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

Sawback Trail & the gear that got us there

Prepping for a long-distance trek can be intimidating.

“Long distance” meaning any adventure more than 2 nights for me…!

My methodology is to plan, plot and then start actually making piles: sleeping gear, footwear, clothing, first aid & toiletries, food & utensils, various gadgets…. and then the test: does it all fit?Gear list

This is the part where things get tossed out of the pile. Agonizingly. Or sometimes with great fickleness.

To be honest, my pack list doesn’t vary too much from trip to trip.  There’s always duct tape involved, for example. But here are some factors to consider:

Know your trail:  Get a topographical map, check out a guidebook and search online for blogs or other trail reports of your destination. Get the low-down on how wet, boggy or mucky a trail really is, or what obstacles seem common along the route. Maybe you’ll need to add something to your list because of this.

Prepare for all weather: Even if it’s calling for 30 degrees in the mountains, pack a raincoat, bring a toque.  Weather changes can be quick and fierce.

How’s your endurance?  And I mean smell-wise. Ha.  Do you need 4 clean shirts and your Axe Dark Temptation body spray or can you work with just one hiking outfit, one relaxing/sleeping outfit, a couple extra pairs of socks, and the pungent odour of awesome and epic?

Creature comforts rule. There’s often a fine line between the necessity and the luxury.  For me, it’s battery-powered snowflake-shaped LED string lights for my tent interior.  Yep. Call me crazy but this makes me feel at home.

For the Sawback trail I recently did with my youngest son, Hugh, we had ahead of us four backcountry campgrounds running along the front-ranges wilderness from Johnston Canyon through to Lake Louise, in Banff National Park.  Upon reserving the campsites for this trek, Parks Canada folks did say to expect some trail finding and creek crossing along our journey, but otherwise business as usual.  This is what I brought for a four-night backcountry trek:

  • Sleep
    tent (mine is a two-person but perfect-for-one kind of tent)
    sleeping pad (Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite)
    sleeping bag (-10, down-filled)
  • Food & drink
    4 dinners and 4 breakfasts (pre-packaged) + an Ichiban noodles as a back up
    8 granola/protein bars
    4 baggies of trail mix (mixed nuts, yoghurt raisins, peanut M&Ms + pretzels)
    a block of cheese + 1 baggie of jerky
    backpacking stove + 1 fuel cartridge + 1 pot + matches
    1 bowl (with measuring increments) + 1 long-handled spoon
    knife
    2 wide-mouth 1-litre water bottles (Nalgene)
    water filter + water purification tablets
    flavoured Nuun tablets
    a drawstring food bag for keeping it all together + for hanging/storing food at camp
  • Clothes
    hiking clothes: quick-dry long pants, tank, long-sleeve shirt, socks, boots, with alternating hat with brim/Buff/bandana
    in the pack: fleece pants, thermal shirt, 1 extra undies, 2 extra pairs of socks, warm jacket with hood, toque, gloves (all in a compression sack, which doubles as my pillow) and then easy access at the top of my pack is a rain coat and rain pants
  • First aid
    duct tape
    extra blister pads
    Polysporin
    AfterBite
    BandAids
    alcohol swabs
    Advil
  • Personal stuff (all teeny tiny versions)
    sunscreen
    lotion
    deodorant
    facial wipes
    foaming soap paper sheets
    toothbrush
    toothpaste
    bug spray*
  • Gear
    hiking poles
    pack cover
    topographical map + compass
    bear spray
  • Extras
    flip-flops for around camp
    DSLR camera with a wide angle lens + 2 batteries, waterproof zip soft case
    journal + 2 pens
    twinkle lights + batteries
    headlamp
    Therm-A-Rest Z Seat
    paracord survival bracelet (made it myself!)
    10 foot of light rope
    a couple extra Ziploc baggies for nasty wet socks or food garbage
    1 large black Glad garbage bag…you never know when you might need to glissade down a snow patch!

Things I thought would be good in past hikes but turned out to be just agonizingly (mentally) heavy due include a small tripod (never used), a deck of cards (never played), a flask (never drank), a travel towel (just drip-dried) and a book (never read). All of these were unused due to my general exhaustion at the end of each day. I’m pretty much capable of getting supper down the hatch and then passing out. Am not so sociable, per se…something I could work on.

I rarely crack my first aid kit (knock on wood) and I didn’t even use my foaming soap flakes to wash anything, but I think I’d still bring them along for the next trip. Just in case.

All of the list above fits into my 65L Arcteryx pack. Fill up those water bottles and oomph – that pack is sufficiently heavy!!  I’m guessing it came in around 45ish pounds with the water bottles filled up. Felt heavier, mind you.  Next time I’ll weigh it for sure, so I can think about every pound as I walk…

How heavy is your pack?  What can’t YOU live without?

*Hugh is even more fickle than I when it came to jamming things into his pack. He tossed his raincoat, sunscreen, toothbrush, deodorant and bug spray. Hm. Which do you think was the most vital for early summer in the backcountry?  Discuss.