Monday, August 8, 2011

Running the Earl Grey Pass

Wow I don't really know where to start with this story. All I can say is; there are "Fun Adventures", and then there are "Tough but rewarding Adventures", and then there are "White Light Adventures"! This was the name of my Adventure racing team that I had through 12 glorious years of adventure racing from 1995-2007. The name was derived from trips that we've all encountered from time to time where the phrases "Shit Happens" or "And then it all fell a part" or in last weekend's case "It was all going so great"...
The Earl Grey Pass is a 63km trail that crosses the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy from Argenta in the West Kootenay's to 20km outside Panorama resort in the East Kootenay's. I knew it wasn't going to be a "quick" 63km, as the Earl Grey Pass Trail is deemed a wilderness trail, so I recruited my best adventure buddy Patrick from the coast who I was confident could handle anything I could throw at him.
We left the trail head in Argenta at 2:47am figuring that this was going to be a 17-20 hour day and not wanting to do too much in the dark at the tail end of the run. The first 2-3 hours of the run in the dark went by in a flash as we crossed a ragging Hamill Creek by cable car several times. It was actually a little daunting pulling yourself across the river in the pitch black while it raged below you by only a few feet.
The next 2 hours we started to cross many slide paths where the trail became non-existent in the 6-12 foot high walls of Slide Alder, Devils Club and an assortment of other shin ripping vegetation.
Then the trail became non-existent as this years blow down was an exceptional mess...
Couple that with a BC Parks map that I got online where it shows the trail on the wrong side of the river and that it had been rerouted several years back! Although we didn't know that you no longer have to cross the creek anymore, we found creative, but very dangerous ways of crossing it twice that we never had too...Actually 4 times, because we came back the same way :(
To make a long story short, we were forced to make the tough, but smart decision to turn back at 40km into the route because of the incredible amount of blow down. Not knowing how long it would take to reach the pass with no trail and the thought of getting caugh out up high where it was much colder at night made this decision painful, but easy.

One of the many cable car crossings

At 17 hours into the run, although 5 hours of that were spent at a snails pace bushwhacking, we eventually were forced to stop as it got dark as we were both exhausted and knew that finding the trail in the dark was just too much energy. Oh and I failed to mention we were essentially out of food with only a few things left to eat, but were needed for the rest of the run out. I was happy I threw a lighter into my pack as well as an emergency blanket which was graciously supplied by my friend Chris' mother- Thanks Barb!!! ...She actually sent it to me after hearing from her son about an adventure last summer that I froze in the mountains after going too light on a three day trip with only a down jacket, but no sleeping bag...

Although we only shared one bagel between the two of us for dinner, lying by the fire wrapped up in Pine bows in my foil blanket for 5 hours until day break was quite pleasant.

A lot of the trails were great running though

So in a nut shell, We ran 40km in, then 40km out back to the trail head, which is in the middle of nowhere, then another 15km to the HWY to hitch a ride back to Nelson...In total 95km of running and bush whacking.

The Bad:

  1. Not worth doing the trail until they clear it out again

  2. Using the wrong BC Parks map

  3. Must bring a bigger reserve of food next time

  4. Need some shin protectors

The good:

  1. Made amazing time to the back of the valley in 8 1/2 hours and were on a pace to finish in under 15hours

  2. Beautiful remote terrain

  3. Was finally able to put those boy scout survival skills to use

  4. Had a great running buddy who never complained when the shit hit the fan

  5. Looking forward to trying this unfinished business again next year!

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