Ever wonder how the guides at Great Canadian unwind at the end of the season? Perhaps some time off somewhere warm, staying at home for some peace and quiet, a record breaking 36 day ski traverse…
That last option may sound ambitious, but not for our Maddy. Less than a week after she finished guiding, she found herself and three friends at Kootenay Pass. Their plan was to complete the first ever Selkirk Traverse. This would take them more than 500 km (310 miles) through some of North America’s toughest backcountry terrain. It took 36 days, many broken skis, midnight wake up calls and countless treacherous river crossings but the team made it home safe and sound on May 8, 2016. We caught up with Madeleine to find out more about her adventure:
How does it feel being home?
It feels good but kind of strange. It’s a lot to digest, and you can re-enter into life in the [Columbia] Valley but you’re still processing this huge experience.
Where did the idea to do this come from?
About 5 years ago, my friend Stephen and I were driving up to Mt. Logan for a ski trip, which is about a 40 hour drive. We were bored and decided to start making adventure “to-do” lists. Oddly enough both of us had this dream of skiing the entire Selkirks. Then last year we were skiing together and Stephen said “Let’s do that trip this spring!” So we started planning, getting all the food caches ready, getting our route more specified and then we realized maybe it will just be the two of us! Like, who else would want to do this?! But then we started putting the word out to people and we found three others who were really interested and had big trip experience.
The team at Rogers Pass. Madeleine on the far right.
How did you prepare mentally for this sort of trip?
Well, I was thinking about the trip all the time and checking conditions constantly. Luckily I was working in the Selkirks for most of the season. What was super cool was the last couple days I was guiding at Great Canadian, we happened to be skiing in some of the areas along our route. That gave me an amazing vantage point of the route we were going to take.
What was your most challenging moment?
We had some pretty insane river crossings. As skiers and not white-water rafters, we were all pretty nervous about the rivers. Luckily there were trees that we could use to cross, but they were just big enough that you could walk on them, but narrow enough that it was absolutely terrifying. We had to go one at a time, so there was no way to protect each other. Those were the real mental cruxes of the trip, when you have no other option and you just have to dig super deep to get it done.
Do not fall in!
Also at one point, we were south of Battle Abbey and we got caught on this huge slope with a peak that was shedding a lot of loose snow over top of us. It was a 20 minute window where we just raced as fast as we could across this bench and slides were coming down and covering the tracks right behind us. So right after that we ended up switching our sleep schedule to wake up at midnight and only travel in the wee hours of the morning.
What was your favourite moment?
Probably the alpine camps, where we got beautiful views and incredible sunsets overlooking the Monashees and the Selkirks and the Purcells. Sleeping out in the open under the stars and seeing shooting stars, that’s always my favourite for sure. Another cool thing was when we had to do our midnight wake-ups, it was during the full moon so those couple of nights we got to see both the moon set and the sun rise at the same time. That was pretty special to see.
How did you feel when you reached the end?
We were all just kind of stunned and wide eyed, not believing that it was over. When we finished we were waiting for my Dad to pick us up from the CMH Monashee Lodge. Then we all piled into my dad’s truck and drove into Revelstoke and watched the mountain ranges go by so quickly that had just taken us so long to cross.
What does it mean to you to have done this?
I think it’s amazing to be able to have a dream that seems a little bit ‘out there’, but having the right mix
of people and opportunities and conditions so that it can come true. You can make it happen if you are willing to accept support.
What are your plans now?
We finished this trip so early so I have some time to rest. When we did the calculations of distance we figured it would take us about 8 1/2 weeks, and then it turned into 5. I’ll be working at Outward Bound running a youth backpacking course, then I’m really looking forward to planning more adventures!
A trip like this one takes a lot of planning.
Sticks on sticks to get to the other side.
Some casualties along the way.
We have all made friends with a tree well at some point.
Thanks to Douglas Noblet for the epic photos of the trip! Click here to see more of the adventure.