The Other Side of the Mountain
Back in Issue 5 of Mountain Sledder magazine, we published a story written by Dave Treadway about a multi-day snowmobile expedition that he and some friends had made deep into the backcountry of the Coast Range of BC.
The story is in part a chronicle of the events of the trip, but ultimately, it is an introspection of the balance between Dave’s desire to explore new places and the risk involved.
We’ve dug this out of the archive because in the days since his passing, we’ve thought a lot about the risk we all take each time we go out to enjoy the freedom of the mountains. Looking back on “The Other Side of the Mountain” helps shed light on why Dave was so passionate about the mountains and how he lived his life.
Anyone wishing to make a donation to help support Dave’s family may do so at the Support for the Treadway Family GoFundMe page.
I’m at the head of the Tchaikazan River, pretty much the middle of nowhere. It’s been a ton of work getting here over the past three days with Henrik, Athan, Blake and Ray, and even though it’s sunny and peaceful, I have an overwhelming sense of wanting to be somewhere safe with my family. There’s also a slight feeling of anxiety at being so small and vulnerable way out here.
All year I dream about trips like this, and now everything has come together: an awesome team, proper equipment, great weather and snow conditions. Yet I all I want to do is go home. These days, I find myself feeling this way every time I explore beyond my normal realm.
God help me balance this internal conflict.
Grit, Determination and Doubt in the Heart of the Coast Range
Like most adventures in BC’s Coast Mountains, this one starts at the end of a long, dusty logging road. We unload the trucks and pack our snowmobiles and toboggans full of jerry cans of fuel, food, camping gear and enough supplies to sled and survive for five days in rugged, isolated terrain.
The plan is to sled 120 kilometers north of Pemberton, and try and make it to the Tchaikazan headwaters and Mount Monmouth massif, one of the ten highest peaks in the Coast Range.
We saddle up and pin it north, navigating by map, compass, GPS and memories of Google Earth. All of this technology does very little to make the wilderness seem less wild, and day one ends with substantially less distance covered than initially planned. We camp out for the night, and contemplate tomorrow’s adventures.
This year, I seem driven to adventure beyond my usual exploits even as I constantly battle the urge to turn back. These thoughts haunt me as we push through dense old growth forest, over oceans of crevassed ice and deep into the heart of the Coast Range. It is easier and safer to stick with zones that are close and familiar, so why am I spending so much energy pushing towards something farther and riskier? Something inside me wants to explore deeper and see beyond anything I’ve ever seen before.
By 6:00 p.m. on day two, we’ve made it seven-eighths of the way to our intended basecamp when the glacier we’re travelling over begins to roll a bit steeper than I’d like. Roped up and on-belay, I walk ahead to discover a deep, gaping crevasse running the width of the glacier. That wasn’t on Google Earth! Now what?
I remember seeing a mellow glacier off the other side of an adjacent peak. If we could just get our sleds up and over the face, we could potentially be back in action. Even though the face looks way too steep, I zip over and take a stab at it. My Ski-Doo pulls hard and on my second attempt I crest the ridge top, shouting into my radio, “Boys, we’re back in action.”
I’m met with silence…the rest of the team is already retreating back across the glacier with two-strokes screaming in their ears and no way to hear me. The only thing to do is follow them 40 kilometres back to a small shack and let them know that tomorrow we are headed to Mount Monmouth. The smokies cooked over the propane heater that night are especially tasty, everyone knowing there is still hope for our original goal.
– Romans 5:3-5“Rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint.”
We have hope, but day three brings suffering as well. Our big ambitions come to a screeching halt as thick fog engulfs us on the Bridge Glacier. The fog makes it impossible for us to see even the previous day’s sled tracks, and navigating crevasse fields and technical hillclimbs by GPS and braille isn’t working either. We take shelter under a cliff and wait. Idle time fuels demons of doubt—we are a long way from anything, lost on a glacier and hoping to sled in an area still a long ways away. Can we pull this off?
Three hours later, the fog clears and we are back on the throttle with 91 octane fueling our sleds and hope fueling everything else we need to get up what I had scouted the day prior. After a few failed hillclimb attempts, the whole crew makes the steep climb.
I love how on adventures like this, we seem to use all our sled skills from hillclimbing to boondocking, but all with a purpose of traveling to our objective.
We safely navigate the remainder of the way to the foot of Mount Monmouth, and set up our beautiful base camp at treeline. After an exhausting three days, base camp quickly takes on the look and feel of a Mexican family restaurant, with everyone enjoying a quick lunch and well-deserved siesta.
Day four sees us explore this new zone, feeling extra excitement as we crest each ridge discovering new zones, knowing how much work it took to get here. As we are descending a powder field arcing big turns, I tag a rock with my ski. “Oh, no. I better not have busted anything.” As I stop and look over my sled, I’m reminded of the reality of a $3,000+ heli lift of my sled out of this distant range, if anything were to go wrong. Luckily, my sled is fine, and we continue to tip-toe around this new land.
As we turn off our sleds on top of a mountain with a beautiful view of BC’s highest peaks, Mount Waddington and Mount Queen Bess, all we can hear is silence. No other sledders rooping up the next bowl away. Nothing. Just us, and the vast mountains dwarfing us, and reminding us that we are just visitors; guests in an untamed land.
Despite this high, my mind continues to fight itself. Why have I pushed beyond my comfort zone and risked just to be somewhere new? What is the real reward here? Is it worth the risk?
“The sweet isn’t as sweet without the sour,” my momma used to say to my brothers and me. Fortunately, the views and the feeling of accomplishment of making it all the way out to this new land sure feels sweet.
Then, with weather approaching, we head back to our tents, pack things up and head for home. Home: where my realistic alter ego wanted to be this entire time.
Days later, I am hanging out with my 88-year-old hunting partner who has explored the Coast Mountains for most of his life and still continues to journey into areas he’s never been before. I ask him why he keeps pushing his frontier and I prepare for one of those long-winded, old-timer philosophical answers. Instead he looks me in the eye and sums up everything I’ve been asking myself over the past few weeks.
“Well, I guess I just like to see what’s on the other side of the mountain.”