Tania and Martina Halik spent almost a week at the home of Kerry and Alex Boileau in Bella Coola last week and squeezed out every drop of their first real taste of civilization in 50 days. The mother and daughter team have embarked on the adventure of a lifetime: a six-month ski traverse from Squamish, B.C., to Skagway, Alaska.
The total journey is over 2300 km through BC’s Coast Range over the largest temperate-latitude icecaps in the world - in the middle of winter. There is an almost incomprehensible amount of mountain terrain between them and their goal in Skagway A.K.
The team charmed the local audience of a few dozen lucky folk who got the chance to hear their adventure tale firsthand at a potluck dinner last weekend before they hit the Capoose Summer Trail for the the second leg of their trip - all the way north to Terrace, B.C.
Working in the ski and avalanche industry has given the women the skills needed to attempt the trip, but outside of a couple five-day ski traverses this is their first traverse of such magnitude.
Martina, 30, and her mother, 61 year-old Tania, are a pretty unique combo. The respect and awe Martina has for her mother, who radiates a quiet stoicism and determination few possess, is obvious.
Tania was born in the Czech Republic under communist rule. At two months pregnant she and her husband pulled off a daring escape from the country on foot, ending up in Switzerland before immigrating to B.C. two years later.
“My mom is just so amazing,” Martina shared. “I would be reaching my breaking point daily. I’d be in tears because we’d just spent seven hours searching for our food drop (without finding it) and she’d come into the tent to tell me how beautiful the snowflakes were!”
Using a GPS app on their phone, an InReach device and paper maps, the start of their journey in Squamish was what they described as as the “honeymoon” period of beautiful mountain terrain, hot springs, and a cozy hut. Then reality set in.
“It was cold, a consistent minus 20 with extreme winds almost the entire time we were in the alpine,” Martina told the crowd. “And if we were in a valley bottom, it was wet, soaking wet, and we spent most all of our energy thrashing through acres of slide alder, creeks, and overgrown logging slash. I called that “The Week of Suck.” And it went on for a long while!”
The team faced challenges most of us would shrink from in horror: heavy packs and an even heavier sled to drag, freezing cold ski boots every morning that took 40 minutes to put on, stoves that won’t work for four hours so you can’t cook anything, food drops that were lost resulting in extreme hunger, extreme fatigue and cold, avalanche terrain, crevasses, isolation, and physical exertion to the breaking point every day.
All of this begs the obvious question: why?
“I don’t know if there’s any one answer,” Martina said. “I just feel like I come from a really privileged life; I have never suffered like my mom. I’ve never been hungry or had to go without food. I feel like when you really suffer you appreciate your life so much more. And I can’t think of a better person to do this with than my mom.”
“If you don’t have dark you don’t know what is light,” Tania said. “When you suffer you feel joy just that much more intensely.”
Tania also shared that, as a paramedic, the breaks she gets in the wilderness allow her to connect more with her patients and be a more empathetic practitioner.
“When you are in nature you are using a completely different side of your brain,” she explained. “You slow down, things become about the moment, you aren’t worrying about things that don’t really matter.”
There were some definite highlights of the trip, such as exquisite night travel under the stars and amazing sunsets, and some very funny moments. A previous lost food drop meant an emergency food drop from Tatla Lake had to fill in, resulting in what they called an “interesting” assortment of items.
“We were so hungry by that point, we hadn’t eaten anything but a few nuts and some butter for days,” Martina said. “This box arrived full of random food from the Tatla Lake store: licorice, Old Dutch chips, jerky and huge blocks of cheese. We don’t eat junk food but we were in heaven!”
The last leg of their journey to Bella Coola was documented by a Knowledge Network film crew, who are doing a documentary on the trip.
“It was really nice to socialize again!” Martina said.
As their next drop is over two weeks away, the team was helped up the Capoose Summer Trail by the Boileau family last Sunday hauling a large load of food. They are now heading to Terrace and those interested in following their journey can check out their website www.coastmountainepic.ca or find them on Facebook.