Jon said to me a while ago, recipe “let’s try backpacking.”
I had very little feeling on it one-way or the other; I like camping. How much more complicated could hauling your stuff on your back be?
I liked the idea of being self-sustained for a few days, with fewer creature comforts than car camping. I liked the idea of being far away into the woods without my iPhone. I liked the idea of parking my business life for a weekend and really parking it- not sneaking away Saturday afternoon while Jon naps to read articles on Ragan, reply “to a couple quick emails” (spoiler: they are never that quick) or do “some quick banking”. (I just notice how I inject the word “quick” in front of my business tasks that somehow make them seem less arduous on the weekend, or assure Jon I won’t ignore him, my family and my friends for longer than a few hours).
We packed our backpacks (one borrowed and one old), and we drove to Lake Louise on one of the busiest weekends in the Canadian Rockies. We’d researched backcountry campgrounds and picked three we were interested in. I strolled up to the desk at the National Park Centre in Louise and promptly announced I’d like to book one of those three sites. After a long stare and no verbal communication, the agent informed me that in very slow and deliberate words that in the entire national park of Banff there was only one backcountry permit remaining at one campground.
The good news is you can have it! She smiles smugly.
The bad news is that it is a 19km hike in, she looks at me with steady eyes, narrowing slightly, seeing if I would jump on the last site.
I stand for a moment and debate accepting this challenge. Jon and I have been temporarily separated in the small town site that is Lake Louise, a long line is forming behind me, and it’s almost noon on Saturday of the long weekend. I consider how long a half marathon feels to run (sometimes really long at 21.1km) and reminded myself it would be slightly shy of this distance but with a backpack.
“I’ll take it!” I say confidently and smile my winning it’s-not-that-big-of-deal smile.
I inform a nonplussed Jon of the plan and we have a little laugh at our situation, which serves us right for taking care of it on the day off. We park the car and head into the backcountry.
We completed a large portion of the incredibly beautiful Skoki Loop, the first day dodging the thunderstorms that were predicted all weekend long. My back ached starting at 6km. My feet swelled dramatically. I was very careful not to complain (but I did, a little). I was, mind you, carrying two bottles of wine that I counted on to ease my pain later on in the day.
We arrived at our campsite approximately 4.5 hours later, exhausted and our feet (and low back, and shoulders, and necks) a little hot and stiff. We set up camp, ate our spaceship meals and drank a bottle of wine, and fell into our tent, spent from the day’s effort.
Day two featured a much smaller hike (13km) with a day pack. I was incredibly creeped out by how alone we were in the back back back country (we hiked out to the natural bridge by Douglas Lake) and we headed back to camp as the thunder rolled in. For a few hours we took refuge as rain pelted down and water slowly gathered at the corner of our tent as we huddled to stay warm and dry. I worried for the first and only time over the weekend that sleeping might be impossible given the increasingly wet conditions, but the rain broke shortly after we started our dinner and cleared out until we went to bed at night. We struck up a friendly conversation with the couple nearby, cooking their spaghetti on their stove. We told them about our decision to take the site at Red Deer lake last minute and they both started to laugh.
“We booked this on Monday!” The guy exclaimed. “It was one of the final sites open. This is like the campground for bad planners.”
Our second bottle of wine eased me to sleep (along with the completion of my 21st book of the year, only 16 books to go to tie the reading record) and in the morning we packed up to head to Deception Pass en route back to Lake Louise.
It was this day-day three- where I felt the fatigue of the days past wash over me. As we began to climb I fell increasingly further behind Jon and landed in what I like to call “endurance athlete mind” which in the negative can be extremely dangerous. The internal dialogue goes like this:
This is stupid.
I hate (insert the name of sport or activity here).
I could just stop now.
I’m never doing this again.
In retrospect, it’s pretty positive for me that I only sunk into negative endurance athlete mind once over a fairly difficult weekend. At the top of the pass I wanted to drop kick my backpack over the edge, but the labor that would have been involved at removing the pack would have been fairly ridiculous. So instead I cried and screamed at Jon, which was my second best scenario.
After I calmed down we hiked the rest of the way back to the car. My Garmin registered that we hiked 52.24km over the weekend, going from 2,560 feet to 7,180 feet (at the top). My caloric expenditure was approximately 4,560kcals. Get me a doughnut! (Or a Wendy’s baconator combo with no cheese, which was the post hike meal of choice as we wandered into Wendy’s in Canmore in our weekend stench, ravenous from our exertion).
Not a bad introduction to backcountry camping, although in the future I imagine we will try to plan ahead.