My family raised me to hike mountains relentlessly, and not underestimate the ability the human body. When I was young it always seemed effortless, seemed like I could fly at mountains without even breathing. I have to work a little harder now that most of my hikes have become multi-day hikes, and I have a heavy pack full of gear to carry. There have been countless times I've been trapped in rainstorms and high winds and been so cold I wished I could have been anywhere else, but one time was especially miserable. It seemed like a never-ending battle. My dad always says, whenever you're in a bad situation, just think to yourself: “have I ever been in worse?”. This is, without hesitation, my all-time story to compare whatever situation I find myself in to.
Our group had left for this backpacking trip in the last couple days of June 2000 19. We flew into a small Lake in Edziza provincial park, British Columbia, where we were to hike for the following eight days. The lake we’d fly out from was 8 hours from Whitehorse, plus a short flight, and it was very isolated, and should someone have gotten injured, it would’ve been a few days wait for help.
There were five of us in our party: my father, my mother, two friends and myself, and with us 5 packs that were incredibly difficult to pick up. For the following week, our party would hike over volcanic mountains, around glaciers, through wastelands volcanic residue, craters and of course, the most breathtaking landscapes I had ever seen. The first 7 days were absolute bliss. Our small fellowship walked in beautiful weather, between 10 and 20 kilometres each day, and camped at the foot of basins and glaciers. I had never felt so incredibly small, and yet on top of the world at the same time. The 8th day was the day we would hike down from the volcano do another small lake; where we would be picked up by another float plane.
Early that morning, I unzipped the fly on my side of the tent to reveal the sunrise down a valley adorned with flower patches in orange veins of minerals in the mountainsides. Then we packed up our backpacks, which by this time had nearly halved in weight, and start it up a narrow Valley which when lead over a gully and then down to the Lake. The hike was 15 kilometres, but by the end it seemed to be a marathon. It began well enough as expected, although the bugs became increasingly unbearable. We were unable to stand for more than 30 seconds, which was hardly enough time to put on bug spray, so instead we continued walking. A couple kilometres farther the five of us ran into buck-brush so sharp it tore our shins and made them bleed, which not only enticed black flies further, but also brought horseflies, but again we could not be bothered to stop and put pant legs on, let alone bug spray. After hours and hours of walking with little breaks, I began to feel slightly discouraged, but the root of this was most likely just exhaustion and hunger, so I continued without any further complaint.
Just as the sun was nearing the horizon and we were a mere 2 kilometres from the Lake, we hit water. Since we were at the bottom of a valley, beavers had flooded many kilometres of unavoidable territory we had to cross. At first it was easy enough; we followed the trail in ankle deep water until eventually the trail began to look more like a creek, and the trail marks began to look like beaver chews. By this time, I was bush whacking in knee deep water being stung by wasps ,and had it not been for dad's GPS I might have lost it right there! We wandered around in the watery Willows for an hour until dad found a stronger River; which would have been very dangerous to cross, but luckily there was a Beaver Dam to jump across which was in itself a risk. We popped out on the other side of the valley and followed a moose trail farther towards the lake, which was now 1.5 kilometres away, with the sun barely holding on to the mountain peaks. Eventually we cut away from the makeshift trail and wandered into something far worse: an entire forest of Devils club.
If you are unfamiliar with Devils club, it is a tall plant with a thick stock and broad leaves that's covered in sharp spines and microscopic hairs that can badly hurt and irritate your skin. This Devils club forest was easily 8 feet tall an extended as far as the eye could see. By this point I was hoping it was a dream. Keep in mind, at this point, we were all still in shorts and being eaten alive by horse flies. I find it interesting how your priorities change when you're put in an uncomfortable situation. For me, my priority was getting to the rake and setting up the tent as quickly as possible rather than making my life easier in the moment, which in hindsight most likely would have helped my situation more. After wrestling through a kilometre of decadent forest and Devils club and stinging nettle, we were finally out of that horrible forest, and now in just a dense spruce one. This was the moment my dad looked at me and said with a laugh: “this is now your worst moment”. Just as darkness was settling in, we reached the edge of the Lake. My legs stung so bad and I was far too tired to walk around the lake, so instead I trudged through the shallow water to the campsite, and the cold water soothed my bloody, tingling calves. The next morning the plane picked us up and I was more than happy to be back in my own truck, but I frequently think of that provincial park as the most beautiful place I've ever been, and even though that day stained my memory, the mountains painted prettier ones.
In the moment, things always seem far worse than they actually are. When I was out trudging through in unknown wilderness and in mild pain, I felt lost and abandoned, and we were so incredibly far from anything at all. Now, of course, I know it may have been silly to feel so unsafe, but it was one of those moments that taught me that even though I didn't think I could continue, I had to. And that taught me that I am capable far more than what I think I am, especially when driven out of necessity.