It hadn't been a large slide - maybe enough to bury us to our waists - but it was warning enough of the deteriorating avalanche conditions that would force us to be even more cautious across the large steep slopes that lay along our route for the final two weeks of our four week traverse. Then, as though to calm our nerves with a remarkable show of survival, a ptarmigan burst up from the fresh avalanche debris and landed beside Leanne, clucking madly about the turbulent ride while it preened its white feathers back into place.
Our route had travelled spectacular country: the remote and seldom visited north-west corner of Jasper National Park, behind the imposing northeast face of the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies (Mt. Robson), through burned and green forests, over high passes and cols, and along undulating open ridges. In places, it was as though we were following a long forgotten trade route, a place where the tops of sharp peaks and ridges were pushed flat by the hard heel of a great landscape architect, an oasis for passage amid the chaos of mountains. Craggy limestone cliffs towered above us to the east and west, snagging clouds around their sharp peaks while the sun fought its way through to our seemingly endless seam of rounded ridges and gentle bowls sculpted into sensual curving lines by a winter of snow and wind. It was hard not to think that it might last forever.
With 10 days left, our progress ground down to a frustrating crawl. Rugged mountains pushed us off the Divide and into a tiring rhythm of climbing high passes only to descend into low valleys choked with vegetation and hidden cliffs and canyons. Thick vertical mats of young spruce trees, fallen logs, deep tree wells and open creeks created a maze that slowed travel to less than 1 km per hour and, at times, had us so disoriented that we navigated in the forest by compass. Wet storms swept through the mountains, the snow soaked through packs, coats and pants on contact, and accumulated into a wet, 50cm-thick trail-breaking nightmare on the ground. One night, lying exhausted in the soggy tent with burning hip flexors and shin splints, we pulled out the map to track our progress that day. A hilarious 5 km.
Despite some of the hardships, there was little reason for us not to be in good spirits. No one was sick or injured, and we were, by all measures, in the wild heart of North America. Fresh wolverine tracks crossed our path on all but five of the 28 days on our trip. In places, we saw where mountain caribou had grasped and gently pulled the black, beard-like lichens off the trees. On nineteen of the nights, a boreal owl called us to sleep, a fisher and numerous martens were seen bounding through the forest, and on the last day of the trip, out of the mountains and into the foothills, we spooked our first grizzly bear of the year.
Twenty of the 28 days skiing were in protected areas (Jasper National Park, Mt. Robson Provincial Park, Willmore Wilderness Area, Kakwa and Monkman Provincial Parks) and in all our time out, we encountered only one group of people - more than 100 snowmobilers that had descended on Kakwa Lake to celebrate Easter weekend.
"You skied from where?" was the incredulous response when we told our story. "In more than 25 years of sledding in this area, I ain't ever seen a skier", exclaimed a stunned leader of the group. We unwittingly became the center of attraction in the area that weekend and were fed a greasy breakfast, moose steaks wrapped in Wonder Bread, beer, and cinnamon whiskey (most, but not all of which, were welcomed by our energy-starved bodies). We're now back home, busy preparing for the next set of presentations to start in early June, drying food, mapping and fund raising for the final 10 week push to the Yukon. Meetings with various outfitters up north have been helpful in determining our route hiking north this summer but the stories and pictures of river crossings (horses up to their necks in murky, glacial fed rivers) are quite intimidating.
The media / awareness campaign began anew with the hike on March 15, 1999, and the good news is that not only do the media ahead of us appear to be aware of the hike and the initiative, but they seem to be waiting for us with anticipation! Our March 15 news release spawned a Canadian Press wire story that was picked up by the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Halifax daily paper, the Ottawa Citizen, Edmonton Journal, Calgary Herald and Vancouver Province. These are only the major papers that we have been told about or obtained articles from.
Equinox Magazine ran a short follow-up article in the February/March 1999 issue. The Christian Science Monitor (US) and Cool Wire magazine are expected to run articles shortly, and, watch for a feature article on Y2Y and the Hike in the June issue of Audubon Magazine - a US magazine with a reported distribution of 2 million!
Articles have also appeared in the Jasper Booster, Valemount Sentinel, Canmore Leader (2 articles), Banff Crag and Canyon (2 articles), The Northerner (Ft. St. John), Chetwynd Echo, Grande Prairie Tribune, Dawson Creek Mirror, Peace River Block News, Tumbler Ridge Community Connections and Whitehorse Star.
Interviews have been broadcast on VCTV Valemount, CBC Radio (Prince George), CBC Radio (Calgary/Edmonton), CBC Whitehorse, Elk Valley Radio (Cranbrook), Bow Valley FM Radio, 97.7 Sun FM (Grande Prairie), Country Radio (Grande Prairie), CKNL Radio (Fort St. John & Dawson Creek).
With a bit of luck, this is just the first round of media exposure for this second leg of the hike, as we gear up for the first set of presentations in Grande Cache, Grande Prairie, Dawson Creek, Tumbler Ridge, Chetwynd, Moberly Lake, Hudson's Hope and Fort St. John in early June; as we gear up for the final crazy 900 km of the hike, and then the remaining 20 presentations from Whitehorse down to Vancouver and back home.
We'll drop another note your way in early June, just before we leave.
Karsten Heuer & Leanne Allison (hikers)
For more information, please contact Erica Heuer (publicist) at firstname.lastname@example.org or (403) 540-6446.