From the trailhead up to Snowbird Pass and back down to the trailhead. Each way is 28.55 KM by trail or 15 KM as the crow flies. 57.1 KM total with 2250 M of gain … that is 35.4 Miles & 7382 Ft.
Last week, a couple friends and I run up to Berg Lake Campground — our forty kilometre long run for the week. It’s my first date with Yexyexéscen — Yuh-hai-has-kun. European colonizers named Mount Robson. I’ve driven past enough times, possibly talked about the Mount Robson Marathon with passing knowledge, but in reality, know nothing about this area. I chuckle as I whisper to myself under my breath typing this out, “typical white man.”
I am quite enamoured to say the least.
Our turnaround point is the campground and beach at the north end of Berg Lake in the shadow of this giant. Standing at the edge of the translucent — yet creamy — turquoise green lake, surrounded by peaks and ridges, with glaciers, valleys, and rivers coursing through them like earths veins after an arms day. I feel the power of the land. The insignificance of my small frame swiftly moving through this endless space designed by forces my mind is too small to comprehend at a time too long ago to imagine. The vitamin D finds a gap in the clouds to reach us for just enough time to snack. In this moment, it happens.
I know what is next.
In all directions … possibilities. The explorer in me ignited. The curious historian of my soul that has been silent recently, begins to yammer. I want to cover great distances to explore this endless land, learning and understanding in the process who came before me … before us. Land cared for by the Secwepemc, but also north of Yexyexéscen, land shared by Sekani, and Sekéwtemc (Cree). To the west, Dakelh/Carrier People inhabit.
We trot to the trail after some photos of the stunning Berg Lake, turning back to the south west. I look up the worn path to the north east and can’t help but wonder …
— The curious trailrunner inside all of us
What is that way?
Six days later, I begin to find out.
I can’t find an FKT (Fastest Known Time) for the Berg Lake Trail from trailhead to campground to trailhead. There are only one way segments on Strava that don’t actually start at the trailhead, or go to Berg Lake Campground.
Needless to say, I can’t find a hint of an FKT for a full Snowbird Pass Route out and back. So I wanted to set an honest OKT (Only Known Time) — I in no way believe I am the first — for the full trailhead to pass and back.
This is the plan.
60.08KM later, some unnecessary scrambling on sketchy scree, a knee held together by a buff, and under hydrating. A seven hour honest attempt, turning into a nine hour make it out in decent shape type of day … but still perfect.
Incredible weather, clear views of Yexyexéscen (Mount Robson) much of the day, glaciers, waterfalls, mountain lakes, this route has it all. ALL OF IT.
A bonus is the nice mix of folks on the trail camping/hiking cheering me on — both out, and back — to make it feel like something special. Not just a solo effort that doesn’t go well.
Yexyexéscen (Mount Robson) is my new love affair.
We aren’t done dancing this year…
If the knee isn’t blowed completely up…
If the weather holds…
Nutrition / Gear List
I try to consume 500ml of fluid, and 300 calories per hour on runs like this. Maurten does the heavy caloric lifting, and I supplement with little bits of bars throughout (some protein bars on runs over 4-5 hours). I’m going out with 2.5L of Maurten, 500ml Coke, and tablets for another 2L of ice cold glacier water.
- 1600 calories Maurten
- 1400 calories bars (plan to consume 600)
- 1.5L bladder (Maurten), 2 x 500ml flasks (Maurten), 2 x 250ml flasks (Coke)
- GU BCAAs, Saltstick electrolytes, not enough ibuprofen, bear spray, 4 water tabs
- Ciele cap / Tracksmith Brighton Baselayer long sleeve / Lululemon Active Jacket / Brooks splits shorts / Brooks Divide kicks / Super thin Injini’s w/backup Injinji’s in ziplock w/safety blanket
- Salomon Adv Skin 12 Set carrying it all.
Surrounded by glacier water, I don't drink enough ... classic.
I end up only consuming 4L of liquid, and stop urinating about 35KMs into the run heading down from the pass. It isn’t hot, but evidently hot enough. Peg leg running down from Berg lake I pick up a stitch on my right side I still feel a day later, further evidence of under-hydrating. I am a slight person with a high revving engine. Every big effort is a fine line for me. It always requires constant adjusting for variables (weather, distance, gain, terrain). Sometimes I miss. On this day, I missed.
I believe I start the spiral into dehydration (two good sips every 10 minutes) when I lose the trail and start scrambling to get back on track. A 20 minute detour, some negative self talk after, a knee that starts to throb, and I probably continue to blow hydration for a good hour after the detour. I also blame the 1.5L bladder on my back. I simply can’t keep myself accountable to 500ml/hour if I can’t see it.
I already have a solution. Use the bladder as a filling station with a short nozzle down by my hip to refill flasks. Next time.
As always, the Ciele hat is a must to keep salt out of the eyeballs, Tracksmith Brighton Baselayer so I can go with a single layer all day and stay warm/cool/sun protected, the Lululemon shell packed away in case, Injiji toe socks on my feet without even having to change, and my NP buff. Which sadly is needed for more than ancillary service. Wrapped twice around my right knee, it is the perfect level of support for me to trust the MCL that is irritated and screaming.
I want to give a nod to the Brooks Divide. It’s a sporting store trail shoe from Brooks, but I LOVE it. I’ve only done big 40k mountain runs in this shoe, and it is incredible. Light yet supportive. The rock plate has always protected my feet. And these things are glue on dry rock … trustworthy on wet rock. Best $100 trail shoe out there. Seriously, my feet come back from big days like this without a complaint.
Snowbird Pass Route
Standing on the edge of Snowbird Pass overlooking the Reef Icefield framed by Titkana Peak and Lynx Mountain, I turn around and look back at Yexyexéscen (Mount Robson) with its own glacier cutting down into the valley I just emerged from — the meadow I return through — between us. Straight ahead is the Canadian Rockies highest peak, and nearly 2km down on the other side is my rental car. There are no bailouts. There is no gondola. There is only 29KM of Canada’s most beautiful topography between us.
I contemplate the names of this land on the signs out here. The names I myself use above, plucked from online maps. Colonizers labeling land they do not understand. Naming the peaks, valleys, and rivers after themselves, because they were here first. The audacity of the colonizer continues as we ignore who’s land it is we occupy.
The irony has never been more clear as I stand here on this magnificent pass.
The land I am privileged enough to explore for recreation. I look back where I just came from and knowing I am about to retrace footsteps to my origin gives me goosebumps the icy arctic air gusting off the ice field behind me can’t match.
I love the out and back.
One last look at the backside of Yexyexéscen (Mount Robson) from up on the moraine before heading back down to the right, and back around this gorgeous geological wonder. It is well worth the effort to see it in person. Very few folks — relatively speaking — have this view in person, even fewer yet who start their morning in a parking lot. Thanks for the day Yexyexéscen (Mount Robson), you are once again a beautiful host for a long run.
Even when things don’t go as planned, every day in the mountains is a good one. As I wash the effort from my feet and calves in the cold ice water whose source I marvelled at all day, the sense of accomplishment lingers between my toes. I also acknowledge the privilege to exercise these capable feet…these capable legs. To explore this beautiful country — alone — peacefully, without harassment. Without facing racism, sexism, basically any form of prejudice at all. A white male. Free to roam as I please.
Being welcoming and cheerful to every single hiker out there as I float past, it is MY duty to ensure everyone feels comfortable around me. It is MY duty to ensure no one feels uncomfortable by my presence. Out here in this exposed environment, I am acutely aware of just how far my white privilege follows me.
I contemplate ways to make days like today a reality for more people, not born into my suit of privilege. I feel like a forty year old child discovering a secret world for the first time, and while I wouldn’t change a damn day of my life, I can certainly do more to ensure others — like myself — truly experience this land we occupy in a more meaningful way.
I continue the consumption of water, carbs, and protein via a giant pre-prepared chocolate Kodiak Cake sandwich of honey and peanut butter — with plenty of salt — on the 4+ hour drive home. Mind wandering in that post run glow still, as the last couple chapters of Sarah Kendzior’s Hiding in Plain Site snaps me back to the reality of the world ahead. Today is reminder why we work to make it better for those we can.