Big BOLD Blue
It's the sweat, the risk and getting way out there that makes that little piece of untracked snow so worthy
by Kevin Davis
From the top of Big Blue we could see the spine of the Selkirk Crest jaggedly fading off into the distance. At 6,662 feet we had a vantage point well above our immediate surroundings and felt as if anywhere in sight was within our grasp. However, our leaden thighs and sweating brows reminded us that an hour's travel time is often enough to get one into a perfectly serene setting for backcountry skiing. After bringing our focus in from the panorama, Brett and I checked the snow conditions, clicked into our gear, checked our avalanche transceivers, and schussed our way down the north face of the mountain.
The sensation of falling effortlessly into a vertical world of white was what we had been awaiting. Skiing down through the forest we transcended from the world of cold, harsh edges into a place where the snow falls soft and deep, protected by the imposing mountain face. It seemed the perfect place to spend the night. We trudged through the snow to a dense spruce forest adjacent to an opening, which had probably been cleared by past avalanches. Penetrating its dense cover we found an opening at the edge of a small cliff. It was well protected and the perfect place to set camp.
Mark and Matt showed up later, hooting and hollering their way down to where we were. That night, around a crackling fire, we shared stories about our adventures getting in. I stepped out of the firelight to stretch and breathe the chill alpine air. Looking back upon our camp from the clearing I saw the campfire illuminated on the spruce in a hearth of warm, glowing light. It was the perfect end to the day.
The night was cold and we all woke up with ice crinkling off our bivy sacks. I peeked out from my depression in the snow and saw Brett sipping on a hot cup of joe. Before too long we were bustling about preparing gear, packing clothes, and planning an itinerary for the day. Mark and Matt had to work so they planned on a leisurely tour out. Brett and I intended to ski the multitude of lines that descended from the cathedral of ridges above.
An hour later, and back on top, we had just finished hiking up a fall line that looked too good to pass up. "That's a pretty tasty line there," I commented, and before I could react Brett was into it. Over gentle rollers and up the sides of half-pipe ridges we skied the terrain as it came. Nothing is better than the feeling of skiing an untracked line; like painting an empty canvas. At the bottom, tired though we were, we elected to hit one more descent.
The hike up with our packs was arduous and when we reached the top again we paused for a rest. Under the clear Big Blue sky we agreed that we have one of the best places for backcountry touring around, and we had it all to ourselves. The only speck of civilization visible from that point was the green roof of the Caribou Mountain Lodge far below. The lodge is a backcountry Selkirk Shangri-la that will be open this year mainly for cross-country and touring skiers (see sidebar).
Feeling rested from the view and thoughts of future trips in not-so-far-away places we launched on our last descent. It was sheer joy quaffing the fresh and setting a cadence partly our own but mostly dictated by the laws of gravity. We were reluctant to leave, but were reassured that prime backcountry is only an hour away.
Remember, if you venture into the backcountry it is essential to be prepared. Always carry an avalanche transceiver and emergency gear; if you're not experienced, take a class on avalanche awareness and safe backcountry travel first.
Kevin Davis is a Forest Service hydrologist who lives in Sandpoint.