The Berg Lake Trail and I are good friends. After six visits, in three months, through three seasons, I have discovered something on the five hour drive east chasing Edmonton signs home along Highway 16.
I talk about it often, read about it regularly, base every single waking decision I make on a process of some kind, and here I am, without process. It’s not that I don’t trust it anymore, I’ve simply had a couple of large projects building over a few years pulled out from underneath me. In relatively recent succession. For the vastly different reasons of a global pandemic, and white male privilege — perhaps not so vastly different.
My trust in the process has simply taken a hit.
My entire system of documenting trust in the process leading to success of all kinds during journeys in running has fallen ill to the pandemic. It’s no wonder my trust is low; Reinforcement of the process simply isn’t filling my days chasing runners around the country.
This is where the twenty-some inches of snow, fifteen kilometres deep, a mile up on the Berg Lake Trail at the base of Yexyexéscen in Mount Robson Provincial Park, BC comes in. Part of my draw to explore this area in the way I have, is to deliver that endorphin hit connecting the process to the high.
I message a friend upon returning and mention my destination goal not being reached. When discussing my adventures with others, I often use my goals as a frame of reference — a change is needed here. But internally when planning such adventures, the destination is never a goal. The goal is a physically taxing adventure that rewards process, even when the destination is not reached.
In fact, many of the best rewards come specifically because a destination is not reached.
Being on the Berg Lake Trail practicing the process of planning, executing, pivoting, and completing an adventure is the destination for me. Simply having the fortune to explore the Yexyexéscen area this summer, fall, and now winter is all I am after. What comes of it I have no idea, but I am certain I have to continue to visit the area.
— Me to Mario
We both know it's not about the destination. It was an incredible three days of process.
Three days and two nights of camping, hiking, first time snowshoeing, and just enough mountaineering to turn me around three kilometres from my goal, after sixteen kilometres and all the work behind me … is not a failure. This trip is a total success.
Two weeks after a shortened one night cold footed trip up the Berg Lake Trail in winter, I make it nine kilometres further, half a kilometre higher up, and enjoy three glorious days/two nights of a mostly winter wonderland.
The process is the destination.
Here is how it goes down.
It is outright criminal where we as humans are capable of going with the gear we have today. Aside from food, and jackets I forgot to set out, this is all I strap to my back as I head up.
- Bula Team Yukon 2019 Canada Winter Games toque
- Marmot Shell — Gore-Tex PACLITE
- Helly Hansen Sirdal Hooded — perfect fit for wide shoulder folk
- Arc’Teryx Test Team long sleeve — polyester
- Tracksmith Brighton Baselayer — merino
- Team Saskatchewan mitts / Black Diamond gloves / Nike Running gloves
- 3 x November Project buffs & microfibre towel
- SmartWool PHD Thermal Pant — merino
- Lululemon tights — light basic tight
- Sugoi Midzero Wind Boxer — merino
- Bombas / Stance / SmartWool — varying weights
- Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters
- Sorel Boots — desperately need proper footwear
Effectively, the Tracksmith, Arc’Teryx, Sugoi, and Lululemon pieces don’t leave my body. As soon as I stop for camp, the GoreTex and insulating layers go on with the SmartWool merino pants over tights and that amazing Team Yukon toque. I also swap out travel socks for dry camp sock combo of the Bombas/Alpaca with new travel socks for each day.
There is room for improvement in this setup but it’s pieced together with what I have and does the trick. Note, I did not omit my Ciele SKLBeanie – Classic – Whitaker, I simply forgot it. This is why you bring multiple buffs, done ears covered while moving. Also, I’m such a fool sometimes … it’s comical.
- Deuter Futura Vario 50 + 10L pack
- MSR Hubba Hubba — fly & footprint
- Rab Women’s Neutrino 400 bag — I’m a leg up sleeper
- Nemo Tensor Ultralight — so small
- Louis Garneau Highridge 930 snowshoes — Sportchek special (Blizzard III)
- Hillsound Trail Crampon — 1″
- MSR TrailShot filter — packed with sleeping bag to keep un-frozen
- 3 x 500ml, 2 x 250ml Hydrapak flasks
- MSR Pocket Rocket stove / MSR gas / GSI Percolator
- Princeton Tec Apex — 4 x AA monster I need to size down
- Cotton Carrier Skout — camera chest strap
- Canon 5D MK4 / 14mm / 35mm / 135mm / 580EX
- A few camera accessories
I am relatively minimal with hardware and rely on pre-made pancakes, pretzel bun sandwiches, bars, rehydrate meal packs, and Super Nibs for food, so the tiny Pocket Rocket stove and perc is all I need for food tools. The perc doubles as my pot to boil/warm water. My Deuter bag is overkill and I could easily size down to a much lighter 45L for a trip like this thanks to the absolutely tiny Nemo air mattress and Rab Neutrino 400 bag. They pack SMALL.
I don’t need a tent for this trip, I can tighten the fly right down to the ground and pile snow up around the bottom if needed to block wind, and there are no bugs or little critters to concern myself with a net. There are also cooking shelters at most campgrounds on the trail. It’s open air or opener air sleeping in the cold. I plan on setting up on picnic tables each night.
My medical kit is missing from the photo, but is effectively 1/3 of what you have in your medicine cabinet plus a few extras specific for outdoors repair. I also checked my bear spray and it had expired so I picked some up in Hinton on the way out. Harder to find than I thought in Hinton. Huh. Bears are not my concern, but … bear spray lets that part of my brain feel safe should a cougar be interested in me. It’s not, but my perception of safety is enough to pack it within reach at all times.
It’s wild this is all I take. Absolutely wild that this is all I need for 3 days of -10C winter snow globe fun in.
Ready to Roll
At the trailhead it’s obvious snowshoes are still not required so it’s boots & crampons to kick things off headed up the easy 7KMs to Kinney Lake where I camped last trip.
I’m on a mission power hiking up to Kinney, take no photos, and stop even less. This part of the hike, as beautiful as it is, needs to be behind me as fast as possible because I don’t really know what is ahead of me past Kinney Lake. It’s a climb, and I have no idea what conditions are like. Lucky enough, it quickly becomes a game as a single set of tracks head out from Kinney. I am quickly chasing the only human that has headed this way in a while…I bet I surprise them.
The climb up to White Falls is still just crampon SZN with very little snow on the terrain, as I suspected, but the human footsteps keep going. I’m now wondering if I can catch them before it gets dark and I have to camp. As I cross the bridge to Whitehorn Campground — my goal for the first night with only a couple hours of daylight from my 2pm start — I continue on in chase of foot prints.
It doesn’t last long as I pass through camp, but find my prey a few sites down. A gentleman from Prince George on a quick rip up the Berg Lake Trail is headed back down after confirming it is most definitely snowshoe SZN after Whitehorn. With that info, this is camp for the night with a shelter and a stove if needed, after a brisk 2:27:13 elapsed 10.31km hike with 405m of ascent.
It is so calm when I get set up at Whitehorn under the shelter that I decide to take my footprint/mattress/sleeping bag out to the picnic table to sleep on. If the wind kicks up or snow starts to dump, I’m a quick exit to the safety of the cooking shelter so I go for it and am rewarded with an absolute dream of a sleep and a beautiful wall of rock for a view in the morning.
Coffee goes on, water is warmed and filtered (the TrailShot can’t be frozen), I stuff my feed hole with pre-made Kodiak Cakes sandwiching a metric ton of peanut butter/chocolate hazelnut spread, re-pack my bag, and I am off once again — the process. I sleep so well that I get a later start than I want, but I’m still in decent shape.
I also figure that since I am going through the Valley of a Thousand falls, I should at least manage some photos of the half frozen natural shapes in every direction.
Emperor Campground isn’t actually close to Emperor Falls but the Robson River that feeds the falls from Berg lake is moving quickly past camp for a low rush of water in the background at a steady tone. As I make my way through the Emperor Falls campground, I also hear an increasingly loud, variable tone high above. This doesn’t sound good.
As I exit the tree line that protects all the terrain I have covered thus far, I enter an entirely different world. The rock slide that runs out to Berg Lake has a great path worn into the 45 degree slope of loose rock…in three seasons. With what I assume to be a 60cm snow base, and increasingly blowing snow, that path is a thread in the distance well above where I am standing.
Shit’s about to get interesting so the GoreTex and big mitts come out. I’m going to give it a go.
At one point I slip on the crest of the drift and roll down the side, I know I need to stop sliding and get a pole handle stuck into something slowing just enough to get a snowshoe to grab. Yup, these 6 ft drifts are endless after climbing two, and after hunkering down behind a rock for partial cover from the gale force wind, it takes but a minute or two for my tired mind to take inventory and make smart choices.
There is no photo or video during this time, another sign my mind is focused on calculating and the work at hand. A serious situation, but not necessarily dangerous.
I turn around, find what is left of my fading footprints, and make it — exhausted — back to Emperor Falls Campground for the night. The destination is the process, not necessarily the porch of the Berg Lake shelter, and that little output was a LOT of process.
This will do.
Emperor Falls Campground
Clearing the picnic table makes it obvious we have a solid 60cm (24″) base up here with two if not three crust layers evenly spaced. It is now apparent that rock slide snowpack isn’t stable and likely for the best I turned where I did. The wind is making its way a little lower through the trees, and snow is starting to dump, so I setup the fly tonight for yet another tidy little camp setup on a picnic table.
Pro tip if you are working with wet boots, due to sweating or moisture from external sources, they will freeze over night in sub zero temperatures. Science. To soften frozen boots, heat water — my Hydrapak SoftFlasks rated to 60C — and use your handy flasks as heaters to get them soft enough to put back on. I believe this photo is from the morning and those are my coffee flasks. One could do this a couple times to possibly dry boots out if needed. They got pretty toasty after twenty minutes with two flasks in each.
One note I want to make about the Nemo Nemisis Ultralight mattress. With just the MSR footprint between a thin layer of ice on the top of the picnic table, and the mattress acting as insulator between my body heat and the ice, there is VERY LITTLE transfer to the picnic table resulting in minimal moisture between the two.
After methodically putting this kit together over four hiking/camping trips up here, two in the summer and two in the winter, I can confidently say my process has resulted in a setup I trust down to -15C overnight, in damn near any conditions. A snowshoe upgrade would be necessary to go further on this trip, and one I am likely never going to afford.
After another glorious sleep up here in isolation, I head some 15kms back and about 1km down to the trailhead. Luckily for me, downhill in 60cms of snow with snowshoes is all kinds of fun. I have the time of my life bounding above the top of the snow and make it back to my car in just under four hours elapsed with stops for snacks.
Didn’t get to Berg Lake.
Didn’t even see Yexyexéscen.
But I learned a lot. Went further than before. Enjoyed every single hard earned breath along the way. And have been rewarded with another weekend of instilling the life long lesson that trusting in the process is all we can do. This setup and knowledge is a tangible result.
Was it the goal? Did I know I was going to arrive here when I ran up to Berg lake with some friends three months ago, simply letting my curiosity take over from there?
No bloody way. But trusting in the process of exploring my curiosity — managing forty years of disruptive nonsense in my mind — is all I have right now. And look where it’s led.
Back to it.