We could feel the temperature shifting as we got closer to Lillooet. The air was crisper, and our breath left a fog in the morning. Though we had some notice for what was coming, we weren’t clever enough to pick up on it.
We headed out of town through the one lane bridge, and started our journey past Goat Mountain and Birkenhead Peak.
Very quickly the temperature dropped. From about +24 celsius a few kilometres ago, to temperatures that were clearly dropping rapidly into the minus’.
We worried a bit about whether or not we had warm enough clothes to manage the region – we simply were not expecting to encounter winter. A bit short sighted perhaps!
I have a great respect (and fear) of this area. I lost a childhood friend to these winding roads one winter night a few years ago. He was returning home after time with friends, when he lost control on the icy narrows. His truck careened off the side, and barreled down the steep cliff.
It is assumed he died instantly. His dog (who was always with him), climbed the cliff to sit on the roadside – waiting for help.
When the authorities found Birken (the dog) on the side of the road, his throat was bleeding and raw from howling, and his rear was frozen to the ground.
The authorities said that the faithful dog was the only reason the body was recovered 100’s of feet below the cliffs edge. It had been snowing, and his vehicle was covered by the morning when the search teams headed out – and so were his tire tracks.
If it hadn’t been for Birken, the family would have had to wait until at least late Spring when the snow thawed, to find and reclaim their sons body, and get some closure – if they were lucky enough to find him at all.
Many people head out into the wild here, never to be found again. I have a close friend who is a rescue worker – he has spent a lot of time in this area saving backcountry skiers and hikers from nature, and themselves.
After the stories I have heard, I do NOT EVER head out into the wilderness – for any reason. Call me paranoid, but with the hungry bears and freezing temperatures, avalanches, dangerous landscape, high probability of getting lost, dropping off a crag or falling into a crevasse – I say no thanks. I will take my adventure in other ways.
Regardless, on this sunny day, we saw many vehicles parked at the few pullouts available. Scads of people getting on their ski gear, with plans to risk their own lives (and the lives of those who may have to save them later), and head out into the unmarked wild – during perfect avalanche conditions.
Some parked right in front of ‘No Stopping, Avalanche Area’ signs, strapping on their boots, grabbing their poles. It is this type of suicidal, adventure seeking, nature lover that makes my rescue working friend very upset.
We have lots of double black diamond danger runs and hiking areas, at the plethora of maintained and monitored ski hills and parks in the area – lots of places you could potentially kill yourself accidentally – without heading into un-monitored backcountry.
Here in BC, there is really no reason to head out off of the beaten path – there are so many ‘paths’ in this province, that many of them are isolated and almost un-touched.
Heading into ‘backcountry’ here, often means putting some one else’s life at risk – namely that of my friend (and his colleagues), the rescue worker.
Personally, I can’t imagine what internal force pushes someone toward that direction. Though I know from my months spent crying after watching the true stories; ‘Into the Wild‘ and ‘Grizzly Man‘, that some people are just compelled.
Additional photos in the slideshow.
- Back-country ski trek turns tragic (cnn.com)
- Kimberley avalanche victim died in same area as friend four years earlier (globalnews.ca)
- Expect avalanches in parts of B.C. as Pineapple Express sweeps across province this weekend (theprovince.com)