Date: January 18 to January 22, 2020
Location: Eldorado Cabin, South Chilcotins
Distance: ~55 km, 3500 meters in 4 days
Partners: Dan, Eric, Alex, Jon, Nick, Dave, Brandon
Resources: Exploring the Coast Mountains on Skis, Tyax Adventures
Before the start of “high” season in late January, the privately operated Eldorado Cabin in the Chilcotins can be accessed by ski touring parties. Six of eight in this group had run the same trip last winter but this would be my first time and I looked forward to escaping the crowds of the coastal huts.
We drove up on a cold day after a series of storms had hammered the coast over the preceding week. The temperature dropped below -20 C on the long drive along Carpenter Lake from Lillooet to Goldbridge.
After a night in the one-of-a-kind accommodation of the Gold Dust Motel, we managed to start skinning a little before 10:00, pulling three pulks laden with backcountry essentials such as apples, a bunch of celery, and over 20 pounds of meat. While the ~11 km skin to the hut is tiring, I expected pulling the pulk to be more annoying than it was. Some engineering improvements to last year’s iteration helped them to slide a little more directly but there’s still room for improvement.
The hut itself is a straightforward backcountry cabin but there are a few parks beyond the elbow room afforded by private booking. Warmth is provided by a wood stove and sleeping bags and mattresses are provided as is a propane stove and oven. Dave took advantage of the oven and baked a few loaves of bread. Fresh bread with thick pats of butter were the go-to après-ski appetizer. After the initial cold day, temperatures hovered between -2 and -6 C for the rest of the week and we had no trouble staying warm. There is an additional wood-fired sauna building that we only used on one evening. Without a proper shower, I went to bed pretty sticky.
Unfortunately, the snowstorms that pounded the city seemed to bypass the Chilcotins. The snow graph provided by Tyax showed this year’s accumulation to be the lowest on records going back 25 years. A strong prevailing wind from the south scours the southern aspects down to bare rock and stiff wind slabs abounded. The picture below from the hut porch shows the wind effects above the treeline.
In the immediate vicinity of the hut the terrain is pretty complicated with many small rises, benches, and gullies. That means that the longest continuous ski pitches are limited to a couple hundred meters. The winds never really abated so higher objectives were out of the question meaning we skied the same short lines many times.
Some of our more successful skiing was on our third ski day where we found some well-spaced trees facing roughly NE situated due west of the hut. It was a bluebird day with strong solar radiation but the aspect saved the snow from getting too heavy. These slopes are actually visible from the outhouse at the hut. It’s possible to link turns from the top of the ridge all the way to the creek at the bottom but we managed to get caught in a thick band of forest at midlevel both runs which interrupted the flow.
Otherwise we had the most success on W/NW facing features off of the small peak SW of the hut. It’s a short 45 minute lap from door-to-door with about 200 meters of skiing. Overall we failed to get any peaks, any bottomless turns, nor any thigh-burning runs over 500 meters but we did get some nice views and many shorter laps.
The menu was unreal. Dan put together a shopping list and set of recipes and pretty much nailed the amounts so that everyone was well fed but we didn’t carry out too much extra. Fish stew, spaghetti bolognese, fajitas, and an outstanding chicken curry topped off our days while nine litres of wine and a few more of whisky fuelled the jam sessions. I’ve never planned a trip before with a group that has a mini-bass, mini-guitar, and electronic keyboard on the required equipment list. Given that everyone was fit, the extra load was handled without complaint.
The final morning we were packed up and skinning before 9:00 am. While we had been up at the hut (1900 meters) rain had fallen around Goldbridge and the ~15 cm of snow that had existed in the parking area when we left was reduced to near zero in spots. A final pack of the vehicles while some deer wandered on the road nearby and we were on our way home.