I'm intending for #GetOutside to be a recurring series of posts about my ventures into the wilderness. This is the second, and the second in my trip report from Vancouver Island's tallest peak, the Golden Hinde.
I woke up at dawn to the sound of my cell phone alarm, and quickly shut it off and stumbled, groggy, out of the tent I'd pitched on the shore of Carter Lake last night. There was no movement from the two tents further inland; Jason and Darren had stayed up later than I had, and they intended to take a relaxing day while I tackled the Golden Hinde's 2200m summit.
I didn't have time to waste. By my calculation, we'd camped about an hour short of the base camp on the shore of Schjelderup Lake, from which my Alpine Select guidebook suggested a long summit day was possible. That put me two hours behind schedule. I'd injured my knee descending from Phillips Ridge yesterday, and I was really hoping it wouldn't slow me down too much.
I quickly packed my summit bag. I brought four litres of water, iodine pills, a first-aid kit, enough food to stand me overnight and into tomorrow if necessary, rain- and cold-weather gear, my helmet, and an ice axe I'd bought from MEC just before we set out, though the peak of the Hinde wasn't showing any snow--and frankly, I was unqualified to use the axe if there had been snow.
The boys didn't stir as I found the trail over the hump to Schjelderup and I let them sleep. My knee felt okay. Within fifteen minutes, I'd made Schjelderup, and set about skirting the boulder fields on the shore to the planned base camp, which I reached after about an hour.
From there, the trail left the lakeside and wound up through the forest and back to a broad alpine bench and the top of another beautiful, barren ridge.
This was Burman Ridge, and it sat at about 1600m, with the Golden Hinde rising dead ahead only 600m higher. Unfortunately, to reach the base of the Hinde requires dropping 450m into a chasm and climbing up the other side, so there was no time to stop and admire the view.
It was about at this point that I became acutely aware of my isolation, and began to feel very lonely. We hadn't seen another soul on the trail in days, and I was heading deeper into a wilderness, and a challenging climb, without my friends.
I wondered if I wasn't making a mistake attempting a solo summit. My knee was still sore, and though I was making good time, I could see the climb that lay ahead of me, and I wondered if I had the stamina for it.
It's funny how lonely you can get in the wild. I suddenly missed my dog very much, and I missed my partner, too, and wished we were still together.
But there was nothing to do but keep moving, either forward or backward, and I couldn't make myself turn around, not yet. I'd heard there was cell service from the peak of the mountain, and I wanted to call home and tell my friend Alexis that we were all still alive.
I made the base of the Golden Hinde at about 1100hrs. It had taken me four hours' hiking from camp, and I still had about 700m of scrambling ahead of me. I calculated my drop-dead turnback point to be 1400hrs if I wanted to make it to camp before full dark.
The guide book gave two choices: a popular scramble up the southeast side of the mountain, or a longer and more beautiful climb along the west ridge. I reasoned that the longer climb would mean an easier grade and opted to go west.
West might not have been steep, but it was the more challenging route nonetheless, both physically and mentally. I was bagged by the time I got to the west ridge itself, and found myself following a sketchy trail and vague directions to the very limit of my scrambling skill and mental preparedness.
I found myself inching across narrow ledges and pulling myself up narrow chimneys, looking down at steep, nearly sheer drops and the certainty of death or serious injury if I messed anything up.
I was in over my head; I realized that now. But to turn around and go back the way I came would perhaps have been more risky than pressing forward to the summit. And I knew that if I didn't get hold of Alexis, she would worry that something had happened to me. But time was ticking; it was 1400hrs and I still hadn't reached the summit.
In hindsight, this was all the height of foolishness. I don't think I was outside the bounds of my abilities, but the smarter course would have been the cautious one, especially solo.
I pressed on, and I reached the summit at about 1440hrs, well behind schedule. By that point, I was fairly exhausted, scared shitless, and anxious about getting back to camp. I could hear the boys calling to me from Burman Ridge, and I called back to them, but I would learn later that they hadn't heard me over the wind.
I'd reached the summit. There was no cell service. I rewarded myself with chocolate, signed the register and took plenty of pictures. Then it was time to get down the mountain, which is often a more dangerous proposition than getting up it in the first place.
I took the southeast gullies down, the route I should have taken to the top. I slid on my ass for most of the descent, and it was a fairly comfortable and controlled way to drop. By this point my knee was really killing me; it was 1630 when I reached the boulder field at the base of the mountain, and I couldn't hobble over the large rocks without constant pain.
I took a half an hour at a tarn in the boulder field to replenish my water, eat and rest. As I sat there, cooling my feet in the water, I could hear Jason and Darren calling to me again from Burman Ridge, and I called back that I was okay. After a while, their voices stopped, and I put my shoes on and hiked up my pack and limped across the boulder field to find the trail down into the 450m chasm and over to the ridge.
It took some looking to find the trail, and I was more and more conscious of the sun beginning its descent to the west. I expected I'd have light until about 2000hrs, which meant I'd be hiking the last thirty minutes or so in darkness. But I'd brought two flashlights and I was prepared, so long as my knee held out.
One foot in front of the other. It's something I would repeat to myself constantly over the next few months, as I sought to deal with the challenges of building a new life and a new home. This first time, though, I meant it literally.
My knee throbbed as I hiked down the chasm and up the other side, as I climbed the endless false summits of Burman Ridge, hoping I'd find Jason and Darren waiting for me along the way, but realizing they'd probably turned back to camp for the night.
I walked quickly, and with purpose. I was tired and sore and hungry, but I was racing the setting sun, and I was really looking forward to seeing my friends again and telling them what an idiot I'd been. Step by step, I covered my ground.
It was nearly dark when I descended from the alpine toward the shore of Schjelderup Lake, and it was full dark and then some by the time I'd skirted around to the opposite shore. That left only the bench between Schjelderup and Carter, a hike that had taken me fifteen minutes in the morning, but must have stretched to twenty-five as I hobbled toward home.
I could hear Jason and Darren at camp, and I quickened my pace as best I could, and then, suddenly, I heard Jason's voice, much closer: "O?"
I called out to him, and then his flashlight appeared through the dark, and he came barrelling down the trail and tackled me into a bear hug. He was sobbing.
They'd been terrified, he said. They assumed that I'd been injured, and they'd been set to dash back to the trailhead at first light to try and find help at the copper mine. They'd been sitting at camp worried sick since darkness fell, believing I wouldn't have stayed out past dark unless something was wrong.
I apologized, a lot. I told them how stupid I was. I hugged them both; I've never been more grateful for a hug in my life. I ate a backpacker's dinner and lay down and rested my aching knee and we compared stories, giddy in the way you get when you feel you've just narrowly avoided disaster.
They told me I'd be proud that I reached the summit, someday. I told them I was embarrassed and ashamed that I'd worried them, that I'd gone off on my own instead of spending the day by the lake with them.
We were together again, anyway, and we took comfort in that. But Jason's knees were hurting, too, and Darren was exhausted. We had a two-day hike ahead of us, and the weather was set to turn.