I've been working on the West Kootenay Project List since I moved to the West Kootenay 10 years ago. Overall, it has been a fun project. I have climbed over 200 of the peaks on the list, visited many beautiful areas and had many great trips. The problem I now confront is that getting a new peak requires more and more driving as the list dwindles to less and less accessible peaks. Second only to alder thrashing comes my detestation of driving.
Today, with mixed weather forecast, I had narrowed my choice to two peaks within reasonable driving distance that were also reasonably accessible - roads above about 1,300 metres are snow-bound, so access is still limited.
One peak, Mount Jeldness, is a mere 1405 metres high, and requires about 200 km of driving. I have, in fact, previously failed on Mount Jeldness, when I attempted it as a club trip in late fall/early winter. Fresh snow, poor weather, slippery rock turned us back long before the summit. The other peak, Mount Shardelow, at almost 2,400 metres, was much more interesting, and, I thought, might provide some fun snow climbing and required only about 100 km of driving. Easy choice, Mount Shardelow.
Seldom have I failed so spectacularly as I did on Mount Shardelow today. Road access has deteriorated in the past 10 years since a friend of mine climbed Mount Shardelow from Dago Creek FSR. In 2002, Dago Creek FSR was driveable to the end at about 4,800 feet, and the ascent took 3.5 hours. In 2012, Dago Creek FSR is completely non-navigable, as is the last 4 to 5 km of Koch Creek FSR (which leads to Dago Creek FSR).
I biked the final section of Koch Creek FSR, an uncomfortable proposition as I don't own a bike and had to borrow one. The bike I borrowed was far too big for me and I could barely reach both the pedals and the handle-bars at the same time. Biking, as I found, uses a whole different set of muscles which pretty quickly began to scream.
Nevertheless, with frequent lifting of my buttocks from the seat, I biked up Dago Creek FSR until I hit snow at the depressingly low elevation of 4,100 feet. On foot, the first half a kilometre was not too bad, although my legs quickly became shaky and weak from the previous days Stronglifts workout. All too soon the road I was following deteriorated to some of the thickest alder I have ever encountered. I felt depressed looking ahead at the tangle, especially given how fatigued my legs felt, how far I was from treeline, and just how far I had to go.
After much staggering, thrashing, creek wading, alder crawling, log crawling and, finally au-chevalling across a fallen log over Dago Creek, the bridge having long since fallen away, I reached the lofty elevation of 4,860 feet. In almost three hours, I had managed only to gain 1,200 feet of elevation. I was still at least 5 km and 3,000 feet from the summit of Mount Shardelow, the terrain in front of me was, hard as it is to imagine, even worse than the terrain I had covered, and my legs were quivering like jelly. A quick calculation of the time I might, should I survive long enough, reach the summit at my current pace seemed to indicate topping out at 5.00 pm. Although, it is dubious I would have had the fortitude to continue on for nine hours - one way.
I had some food hoping some calories - I had not eaten at all since the night before - might pick me up, but they didn't. I confess to feeling defeated, demoralized, and, more than a bit stupid as, when I had been planning this trip I knew that approaching from the east as I was, would likely end in failure. Approaching from the west, however, meant even more driving, which I truly could not face. After all, I had reckoned, how hard could walking a bit of road be?
I thought about continuing on for another hour and seeing how far I got, but, the return trip was hanging over my head like a Damocles sword, and, truthfully, thrashing around for a further hour seemed not only futile but a little too much like self-flagellation to induce comfort. So, I turned around. Returning was slightly easier as much of the alder was somewhat pointing down slope, but, I was feeling fairly tired by the time I mounted the bike and rode back to the truck.
A fairly (understatement) nasty trip, one I do not care to repeat. However, I did learn some things, and those will be the subject of my next blog.
I hate alder