I’m a quitter & I’m okay with that today

Powderface 42It was a Forest Gump moment extraordinaire. Halfway through my half marathon trail race, I just stopped.

Sounds dramatic, but it wasn’t.

I could see the medic and the sweep carefully assessing me and my decision. It was, after all, their job to make sure I wasn’t bleeding or broken in some way. Sure, there was some minor discomfort (hey, it’s running) like swollen hands and being lightheaded in the heat, but no real emergency. I’d just had enough that day.

I was enough that day.

And so I took a knee, and dropped out of Powderface (that’s a big DNF – officially) after seven miles of straight up and straight down, flats through wildflower meadows, gradual descents through the trees and brush, slow inclines along rocky paths, and chance encounters with young elk. Beautiful day.

It was the strangest thing to do, and very uncharacteristic for me. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I have a ridiculous record of finishing even if it means I’m dead last and/or the clock ran out. I just keep going. I’m a bit stubborn that way.

“Is this your first trail race?” asked the sweep, rather cautiously. I was tempted to lie. But I told her no, I’d done a 5 Peaks race before. “Where are you from?” (ie. was I a Flatlander? Had I ever seen a hill?) was the next question. The sweep was lovely – saying all the right things, and giving all sorts of helpful advice for future training. I appreciated every last bit of it, but was anxious to get on my way. I was done for the day.

While I was quite willing to walk back to the race staging area along the highway, the race crew at the aid station intervened and radioed in a medic ride. After a quick drive, I handed in my race bib at the finish line. I walked by the aid station stacked with boxes of mini pies, bowls of sweet, juicy fruit and salty chips, and past all the 5 Peaks mugs and Buffs set out for the finishers.

Me = officially not a finisher.  Pie is for finishers.

I had kind of a neutral feeling about that. No victory dance, yet no regret.  Perhaps just a little meh. [Insert shoulder shrug here]

I hopped back into my car, drove out of the mountains back to Calgary to pick up my husband, then headed north to Edmonton.  The future of me and running still to be determined.

Have you ever dropped out of a race?

Would you still wear the race t-shirt if you didn’t complete the race?

Have you and running ever taken a break?

Embracing my first DNF

Blackfoot 50K mud

Bugger.

DNF? Are you kidding me?

DNF stands for “Did Not FINISH.”

When I saw those preliminary results posted on Facebook, I was gutted.

I clearly recall running, cantering, trotting and walking the entire 50 kilometres. 50K. On the trail. Over the hills. Through the mud.

I just didn’t quite finish within a reasonable time, I guess. I was under the impression I’d made the cutoff time, but I appear to have been mistaken.

I know I completed 50K.

YOU (now) know I completed 50K.

I just need to work on my speed. Because yes, I was out there for a ridiculously long time on my feet.

But I FINISHED.

So, I’ll see that DNF and raise you some courage.

Some confidence.

Some sore legs.

And some mild interest to do it all again next year just so I can get a legit time posted next to my name, and not a big, fat “DNF.”

Race recap – 5 Peaks Terwillegar

Finisher 5 PeaksWhhhyyyy do I do this to myself?

I really don’t like this course, but I knew I needed a swift kick in terms of getting off the road and onto the trails.

Trail running is so incredibly different than road racing, and 5 Peaks guarantees that you’re going to get a course that is a big fat twisty single-track adventure when you run at Terwillegar in Edmonton.

Organization
5 Peaks seems to be experiencing a bit of a growth spurt – the first race in the 5 Peaks Northern Alberta series was  sold out!  The race had vendors, snacks, package pick-up and a social media-driven car-pooling initiative going down.  All smooth, all good.  The location is the same as in years past, at the Terwillegar dog park.

Course
Let me just say… I hate this course. I hate it because it kills me every time. Which means I should really love it because I need to conquer it.

It starts innocently enough with flat double-ish track for a few kilometres or so, and then boom!  Up through the trees on a single track along the river where you find yourself running on what appears in the normal-person-world to be a hiking trail.  This twisty trail of fun continues through the trees with a descent, and then another section of undulating hills hugged closely by trees.  After you survive this bit, the path widens out and heads back down to the finish line. But wait, if you’re an idiot and signed up for the Enduro (14 km) course rather than the Sport (7 km) course, you get to do another loop of this foolishness.5Peaks Terwillegar course

My run
I seeded myself in the 3rd (final) wave of the start for the Enduro runners, and was in full panic mode as I covered the first few kilometres. WHY I was freaking out, I can’t tell you. Probably the same emotional rage range I experience when going to the dentist for a little drilling of the teeth. I knew what was coming. I knew it would be challenging. And everyone who signs up for these trail races are just so EPIC!  (Eeeek! Intimidating!)

Once I hit that hiking trail (yes, I will continue to call it a hiking trail) my legs turned to concrete and my heart was pounding right out of my chest.  Adrenaline carried me as my body went into WTF mode.  As we all navigated the steep, rooted trail, I played tag with a couple of ladies running together. I passed them, they passed me.  They rested, then I rested.  It was comforting to always have a someone (anyone?) in constant view. I managed to keep up an acceptable pace but soon enough the duo disappeared ahead as the real hounds caught up to me.

Released from the start gate, the Sport racers were already running up from behind. Total beast mode! I took advantage of their speed to catch my breath by stepping off the trail to let them pass, me cheering and clapping – because it WAS damn impressive.  During this time, I encountered the Enduro sweep who informed me exactly what I was: “the last one.” A little disheartening. Nonetheless, I stepped, cheered, ran, stepped, cheered ran – repeatedly – the next several kilometres as waves of runners came dashing through the woods.  AND I was also completely lapped by the leaders of the Enduro as well!  Freaking amazing!! These guys rocked.

By the time I reached the end of the first loop runners in front of me were veering off to the right, towards the finish line, and I couldn’t see a soul in front of me on the track starting the second loop. I’d lost the pair of ladies who were around my speed.  That first half of the race truly took the guts right out of me, and I was feeling rather alone in my great trail running baptism of 2016.

And that’s when I began to cry.  It was hot. I was tired. It was stupid, really. But it was overwhelming. I felt terrible and dumb and sad. Even the sweep wasn’t running at that point, as she’d stayed back to chat with volunteers.  And cheese and crackers, WHY do I do this to myself?? Why didn’t I just run the short course??  Well, because I knew I needed practice on a long trail run, that’s why.

However, at this point, “logic” didn’t stop the heaving, blinding, pathetic sobs.  I stumbled up the small rise at the beginning of the second loop, and when I was out of sight from the start/finish line and all the happy people, I sat down on a park bench and sipped some water. I sucked back a gel.  And then I got myself together.  Crying was NOT going to miraculously catapult me to the finish line.  I had a long way to go.

So, I kept going. I sucked air all through the hiking trail part, heaving as I climbed up the short, steep inclines, trying to make up time with fast descents. On the next part, a nice volunteer caught up to me.  He was busy plucking the markers off the trail behind me as I either ran or walked.  (Note: he could walk as fast as I “ran”)  He was retired, and we chatted about all sorts of running-related things. He didn’t start running until his 40s, and it cleared up his knee problems as his legs got stronger over the years.

The next trail angel I encountered was heading back to the finish after hanging out at an aid station post-race, and he walked/jogged with me. He gave me good advice on all sorts of trail-related things, including a walking gait to adopt that allowed me to walk faster while still being soft on the knees and providing recovery time mid-race.

My painfully clenched calf muscles (poor calves – shocked to have worked so hard!) had begun to subside by that point, but being a punk and feeling sorry for myself, I continued to walk the remainder of the course.  Every now and then I would trot, and the calves would protest, so I slipped back into walk mode. I figured last was last, and that’s all there was to it – no need to hurry.

As he and I power-walked monkey-style down the final stretch, we could hear the 5 Peaks announcers and the remnants of the crowd.  He told me this was my time now, and I needed to go ahead.  He told me to run and to throw my arms in the air as I crossed the finish line, because I’d earned it.  That made me feel both grateful and silly, mostly because I spent most of the race feeling sorry for myself. And I’m not sure I earned some fabulous finish.

Off I went, trotting across the finish line with a Forrest Gump wave to the poor volunteers who were waiting to go home.  Everyone was so kind, and they clapped, and the race announcer even gave me a Timex running watch along with my commemorative 5 Peaks pint glass for finishing the race. Awwwwww. Thanks, 5 Peaks!

The food table folks brought out a bowl of bananas they’d put away, along with a sleeve of cookies and a half bottle of diet cola. All the other snacks were gone, and as a little kid hanging out by the table lamented, he didn’t get pizza, either – lol.  I took what they could offer and went to sit and watch the dogs play in the dog park as I cooled off.Terwillegar 5 Peaks my run

Lessons
All in all, this race was a great way to get back on the trails and remind myself what work needs to be done = train for the terrain.

When I got home, I scrolled through the online race results and discovered that the ladies who’d been around my pace during the first quarter of the run had only finished about 6 minutes before me. Six minutes.

On the flip side, boy, I was whiny.  I need to – again – get out of my own head, and work on the positive self-talk.  These races are learning experiences and part of the process. I mustn’t get so discouraged!

I was super grateful to run into those trail angels who offered me advice, with no judgement. It’s amazing how far a kind word will go, you know?

And lastly – oh jeez. I’m striving to gain a little more running maturity (ummm there’s no crying in running??).

5 Peaks last place

 

 

 

 

 

Race recap – Run Disney’s Star Wars (Dark Side) Half Marathon

Better late than never – for both childhood dreams of going to Disney and the writing of race recaps.

Darth Run DisneyI’d heard about RunDisney but didn’t pay much attention until the words “Star Wars” came up.  Running the inaugural Star Wars Dark Side races at Walt Disney World (the light side having been run in California at Disneyland) sounded too cool, and hey, it was Orlando – I love you! Orlando! Sea World and Disney and putt-putt golfing! But I digress. Jim and I joined 43,000 other registered runners for the 2016 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend—The Dark Side.

We also totally made a holiday out of it this past April, staying for a week at Disney’s Pop Century hotel.  Talk about havin’ a time!  From the pineapple beer at the race expo to crossing the finish line at the half marathon = all was amazing.

Organization
With 19,500 runners registered for the half marathon, it’s the largest race I’ve ever participated in. And it was STAR WARS.  How absolutely nerd-tastic was this??  I’m hands-down impressed by the sheer logistics of the races hosted by Walt Disney World in Florida.  Despite my coping issues with crowds, for some reason I didn’t really feel the sheer humanity present at the race. (Disney seems to have this skill down to an art form, races or parks in general).

To give you an idea of the people-moving skills required, it was suggested you be on the bus out to the race launching area by 0330 hrs at the latest.  So, I was up by 0230 hrs (having gone to bed by 2300 hrs) and on the bus leaving my Disney hotel by 0300 hrs.  After a dark 10-minute walk from the bus drop off to the  launch area, the parking lot had transformed into a massive party with John Williams’ finest pouring from the speakers, a big screen & stage with pre-race hosts and epic movie clips from all the Star Wars films, tents for last minute coffee, snacks and runner’s fuel and stacks and stacks of port-a-potties! (My fave mash-up tune was “shotz, shotz, shotz, shotz-shotz” in tune with blaster fire…)

Walking from the launch area to the starting corrals must have been another 20 minutes – I kid you not!  I was down in corral G – I believe it went all the way to J or K.  The start time was 0500 hrs.  The temperatures – even in the wee hours – were deliciously balmy.  For a Canadian accustomed to freezing pre-race and having to bring coats or throw-away tees, this was a pleasure.  Fireworks heralded the start of every corral’s gun.  It was all just so epic.

Course
RunDisney half marathon courseThe half marathon course snaked it’s way through three Disney parks – Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom – with the finish line at ESPN.  All pavement. Barely any grade to the course. LOTS of distractions!  Epcot sparkled in the dark night as we ran through the back lots and onto the main route around the lake and past all the pavilions.  There was only one super-tight walkway where faster runners were getting bottlenecked (and one rather mouthy guy pushing his way through with rude comments was booed – long live ‘merica), but otherwise it was easy going.

Every park had Star Wars music booming from the sound systems, and spacious boulevards connecting the parks were dotted with giant screens playing Star Wars movie clips; plus there were photo opps with R2 and Chewie (long lines for these!).  Hollywood Studios sported a whole selfie station with tons of beloved Star Wars dark side characters like Boba Fett, Storm Troopers, Imperial guards, etc. hanging out. As the sun rose (remember – I’m a slow runner) the road in and out of Animal Kingdom seemed the longest, but it also had movie screens, and a special aid station with tubs of serve-yourself pump-action BioFreeze (lifesaver!).  ESPN welcomed runners to the finish with loads of cheering and supporters, snack boxes, aid stations and the opportunity once again to take more photos with Darth Vader, Darth Maul and all their dark side buddies.

My run
Despite the staggering amount of people and production behind this event, I didn’t really have my usual run-freak-out.  Pretty relaxed, I went into this with a certain giddy merriment, and it seemed like everyone else was there to have a good time as well.  Tons of runners were using the Disney-endorsed Jeff Galloway walk/run methods, as confirmed by the endless interval beeping from watches, and runners throwing up their arms indicating they were about to walk (I’d never seen that done before).

Stocked with plentiful aid stations, the course kept runners hydrated with loads of water and I guzzled H2O and electrolytes at every opportunity. RunDisney material reminded runners that the heat and humidity impacts your bod and your time, and I’d been seriously worried that hydration was going to do me in. Instead, I ended up drinking enough that I even used the loo 4 times along the route (port-a-potties plus open washrooms in the parks: thank you, Disney).  As the sun climbed into the sky, it became more challenging for me due to the heat, but I just kept trotting along.  The Star Wars music was ridiculously inspiring.

When my knee hurt, I pushed through. When I was tired, I gave myself a minute walking break.  When I was hot, I thought about the finish line.  When I felt soooo middle aged wearing a sun-visor (hey! It’s Florida!), I pretended I was… in costume.  I’d kind of decided that I didn’t want to feel like crap at the end of the Dark Side half marathon – I wanted to feel good about the run.  I took off performance pressure (knowing full well that I am just soooo slow this year) and in the end, finished at 3:26:59.  I came in, like, 14,522nd place. Hahahahahaaa. SO MANY PEOPLE!  But it was FUN.

And, just FYI, I’d have to run another 31 half-marathons to lap the second Death Star.

Competitive me, of course,  must point out that this is my longest ever half marathon time. EVER.  I’m still struggling with weight and performance. I still hate that I’m not improving upon my best half marathon times from two years ago. But I know this is all a work in progress. And another “but” —> but I know this has to remain fun to some degree or why do it?  I’ll keep working on it.  Summer has barely started – plenty of time to train. RunDisney

RunDisney
Would I do it again?  YES!  RunDisney is a pretty slick operation and registration – while not cheap – sells out quickly.  It makes for a great holiday and a fun, fun, fun experience. I totally felt like a kid all over again from the costumed runners, collectible medals and snagging exclusive RunDisney/Star Wars stuff at the runners’ expo to the overall holiday experience where there were wild rides, mouse ears and ice cream. And bonus: it’s a great family thing – Jim and I also did the 5K together, which was cool.  Next time, I’ll have to make sure we time it so the boys will join us!

 

Just a volunteer – Hypothermic Half recap from the other side

Hypothermic Half volunteerI had THE BEST time today being a course marshal at the Hypothermic Half in Edmonton.

I’m almost willing to give up being a registered runner for being a registered volunteer at races.  Seriously.  You are thanked, you are treated so well, you are fed, and the best part?  You fill your own bucket with all that cheering, encouragement and loooove you’re showering on other people.

I truly adored seeing all those runners giving 110% in the three waves of half marathon starters this morning.  There were the stunningly fit rock stars who just bloody well lead the pack. There were the groups of buddies, and the solitary loners pushing through and the pairs of men and women soldiering on.  There were a couple of older men and ladies running who would undoubtedly kick my ass.  Some runners just stuck out due to their appearance: the guy in the Superman t-shirt, the ladies in the matching pink jackets, the woman who ran like a prancing pony.

We cheered and hollered and boosted morale as best we could.  The four of us at my station were in a lucky spot – we got to see all the runners four times each, as we were close to the turnaround point plus the finish line turn off.  The weather was nothing near “hypothermic” at all and we stood in the sun, virtually and literally.

It’s an interesting perspective to put on a pair of volunteer shoes in a place where you’re typically on the other side, and see where those sneakers take you.

 

Lake Louise larch #wonderfall

Larch season beckoned.

Sometimes you just need to go.  To the mountains.

It doesn’t matter that it’s not planned or perfect or comfortable. It’s about throwing it all to the wind, getting in the car and driving.

Screw the 10K race I’d signed up for.  I’d already missed a weekend hike in Lake O’Hara with M. due to a cold, and knew this might be the last chance to hit the backcountry before the snow flew.

Hugh said he’d come with me, along with his friend, Migs.

We didn’t end up leaving the city until 8:00 pm on Friday night. Normally that in itself would be discouraging… the boss keeps you late, the boys are’t packed, etc. But you know what? I wasn’t going to let that slow us down.

Driving under the starry skies, along the long lonely roads of David Thompson country and then through a wild rain storm, we reached Lake Louise around one o’clock in the morning.  We pitched up to the campground in the downpour, and snagged an empty campsite in the darkness.  The boys slept in the car, and I curled up in Hugh’s pup tent.  ZzzZZzzzZzzz.

The next morning we fuelled up at Laggan’s deli and bakery in the village – one cannot have too many pizza bagels and brownies for the trail – gulping down coffee for a quick pick-me-up. We left the bakery quite content, and took our time adding in granola bars, cheese and chocolate to our packs before hitting the road again for a quick drive.

Parking at the Fish Creek trailhead near the ski hill, we began the monotonous ascent up the gravel access road that would take us up and around to the back bowls where we found the trail marker to Skoki Lodge.

Lake Louise wonderfall

Having hiked through Boulder Pass and Skoki Valley with Hugh just a few months ago, I was in awe of the magnificent change in scenery.  While Alberta doesn’t get the brilliant red hues like Canada’s east coast, the larches pretty much make up the difference.  The back bowls were scattered with towering golden larch trees, burnished in the autumn sunshine, standing out against a bluebird sky.

Boulder Pass itself transformed from green to gold.

Boulder Pass wonderfallThe air was crisp. Our moods were light.  I was a broken record: “This is sooooo beeeooootifullll.”

We made good time up the pass and around Ptarmigan Lake. We didn’t meet too many people at all along the way which was surprising given that it was the weekend, and such a short window for the larches.

Ptarmigan Lake wonderfall

This was a little slice of heaven.

Atop Deception Pass, the siren call of a scramble beckoned the boys skyward towards Ptarmigan Peak.

Scrambling near Ptarmigan

They disappeared and reappeared for about 45 minutes, each time popping up higher and further away than the last. I hunkered down in a nest made of backpacks, wearing all my gear to keep warm, watching through the zoom lens on my camera.

After the scrambling break we headed down into Skoki Valley, looking back over at the Wall of Jericho, and to the ridge they’d explored.  A drove of mountain sheep sprang out of a gully and near scared the life out of us, and trotted up the slope for a brief survey before disappearing.

Mountain sheep Skoki valley

Onwards into Skoki Valley, the trip was still lovely, but not as pretty as Boulder and Deception with all the larches. By the time we’d reached Skoki Lodge we were getting tired. Only one more kilometre to Merlin Meadows, our home for the night.

We decided to pop our heads into the lodge to see if they had any hikers’ tea left. Despite it being after the given time, the Skoki staff loaded up plates of muffins and three kinds of cakes for us, plus all the tea we could drink. I was grateful for being so spoiled, and more appreciative of this hospitality than ever when I’d actually stayed as a paying guest at the lodge.  After being warmed by the wood stove and hot tea, and stuffed with baked goods, we needed to get moving.

Merlin Meadows was only a short distance from the lodge, and it didn’t take long to set up our tents. The weather was still pretty cool, and nobody wanted to go for any more day hikes, so we packed it in for the night.

Merlin Meadows

Migs and I worked on starting a fire, but it was a challenge, as the backcountry campground had been picked clean over the summer of all the natural deadfall. What bigger pieces of wood remained were soaked. At least we killed some time, and soon enough we all went to our tents.

For breakfast I hauled out the big guns: Starbucks instant pumpkin spice lattes (so we could all feel like teenage girls), biscuits, bacon and eggs.

Backcountry breakfast

Can I just say BACON?  Why didn’t I do this every trip? I guess I felt a little indestructible on a one-night backcountry trip…normally I wouldn’t want to haul bacon/bacon juice around through the woods.

It was a slow and easy start to the day, savouring our last morning in the backcountry. Once we hit the trail we made for Skoki Lakes.

Across the bridge at Skoki Lodge

Another crisp, cool morning, and the walk to the lakes was nothing short of magical.

En route to Skoki Lakes

Hiking with Hugh and Miguel 08

Hiking with Hugh and Miguel 13

Hiking with Hugh and Miguel 11
We spent the rest of the day lounging at Zigadenus Lake, and the boys scrambled the ridge up to the glacier. They were gone forever, and I only had a minor panic attack in their absence…haha.  Next time, I’ll scramble, too…

It was late Sunday afternoon when we slung our packs back on and headed up over Packers Pass.

View from Packers Pass

Every moment – so worth it. By the time we got to the Fish Creek parking lot, it was evening. It was ridiculously late.  But it felt amazing. Talk about maximizing a weekend and disappearing into the woods.

We drove home in the dark, watching the reddish glow of the lunar eclipse, and crept into the house well past midnight.  Back in the city.  Tired. Happy.

Tonquin Valley tales & toenails

I finally lost those two toenails.

It is, after all, November.  The toes had it coming. They were crushed, mashed, marinated and stomped during an August hiking weekend through Jasper’s Tonquin Valley.

I should’ve pulled them off when they were still bendy and juicy.  Instead, I had high hopes they’d hang on.

No such luck.

So, I pulled both of them this morning.

Hiking Jasper’s Tonquin Valley brought long distances, frozen feet, mucky bogs, and unexpected wild beauty. It was actually the most sensational yet challenging hike for me all summer – one of those ‘perfect storms’, I guess you could say, to assault the senses.  There were times of great beauty wrapped in an exquisite sense of loneliness and mental exhaustion.

Tonquin Valley can be explored in a loop, but for a one-car quickie weekend hike, M. and I parked at the Portal Creek trailhead, where we’d return in a few days, and began our trek in towards the Maccarib backcountry campground.  Hiking into Tonquin up and over the 7,100 foot Maccarib Pass is reputedly the more scenic of the ways and we weren’t disappointed.

Towards Portal Creek

The route began with a slow ascent along Portal Creek, through the forest and up across rock slides. After the first 8.5 km and 350 m of gained elevation, we stopped for a break at the Portal Creek campground. I was cooked. And surprised.  I didn’t expect to be that wiped out after only a few kilometres.

TV cowgirlsAfter a break to refuel, and to discover the al fresco toilet options, we started the climb up Maccarib Pass.  We passed a handful of other hikers, and a convoy of supply horses.  Not too many folks on the trail.  I stopped a lot to take in the views and catch my breath.

Reaching Maccarib Pass was a total rush, and it was heady to soak up the expansive alpine meadows and multiple peaks. You could even see the lovely Mt. Edith Cavell from the top.  From there on it was a downward jaunt out of the pass, down through the next valley, all with a teaser of our first glimpse of the Ramparts. Total shot of energy, like the first 8.5 km didn’t even happen.

First glimpse of the Ramparts

We reached the Maccarib backcountry campground around the 19 km mark, to wrap up our days’ hike.  M. and I chose sites across from one another – both with a wonderful view of the tips of the Ramparts. The evening was spent eating and talking, and going for a walk to the lake to check out the mountains, which were truly magnificent in stature, and fantastical in name:  Drawbridge Peak, Bastion Peak, Dungeon Peak, Parapet Peak, Thunderbolt Peak, to name a few. Essentially the Ramparts is a sub-range of a dozen or so impressive, towering peaks upwards of 10,000 feet ringing the Amethyst Lakes.

Evening walk Tonquin Valley

Early the next morning, I woke up to the delicious patter of rain on my tent fly. Which then became the vaguest whisper of snow.

I pushed out of my tent to the most exhilarating blanket of white covering the ground, the tent, the trees, the view. The soft, heavy, wet snow plummeted down. I walked alone through Maccarib, absorbing Mother Nature’s amazing display.

Summer wonderland

My affection for the summer storm, however, began to wane as the morning progressed. We weren’t done with Tonquin. We’d only just arrived, and it was time to pack up and move on to the next campground, Surprise Point, about 9 km away. My tent was wet. My mittens and boots were wet.  And if I stopped moving, I was going to get cold.

I really hate being cold.  My mind hates being cold. It becomes a little obsessive.

What ought to have been an easy valley walk to Surprise Point became a bit of a snowy slog, with no view, no perspective.  The low clouds and swirling snow hid the Ramparts, in addition to covering the path.  M. led the way, breaking trail.  For me, it was mentally exhausting to tramp through the snow and squishy mud.  My feet were absolutely soaked through, and the inside of my shell was wet and clammy against my skin. I could feel my overall body temperature dropping even though we were on the move.

We broke our rhythm for quick look at the Amethyst campground (apocalyptic in the snow – flattened, with not a sign of civilization) and then for lunch at the Clithero campground, which seemed even more socked in (M. raised my spirits by sharing his chicken soup = lifesaver).  The snow lightened up and eventually stopped, but we still couldn’t see a single mountaintop despite being surrounded.  The last bit to Surprise Point was across uneven terrain beside the lakes, where occasionally the path bordered small but deep, black pools of water.

It was here my right foot slid left in the slippery snow, and I wiped out hard, backpack swinging out and gravity pulling me towards the pools.  I was going in, I was sure of it. It took every ounce of energy to fight my body weight.  I ended up in a heap on the snowbank, my face suspended above the water.  M. paused and looked around. He took a few steps towards me and cocked his head.  “Well, what are you doing down there?”  Then he turned and kept walking.

Undecided as to whether I should laugh or cry I rather ungracefully pushed off my hands and knees to get to my feet, and struggled to catch up.

Surprise Point

We arrived at Surprise Point as the clouds began to lift.  I was relieved to be home for the night, and both M. and I hung our gear out to dry on the trees around the campground. Once we’d set up camp, we walked over to the lakes to check out the Ramparts once again.

I could spend a week just watching the sky move and the light change.

The Ramparts

Tonquin Valley

M. was set up to take photos for a while, but I was slowly losing steam. My feet were still soaked to the bone, and my skin was cold. I had to throw in the towel, despite the beautiful surroundings.  I hustled back to the campground and got my stove going. I needed to eat something and get into my sleeping bag before I froze to death.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t actually cold outside. If I’d had dry feet I think the situation would’ve been different. My boots just had no defence against the wet, wet snow.  I ate something, and filled my Nalgene bottle with boiling water to use as a mini furnace inside my sleeping bag. I stored my food in the campground food locker and headed off to my tent.  I put on all my long underwear, warm layers and hat.  It took me almost two hours to stop shivering. Miserable. Seriously.

Despite a restless night (with many thoughts of “why is it that I do this??”) I woke to a brilliantly sunny, happy, bluebird day.  The world had essentially transformed from snowy chaos.  I stuffed plastic bags bags in my boots and slid on a pair of dry socks. We were out for three nights/four days, and I’d brought three pairs of socks. I had to ration accordingly.

We left our camp set up and hit the trails for a day hike to check out the local glaciers.  A couple of ladies we met who were staying further along the trail at the ACC Wates-Gibson hut admired our tenacity to camp in the snow. I simply had cabin/roaring fire envy.  The Alpine hut was a few kilometres down the trail…Even though the day was sunny and warm, I had that cold misery imprinted on my being from yesterday and my mind was struggling to shake it off.

Back at Surprise Point around midday, we packed up our gear and returned down the trail towards Amethyst campground.  The terrain we’d travelled through was unrecognizable from the previous day: grassy meadows, 360 degree views of the mountains…. By now, the frozen paths had thawed into some serious mud pits.  Most of the time it wasn’t a small muddy patch where you could skirt around the edge; rather, it was a full-on mud fest, with deep churned guck which comes as part and parcel when you trail-share with horses. There was no way to fight it. Just walk through the middle. Get dirty, get wet.

Amethyst campground had melted back to normal with only small moats surrounding the tent pads as evidence of yesterday’s snowfall.  We set up our tents across from yet another glorious view of the Ramparts. Regardless of the close proximity to the lake, we had no bugs on this summer trip. I’d even packed a bug net, having read accounts of voracious mosquitoes, but I didn’t need to use it at all. Not only bugs, but we didn’t see caribou or bears, either.  Quite a quiet trip for wildlife, really.

Tonquin Valley teeth

While Maccarib had a handful of campers and Surprise Point had been deserted, Amethyst was actually full to capacity.  It was a real treat to visit with others on the trail, but also a little trickier to plan trips to the (open-air) loo…ha.  That night, when nature did come calling at 0200 hrs, I stood outside in amazement to watch dancing ribbons of the Aurora Borealis morph across the night sky.  The green bands of light held steady in the north for as long as I watched.  How can you bottle that feeling? Finally, I crawled back into my tent, zipped up my sleeping bag, and dozed off.

The next morning, an equally stunning display welcomed the day while we ate breakfast.

TV sunrise

A liquid gold sunrise in the Rockies.

Liquid gold sunrise

And home time. My last pair of dry socks sunk into wet boots.  It was a long haul out of the mountains that day, at about 25 km, but a gorgeous journey retracing our steps out of Tonquin Valley.  I felt quite humbled by this trip. My feet were in rough shape from all the long distances and being constantly wet. I was so appreciative of the fact that summer was winding down, and this was going to be one of my last hikes of the year.  On every hike I’ve had this year, I’ve bumped into fellow hikers from out East or overseas who make a trip to the Rockies as their one big annual vacation, with months of planning and preparation.  How spoiled was I to just get an email from M. saying, “how ’bout Tonquin?” and we could zip away for the weekend?  So lucky.