Nov. 19, 2008 - Issue #683: Never Mind the Bollocks… Let’s Dance!
Hypothermic in Yoho
‘One more stride,” I kept telling myself. The sun had set and I was 10 kilometres into the backcountry. I’d made the beginner’s mistake of wearing cotton and now I was soaked. Somewhere up ahead was Elizabeth Parker hut, a small log cabin maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada. But I couldn’t see it or any landmarks. I was too fatigued to estimate distance. And the insidious cold was leaching deeper into my bones as darkness set in.
“One more stride.” My party trailed behind. I wasn’t concerned for them since they were together and hadn’t sweated as much during the ski in. I, on the other hand, had spent the day shuttling packs up the ascending trail. Two of our party were on nordic skis, using wax instead of skins, and had kept sliding backwards on the steeper rises. Unbeknownst to us, their heavy packs were stuffed with wine bottles. Thus the shuttle strategy.
“One more stride.” I knew if I stopped I might not be able to get moving again. Determination and dull fear drove me forward, putting distance between us but never losing sight. I switchbacked up a small wooded hill by the light of my headlamp, over a small creek—pillows of snow humped over rocks—and into a meadow. Cabin lights shone up ahead.
“One more stride.” I didn’t stop until I reached the door. Then I broke down. It’s blurry after that, but I remember being disoriented, rejecting a dry sweater because of its colour, being uncharacteristically shy about stripping out of my wet clothes. But my friends got me changed, put me in front of the fire and slowly I recovered.
For my first time in the backcountry, at the tender age of about 20, it was an awakening. Exposed to the consequences, I’d tested my ability to endure and learned an important lesson in the process.
The next day dawned warm and bright. With over three feet of classic new Yoho snow on the roof of the lodge, we knew the skiing would be phenomenal. And, of course, over the next few days we were only too happy to lighten the wine-heavy load before the trip back. V
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