This sucks. It was just one of those moments: your mind melted, your body at its limit, and you know it’s about to get a whole lot worse. I was less than a week into a 21-day ski expedition with six friends on the super-remote Dusty Glacier deep in the Yukon and was stuck in the middle of the most heinous snowstorm I had ever experienced.
It had snowed over three feet in the last 48 hours; hurricane force winds blasted our camp from all sides day and night. Crawling out of my tent shortly after 9 A.M., I was treated to a sight that I was simply not ready for. Our mess tent, containing all our cooking supplies and food, was nowhere to be seen. Last night, the blue pyramid had stood a mere 10 feet away from where I zipped up my sleeping bag for the night, and now it was gone, torn to shreds and buried under a snowdrift the size of a small house. This was the kind of thing nightmares were made of.
Prepping gear for another bluebird day full of huge lines. Max Ritter photo.
Fast-forward 10 hours. We were warm, eating chicken burritos, and taking some much-needed pulls from a bottle of tequila someone had thoughtfully packed for emergency situations. For the better part of the day, we clawed deep into energy reserves none of us knew we had to dig out a 10-by-10-foot snowcave that would serve as our home for the rest of the trip. It came complete with seating for six, a huge cooking shelf, and enough of water dripping from the ceiling to drive even the most level-headed among us to the brink of insanity.
Truth be told, the six of us did not spend the entire three weeks living in a hole on the glacier, though it sure felt like it on some days. It was a side of expedition life that is seldom seen, much less talked about, yet it’s the part that truly hurts the most. The storm days were a true test of mental fortitude: coping with boredom, claustrophobia, and the smell of each other’s farts. Though once the skies cleared, it was all systems go, climbing and skiing the largest, steepest, and scariest lines any of us had ever laid eyes upon. The stoke somehow pervaded.
Ripping first descents down endless couloirs turned into an everyday activity. Max Ritter photo.
The journey began after a long and arduous journey from Boulder, CO via Vancouver’s finest sushi bars, we made it to the airstrip at Kluane Lake in the middle of May. The lake was still completely frozen, and proved to be the setting for one of the most remarkable camping experiences of our lives. At that point in the year, the sun barely dips below the horizon, bathing the still-frozen border peaks of Kluane National Park in a dreamy half-light even at the wee hours of the morning. Staring at this through the tent flap from the airstrip a few hours before we flew off into the unknown was an experience we wouldn’t soon forget.
A wise man once said: "what comes down must go up." Max Ritter photo.
A human-powered basecamp-style expedition comes with its advantages, complete with a unique set of challenges. The only mechanized help we had was the 3-seater ski plane that ferried us out onto the glacier. From there, we were on our own. Luckily, using the ski plane meant we could set up a heavy basecamp, sharing 700 pounds of food and gear between the six of us. That meant we could forego the freeze-dried meals in favor of slightly hardier rations, bring plenty of extra layers, and best of all, not have to move any of it ourselves. However, once the plane left our only contact to the outside world was a satellite phone that only sort of worked. There were no real maps of the area, only printouts from online satellite imagery. Many of the peaks had never been climbed before, and none had an “easy” route to the top.
Whats the only thing better than an unclimbed peak? An unskied one. Heading off into the unknown. Max Ritter photo.
Once on the glacier, we had 21 days to explore the unskied and mostly unclimbed peaks that surrounded us. Of course, they were much bigger than any of us truly anticipated. Staring at 5,000+ feet of vert rising up from the flat glacier was a humbling sight. But that’s what we came out here for. It was our own Shangri-La.
We climbed and skied our hearts out, doing our best to capture the best footage we could along the way. Batteries died, cameras failed, drones crashed, but we came home with memories we will never forget and an even stronger sense of one thing: we love this shit.
#ferdaboyz. Max Ritter photo.
Thanks to Drew Herder for editing the short film, and for the rest of the Burger Boyz (Sean Fearon, Tom Kvilhaug, Drew Layman, Elliot Levey and Luke Worley) for staying sane throughout our three weeks together on the glacier. Stay tuned for more.