Last year Damien and I attempted Cassiope and Saxifrage in the Duffy Lake area of British Columbia. We ended up turning back while trying to bushwhack through the forest to the “swamp.” Too many hazards and not enough snow coverage. We knew that this year we could expect more snow on the ground so we decided to try again. Damien and I dug a parking spot out at km 10 on Duffy Lake Road and started out on the old logging road following the beta and staying left at the junction. At the end of the road we cut right into the forest, once again heading for the swamp. The extra snow on the ground this year did not make the terrain any less hazardous. The short section of forest is a maze of blow downs, tree wells, dense thicket and moats. I’m not sure it was any less dangerous than last year. I think our risk tolerance is higher.

It took a a good 2 hours to battle our way through this pathetically short, but tedious section to the flat swamp. I lost count of how many times I fell into moats, voids and wells and had to be dragged out by Damien! Luckily, skiing the swamp was straight forward. We took a quick break in which Damien noted a road on the other side of the swamp. It appeared that it would not require a bushwhack to get to and this logging road led back to our car! Wished we’d noticed that sooner or the beta had suggested that route instead!

Never the less, Damien and I continued following the small river through the swamp until it led us away into a small valley. At this point our beta suggested crossing the river (which wouldn’t have been an issue) and traversing the open slope on the opposite side. From the high point on the slope we could enter the trees and continue on to the basin and camp at the lake. As an alternative, in questionable avalanche danger one could stay on the same side of the river and travel up the forested slope to gain the lake. Since it was considerable avy danger that day, Damien and I opted against the open slope and began to ascend the trees.

At first we were easily able to skin through open forest and small open areas, but once the trees grew denser and the angle steepened everything changed. Suddenly the bushwhack down to the swamp seemed like a mere saunter down the PCT. The icy ground beneath the layer of fresh snow forced us to remove our skis and begin boot-packing up. We found ourselves in another maze of blow-downs and as we ascended the powder grew so deep that at times we swam through waist level snow! To top that off, we encountered waterfall ice that required us to carefully negotiate just along side it without crampons on icy or mixed terrain. We kept going hoping it would ease and spurred on by the fact that we had worked so hard to get this far!

However, at 3:30 and still 1,000 feet away Damien and I conceded to the mountains. We did not want to be bumbling around in the sketchy forest in the dark. Damien and I half plunge stepped, half fell down back to the swamp. Switching on our headlamps we crossed the open expanse hoping the road we’d discovered on the map existed.

Luckily, we arrived on the map promised road without incident and without battling terrain! In the darkness Damien and I began the process of setting up our tent and melting water. Only, darkness is perhaps the incorrect word. The nearly full moon shown so magnificently bright that the wilderness around us looked like a black and white picture! Everything was illuminated in full detail under the astoundingly brilliant moonlight! It was 10:00pm, by the time we turned in; definitely later than normal for us in the winter!

Damien and I were packed up and moving down the road  to the car guided by moonlight at 6:30am. We wanted to return to the TH with plenty of time to begin the approach of our new objective. Tszil!

 

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