11/04/2016

PT IV

 

The walkers departed in a group to work through the challenge of turning all the rigs around that they had left parked below, while the rest of us planned the best course of action for our descent. We busted out the shovels and broke notches into the snow that revealed the dirt surface below. This would allow some braking traction as we started the steepest initial part of the descent, in an effort to maintain control and not lock up the brakes. A mix of anticipation and nervousness filled the air. The consequences were quite dire if the vehicle were to lose control and slide down the track – trees on driver’s left, and mountain’s edge to the right. 

There are usually a small handful of moments on these outings that define the trip. Moments that become memories and stories to tell our friends as we grow older and cherish our life’s experiences. This was definitely one of those moments and even the most experienced drivers could not deny the magnitude of this obstacle. Mark was the first to descend in his low and wide 3rd Gen 4Runner. I observed him scrubbing speed just enough to not lock up the brakes. He did it with great finesse but every few feet we witnessed the tail of his rig getting excited and stepping to the side. Like a real pro he jabbed the gas pedal to catch the wheel speed up to that of gravity’s request, which would allow him to again gain control. Within a couple dozen seconds (seconds that felt like minutes) he was out of sight, around the next switchback. His example only proved that it was quickly getting sketchy. We shovelled a bit more as my old man expressed his nervousness and lack of experience with these kind of maneuvers. We engaged in a technical discussion and I urged him to remain calm at all costs. “You'rebetter to go too fast down the hill and let your gearing do the work, than to panic and hold the brakes. It’s just like sledding when you were a kid”, I said in jest. My brother hiked up at that very moment. Chase is a nurse who works with an outreach association who deals with addicts and the homeless population on the streets of Calgary. His experience and leadership in tense and critical situations was welcomed at that moment and he quickly volunteered to coach my father down. Chase would remainon the edge of the trail out of harm’s way as he walked alongside our father in his 02’ Tacoma. Not being able to hear their conversation, I could only imagine the tension that was there. With only a few ‘butt-pucker moments’ they had successfully made it through the hardest part and were continuing on. I was up next. Seeing my Dad slip around a little, did not help my confidence but I still havea good handle on the driving dynamics in thesetypes of situations. Not to mention, this is where the lower gearing really shines! I kept the truck in Low and modulated the brakes. After doing a bite-test, I quickly found the limits of my traction. Luckily for me, the 4.56 Nitro gears allowed for the perfect wheel speedand enabled enough traction without going rogue. I was able to make the descent with very minimal braking effort and Doug tracked down the mountain perfectly. Back on the radio behind me, I could hear things getting a little dicey as one of the factory geared 4Runner slipped its way down. Adam, on his first Colossal trip this year, handled the adversity like a pro and kept his cool. He managed to navigate his near-new 5th Gen down the slope without incident. Dave from Untitled Offroad was the last to make the decent with arguably the worst tires for the snow out of us all. He handled the situation with his usual, boss-like grace, steering the big cruiser downwards. Now in pitch darkness we radioed down to chat with the group who had hiked up the trail. They were all turned around after some tricky trail maneuvers. We urged them to head down to the trailhead and then proceed into the location I had designated for tonight’s camp. They obliged andmade their way down at their own pace as our second group stayed within radio range and slowlycreeped our way back down the mountainside. My brother Chase, who had helped coach my father down now jumped in with me. We both looked at each other with a smile, happy that the tension in the previous hour had blown over without issue. These critical situations often teach us something valuable and worth remembering, but it had been a long day and we were ready for social hour. 

I rolled into camp with Adam (5th Gen t4r) and Dave (80-series). We were the last guys off the mountain. As I pulled into the large group spot my Baja Designs LED’s lit up the night and provided a good perspective of the camp site. I knew the site well, as my wife and I had stayed here previously in our own travels, but the rest of the group had only just seen it tonight for the first time. In the darkness it almost didn’t look like much but a clearing with some trees scattered around. I knew the best camp spots and gave some general direction to people on where to park for the optimum morning vista. We stacked our rigs up alongside one another and began to unfold camp on final time on this adventure.

That evening we sat back and put our feet up, it was like we could finally exhale. The day had built up to some tension in our objectives and what we had conquered. The rains had fled and left us with nothing but this gorgeous night under the stars, distracting us from the daily grind awaiting back home. The evening was still as we ate like the last supper and the sounds of our laughter emitted from around the fire as a bottle (or two) of Bourbon was passed around. 

I realized, as much as I/we love to hit epic terrain, scale massive mountains, and see some of the most remote wilderness Canada can offer, the fellowship and comradery is paramount. This trip, and the many before, have proven to be stomping grounds for excellent conversation, perspective, laughter, and wisdom. I have forged some of my greatest friendships through this “hobby” and the many nights spent around a warm campfire. This night was no different and we drifted late into the night with joyful remorse that tomorrow, we would pack up and head for home. 

I continue to learn that the uncontrollable is, in reality, the essence of adventure. The shortcomings are not shortcomings at all, but unique identifiers of the experience and memories that the journey will forever have imprinted in our minds. The unpredictability, the unknown, and the discovery are the sole reason why we’re out there. Another lesson learned and another adventure on the books, my mind is already wandering to Colossal 2017.