“Jan, I think I could use that rope now!”
Those were the only words I could muster to my guide at that particular moment as fear comfortably parked itself within me. Perched 20 metres up a 100-metre rocky wall on the north side of Mount Cokely, wedged in between the Arrowsmith massif and the final destination of our long day, Cokely’s Rosseau Route, my knees started to wobble.
Frozen in place, I tried not to think of the consequences of my ski boot slipping from its precarious purchase while Jan prepared the line.
My hands began to sweat as they searched for better handholds, and I dared not look down – a person with a fear of heights knows better than to look down from a high vantage point.
Despite my immediate involuntary paralyzation, I grinned a little grin and thought ‘today is shaping up to be an awesome adventure.’
At 5:30 a.m. a couple of Saturdays ago, I met Jan, our Island Alpine Guides guru (www.islandalpineguides.com), George, president of a millwork and lumber company, and Wayne, a neurologist from the Victoria area, at the Whiskey Creek gas station.
We had a single goal that sun-drenched Saturday: to ski the last of the spring lines on the 1,819-metre Mount Arrowsmith.
I’d driven past Arrowsmith dozens of times, each time gazing at its impressive profile and the many lines between the mountain’s ‘teeth’ to ski.
With our skis attached to our packs for the steep climb up the Saddle Route, I was elated to finally have the opportunity, thanks largely to Jan’s services.
As we cleared the forest of the Saddle Route and gained the upper alpine, my eagerness grew. My head on a swivel and my jaw on the ground, I gawked at the stunning scenery that surrounded us. Before us was Arrowsmith’s stunning massif, its spine like that of a stegosaurus, offering several choices of steeps to ski.
To our east was Georgia Strait, and the Pacific Ocean to our west. The spine of the Coastal Mountains arced to the northwest, and peaks from the Island’s Insular range dotted the foreground.
“Where else can you see this?” I offered.
Everyone nodded their approval. I took the silent responses as anticipation for the next leg of our adventure – skiing Arrowsmith.
We traversed below the stegosaurus’s spine until we arrived at our chosen route, one where the hot sun hadn’t turned the surface to a dangerous watery slush. That point was driven home as we began to ascend again – a single ball of snow rolled off a cornice in a chute on a nearby aspect, landed in the slop, and triggered an oozing wet slide that moved like a lava flow over the tracks we had just set.
“We should keep going,” said Jan. “Our window is closing.”
We reached our first goal – a three-foot wide, 15-foot long platform on a knife edge – geared up and dropped in to our line. Pure heaven.
After admiring each other’s turns, we climbed back up to the saddle and opened our lunch bags.
That’s when someone suggested we climb the wall up to Cokely.
After preparing the rope, Jan clipped me in, and expertly guided me up the wall. Problem solved.
Like mountain goats, Wayne and George scrambled up without a second thought.
Relieved to have reached the top, we completed a short hike to the top of Rosseau Route and skied some sublime spring snow down to the logging road that led to George’s truck.
The nine-hour tour was a reminder of this stunning place we have chosen to live. Sure, Islanders have some challenges to deal with, but sitting perched on a mountainside surrounded by magnificent beauty highlighted, at least for me, how lucky we are to be here, and how beneficial it is to occasionally remove yourself from the numbing daily grind and visit places like Arrowsmith and others that make Vancouver Island special.