Conquering Demons at McMurdo: An Exaggerated (Getting Shut Down) Shred Story
We came as few had done before us, four men, one sled, quadandeming 20 kms down a forest services road on a 23-year-old machine in isothermal snow. The crew consisted of myself (Night Terrors), my dentist (Mikael Kattovich), Kattovich’s dentist (Robertson Streetza), and Ballet Doug. For our parts, we’d all come to conquer personal demons. Myself, being of a French heritage and a bit of a pussy, I suffered from night terrors; Kattovich, the son of a wealthy Russian importer, was plagued by visions of trains at all hours of the day; Streetza, he straight up killed a guy a few months back and believed the man's angry Irish cousins to be trailing him (it was mostly self-defense); Ballet Doug, he was just really into ballet, like, unhealthily so.
The sled belonged to Kattovich, and we’d managed to drivee 30 of the 50 or so kms on dry roads, leaving just a hop and a skip to our destination—the McMurdo Hut. The McMurdo Hut was built in 1725 by the now defunct Columbia Valley Wickas who used the area to perform Pagan rituals in an alpine bowl which channels the powers of the full moon. By 1876 however, Columbia Valley Wickas had all but been wiped from the area (save for a few Wizards, whom still have descendants throughout the Valley today). Legend has it that the Wickas treated the logs with pine martin blood and black magic to stand the test of time. In 1991, the hut was restored and repurposed as a sled-access ski touring base.
The first sign that demons were at work was when Kattovich’s completely reliable 1990 Ski Doo (salvaged from avalanche debris in Revelstoke and bought for a bottle of Whiskey) didn’t run. The pull start wouldn't recoil, so we had a group séance to deal with the problem and then took it apart only to rebuilt it several times before being able to start the machine—eventually though, we had exorcised the demon.
Kattovich and myself would ride tandem—or Canadian style as they call it south of the border. Doug and Streetza would tow in on a rope, all of us with packs containing gear, clothes, and four days worth of food. Heat rained down upon us and we cooled the sled as best we could, packing it with snow, which gave way to numerous stalls and slowed the road drastically. I also ripped the pull chord out by pulling on it too hard so we had to rebuild it one more time on the trail.
When we got to within about four kms from the hut, the demons struck again, the throttle cable broke. We were terrified, it was probably a Dementor. We patched the cable back together using some spare hardware from my modified touring boots and Kattovich could now skilfully pull on the raw cable with one hand to throttle forward. This lasted until about 400 metres from the hut, when some other asshole demon snapped the cable again—prick!
We had a meeting, shared our feelings, and reassured ourselves that we were still all very good looking. After which we made the decision to tour the remainder of the way in, leaving the broken sled for the next day. Kattovich had promised a meal to rejuvenate the soul that night, and we were all quite scared and hungry. We reached the cabin in about 20 minutes.
The first order of business was to start a fire. Being a natural with the axe, Streetza tended to this. Something about him seemed a bit paranoid and delusional though, which added to our anxiety.
I myself was famished at this point, but evil was at play once again. Kattovich had somehow been wiped of any memory of ever having shared a meal with me over our last eight years of friendship. The demons knew we were coming it seemed, and robbed him of his memory. This caused him to forget that I’m a fucking vegetarian and he brought only about 40 lbs of ribs for his shared meal. I found some soft twigs outside though, and was able to boil them into a spaghetti like substance, which I topped with some smoked cheese that Streetza had brought in as an appetizer. I'd recently read How to Survive in The Woods, thankfully.
We fell asleep uneasy that night. Myself because of the fibrous meal I’d eaten—giving way to night terrors—and the others due to all the screaming. We weren’t sure if we’d be able to get back out on the broken sled, which gave us all a continued dose of “the fear.” So, after a completely un-noteworthy day of skiing crust and wet pow from the awkward pre-melt/freeze period, Kattovich and I made our way back down to the sled that next afternoon to bring back the throttle cable and carburetors that it was connected to.
While I worked on the parts, Ballet Doug prepared our meal for that night, which was fondue. Doug had brought ballet slippers instead of hut booties. He served us on his tippy toes executing a perfect plié in between plates and finishing with a bow. This made the rest of us uncomfortable, but we clapped anyway. The meal was good, and we would need our strength that night.
We’d made a pact to fully face our fears on this trip, and that night the moon would be full…. We had brought fireworks with us, alcohol and fireworks. So we drank excessively with supper and passed out early. We woke like clock work at midnight to the sounds of my screams. Perfect timing! We each packed our gear, put on our skins, and made our way to the alpine.
Something was amiss though, the melted snow on the surface of the pack from the day's heat had done something completely unpredictable that night when the temperature dropped below zero… it froze! Bastard demons, the skiing was going to be bad again! Who could have seen this usual cyclical transition in snow quality coming at exactly the normal time of year!?
Still, we pressed on to the alpine. Once there, we shot roman candles into the night, announcing to all demons that they would rule us no longer! We’d come here, to their gathering place, to look them square in their eyes and shoot fireworks up their fucking asses. As such, we lit up the night, and subsequently had a very bad ski back down to the cabin.
We slept late into the next day, deciding that we needed to recover from not having worked very hard at all the one previous day. That afternoon, rather than ski, Ballet Doug worked on his pirouettes in the sun, Streetza practised his technique with his butterfly knife, and Kattovich and I rebuilt the sled. We were starting to conquer our demons, all of us, but most importantly the sled started up and ran. Slowly, we were becoming less afraid.
I made a vegetarian pasta that night, which caused a great deal of in-hut flatulence, and we made a plan to wake early. The next morning though, when I got up, it was later than the time the alarm had been set for and something was amiss. Streetza came grimacing back into the hut at that moment, with his butterfly knife all bloody, no doubt returning from a morning urination where something hadn't gone normally. I asked him if the plan had changed? He snarled as he got back into his sleeping bag, saying that he had turned off the alarm, was sleeping the fuck in, and I’d better not wake him or anyone else—waving his knife menacingly at me.
I couldn’t get back to sleep, so instead I quietly stoked the fire, ate, and prepared for the day. When Kattovich finally woke, he promptly told me to hurry the fuck up as we’d all slept too late. I told him I’d been up for hours and was basically ready, he then scolded me for not having gotten the rest of them up. I tried to explain that it was a confirmed killer who had directed me not to, but it fell on def ears. I found the whole situation rather great.
It was clear that the demons were trying to have one last go at us, but we rallied against them. We packed our bags, prepped our day packs, added to the poopsicle in the shitter, and set out to climb higher than we had on the previous days. We made it to David Peak, where the skiing was actually not bad, but enough about that. Eventually we shussed our way back down to the trusty sled, ready to make our exit, and everything seemed great.
We exited the zone rooping our way back down the spur road, connecting to a popular route upon which rich Albertans (or Harper votes as we like to call them) drive their expensive machines in great numbers on Saturdays. Everything seemed fine, we were all but immune to their judgmental stares what with our new found confidence and all. Then, one last demon got at us… the machine stalled again.
Pull as he might, Kattovich couldn’t start the sled. Fuck. As we fussed, more sledders began to amass—drinking their beers and eating their lunches as they drooled and stared at us. But we were new men now, and this wouldn’t faze us. Streetza had killed the men pusruing him when they tried to ambush him in the shitter that morning, my night terrors had become much milder, Kattovich was prepared to give up dentistry and inheret his father's shipping empire, and Doug still loved ballet, but he was fine with that.
Suddenyl, I figured out that I’d over adjusted the carbs and the sled was running too rich for our altitude, and we quickly got that sled running like a mother fucking top again. That sled started back up and we four magnificent beasts made our way back to km 30 of the Parson Mainline FSR like champions of the world.
After manually loading the sled back in to the truck (because it wouldn’t start again), we didn’t reflect at all about how good of an idea it was to push that far into the backcountry at the limits of the physical capability of a machine that was in its prime when I was eight—no. We didn’t reflect on the fact that none of our cells worked up there and that we hadn’t brought a radio, spot, or any other form of communication—no. We didn’t reflect on the particular time of year that we had booked the trip and that everything in that zone is south-facing—no Sir! What we did, was hug. We hugged like men hug, and then we listened to Doug talk about ballet… all the way home.