I have wanted to hike in the Pine Pass for as long as I can remember. I would drive through the Pass on my way to or from Fort St John, watching the beautiful mountains as they loomed above. They always seemed so isolated, intimidating yet I felt a beckoning to them. I told myself I would hike the mountains one day, and this year I got the chance to go with The Adventure Bus as my guide.
It was only a month ago but I already can't remember the drive. It was one I had done so many times it was almost mindless as my sister and I made our way north. I experience fairly severe motion sickness so I choose to drive myself. I tried a longer drive in the bus last winter to the McGregor Mountains for a snowshoe with them but I was really done by the end of it and I'm sure the others in the bus were probably tired of the stops we had to make to keep me from getting sick.
Kandus had told me we needed to leave at 6:45 from her place to be on time with the bus. I didn't actually read the email thoroughly so I believed her. As we drove I realized we hadn't seen them. We reached Azouzetta Lake and the bus wasn't there. I was surprised and after a couple minutes I checked the email from Meg. The bus had left town at 6:30 and we had ended up leaving just before 7. Our grace window was gone and the bus had moved on. They have a schedule to keep and since I hadn't messaged Meg that morning she had no way of knowing if we had slept in or changed our minds. I was frantic. I wanted to do this hike so badly yet I hadn't read the email and I didn't know where to go for the trailhead.
I drove blindly up the highway, assuming from the email the trail head was near by and that if we hurried we could catch the group. Kandus, equally frantic, asked my where the trail head was...twice. I didn't know. I only knew it was north of Azouzetta Lake. A few minutes later we were ecstatic to see the bus parked in a clearing just off the highway. Better yet the people were still there; We had made it in time for the hike!
We geared up as Meg and James went over the guidelines and safety speech, routine for every trip with them. I really appreciate how I don't need to consider all the safety aspects when I hike with The Adventure Bus. We signed our waivers, crossed the highway and started to climb. Kandus had asked me how steep it was on the way to the hike and based on the distance and elevation gain I decided it was less steep than Fang Mountain, and we didn't have packs so she'd be fine! Overall the hike is about 8km round trip and 1000m of elevation gain, a 25% incline if the climb was consistent the whole way. It wasn't; it never is. The trail has a very steep section of switchbacks right at the base and it is all silty soil. With the rain the trail was slick and I had to get James to help me up one particular part. I couldn't get my footing and I didn't have microspikes with me.
As we climbed we talked, me flitting back and forth from the front of the pack and the back, capturing photos and talking to different individuals. I had met a few of them before on the Fraser Mountain hike we did this spring. A few had done Fang Mountain with the Adventure Bus recently and we talked about what hike we compare all others to. For me it is Fang. Not only was it my first backpacking trip, it is also the hardest I have ever done. Steep, with boulder fields, multiple creek crossings, and a trail that I still believe is nothing more than a goat trail lined with loose rock that people decided was good enough to use at some point.
Mount Murray was not Fang but it was hard. A short yet steep hike, it was beautiful. The forest was calm and quiet, the trees mostly providing us shelter from the rain. A couple kilometers up there is a lookout spot where most of us stopped for a few minutes. It was cloudy, the mountain becoming socked in, but still beautiful. I was very much aware of the stillness of the forest and grateful for the company I had with me. Even after years of working in forestry I still don't love the feeling of a perfectly still forest even when I know it is because of the rain. I would hide from the rain too if I was an animal, yet I always feel more at home in the forest when there are birds and squirrels present.
We stopped for lunch before leaving the forest, climbing up into the stunted trees of the alpine transition area. We trekked across the edge of the mountain, our limited view enchanting to watch. The clouds moved over the mountains quickly but silently. Rain turned to snow and we had to change our gear to match the conditions. I typically pack too much so I had plenty of dry options to change into, grateful for my dry shirt, puffy jacket, toque, and gloves. As a group we decided to venture a little more of the alpine, reaching and area that would have overlooked a beautiful lake in different weather. As the clouds moved you could see more of the lake, though none of it was particularly visible.
Happy, we headed back down. The snow turned back to rain as we descended and the trail was more slippery than before. The trees still offered plenty of protection in the forest, but the silty switchbacks were coming up and I knew they would be difficult to traverse.
We took our time, making sure to cross the slippery sections safely, looking out for each other. "Slippery spot" became such a common statement it made me laugh by the time we reached the switchbacks. I appreciated the sentiment that my fellow hikers were helping keep us all safe but by this point I was assuming it was all slippery. The switchbacks were as slippery as expected. A few of us slipped. Some decided to try shortcuts through the trees. We chose our paths and descended, one step at a time.
Afterwards, safely back at the bus, Meg had brought donuts! It was someone's birthday - Bonnie's I think - and Meg had picked up donuts from Moose Hoops in PG for after the hike. If you have never tried Moose Hoops, I highly recommend. She makes fantastic treats, vegan and gluten free ones as well! We talked about how it was one of our favourite hikes even though it was socked in and we couldn't see what we theoretically hiked up to see. What we had done was well worth the effort. We had hiked from fall to winter. The presence of snow on the mountain top made me feel like I had really accomplished a feat. There was no snow at the bottom so the snow at the top became the symbol of successfully climbing a mountain.