By Wlter Kubanek
Our crew of 8 included David, Margo, George, Karen, Todd, Jane, Steve and Walter.
The temperature soared during the week leading up to our trip – a high of +11 in Calgary. Then it plummeted to – 14 on Saturday, and -23 Sunday. The blowing snow had covered roads that had been clear and dry earlier in the week, making travel Friday evening to Bell Cabin the first challenge. We woke to 15 cm of new snow at Canmore, and set off optimistically. Avalanche danger was still high, so our first day’s ski destination changed to low-risk Chester Lake.
We crested the Spray Lakes road to discover it unplowed, and the overnight snowfall depth increased with every mile travelled. The first victim of the deepening snow was a passenger van belonging to a dog-sledding outfit. The driver, Quebecois or french, had admittedly come around a corner too fast, and slid well into the old snowbank. Todd positioned his truck,
George wrapped his tow strap around the rear axel of the van, and several mighty tugs of Todd’s (aptly named) Rescue Realty truck broke the van free.
Next, a small Honda had somehow driven beyond Engadine Lodge in the snow, by then approaching 60cm in depth. It had gone off the vehicle track into a bank. We all turned it around by hand and they drove back out, defeated by the snow. Further on, another two vehicles were engaged in a rescue effort as one had slid off the road.
Shortly thereafter, we met the snow plow coming the other way just before the Chester Lake parking lot. That meant it had been cleared for our arrival.
Despite the interruptions, it was still only 10 am and we quickly donned our equipment. Few of us had ever broken trail in snow this deep, but we all took our turns, pushing knee-high snow mightily for the 6 km to Chester Lake. Todd described the experience like wading in wet concrete. The ladies were game to break trail and strong as the men. A few of us needed to apply skins, but for the majority the trail was gradual enough to climb with their choice of wax. Short portions of the trail already broken and packed by an earlier pair of snowshoe enthusiasts gave occasional relief.
The wind arose, and the snow was falling heavily as we arrived at the clearing, and we found a small cope of trees to shelter us for lunch. Then we continued to the Chester mountain base for pictures under the group of large erratics (the boulders?) which was the end of our outward journey Saturday, as avalanche risk thereafter would grow.
A quick – and at the steeper stretches exciting – ski back to the vehicles made all our efforts at breaking trail worthwhile. Saturday supper and resting our well-used thighs was the order of the evening.
For Sunday’s jaunt we chose the upper 10 km of Goat Creek (Spray Lake Road to Banff). The day promised clear sky and sunshine, but bitter cold and wind. Todds Rescue truck itself needed rescue as the starter switch had frozen during the night. Todd insists the wild ride into the deep snow did not contribute to the starter freeze-up. Fortunately, the monster diesel truck was parked on a downward slope, and many hands quickly got it rolling.
The Goat Creek trail had been packed the day before, so many of us donned our skinny skis and prepared for speed. As the morning progressed and the sun found us, the wind decreased and the temperature rose from – 23 to a balmy -14. Toes and fingers were relieved – but a skier, another Frenchman, nose white from exposure, needed rescue.
We had our lunch in the warming sunshine at the second bridge on Goat Creek, then took on the challenge of the mostly-uphill return. The ladies again showed the men they were made of stronger stuff, and raced ahead to the vehicles. Once more, the Rescue truck needed rescue, but a quick tug with George’s Armada got it started, and we were on our way home.