Kirstin invited Fernando and I to hike a mountain that her and Mike had hiked and camped on twice before, but they had never found where they wanted to go - Passby Lake. The map book they had that originally led them to explore the area contradicts the map I found when I decided we should have an e-pdf map available to us when we went, since it was the backcounty and I had never been there before.
Fernando opted to stay home, not one for hiking just for the sake of hiking...especially when there were plans to stay for two nights at the top. I was a little sad but also happy he made his decision based on his needs and desires. Sometimes he does things just so I am "safe"....because it's his job to protect me....and not because he actually wants to or that he enjoys it. I was sad because I love experiencing things with him, but I also knew that after a long week of working outside and another upcoming week of outside work, he would be miserable going for a backpacking trip. I was also a little sad because this meant I had to carry all the gear myself. Regardless, I was excited. This would be my first two night backpacking adventure and I was a little intimidated but looking forward to spending time with Kirstin and Mike.
It was finally time to go. It seemed like this trip was planned forever in advance and would never come, even though it had only been maybe a couple weeks. Ryley and I met Kirstin and Mike in Smithers. After some last minute purchases we headed to the trail head. The weather forecast was calling for rain, and not just a little. I had packed a lot of clothes and layers because I knew if I got cold that would be the end of my enjoyment. I had packed, unpacked, and packed again, trying to make my pack as light as possible. I couldn't get it below 49 pounds with all my gear and my camera gear. At the trailhead I removed the one item I wouldn't need - my Jetboil. Kirstin and Mike had theirs and I was welcome to use it so the tiny bit less weight was welcome. Kirstin and Mike finished their lunch, sharing the chicken they brought with Ryley. I swung my pack on, not noticeably lighter after the removal of the Jetboil, buckled it, and got ready to hike.
We made our way up along an old cutblock road, then along what looked to be more like a game trail than an actual path as we made our way through the cutblock. It was maybe 40 years old by my guess. Kirstin and Mike picked berries as we walked. The planted pine trees transitioned to a denser natural balsam section as we hiked up, then opening to beautiful mossy forests of large trees. The trail was more defined in the trees and we kept climbing. We had to climb across a few fairly large downed trees, which I always find hard when carrying a heavy pack. It throws off my entire centre of gravity, but I didn't fall over! We climbed some more, crossed more downed trees, and came to the creeks. The creeks were pretty low and dry; it wasn't a very wet year compared to the previous two summers when Kirstin and Mike had previously hiked the trail and it was September. It rained a little, but not a lot. Kirstin, always the optimist made multiple comments about how great the weather is when it would rain gently and then stop. She wasn't wrong but secretly I kept thinking she was going to jinx the weather. About six kilometers later we came to the fork in the trail. Right would take us somewhere Kirstin and Mike hadn't gone before, and left would take us to the familiar (to them) alpine.
We went left, climbing fairly gently for another couple of kilometers until we reached the spot they had made camp the previous year. There were no signs that anyone else had even been in the area since they were there last, though Mike had talked to a local family while we were gearing up and they had hiked up recently. We set up camp and it started to rain. I retreated to my tent...I don't love the rain. Then it stopped! It was over quickly (again) and I was happy. We went to wander and check out the creek they used for water the previous year. It was dry. Not a great situation to be in. There weren't a lot of water sources on the mountain top. The map I had showed a few other creeks within a few hundred meters of camp, one of which flowed into the largest creek we had crossed on the hike up. We had enough water to make the night and morning, so we decided that if we couldn't find water we would hike back down in the morning.
We wandered more. I photographed. I decided to go to where Mike and Kirstin were, maybe fifty meters from me. I was too lazy to walk back around the gentle slope, so I decided to sit on my butt and slide down the ten meter steep section of alpine greenery. Big mistake. At first I had to push myself but then I gained so much speed I couldn't stop. A few meters later, I hit the gravel patch below the greenery, skidding to a stop shortly after. I rolled onto my side as best I could to keep my camera from hitting the ground. The carrier Fernando had bought me last year was at home; I had lost the part I needed to secure it to the harness. I was upset, experiencing annoyance at myself and also frustration that I could have damaged my camera (priorities, I know). I had ripped my rain pants when I hit the gravel section. Kirstin tried to console me by reminding me it could have been my skin ripped open rather than my rain pants but it was too soon for that. She knew it too, acknowledging it as she told me a second time. I really appreciate that we don't have to worry about offending each other; true friendship. The pants were new(ish) and I had only worn them a handful of times so it was really irritating that I had wrecked them doing something so foolish. I knew she was right. It could have been a lot worse. I was chastising myself in my head while agreeing with her.
After enjoying some time watching the clouds move through the range in front of us we went back to camp, ate dinner, and relaxed by the fire. Kirstin found water a little further down the creek than where we had checked previously so we were no longer concerned about if we were staying the planned two nights or heading back down in the morning. When it was time to sleep Ryley wasn't as opposed to sleeping in the tent as he usually is. I get too nervous he'd take off in the night after a squirrel or something and I'd lose him so I don't let him sleep outside like I'm sure he'd rather do. I messaged Fernando and my sister from the inReach to let them know we were fine, and settled in for sleep.
I never sleep well while backpacking. It's always rainy, windy, cold, or just uncomfortable to me. That night was no different. I slept well when I did sleep, but I woke up a lot as usual. We leisurely made breakfast and got ourselves ready to explore. We had a destination since we had an e-pdf map to follow. The previous two times Kirstin and Mike had been there it had been really socked in with rain so the visibility was too low to see much. The trail isn't marked once you hit the alpine; without an e-pdf map and limited visibility, finding the summit or the lake that Mike's guidebook labelled as Passby Lake, was pretty much impossible.
The map I had labelled the lake in question as Arrow Lake, showing Passby Lake another approximately 7km down the trail that went right where we went left up to the alpine. We weren't going to make it to Passby Lake, but we could make it to the summit and explore. We trekked along, seeing sheep (or goats?) through Mike's binoculars. It was pretty neat to see though they were far away on the next mountain. Ryley ran around free as a bird in his element. For a dog that doesn't sleep much when we backpack he always has a lot of energy.
We reached a spot where we could see Arrow Lake, almost at the summit. There was what looked like a steep climb that I wasn't willing to do to reach the top. I have anxiety about falling but mostly I was worried about Ryley. How was my dog going to get down that steep wall of rock?! He had stranded himself on a steep rock face as a puppy and I had to rescue him. Ryley and I hung out below for a bit, and then, bored, I ventured over to where Mike and Kirstin had climbed up. It actually wasn't anywhere near as steep as I thought, and there were enough options for Ryley to safely navigate it so we climbed up and joined Mike and Kirstin. My anxiety was still really high due to the steep drop that ran perpendicular to where we climbed up and I worry about Ryley. I don't have a lot of confidence that he wouldn't run off the edge to chase a critter. It was incredibly windy, as the alpine always is. We took cover in a draw and had lunch before exploring more of the summit. After seeing everything we could reasonably see we headed back down. The clouds were coming and and hindering visibility at this point and we didn't want to be stuck on the alpine for too long.
We ventured down along the steep ridge that paralleled Arrow Lake, finding a snow patch that facilitated a short snowball fight between Kirstin and Mike , a creek running below it, then crossing the terrain to find a steep gully that still had snow. Kirstin wanted to go see the snow, so we did. It turned out to be a really cool snow tunnel. After the tunnel Ryley chased some birds, maybe Ptarmigan, and we stopped to pick blueberries for a while. Last September we hiked into Home Lake and also picked blueberries. It seems to be a trend during our trips. Kirstin used some of the blueberries to make blueberry and pine needle tea, which tastes way better than it sounds. I hadn't thought of the tea for a year, but picking the blueberries with her I really wanted it again.
Another relaxing evening, this time including blueberry and pine needle tea, and a marginal sleep later, it was time to pack up camp. It had rained at night and I swear the fly of my tent had gained four pounds. With my food gone my pack should have been lighter, but I am pretty sure the water from the rain made up the difference.
We climbed down, both happy and sad to be returning home. Home meant creature comforts, good sleep, and for me - Fernando - but the mountain offered solitude (even with friends), a place to recharge, and memories that won't soon be forgotten.