West Coast Trail Day 3 – #deadmanwalking

I woke up.

No cramps. No vomiting. No pain.  No death in general.  Tah-dah!

Phew – I’m so glad that the shellfish didn’t kill me. WON’T be doing that again. For reals.

Turns out I slept so fitfully I didn’t even hear the chaos in the girls’ tent just over from mine. They’d left the screen unzipped about an inch, and in came da mouse…apparently it was an animated 5 minutes of mouse flinging to get it out.  The mice had left our camp mostly alone.  A net bag holding my stove and tea kettle over by the campfire got a nibble, but that was it.

Happy to be alive (and mouse-free), Day 3 looked promising, despite the face it was our longest scheduled distance on the trail (16 km) hiking between Tsusiat Falls and Cribs Creek. Day 3 foggy beach walk

The morning held an ethereal quality as we slowly made our way along the beach surrounded in fog, with the sun trying to shine through.  Hikers moved in quiet bunches, each finding their own pace. Eventually the fog engulfed the hikers in front of us and we were seemingly alone on the shifting sands.

That’s when we noticed figures on the massive rock formations in the sea.  Hugh didn’t bring his glasses on this trip, and was convinced that these were campers who’d found their way out to a rock during low tide. But upon closer inspection, the “campers” were actually large bald eagles!  Just hanging out.  I’ve never been that close to a bald eagle before!!Day 3 eagles are coming

Day 3 hole in the wallThe fog continued for a couple of kilometres along the beach, and at one point, just past the Hole in the Wall, I could swear – absolutely – that I could hear singing.  Hugh scoffed, and called me crazy. (And that’s a fair judgement – haha.)  But I swear… the voices rose and fell, like they were caught in a breeze and tossed to shore, then muffled again by the mist. My ears fought against the sound of the waves moving on the shore, trying to pick up the melody. I’d hear it, stop walking, then it would disappear. It was so beautiful. Haunting.  This continued on for about 20 minutes.

We took a rest break, leaning up against some rocks on the beach. (It’s all about finding the perfect rock or log that supports your butt and your pack at the same time. That way your whole body gets a break.)  Peering out to sea, I watched as the fog seemed to thin and fade directly in front of our stretch of beach, revealing a fishing boat and two – what appeared to be – traditional sea canoes.  For a brief moment, I could put bodies to the voices, this time talking and laughing, when the curtain of fog dropped as abruptly as it had lifted, and the boats were swallowed up again and all went silent. So magical…

The beach trail ended when we hit the official Ditidaht Indian Reserve lands, and we moved back onto the forest trail which curved inland to avoid the impassable headlands.  The trail began to get a little more technical with mud pits and root-y terrain. After we had just finished a particularly sticky climb, we met a group of hikers, one of which was wearing a pair of Crocs wrapped in duct tape.  Apparently his boots fell apart hiking through the mud on the South side, and this was his only solution – game on!Day 3 Nitinat Narrows

We reached the Nitinat Narrows just in time for lunch.  The Narrows is a tidal passage about 3 km long, and wide enough that hikers can’t cross without the use of the ferry.  The cost of the ferry is included in the hiking fees for the WCT, and M. (holder of the paperwork) had all of our receipts for passage.  I bribed Hugh with a mini Baby Ruth bar to get him to holler “Hey you guys!!!!!”  across the channel to catch their attention…not long after, the ferry chugged to life and came across to fetch us, bringing us to the other side.Day 3 crab shack

Et voila, our first “fast food” of the trail: the Crab Shack.  Locals serve up fresh crab (hauled right out of the water in front of you!) and salmon with a baked potato for $25.  As well, they have a cooler full of pop and beer, bags of crispy potato chips and cheezies, and chocolate bars.  Yuuuuum.  Hugh and I were on a bit of a budget, and we knew there was another food opportunity the next day, so we spent our pennies on pops and deliciously salty cheezies and chocolate.  I also gnawed on a protein bar to make sure I was getting enough fuel for the rest of the day.Day 3 Mr Crabs

We still had about 11 km left to go.

Hugh and P. had both expressed reservations about today’s hike simply based on length. And it was true test of endurance, especially with a heavy pack.  Exhaustion  impacts people in different ways.  I’ve been there on hikes in the past, and I get that…when you’re so beat that you can barely speak, you lose your appetite completely, and you adopt that 1000-mile stare at the end of the day.  I’ve had my friends almost force feed me my food to keep me fueled in order to boost strength in these situations.  It’s not pleasant, when the last thing you want to do is just be left alone to zone out. But it’s important.  No fuel in the tank, and your hiking days can turn into excruciatingly long treks through a wild blur.

Today’s food stop perked everyone up, and we moved forward refreshed and ready; however, fatigue caught up not long after and it was slow going through the rest of our day through all kinds of terrain.  There were plenty of stops.  A lot of stops.  So many, many stops. It’s a double-edged sword: the more you stop, you get a mini break, but the longer your day, and the longer you are on your feet with a heavy pack driving you into the ground. Choose your poison.Day last 11 km

We arrived at Cribs Creek, slogging along the last bit of beach to our destination – just around 41.5 km from where we started a few days ago.  We didn’t even bother seeking out prime real estate and ditched our bags closest to the last tent pitched on the North side of the beach.  Hugh had his tent set up and was inside before I could say Jack Daniels.

The beach was full of campers all eating dinner and settling in for the night.  I mostly remember the feeling of the cool, silky, superfine gray sand on my puckered feet, clomping across the beach to stash the food bags, use the loo,  and find more water, and setting up my tent near Hugh’s on a little sandbank. I may have eaten a cold meal that night…I know Hugh probably scarfed down crunchy Ichiban inside his tent, cougars and bears be damned.  With Hugh tucked away and fading into dreamland, and P. going about his nightly routine, I sat on a log with M. watching the night creep in.

Tomorrow – Cribs Creek to Walbran Creek

 

West Coast Trail Day 2 – #redtide

Day 2 reflectionIf I die tonight, tell my mother I love her and my father that he is a good dad.  Tell my brother he rocks. Tell my husband I chose him for the happiness he brings me. Tell Oliver he is a strong young man who can do anything he sets his mind to, and to not be so hard on himself. And tell Hugh that his is good and kind, and that he is going to do amazing things in this world and touch the hearts of many people.

I’m sitting in my tent at the end of day 2 silently freaking out.  Today I ate something I shouldn’t have and the consequences could be deadly.

***

Day 2’s agenda was to hike from Darling River through to Tsusiat Falls (14 km), and the morning started out beautifully with breakfast and a show thanks to the gray whales.  They were just offshore, as usual, and we watched as they dipped and dove through the water. And we even saw one whale breach three times!  Beautiful.Day 2 breakfast beach treasure

After eating breakfast and packing up our gear, checking in with each other for any miscellaneous aches and pains, we hit the trail.  The day was filled with beachwalking, ladder climbing, and strolls along mossy, slippery boardwalks.  We saw the whales quite a bit, and goggle-eyed sea lions watching us from the water as we walked, just their little heads poking up. Very curious little fellows.Day 2 trail shots

We passed the site where the 253 foot iron steamer Valencia sunk offshore in 1906, losing more than 125 lives.  Of the many vessels that sunk off this Graveyard of the Pacific, public outcry for the Valencia was the loudest, and helped push for the further development of the WCT and the building of the Pachena Lighthouse in 1907.

Why the fuss? Hard to imagine in this day and age of instant news and social media.  But reading the Valencia‘s account is bone-chilling, and apparently the wreck surpassed all but the sinking of the Titanic in terms of “sheer horror.”  The passenger ship became engulfed in fog, and the hull was pierced upon the jagged West Coast rocks. The captain chose to jam the ship into the rocks about 30 yards offshore rather than sink in the deep water.

Passengers were tossed overboard [by the pummelling waves] almost immediately. Women and children were lashed to rigging out of reach of the sea. ‘It was pitiful to see women, wearing only night dresses with bare feet on the frozen ratlines, trying to shield children in their arms from the icy wind and rain,’ writes freight clerk Frank Lehm.  Daybreak brought a grisly spectacle. ‘Bodies hung suspended from the rigging like flies in a web. Once rigor mortis had run its course they loosened their hold and tumbled into the water or onto the deck with a flaccid thud.  More corpses drifted between ship and shore, scoured of flesh and features as if by a giant cheese grater,’ Graham writes.  One lifeboat finally made it ashore and its crew soon found the telegraph trail, made it to the lineman’s cabin, and cabled Cape Beale.  Another vile night passed as rescuers struggled along the trail and ships sailed from Victoria to lend assistance. ~ Ian Gill, Hiking on the Edge

There were survivors, but not a single woman or child lived through the ordeal.  No remains of the Valencia can be see from the trail, although we did pass relics of other wrecks, including a boiler, and anchor and other bits and pieces.Day 2 more trail shots

It was actually at Trestle Creek, where we spotted the anchor on the beach, believed to be from the shipwreck Janet Cowan, where I made a really dumb choice.Day 2 Anchor

Trestle Creek was a great spot to stop for a break, and many other hikers had the same idea. We bumped into folks from our camp last night, and then also a large contingent hiking from the South. As we snacked and people-watched, I observed that a bunch of Japanese hikers weren’t nibbling trail mix or protein bars; instead, they were full on cooking a meal, with their stoves out, pots bubbling, etc.  It seemed like a lot of work to me!  I usually save my cooking for mornings or evenings only while on the trail.

Upon closer inspection, I realized that the menu was comprised of shellfish, which was undoubtedly harvested from the very beach upon which we were sitting.  The hikers coaxed the meat out of the shell using a gold safety pin and then dipped it in a sweet chili sauce they’d brought along. The side dish was steamed seaweed.Day 2 red tide

I couldn’t believe it. Didn’t they know about red tide? How the higher levels of neurotoxins in the algae could then cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in all the mussels, clams, etc?  This was a big deal at the WCT orientation – harvesting is off-limits and consumption could cause death.  But here they were, happily noshing on a free meal from the sea.

I poked Hugh.  “Check that out!  Don’t they know that’s not cool?”  And then when one of the ladies went to wash her dishes, she used the freshwater source as opposed to the preferred method in the WCT literature – the ocean.  “OMG – does no one read the WCT rules??”  I was high on my rule-book horse.  What kind of eco-monsters were they letting on the trail?? So many people disregarding the environment, etc.

But then I decided I wanted a photo of the shellfish (because the zoom on my camera wasn’t good enough), and went over to speak to the hikers. Oh man, they were soooooo nice and sooooo hospitable.  Really, really lovely people. They laughed and joked, and said sure I could take a photo as long as I didn’t work for Parks Canada.  They told me all about their hike, their cooking… and then they passed me the safety pin.

Ugh.

Even in my regular, at-home existence I don’t eat shellfish. With my father highly allergic to shellfish, we just never had it around the house growing up. In my adult years, I’ve tried out a variety of it (gagged through oysters, plugged my nose through mussels, etc) but it never really was my thing.  And here I was, taking photos of these nice people and trying to get to know them, and then boom!  I’ve got to partake.

They say going on the trail brings out things in your life that are forever present. Issues you need to deal with, reoccurring challenges, all of it is magnified.  And here I was: I just can’t say no. I didn’t want to be impolite, to offend anyone, to cause a situation of conflict. I politely declined once, twice, three times. They kept asking. Offering.  So, I just did it. I ate it. Regardless of the fact I could die. And the fact that this choice also made me a ginormous hypocrite.  Epic fail.

I mentally plugged my nose and scooted the tiny portion of meat to the back of my mouth, as to avoid any tastebud contact.  I chewed. It squidged about in my mouth. I chewed some more. They were all watching me so carefully.  I swallowed, and smiled. They smiled when I smiled.  I thanked them and complimented the food. One of the ladies brought over a new pot of seaweed, and they started feeding this to me as well, telling me it was sweet (it was). It was fine – I could eat however many pots of seaweed as necessary to get me through the rest of the conversation. But then one man said he was going to get me a “good one.”

No! Not another! Nooooo!  I politely declined, but of course the pin came my way, this time dunked in chili sauce. “Is good!” the man insisted.  Another death sentence down the hatch.  Then two more.  I wrapped up my visit and got back to my crew.  It was time to move on. But my head is spinning…What have I done?Day 2 cable car

Right after our break came our first cable car in order to cross the Klanawa River, which required all hands to be on deck.  We sent P. across, then M., and then Hugh and I together.  The 10-second thrill was quickly replaced by the need to start hauling oneself via rope, hand over hand, to reach the platform on the opposite side of the river.  I’m really glad all four of us worked together to get across the Klanawa! In retrospect, keeping it to one person and one bag per cable car is the best way to go.Day2 cliffs

Just two more kilometres through the rainforest along a cliff we caught glimpses of tonight’s home sweet home, Tsusiat Falls.  We scrambled down a set of ladders to the beach and scored a sweet set of spots all together in a little driftwood fortress, complete with a “living room” for our campfire.Day 2 fortress

The fresh water source for this beach was Tsusiat Falls themselves…lovely falls with a little “swimming hole” at the bottom (again, people were swimming, bathing, brushing their teeth and washing stuff in this small body of water…the same water we were filtering to drink. But post-shellfish-madness, I’d given up my fight on the subject and just had to let that go in my mind. After all, I could be dead tomorrow).

The beach was really spacious with lots of room for tents and campers. Hugh started the campfire. This particular beach was crazy good for driftwood, and Hugh made a great fire. Mind you, it did take a little patience. We quickly discovered that no matter how bone dry the wood felt, it didn’t burn easily and it took a while to build up strong, hot embers.Day 2 campfire

After dinner, I went for a wander up and down the beach, soaking my feet and legs in the water, letting the waves push and pull, push and pull.  It refreshed the body and the soul.  Bedtime came soon enough.Day 2 Tsusiat Falls campground beach

Day 2 beachDay 2 Tsusiat Falls

***

All I could think was that I was truly going to die. Tonight. Miserably.

I’m tucked away in my tent for the night, after a such an amazing day, and I keep going back to the shellfish.  What a stupid thing to do.

Part of me is like, HA! Sucker, give it up – you’re going to be fine. Stop playing the victim and love that you lived in the moment.

The other part  is whacking me in the face with a phone book – you just threw away your life because you avoided honesty in expressing your opinions and beliefs just to avoid a (possible) conflict, dumbass!!

Only time will tell.  I fall asleep to the setting sun and the melody of crashing waves.
Day 2 Tsusiat sunset
Tomorrow – Tsusiat Falls to Cribs Creek (if I live, of course.)

West Coast Trail Day 1 – #westcoastbestcoast

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Day 1 walkingGo West!  Cheesy but oh-so-accurate when it comes to the siren call of Vancouver Island. I decided to go on a little walk-about along the West Coast Trail (WCT).  This is how it happened, for reals.

History: The WCT is part of the ancient paths and paddling routes used for trade and travel by Aboriginal peoples.  The 75 km route was further developed in the 1900s to assist with the rescue of shipwreck survivors along the “graveyard of the Pacific.”

Why: Why not?  The WCT is reputedly one of those epic hikes that I’d tucked away in my brain for a rainy day. When my cousin M. said this was the summer he was going, I kinda hinted I’d love to come along, and he was cool with that.  He was bringing his dad, uncle P., and I added my son, Hugh, to the roster.

Trail stats: The trail is supposed to be a miserable grind through unruly roots and muddy bogs, along slippery boardwalks & bridges and precarious bridges & ladders. Black bears, cougars and wolves await around every corner and up each tree, waiting to pounce and eat you for dinner.  If nothing else fails, the hypothermia will get you and the mice will chew their way into your gear and nibble all your trail mix, pooping as they go.

So, yeah.  Sounds like an awesome challenge, right?Day 1 good luck dog

Day One

“Your pack is way too heavy.” Albert hoisted my pack back onto the picnic table. “Open it up, let’s see what you’ve got in there.”

I had no intention of taking out a single thing from my 52 lb pack for the West Coast Trail. I was, however, entertained by this marauding stranger with the pick up truck, the Chinese music blaring from the stereo and the feather in his hat.  He had stopped by the campsite next to ours at the Pachena Bay campground, and I figured he knew the campers.

I quickly discovered  Albert’s M.O. was to stop at any site with hikers that looked like they were heading out on the WCT, offer them tea, advice and conversation, and in return, ask for some boiling water (for the tea) and the open mind to accepting a resume for any future tour guide or construction needs. Some people were receptive, some were not. He was ousted from the neighbouring campsite.

“Sleeping bag – okay. Tent – yes. What’s this? Your food is a hundred pounds!  There’s way too much in here.” Albert pulled out my trail mix bag in particular. He pointed to the M&Ms.  “You don’t need this much chocolate. You should give some to me. I love chocolate.” When I laughed off his request, he moved over to visit with uncle P. and cousin M. for a bit.

“Who IS that guy??”  Hugh, my son, had stayed hidden in his tent during this exchange, and had just emerged to pack up his gear and scarf down some breakfast.

Albert was a good guy.  He told us stories of the trail, life on the island, and the lies Parks Canada tells about “red tide” and paralytic shellfish poisoning. “I eat shellfish all summer long and I’m fine. They don’t want you to harvesting anything, that’s all.”Day 1 leaving Pachena Bay

It was day one for the four of us on Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail.  We were hiking 75 km North to South from Pachena Bay to Gordon River with the intention of taking 6 nights and 7 days to work our way through the coastal temperate rainforest and sandy beaches. Hugh and I were pretty stoked to hit this trail.  I’d hiked with Hugh before, and also with M. I had a good idea of their capabilities and hiking styles.  It would be my first time with P.

Today’s plan was to hike 14 km from Pachena Bay to Darling River: an easy stroll on well-groomed, rolling trails through the rain forest.  We dutifully took and-we’re-off photos in front of the WCT sign near the Parks building where we’d received our maps/tide tables and had our mandatory orientation. Crossing Pachena Beach at low tide, we spotted the forest trail markers (floats/buoys) and headed into the trees to find the path.Day 1 Pachena Bay

This was my first hike ever through a cedar forest with towering trees, a fern-covered floor and a somewhat eerie stillness.  The dirt footpath muffled our footsteps, and the farther we got from the beach, the darker and quieter the forest became.  We often didn’t see or hear other hikers coming towards us until they were a few steps ahead.  In fact, the first wave of hikers coming from the South were fairly early in the day, making tracks to complete their journey on the WCT.

All the northbound walkers were in good spirits and a few ladies apologized for their smell.  I couldn’t smell anything but I totally get where they were coming from at the end of a long trek!  Mmm that greasy feeling. But the big news on the trail that morning was actually a yearling black bear – with no mama bear in sight – hanging out by a nearby creek.  We didn’t see it… And then another set of hikers reported on the same bear, that it was now up a tree.  We still didn’t see it… The anticipation of seeing a bear faded as we continued on.Day 1 through the forest

Throughout the day we crossed bridges, ascended and descended several short ladders, and had a few cool rest stops.  Giant fallen cedars with their intricate root systems exposed towered above us as we passed by, housing a whole plant walls and newly-created eco-systems.Day 1 sea lions

Before we saw them, we could smell them: the sea lion rock just offshore was home to mammoth, lolling sea lions barking away at each other.

We visited the Pachena Bay lighthouse and chatted with the lighthouse keeper. He reckons he sees about 10,000 strangers a year walk through his white picket fence gate.Day 1 Pachena lighthouse

Getting  close to our destination for the night, we passed through the Michigan Beach camp, with loads of floats hanging in the trees. Day 1 Michigan Beach

Michigan Beach had a decidedly Bohemian feel. Talking to a couple of campers there, we learned that the gray whales were super active up and down the coast, and were particularly frisky today.  Almost immediately, we saw a whale exhale explosively through it’s blowhole right offshore, followed by the slow curve of it’s back and a showy little dorsal fin – spectacular!Day 1 Gray whales

We continued along the beach, with the sand constantly shifting beneath our feet.  Our pace slowed down a bit as we struggled to master walking in the soft sand. Two kilometres later, we arrived at Darling River, a lovely little camp area with a fresh water source fed by a small waterfall, and room in the forest and on the beach for tents.  Our very first night beach camping!  Hugh and I set up right on the beach with our tents, careful to watch for the hide tide markings (as not to be swept away unexpectedly in the middle of the night).Day 1 Darling River

Hugh hit the sack shortly after his tent was up. I wasn’t too surprised – it was an eventful first day with our very full packs.  I ate supper alongside our companions who each prepared their own dehydrated meals. It was neat to sit on large pieces of log driftwood, watching for the gray whales and listening to the ocean. The weather was warm without being hot, and Pacific smelled, well, like the sea.

M. kindly had brought back some filtered water for us all at supper, but as the sun set I needed to get more for the night and for tomorrow’s breakfast. It was dusk, and the “better” water was as close to the falls as possible.  Nobody was around the fresh water source anymore, and I kept thinking about our orientation session, where we were instructed to keep an eye out for the sneaky cougars… bending down or appearing small (ie. when one is busy filtering water) can lead to a potential cougar attacks as they’d view you as prey.

Boy, oh boy, I kept singing songs to those bears and cougars and I climbed over logs towards the waterfall.  I splashed my way across the stream to a gravelly sandbar, so that I could be out in the open and watch the forest on all sides.  It took forever to pump the water… the water on the North end of the WCT is a lot more silty, and requires frequent cleaning of the ceramic filter. And it never fails that when I go to get water, I somehow get covered in it as well. So, about 30 minutes later I singsonged my way back to camp, water splotches all over my pants, but unhindered by local predators.

As the sun finally dropped behind the distant outcropping, I sat in my tent, with the fly and the screen pulled back (no bugs!), sipping fresh water and contemplating the darkening sky. A good first day.Day 1 Darling River beach view

Tomorrow – Darling River to Tsusiat Falls

 

 

 

Cotton, Cirque, Chateau: today’s hike is brought to you by the letter “C”

Let me just say, if you feel like going on a little day hike, but you only happen to have, like, the first edition (circa 1971), of your Canadian Rockies trail guide, chances are things have changed. Important things. Like trailhead locations.

Sounds improbable, right? Ha. Well, I won’t bore you with the gory details, but my dear friend, Miz T., her faithful sidekick, Cotton the dog, and I ended up wandering along the Trans Canada highway near Banff in the blazing sun looking for a trailhead that had since moved due to a road extension and fencing off of a drainage underpass.

We gave up – wisely – after about 40 minutes and thumbed through the outdated guidebook from our Chateau Lake Louise staffer days to pick another hike. We wanted something that wouldn’t kill us, with a nice view or destination, and relatively short so we could do a few camping chores that afternoon in Canmore.

We settled on the C-Level Cirque up on the east flank of Cascade Mountain that was easily accessible from the Upper Bankhead parking lot off the Lake Minnewanka Road near Banff.  This trail promised a bit of Bow Valley coal mining history and a pretty cirque to boot. The hike was ~7.8 km return and we figured we could knock that off no problem.

Well – I was sweating like a madman in the first kilometre, wondering why on earth this felt so hard. Ha.  But seriously, this is a graded, well-maintained trail – it was just a little steeper than I expected.  There were lots of people on the trail so I had to stand up straighter and look casual while trying not to pant heavily as they – fresh, perky, etc – passed by.  Let’s blame the altitude, shall we?

We happily immersed ourselves in history – aka catching our breath – as we checked out the remnants of an old building dating back to the mining days in Banff National Park shortly after the 1 km mark.Bankhead

The Canadian Pacific Railway thought it would be more cost effective to supply CPR locomotives by opening its own mine at Bankhead in ~1905.  The coal mining operation included a coal mine and town on the lower slopes of Cascade, and it produced half a million tonnes of coal a year. In Bankhead’s heyday, the mine employed 300 men and the town’s population peaked at 1,500 people with taverns, a pool hall, a hotel and a school.  The Bankhead mines closed in ~1922, and slowly the town began to disappear.  Not long after, in 1930, all mining activity within the National Parks ceased.

Along C-Level Cirque hiking trail, there is plenty of evidence of coal mining in the area from days gone by starting with our rest stop.  The graffiti added to the feeling of an abandoned world.C Level graffiti

Follow a faint trail through the woods behind this building to a large coal slag heap, which is the perfect viewpoint for a distant look at Lake Minnewanka and the valley below.C Level Minnewanka

Rested after our little diversion, we got back on the trail and almost immediately discovered several ventilation shafts from the C-Level coal beds.  It was part eerie and part Goonies for me.  The shafts were fenced off, but you could see the tops of that chain link were bent as people had climbed over to explore.  Although unsafe, I can totally understand the lure of those vents.C Level mine vent

We kept on with our altitude battle, Cotton giving us the occasional disdainful glance as she pulled us onward and upward.  The best part was passing folks on the way down who told us we were barely halfway there…lol.  But all in good company, Miz T. and I got caught up on so many things.  I can hardly believe we worked together for Canadian Pacific Hotels & Resorts more than 20 years ago!!

Our youthful adventures back in the day took us on a crazy ski road trip to Montana in search of Whitefish but somehow we ended up in Great Falls delivering newspapers with some kid at 0500 hrs; hitchhiking through the mountain parks to the Lodge at Kananaskis where we stayed in an executive suite for the staffer rate of $30, and ate room service in the hot tub; hiking up Castle Mountain and sleeping under the stars at Rockbound Lake, watching a silent storm pass by, sheet lightning illuminating the massive rock walls; taking my little boys – 2 and 1 years of age – on their first backcountry camping trip to Ribbon Creek and watching them giggle as we hung Huey’s diapers from the bear pole… and so much more.  Isn’t life amazing?

Soon enough the trees began to thin out along the trail to the cirque, and we caught glimpses of Cascade Moutain high above us.  The whole grand rock bowl appeared as we emerged from the trees at the base of the formation.  Cirques are typically carved out of the side of a mountain by glaciers or erosion. This was a lovely example of a cirque, with a tumbling rock garden down the centre.  On the left is a faint trail down to a wee tarn, and on the right the trail continues steeply up along the treeline for even better views.C Level Cirque

Miz T. and I hung out at the tarn, throwing sticks in the water for Cotton to help her cool off on this stinky hot day.  C Level Cotton

We ate our lunches and lounged for a bit in the sun, watching Cotton play.  Afterwards, we made good time returning to the car and on to Canmore for a browse through the second-hand store, shopping for dinner stuff and a water fill up at the Canmore Nordic Centre… and then back to the Bow River campground for some R&R.

Sawback trail – Skoki Valley to Lake Louise (Day 7)

Home time!!! Despite the beauty of the Rockies, the crazy amazing hiking, and the lovely lodge atmosphere of Skoki…we wanted to go home.

Hugh extracted himself from the comfy bed of our Skoki Lodge detour and returned his Handbook of the Canadian Rockies to the bookshelf.  We munched and chatted our way through breakfast, and packed a hefty lunch to take along with us on the hike out. I took one last swing on the Skoki swing. We signed the guest book.  We left tips for the staff. Our gear was back in our packs. Our bellies were full. The sun was shining. We were ready to go.Day 7 swing

Start point: Skoki Lodge

End point: Village of Lake Louise

Distance: 17.2 km (3.9 km in the van)

Elevation: Gained ~309m, lost ~938m

Highlights: beauty of a day, icy cold root beer

I’d told Hugh about the Skoki Lakes route up to Packer’s Pass as an alternate to going back over Deception Pass but he was more comfortable going back the way we’d come, wanting to expedite our departure from the backcountry.Day 7 Skoki lounging

With our only elevation gain going up and over Deception, we made excellent time down past Ptarmigan Lake and Redoubt Mountain, down Boulder Pass and through the meadows.Day 7 heading home

It was another hot day, so we stopped and refilled our water bottles at the halfway hut, but otherwise just kept moving.  We passed hikers with crisp shirts and smiles on their faces. We saw dogs out for the day with their owners.  We witnessed an entire Japanese family trekking along from age 9 to what appeared to be 90. Everyone having a delightful day.

Hiking up to Ptarmigan Lake is a very do-able day hike from Lake Louise (I did it last summer); and believe it or not, I met several people in the winter who skied in to Skoki Lodge for tea and then skied out again, all in one day. Such a pretty area and is totally a must-do on any Canadian Rockies bucket list.

There are grizzlies living in and around Skiing Louise, and the Skoki Lodge trailhead is on the back side of the (ski) mountain.  We kept our eyes peeled, but didn’t see any bears at all.  Now – being a lodge guest, we had the option of catching a shuttle van from the Skoki trailhead on the mountain down to the Fish Creek parking lot, or walking the 3.9 km fire road.  I’ve walked up that fire road before, and let me tell you, it’s not too much fun. All gravel, steep and few opportunities for views of the surrounding mountains.  We opted to wait 1.5 hours for the shuttle van to come and fetch us.

By the time the van arrived, most of our fellow Skoki Lodge inmates had also shown up for the ride down the mountain.  It was bumpy and dusty and squishy, but better than walking down.  Our legs were done for this week!  The driver couldn’t take us any further than the Fish Creek parking lot, and our fellow hikers all had full cars, so we hiked from there to the village of Lake Louise.  Boy, we were happy to see Laggan’s for some pizza bagels, brownies and cold drinks!

We sat and watched tourists in the village as we waited for the Greyhound to Banff.  Thoroughly entertaining… Our bus was about an hour late (apparently the eastern-bound Greyhound out of Vancouver is almost always delayed) but soon enough we were on our way to meet the family in Banff – sooo great to see them!  After dinner out in Canmore, we headed on to Kananaskis where we stayed for a night in a tipi at Sundance Lodges.

Following a refreshing shower, Hugh wanted one last night in his own tent…so he set it up and turned in early. Day 7 one last tent night

Jim, Oliver and I sat and chatted for a while.  I was very aware of a new twinge in my lower back. By the time bedtime came, it was extremely painful, and even to get in and out of the tipi I had to crawl rather than bend down.  Lowering myself into bed was excruciating if I moved a degree too far to the left or right.  What the heck??

This was a disappointing turn of events, because the very next day in Kananaskis, I had a half-marathon trail run, Powderface. I’d registered for this event months ago and was totally looking forward to the challenge of this course.  And here I was, not even able to move properly from bed to standing, from standing to car, etc.  What a rip off!  Part of me wanted to go check in the next morning to at least get my race package, but eventually I made the decision to not participate in the race, and to head home one day early.  Sad face…the boys, mind you, were totally fine with that.  Hugh couldn’t wait to get home, Oliver had things to do, and Jim missed the cats…

And thus the Sawback Trail is done!  Such a neat experience to hike through the backcountry from Johnston’s Canyon to Lake Louise.  All in all, our trail kilometres added up to about 70 km over the 7 days we took to hike and explore.  I loved being able to hike with my son. I think that was the very best part.  (In the end, backcountry trips are all about the company …)

Sawback trail – Baker Lake to Skoki Valley (Days 5&6)

Our detour into the Skoki Valley was not really part of the SawbackTrail.  To wrap it up, we only had to hike 13 more km from Baker Lake down past Ptarmigan Lake and Boulder Pass, through the Lake Louise ski area and to the trail head at the Fish Creek parking lot.

Skoki Valley offers a whole whack of quintessential Rockies eye candy waiting to happen.  So close, we couldn’t pass up a couple of days exploring this destination…with a solid roof over our heads at night. As a less-than-roughing-it way of ending our hiking trip, we reserved our last two nights at Skoki Lodge, a 1930s-built backcountry log cabin which serves homemade meals and provides shelter from the elements, all in the heart of Skoki Valley.

Start point: Baker Lake campground (Sk11)

End point: Skoki Lodge

Distance: 6.5 km

Elevation: Gained ~224m, lost ~310m

Highlights: Clean sheets, four walls, bottomless watery lemonade

Trail notes: How quickly the body and mind adjust to new routines: walk, rest, eat, sleep – repeat. I’m ready to go from Baker Lake fairly early. Part of this need to get up, however, is due to an aching body of hours invested inside the tent. I’m sore, wanting to stretch and run and move. My clothes-sack-as-pillow is proving to be not as comfy as I remember it.  I wake up every time I need to shift and/or and turn over – which is often. I think I’m getting old.Day 5 leaving Baker

Funny thing when you know you’re going to be back in “civilization” – even if it’s just backcountry civilization…  I’m acutely aware that my sleeping bag smells like sweaty Doritos. I haven’t even seen my own face for days. My socks can stand on their own. I need to do a serious bird bath at the lake before smoothing out my least-offensive hiking shirt and heading to Skoki.  Hugh and I were looking forward to Skoki and the change of scenery. In particular, Hugh was still very bear-aware and was happy to be sleeping safe and sound tonight in a lodge.  I was more about the clean sheets and having someone else making the food.

We said goodbye to Mr. D., who gave us a parting gift of Gouda, an extra fuel canister and the coveted Bushman bug lotion. Woot.   From Baker Lake we could get to Skoki Lodge by hiking around Fossil Mountain or over Deception Pass – Hugh and I decided to go up and over Deception. Day 5 view to Skoki valley

It was a steep start but with fantastic views of the valley ahead, blue layer upon blue layer into the distance, and a gentle descent into the valley to the lodge passing by glaciers, lakes, creeks, meadows and endless trees.Day 5 Skoki arrival

Skoki Lodge check in is pretty mellow. Take your boots off at the front door, poke your head into the kitchen, and they’ll tick your name off their guest list, give you the brief verbal tour (outhouses out back, dinner at 7:00 pm, etc.) and let you find your room.  We’d booked a lodge room – Deception – with two single beds.    We arrived at teatime, which meant a little buffet of salsa & chips, cheese & crackers, scones, cake, fruit, and all the lemonade, tea and coffee you could guzzle. We plunked down at the long polished dining table to snack before heading upstairs to our room.

Our packs would undoubtedly be the biggest here as most people bring little more than a day pack to Skoki since everything is provided.  We gratefully emptied out our things in our room, rinsed and hung up any offending clothing and stored our tents and sleeping bags under the beds.  I fetched hot water in the jug provided in our room, and we washed our faces. Bliss!

Hugh immediately curled up in bed, and I took a wander around the lodge.  The two-level lodge houses the dining room and lounge on the main level, and above are bedrooms.  Several log cabins for both guests and staff are close by, within ringing distance of the dinner bell.  Just behind the lodge are outhouses for men and women.Day 5 Skoki interior

It was my first time at Skoki in the summer season having stayed twice before but only in the winter, hiking in via snowshoes (skiing is the usual method for winter, but a few snowshoe).  Pretty much the same. The most notable difference was that winter’s tea includes a hot soup and the lodge has a slightly more cozy feel with snow packed all around.  Summer leaves the lodge much more accessible to passerby hikers and campers, and there is much more foot traffic in the valley than in winter.

After a quick walkabout I went back up to our room and fell into a deep slumber on a soft bed with a deliciously fluffy duvet.  Hugh and I both dozed, shaking off sleep just minutes before the dinner bell rang.  Day 5 dinner at Skoki

At dinner, we met a few families, several sets of couples and a group of friends out for a few days away.  Everyone was quite nice, and shared stories of their hikes and outdoor trips.  We socialized for a bit, and when dinner wrapped up we hit the sack.

Day 6 dayhiking

Start/end point: Skoki Lodge

Distance: 7 km roundtrip (estimated)

The next morning came rather early due to our neighbours being up before 0600 hrs.  There is no way to mute the other inmates when you’re sleeping in a lodge room. The walls are thin and you can hear every cough or sneeze; the floorboards creak with each step taken; and then there’s the stage whispering… so, either get earplugs or book a cabin.

Breakfast at Skoki appears in two courses: one – oatmeal, yogurt, fruit salad and granola; two – something cooked, usually involving eggs.  Most of the time I’m skeptical about the cooked stuff despite my love of eggs, so I skip it and have another round of the first course.  After breakfast, I sat down with one of the Skoki crew and they drew me a map for a hike to Merlin Lake. I’d wanted to do the hike to Skoki lakes instead, hearing about the waterfall the night before at the dinner table, but the staffer was pretty insistent about Merlin, and that I should save the Skoki lakes hike as an alternative route back out instead of Deception Pass on our departure day. I dutifully took the Merlin map, but had every intention of hitting the trail to the lakes instead.

Hugh was a happy camper in our lodge room, and had no desire of leaving it – ever.  So, he skipped breakfast and was completely content with hanging out and reading all day.  He’d found a book on a shelf in the lounge by Bow Valley’s Ben Gadd, Handbook of the Canadian Rockies, and was learning about everything from bears to lichen.  I packed my hiking snacks from the picnic lunch prep buffet and headed out solo to check out “the Skoki lakes.”

These lakes are actually named  Zigadenus Lake and Myosotis Lake on my map, but interestingly enough, the trail from the lodge to the lakes is not marked on my map. This semi-hidden gem is for those in-the-know apparently, and from what I understand, Skoki staff will share a roster of neat off the grid hikes and scrambles as they see fit.Day 6 bridge at Skoki

My day hike started over the bridge at the fork in the road, literally, a stone’s throw from Skoki on a well-worn trail with only one sign marked “Packer’s Pass.”  Day 6 fork in the roadThe trail wound through the forest for a short time, and popped out in a wide meadow, with a rock wall and waterfall at the far end.  Cairns were my best friend at this point, marking the way frequently through a creek and a rockslide.Day 6 cairn spotting Can you spot the cairns?? Sometimes they really blended in…  Upon arriving at the lovely waterfall, I was a little stumped. Because the Skoki staffer gave me instructions for Merlin Lake, not the Skoki Lakes, I lacked details of this hike. What appeared before me was a rock wall with a rushing waterfall, and no apparent way up.

However, upon closer inspection, there were cairns leading right up to the falls.  I began to follow them, one by one, and slowly made my way on a very easy trail right up beside the waterfall, under a huge boulder, into a hidden chimney and boom – on top of the falls!  What a thrill!Day 6 up the waterfall

I skirted the lower lake, Myosotis, and following the cairns made my way up another rocky incline to the upper lake, Zigadenus.  Day 6 Skoki LakesI parked it at the top and hung out in the sunshine for almost an hour beneath the Wall of Jericho, eating my lunch and watching ice crack off the hanging glacier and tumble towards the water.Day 6 upper lake

I didn’t meet another soul until I began to pick my way down to the lower lake, and head home. Other Skoki guests were using this route as their way back out to Ptarmigan Lake and onwards to the trail head at Fish Creek.

This was a charming little day hike and my photos just don’t do it justice.Day 6 upper lake 2

I headed back to the lodge for tea, a rest and then dinner (so much food…).  Hugh was still engrossed in his book and not willing to give that up for socialization at dinner.  He skipped dinner as well, with the promise he’d come down for breakfast in the morning.

My sleep was restless that night. I was bitten several times by some sort of tiny midge that ended up leaving massive bumps on my arms and legs.  Yuck.  How ironic to survive the nasty mozzies for many days with only my tent to protect me, but then get taken down by another biting sort within the “safety” of the lodge.Day 6 back to the lodge

Tomorrow – time to go home!

 

 

Sawback trail – Wildflower Creek to Baker Lake (Day 4)

The original plan for Day 4 was to hike from Wildflower Creek through to Merlin Meadows in the Skoki Valley; however, looking at the distances, 6.1 km to Baker Lake looked a lot more appealing than 13.9 km to Merlin.  We decided to play it by ear, but pretty much as soon as the topic was broached, we were all for keeping it short and sweet, knowing that today’s hike would include trail-finding, wet feet and, well, distance.

Start point: Wildflower Creek campground (Ba15)

End point: Baker Lake campground (Sk11)

Distance: 6.1 km, give or take some meandering

Elevation: Gained ~420m

Highlights: Trailfinding 102, teamwork, Percy the Porcupine

Trail notes: Hugh and I anticipated today as being our most challenging on the trail because we knew from the Parks folks that the trail disappeared and re-appeared at various points. Not to mention that there was no bridge across Wildflower Creek at all, due to floods in the past years.

Objective #1 was to get out of the campground.  We packed up and stood on the bank of the creek. Wildflower Creek is not especially wide, but in the narrow bits, it’s deep and fast flowing. Our goal was to cross without getting 1) hurt and 2) wet.

The logs thrown down by previous hikers in place of the bridge were not especially thick in girth, and were very smooth and slimy, having no bark left at all.  Mr. D. removed his pack to test them by taking a few tentative steps across.  The flimsy logs buckled and swayed beneath his weight – and he was a slender fellow! This was not the ideal crossing place.

We checked upstream and down, and our best option was slightly downstream where there were rocks already protruding from the water.  Hugh passed Mr. D. two pieces of deadfall, both still with bark, and together they created an elevated bridge using the stones.  A few steps on the bridge, two steps on the rocks, a helping hand, and a jump to the far bank = we were all across!  Go team Wildflower!

Riding high on the first obstacle conquered we made quick time through the forest and came out blinking into a large, bright meadow.  This sub-Alpine meadow was home to a massively braided stream, and despite efforts to keep to the trail along the right hand side, we lost the forest trail almost immediately and were forced into the meadow.Day 4 braided meadow

Objective #2 was to cross the meadow and find the trail in the forest at the foot of the pass on the other end.  Both online suggestions and Parks advice was to stick to the left side of the meadow, beneath the east ridges of Anthozoan Mountain, and then seek out the forest trail somewhere along the tree line once at the other end.

We got right royally soaked fording the streams through this meadow. All crisp, clear, lovely and cold – but wet.  Mr. D. had all-leather boots, and the water sloshed about in his footwear like a deviant whirlpool.  It was a somewhat enjoyable zig-zag across the meadows. Being together and using our noodles made it more Nancy Drew than Into the Wild.

It ended up taking us 2.5 hours from leaving the Wildflower Creek campground to reaching the hidden forest trail head at the far end of the meadow. We hadn’t actually travelled a great distance, but the route-finding took time. Cairns along the forest entry really helped out to pick up that trail again.

We hiked up a steep, rooted trail through the trees to a great, wide meadow. This has to have been my favourite view of the entire trek.  A total treat to glimpse our first look at the Skoki area, with Fossil on the left and the extended ranges on the right.Day 4 beauty

Ogling all this stunning scenery as we tramped through the meadow, we arrived at a trail junction sign in no time at all.  Here was the decision: carry on to Merlin Meadows, or stay at Baker Lake.  I got a surge of energy and was okay to go on, but Hugh reined me in, and we decided to go to Baker Lake. I’m glad he suggested this, because, as trail magic works, I was dog tired by the time we reached the campground.

We pitched our tents slightly off-site, hung up our clothes, aired out our boots and performed other camper rituals.  Being somewhat close to Lake Louise (only 13.1 km away) and the evening being right before a stat holiday, the campground had a half dozen tents and a quiet buzz of activity.  This was a lot of people compared to our last few days of hiking.  The sites are all in a clearing, close together in a ring. Not the nicest, I’d have to say. In fact the whole campground had a kind of disregarded air about it, like visitors were a bit careless…everything from bits of paper strewn about to food garbage tossed down the outhouse hole…not cool.

Note: I did feel slightly guilty about staying at Baker Lake without a reservation, since our two sites were reserved over at Merlin Meadows.  We were prepared to move, if needed, but in the end there were 4 empty tent pads that night, so we did not displace any fellow campers.Day 4 pretty

After an afternoon rest – counting mosquitoes buzzing between my tent’s net and fly (39) – we popped out for dinner.  We were still kind of prisoners in our tents due to the lack of bug repellent, so resting and hiding were serving an equal purpose.Day 4 pitch n pork

Mr. D. was already prepping his meal when we arrived to eat, and had a small visitor waddling about his picnic table.  Baker Lake’s resident porcupine (we call him Percy) tended to come out in the evenings, we learned, and would do his rounds at each site, checking out what campers may have left outside their tents.  Later, he would return and pretty much chew anything vaguely rubbery, such as boots or flip flops or even grips from hiking poles.  Percy wouldn’t hesitate to go right under your fly into the vestibule – even in the dead of night.  Apparently he scared the pants off some campers the night before doing just that. We hung our gear up in the trees or stashed it in our tent.

AND if you didn’t place the latch on the outhouse door when you were finished, Percy would eat all the wood in the outhouse, too!  Half of the toilet seat platform had been stripped away already, and I’m surprised the whole thing hadn’t caved in yet!

Hugh had the Hawaiian rice with chicken again, and I had a Southwestern macaroni with beef.  Huzzah for Hugh, and YUCK for me. Not even extra cheese could save that gross Southwestern macaroni.  The mozzies were pretty bad, but Mr. D. strolled over and lent us more Bushman cream.  That helped a lot. And the fact that I wore my raincoat and a hat…

After dinner, I hung up the food bag and filtered some water at the lake. It was so very peaceful at Baker Lake… I watched other campers go through similar rituals, then headed back to tuck in for the night.  As we lay in our tents that evening, chatting and listening to all the crazy birds, Percy came through to check us out.  We told him to scram, and he did.  Nothing juicy left in our site for him to nibble upon.Day 4 percy

Sleep came fairly quickly that night, but at midnight, I woke up because it was dead silent and pitch black.  Absolutely not a buzz, tweet or bump in the night.  It was so peculiar.

And then a flash. Six counts later, a roll of thunder.  More flashes, more thunder, penetrating the otherwise silent campground.  Hugh was awake, too, and we ventured that this finally was a product of the insanely hot days we’ve had in the Rockies all week.

The silence was broken once more by a distant rush…something let loose and heading our way in a mighty wave, until a mammoth squall burst over Fossil from the Skoki Valley and unleashed itself upon the Baker Lake campground.  The wind howled and buffeted and tore at the treetops, lightning crackling overhead, thunder pounding.  The gale was crazy strong, and surprisingly warm, yet our tent flies were barely ruffled.  All the action was heaven-ward.

As quickly as the squall came, it left, continuing on towards Pulsatilla Pass, taking the thunder and lightning with it. And then then rain came: heavy, hard and endless.  We fell asleep to the downpour, waking only once it was all over at about three or four in the morning.  A wickedly awesome way to end the night!

Tomorrow: Baker Lake to Skoki Valley