Crossing the Coast Mountains / by Caroline Van Hemert

I am hoping to catch a glimpse of our next big hurdle, which is obscured by one remaining wispy cloud. A tooth is missing in the six-thousand foot mountains that flank the eastern edge of Lynn Canal.  This region is dominated by ice and rock with long fjords left by receding glaciers.  Every spring for the past 6 years we have done a trip exploring this glaciated landscape, often to search out interesting ski terrain or to attempt to climb some craggy peak.  This spring’s trip is part of a larger journey and will be different in nature than past years.  We will be heading into the mountains not in search of mountains but, instead, the path of least resistance between them. As we attempt an unsupported crossing from our cabin near Haines to Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon Territory, our mode of travel will change dramatically from rowing the Inside Passage.  Food, particularly the weight of it, is now a critical factor.  The faster we can get to our next resupply, the less of it we have to carry.  Though we’ve pared down our packs as much as possible, we still seem to be a bit behind the curve on some of the super ultralight gear and techniques.  We will leave all the luxuries behind, swapping out tried and true durable goods for lighter ones—this means no book for Caroline, no full-length sleeping pads, no Taj Mahal tent, or any of the endless back-up items.  Still, the combination of skiing and boating means we’ll have hefty loads.

We will wear Scarpa T4 telemark boots and use relatively lightweight skis—I borrowed a pair of Tua Nitrogens from our friend Colin and Caroline has an old pair of Atomics.  The biggest challenge in this section will be getting on and off the glaciers.  We’re taking small aluminum crampons for steep or icy terrain along with harnesses and a short length of rope.  Because we’ll need to melt snow for water (and we can’t rely on making fires), we have a tiny JetBoil stove and two fuel canisters.  We will see how our legs fare wearing ski boots and carrying this load of food, packrafts, paddles and skis on our backs as we make our way up to treeline.

The marine forecast calls for light winds this evening and tomorrow so we plan to hit the water at the next opportunity.  After a crab feast, some down time at the cabin, and preparations for the next leg, it’s time to get moving again.