Drawn to the Dawn Patrol

December 26, 2016 Vince Shuley

The alarm chimes on my phone, but the duvet counters with reassuring comfort. I take a deep breath and remember the reason for the ridiculously early start. I clamor out of bed and into my thermals. Pouring coffee into my travel mug, my phone chimes again, this time a text message from my touring partner.
On schedule.
Loading gear into my car, I pray that it starts in -17 C.

dawn patrol
Sleep feels good. But a moonlit dawn patrol feels better | Photo – Vince Shuley


Peering through the icy streaks so stubbornly glued to my windshield, I pull out onto the highway. The defroster melts the remaining icicles clinging to clothes and the interior of my car.
I arrive at the trail head and park. Clicking on my headlamp, it’s now time to exit this warm vehicle and pull my boots on. My friends arrive and after the bleary eyed greetings, we unload the remainder of our gear, strapping our skis and boards to our backpacks. The snow line shouldn’t be far.

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Savoring the final steps. | Photo – Vince Shuley

We set off, kicking our boots into the melange of frozen dirt and ice. Heat builds quickly under my layers and I’m soon feeling like I’ve overdressed. Except for my hands. They have yet to regain the feeling of wrapping around my pole grips.
Now punching through snow with every step, skis are taken off packs and clipped to our feet. The brief pause lets the cold creep back into my core, but I’m soon shuffling up the logging road with renewed determination. Muscles are warm and breathing is steady.
Daylight is still an hour away, but the full moon shines brightly through the trees and illuminates the road ahead of with a soft glow. I click off the headlamp, saving its batteries in unlikely case I need to call on it to get home later today.

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Worth getting out of bed early for. | Photo – Vince Shuley

The peaks of the neighboring mountain range burns a soft orange and pink as the cold night gives way to the rising sun. Today’s objective may still be hours away, but I’m already feeling accomplished after witnessing the transition of light on this landscape. I carefully sip from my bottle, rationing the precious supply of electrolyte water.
We round a corner and peaks rise to the sky all round us. The summit objective is now in sight and the proximity to these formidable peaks renews our motivation. Taking turns breaking trail, our troupe leaves a ladder of steep switchbacks in our wake.
The summit now in ear shot and skis are once again hoisted for the final bootpack.

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The author enjoying his summit moment. And his sandwich. | Photo – Vince Shuley

Cresting the last ridge, the majesty of the Coast Mountains reveals itself in a way I’ve never seen before. The wind gently whips us, but it’s warm enough to eat our lunch up here. The horizon is littered with other ski touring projects; past, present and future. We spend the best part of an hour taking pictures and marveling at what our five-hour approach has gained us.

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Dan Cudlip had to be at work at 6pm, and the dawn patrol delivered | Photo – Vince Shuley

The ski down is everything we hope for; consistent pitch, dry and stable snow and enough room to stretch our tired legs with some fast turns. The cold and dark awakening this morning is but a distant memory.