When self-discipline fails and fear runs unchecked, the spiral into panic is not far off. Panic is uncontrolled, undirected fear and as such unproductive. It takes a huge amount of energy to panic, and you receive little enduring energy in return. Panic is great for lifting a car off a baby or fleeing a charging mastodon, but it is useless for getting out of a dangerous predicament in the mountains."
- Mark F. Twight, Mountaineer and author of Extreme Alpinism
Backcountry travel is intrinsic to Whistler's culture. The rewards of pushing beyond the boundaries are well known; fresh powder, relative solitude and a sense that one is living their life to the fullest. But no reward is gained without risk.
That risk is what we gleefully accept whether we are riding chairlifts in the resort or climbing to descend remote peaks. Some folk may go their whole lives without a story of Mother Nature reminding them of who is boss, but in Whistler there are many now-learned souls who have had to spend some unexpected nights in the mountains.
With that in mind Pique thought to share some of their stories, as well as some tried and tested advice about how to prepare before Mother Nature decides to keep you outside all night unexpectedly.
Some who spent the night out in the cold were prepared, some were not — but all share a common feeling at the end — relief at making it through and a commitment to not letting it happen again unexpectedly.
A day trip gone wrong
When Japanese ski instructor Kazuya "Kaz" Dobashi crossed the boundary for his first backcountry experience he believed he was well prepared. He was travelling with two other skiers and one snowboarder, their leader was a Japanese friend named Kawasaki, who had experience skiing the Blackcomb backcountry and who also worked for Whistler Blackcomb Ski School.
The group had their coffee over a meeting about the trip and checked their rental equipment at Glacier Creek before heading in to the alpine and towards the boundary. The goal for the day trip was to ski one lap of the popular line D.O.A., then return to the Blackcomb Glacier gate and hike towards Husume, which would feed them into Blackcomb Glacier for an easy ski out through the resort.
After the initial descent of D.O.A., the group ate a casual lunch at the Horstman Hut before heading out past the boundary once again. Elated about their first time having descended Blackcomb peak's steep, narrow and very rocky couloir, the group was looking forward to the longer, powder-filled descent on Husume, so much so that they decided to push through some incoming cloud.
It was at this point the party made a critical error — Kawasaki knew the way to Husume, and had skied it before, but he was now trying to navigate through a thick fog. Instead of dropping into the Spearhead Glacier to reach the ridge that would lead them to their goal, the party kept traversing along in the direction of Wedge Creek, constantly looking up and searching for the entrance to Husume. But they were one ridge east of where they thought and with the weather coming in they had lost their orientation.
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