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.

 

 

 

West Coast Trail Day 6 – #mclovin

WCT ConverseI shook off yesterday as best I could.  Today was  Sunday.  Not that days of the week really meant anything. But I had been counting sleeps.

In fact, counting sleeps is something I do not only for the anticipation of Santa, but also when backpacking. No matter where I am, or who I’m with, or what day I’m on, I mentally take quiet notes of how many sleeps down, and how many to go. I often think about my husband, knowing exactly where he’ll be at 8:00 pm every night (the bath). And the cats, where they hang out (end of the couch and in Oliver’s room). And it’s with a certain longing I recall the lovely, civilized routines of emptying the dishwasher, drawing the curtains at bedtime…

And I woke up today knowing there was only one more sleep on the trail.  Huzzah.

M. and P. were up and at ’em at a decent hour. I think they’d done their chores and started packing up before I could even haul my sorry self out of the tent.  Camper Bay was still jammed with backpackers. At least a dozen tents huddled together on the sand strip, a rowdy mash-up of hikers from each direction, everyone in a different stage: cleanliness, happiness, denial, exhaustion, etc.  And of all these characters, I quite enjoyed the little crowd that had formed around P.

P. was a social butterfly. He didn’t even have to look for a party, the party had come to him. It was a fairly large group of, oh, “middle-aged women” I guess would be the fairest assumption, who were hiking south to north.  He held court as they flitted back and forth, chatting him up as they noisily gathered their gear. From the snippets of conversation amongst themselves and with others, I figured if I had to hike with these women, they’d drive me nuts with their regimented plans and know-it-all attitudes; but if I was in a pinch, they’d always take care of me.

I sat on my driftwood bench sipping a cup of coffee (which, btw, was courtesy of P. who had shared his cruise ship collection of instant coffee with us) and watched the ladies warily, from a distance, dote over P. The French couple lounged nearby at their fire pit, Converse-clad feet up on logs, making no move to get going at all.  Mathieu caught my eye and raised his sunglasses. “These women, they’re like BIRDS. Squawk, squawk, squawk. So LOUD.”  He slipped his sunglasses back over his eyes and jammed his hat down over his ears.  Even Anne, normally full of humour in the mornings, agreed. “Thank God they’re hiking the other way.”

Eventually, the ladies wrapped up and wished P. the best, and headed northwards along the trail.  M. and P. also wanted to get an early start on the day and, shouldering their packs, made their way towards the cable car.

Hugh finally poked his head of his little yellow tent in the newfound silence.  “What the heck was going on out here?? What a racket!”  He disappeared, and started shoving his pack out from inside of his tent. However, in forcing his pack through the fly, which was still fastened at the bottom, we suddenly heard a sharp CRACK and his tent buckled. It was just a broken pole.  Not a big deal, we’d figured we’d duct tape it tonight. Better Day 6 than Day 1.

With most of the campground mostly deserted, with the exception of Mathieu and Anne, we savoured the peace.  It was a blessing to gather one’s thoughts and set intentions for the day.  Live, love, happiness – let’s roll!

I pulled on my wet socks, laced my boots and headed to Camper Creek with Hugh.  We skipped the cable car and jumped stone to stone across the creek instead. The water was low enough that it was safe to traverse. At most, your feet might get wet. And, CHECK.! they were already wet, so no harm no foul.  We scrambled along the forest paths to catch up to M. and P.

Today’s hike was Camper Bay to Thrasher Cove (8 km + 1 km off trail to the camping beach).  We had a choice today to hike along the beach around Owen Point at low tide (it is impassable at high tide), where there was some serious bouldering and cool caves to explore OR take the forest route along boardwalks and tree bridges.  Because the tides this time of year were higher, and the hiking window along this stretch of beach was tight, we opted for the forest route as the safer alternative for our group.

Hugh and I met up with M. and P. on the trail and travelled with them for a bit before pushing on ahead.

Day 6 on our own

Today’s hike turned out pretty amazing. Our route made points of contact at two beach entrances for the Owen Point route, but otherwise it was deep in the old growth forest with mud pits, boardwalks, ginormous cedars and my favourite part, the log bridges high above the forest floor.   The “bridges” were simply fallen logs needed  to traverse mucky ground or small gullies. The logs could be fat or thin, mossy or slimy. At least they were chiseled along the top and notched for a bit of boot-grip.  At one point, we travelled about 10 feet off the ground along a linked log path, with 90 degree angles at the junction points, six foot high brush overgrown all around us. “Marco!!” I’d yell before dancing across from log to log.  If I heard a “Polo!” I’d pause on a log junction until a north-bound hiker appeared and could safely pass.

We hiked a bit with Ange and May, the Calgary girls, and were lapped by Mathieu and Anne, who were like antelope on the trail.  We stopped for lunch and a couple of extended rest breaks but didn’t see M. and P. so we kept on moving forward, leaving our leaf faces now and then.  By about 2:00 pm we’d  reached the junction for Thrasher Cove.  Here, I’m sure, many decisions have been made.  The end of the trail was only 5 km south at the Gordon River ferry crossing.  Many hikers buckle down and continue on to complete the trek on their final day. We knew Thrasher Cove was only 1 km away, and that was home for the night, so we took a right on the path towards the beach.

That last 1 km to Thrasher Cove took a looooong time.  We began to lose elevation almost immediately, and it was with a sinking realization that we knew to get back to the junction would require a very steep hike first thing in the morning.  The trail down to Thrasher was arduous, rooty and muddy.  My knees creaked anytime I had to make really long steps down off rooty edges.  The finale came in the form of several tall ladders, and then poof! we arrived blinking in the sunshine, feet on sand, dazzlingly happy.

Beach!  Seriously! Awesome!  I dropped my bag and walked straight into the ocean up to my knees. The cold water seeped through my boots and my socks, rejuvenating my feet and my mind. I splashed for a bit, washing off my boots and pant legs as well. Freedom.

The beach was already fairly clogged with tents, and the southern, sunnier end had filled up with brand new hikers who’d just started their adventures.  We trudged north along the sand, crossing the trickle of freshwater, and pitched camp across the wee channel from Mathieu and Anne.  They were  already completely set up, and were sunning themselves down near the water’s edge.   We threw hiking poles, Hugh’s tent fly and a few other bits of our stuff onto the sand near our spots to hold space for M. and P.’s tents.  Hugh immediately went about organizing a campfire for M. and P.’s arrival, digging out an old fire ring, gathering driftwood and shaving kindling.  He took about a dozen trips further north along the beach to procure all sizes of driftwood.

Day 6 on the beach

While Hugh prepped the fire, I washed out clothes, hung damp things to dry, set up the tent and re-organized my food bag.  I’d budgeted fairly well for my food. For each day I’d rationed 1 bag of trail mix + 2 bars (ie. Clif Builder Bars, Luna bars, Kind bars) for the trail, and then 1 breakfast and 1 dinner. There was also a handful of trail/lunch extras like Moon Cheese and beef jerky.  Hugh and I shared a lot of our trail food, so if I ran out he had more and vice versa – it just depended who had the easiest access to the snack when hunger struck.  I had two dinners and two breakfasts left (I think I’d skipped a dinner somewhere along the way) and no trail mix/bars.  Hugh had a bag of trail mix and some Ichiban noodles.  We pooled our rations and planned on finishing up most of it tonight and tomorrow morning, leaving the trail mix for the walk out.

Hugh’s tent pole didn’t cooperate with our duct tape and stick splint ideas, so we decided he’d share with me tonight. My tent did sleep two, and was a palace for one, so there was no problem fitting him in.

M. and P. arrived at Thrasher Cove around supper, and it was fantastic to see them. We had the opportunity to sit around the fire for a bit and swap stories of our day.  Supper didn’t take to long to make and consume, and Hugh continued to feed the campfire with driftwood.

Day 6 Thrasher Cove

It was both a relief and a sadness to be spending only one last night on the WCT.  Home is a good place, you see.

I wandered the beach a bit, chatting with the south-bounders.

Day 6 awesomesauce The hikers heading north all looked so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, not to mention, CLEAN.  Yep, I wanted no part of that. Haha. As well, I had no desire to get on my soapbox…I wanted them to experience everything for themselves, no expectations.  (And I’m also recalling all the “helpful” soapbox advice we received from passing hikers about the journey = 25% useful, 50% misguided, 25% grandstanding.)

We passed our last evening watching the tide creep in, to ensure our tents weren’t sucked into the ocean.  P. and H. had both gone to sleep a little earlier, M. stayed up to take photos. After the all clear, I headed to bed.

Good night, WCT.

Day 6 tide watch

Tomorrow – Thrasher Cove to Gordon River

 

 

West Coast Trail Day 4 – #keelykeelykeely

I was deep in another world.

It was vaguely post-apocalyptic, and sort of Waterworld (without Kevin Costner) but civilization had mostly ended and scattered populations floated upon the ocean. Hugh and I had sailed to the aircraft carrier that was now Great Britain and were to make contact with his Internet friends he’d met while gaming online for hours on end. They were going to help us “…because it’s raining out, but it’s not as bad as it sounds when you’re in the tent.”

It was M.’s voice blended with the rapid pitter-patter of rain on my tent fly. I struggled to pull myself out of such a deep sleep to comprehend what he was even saying. “…tides…leave by eight-thirty.”

“Right! Yes! Okay!” I tried to act like I was lucid. I shook myself awake.

Rain. Crap.

Yes, it’s the WCT, and rain is really the norm. We’d been blessed with our mild weather and gorgeous sunsets. If you want to talk Achilles heels, mine are not mud, heavy packs or long distances… mine would be dealing with group dynamics, and me/my gear being wet and being cold.  Now I’m sitting in my tent, strategizing how to pack up my stuff while keeping it as dry as possible.

We’d literally pitched camp where we fell last night right out in the open on the beach. No extra tarp cover. No forest cover. Just rain.  I typically pack up everything outside my tent, so I needed to switch up my method. I changed into my hiking clothes (always an awkward dance inside the tent), and started packing my sleeping bag, mat, camp pillow and clothes.  I tucked away my book, and because I didn’t know what to expect on my first day of rain, I also packed my camera (I’d just pull out my iPod for quick snaps).  I unzipped my tent screen and awkwardly put on my hiking boots in the vestibule.

Taking a deep breath, I unzipped the tent fly… it was grey out there.  A totally faded morning with drizzle from the sky.  M. was right – the rain was not as bad as it sounded from inside the tent.  I crawled out onto the wet sand, then propped my pack up on a log and threw my pack cover over it.  I trotted over to Hugh’s tent for a wake up call and gave him the morning weather report and timeline to get on the trail.  Time was important today for the tides.

With orientation for the WCT, each hiker is given a map with the tide tables – to match our hiking dates – taped inside. Some of the beaches are impassable when the tides are high, and it’s not worth getting stranded for hours on end, or wet.  Or in a worst case scenario – drown.  Today we were heading from Cribs Creek to Walbran Creek (11km) mostly along the beaches.

I wasn’t too excited about the rain.  It wasn’t hurting me, of course. But even though I had a waterproof coat and pants, I have this annoyance with being wet and cold, and today had the potential to suck.   I did my best to seem cheerful to Hugh, and he was keen to get up and get moving.

We both finished packing up in fairly good spirits but that fine sand stuck to everything it came in contact with…it was a total pain to fold up a wet, sandy tent that weighed a whole lot more now.   We ate a cold breakfast of trail mix and granola bars, not wanted to fuss with the stove and doing dishes in the drizzle. M. and P. are a solid pair, and took their time to prep a hot meal.  I didn’t have that patience.

Day 4 IG shots

We left Cribs in the cool drizzle, walking along the beach. It was wet and slow-going. I found the shifting sand combined with a snail’s pace to be frustrating. By the time we reached the short segment of forest leading to the Carmanah Point lighthouse, Hugh and P. were ready for a break. They parked it at the fork in the road while M. and I went to check out the lighthouse.  Just like Pachena Bay’s lighthouse, it was like entering the compound of the Others, from Lost. Manicured lawns, flowers, fuel tanks, a house, a swing set; general neat, tidy organization in the chaotic world of the WCT. Oddly enough, it held no appeal to stop and stay. We were barely at the start of our day – time to keep moving.

I was already wet. The raincoat was waterproof but my sweat created a cold layer against my skin. When we emerged from the forest onto the beach, I was thrilled to see Chez Monique’s, the second food stop along the WCT, and its spiral of smoke from the roof of the tarp shack. Hallelujah – a wood stove! I was freaking freezing. We sped up to cross the crescent of sand, eying up the handful of small boats clustered in the sheltered bay – always a back-up escape plan in mind…

It was still a little while before lunch, so the options were breakfast or burgers, and then anything from the extended convenience-store style menu.  We grabbed a free table, and set our wet packs off to the side. Hugh and I went to the kitchen and ordered hot vegetable soup, fully-loaded burgers and a handful of treats including Power-Ade, chocolate bars, butter tarts and gummy worms. I paid.  We spent about $70 there. Seriously.

I peeled off my raincoat and hung it over the back of the plastic lawn furniture. I went over and stood by the stove, which was outfitted with a dryer hose as a chimney.  There was a minor fire while we were there…and a conversation about a new shipment of supplies coming in soon.

Like the last stop, kids were taking orders and delivering food. But Chez Monique’s had a decidedly different feel than the crab shack.  Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the vibe… The kitchen was the happiest area of the place. Monique was there taking orders and managing her folks.  The remaining cluster of shacks had a very communal feel, complete with a roaming barefooted toddler sporting dirty curls and a bearded drifter who was one day short of his two-week commitment to Monique, and didn’t hold back in sharing that he couldn’t wait to get off the trail. It was a place that could be more oppressive than idyllic if one was to stay longer than just for lunch.

The highlight – the absolute highlight – of Chez Monique’s was a young Aboriginal boy with the clearest blue eyes and the most delightful confidence that only a grade 5er could carry off. That perfect moment in time, that quintessential 11 year old boy archetype – confident, free, innocent and unabashed. Clad in boarder shorts and a sleeveless Hawaiian t-shirt with palm trees, despite the cooler weather, he was a busy little employee, running to and from the kitchen, answering questions and visiting as he went.  He wouldn’t let you take the burgers from his hands, but insisted upon placing the food down in front of you.

I would totally hike the WCT again next summer just to see if that kid is still around. I would also make t-shirts and hats with his picture and wear them proudly. He was that cool. I will never forget his little voice, calling my name: “Keely! Burgers for Keely! Keely, Keely, Keely!”

We ate up and warmed up.  And then we left.

Hugh and I surged forward, fuelled and free. The next 8 or so kilometres were all on the beach. We walked at a comfortable pace, chatting amiably, stopping for rests and to reconvene with M. and P. every two kilometres or so, to ensure everyone was doing alright.  This pace worked so well for us, and really helped Hugh’s feet, and lifted our spirits on this dreary day.  We skipped the cable car, jumping across the stream on the beach. We rounded point after point, making our way to the evening’s camp. We walked on soft sand, hard sand, pebbles, rocks, boulders and tidal flats.  We saw beautiful rock formations exposed at low tide, with trees growing out of top; a handful of baby otters and an eagle; loads of sea urchin shells and pretty pale green, blue and white sea glass.  An unexpected journey, these beaches.

Day 4 going home

We arrived at Walbran Creek at a civilized hour, with the sun breaking through to give us two hours of complete and total humanity.  Hugh and I hung our gear out to dry on great driftwood logs before finally pitching our tents and setting up camp.

Day 4 beach life

The evening ablutions ran their course; water gathering and feeding took place. Hugh retired early, and P. and M. went about their own chores.  I did a lot of sitting and staring out at the ocean. I missed the grey whales from the past three days. The sun set once again, and I settled in to my little home, tent fly open to the ocean, to read.

Day 4 tent life

Day 4 Reflection 02Tomorrow – Walbran Creek to Camper’s Bay

Sawback trail – Badger Pass Junction to Wildflower Creek (Day 3)

Day 3 of our backcountry adventure, and Hugh and I had fallen into a pretty easy routine. For me, it was very Camino-eque… hot, long days of walking, followed by lingering hours of rest, conversation and easy solitude. At home, we’d simply find something to play or do or clean. But in the wilderness, other than the basic chores of caring for our clothes and gear, and preparing our food, we rested our bodies and minds.

Start point: Badger Pass Junction campground (Jo29)

End point: Wildflower Creek campground (Ba15)

Distance: 10.3 km

Elevation: Gained ~320m, lost ~515m; highest point was Pulsatilla Pass at 2,345m.

Highlights: Fantastic views, trailfinding 101

Trail notes: We were pretty stoked to be hiking up Pulsatilla Pass. After the long slog through forests and endless raptor-bushes (willows), we would get our first pass of the hike, and hopefully see some mountain vistas from the top, rather than the bottom of the valley.

I think our peanut and raisin oatmeal was still lurking somewhere in our stomachs from yesterday morning, so we opted for an easy breakfast of nuts and protein bars. The heat had effectively killed our appetites, and although we were definitely getting enough water, this is probably the least I’ve ever eaten on a hiking trip.

Mr. D. had already left for Pulsatilla, and the three uber hikers were off in the opposite direction.  We were the last to pack up camp, and were quite pleased to see low cloud cover this morning, with a bit of drizzle in the air.  The temperatures, while still muggy, were slightly less and much more amenable to hiking up and over a mountain pass.Day 3 on the road

The path out of the campground hooked up with the main trail in the meadow along the valley floor where we left off the day before, and after a quick water bottle refill from the creek, we moved towards the pass.  Our reward for two days of tree/bush-hiking was now a lovely forest trail that opened into a narrow, flowered meadow divided by a bubbling stream leading up the pass.  The incline was moderately steep, causing us to stop and take in the view multiple times.  The low clouds swallowed the terrain we’d left behind, and the cool mist felt amazing on our warm skin and sweaty heads.

The grassy meadow gave away for the last bit up Pulsatilla, where we picked our way along the rocky path and through snow patches to the top.   Waiting for us on the other side was a broad hanging meadow dotted with tiny Alpine Forget-me-nots, buttercups, Pulsatilla (Western Anemone), and Indian Paintbrush, surrounded by peak after peak layering into the hazy distance.  Water burbled down the pass into a glassy aquamarine lake, where one just wanted to loll and spend the afternoon.  An earnest discussion was had regarding future trips, and the packing in of an inflatable dinghy.Day 3 Pulsatilla

Perched on a cliff above the lake, we were just finishing up our snack break, when Mr. D. came down the trail behind us. We’d assumed he was well ahead of us but it turns out he stopped along the creek early on to have a cooked breakfast.

He asked if we’d seen any bears.

Our bear radar was turned on pretty high, and no, we said we hadn’t.

“There are bear prints on top of your boot prints heading up Pulsatilla,” he advised.

Well – what the heck??  Pulsatilla Pass is a bottleneck, essentially, so if a bear (and friends) needed to get though it would be pretty noticeable. I’d even read a blog previous to setting out on this trip how a party heading to Pulsatilla turned around because a grizzly and her cubs needed the space to get through the saddle, and mama was not a happy camper to see humans as an obstacle. That party actually then turned around and hiked out Johnston’s Canyon that day – yowza, long hike! On the flip side, we learned yesterday how silent those massive bears could be even walking within 20 feet of you…sooo…

Hugh and I scanned the meadow.  Once out of the saddle, there was lots of room for the bear(s) and the hikers to continue on the lake side.  Nothing seemed to be moving…nonetheless, we continued on, but constantly checking out our surroundings with due diligence.

Following the meadows, we began to descend into the valley to meet up with Wildflower Creek.  The descent was super steep and long…pity the hikers who would come up from this direction over the pass.  Our paths crossed with Mr. D. once again, and we set forth all together to thrash through seven-foot willows creek-side.  Seriously.  Not my cup of tea. Raptor bushes all over again.

The trail was muddy and full of wet branches swatting us in the face. We came to an easy creek crossing – meaning, not deep – but then to pick up the trail on the other side became a challenge.  We worked hard to spot cairns – thank goodness for the cairns – but this is the part where I actually got turned around 180 degrees.  It’s that feeling where you are dead set that you should be heading the opposite direction from where you should really be going. And thoughts such as, gee, I should’ve been practicing with my compass as we walked… To be sure/unsure. Yikes.

Hugh and Mr. D. explained their reasoning as to directional choices, and we moved ahead on the very faint trail beside the creek (in the right direction!).  We continued to do a bit of trail finding through the brush, watching for cairns or other indicators such as broken branches, footprints, etc.  There was always a concern that we were following a game trail, too, versus the actual trail.

For the next several kilometres our movement was slow-going, cheerless bushwhacking through willows and mud puddles. We walked this way for at least two hours before the trail entered a more forested but open mossy area and descended steeply back towards Wildflower Creek.  Knowing from the map that this campground was low, at about 1,830 m, it was a good sign we were close.

We arrived – QUITE JOYFULLY – to discover a very quaint little campground with neatly organized sites next to a tumultuous creek, a squeaky clean outhouse, and a charming food area with a fire pit.  The ground between the trees was almost sproingy with moisture and rot, and lent quite a cozy, woodsy feel it it all.  The campground was distinctly under-used, more than likely because nobody was crazy enough to make this hike.Day 3 Wildflower

Each of us pitched our tents immediately and peeled off our wet stuff. I swear a strange sucking sound emanated from my boots when I pulled my poor, puckered wet-fish feet out of them. We were all soaked to the bone.  Not five minutes after settling into our tents in our warm, dry clothes, then the rain started.  For two hours the rain fell steadily, as we hung out in our tents, napping.

It’s funny…dozing next to such a tumultuous creek, and having the constant pitter-patter of rain on the tent fly, deep in the forest, you begin to sense a pattern, a rhythm or thrum of a presence approaching, or perhaps voices. But in the end, it’s just the water.  (Island? Others?)Day 3 Wildflower tents

At supper time, Hugh and I emerged, quite relaxed, and set up for dinner. Hugh started a nice smoky fire to chase the mozzies away, and I prepped dinner.  Rays of sunlight found their way through the trees, and the whole forest smelled fresh and clean.  The heat returned fiercely, though, despite the earlier reprieve.

For dinner, we had another win-win: Shepherd’s Pie and Hawaiian Rice with Chicken.  Both super yummy, and perfect for the night.  After we hung out at the fire for a bit, we cleared away our things, did some washing and re-hung our food bag at the bear poles provided near the back of the campground.Day 3 supper

And off to bed by 7:45 pm to listen to some Vinyl Cafe, then slumber.

Tomorrow: Wildflower Creek to Baker Lake

 

Sawback trail – Luellen Lake to Badger Pass Junction (Day 2)

Completely knackered from our first day of the Sawback trail, Hugh and I had a nice, short (but hot!) day 2 ahead of us, hiking to the next campground.

Start point: Luellen Lake campground (Jo19)

End point: Badger Pass Junction campground (Jo29)

Distance: 6.3 km

Elevation: Gained ~25m…flat day!

Highlights: Meeting Mr. D, resting

Trail notes: Without dinner the night before, we woke up peckish and took on the mozzies at the Luellen Lake eating platform.  We boiled water for our oatmeal, which was Backpacker’s Pantry Peanut & Raisin Oatmeal.  Totally stodgy – as perhaps a little more water was needed – but we forced it down knowing we needed energy for today’s hike.Day 2 breakfast

Today we were only going a short ways, about 6.3 kilometres, and pretty much flat, but we were still wiped out from yesterday’s heat and hike, so a short day was totally welcome.

The bugs discovered us halfway through breakfast, and we packed up our gear in a buzzing frenzy, making a quick exit – so long, Luellen Lake, and thanks for all the fish!  (The lake actually did have fish…lol).Day 2 fish

Another merciless day of 30C was upon us, even early in the day, and the first few hours were an absolute slog in and out of the shade, with little pleasure in the treed surroundings.  We stopped about every 20 minutes!  Seriously, it was that bad. Plenty of water and rest was our best defense.

We saw loads of bear prints and scat right along the mucky trail. Half of our energy was used to sing-song back and forth: “Hey Bear!” “Bear-bear-bear!” We dared not stop the repetitive chorus.  Truth be told, the dense trees muted our voices anyway.  We’d more than likely fall on top of a bear before it heard us coming. Day2 bear print

When the trail did emerge from the trees, more of the valley and mountains were revealed but the actual path was surrounded with three foot willows – or “raptor bushes” as we called them.  Walking through these we totally expected to be ambushed by velociraptors. No joke.Day 2 raptor bushes

After our final creek crossing of the day – this time with a wooden bridge, no wet feet required – we entered a wide meadow exposing all of the mountains on either side and onward to Pulsatilla Pass.  Badger Pass Junction campground was close to the end of the meadow, up on a tiny rise.

With commanding views of the meadow, and in a copse of knobby pines, Hugh and I pitched our tents at site #1, side by side, doors facing each other so we could chat while hiding from the mosquitoes. Another day of being drained by the heat!Day 2 Badger Pass Junction

Day 2 RnRWe chilled out for a few hours, feet up on our packs, chatting and listening to a podcast of the Vinyl Cafe with Stuart McLean.  Not a shabby way to spend the afternoon.Day 2 Vinyl CafeDay 2 at home

The outhouse door was a little wonky in this particular campground, like it had been jarred and then settled off-kilter. You kinda had to fight to get in and out, with tremendous screeching noises from the wooden door as you yanked it open.  Nothing subtle about outhouse visits on this one… (BTW – the outhouse at the last campground, Luellen Lake, was FULL of spiders…eeeeek)

By dinner time, we were joined by three hardcore, lightweight campers, and a lone Australian who thought he’d give this trail a go as something to do while visiting family in the mountains.  He did the epic version by starting the Sawback in Banff, at Mount Norquay.  Mr. D. took pity on us when he saw the backs of Hugh’s arms covered in bug bites, and lent us some of his Bushman bug cream…80% Deet = made for tropical killer bugs.  Our dinner was a million times more enjoyable that night!  We ate in peace without being bothered too much by our little winged friends.Day 2 Bushman

Hugh had “baco” cheese mashed potatoes and I had a Roma pasta = both amazing. It’s always a delight when you enjoy dehydrated food in a bag.  We invested in long-handled spoons as well, which makes digging the food out far less mucky.Day 2 dinner

We hit the sack early, watching the sun set and the stars come out one by one.

Note: We’d read that Badger Pass Junction campground doesn’t have a readily available source of water for campers, and were, of course, worried given the hot hiking days we had.  We thought that meant we’d have to walk back to the bridge crossing or something to get decent water; however, we found a stream offshoot from Johnston Creek just down the hill out of the campground.  Great, fresh water and not too far at all, ie. less than 3 minutes walk.

Tomorrow – Badger Pass Junction to Wildflower Creek

48 hours in Reykjavik – Day One

Our Icelandic stopover goal was to hammer out our jet lag ASAP and see a few sights – enough to get a taste for this wild country of tight pants, big sweaters, elves and trolls, curious cuisine and slick tourism marketing – before heading onward to the UK.

Iceland’s sweeping landscape, hidden waterfalls and multi-day treks would have to wait for another visit = our 48 hours concentrated on the capital of Reykjavik and surrounding area.

Day 1
0640 hrs /
Landing at the Keflavik airport via Iceland Air at midnight our time the four of us girls vowed to stay awake until bedtime proper, Icelandic time, in order to re-set our clocks for the onward journey.

Air Iceland
0930 hrs / We picked up a shuttle to the Blue Lagoon which was a convenient little deal through Reykjavik Excursions: airport/lagoon/city transfer for ISK 3,600.  Upon arrival at the Blue Lagoon, we stowed our luggage at their designated checkpointgreat feature at about ISK 500 per bag, considering we all had a ridiculous amount of baggage for a casual trip and jumped right in to the mineral bath…along with a million other people, including an apparent frat party. Swim up bar, anyone??
Note: the mineral water totally dries out your hair and leaves a chalky feel to your swimsuit, despite rinsing.  After finding (and coveting) the hot spots (the lagoon is generally warm, but not hot), and smearing mineral mud all over our faces, we were cooked.
Blue Lagoon .
1215 hrs / With wrinkly fingers and toes, we hopped back onto the shuttle heading into the city, arriving at the HI Loft Hostel. Located right downtown, this was a stellar location for just about everything in Reykjavik city centre.  The hostel had four floors, a check-in/bar/common area, a kitchen, and a great rooftop patio.  We unpacked a bit, got ourselves organized in the hostel (a private room for the four of us) and then went out…if we stayed in there too long, we’d fall asleep!
HI Loft Hostel
1400 hrs / Cruising the streets we wandered past countless bars and restaurants, outdoorsy shops and tourist joints.  We saw the iconic Hallgrimskirkja, a massive stone church with a dominating view of the city from the bell tower. We shopped at the local convenience store for Icelandic treats and snacks.  This is where our daily potato chip diet began.
Sightseeing
1725 hrs / Feeling peckish, we sought out sustenance that included some local options. Skipping the fermented shark and glazed puffin, we stuck to fish & chips, salmon and reindeer burgers at Islenski Barinn. Calorie counting is already out the window. It just tastes so good. All the rumours, however, about expensive food in Iceland are bang on. My modest serving of fish & chips was ISK 2,600, which is about $26 CAD.   Fun fact: did you know that Iceland has geothermal hot spots where you can bake bread in the earth, and boil eggs in the water?? Maybe we should’ve done that…better for the budget. Ha.
Reindeer burger
1910 hrs /  Almost wiped out, but needing to carry on through to at least 2100 hrs, we strolled through Reykjavik’s core, browsing shops and people watching. Tight pants, big sweaters, manly beards.  Trying to picture that look on my husband…doesn’t quite work but would be fun to try….
2200 hrs / Bedtime for me!  I climbed up my eight-foot bunk and passed out, despite it being bright as midday outside.
Tomorrowwe learn elves are a big deal, and whale tastes like the Alberta beef of the sea.