January 03, 2011

Attempt on Ingram

Mount Ingram, when viewed from a certain angle, looks like a mean, nasty mountain. From its north face - the angle from which most people see it - the mountain is brutally steep, strewn with long slides of loose, sharp rock.

Of course, I wanted to climb it.

There isn't much in the local hiking guide books about getting to the top of Mount Ingram. There are suggestions about using a base camp, but little else. If I've learned anything about the Yukon, though, is that there is always an old trail somewhere that will get you close to where you want to go - you just need to know Who To Ask.

I called Who To Ask, but Who To Ask wasn't in. Fortunately, Maybe I Can Help returned my call and Maybe I Can Help was a huge help. She was well acquainted with a trail that led up to alpine and told me how to find it. It helped that I already had some familiarity with the area, but her directions were so good I would have found the trail otherwise.

I didn't know what state the trail would be in or how much snow I would need to pack with my snowshoes to get there. One thing was certain: In order to make my attempt on the mountain, I would need to overnight somewhere.

I was excited, but also felt a little trepidation. It had been far too long since my last winter camping trip. You see, I already travel so much for work that I'm wracked with guilt any time I think about wanting to do an overnighter just because I want to. It's so much work for Fawn and it's already so much time away from the kids. I love my family and want to be with them, but at the same time, out in the bush is where I decompress. It's where I centre myself and I always come back a better person for it. If I don't get out there, I get cranky. I'd love to take my family with me, but they're not ready for it. So which is better? Spending less time with my family but being a more pleasant father, or staying with my family in a crankier state?

Fortunately and thankfully, Fawn's parents came to town for the Christmas holidays and provided me with the opportunity to go - so I took it.

A couple of friends were poised to join me, but had to back out for various legitimate reasons. It was just going to be me and Nanuq on this trip. Having a somewhat flexible schedule, I pushed the trip back, hoping to take advantage of some warmer weather that Environment Canada had been predicting.

Packed and ready to go, armed with local knowledge of the best way up the mountain, Nanuq and I set off up the Ibex Valley with our gear in tow.

A glimpse of Ingram.
Gear in tow.

The going was easier than I expected. A local trapper was using the main trail up the valley and the trail was well-packed by his snow machine as he frequently checks his traps.

Looking up the Ibex Valley. I'm goin' that-a-way!

Before long, I reached the landmarks that Maybe I Can Help told me to look for. I donned my snowshoes, turned off the main trail, and started making my way up the mountain, looking for a good place to make camp.

It wasn't long before I found it. With a couple of hours of daylight left, I started piling snow to make a snow hut. Dusk had arrived by the time I finished building my pile. Wanting to give the snow a chance to set, I started collecting firewood to cook my supper. As I did so, Nanuq and I were startled by a sound not far up the mountain. It was a wretched short howl, not unlike how a wolf with emphysema might sound. Nanuq and I looked at each other, puzzled. He didn't seem too concerned, so we went back to our respective duties (me cooking my supper and he eating his).

It was dark by the time I began hollowing the pile of snow out, but I could still see well enough that I was able to make a perfect winter shelter before my supper had finished cooking over the fire.

A lit candle inside the snow hut gave my campsite a cheery, warm glow. The sky had cleared and the stars were bright overhead. I wished that my photography skills were good enough to capture the scene before me. I was at complete and total peace as I scarfed down a delicious pot of soup.

After inhaling my evening meal, I decided to retire early. It's an amazing feeling to have absolutely nothing to do but relax.

It was a very pleasant night. I had packed my sleeping gear for -35oC weather and, during the night, the temperature had climbed to about -5oC. I slept like a log, waking only to shed a couple of sleeping layers and to take a little stroll outside the shelter to melt some snow.

Because we're still so near the Winter Solstice, morning came late. I ate a hot breakfast in the dark and waited for the sun to rise so I would have enough light to pack my day bag for the trip up the mountain. It was only when I was finished my breakfast that I realised it was so warm that I was wearing only two long-sleeved t-shirts and a hooded sweatshirt on my upper body and still wasn't chilled. It was going to be a warm day, indeed!

The sky was overcast, but the clouds were high enough that visibility at the top of the mountain was still good. I began the long march up the mountain, breaking trail as I went. The warm air temperature, lack of wind, heavy snow pants, and hard work added up and I had to stop every few hundred meters to catch my breath. The going was hard.

There are some curses that eventually reveal themselves as blessings and some blessings that eventually reveal themselves as curses. As I huffed and puffed and sweated my way up the mountain, I was beginning to curse the warm weather. I just couldn't stay cool enough to work efficiently.

On the bright side, the birds were out in force, playing in the warm air and singing their happy songs. Whiskey jacks came to investigate and finches and chickadees hopped about on the trees around me. Ravens gargled and cooed off in the distance.

Now well up the mountain, the trail looked like it branched, then thinned, and there was a moment when I thought I might have gone the wrong way, but a blaze on a tree showed me that I had it right. I continued on up, eventually clearing the tree line.

I had been hoping it would be cooler above the treeline, but it wasn't. There was scarcely a breath of wind and, when there was, it was brief and warm. I pushed ever upwards, roasting in my snow pants and feeling the burn in my muscles. One of the minor peaks loomed tantalizingly ahead.

I was torn. On one hand, I wanted to push on and reach the peak. On the other, I knew that I had given my legs a heavy, thorough, work-out and still had to haul my gear back to the car.

In the end, time was the deciding factor. It was New Year's Eve and I didn't want to get hom too late. Reluctantly - but still satisfied with my attempt - I turned around to head back down the mountain.

Oh! How much easier (and faster) it was going down the broken trail! A gnawing hunger in my belly reminded me of how much energy I had burned on the way up, so when I got back to my campsite I cooked up a hot lunch to fuel me for the last leg home.

The sun was setting quickly and the passing clouds made for dark, dramatic skies. I was feeling the efforts of the day as I pulled my sled along the main trail, grateful that most of it was now downhill.

Before long it was dark, but I knew the way back to the car so it didn't matter.

As I walked, I reflected. It had been a good trip. The entire time, whether I had nothing to do or a dozen things to do, no matter how much I exerted myself, no matter comfortable or uncomfortable I had felt, no matter what I had accomplished and no matter what I didn't accomplish, I had felt a tremendously deep sense of peace.

I smiled.

I didn't reach the summit of Mount Ingram and it didn't matter. I had reached the place I was really hoping for.

Ingram can wait for another day.


Scientific Chick said...

Sounds like an amazing trip, Michael! Lucky you.

When we're trying to get somewhere in the outdoors, Craig always says: "Someone has wanted to get there before us". That is his rationale for finding even the flimsiest of trails. Half the time we end up nowhere, but it's a nice thought. Glad your sources were a little more solid. :)

Meandering Michael said...

I love those flimsy trails because the someONE is often someTHINGS. Game trails are great fun.