Looming ominously in the distance, the massive, dark tooth known as the Tusk pierced through the clouds. "It's about a 1740 metre rise to the top from here" (5700 feet), I said in my best Clavenistic tone, exhausting the last of my statistical intelligence on this adversary.
"Do you want to finish the last burrito, before we lock up the car?" asked Michael. We had stopped last night, in Squamish to "carbo load" for the weekend trip in the park. "Nah, leave it for the ride home". My brother laughed, "Wow, a frozen burrito, what an incentive!" "Hey, if we have to resort to cannibalism to survive, you have more nutritional value than I do", I piped up jokingly. A goretex mitt bounced off the side of my head.
We had done the route a few times before, but never in the winter. A usual ten hour trip in the summer, was a good overnighter in January. We even had an extra day set aside, just in case we wanted to really take our time. We locked the car and left a ziplock under the wiper with our route and schedule in it. We left the car to stand guard over the Rubble Creek access point.
We headed out east along the switchbacks over Rubble Creek. The night sky began to lighten from an awakening sun. A good alpine start I thought. This trip would be a nostalgic return to snowshoes. The two pair we both bought as young, brash, lads for the frozen lakes and snow covered, precambrian rockland of northern Ontario. The sleds were loaded and lashed. We had also brought our crampons, long axes and some light, technical gear as well; to perhaps, practice some french technique. Ah, the beauty of a sled.
We were off and heading for Black Tusk. The steep switchbacks were only a minor problem, as the sleds were short. There is nothing on this earth that compares to the tranquillity of a crisp, winter morning in the mountains. The crunch of the snow beneath your feet and the sound of your breath fading into a silence that absorbs any and all other sound around you. This is a time for thought, not words. We moved steadily onward, drinking in the silence.
The day was well underway when we reached the Barrier, a natural lava wall that leads to Garibaldi lake its smaller sisters. I heard a grumble, my brother was hungry again. The beauty of being out in the winter is that you are walking around in a refrigerator, you can bring anything you want and it won't spoil. Needless to say, we fired up the XGK stove. The witty repertoire broke out once more. "No need to watch the calories out here, Bro", I said. All I heard in response was the sound of a shutter click; my brother was earning his livelihood again. Off in the distance, Michael chased a Whiskey Jack in the red cedar. "Don't get lost and fall in a hole, I can't eat all this myself" I called. About five minutes later he was back. The Whiskey Jack (or Canada Jay) was close behind and stole a dried apricot off the sled. In the background a squirrel chattered its disapproval.
We passed an old cabin used by rangers. My brother recited aloud the words of an ancient, haggard mountain man, who existed in such a place in an old Robert Redford movie, "Can ya skin a bar?" I looked around nervously chuckling, as we headed northeast. The Tusk stood stoic, like something out of a Tolkein novel, scrutinizing our approach.
We had changed into our boots and crampons by now. It was a good day, but the weather can change drastically, within a half hour. I was aware of the snow covered talus under our feet, so we decided to backtrack a little to the last meadow by the lower slope and set up camp for the night. We still had day light left, so we decided a quinsy would be adequate for shelter, instead of using the snowfield tent. Out came the shovels and we piled up the snow into a big dome. It takes about 45 minutes for the snow to crystallize before the quinsy can be hollowed out, so we had lots time to explore and continue upward with lighter gear.
The Tusk has an almost vertical south wall. There are several chimneys in this area as well. In the summit affords a magnificent view of the entire Garibaldi Park landscape. Even in the summer months however, the Tusk should only be negotiated with the proper technical gear and ability. Once on the summit of any mountain the individual mountaineer realizes the true wonder of nature. My brother turned to me and stated, "Now I know why men meet God on the tops of mountains". I agreed silently.
Back at the camp we had hollowed out our shelter and set up the gear when I heard my brother call out "Hey Arun, we're not alone, come check this out!" About a half a kilometre (500 yards) away lay a single trail of tracks heading off to the north west.
"Damn big double boots on this guy, he must be carrying a serious pack"
I didn't comment on the lack of axe prints or the fact that it was only a single set of tracks. "I guess the sun melts tracks out and makes them look huge after a while", I said.
"Are those toes?", my brother responded. We sheepishly decided to go back to the camp.
After dinner, the single candle lantern warmed and lit up the entire quinsy to a comfortable temperature. Wrapped up in our sleeping bags, along with our innerboots, water bottles and tomorrows breakfast, we discussed a range of subjects from the brilliant constellations we viewed only moments earlier, to the theory that frozen burritos can be easily recooked on a defrost vent. Slowly and surely we drifted off into blissful slumber.
As usual, I awoke to the painful reality of my older brother hastily climbing over me to claim some new territory near our camp. I should remember to sleep on my side from now on, I thought to myself. "If there's a big brown furry guy out there, tell him I like my eggs sunny side up" I yelled out, as Michael blocked out what little light entered through the entrance of the quinsy, in his hasty departure.
The day was already well upon us and breakfast went quickly. Even generic, instant coffee in tepid water can taste good in the proper context. After breakfast and the "defrosting of the sleeping bag ceremony", we broke camp and began our return descent to our awaiting lives.
The Black Tusk, as usual, raised itself through the clouds and touched heavens door. I thought to myself, even a weekend in these surroundings can recharge one's will. Then slowly and methodically, my older brother, Michael and I returned to the origin of our overnight adventure to once again perform that age old ritual known to all as,
"I thought you had the keys".
Again I was thankful that we had that "extra day set aside", just in case we really wanted to take our time; or for that matter, walk back out to the highway.