“We created this traverse in the hopes of experiencing something so immense, so incredible, so epic that it would change our lives forever.”
In January 2017, Tania and Martina Halik began their Coast Mountain Epic, a ski traverse of BC’s Coast Mountains. Their 5.5-month adventure took them through harsh icefields, across sweeping river valleys, into blizzards and whiteout storms, wading through frigid waters and ultimately, from Squamish, BC to Skagway, Alaska. Now, Martina recounts for MEC how “an old lady and her asthmatic daughter” (as she puts it) skied further than they ever had before.
It all started with a boring plane ride to Denver for a week of work and the nagging knowledge that my friends and family were off on exciting summer adventures. I wanted an expedition of my own. And not just a short one, an epic one. One so long and difficult I could barely comprehend it without feeling a combined shiver of fear and exhilaration. There it was: ski traverse BC’s entire Coast Mountain range.
We spent a year and a half planning; poring over maps and Google Earth, training, cajoling potential sponsors and dehydrating insane amounts of food. Finally, in January 2017, we were ready to take our first step off Brohm Ridge in Squamish towards Skagway, Alaska.
By “we” I mean me and my Mum. I can hear the collective gasp, “What?! With your mother? A 6-month long ski traverse of the Coast Mountains? Isn’t she like, 60?” To which I say, “Yes and yes.” Sure, we aren’t exactly the energy drink-chugging, diehard athletic types you’d expect to take on such an epic suffer fest, but we had a dream and a willingness to try anyway. Arthritis and asthma and society’s preconceived gender notions be damned.
Turns out three days traversing from Squamish to Whistler was just daunting enough to open our eyes to the true scope of the trip, break some gear and retreat back to North Vancouver to rally. We hit up MEC for some replacement parts, ate our last meal in civilization, hitched up our pants and off we went.
It would be 47 more days to Bella Coola. Forty-seven days of learning, close calls, hunger, and cold and suffering. But 47 days of the most remarkable and beautiful moments imaginable; magical ice caves and full moons over remote icefields and dancing powder turns down 2000m (3600ft.) of vertical.
There were the unfound food caches, the alder-choked river valleys, the unrelenting, soul-crushing, gear-snapping cold. For a while, there was a constant wish to give up and go home. To go sit in a hot tub, eat non-stop and never, ever, venture onto another icefield. But, sadly there was no “beam me up Scotty” badge. We were hundreds of kilometres from the nearest road.
All the while, my Mum just plowed into the alders with a smile on her face, looking at all the pretty snowflakes and little chickadees tweeting their mirth over our struggle. The woman is goddamn unbreakable.
Bella Coola was only a third of the way. That meant two-thirds of mountains, valleys, glaciers and river crossings to go. We faced unrelenting precipitation almost the entire way, not to mention extreme avalanche hazards, constant route changes and almost impossible logistics. On the other hand, there was a near endless opportunity for ingenuity and creative thinking under pressure. We grew and learned and formed new ways of thinking and surviving. We never gave up.
Spring came and the snowpack started disappearing rapidly. We decided to skip some sections and alter our route. In the midst of it all, almost without us really realizing, something had changed. It was easier. Yes, spring was here and weeks of -25°C weather were gone, yet we still faced big storms and avalanches, crevasses, bushwhacking, and now bears too. The difference was in the way we dealt with it – how we now employed the hard lessons we had learned over the last few months – we were strong, both physically and mentally. Traversing had become our life. I no longer thought of quitting. For the first time, I began to believe Skagway could be a possibility.
Weeks turned into months. We crossed icefields bigger than I’d ever imagined. We saw climate change first-hand, staring with disbelief at glaciers that had retreated over a kilometre in a single year. Our maps and aerial photos were almost useless. We saw landscapes so stunningly beautiful it made my Mum speechless. With tears in her eyes, she looked out at a never-ending skyline of peaks and icefalls.
It stormed and it snowed and it rained and sleeted. Sometimes the sun baked us and we frolicked around in sequined tutus developing really weird tan lines. A day before the summer solstice, in the semi-twilight of a calm Alaskan summer night, we took our last steps off the mountain into Skagway.
Mostly what I felt then was relief, but there was more emotion mixed in there. As the full weight of it set in I started to cry. The mountains had unequivocally changed me. The only person not crying, of course, was Mum. For her, I think, it was just another trip.
In June 2017, Tania and Martina Halik completed a ski traverse of BC’s Coast Mountain range. MEC was proud to support them with an expedition grant, as well as the Optimus Nova+ Stove, backcountry pot with integrated heat exchanger, and a Petzl Tikkina Headlamp that stood up to -30°C temperatures. Way to go Martina and Tania!