By Teresa Michaud
Hiking the Rockies, who put that preposterous idea in my head in the first place? Well, I believe it was I. My friend Kevin, who lives out in British Columbia, commented on hiking the Rockies, I thought it would be a fabulous adventure as well as an invigorating challenge. I began working out several months before the trip. I ran a couple of miles every single day, rain or shine, mostly rain, and I did my functional core circuit every other day, no exceptions. I trained hard and I was consistent since I knew I would have to carry a substantial backpack and a supply of water.
D-Day; it was raining hard. The initial plan was we were to have had everything packed and be ready to roll at 8:00am. At 11:00am, still dillydallying, we weren’t ready. Next thing we knew it was 1:30pm and still pouring. It was approaching 2:30pm when we finally got out of the truck and started our hike in the rain. We brought along Champ, a six-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, to protect us from Grizzlies and he was up for the job. Everyone neglected to tell him that he was just a small dog.
Within the first mile, I had huge blisters on both heels since these were not my hiking boots and they were a bit big. The hike itself was nothing short of breathtaking! Being from New Brunswick, where there is lots of oxygen in the air, I soon found out climbing a Rocky, where the oxygen is thin, had nothing to do with physical fitness. My daughter, the flight attendant/fitness-nut, advised me that the higher you climb the more and more dehydrated you become so make sure and drink lots of water. I did just that. By the time we got to the first switchback, I had sipped lots of water. I felt great. We refilled several more bottles along the trail. I was drenched in sweat but I had lots of energy.
When we reached the top, night was falling. We had no choice but to pitch tent on an incline that had to be at least 18% if not more. It was the most ‘level’ spot we could find for miles around. We ended up anchoring the tent with ropes and rocks to keep it from sliding off the cliff. We were cold and wet. We drank hot tea, coffee and enjoyed a nice hot soup. The warmth from the little naphtha stove was wonderful. I got out of my wet clothes and into my sleeping bag while Kevin put away the stove. The wind was lashing around us threatening to flatten the tent and it was bitter cold. I could feel the frost coming up through the floor and through my sleeping bag. By 3:30am my teeth were chattering, my body was trembling uncontrollably and I was sure I was going to perish. Kevin lit the stove again for me and we made another soup and more coffee and tea and used up the rest of our water. I scarcely slept a wink all night. I kept sliding into the door along with everything else in the tent.
The following morning, I packed up my gear to resume the journey. The view to the east was spectacular! We saw fleet-footed mountain goats, magnificent valleys, and the most enchanting mountains with monumental rock faces and cliffs that manifested every color of the rainbow, wondrous glaciers and huge whistling marmites. When you looked off to the west, you could see virtually the whole Cariboo Mountain range consisting of hundreds and hundreds of mountains and glaciers. The valley that we left below looked like a view from an airliner.
My clothes from the day before were soaked therefore my backpack weighed over 50 pounds. I was wearing a pair of dry jeans with a pair of splash pants over them to cut back the wind and a fox fur bandana. It was at least minus 10 on top of that mountain. There was snow on the ground and the wind was harsh. I felt like I was breathing through a straw. I had no water and after several miles, I was hurting. Exhaustion from dehydration was setting in. I was humbled. Kevin knew that without water, I would not be able to make it across the ridges that seemed to stretch on for miles and miles.
We decided to start down the mountains and chose, what seemed like, a fairly easy slope. There was a cool stream gushing out of the mountain, about one third of the way down, where we would be able to fill our water bottles. Exhaustion soon took over and I was toast. Overwhelmed, I removed my backpack, lay down on a steep slope, and begged Kevin to let me rest for five minutes. Within thirty seconds, I was asleep. He immediately woke me up, told me I could stay and rest for a while, then catch up with him later. He grabbed my backpack, slung it over his shoulders and headed down. I was mortified. I called after him in a faltering voice. “You can’t carry all that...” My throat was dry and my voice trailed off weakly. I was much worse than I thought.
“Well, you’re completely worn out, you sure can’t carry it.” He said as he turned to see if I was coming. I struggled to my shaky feet and caught hold of nearby trees and bushes. I was so unsteady, I kept falling every few steps.
Now I had a new problem –diarrhea. I could still see Kevin’s orange and blue jacket advancing farther and farther away. He was moving along fluidly using nimble long strides much like a deer. I felt sick to my stomach, my head was pounding, my heels were raw and hurting, my legs trembling, my mouth pasty and even without a pack on my back, there was no way I could keep up with him. It was all in my head, he kept insisting and encouraging me, "Think happy thoughts." Okay, mind over matter, I couldn’t give up, he’s right, I got to keep going; just keep going. I finally sat down and let myself slide down when we came to any mossy slopes. We hiked on for several hours. He kept calling back, “Are you okay?” He’d wait for me to answer or nod. “You’re still okay?” I think he was very concerned and yet he was the one carrying the heavy, awkward load. When we finally reached the stream, the ground was swampy, rough and littered with felled trees. The water tasted so good. We were still scarcely a third of the way down. The bushes were thick and jungle-like. I couldn’t even see where I was placing my feet. I was grabbing at branches to help keep me balanced. Suddenly, this didn’t seem like such a good idea. The last few bunches that I grabbed were stinging nettle plants. I could feel the stings all over the front and back of my hands and especially between my fingers. I also noticed lots of devil’s club. We don’t have these plants in New Brunswick, but by the looks of those tremendously menacing spikes, I don’t think it would be a very good idea to grab on to it.
The sun was setting and the going was slow through all that thick vegetation. Kevin still carried all the packs. I was in awe of him. How could he just keep going? My whole body was utterly exhausted. We finally found, what I thought to be, a nice, level spot just big enough for the tent. Kevin went to fill the water bottles while I flattened out the vegetation. By the time we put the tent up, it was pitch dark. Champ and I crashed.
Next thing I knew, Kevin was waking me up insisting I should eat something. I realized then that I was still sliding down towards the door of the tent. The food was delicious and the water was heavenly. I felt so much better. My stomach settled and the headache went away. I doctored my raw heels and got out of my wet clothes. It wasn’t cold like it was at the top of the mountain; not taking any chances, I put Champ, the grizzly dog, in my sleeping bag. He was like having my own little furnace. I snuggled up to him and I slept soundly.
The next day, I was feeling great. I had lots of water, there was oxygen in the atmosphere and I had no trouble carrying my own backpack, which was amazingly heavy. Kevin cut me a walking stick and I was good to go. After a short while, Kevin found a game trail, which we followed for quite some time, then on to some grizzly trails. We came to a paved road after several long, laborious hours. I cheered with delight. It hadn’t been used for at least twenty years. The trees and brush were reclaiming it. It was on a steep slope and much longer than we had anticipated but the easy walking was such a relief.
Well, there is no question about it; our hike really was a fabulous adventure as well as an invigorating challenge. Would I go and hike the Rockies again? Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t miss it for the world! Let me grab my backpack and let’s go!