I lived. Am here to write about it.
Jill and I arrived in Lake Louise super stoked about snowshoeing out to Skoki Lodge. Woohoo – January challenge is in da howse! After checking in at the Lake Louise Ski Area reception and cramming into the gondola with our packs, snowshoes, poles and three other boarders that we squashed against the windows, we made it up and over the mountain to Temple Lodge, a log cabin restaurant/bar on the back side of the ski hill.
For some reason, the directions from Temple to the Skoki Lodge trail head just didn’t seem logical. We ended up screwing around for a bit looking for the trail head, and it was in the that moment… that exciting rush of “we’re going to do this!”… that I freaked out. Silently.
My pack was heavy: “better safe than sorry” had been our packing motto. The air was thin. Bloody thin. There were skiers & boarders zipping by us from every direction. Lots of curious stares. The day was already passing quickly (gotta go! gotta go!) which meant the later we started, the later we got there (aka in the dark). My glasses were fogging. The one night stand I had with Rock Creek Dry Cider wasn’t offering any strength to fall back on. And we couldn’t find the trail head.
Turns out that the little sign indicating the way to Skoki is about 100 metres up Larch run #143. We marched – vertical nightmare – up that damn ski run and every cell in my body screamed for oxygen. My legs felt like lead. My lungs could barely suck in enough air. Sweat dripped from my brow as I stood heaving in front of the sign that pointed to a pretty little path through the trees.
At that point, I didn’t care. Not a bit. I took a photo of the sign for posterity, and shoved my camera back in the pack. Jill lead the way, and I followed, feeling sorry for myself. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t keep up with her and I couldn’t breathe. I quietly suffered. Or maybe I wasn’t quiet. I might have bitched and moaned but I don’t remember.
All I know is that it was HARD. It made every bit of “training” I did seem like a joke. I was sad.
He loved mountains, or he had loved the thought of them marching on the edge of stories brought from far away; but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth. He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire.
~J.R.R. Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings
At that point it became very much an individual sport. I locked into my own world and just walked. One snowshoe in front of the other. When my heart hammered too excessively I stopped and I took long steady breaths, and then started up again when ready. (I felt awesome standing still – I just had trouble with the moving part).
The trail gradually looped up through the evergreens and out into an alpine meadow bathed in sunshine and gloriously warm temperatures for January. I caught up to Jill and we talked to passersby (uber fit skiers, dogs with little jackets) and soaked up the sun as we stood in the middle of the trail eating beef jerky, cheese and energy shots (mmm… Salted Caramel GU). This break came around 4 kms into the snowshoe.
This was my first experience of athleticism being a mind game as much as a physical ability. I calmed down, I accepted what I could do today, and then I did it. Wasn’t a race, it was a marathon. It truly did become the journey over the destination. My body no longer exhibited signs of fight or flight, and I just kept moving slow and steady.
Following the gradual climb to the alpine meadow, we began the short ascent of Boulder Pass, winding up a fairly steep route between boulders capped like massive snow mushrooms. At the top of the pass, frozen Ptarmigan Lake stretched out in front of us with the trail leading up and over Deception Pass at the far end.
This was my moment of joy.
Not because the lake crossing guaranteed absolutely no incline, but because there was something delightful in front of me. A couple of the people who’d passed us earlier on the trail were now skimming across the icy surface on their snowboards attached to giant, brightly coloured kites. Kiteboarding! How awesome was that? The thought that people were willing and able to hike into the backcountry in the dead of winter to a frozen lake at several thousand feet above sea level for FUN… So cool. I loved it.
We motored across the windblown lake at a good clip and began the slog up Deception Pass. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Stop. Repeat. That was all I could manage. Tired? A bit. But just not able to physically do any more than that. Not far behind us was a father-son duo also headed out to Skoki for the night. Climbing the pass on their backcountry touring gear proved to be challenging for them as well.
Deception Pass rewarded us with stunning views from the top, looking over Skoki Valley and the peaks beyond that would be our backdrop for the next few days. We had only a few more kilometres to go before reaching the lodge, and all were downhill! We stopped for a celebratory swig (or three) of peppermint schnapps. Papa Bear and his son swooped past us on their skis as we continued to snowshoe down into the valley. Gravity blessed them with a time advantage on the flip side and they made it to the lodge a whole hour before us. (Not that it mattered…but Papa Bear pointed that out to us over dinner later that night…)
We arrived at Skoki Lodge, about 5 hours and 15 minutes from the time we began. A bit weary on my part, but pleased. And totally within the suggested travel time to Skoki of “three to five hours”. Overcoming my own mind seemed to truly be the biggest challenge. Silly brain.
The only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday.