Throughout mountain legend and backcountry lore, there’s often a sliver of truth in many a tale. Like that time with the world’s smallest sleeping bag. Words by Mikey Nixon. Illustration by Ian Johnston.
It was at this exact point that Tyson’s lightweight gear got the better of him. He was knee-deep in isothermal snow, descending from Vulture Col in leather boots on a set of traditional Nordic skis. The piercing cry of a hawk could be heard overhead while things, the mountain included, started to fall apart.
Earlier that day, around 3:00 a.m., Tyson assembled with three other mountain-goers in a garage just outside Golden, British Columbia. Their mission was the 29-kilometre Wapta traverse in 24 hours. Their instructions: “pack light.”
This point was interpreted differently by everyone in the group. Tyson, for instance, armed himself with a set of bamboo poles and hickory skis, an ensemble that earned him the title of “Chic Scott” for the journey. His backpack contained one hearty sandwich and zero pieces of avalanche safety gear.
He was comforted by the equally meager level of preparedness the rest of his group displayed. One of them was sporting an even smaller pack than his own, but was perfectly confident with the group’s collective gear choices.
“Don’t worry,” he assured them all. “I’ve got the world’s smallest sleeping bag in here.”
“It must be really small,” Tyson thought to himself. And then he looked down at his own khaki shorts, wondering aloud if they’d suffice for the high alpine environment. But it was too late in the game to make any last minute adjustments.
A few hours later, after slogging up a headwall onto the toe of the icefield, it was revealed to the crew that “the world’s smallest sleeping bag” was in fact a dirty old water bottle spiked with roughly nine hits of LSD. And the lads, thirsty as they were, glugged it down.
What they may not have realized at the time is that they were drinking from the lysergic chalice of ski mountaineering lore. Indeed a few of the more historic descents, traverses and video segments in skiing history have been characterized by a certain hallucinogenic flare. At least, that’s how the story goes.
Mountain lore has a tendency to marinate over the years, seasoned with half-truths told at campfires, or written in magazines by people who party too much [ahem – ed]. But tales of “the world’s smallest sleeping bag” continue to pop up in the Rockies, Kootenays and Pacific Northwest.
The name suggests that it’s an essential piece of safety gear, one that the diligent mountaineer should never leave home without. But for most normal humans, LSD and high alpine navigation could be a fatal combination.
It was revealed to the crew that “the world’s smallest sleeping bag” was in fact a dirty old water bottle spiked with roughly nine hits of LSD. And the lads, thirsty as they were, glugged it down.
In any event, a first descent down Squamish’s Mount Atwell was reportedly assisted by the “packing light” approach in 1992. And there’s a certain Swede from the ski industry who declares—quite loudly—that he coined the phrase after getting stranded on the Tantalus Traverse some time in the 80s.
“I always used to keep it in my first aid kit,” bellows the Swede over the crowd at a pub in Whistler. “You don’t need a sleeping bag with that shit. You’re just laughing and walking and you don’t care.”
So was Tyson channeling the forefathers of steep skiing when he tomahawked out of a wet-snow avalanche back on Vulture Col? Or was he just a guy on the business end of an inside joke that can be traced through generations of ski bums?
“The intensity level was pretty high at that point,” he recalls, semi-fondly. “All I could hear was The Shining white noise ‘EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE’ in the background.”
They achieved their goal in the end, completing the traverse in 13 hours, a trip that takes most parties three to four days. “It sure gives you stamina,” explains Tyson. “But I think I’ll bring a real sleeping bag next time.”
This story may or may not be true. It should go without saying that CMC does not condone this kind of behaviour, but if you still feel the need to complain, please email the author. – Editors