Living the high life at Pioneer Peack in B.C.If I could look into a crystal ball filled with a snowman and snow flurries abounding after a good shake and dream up the perfect backcountry skiing adventure, it would contain the following: fly into a backcountry hut with several psyched powder lovers, ski all day - every day - for a week in untracked terrain among jagged peaks and glaciers, then head back to the hut for lots of good cheer and gourmet cuisine while basking in the glow and tales of the day's adventures.
This fairy tale came true the first week of the New Year as my wife Molly and I drove north to Golden, B.C., After meeting up with the enthusiastic group in Golden, 20 of us gathered our gear and food at the helicopter loading site. It was a clear day with great visibility, perfect for a heli ride. I was fortunate enough to ride shotgun on the first of five trips our group took to get all our bodies and supplies into the hut. We flew along the Columbia Arm of Kinbasket Lake, the headwaters of the Columbia River, before swinging west into the Adamant Range of the Selkirk Mountains. My eyes bulged as the views became better with every minute. The heli set us softly down just below the Bill Putnam (Fairy Meadow) hut in a hanging valley surrounded by picturesque B.C. mountains.
The group consisted of mostly strangers from Bend, Bozeman, Bellingham, Revelstoke, B.C., and Haines, Alaska. Eight days later we all parted ways as long-time friends. After hauling loads up to the hut, excavating a one and a half square meter hole to find running water and filling water jugs it was time to make some turns. The 800-foot "practice slope" just above the hut was untracked and calling our names. Three amazing powder runs as the sun was setting foretold good fortunes for the week.
Bill Putnam earned a Purple Heart, a Silver Star, and a Bronze Star medal for his service in Italy during World War II as an officer in the 85th Mountain Infantry, part of the 10th Mountain Division. After the war, Bill spent a great deal of time exploring and climbing in the Selkirks and built the first hut at Fairy Meadows in 1965. He was also instrumental in constructing the existing hut in 1973, later renamed to honor him, where we would spend the next seven nights.
The weather window of the first three days allowed access to the high, alpine terrain. The temperature hovered right around 6 degrees with mostly clear skies and strong wind gusts. Knowing the weather could close in any day, most of the group charged hard the first three days, covering a lot of ground to access Friendship Col, crossing the Gothics Glacier to access the summits of Mt. Damon, Sentinel Peak, Pioneer Peak, a sub peak of Mt. Fria, and crossing the Granite Glacier to summit Enterprise and Colossal peaks. The stunning views were almost enough to keep our bodies warm and motivated. I've never before skinned uphill wearing so many clothes. More than once, we climbed peaks with two base layers, a soft shell jacket, a hard shell jacket and a down jacket.
The second afternoon warmed up as the wind subsided, leaving a group of eight basking in the glow and views from the top of Pioneer Peak. The sunshine radiated through our bodies as we skied the fresh, untracked powder all the way back to the hut for the evening feast.
Feeding 20 hungry people that have been out shredding the powder all day is no easy task. I now know what it feels like to run a restaurant. Everyone in the group outdid themselves providing amazing gourmet food to nourish our souls and calorie-depleted bodies. Butternut squash risotto, fish tacos, Thai curry, and great Mexican dishes, along with tasty appetizers and desserts were high points of the trip.
The entire group spent the last five days skiing steep trees blanketed with the lightest powder imaginable as the weather shut down access to the alpine terrain. Ten to 12 inches of fresh powder fell every 24 hours or so, and smiles showed from ear to ear. The skiing was indescribable. And just as we were packing up to fly out, the word from the satellite phone was that the pilot would not be able to fly us out due to a low cloud layer. The good fortune continued as our aching bodies shredded one last bonus day of powder.