2009-04-06 49 -123
The Bellingham coordinates were right on a road by a fish hatchery, so undoubtedly achievable, but I went to that graticule not far from there yesterday, plus I feel a small sense of loyalty to my own graticule, inaccessible as it might be. I decided that if the algorithm is going to keep tossing up coordinates at the northern edge of the graticule, I'll have to go there. I can see how bad the snow is, and see if the terrain is as inhospitable as I think. I'm also interested in seeing the improvements they are making to that very treacherous highway in anticipation of the Winter Olympics next year.
The point looked to be about 1.5 km from the Squamish Highway across terrain that looked from the blurry satellite images and the terrain contours to be not completely unnavigable. It isn't sheer cliff, in other words. You can't just park your car on the side of the Squamish Highway because it's too narrow, but there was a road shown about 500 m past abeam the geohash, marked on the map as Swift. I figured I could park there and walk back. I printed off the contour map from Google, made sure I had lots of gas, and started driving.
Robyn and T-Rex
 Driving the Squamish Highway
I haven't been past the ferry terminal on that road for years. They are working hard on widening it, but right now it's a very confusing road because it's full of construction zones and traffic keeps getting channelled back and forth across the road with orange cones. I kept passing signs advising me to carry chains from October 1st to April 30th, and I didn't have any chains, but the road was completely bare and dry. Maybe there's still snow further up at Whistler. About 5 km from the geohash I passed a chain up area near a creek, and as I glanced over at it to see if anyone was actually putting on chains, I saw three black bears on the rocks at the side of the creek. I think it was a mother and cubs but I can't swear to sizes just caught in the glance. I would have stopped to photograph them for you, but I had passed the point where I could safely pull off.
I was watching now for Swift, and my access point. A highway sign warned of a road entering from the right, without giving its name, so I took that right. Google and my maps had indicated nothing else. The road immediately brought me to where two men were working on some sort of decorative gate. The gate didn't go anywhere, but had a No Trespassing sign on it, as did the road that actually led somewhere, maybe. I think it's some sort of Olympic visitor centre. It was still slightly south of the geohash, so I wasn't too disappointed that I couldn't go further that way. My planned road was ahead.
The next right didn't say Swift either, but the GPS showed that I was now just barely north of the geohash, so here was better than anything further north. It was a forest service road, but it was covered in deep snow, so I just parked at the edge of the cleared pavement, next to a truck. It had taken two hours to travel the ninety-odd kilometres from home to the access point, partly because of city traffic before I got onto the highway, and partly from all the uphill twists and turns through the mountains.
I left a sign in my windshield saying where I was going and when I expected to be back. I forgot to write xkcd on it, but another geohasher would immediately recognize someone who had "gone to N49 54'02.4" W123 08'36.9"."
 Along the Trails
There were actually two roads leading up the hill from that point, one pointing too far north and one pointing too far south. It was impossible to tell which might twist or turn in the right direction further on. I went a little way up the left fork but it looked as if it was turning further north, so I went back down and up the south one. It was pretty hard going because I kept sinking into the snow up to ankle depth and the slope was fairly steep. It did start curving towards the geohash, but the trail ended just past a hut underneath an electrical transmission line. The geohash was 1.25 km away straight up a steep rock face. Time for option two.
I retraced my steps and went up the other path. This one was the actual Forest Service road, so I was pretty sure it would go further, if not closer to the geohash. It reached 1.38 km from the geohash, and then started getting further away, with the GPS needle pointing straight up another cliff. And then the road I was on widened out into some kind of plateau, with two branches, one of which went straight towards the coordinates. There were quite a few human tracks in the snow, one set of dog tracks, and no bear tracks. Good. The words on Juventas' bear tracks photo kept ringing in my head, "Just out of hibernation and hungry." This weekend has been the first stirring of spring here. As I walked I tried to make lots of noise, and occasionally stopped and barked. Bears hate dogs, and avoid them.
The snow was soft, because it was so warm, maybe fifteen degrees or more in the sun, but it was very deep. I sank up to my thighs now and again, but the road was pretty well tracked with footprints. People and at least one dog had been through here since the last snowfall, five days earlier. Everywhere I could hear the sound of running meltwater. I thought of taking a video for the sounds: running water, both in the streams and dripping out of trees, the crunch of feet on snow, my own breathing, birds welcoming spring and the distant sounds of traffic on the highway. But I doubt my video camera microphone has that kind of fidelity, so you'll just have to imagine it.
The trail curved, as all trail inevitably do, so that it was no longer going direct the geohash but still approaching, and in that kind of terrain you don't want to go off the trail. It soon became a lot less of a trail, though. Although the footsteps continued, it was now across piles of boulders. The snow bridged the gaps between the boulders so it looked more or less level, but if you put your foot in the wrong place, you stepped in a hole, Imagine having to cross a field of giant boulders but not being allowed to look down at your footing. By following the footsteps I could watch and only step in the prints that ended in boot tread and not the ones that went through to blackness, but I kept reminding myself that the snow was still melting, so a foothold that was good for the previous person could still fall through for me. The snow reminded me of that a few times too, as I fell though. Fortunately I didn't get my foot caught or twist my knee.
I was coming into shadows against the hill and it was markedly colder as soon as I was out of direct sunlight. On my right were vertical rock walls. On my left was a stream and across the stream a steep slope with mossy boulders poking out of the snow, sloping up to a ridge with some trees on it. Ahead the trail led along the river. The geohash lay 1.38 km ahead and to the left. I was determined to get at least as close along this trail as I had along the other. Who knows, maybe it would approach the geohash eventually.
And then I saw people. I mean I shouldn't have been too surprised. Beautiful sunny day, obviously footprinted access trail only half an hour walk from parking, but I was astonished. We said hello to each other and then I asked the question, breathlessly (and not, so much from falling into holes in the snow) "Are you from the Internet?"
"From the Internet?" they asked in unison, recognizing the word, but not how someone could be from there.
"Ah, it's a game. You go to crazy places and try to met people."
"Yeah, only it's geohashing." They seemed interested. I need to carry cards with the URL. Maybe they'll Google it. They gave me permission to take their picture so I could pretend I met someone at this geohash. Theirs was the truck I'd parked next to, of course. They were headed back and I continued on. There were some signs for named climbing routes on the rocks to the right. The space between the stream and the wall narrowed. I was concerned that if I put my foot through the snow here I would end up in part of the stream that was underneath the snow. I made it closer than 1.25 km and then started getting further again. The stream and trail curved some more away from the geohash. It was after four o' clock and I had determined that 5 p.m. was my turn around time, because I didn't want to be driving on the Squamish Highway with all that construction in the dark. I looked up the slope to the left and knew that the geohash was beyond the ridge on the top and beyond my reach. I decided my new goal was to get within a kilometre of the point. That last 250 m may not sound like much of a trek, but I knew it was going to take me most of the remaining time.
 Trekking up the Mountain
There was what looked like a log across the stream. It was hard to tell, as it was all covered with snow, but it was my opportunity to head directly for the geohash. The Stupidity Distance was 1.18 km. I walked across the snow-covered whatever it was, to cross the stream, trying to put some of my weight on standing trees, in case I was just standing on a snow bridge with nothing under it. Some of the trees were spiky. Ouch. I got across the stream without falling in, but on the other side there was of course no trail, so I was falling into thigh-deep snow every second step. I considered trying to make some McGyver snowshoes, but I only had to cross a short way to get to the rocks, so I went with a technique where I packed down the snow with my boot, or pushed over a sapling and stood on it, on the snow, and occasionally the full-body snowshoe technique. I knew the last was a bad idea, because no matter how warm it was right now, getting wet leads to getting cold, and that could lead to bad things, especially if say I broke my foot falling into holes between rocks and had to stay here overnight. I crossed the snow to an area with more trees thus less snow, and started up the slope. The slope didn't have as much snow on it because it was so steep and exposed. The snow would just roll and blow down to the snow-filled valley I had just crawled out of. And the slope either had giant boulders on it or was made of craggy rock. I couldn't really tell because I just saw rock jutting out of the snow here and there. Probably both. My strategy was to climb up the rocks when there were big sections of bare rock, then use the pack and step technique in between. This worked really well, because generally the exposed rock was spaced closely enough that I could step quickly in the boot-packed snow and then fall forward onto the next rock and grab it with my hands in case the snow gave way. That's less awkward that it sounds because the slope was steep so the next rock was not so much on the ground in front of me as on the wall above me, with the snow step in between like stepping on a piece of furniture to reach high up on the wall.
The rocks were all covered with thick moss and lichen, which wasn't a great handhold. I actually found that shoving my hands hard into the snow made a pretty good handhold, but I had to take breaks in between using that technique because it made my hands cold. Funny that, eh? Looking at the GPS was a little discouraging because it would take about thirty steps to see ten metres progress. I kept looking up at the vertical cliff before the ridge and estimating whether I would make my sub-1000 metre goal before reaching it. I thought so.
And I was right. But not by much. I made 999 metres away just a touch before the slope changed to vertical rock, and at ten to five. T-Rex and I celebrated our redefined success, took lots of pictures and headed back down. Although the sun angle was such that it was no longer shining on me, every time I went by a rock wall that had been in the sun all day I felt a blast of heat, just like going by the open door to a furnace room. The rocks had stored a lot of solar energy.
| Robyn earned the "Mother Nature's Bitch" Consolation Prize
| Robyn earned the Redefined Success Ribbon
I would not drive this far up this highway again without a much better plan for success. The contour map proved useless, because the access roads and trails weren't on it, and the scale is no longer visible, so I had to completely guess my position.
Overlaying my track on the topo map that I had in my hand shows that I was actually at the point marked Swift when I turned off and that I should have stayed on the river a little longer and then could conceivably made it over the shoulder of the ridge. I knew that when I left the valley, but seeing that I was to be forced to turn back at 5 p.m. I wanted it to be on a ridge and not in a dark valley. I now have a benchmark for climbing slopes in this area. This geohash was reachable, with more patience.
A curious thing is that the GPS tracks show that I went crazily up and down the slope, and I assure you I didn't. I went along the west side of the river, crossed it once, went a little further south on the east bank and then went up the hill in a reasonably straight line. I can only assume that the other two wild forays up the mountain are due to GPS errors caused by the poor sky view in that steep valley.
Next time I will do better!