I'm intending for #GetOutside to be a recurring series of posts about my ventures into the wilderness. This is the first.
Last September I set out on a hike that would turn out to be the most challenging thing I've ever done, both physically and mentally.
The Golden Hinde is the tallest peak on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada. It's 2200m above sea level, though reportedly the altitude gained and lost over the 27km approach is equal to that between base camp and the summit on Mount Everest. It certainly felt that way!
My companions on the hike were my friends Jason and Darren, who both live in the relative flatland of Ontario and who, I suspect, were not entirely prepared for the enormity of the task that awaited us.
Neither was I, I guess.
We took the ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island and spent the night in Campbell River, about 80kms from the trailhead. The next morning, we had breakfast at the motel and drove west from town into Strathcona Provincial Park, where we met the trailhead in the middle of a large copper mine--and where one of the mine's employees warned us to be prepared, as changing weather had forced the rescue of a couple of other hikers nearby the week before.
I felt pretty confident in our level of preparedness; I'd studied the guidebooks, online trip reports and plenty of maps to get a feel for the route, and I had faith in my gear and my level of fitness. We planned for a five-day hike: two days inbound to the base camp at the foot of the mountain, a summit day, and two days back out again.
Weather was beautiful and forecast to be beautiful for three days, at least. We figured we could deal with the rain on the outbound trip, so long as there was steak and beer waiting for us back in town.
From what I recall, we set out at about 1000hrs. The first three or four hours were spent switchbacking up a well-groomed trail through the forest to a pretty lake, where we stopped to eat lunch and readjust our packs and pump water, the hot weather having already taking a toll.
From the lake we set out again, bound for the alpine, a steady climb to about 1600m and a long, massive chain of largely barren rock called Phillips Ridge. Here, the trail mostly petered out and was replaced by rock cairns every approximately fifty to one-hundred feet; the cairns took some finding at times, but we managed to make decent time.
We camped that night on Phillips Ridge with an amazing view of the mountains to the southwest, and, after the sun went down, a clear sky full of beautiful bright stars. I turned in early because I'm kind of a nerd about getting my rest on these hikes.
The next morning we followed the ridge as it swung around from the west to the north, over a number of rocky knolls and down the backsides of them. At times, this up-and-over stuff was pretty easy. At others, the path got precarious, and we had to pack-off a couple of times and lower the packs by rope.
We could see the Golden Hinde in the distance, though, and a couple of the subalpine lakes where we'd make camp that evening. The weather was still amazing; I think one of our party even took a naked pic on the ridge, and we certainly drank plenty of water.
Around mid-afternoon we hit our first real snag. The trail cut down from Phillips Ridge and followed a steep ravine down into the forest toward a couple of lakes, Carter and Schjelderup. I hoped to make base camp on the far side of Schjelderup.
Somehow, though, we lost the trail midway down the ravine and wound up bushwhacking to the outflow creek below Carter Lake. I was glad I'd memorized the route and the terrain map, but all the same I was pretty stoked when we'd refound the flagging tape and were following a trail again.
By the time we reached Carter Lake, the boys were pretty spent. We'd foregone a real lunch in order to keep pushing, and it was getting onto late afternoon. Meanwhile, I was starting to stress, because I could see how our slower pace today would make for a very long summit day tomorrow, and I worried that we might not make the peak.
We stopped for a quick lunch/dinner on the near shore of Carter Lake, and by the time we'd circled the lake to the far shore between it and Schjelderup, it was getting into evening and the boys were ready to camp. It helped that there was a beautiful campsite spread out before us, and so we pitched our tents and broke out the scotch and more food and rested our bodies from the long grind thus far.
That night, Jason and Darren decided they'd leave the summit to me, figuring they would slow me down and wanting to take a break and enjoy the lake. I was somewhat relieved, to be honest, because I didn't think we could make the summit moving at our pace, but I was confident enough in my own abilities to get up the peak and back to base camp significantly faster.
The next day plotted out, then, I hit the rack early again and set my alarm for first light.
By the end of the day, we'd all be regretting my decision.