"Does it look like it'll rain much tonight?" Dad asked.
"It might rain," I said, "but I don't think it'll be too hard, or at least, not very hard for too long."
It poured for hours. The clouds spewed down and the sky flashed and the air rumbled and grumbled and my sister, in her half-awake state first thought someone was setting off cannonballs beside her tent. However, there were no casualties and we all survived until morning.
We ate our last breakfast and set the four fast guys loose. Here was the plan:
1) Four guys start early and go fast. They beat us to the end of the trail by a considerable margin.
2) They use that margin to drive in Andrew's car to the trail head and pick up the other two vehicles.
3) Andrew leaves for Kamloops because that's where he wants to go. Meanwhile, the others come back in the other two vehicles so we can all drive to Jasper.
4) We'll go to a restaurant together.
5) We'll go to the hot springs together.
6) We'll carpool home in our vehicles.
So Justin gave me the rest of his athletic tape and took off with the others. Thanks to the giant storm of the night before, the first thing they had to do was cross what used to be a stream.
Luke looked at the river and calculated in his head. "There are ten of us," he said. "The odds are good that at least one of us will fall in." He found it understandably regrettable that he was not going to be around to watch the six of us cross.
All four of them made it across without incident. The back group hung out, taped our feet, finished breakfast, and took down our tents. Then we also crossed the stream-that-wanted-to-be-a-river.
Of all our days hiking, this final day had us cover the most ground, with a good 15 kilometers we had to tuck under our belts. The morning was pleasant and interesting. Alpine meadows in general are pleasant and interesting.
Thick trees are beautiful, but get a bit monotonous after a while. Plus, since we had climbed so high on the other days, we had a lot of elevation to lose, meaning the entire thing was downhill. My feet were mostly ok, but one person's knee was acting up so we were moving fairly slowly. It got tedious. We played 5000 Questions a few times. Oh, and we found some clothes that someone dropped along the side of the path and also something's skull.
Indeed. Thanks to the mega-storm during the night, there had been a mudslide along the only road that linked to the trail head, meaning that once we got off the trail, we would be effectively barred from collecting our other vehicles. And also from driving home - at least until the road crews cleared the mud away.
"They're hopeful about reopening the road tomorrow," said the other hikers.
"Looks like we'll be staying in a hotel tonight," said Clary.
But my dad remained optimistic. "People usually give a worst-case scenario," he said as we continued on our way. "We'll find out how bad it is when we get into Jasper."
"Andrew wants to leave for Kamloops," said Clary. Andrew's car was the only one not blocked off by the mudslide. "What if he leaves and we can't get into Jasper?"
"I am not walking to Jasper," said Gillian. "If we have to walk, I am just going to pitch my tent at the end of the trail and you can leave me behind."
Some of the motivation to finish the hike sapped away with the knowledge that we wouldn't be going home that day. But Clary tried to remain cheery, thinking of all the things she would do with her extra day in Jasper.
"I have a fresh pair of shorts and a shirt," she said with a dreamy smile. "I can put them on after soaking in the hot springs in my bathing suit..."
"Your stuff is all in our van," I said.
The dreamy smile disappeared. "Ah," she said. And we slogged on.
"I think I hear the highway," I said.
"I see cars!" said Clary.
I whooped. Someone in the parking lot whooped in reply.
"Run!" said Clary, "Run the last few yards!"
He had already taken the other guys there. They ate KFC together and had a nap. Then, despite the fact that he was late heading out for Kamloops, Andrew came back and waited by himself in the parking lot to play ferryman for us. Then he stuck around even later to make sure we didn't need a ride to a hotel. He was our hero.
We learned later that the guys had not received such a warm welcome as we had.
Apparently Justin, having enjoyed his Lord of the Rings music so well the day before, found that singing along to it while he ran gave him the motivation to keep up his speed. Before long, all four of the boys were humming out LOTR as they dashed dramatically around corners and out the exit. They told us about it when we were at Earls afterwards.
"There was a middle-aged woman unloading stuff in the parking lot when we got there," said Justin. "She watched us come out and told me, 'Well, that's stupid.'" He glanced down at his plate. "I thought she must be joking, so I stared at her, expecting her face to crack into a smile, but it didn't. It's happened to me a few times lately."
"What song were you singing?" I asked.
"The main one," said Justin.
"Which one?" I asked.
"Oh," said Justin.
"Now it all makes sense," said Braden.
Note to self: Do not crow "bear, bear" while dashing maniacally to a trail exit.
At any rate, once we were all reunited in Jasper, we learned from the information desk that the other hikers had not, in fact, given us a worst-case scenario. They had severely understated the case and things would be interesting for them when they ran out of food on the other end of the trail. There had been not one but multiple mudslides and the authorities were hopeful that they would be cleared not by tomorrow, but by the end of the week. Assuming there wasn't any more rain.
One night in a hotel is doable. Five or more is not. Andrew left for Kamloops. Luke had already hopped on a bus. The rest of us rented a couple of vehicles and got home that night, minus a few personal belongings. We unloaded, showered, and showed Mom the pictures from our trip. The next day we unpacked and Dad set up the tent again to sweep and wash it clean. With that, the hike was officially a wrap.
We are soon to be reunited with our lost belongings and vehicles. My blisters look disgusting but are healing. My muscles are no longer sore, despite not making it to the hot springs. I got halfway through Notes from the Underground and am enjoying it very much.
Next time, I'll bring my own foot tape. And I will use that foot tape before I ever spawn blisters. Assuming I can handle that, I assume I could handle another backpacking trek. Maybe, given my experience, I'd even move up in the ranks from Pippin to... well... Pippin 2.0. Until that day, I have pictures.
"Ah! The tent is blowing down the road!" my sister, seeing the tent jump the fence from our backyard and make a break for it. Our across-the-street neighbour caught it flying for a fairly busy intersection.