Panic! or How NOT to Plan a Trip!

Life has been a bit disjointed lately and we have not been on top of our travel plans like we normally are. Dominica has been on our radar for, oh, 20 years and it is time to strike it off the list. The day the docs gave Debbie the all clear we are on the internet trying to make sense of this little traveled destination.

Our first hurdle is to make sure we can get there. There are no direct flights from Canada or the US. This is why Dominica has not made it onto the tourist trail yet. We have to find the best island to fly through so we can board a hopper flight for the final leg of the journey. There are several possibilities. We follow up with United, Air Canada and West Jet. Air Canada has its typical horrible flight times at high prices. United has flights with connections that crisscross the US before heading to the Caribbean. West Jet actually has flights that are reasonable, therefore we follow up with WJ. There are several islands that have short flights to one of the two airports on Dominica. Puerto Rico, St Martin, Antigua and Barbados. The prices to fly to these island differ greatly. We choose Barbados as the price for both of us to fly there and back is just less than the flight for the return only portion from St. Martin. This is a complicated and time consuming process. But I think we done good.

I had done some preliminary research on diving and hotels over the months Debbie was dealing with health issues. So, after the flights are secured we sit down and discuss a game plan. Dominica is quite a big island so if we are only going there once, we think we should do it up right. Diving being the main reason for going, it is logical to base ourselves on the west coast.  There are dive sites all along the coast from north to south, again we might as well see a much as we can.

As we always do, we start by sending out emails to prospective dive shops and hotels. There is a short list of 3 or 4 of each, in the north, at mid island and in the south. The Caribbean works on Caribbean time and the emails are slow to return. As things begin to gel we are able to piece together the puzzle. Things are extra slow coming from the south of the island, the main city of Roseau. This seems rather odd as it would be where most of the tourists would be stationed.

Just as we are getting set to make some decisions, we have a family crisis and the trip gets put aside for just over a week. The clock is ticking, ready to chime,  with flights three and a half weeks out and we have not booked any hotels or diving. None!

We finally get back to our notes, emails and spreadsheets. Back to booking in Roseau, on the south of the island. After a bit of investigation it becomes clear that there is some sort of get together and the hotels are short on rooms for the first few days of our intended stay. It requires a phone call to one of the places to find this out. I am not sure why they were avoiding us but the phone call works. We are able to determine we can get a room for the last 5 days we want but have to search for one for the first 3 days. After emailing a group of hotels on our B list we secure a place and the trip has more or less crystallized.

One more odd thing about Dominica is at least 1/2 of the places require deposits. We’ve run into this before but standard procedure is to take a credit card number to secure the room or diving but not to charge it until either you do not show or you arrive. On this island they require partial or full payment before the booking is confirmed.

It is unusual for us not to have a trip planned this close to the departure date (a little over 3 weeks away!) and even though it has worked out there are challenges not normally encountered when one books things 5 or 6 months in advance. Stress, being one! To be able to do this things have to be quite stable on the home front and they were not that way the last few months. It is a good thing this is not our first rodeo or we may have resigned ourselves to failure and not been able to find our way out of the hole of reservation land.

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Epilogue, David Henry Lodge

David Henry Lodge Continue reading

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Swan Song, Days 4 & 5 David Henry Lodge

David Henry Lodge

It takes two days to survey another area, The Glades (South Bowl) and the South Ridge. The skiing just gets better each day. The sun has behaved itself and stayed behind the clouds and every night it has snowed a little more. Nothing earth shaking but the accumulation of the white stuff makes for boot top to knee deep skiing. The wind has not been very strong either but just enough to dump a bit of snow into the sheltered areas and we have two more outstanding days.

David Henry Lodge

This is why I do this thing called back country skiing.

David Henry Lodge

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Big Day, Day 3 David Henry Lodge

We are eyeing up a run called Josephine’s today. It more or less faces north and should not have been affected by the sun or the wind.

It is a real easy start. Two kilometers on a slightly down sloping sled track. We turn up hill on an existing uptrack mostly snowed in but easily traceable. It is an excellent track, steep only where it has to be and through the trees, safe all the way to where we want to ski.

David Henry Lodge

The snow is wet. It must have been warm last night. There is about a foot of penetration but it is very heavy. Thinking the skiing is not going to be ideal we ponder whether or not we made the wrong choice. We continue anyway.

It is lunch time when we reach the high point of our day’s plan. Finding a spot in the shelter of a stand of trees our table overlooks the entire valley. You can’t pay for the view we have. Mountains covered in snow sculptured by the wind creating a landscape out of a dream.

David Henry Lodge

Surveying the slope below we find the route we want to ski. It shouldn’t be any trouble. Off to the side of the main avalanche chute and not super steep. We make the decision to descend one at time anyway. If there is a slide theoretically only one will get caught and there should be 5 observers.

From the first turns the skiing is excellent. Considering what we felt on the up route it is way beyond our expectations. The run is so long the snow texture changes 3 times on the way down. A little more wind, a little warmer temperature, a slight change in the orientation of the slope all contributed to making the skiing a bit different.

After a short bush-wack, it’s on to the up track and follow the ski-do track home. We only had one run today but it was the run to have. 500ish meters of vertical and wonderful snow quality. If we come back to this area I will campaign for an earlier start so we have time to ski it twice.

Another fine day with smiles so big the side of our mouths distort our ears!   

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Smiles All Around, Day 2 David Henry Lodge

David Henry LodgeIt’s cloudy. That is good in my opinion. At this time of year the heat from the sun has a huge effect on the snow. It makes it mushy in the day, at night it freezes leaving an annoying crust to ski through.

We’re off to Park Bowl. It’s just over the border of Mount Robson Park. Yesterday’ ski in Powder Pig Bowl revealed a dense snow that requires a bit more slope to ski, so we are looking for an area where the terrain tips up a bit more.

 

As we pop out of the trees the bowl comes into view and there is a north facing ridge wide enough to yo-yo all day. The round trip up and down takes about 1 hour and we managed 3 runs with a short lunch break around noon. With one last up track we set ourselves up for what turns out to be an outstanding outrun.

I am forever amazed at the smiles on everyone’s face after a day like this. We are all tuckered and the amount of energy around the cabin this evening is about zero.

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The Quiet, David Henry Lodge

We are up at David Henry Lodge, a 15 minute helicopter ride from Valemount, BC. We are up here with 6 others to ski the powder and, for me, to rest and enjoy being away from the city.

David Henry Lodge

Murray and I set a track around the lake and I do a couple of loops to get some exercise in. It is about a kilometer around and as I ski around, the snow sparkles, the sun beams down and the trees are decorated with the latest dusting of snow. I am a bright blue and orange dot of movement on a canvass of white and green.

David Henry Lodge

After my “walk” around the lake, I sit in the sun at the front of the lodge. Murray has written about the quiet of the uphill climb while back country skiing. I am experiencing the quiet of the lodge and its surroundings.  I hear the dripping of water off a crystal clear icicle. I see the trail of an airplane at high altitude, I do not see the plane but the sound of the engines drift down to me. All of a sudden there is a RAT A TAP TAP of a woodpecker! The wood of the lodge creaks every so often as it warms up in the sun.

David Henry Lodge

The roof is heating up and the snow slides down and hits the ground with a loud THUMP. The first time it does this I jump. More slides off with a THUD, but I no longer jump. When it finally stops, a quarter of the red roof on one side is bare of snow.

The woodpecker is back and its RAT A TAP TAP is further off to the left. There are no other animal sounds, just me breathing in and out.

David Henry Lodge

I move inside when I start to cool off. The fire crackles and spits, the flue pops as it expands and contracts with the heat and cooling. The quiet outside and inside the lodge, sitting high up on the mountain, is very calming and peaceful.

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Mistaya 2017 Day 7 Feb 18

Go find something silk, anything. Touch the silk very lightly to your cheek, stroke your cheek. Soft and smooth. The snow today is that smooth. Boot top deep and silky. The skiing is tremendous. J, T and I uptrack on Mohawk today with the knowledge the sun has not been on the slope, there has been no wind and it has snowed 20cm since yesterday. No one has skied there in two days. We win. 5 trips up and 5 outstanding runs.

On the way up we talk. It is funny but both J and I remember driving through mountains, staring out the window and wondering if this snow patch or that would be skiable. At that time there was little back country activity. We both knew there were people out there that did such but it was a very small group who ventured off the piste. Occasionally I would hike up Parker’s Ridge in my alpine boots with my skis over my shoulder, but skiing was mostly done at the resort.

The backcountry gear is much more accessible these days. There are many more folks participating in this fringe activity. I’ve done it for about 15 years and there has been a significant increase in the numbers on what was once an almost private paradise. Most still have no idea why I would walk up a mountain to ski down when I pass several chairlifts on my way to the uptrack.

Today is the reason why. 5 runs on wonderful terrain in boot top powder so soft you could blow it away with a good puff of breath. Ya it is a lot of work to climb a mountain 5 times in a day but the downtrack is worth every step.

 

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Mistaya 2017 Day 6 Feb 17

There are a lot of late risers today. Breakfast was after 8am, D, T, J, and I head up Heather Ridge to the best skiing of the week. It snowed 10+cm yesterday and another 10+ last night and it is snowing this morning. The temperature has dropped and the snow is dry. This is like the Rockies. Our first ascent is 800M and the run down is amazing.

D has some work to do, so he and T head back to pick up B so they skin up only once more and ski to the lodge. J and I track up 4 more times and whoop every time we reach the bottom. Our last run we find a place through the cliff visible from the lodge and have 15 turns in thigh deep winter snow. Great ending to an epic day.

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Mistaya 2017 Day 5 Feb 16

Last night I was beat. I hit the sack and did not stir until 4am. I decide while dozing from 4 to 6 I am extremely fatigued. This morning will be my rest time. If things look better I will skin up Heather’s after lunch and do one run for the day. It’s snowing hard and has done for some time, pretty much sealing my future.

J & T come back from their morning’s ventures to see what B & I are up to. We head east from the lodge and up. We are quickly split into four separate groups of one. It is quiet, real quiet. Anytime the group in the back country splits like that you are in your own world but with the new snow it is deathly silent. I walk and there is the swish, pause, swish, pause, swish, the repetitive sound and the repeat of the movement cause the world to disappear. I call this the Zen of the uptrack. Listen carefully and the air moving through the trees whispers sweet nothings. The wind picks up and it screams. The snow flakes landing are again soundless. I pause on the track to wait for the folks behind to catch up and as each one approaches I listen to the click, click, click of their bindings which quits as they pull into line.

The sound of silence is deafening.

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Mistaya 2017 Day 4 Feb 15

The weather is warm. Too warm for skiing but not ugly. We had a big day yesterday and I feel the remnants of it this morning. Didn’t want to get in over my head so J and I keep our destination close to the lodge and shortish hikes.

 

The skiing is good. The bit of new snow fills some of the tracks and we have a couple of good runs. As the day progresses my pack gets heavier and heavier. I make the decision to remove a few of the items I carry in case I get stuck in the boonies. Unless someone gets hurt and can’t make it back I don’t think there is much chance of getting stranded so I’m pretty sure I won’t be needing it so why carry it.

Back at the lodge I break out my daily ration of Coca Cola sit long enough to drink it and then start to empty out the pack. I got to the bottom of the bag and there is a sweater, thick socks, cold weather gloves and a bivy sack I think I can do without. The pack is still lbs. too heavy. I am going to think about a few other non critical items I can remove and make tomorrow just a little bit lighter.

Without the extra weight I may not notice my fatigue and make it an hour or two longer.

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