Thursday, 21 August 2014

Skoki: Happy Feet

A couple years ago, my dad, my sister, and I went on a backpacking adventure with our church's outdoor club (see August 2012). That escapade involved both emotional highs and emotional lows, but the highs must have outweighed the lows overall, because this summer when my dad asked whether we wanted to go again, we agreed. This time, we took on Skoki Trail at Lake Louise, which involved two nights in tents and 16 kilometers of hiking in and 16 kilometers of hiking back out. Our group was largely the same as last time, minus a few marathon runners, plus a few of their family members.
The primary difference between this hike and the last one is that I wore different hiking shoes in hopes of avoiding the blisters of doom and despair that I suffered last time. These were new shoes, and although I had broken them in, they were still clean and spiffy looking when we got to the trail head. Finding this to be unacceptable, Mike scuffed them up with his own shoes and kicked a rock at them before we set off.

Beyond the shoes, my outfit differed from last time in that I chose to bring a red bandana instead of a white one. Even my socks were the same. Then, just before we left, my cousin Jordan, who lives with us, lent me a thin but warm sports sweater that he often wears hiking. Adding it to the dry-wear sweater I had stolen from my brother's closet, I was decked out like a man for most of the weekend. Given how personal hygiene tends to go on backpacking trips, I probably smelled like one, too.

The beginning of the hike was a long trek uphill on a fire road. It caused me to remember that a hike in a national park is a very different thing from a plain old walk in the park. Yet, when I wasn't wheezing for breath, the conversations were pleasant.

"Carla! How has your summer been?!" Jessica exclaimed, coming alongside me on the trail.

"Hi," I said, noticing that she was hunched over like a goblin of some sort, struggling against her backpack. "I went to China."

She was in severe pain, but she looked up at me from her stooped position, smiling. "Oh my goodness! Yes! China! I remember that. You have to tell me all about it!"

We stopped a few times to try to adjust her pack, but it was too short for her torso and too heavy. Nevertheless, she continued to chat cheerily with whoever was beside her and you wouldn't know she was about to die except for her strange posture.

She didn't die but arrived with us at the first campsite, called Hidden Lake. The lake was so hidden we never found it. Anyway, I was more interested in how Gillian was teaching me to set up the camp stove. The first time I tried to start it, I let the gas run a little long so she gasped and told me it was going to explode. Then she had me try again until I got it right. Eventually I did manage it, made a cup of hot chocolate, and then completely counteracted the warming effect of said hot chocolate by washing the cup in a freezing cold stream of water. Following that ill-planned attempt at getting warm, it was bedtime. We crawled into our tents and listened as the skies opened up and poured all night long.

There was evening and there was morning - the first day.

As a rule, I don't sleep well in tents. As a result, I was the first person up the next morning. Being entirely without a timekeeping device, there was no way to tell whether it was closer to five in the morning or nine, but I was awake, hungry, and feeling independent, so I retrieved our bear bag, set up of the camp stove and cooked breakfast all by myself. I almost got lost only once in the process, and was not eaten by a bear, despite my believing that I heard one in the bush every time I turned my back. We always believed there was a bear nearby; notmybrother!Justin was wearing those barefoot shoes that are essentially a rubber version of toe socks. Whenever he left prints in the mud, someone (usually Brianna) would be momentarily very startled.

At any rate, bear or no bear, everyone else woke up in due time and joined me, standing around the soggy picnic table to eat breakfast. It turns out that Ann doesn't sleep very well in tents, either. She told us about her night while waiting for her food.

"All night," she said, "I was wondering why I like to do this. It's cold, wet, and every time I can't sleep at all!"

"But you do like doing it?" I said.

"Oh, I love it," she exclaimed, "but it's miserable!"

We repacked after breakfast and continued up the trail. I say "up the trail" and not "down the trail" for a reason. We climbed two passes that day. The first one, Boulder Pass, was aptly named because it was full of boulders. Ann helped Jessica and James climb one by groping them as they tried to pull themselves up, Mike and Clary performed acrobatics on another, and we just hung around a while having fun.
The second pass was called Deception Pass. This particular pass inspired in my mind a chase scene that should be in a movie somewhere. It would be simultaneously the most painful and most wonderful chase scene ever, with the bonus of incredible scenery. Car chases are so cliche; instead, put your foot-bound prey and pursuers on a steep mountain pass. The prey takes three steps, stops, and wheezes. The pursuers take three steps, stop, and double over on their knees, heaving breaths. The prey resume running, makes it two steps further and stops to pant. The chasers make a surge for their target, get in three more steps, then need a water break. Would this not be an epic scene?

The scene would be comedic, but standing on the peak of a mountain pass is not. It's a desolate place to be. It's all grey rock shards, where chill winds whip through and clouds settle. The air is thin. It's barren and dangerously exposed. There is nothing to see, but there is everything to see. It's empty, except for the crazy human beings who routinely decide to throw themselves against nature and hoist themselves up there for the sole purpose of looking down on everything else. The view takes their breath away, and they throw up their arms in exhilaration at having conquered.

Just following the pass was the most scenic part of the hike - a view of two lakes and some waterfalls, framed by several mountains, the names of which I have forgotten. The clouds that day happened to channel sunlight in such a way that the wall with the largest waterfall was spotlighted. It was gorgeous. My family and I were trailing behind the rest of the group a bit, because we were busy taking poor pictures of it. Eventually, though, everybody else also realized how beautiful it was and stopped to eat lunch in front of it.
After making it over both passes, the path sloped downward again and we eventually found ourselves at Skoki Lodge, in which, once upon a time, Prince William and Kate stayed the night. As proof, in the lodge's dining room there is a picture of them standing on the threshold. Apparently they helicoptered in with their own bathroom trailer. Upon learning this, my dad indignantly set off in search of the "bathroom for the masses" and spent the rest of the way to the campsite discussing how the US president also always takes his own bathroom with him, so people can't steal his pee and analyze it.
No, lounging on comfy window seats is not typical of backpacking trips.

This hike was easier for me than the last one because even after hiking over two passes, my feet were happy and blister free. Justin made a point of asking about my feet every kilometer or so on the second day, and kindly took a picture of my heels to prove their satisfactory condition:
The second campsite, Merlin Meadows, wasn't far from Skoki Lodge. We arrived, set up camp, played cards and dice and did the usual things you do in campsites. This campsite was special because it included a fire pit, so the men in the group took turns picking up huge dead logs and smashing them into trees, usually with a running start. We used the pieces to fuel the flames. Once Brianna thought she saw a bear, but the bear turned out to be wearing a yellow shirt, so we decided it was James collecting firewood instead. We stayed up late to our legal roaring fire, made all our clothes smell like smoke, watched a deer amble through the campsite, and then shuffled off to bed.

There was evening and there was morning - the second day.

I made up for being the first awake the day before by now being the last. Clary woke all three of us up, saying from outside our tent that Mike and Duane were "winning" the race to be the first ready to go. Duane already had his tent packed, but Mike had a cup of coffee, so she wasn't sure how to call it. We groaned, pulled ourselves out of bed, and sluggishly prepared for the day to come.

Here I must insert a comment about the weather during this trip. It was cloudy. The whole time. On the third day, I wasn't quite convinced that the sun was up until noon. Throughout the entire weekend, the clouds threatened rain, and did in fact rain during the nights. As a result, most of the group shielded their backpacks with waterproof covers. Most of these covers were bright yellow. Also, it was cold out, but hiking tends to warm you up and can make you uncomfortably warm, even in the cold. The end result was that our group trekked along the trail looking like a line of molting ducklings. Yellow, semi-waterproof, and not sure whether we should be adding plumage or tucking it away. For most of the third day I wore mittens, several sweaters, and shorts. Everyone else wore about the same, except for Deanna, who decided she was only cold and dressed accordingly.

Now you can imagine the lot of us retracing our steps to return the way we came. Going back seemed easier than coming in had been. We made good time and stopped for lunch at a halfway hut that had been built in the 1930s. It was a nice find because it meant we didn't have to sit in the mud to eat. The third day was was largely uneventful, but there was something comforting about recognizing the places we passed. Knowing where you're going is less exciting than facing the unknown, but it gives you a sense of control. It's all just an illusion of control, of course. First, there's no controlling the weather. Just because it could, the sun finally shone and we saw our shadows for the first time all weekend during the last hour we were hiking out. And second, you might feel like you know where you're headed and where you're putting your feet down, but a thirty pound backpack really kills your balance and agility. You might think you're going to leap lightly off a rock only to find that you're falling flat backwards on your bum instead.

Anyway, we covered the entire distance in a single day and still could have hiked a lot longer. Somehow, I remained blister free. Here is the picture proof of our good condition as we made it back to the trail head. Mike said he was proud of me for how dirty my shoes ended up.
Here are a few more shots from along the trail.
After everyone made it to the end of Skoki Trail, we piled into our vehicles and drove home. Although my dad and sister and I had been just fine at the end of the trail, by the time we jumped out of the car at Dairy Queen in Canmore, we very nearly crumpled into three bumps in the parking lot. I guess it only takes an hour or so of rest for your muscles to start seizing up. I fancy that our simultaneous groans of surprise were rather melodic, which is serendipitous, because wouldn't that be appropriate music to roll under the end credits?


Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of the easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

poem by Robert Frost


Sister Brianna said...

I'm so glad I got away from the computer long enough to do something summery before the fall, and I'm glad it was with you and Dad! It was a very enjoyable trip. :)

Thanks for the post! By the way, I never thought during the trip that you looked or smelled like a boy.

Justin Fox said...

Two thumbs up for happy feet!

Mom said...

Again I laughed out loud in parts, Carla! :) Thanks for sharing.

Art said...

I liked reading about the hike. I wonder if flush toilets would have made the hike less intense? If you smelled and looked like a boy on the hike, I would not have cared. I was just happy you came along.