Monday, December 16, 2013

Auriol Trail Base Camp Trip

December 14-15, 2013

Only 1 week before the winter solstice, 6 ACC Yukon members skied up the Auriol Trail in Kluane to camp in the high country. We met at the trailhead at 9am and were on our way by 9:30.

There was about 40cm of new snow, making the going tough. The first kilometer or so had already been tracked, but the remaining 6 km had to be painstakingly broken. We took turns breaking trail every 5 or 10 minutes.  It ended up taking 5.5 hours to reach the top of the tree line.

Meghan and Etienne, breaking trail through the fresh snow. [Photo: Alex Mischler]

Once at tree line, we made a group decision to stop for the night and make camp. 4 of us were sleeping in tents, and the other 2 people were making their own quinzees.  The powdery snow made it a little more difficult to make a quinzee and a camp kitchen, but Joel's quinzee-making expertise prevailed.

Tomoko, Meghan, and Joel, hard at work making quinzees. [Photo: Marko Marjanovic]
Darkness fell around 4pm, and we started to cook dinner. Etienne and Alex cooked up dessert: mulled wine and flambé bananas (with no shortage of rum for the flambé).

Etienne cooking up a storm. [Photo: Alex Mischler]
After we stuffed ourselves, we made sure to at least stay up until 9pm before heading to bed.

At 10:30pm, the storm started.

It first sounded like a plane was about to land. It came thundering in, closer and closer to camp, and then the tent shook wildly with a sudden blast of wind.  Seconds later, it was perfectly calm again.  Then it happened twice more. Something was coming, a storm was brewing.

The people in the quinzees didn't notice the wind all night.  The people in the tents thought the world was about to end.

Once the wind started, it didn't stop all night.  A few of us got up (don't mistake this for woke up, as we didn't sleep all night) and reinforced the tents and built snow walls for protection.  The gusts of wind were so strong that it knocked you right down to the ground. Later, we looked up the Haines Junction weather for the past 24 hours: winds gusting up to 83 km/h, and that was down below tree line.

In the morning when the winds had finally died down. [Photo: Marko Marjanovic]
After 11 sleepless hours, the wind finally died down at 9am. Some of the tent poles were bent, but that was the only real damage.  The tenters had to explain to the quinzee-ers why the kitchen tarp was down - they didn't even hear the wind all night. Buggers!

We cooked breakfast and started heading down the trail. However, the 40cm of fresh snow had been completely blown away during the night, and only dirt and grass remained on the upper part of the trail.

Where did all that snow go? [Photo: Marko Marjanovic]
It was unbelievable to see the trail, which was so deep the day before, disappear almost completely. We all made it back to the parking lot in about 2 hours. After a lunch stop in Haines Junction, we headed back to Whitehorse to catch up on some sleep.