the best run of the week!
Thanks for a great trip everyone, and special thanks to Martin for his hospitality and humour, vision, skill and passion in creating this wonderful place as a means of preserving this area.
Darren Foltinek, January 2013