Spring snow-ventures

The Thursday evening of the 2018 Easter long weekend was predicted to be perfect bluebird weather with warm temperatures. The snow had not been the best during the season, so it was time to come up with an adventure. With some Skagwegians in tow, Sam Best, Nicole Kovacs, Jack Leonhard, John Henrichs and I decided to venture to Laughton cabin for the long weekend. The evening before, the six members of our crew met to talk about our trip and route in Skagway. We would start from Outhouse Hill, near the White Pass summit, and got to the Laughton cabin for two or three nights, weather-dependent. We also had to prepare in the event the cabin was already occupied, as it is first-come, first-served. We would need back-up camping gear. We were ready for what was certain to be “type 2 fun,” or what REI.com defines as “miserable while it’s happening, but fun in retrospect.”
Day 1
The morning began with picking everybody up. Because the start and finish of the route were in different locations, we had to shuttle two vehicles. We got to the pipeline exit point and left Sam’s car there, then loaded all the gear into my car, “Li’l Bitch.” Bill and I were in the front seats of my van, while Sam, Jack and Bella the dog curled up amongst the equipment like a disorganized game of tetris. We drove across the U.S. border into no-mans-land, parking at Outhouse Hill. We compiled our equipment and bags, putting gear in the yet-to-bes-tested pulk. Normally, Easter weekends are busy in the mountain passes, but with the poor snow fall and bad avalanche conditions, it was not very busy.

The journey began as we went down to Summit Lake to get to the train tracks. From the summit lake, the trail narrowed into a very heavily-loaded snow area. The pulk was not quite set up correctly, but somehow we managed to wiggle through one at a time. It opened up into a wider and less loaded snow area and the views were incredible. We came across a tunnel filled with sheet ice. We debated whether to go through the tunnel or around. Bill decided he wanted to go around, as he didn’t have crampons. We decided to transition to crampons and go through the tunnel. Poor Bella yelped as we walked into the tunnel onto the ice. She did not want to walk on it and I totally related to her fear of ice. Sam picked her up and carried her through the tunnel. We made it through the eerie ice tunnel toward the bright light.

The journey continued and we came across a few bridges, often metres long. At some points, there was at least a 100-metre vertical drop. I managed to cross the first bridge, but the next bridge was even longer and higher. My fear of heights kicked in and I crossed the remaining bridges crying and shaking. That’s how my fear comes out. From my eyeballs. Eventually, we crossed all the bridges, right up until the trailhead to the cabin from the tracks. As we went lower and lower, the snow got wetter and heavier. Bill and Sam were scooting along very fast, while Jack was stuck at the back with me. The spring snow was piling on the bottom of my ski skins, at least 10 centimetres under each ski. Adding weight with every step, after eight hours of traumatic beauty down the tracks, we crossed the last bridge. We got to the trailhead, where a sign said “1.5 miles to cabin.” That sign also marked the “type 2 fun” stage of the trip. I was ready to set up camp then and there, but we pressed on. At first, the dense brush meant the trail had little snow. Bill and Jack headed off and poor Sam was stuck with me. As I eventually couldn’t even slide on my skis anymore, I  took them off and threw them on the ground. Sam carried them on his backpack.

“It’s ok, we’re right there,” he said. This was a lie. We continued along the trail and I started to post-hole into the snow, though even this meant I was actually making better pace than on the skis. Eventually the snow was so deep though, that I post-holed to my waist several times and couldn’t pull myself out. That was it. I was irrationally and irrevocably done.
“Leave me here!” I wailed to Sam. “Just leave me a tent, that’s it, I’m sleeping here.” Sam somehow convinced me to bail my pack there and hike to the cabin without it. As I hiked along the trail without the 80-pound pack, I was no longer post-holing. We got to the cabin exhausted. Blisters raged and bleeding. Body ached. I wasn’t the only one who had a meltdown getting to the cabin, but we made it. Sam dropped his bag off and went to get mine and, if I’d had the energy, I would have felt bad. Off he went and returned an hour later. Nicole and John had intended to follow us along the same route, but only a few hours later made the avalanche hazard poor, they had skinned to the cabin in the dark, but a full moon lit the way. We ate dinner and had drinks, but we were all so exhausted from the day, we passed out hard in the warm cabin.

Day 2
It was time to ski tour up to the actual glacier. The weather was perfect, with blue skies and temperatures hovering above zero. Sam was a newbie skier, so we decided to do bunny slopes nearby to the glacier, while the rest went further up the moraine. We dug a snow pit, yard-saled some skiing down the hill and enjoyed a beautiful day and sunshine. Less exhausted, but still sore, it was time for dinner. This meant using the rest of the day to go get firewood so we could enjoy a bonfire. There were also some drinks. (Hey, we didn’t cart all that booze for nothing.) Using the pulk, Sam and I explored across the river for deadfall trees to chop and saw. We dug out a firepit and were ready for some shenanigans when everyone else returned from the day. 

Day 3
When we woke up, the weather had shifted and a storm was rolling in. Somehow there was still alcohol left and lots of food, all of which had to be carted out with us. The others wanted to ski more of the glacier and then head out. Sam and I headed directly out. We decided to follow the frozen river to avoid the up and down on skis. That proved fruitful until we got to a cliff waterfall, though we did make it down. We arrived to the train tracks and started a long slow drag down, with clouds now covering the mountains. We continued, saw some grizzly tracks, and encountered less and less snow, which made it difficult to keep the skis on.

We arrived to the top of the pipeline and, with our bags still heavy, we had to figure out how to get skis, selves and pulk down the steep section, which was mostly ice. We had our skis strapped on our backs, plus the packs, plus the pulk. The grade was so steep, the skis often dragged on the mountain. This was most certainly the least favourite part of the trip. At one point, when Sam finally decided to put on his crampons, the skis immediately slipped down the hill and over a cliffed section. Which required some maneuvering to find and save them. To put it politely, there was lots of ass-sliding and swearing as the temperatures were above zero and full of that springtime rainforest moisture. Nicole had discovered straight skiing down the train tracks was the fastest method, taking an hour instead of several. We only found this out after we trudged each step. Finally though, the pipeline was visible and, luckily, was still frozen enough to cross. We arrived at the vehicles, excited but realized we still had to drive to the summit to get my vehicle. We arrived back to Skagway, where we showered, napped and then went to Skagway Brewing Company for a burger and a pint to catch up with the crew. Now that we were warm, bathed and fed, we could reminisce about the stupid and embarrassing things we survived.




Visit Recreation.Gov/Camping/Campgrounds to reserve the cabin in the summer.
During the summer, it is accessed by train. In the winter, there is no reservation system.

Get your kit and skoot up that hill

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