The mountains are more than just mountains. Every trail we step foot on has something to teach us if we are open to learning from it. When your shoes are dirty, your legs tired, and you’ve reached the end is where the real learning takes place. As I reflect back to my hikes over the summer this is what I know:
1. You think you're in shape until you climb up a mountain.
My first hike this summer was Vision Quest. 5.63km/3.5 miles and 735m/2411ft of elevation gain. A shorter hike to start off with but basically, we were going up right from get go. Without my trail legs under me yet I definitely felt the quad and calf burn on this one. Before hitting the trail, it can be really helpful to do some off-trail training to prepare and improve aspects of your fitness, such as aerobic and strength capacity.
2. The lakes are really cold, but you should always swim in them anyways.
The second hike I went on was Allstones Lake. 9.39km/5.83 miles and 757m/2484ft of elevation gain, finishing at a beautiful lake up in the mountains. The day was already cold and a little rainy, I was wearing a sweatshirt. I had no intention of going in on this hike but sitting there by the lake I couldn't resist.
Mountain lakes have a pureness to them. The magnificent shades of blue or green, the ability to see right through to the bottom, the way they seem to sparkle in the sun make them truly irresistible to jump in. You become a part of something so pure and peaceful it doesn’t even seem real. I swam in a total of 4 chilly mountain lakes this summer.
3. Sliding down a mountain on the snow/ice on your butt is called glissading. It is very cold and hurts when you're wearing shorts.
Hike number three was Tent Ridge Horseshoe. 13.5km/8.39 miles and 1087m/3566ft of elevation gain. This was a bucket list hike for me to do this summer. I was just waiting for the snow to melt enough to be able to make it up onto the ridge. In all the trail reports I had read, it said it is better to do the hike clockwise so that was the plan. When we got there however, we ended up going counter clockwise by accident.
On our ascent, we had to climb through some snow that everybody else was sliding down on their feet and butt. We decided that this looked like too much fun to pass up. We completed the ridge walk all the way to the weather station then turned around and went back the way we came so that we could slide down on our butts too (I later learned after listening to a podcast that this was called glissading).
Standing on the side of the mountain looking down the long patch of snow and to the rocks and trees farther down, I was admittedly a bit nervous. I told my hiking partner that he was going first and was then responsibly for stopping me if I didn’t. I sat down in the cold snow and went for it, hands in the air, laughing as it felt like I flew down.
4. Don't always wait for other people to go with you. Go out and hike your own hike.
By now I had gone on hike every weekend, each time with a hiking buddy. Sometimes though you just can't find anyone to go with you. You might not have any friends that want to go hiking, they are busy, or don't want to do the same difficulty as you. I realized that if I kept waiting for other people I would just be missing out on so many possible adventures. So, for my fourth hike I packed my bag, let someone know where I was going and set out on my own. Windy Point Ridge - 11.05km/6.87 miles and 1250m/4101ft of elevation gain. And let me tell you, this was a VERY solo hike. I leap frogged with a group of guys on my way up but saw no one as I continued on to a second peak or on my descent.
Having a hiking buddy - someone to share the feelings of the trail with and having the comfort and safety of not being alone in the mountains is a great experience. But when you go solo it is your hike, you are doing it for you and no one else. I find that it brings so much peace and freedom to the trail.
5. Pack gloves - for lesson #3 and for sharp rocks when scrambling.
While sliding down the snow the one thing I wished for (aside from maybe some pants), was a pair of gloves. My fingers have never been so cold from falling and catching myself in the snow so much. For Windy Point Ridge it was recommended to bring a pair of scrambling gloves because the rocks were pretty sharp. I did, and I definitely used them.
Now, lesson learned, they are always packed in my bag for the trail. You never know when it might be cold, wet or snowy on trial, so it’s better to pack prepared with a pair of gloves that can be multipurpose.
6. Trust yourself when you don't feel capable of a climb - it's okay to turn around.
When you set out with a goal or destination in mind it can be pretty disappointing to fall short. This happened to me twice this summer.
When I went to hike Windy Point Ridge there were 3 peaks that you could hit in one hike - Windy Point Ridge, The Buckle, and Talus. I got to the ridge, which did turn out to be more scrambling than I expected. I continued on to The Buckle, which was a lot of loose scree. Then I started to make my way over to Talus. The route was easy to follow at first, but it became loose scrambling rocks with no clear route. There was no one else in sight and I started to feel uncomfortable and my confidence was fading. I trusted my instincts and turned around - very glad that I did as the decent back to the car took much longer than I anticipated.
My last hike of the summer was Bertha Lake. My plan was to first take the trail down to Boundary Bay to go to the Continental Divide Trail (CDT)/Great Divide Trail (GDT) terminus. Then back up to Bertha Lake and on too Bertha Peak. On my way up to the lake I could feel myself running out of energy. I was also slowly running out of daylight. I pushed to the lake and I would make the call once I got there. Ultimately, I decided that it wouldn't be a safe summit and I settled for a lake swim and headed back down. To Boundary Bay and Bertha Lake turned out to be a 22.49km/13.97 miles hike with 979m/3212ft of elevation gain. I will save the summit for another day.
It can be hard to ignore those egoic thoughts – if I don’t make it this hike was pointless or f I don’t summit then I’ve failed – but the more powerful thing is trusting your inner guidance, your gut feeling to keep yourself safe. And time on the trail in the mountains is never a waste.
7. Singing makes the solo quiet parts of the trail seem less scary when you're worried about bears.
As I rode the Waterton Shoreline shuttle to the Crypt Lake trailhead, - 20.2km/12.55 miles, 934m/3064ft of elevation gain, and my fifth hike of the season - the guide talked to us about bear safety on the trail and the couple of bears that had been spotted the past couple days. I was going solo but since we are shuttled over to the trail head by boat there were about 50 hikers starting at once. For the majority of the ascent I was hiking with others, but as they stopped for breaks and I continued on, I was by myself for portions and for the entire descent. I started to sing, "row row row your boat", happy birthday to the bears, and anything else that popped into my head.
You never want to sneak up on a bear, so as the guide suggested you want to make noise on the trail to alert the bears of your presence. If you are in a group, this can just be the conversation among you but being by myself I went with singing. On trail, I have often seen people with speakers playing music instead but, in my opinion, this ruins the nature. Singing out loud, not caring how I sound or who hears me is refreshing, it brings out my inner child.
8. Car camping is really really fun.
The last adventure of the summer, a weekend getaway of hiking, biking, and my first car camping experience. I found a small family run campground called Fort Heritage & Frontier RV Park just outside of Waterton National Park and packed up the car. My days were spent in Waterton, preparing for each adventure out of my car, and returning to the campground each night. With the back of my car into my bed, I sat outside and watched the beautiful sunset, and the roaming cows and horses that lived on the campground land.
I texted my sister one day, I said “Is it weird how much I love this, I just got dressed for the day in a public washroom”. Car camping brings a sense of freedom and simplicity of having only what you need in your car. It also presents the challenge of making it through daily life with only the essentials instead of the luxury items we all use from day to day.
The trail has so much to offer us and this is just the beginning. Now, we keep hiking and keep learning.
PS. Have any lessons you have learned on your hikes? Share them with me in the comments!