I'm intending for #GetOutside to be a recurring series of posts about my ventures into the wilderness. This is the fourth, and the final post in my trip report from Vancouver Island's tallest peak, the Golden Hinde.
On Saturday, September 30th, we came down off of the mountain.
The weather had turned on us, two nights before. Where our outbound leg and summit day were beautiful, bluebird days, our slog back to the truck had occurred in cold, miserable rain and limited visibility. We were all nursing injuries; we were soaking wet and exhausted.
And then it snowed.
I woke up well-rested that Saturday morning, wondering if I'd imagined the sound of snow on my tent. Then I heard Darren unzip his tent and mutter a swear word shortly thereafter. And when I moved my tent, snow fell from the canopy.
We were equipped for snow, more or less. We had about an hour's hike left in the alpine and then a steady descent through warmer, wetter terrain over the rest of the day. We weren't in any danger, not now. But damned if it wasn't tough getting out of that sleeping bag. And damned if I didn't hate life as, shivering, I pumped our morning water.
The snow complicated wayfinding as well, as every cairn we'd followed on our outbound leg was now covered in snow. Fortunately, the route traced the ridgeline and we were confident in our direction. The pace was slow, but with our legs acting up, it would have been slow anyway.
Just as we dropped out of the snow-covered alpine into rainforest, we came across the first other people we'd seen in four days. They were a trio of men, like us, headed to the Hinde. Their leader looked and sounded like he knew what he was doing. The other two guys looked scared out of their minds.
We chatted for a bit, exchanged some trail intel and wished them luck. Then we limped past them and down into the forest.
A few hours later, we reached the leg that marked the beginning of the last long descent to the trailhead. We stopped here to rest and eat a hot lunch and pick blueberries from beside the trail. There had been reports of a bear at this lake, but we saw none on our travels.
The last leg was switchbacks, nearly three hours' worth. And speaking of last legs, Jason was on his; his knees were shot, and he was clearly in pain. The guy that he is, though, he barely let it slow him down, and he didn't complain. One thing I've really taken from my friendship with Jay, and I've known him since I was a kid, is how much attitude matters.
Jay invariably tackles challenges with good humour; he rarely seems to get discouraged. Whether sports, adventuring or building a fence, he does his work well, he doesn't expect fanfare, and he shares his knowledge freely. Despite his fear of heights, he's a good guy to have with you when you're climbing a mountain.
Midway down that last set of switchbacks, the guys we met earlier overtook us. They'd reached the alpine, seen the snow, decided no, thank you. They looked fresh-legged and relieved as they hurried back down the mountain to their vehicle. We must have looked like the walking dead in comparison.
We made it back to the truck in the mid afternoon, just in time for one last spat of rain as we changed out of our hiking gear and into dry clothes. Then we were driving back along winding, two-lane highway to the town of Campbell River, where a Wal-Mart stop, a really shitty hotel and a delicious seafood dinner awaited us.
As time has passed, I've become prouder of the fact that I reached the top of the Golden Hinde. It was something I did at a time when I felt immensely beat down and exhausted, physically and mentally. It was something that tested my willpower, my preparedness, my endurance, body and soul. I'll cherish the view from the top for a long time.
But I'll cherish the fact that these guys helped me get there for a hell of a lot longer.