Sunday, September 24, 2006

At least it can't get any worse...

I’ve been looking forward to spring for months. Restless to get back into the great outdoors and do a bit of camping, I was dying to load up my pack and head off into the wilderness. So last weekend, the first official weekend of spring (for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere) G and I did just that.

I chose a trail that looked relatively easy for our first trip of the season. Just 8km or so along a low ledge of a mountain, then along a creek, then a valley, ending at a hut where we could spend the night. The forecast was for possible strong winds but no rain, so I figured staying off of the exposed mountain ridges was a good plan.

Of course things don’t always go as planned, and while the trip began with a pleasant enough walk, things gradually descended into deeper and deeper levels of hell.

After two hours of reasonably good trail, we climbed up a steep, muddy slope that required some scrambling to deal with large steps up and bad footing. From there on things got even muddier. Often ankle deep, making sounds like ‘schlllooomp’ and ‘pttthhhht’ as our boots were repeatedly sunken and recovered.

I figured things would get easier once the trail started following the creek. But instead they got much worse. On the map, the trail was a simple dotted line following along one bank of the creek. In reality, the trail crossed back and forth across the rocky creek over and over again, and sometimes simply forced you to walk along in the creek. With the waters all in spring flood, this was no easy task, and by the second crossing I had stepped in water deeper than my boots and my feet were completely soaked. This was around the time I started thinking “At least it can’t get any worse.” But I was wrong.

About half an hour into our creek extravaganza (how long could it possibly take to walk 1.5km???) I slipped on a rock and bashed my leg against it, stopping myself just before my face hit the rock. The pain, mixed with anxiety about possibly smashing my face against any of the thousands of rocks ahead, started tears flowing. While I did kind of pull myself together enough to carry on, I was never far from tears for the rest of the afternoon. At least, I consoled myself, it can’t get any worse.

It ended up taking about 1 ½ hours to get through the creek section of the trail, far longer than we’d expected. After that it became steep, muddy terrain with tangles of slick tree roots. Even though it was getting late, it was almost impossible to hurry without slipping. But soon darkness started to creep in on us. We’d started late, maybe 11:30am. I figured it was a 4-5 hour hike. We had been going for 7 hours when it got too dark to carry on without flashlights.

I’ve never hiked by flashlight before. I always knew it was the sort of thing you could do if absolutely necessary, but it never occurred to me that it would be necessary on a straightforward trail. But it was a day of surprises. The main problem facing us was a split in the trail ahead. One path would lead to the hut and a soft bed. The other would end at a bluff, not a good place to find yourself in the dark. Luckily there was a large sign pointing to the hut track, and after an hour of slowly stumbling through the dark we finally arrived. One other guy was there. He’d somehow done the trail in 3 hours. We took 8 hours! At least it can’t get any worse.

Hiking out began with tired, sore muscles on Sunday morning. We left the hut at 9:30 to absolutely make sure there would not be a repeat of last night’s adventures. The tangled roots and mud were extra slippery in the morning thanks to overnight rain. How much more water would there be in the creek? I found out quickly when we re-entered the creek. At the very first crossing I slipped on a slimy rock and went down, landing on my side in the water. I would spend the rest of the day soaked through. More tears, this time mostly from exhaustion and frustration. I fought my way determinedly through the rest of the creek, thinking ‘At least it can’t get any worse.’ Then it started raining.

The rain continued for the rest of the hike. But once we were back to the last two hours, I knew that the terrain ahead, while muddier than the previous day, would not put any ridiculous obstacles in my path. At that point, rain was not an issue. I was so wet I couldn’t get any wetter. My boots squished with every step.

But through all of that I managed to come out of the weekend with just bruises and stiff muscles. So, while it seemed at the time to be a total disaster, I guess it wasn’t all that bad. But from now on I’m going to do more investigating about the trails before I make a decision based on what the map shows. And even though it was not the lovely, enjoyable weekend I’d hoped for, I’m still looking forward to my next opportunity to pack up and go into the wilderness.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Well, at least you came out of it okay and all.
I like the "Maple Kiwi" thing. Works for me although I was thinking to myself "what would that taste like..." and that got me all sorts of places I didn't really want to go.

Anyway, looks good! I'll check in regularly.

T in TO

Anonymous said...

I have done a few flashlight hikes myself. It can be worse if you do not know where you are!!

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