Egypt Lake (Banff) – solo backpacking is now an annual crazy thing

IMG_7050Last year I did my first ever solo backpacking trip – actually, it was my first ever backpacking trip. I did the 44 Km return trip to Berg Lake in Mt. Robson Provincial Park. It was amazing, life changing, and hard. After I got home, I decided that I needed to do at least one solo trip like this every year. I thought I’d do Berg Lake again this summer, but I couldn’t confirm my dates and then by the time I could the campsites were all booked up. So I decided to explore other areas and in my research I came across Egypt Lake in Banff National Park. It was about 28 Km round trip and it seemed like a good place to explore on my own. I’m back now and I’m extremely glad I did it, but I have to admit it was a lot harder than I expected.

If last year’s Berg Lake trip had a theme of escaping and trying to lighten a heavy heart, this year was about chasing the unknown.

Growing up we always drove by Banff on our way to Calgary or Saskatchewan but we never stopped. Everything on this journey was new.

When I was researching the trip, I found very little information on Egypt Lake. Some descriptions called the hike very strenuous, some said it was moderate. For future reference I would definitely call it strenuous.

From the start I felt less organized than usual – where to go, where to get my park pass, what the trail would be like. Normally I’m the person who has all my information colour coded on a spreadsheet and cross referenced for extra measure. This time I was oddly free-flowing. About a month before I fell while trail running and had a sprained knee that was swelling and stiff at the end of every normal day. Because of that I realized when I got there that I hadn’t actually put my hiking boots on since last fall – this is very unusual for me.

I treated myself to new equipment this year. I now have a super cool Marmot Limelight 2 person tent, a Northface Furnace sleeping bag, and an Osprey 65L backpack that I had fitted by my go to person, Lisa Palechuk, at Atmosphere. It turns out my back is shorter than I realized and I’m actually an EXTRA SMALL in back length. I put that in all caps because I’ve never ever been called extra small in anything. This is possibly not where I wanted to start. I also invested in a Gem Trek Map of Banff and other areas.

Thanks to Lisa, I also had her modify my sleeping bag and sleep sack. She owns Osprey Custom Sewing and used some great creative sewing talent to devise a system for attaching my sleepsack to my sleeping bag so I wouldn’t be spinning like a tornado inside my sleeping bag, unable to move and trussed up like a mummy. It’s a brilliant system with velcro and hooks and worked great. More on that in another post.

I prepped all my food, enjoying dehydrated beef chili, dehydrated spaghetti and meat sauce, marinara sauce, and a yummy breakfast of dehydrated mashed potatoes, cheese, and bacon. I even made a dehydrated version of pineapple upside down cake. More on these in another post too.

Day 1 – Kamloops to Banff

It poured rain the whole way to Banff and trying to find parking in town to get my park pass at the visitor centre nearly made me want to turn around and come home. After missing the turnoff to the campsite I was truly frustrated and this is not my normal state. I stayed at the Village 1 front country campsite just outside of Banff the night before I set out on the trail.

Day 2 – Banff to Egypt Lake

It had rained for days and when I set out the next morning to drive to the Sunshine Ski Resort gondola parking area it was coming down in buckets. I was not enthused. By the time I parked, however, the rain had cleared and I had a lovely day for hiking on a very muddy trail.

Leaving from the gondola area, the hike to Egypt Lake is about 12.5 Km. The first 9 Km is  uphill. The trail itself was well maintained with good bridges for stream crossings and really good footing. It’s also really, extremely, boring. It’s just a long tree-lined trail with tall trees that block any view of the mountains. Nothing changes, there are no landmarks except for the Healy Creek campsite about 6 Km in. You just keep walking uphill (with a heavy pack). After about 5 hours, however, the trail opened up and suddenly I was very, very aware I was in the Rocky Mountains. I could see peaks all around me and the wildflowers were in an explosive bloom – it was almost too much to take in.

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From the top of Healy Pass you can see about 70 Km of the Great Divide including Mt. Assiniboine and other spectacular peaks along the north end of the Monarch Ramparts. It was really breathtaking and I was in absolute awe.

When I looked in the other direction, I could see Egypt Lake far below me, and what I didn’t realize – Scarab Lake was right above it with a waterfall draining from Scarab to Egypt. It was amazing and I wasn’t expecting it. None of my research had uncovered this view.

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The last few Km are straight down to the valley below. This is a knee and toe punishing route that is really steep and hard on the legs at a time when the legs might already be a little tired from the long uphill to get there.

I finally made it to the campsite 7 hours after I started. I am usually pretty slow but most of the guides say it will take between 6 and 7 hours. When I got to the campsite, though, I was done. I set up the tent and crashed for a bit. There is a bare bones shelter cabin at the campsite that hadn’t been booked for the night so some other campers and I decided we should all cook inside and stay out of the cold – it was really chilly that first night. We had a great time. There was a couple with two  young kids from Cranbrook and another couple from Saskatoon and me. It was a lot of fun. I did some writing in my tent and went to bed early after hanging my food in the shelter.

Day 3 – Egypt Lake

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The Egypt Lake campsite is a popular place to set up a base as there are a number of trails that intersect at the site making it great for day trips. Everyone told me the hike up to Scarab Lake was steep but offered a really great view of the lake above and the waterfall that flows below into Egypt Lake. From there you could do a ridiculous 1-2 Km (reports vary wildly) scramble over boulders to Mummy Lake. I decided to skip that hike and rest my toes and knees and just hung out at the lake, which is about 800 m from the campsite. After all, it was my holiday and I could do what ever I wanted. I spent the morning at the lake and took hundreds of pictures. I came back after and flopped in the tent, laughing evilly at the squadrons of mosquitoes and flies that were trying to get in, and let my mind wander. I ended up working on a screenplay idea I wasn’t expecting to work on and really getting into it so that was interesting.

The campsite itself is a bit underwhelming. It sits at the base of Pharoah Peak, which is impressive, but it is very marshy so if you step off a trail you end up ankle deep in water. There are lots and lots of Hoary Marmots for entertainment and I listened to countless bird songs that I didn’t recognize. The place where you hang your food is a good 3-400 m from the campsites which is good to keep bears away but it sucks if you want a snack. They have a great cable system though which makes hanging the food, cookware, and toiletries pretty easy. About 300 m in the other direction is Pharoah Creek, the nearest location for water. With the lake 800 m in the third direction, this campsite is very spread out. One woman commented that if she had to walk that far to the fridge at home for a snack she would be much thinner. I agreed.

I was beginning to realize how spoiled I was at Berg Lake last summer – the lake was right at the campsite. You could hear the glacier calving all night. The bear lockers and cooking area were nearby. There was always plenty to see and do.

I noticed the steep downhill had made the ends of my toes a bit numb and I was worried I was going to lose toenails – not a big deal – it happens sometimes with half marathons. Just not very attractive but it’s not like a have a crowd of people looking at my feet.

That whole day I made of point of not rushing. It was nice and sunny. I slowed down, I noticed a bird, a Spotted Sandpiper, at the lake that wouldn’t leave me alone and it absorbed my attention. The ‘should’ in me said if I came all this way I ‘should’ hike to Scarab Lake, blah blah blah. Instead my mind took me to that screenplay idea that was pretty much plotted out by the end of the day.

Day 4 – Egypt Lake to Kamloops

Well, the day started OK.

While at Egypt Lake several other backpackers told me about the Simpson Pass route to return on. They all said it was more interesting and less of a steady downhill. I could get a burger in Sunshine Village and then take a shuttle bus down to the gondola parking lot. The weather was supposed to be nice so I planned to do it.

My biggest worry (ahead of time) was the 3 Km straight up to the Healy Pass summit. Really, though, I should know better. Hard goals that are clearly defined are easy for me to get my head around. I put one foot after the other, stop and rest when I need to and then keep going. Such a good metaphor for life. Such a great feeling when I accomplish the goal.

I got to the top of the pass in 2 hours and I was pretty pleased with myself. I met a group of guys from Utah at the top. They were half way through a 100 Km trip and were taking the Simpson Pass route too – they heard the burgers calling. I took group pictures of them at the top and we parted company.

Simpson Pass:

I could see the rain clouds approaching when I got to the top but I hoped they would hold off. I went down through the wildflowers again and reached the junction where the Healy Pass and Simpson Pass trails met. I could have taken the easy, known, less interesting route that I had come up but I chose to take the other trail and it became my adventure. I didn’t take as many pictures  – misery doesn’t make me feel very creative.

The Simpson Pass trail was not as well defined as the Healy Creek trail. It was narrower, muddier, with no bridges across streams – just slippery rocks. I had the sense I didn’t know where I was going because I had no idea what to expect – no landmarks to go by. I just kept going and trusted the process. As the trail moved on I met more and more people so even though I did know I was on the right trail, I still felt a bit of panic. I hadn’t planned on this trail so I was out of my comfort zone. I’m not one for just going with the flow without a plan.

As I continued the trail started to get worse. It was steeper (up and down) and muddier which made it slippery. The weather started to get worse and was soon full blown rain. As I went up and down steep and tall ridges, my knees and toes were protesting mightily.

The thing that was most frustrating was I had no sense of how far along the trail I was or how far I had to go. I would ask people and feel somewhat reassured, but I was out of my element. I like to know and I’m not big on surprises.

At one point, with about 5 Km to go, I was moving along a steep and narrow part of the trial when I encountered a group of six or seven people who changed my outlook completely. The trail was narrow, running alongside of a mountain. It was really muddy. They were pushing and carrying a woman in a TrailRider. I had seen these on TV before, but not in real life. The trail was difficult and they were coming toward me. They would have been about 5 Km from Sunshine Village at that point. Having a heavy pack I take up a lot of room so we all carefully squished and squeezed so I could get by. I was amazed at their commitment – they all went through a lot of effort to give this woman an amazing mountain experience. It was pretty humbling. Here I was in my head stressing about the trail and they were moving this huge contraption through the same mud, up and down the same slopes, and over the same streams. Suddenly my problems seemed a bit smaller.

For the rest of the trip my head would start to complain again and just as that whiny voice would get louder in my brain, I would look down and see the track of the thick tire of the TrailRider. Humbled again.

I passed by three large red cones mounted into concrete and realized I was right at the Alberta / BC border. This was kind of cool. Around this point the trail seemed to disappear and go in all directions thanks to some runoff areas because of the rain. When I calmed my mind, though, I could see the trail and then I would see hikers coming toward me and I felt relieved again.

Eventually, the rain cleared and I saw something that pretty much made me want to cry. At the top of a nearby peak I saw a chairlift… something man made… something related to a ski village! The trail improved dramatically and there were day hikers all over the place. I walked down a steep snowshoe trail for 1.6 Km apologizing to my toes all the way. Finally I was there. I took my backpack off and left it outside, bought a ticket on the Shuttle, and ordered a burger, ginger ale, and fries….. heaven!

When I got down to the village I ran into one of the guys from Utah. His leg was bleeding. It turns out he had slipped and fallen on one of the steep inclines in Simpson Pass. Both of us admitted the trail was a lot harder than we were expecting.

I had planned to do two nights at Johnston Canyon but with more rain in the forecast and my knees and toes complaining, I decided to go home… it was my holiday and I could do whatever I wanted.

Although my knee was swollen and my toes were numb (updated report… 3 toenails probably toast) I felt pretty good the next day and decided to do something decadent on my holiday. I drove from Kamloops to Vancouver to visit a used bookstore.

I love holidays!

Looking back, this trip was about being OK with being uncomfortable. I like to have everything in my life planned and controlled. I like to control my surroundings. This was good practice at not being able to control my surroundings and just going with what was happening all around me. Very valuable and powerful.  I’m not sure I’d do Egypt Lake again. There are other trails in Banff, Yoho, and Waterton I’d like to tackle and I love Berg Lake so I know I’ll do that one again. I think it was a gorgeous place to go but I’m not sure it’s my go to place – that’s still Berg Lake.

Next up is a quick backpack in Yoho with a good friend. This will be the first time I’ve backpacked with someone else – I can’t wait!

 

 

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50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year – Recap

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With Dawn Nelson at the Polar Bear Swim – blame her, she started all of this!

The dust is starting to settle after my birthday and the completion of 50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year. I’ve heard congratulations from many of my friends, and even people I don’t know. I’ve heard of how my adventures have inspired others to try new things, and even some people planning their own list of crazy things before a significant birthday. It’s amazing how we can have an affect on people just by being ourselves, and sharing our lives.

In the past year I faced some of my fears head on. Think dating… and trapeze school! I may not have conquered them, but I stared them down and made them just a little smaller, and a little less powerful. Each time I try something that fear monster will keep getting smaller – I definitely confirmed that in the past year.

The Scream

The Scream

I did things in the past year that were just silly, or spontaneous like driving to Kelowna to do an escape room, or getting my nose pierced with Krista, Monica, and Jody – I definitely didn’t see that coming. These are the things we hear about and think, “Gee, that sounds like fun…” but then we get to busy and never do them. I’m happy to say I did them… and more! What I discovered is looking at the world in a certain way becomes a habit. If I saw the opportunity for adventure I usually took it, and I put it out there for others to join me. The cool thing is, they often jumped at it, and then we were all a little more spontaneous or silly.

When I went back to Meadow Lake, SK, in the summer with my mom I went back to the place where I was born. It doesn’t sound like a big deal. It’s not like I was born somewhere exotic. But I’d thought about it for so many years and found all kinds of lazy reasons not to do it. We went, and it was a good thing for both of us, facing the past and the future. I’m so glad we took the time to go.

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I did some things alone, and they were magical. I hiked the Berg Lake Trail, having never done an overnight backpack before. I spent time with myself and discovered not only a beautiful outer landscape but a special inner one as well.

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On the Berg Lake Trail – my first glacier

Friends and family jumped at the chance to get crazy with me, and several jumped multiple times. I had enthusiastic bridesmaids for the Rock n’ Roll 10K, a group of crazy people did the Conair plane crash hike with me. Amanda flew to Florida with me, ran her first half marathon (actually ran her first anything), and rode rides with me while risking the fact that I could very well throw up on her. Krista, Monica, and Jody (all repeat Crazy Thing participants) even ate bugs with me… that is true friendship! And I can’t even count how many people generously supported me by helping me raise an insane amount of money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand while they enjoyed “dressing the fairy”. Dawn Nelson, the crazy woman who suggested my 50 Crazy Things in my 50th year, even did the Polar Bear Swim with me and together we encountered magic we truly weren’t expecting. There were also countless people who supported me in the best way they could – by cheering me on, reading the blog posts, and enjoying my frequent episodes of discomfort. Support comes in many forms and I recognize and appreciate all the support I have in my life.

I want to thank all of the people who helped me, participated with me, and cheered me on. I love all of you.

The biggest thing I learned, or maybe remembered, is that life rarely happens when you’re sitting on the couch looking out the window. It happens out there. Habits are meant to be broken, and rebuilt as new habits. Bars are meant to be raised. Fears are meant to be faced.

What next?

I plan to continue my crazy things – just not with a deadline. I plan to live a crazy life. There were a lot of things I couldn’t fit into my year. The list is still there and it is growing. I will keep blogging about it because people seem to enjoy reading about my discomfort.

My whole reason for starting this journey was to stop the trends I saw solidifying in my life. My life was getting smaller… I’m stopping that. I was saying no more than yes… I’m stopping that too. I want a life that is richer, and one that is filled with more great adventure and more great people. My next 50 years are going to be very busy!

Oh, and to answer that question AGAIN… I am still not jumping out of a perfectly good airplane or tying an elastic around my ankles and jumping off a cliff! Crazy… not stupid!

The list

So here it is, the complete list of my 50 Crazy Things with links to each of the blog posts. Thank you all for sharing this with me. It’s been a wild ride and I’m only getting started! Who’s in?

#1 – Run the Disney Princess Half Marathon
#2 – Ride a roller coaster without throwing up
#3 – Fund raise for a charity
#4 – Run a 10K and a Half Marathon back to back
#5 – Run half marathons on each coast in the same year
#6 – Join the circus (Trapeze School)
#7 – Embrace Obstacles (Foam Fest)
#8 – Walk above the water (Suspension bridge)
#9 – The Berg Lake Trail
#10 – Return to the place where I was born
#11 – 10X up the steps to the lighthouse in Cochin, SK
#12 – Let my cousin drag me around a lake while she tries to kill me
#13 – Hike to the Conair plane crash site
#14 – Go on a date
#15 – Beat the Blerch – Get out of control
#16 – Ride on a motorcycle
#17 – Wear a wedding dress
#18 – The Moustache Miler – spontaneous mingling
#19 – Drive home in my pajamas
#20 – Night skiing away from civilization
#21 – Do a virtual run
#22 – Follow intuition and rediscover magic
#23 – Go out for New Year’s
#24 – Polar Bear Swim
#25 – Make a snow angel
#26 – Give blood again
#27 – Eat a bug on purpose
#28 – Ski the hills without putting the brakes on
#29 – Learn to paint
#30 – Climb a tree
#31 – Go ice skating
#32 – Go rock climbing
#33 – Get passionate (Passion Party)
#34 – Snowshoe race
#35 – Improve at a sport (Cross Country Ski Lesson)
#36 – Downhill Skiing
#37 – Have headshots taken by a professional photographer
#38 – Let a photographer do a portrait
#39 – Get a tattoo
#40 – Visit an Escape Room
#41 – Run a half marathon without training – just because
#42 – Volunteer somewhere scary
#43 – Ladies’ choice (get my nose pierced)
#44 – Ski a half marathon
#45 – Write a screenplay
#46 – Street photography
#47 – Photograph star trails
#48 – Take a selfie every day
#49 – Self portrait
#50 – Turn 50 with a smile on my face

50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year – Thing #9 – The Berg Lake Trail

(Caution: long post ahead, grab plenty of water and snacks before reading!)

 Solivagant – to wander alone / a solitary wanderer

I came across this word, Solivagant, when it popped up in my email as the word of the day for an online dictionary. Sometimes I look at the words, sometimes I don’t. This one screamed at me so I checked it out. It came at a time when I was deciding whether or not to do the 42 Km Berg Lake Trail. It was one of the first Crazy Things I came up with when I was assembling my list and I had a few people I would have liked to do it with. I’ve never backpacked overnight, although I kayaked overnight over 20 years ago on a tour. I also have very limited camping experience so I was a bit nervous about tackling what would be a difficult trail for me and including the overnight elements. All those potential hiking partners were unavailable so I was thinking of abandoning the plan for something else. Then this word came up, and I knew I had to do it alone. I don’t mind travelling alone, but this was a bit out of my comfort zone. It definitely qualified as a crazy thing and I think it was meant to be. I booked the campsites and made my plans a month in advance – I would hike the 42Km Berg Lake Trail alone in early July. On a whim I put out that I needed to borrow camping equipment and I was inundated with offers from many extreme campers who were eagerly offering me their equipment and help. I was overwhelmed. I never expected to have that kind of support. Danielle Bates and her husband have done the trail a number of times and Danielle and I are a similar height and build so I borrowed most of my equipment from her. I’m so grateful for all the offers. I knew I was taken care of and that people I really respected believed in me. I checked out a blog that featured camping recipes – The Yummy Life – and discovered some food options that would work for me. I was set.

The Berg Lake Trail – Day by Day

To Mt. Robson Provincial Park I left Kamloops early Saturday afternoon. Earlier in the day I had received confirmation of some bad medical news about a very good friend – I was devastated, and I was already thinking about another friend who is undergoing treatment for Breast Cancer, so all the news all hit me at once and I cried all the way to Mount Robson. Actually, to be honest, I cried all the way to Little Fort (about 100Kms from Kamloops) when I realized I didn’t have my

Mt. Robson Provincial Park

Mt. Robson Provincial Park

camera bag with me. Photography was one of the major reasons I was going, and my ID and money were in the bag so I couldn’t have gotten gas or anything if I didn’t turn back. The crying turned into cursing, briefly, and then I settled down and just let the day happen. I went back and got the bag, laughed a bit at myself, went to Dairy Queen and got a Blizzard, and got back on the road, crying and listening to music all the way. Four hours later I made it to the Robson Meadows campground in plenty of time. I felt very quiet and reflective. Being alone was perfect.

Day 1 To Kinney Lake

I knew the day was going to be hot so I planned to be on the trail by 6:00 am. I did not too bad, after having breakfast

Kinney Lake
Kinney Lake

(awesome pineapple and coconut porridge) and dumping a cup of chai tea on Danielle’s backpack (sorry!) I got myself organized and started on the trail at 6:45 am. There were plenty of cars but no people. It felt a bit strange and it was already hot. I was wearing hiking shorts and a Merino t-shirt from Icebreaker. Although I packed warmer clothes, this is all I wore for three days. The first 6 Km is a lovely trail that leads to Kinney Lake. If you’re driving by and want to stretch your legs, this is a great hike, not too hard and the reward is stunning. I stopped and rested at the Kinney Lake day shelter, filtered a bit of water, and I was feeling pretty good. I was half way to the Whitehorn campsite.

The trail to Kinney Lake

The trail to Kinney Lake

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The trail to Kinney Lake

The trail to Kinney Lake

The trail to Kinney Lake

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To Whitehorn

The hiking trail to Whitehorn is frustrating. You leave the water level at the lake and do this long convoluted and steep

Kinney Lake from the trail to Whitehorn

Kinney Lake from the trail to Whitehorn

route through the trees only to descend again and end up crossing the river bed. I found out after there is a horse trail, which was the original hiking trail, that stays on the river bed – shorter and less strenuous as long as the water is low. I took that trail on the way back and it made a huge difference. Once you leave the riverbed you climb up a trail that is quite rocky and exposed. This is where my trouble started. I met my old friend heat exhaustion!

Heat exhaustion is an illness of overheating, often brought on by high temperatures and physical exertion. It’s one step before heat stroke, which is much more serious. Once you have it once you’re more susceptible to getting it again. I am not a hot weather person at all and I had heat exhaustion when I was about 18 – riding home from working as a lifeguard at the Y in downtown Kamloops. We lived out by the airport and my mom was working at Overlander Extended Care at the time. I didn’t make it home, but I managed to walk my bike the last kilometer or so to get to Overlander. When I walked in the door the nurses who worked with my mom were immediately alarmed and sent her home with me – cool house, lots of salt and fluids, rest. It’s a day I’ll never forget and I’m sure my mom won’t either.

The last part of the walk from Kinney Lake to the Whitehorn Campsite felt exactly like that. I was walking maybe 100m before I needed to stop and drink again, catch my breath, and rest a bit. What saved me was something I threw in my bag at the last minute, Cliff Shot Bloks – gummies we use when running long distances. I had absolutely no appetite but I nibbled on these, which are full of electrolytes and carbohydrates, and drank lots of water. They’re pretty much all I could keep down and I plan to keep an emergency stash with me from now on!

Cliff shot bloks

For your reading entertainment, here are the signs and symptoms of Heat Exhaustion (according to WebMD). I am particularly famous for muscle cramps, fatigue, pale skin, profuse sweating and rapid heartbeat.

Confusion

Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration)

Dizziness

Fainting

Fatigue

Headache

Muscle or abdominal cramps

Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

Pale skin

Profuse sweating

Rapid heartbeat

I got to the campsite at about 1:00 (I think) and after filtering some more water I managed to set up the tent and lay down for an hour or two which made a huge difference. I noticed that I had absolutely no appetite but I forced myself to have a snack – tuna and crackers, and I didn’t have to pee at all – neither was a good sign. I forced myself to eat some curried rice and I drank buckets of water before going to bed. I also gave myself permission to not continue if I didn’t feel up to it the next morning. I am smart enough to know my limitations and Day 2 was supposed to be my hardest day of all – the climb to Emperor Falls. In the evening the park ranger, who lives in a cabin across the river, came by to chat with people and check their trail

My trail pass

My trail pass

passes. Nobody camps on this trail without a valid pass. She looked at my pass and then look at me, a bit puzzled. “Are you solo?” she asked. I told her I was and she, with obvious respect, said, “Way to go!” I have to admit, I was seriously proud that she was impressed with me. I told her about my heat problems during the day and that I was considering not going any further. If I did go on I was planning to be on the trail by 5:00 am. She told me that if I took my time, had at least 2 litres of water, and was on the trail by 5:00 I’d be fine. There is a part of the next day’s trail that was very exposed on a rock face and she said as long as I was off of that by 10:30 I’d be OK because the sun hits it at about 10:00 and heats up the rocks making that part of the trail pretty uncomfortable later on. I was reassured by her. She was great and I think her words were part of the reason I decided to continue on.

Day 2 To Berg Lake

The trail to Whitehorn, according to the map, included an approximately 100m elevation gain. What they don’t tell you is you do that 100m a bunch of times! The trail from Whitehorn to Berg Lake includes the very steep 4Km to Emperor Falls – a 500m elevation gain in a short distance. For those who are geocachers in Gold Country this is like doing Red Rock in Lillooet twice – but steeper. There is no water available until you get to the Emperor Falls campsite at the top.

Trail to Emperor Falls

Trail to Emperor Falls

Trail to Berg Lake

Trail to Emperor Falls

Trail to Emperor Falls

Trail to Emperor Falls

With Emperor Falls behind me
With Emperor Falls behind me

I was nervous, but I was on the trail by 5:08 with almost 4 litres of water. It was cooler, but not chilly. I was the only

Emperor Falls

Emperor Falls

one up in the campsite. I started picking my way up the trail, conscious of drinking a bit of water at every switchback. There are three huge waterfalls on the trail as you go through the Valley of a Thousand Waterfalls. I used each of these big falls (White Falls, Falls of the Pool, and Emperor Falls) as a milestone – 1/3 of the way, 2/3 of the way, almost at the top. At each one I enjoyed the view (and the solitude), took off my pack and rested. I got into the Emperor Falls campsite at about 9:00. I can’t believe that what was supposed to be the hardest part of the hike was actually the easiest for me. I had a snack (tuna and crackers – pretty much the only real food I ate on the trip) and kept going. I only used 1.5 litres of water on the climb but I felt great. The rest of the way was spectacular and uneventful. I had my major wildlife sighting… two chipmunks… on the exposed part of the trail. They were very entertaining and I was in a pretty good mood. At one point on this trail I was in a long valley leading into Berg Lake. I looked behind me, and ahead, and I saw nobody. It was awe inspiring to be in the Rockies, away from cars and the internet and bad news and good news – just alone. I stood for quite a while and just enjoyed it.

Trail to Berg Lake
Trail to Berg Lake
Wildlife sighting

Wildlife sighting

poser

poser

My first sight of a glacier

My first sight of a glacier

Berg Lake was amazing. I had never seen glaciers in person before this. I got into the campsite at about 11:30, when a lot of the campers were just heading out. After setting up the tent I spent the day napping, listening to the glaciers calving, watching sheets of ice and snow fall from amazing heights, and just being grateful for everything I have, including my health and my courage. I know a lot of people who would never do this alone, and many who physically couldn’t even if they wanted to.

Berg Lake

Berg Lake

Berg Lake
Berg Lake

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Gratitude… love the ones you’re with like there’s no tomorrow…

more gratitude… more crying.

It was a multi-kleenex day (actually toilet paper).

All night I listened to the glaciers and the birds, songbirds I don’t usually hear and have no idea what they are. The glaciers sound like groaning and thundering voices. The birds were melodic and light. It was like a symphony. I loved it.

Day 3 Home

Had I been more on the ball, or known more when I planned this trip I would have taken an extra day or two. Maybe one to play around on the day hikes at Berg, and two to get back to the parking area. Instead I got up at 4:00 the next morning and was on the trail again by 5:00 – planning to do the entire 21Km back to the car. It’s all downhill, how hard can it be?

Sunrise at Berg Lake

Sunrise at Berg Lake

Sunrise at Berg Lake

Sunrise at Berg Lake

I was worried about going down the Emperor Falls route because I don’t have great balance and footing and I often slide when going downhill. My new Scarpa boots earned their keep on this part of the trail, though. Thanks to them and my walking poles I never slid, I felt very comfortable going down the steep terrain, and even my knees weren’t complaining too much when I got back to Whitehorn at about 10:30. I had a snack (more tuna and crackers), filtered some more water, and set out again for Kinney Lake and then the parking lot.

Oh, hello heat exhaustion! I missed you… for a day! Blech!

By Kinney Lake I was not in great shape and there was a huge group of Czech tourists in the day rest area so I couldn’t really sit in the shade. Not a great move. I had a hat and a cooling cloth and any time I was near water I was dipping both and putting them back on to try and cool down. The last 2 Km was the worst. It took me eight hours to do the 21 Km but I finally made it back to the parking lot. It was hard, but every step reminded me about my two friends – one in the early stages of treatment and one with a devastating diagnosis – this is hard, I had to remind myself, but it could be so much harder. I’m very lucky I could do this, I could take these steps, lucky I could complain about something like heat and the trivial fact that my feet hurt. Everyone should be as lucky as me. The thing that kept me going, though, was the gratitude. I am so grateful that I gave myself this opportunity. I first read this poem by e.e. cummings years ago and it runs through my head when I most need it. I needed it, and heard it a lot on this special trip.

i thank You God for most this amazing

                by e. e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any—lifted from the no

of all nothing—human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

All the way down I knew, I could feel, I was getting closer to my regular life. My tech vacation was over, I was going to be inundated with news, people, and responsibilities. I braced myself, but it made the journey back to the car just a little bit harder.

Finally, I made it back to the parking lot. Every time I’ve done 21Km this year (it’s the distance of a half marathon) there was a medal, cheering crowds, a t-shirt and a box of snacks. This time there was just me and some people who had done the day hike to Kinney. I asked them to take my picture so there’s documented proof I did it. I went to the Robson Visitor Centre and bought myself a t-shirt. I had some poutine (salt and carbs), and then prepared for the drive home. My entire three days I had crystal clear blue skies, which were great for photos but not so great for my health. Sitting in the car I looked back up at Mt. Robson and noticed it was hazy behind a cloud of smoke. I got out just in time. The smoke from local forest fires was moving up the valley. The next day there would be fires in Jasper, meaning more smoke. I can’t believe how lucky I was.

My Berg Lake rock

My Berg Lake rock

Would I do it again?

Yes, but I’d be better prepared. I’d have better fitting equipment and I’d know more about the conditions and how I’d respond to them. I would also arrange to have enough time to go slow and enjoy where I am. I saw people doing the entire hike to Berg Lake in one day. They were moving fast and missing sounds, smells, and sights that were right there. I felt sorry for them. I think it’s good to travel alone, and it’s good to take a vacation from technology. I carried my Spot locator and checked in with it (I can only send, not receive messages) whenever I got to a campsite so my mom, and my friends and family knew I was OK, but that was the only technology I had access to. I did something I really wasn’t sure I could do and I’m proud of myself, and always, I’m grateful I have the capability and gave myself the opportunity. I am hoping to do a solo backpacking trip every year. I think gratitude is like a muscle, you have to work it, keep it in shape, nurture it.

DONE!

DONE! and grateful!

50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year – Thing #8 – Walk above the water

The suspension bridge leading into the Whitehorn campsite

The suspension bridge leading into the Whitehorn campsite

 Bridges

This may seem small when compared to the scale of some of my other crazy things but it’s

A sequence of bridges leading to Berg Lake

A sequence of bridges leading to Berg Lake

important to me and I’m very proud of myself for doing it. While the whole Berg Lake Trail was a challenge for me (blog post to come on that), the suspension bridge leading into the Whitehorn campsite was on my radar as a potential challenge I would need to conquer. My thing is, I like the structures beneath my feet to be firm. I don’t like movement and I don’t like the feeling of having to trust whether or not someone did their job right or that the structure I’m walking on may collapse at any minute. Bridges in general are a bit unnatural to me. I guess I watch too many Indiana Jones-typeIMG_9731 movies – you see a skinny bridge, or a suspension bridge, and you know what comes next. It will collapse, the ends will be cut, or burned, and the whole structure will swing with some poor unsuspecting soul on it. Even large bridges, like the Lions Gate Bridge or the Port Mann Bridge in Vancouver, make me a bit nervous. The sounds change when you’re on a bridge. Things become more focused. I notice I hold my breath until I safely reach the end. It’s not a gripping fear that stops me from going places but I’m definitely aware of all bridges and the fact that they are suspended above great cavernous spaces that I have no control over.

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The Berg Lake trail has a number of bridges that made me nervous. Some were only two pieces of 2X6 stretched over a stream, others were wider. Some had two railings and some only one. All of them made me nervous. The fact that I was carrying a heavy pack didn’t make things easier since my raised centre of gravity made me feel less stable than normal, and I don’t feel stable at the best of times. My ankles wobble on narrow surfaces. I don’t have sure footing, and my heart is pounding so hard I need to rest when I get to the other side. Adding a suspension bridge into the mix made it all the more challenging.

Why is this crazy?

I’ve said before that heights aren’t a problem, and they’re not. But there’s something about bridges that make me very cautious. Where people I know bound effortlessly over them, I pick my way slowly, cautiously, shaking the whole way. Bridges are above nothing. The expanse below is scary and I find them slightly unnatural. Suspension bridges are the worst. Suspension bridges move. They don’t seem to be attached to anything solid. They seem fragile and free thinking – something I don’t like in structures that are supposed to support me. It’s hard to explain why this is crazy. It didn’t make me want to vomit or pass out, but crossing a suspension bridge is definitely not something I have actively sought out… until this year. There will be another one in the fall if all goes well. This is a starter.

Crossing and swinging

As suspension bridges go, this one is probably pretty tame. The sides are chain link fencing, which feels pretty solid. I don’t think the wood pieces you step on are in much danger of falling off and I don’t think the cables holding the bridge are likely to snap…. But… it could happen!

The lack of solid ground felt strange and the fact that the deck of this bridge (not sure what it’s called – the part you

Suspension bridge leading to the Whitehorn campsite

Suspension bridge leading to the Whitehorn campsite

walk on) isn’t even close to level made me very nervous. I think it has about a twenty degree lean which made me question the engineering skills of the person who designed and built it – and that made me question the rest of the structure. We weren’t really high above the water, but the river was moving in rapids and it was hard not to look at it and imagine myself tumbling down into the white foam.

My pack felt heavier. My legs were tired, and didn’t seem to want to bend. Not one part of this was pleasant or effortless. I had a brief thought about taking a picture from the middle of the bridge but my hands were shaking so much I was pretty sure I’d drop the camera so I decided against it. Oddly enough, and this surprised me, the worst part of the bridge was not the part that was suspended, it was the ramps leading up and down. They were narrow, wobbly and I felt I was going to lose my balance on them. Crossing wasn’t as bad as I imagined it would be but I did breathe a sigh of relief when I got to the end. I nearly crawled down the ramp on the other side, though, which was a bit embarrassing since there were people waiting to get on the bridge and only one person was allowed on at a time. I had to do it twice and it wasn’t really any easier the second time, but I had to go across to get home!

Would I do it again?

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SUSPENSION BRIDGE… DONE!

Absolutely (immersion therapy – desensitizing myself to the sensations). I think I’ll be doing another, longer, suspension bridge in October. Pretty sure I won’t have a 40lb pack on my back so that should make the balance a tiny bit easier! Maybe next time I drive into Vancouver I won’t hold my breath going across the Port Mann Bridge… maybe!