As we descend into Autumn here in the Pacific Northwest my mind always starts turning to snowboarding. I still dream of one of my favorite backcountry trips to the Wendy Thompson Hut in Canada. To this day it is still some of my very favorite photos so I made a little video edit and added the original blog below from my business site Wilderwomen.
*Originally posted on Wilderwomen on January 29, 2019 by Jess Brown
A few weekends back, I got my Avalanche Safety Training certificate up at Whistler and was so excited to use my new knowledge and head into the backcountry. When I got invited to hit up the Wendy Thompson Hut in Pemberton, BC I had to jump at the opportunity even though it meant driving to Canada two weekends in a row.
Split-boarding is quickly becoming a new favorite activity of mine, but unfortunately rentals weren’t an option for this trip so I opted for snowshoes and carrying my snowboard on my back instead. With only three days to prepare I looked up some winter backcountry packing lists online and did my best for a weekend in the backcountry. I drove to Vancouver on Friday night, with a 4:00AM wake up call on the horizon. We wanted to miss the Whistler traffic and get to the trailhead early so we could take a lap near the hut before sundown. We packed up the car with friends, coffee, gear, and good vibes and headed North the mountains.
The drive from Vancouver to Pemberton is on one of my favorite stretches of road, the Sea to Sky Highway. It takes everything in me to not pull over every 5 minutes to capture the incredible views. Since some members in our group are still new to backcountry we had to rent some gear and made a stop in Whistler to rent avi gear, poles, and boots and then carried on.
At the trailhead, we all excited packed up the last few details for our bags when I realized my backpack chest strap was missing and I had definitely overpacked. It had been a while since I had done any winter backcountry overnight trips, and I had forgotten a few key lessons. I quickly started shedding some non-essentials and tried to pack everything into my touring bag. I finally squeezed most of my gear in, got my snowboard strapped on, and then realized I forgot about my camera, lens, and jacket so I strapped those to various parts of my bag and we took off.
Quickly realizing I had made a bad call on the smaller pack and that having gear dangling off your body is always a no, I started questioning my choices no less than 5 minutes into the hike. I kept catching my snowboard on my heel, I was definitely the slowest one there, and I was feeling like a real Jerry. I had two choices; carry-on and have a really rough hike in or face my ego and my friends and tell them I needed to turn around and leave the snowboard behind and get my larger pack. Everyone was so supportive and stopped to practice using their beacons and searching, one of the girls even offered up a “chest strap” I could use.
Heading back to the car I was feeling like a real derp. I run a women’s outdoor company and have been doing big outdoor trips for over 10 yeas and I made some rookie calls. Feeling a bit insecure and frustrated I realized I again had two options. I can either judge myself, pout, and be a dread to be around or I could choose my attitude and smile at the fact that the weather was amazing, I have two fully capable legs that get to carry my pack and my camera to a hut, and I have very amazing friends. After getting back to the car and trading my touring bag for my much larger backpack, I looked inside my backpacking bag and realized only one of my hut booties made it into my touring bag. THIS IS WHY I TURNED BACK. Seriously the hut booty is everythingggggg. Suddenly very grateful for this turnaround and the fact that I would have two toasty warm feet, I slapped a smile on and decided it was good vibes only the rest of the day.
Telling myself positive mantras on the walk back, I decided that if I couldn’t be the fastest hiker or shred the hardest line, I could be the happiest person to hike with and be a joy to be around. Thunderstruck by ACDC popped into my head and marched my Jerry ass back to my kindly awaiting friends in a surprisingly good mood.
My new mission of this trip was to be as positive as possible and to get some sweet photos. And boy did I get some photos. I got my butt handed to me on the hike up, remembered how important snacking is for my hangriness issues I constantly have, and took up the back end of the pack the whole time.
Backcountry snowshoeing is no joke. I am a fairly fit person, I am active all the time, I have some cardio endurance, and this was one big giant sufferfest. Type 2 fun in it’s finest form. The views, the people, and the night in the hut was worth all the pain though, hands down.
While the group went out to get a lap before dinner, me and Bryant, who also snowshoed, opted to stay behind and sit with a glass of wine (and possibly a few sips of fireball). We watched the sunset and chatted and ended up having the hut to ourselves. There was no cell phones, no service, and the only noise was us happily drinking wine and sharing stories of our lives. The group came back and we fired up our stoves for dinner, dealt with a few mishaps (aka a stove flame ball and slipping on ice and dumping a giant bowl of ramen to name a few), and finally enjoyed a hot meal. We played a few rounds of aggressive Uno, went and stared at the stars, and then were fully unconscious by 8:00PM. Such is the blissful life in the backcountry.
I awoke at first light feeling like a new person after 11 hours of sleep. I saw the light slowly coming outside and flew out of bed to put on all my layers and head out into the meadow for some sunrise Alpenglow photos and some quite reflection time.
That moment alone was worth all the suffering. That moment, the photos I took, the conversations I had, and the memories that I now share with some incredible humans are the point. Not looking the coolest, or being the fastest simply for the sake of being the fastest, or shredding the best line. Those are all great things cool but if looking like a jerry, being the slowest, and shredding some small hills on snowshoes meant I got to have all the good parts too I would do it all over again.
After some coffee, the group started stirring for a few laps up one of the many gorgeous ridges surrounding the hut, while I stayed behind and found a good vantage point for some action shots. It looked like great pow, but I was so content to be sipping hot coffee in front of the hut capturing the action from below. It could have been easy to let my ego tell me I was failing at backcountry hut trips but I was jus so grateful for some alone time in the mountains. It was the first time I had really had some alone time in weeks, and it was quiet. That quiet when there’s snow on the ground, and no cars or planes or people, where it is you and your thoughts and all I could think is I am so freaking grateful to be here.
The crew came down and we shared some lunch, some stories, a hysterical video of my friend Max tamahawking off a cliff, packed our bags and headed back to the car. Hiking out was much easier than hiking in and we were treated to some incredible views of snowcapped peaks, frozen lakes, and wandering rivers. We stopped for snacks often, had some music playing, and made great time.
The entire weekend I don’t think I saw a cloud in the sky and it was type two fun that I’m already looking back on fondly and I also got a few great take-aways for next time.
- plan ahead – (Wilderwomen Winter Packing List coming soon!)
- try your pack on before leaving the house
- pack lots of jellybeans
- get a splitboard asap
- when in doubt or angry try eating a snack
- when type 2 fun happens or things don’t go as planned or you think you look like an idiot, at least be a happy idiot.