Friday, 31 July 2015

Pipestone: Mud Bog

In 2012, I went on a backpacking trip with my church's outdoor club. Last year, I went on another one. And this year, despite knowing that it may very probably kill me, I agreed to go on another one. Apparently I forgot how much I dislike being on the brink of despair.

The initial plan was to hike Pipestone Pass in three days: 15 km on day one, 16 km on day two, and 31 km out on day three. The insane last day should have been the first clue that maybe it was going to be a difficult trek. However, I was assured that all parties involved in the hike were pushing the trip organizer to split the last 31 kilometers into two days, so I gave my dad the go ahead to sign us up.

The full group this time consisted of six people: Dad; me; Mike and Clary, who have hiked pretty much every weekend for the past three summers; Andrew, a marathon runner and veteran hiker; and Sean, who on the last hike reportedly ran up and down the mountain twice in the time it took the rest of the group to plod up it once. My dad regularly jogs and exercises. I, meanwhile, walk through the parking lot from my car to my classroom. Sometimes I even stand up in front of my class for the entire lesson (but not usually).
I bummed a backpack off a good friend and arrived at home the night before we left in order to pack it. As I was packing, my dad received a text to bring rain gear. That should have been the second clue that perhaps this trek was not going to go as smoothly as the one last year. Nevertheless, I carried on, adding a disposable rain poncho to my gear. Upon stuffing the backpack full, I discovered that the primary waist buckle was broken. That should have been the third clue.

Given that camping stores don't seem to be open at two o'clock in the morning, there was no option to buy a new buckle before bed. And given that they don't seem to be open at seven in the morning before we were supposed to head off to meet the rest of the group, there was no option to buy one in the morning, either. So, I descended the stairs to the basement and frantically asked my cousin, who keeps even weirder hours than I do, and who does a lot of hiking, if he had anything I could use.

As luck would have it, he was in need of his own backpack for the weekend, but he did dig around his room for a while to see if he happened to have a spare buckle lying around (he did not) and made sympathetic comments. The following morning, Dad ripped apart an old suitcase, divested it of its buckle and performed a transplant. It took two fully grown men pulling on the backpack straps to get the new one set.

You see the drama unfolding before we even set foot on the path. As for the moment we actually set foot on the path, well, that was when we felt the first raindrops. Everyone else pulled out snazzy waterproof backpack covers, hoods, and raincoats. Then we continued on. The drops turned into a fairly strong rain that continued off-and-on all day.

Andrew turned around. "Do you want to stop so you can put on your poncho, Carla?" he asked.

"No," I replied. Even now, I'm not sure whether that made me a boss or a complete moron.

You can see the differing levels of our rain preparedness.
My refusal did not last long. I pulled it out and put it on at lunch. It turned out to be a thin white garbage bag with black arm holes. I looked like panda bear for most of the hike. Also, Mike lent me his brimmed hat to shield my glasses from the rain. It was nice to be able to see again, but I still had nothing to cover my backpack. As a result, within an hour of setting out on our four-day journey, the unprotected contents of my bag were wet and remained that way for the duration of the trip. My socks were soaked and never once all weekend did they dry. Sometimes they even went squish-squish in my shoes.

Adding a little cheer to the situation, every set of hikers we passed going the other direction brightly quipped, "The sun is just around the corner!" or "The sunshine is right behind us!" They were each one of them liars.

Between the hat that cut off my peripheral vision, water on my glasses, and a fear of tripping/slipping/twisting my ankle on a rock/root/hole/giant mud wallow, I kept my eyes pretty much on the muddy trail for the entire first day and didn't really get to take in much scenery.

Still, the alpine meadow did cause us to linger a while, and inspired Andrew to twirl and sing "The hills are aliiiiiiiivvve..." If you have never seen an alpine meadow in bloom, then you have to go on at least one hike to witness this. An alpine meadow in bloom is easily one of the most interesting and beautiful places on earth, and they're abundant in this country.

Following the meadow, we began the long, slow trudge up the pass. The ascent up the pass has never been my favourite part of any hike, but I've been a fan of the victorious sense of elation you get at the end after having beaten it. Unfortunately, this time the pass beat me. With the steep incline and thin air, my muscles just powered out. I did make it to the top - eventually - but it was long after everyone else and only with the help of Dad gently herding me from behind and feeding me raisins, which I don't even like.

Nevertheless, it's hard to be one hundred percent gloomy when you're that high up. Moonscape or not, it's too spectacular to go unappreciated.
As we began our descent, Mike sidled up to Dad and me. "Camp is just down there," he said, pointing, "around there, through there, and down some more, then over there."

"Is this the psychological part you warned us about?" asked Dad.

"We're not almost there yet," said Mike. "Don't get your hopes up."

Meanwhile, Andrew and Sean were so far ahead of the ones who knew where to go that they took a completely wrong trail and zoomed off in the wrong direction. Clary hoofed it after them, trying to tell them they were getting lost, but Sean wasn't even within shouting distance, and Andrew had his earbuds in, listening to Aristotelian philosophy. After a while, hunger got the better of Andrew, so he stopped for a snack and Clary caught him. Sean, though, had to figure out for himself that he was not where he was supposed to be before he turned around and joined us again.
We finally reached the campsite right around supper time. Dad discovered that we hadn't brought any tent pegs and went to beg from Mike and Clary. We fired up our Bunsen burner, ate some freeze-dried supper, and pulled out our games. Yeah, it's a good thing that Dad and I brought waterproof playing cards. I might not have thought to put my pajamas or socks into a waterproof bag, but at least I could pull out those cards and limp around a little more proudly. We had a few rousing games of Golf and Zilch, then packed it in for the night.

Cuddled up inside my sleeping bag, I opened my book to read a few chapters before bed. The first line of the novel was, "The rain began at noon."

In summary, I fluctuated between happiness and abject misery on the first day, but I kind of deserved it for thinking "disposable poncho" meant "prepared for four days of rain in the backwoods". At any rate, we also didn't die in a mudslide on the pass or get struck by lightning, though I was concerned about catching pneumonia and/or freezing to death if I couldn't get warm and dry. The thought of waking up in the morning to put on damp socks, squelch through the mud, and fearlessly charge into an icy monsoon was less than appealing.

I will say, though: one nice thing about having soggy pajamas is it makes bedtime in tents much simpler. I didn't change out of my hiking clothes for four straight days and three nights. Hygiene is overrated.

"We sit in the mud... and reach for the stars." Ivan Turgenev