It’s quite a romantic notion to sleep on top of a mountain, but this idealism is the furthest thing from my mind right now. In the dim pre dawn light Rob and I scramble to get our bivy bags stuffed into our packs as the wind howls through the exposed col we are perched on. I know now isn’t the time for pictures, my frozen hands can barely work the buttons, but I need to capture this grim moment.
The forecast was for a trace of snow overnight, but this seemed to be a remote possibility as we set off in dazzling sunshine and were quickly down to our base layers as we traversed the Decker Glacier. Our goal was the Spearhead range connecting Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. With the long April days, we were hoping to explore some new terrain, bag a few peaks, and get some nice turns from the summits.
After a great day of touring on firm snow with long picturesque descents without seeing another group all day, we camped mid way along our route near the 2691m summit of Tremor Mountain. The light softened and clouds played hide and seek in the valleys far below as we flattened platforms to sleep on and built walls to block the wind. Gradually, more of the surrounding peaks became enveloped in thick blankets of grey cloud creating absolute, perfect silence.
An hour or so after tucking in to our tiny cocoons, the first gusts of the storm tugged at our shelters. The tinkling sound of snow blowing across fabric of my bivy bag was magical, keeping me poised in the present moment. Another hour passed with sleep coming in short fits while snow piled up around and on top of me, slowly shrinking my already tiny gore-tex world.
My back was starting to freeze and I knew the moment I had been procrastinating facing was now imminent. The new down filled sleeping mat I was testing had lost most of its air and was now providing zero insulation against the snow floor which was rapidly draining my body heat. As I unzipped my shelter, the gale outside sent little tornadoes of spindrift into my sleeping bag while I tried to clumsily put on pants and frozen snowboard boots.
Blowing snow whizzed past in the beam of my headlamp as I struggled to find my buried avalanche shovel to dig out my shelter. I could shovel only slightly faster than the snow replacing my cleared areas. I managed to re-inflate my sleeping mat and with a few more shovels full of snow, I clambered back into my sleeping bag which was now filled with fine crystals of snow.
The storm raged outside as I tried to shiver myself to sleep. Every hour or so, the space around my head would close in to a point where I needed to open my bivy and clear the snow away to be able to comfortably breathe again. Which would, in a cruel ritual, refill my sleeping bag with snow for my meager body heat to melt, to become wetter and colder.
As the inky blackness of night slowly gave way to dark grey, I was out of my bivy, determined to never re-enter this poor excuse for a shelter anywhere near snow again. Rob had the same experience and was equally happy to get moving as soon as possible. In a complete white out with no depth perception and 30 cm of fresh snow, we retraced our route, gingerly picking our way down the slope we had ascended yesterday. Amazingly, Rob had laid a track with his GPS the day before which we could follow to safety. The thought of having to wait out the storm for better visibility chilled my already chilled bones.