Hiking Home From Vancouver

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In Singapore, March 2008, I met a man known to many as Alabama Dan. We were both working on our photos and had just come from Indonesia, he from Sumatra and I from Java and inevitably began comparing notes. We went for beer later with a couple girls and further down the road met up again in Luang Prabang, Laos and stayed in touch as we both worked to get our Chinese visas. While I went home in August of the year, “Alabama” Dan Fritts kept on travelling, hiking in Nepal to Everest base camp, riding across Mongolia, heading to Egypt, Jordan, and then home. But coming home for him was simply a springboard to the next phase of his worldwide trip: The American Expedition. From afar he nagged me to join part of his journey. Photos of canyons in Zion, Utah; Volcano climbs and beach camps in Hawaii; Skiing the slopes in Colorado; A few weeks in Guatemala; I almost joined him on each of the latter two. Pictures would come my way, stories here and there, Facebook status updates, all means of persuasion. And finally, when he said he was coming up to Canada and heading to Alaska, I caved. Although we didn’t end up in Alaska due to the expense, a “Canadian Expedition” was planned from Vancouver to Calgary through the mountains hiking our way east and, for me, home.

The flight left Saskatoon August 17 at a bleary 6:10 AM and after finally falling asleep at 2 AM, I almost slept in. Thankfully, dad woke me up at 5:00 and I was packed and ready to go, so I simply had to get dressed, throw my backpack on my shoulders, and walk out the door. My dad had even gone to the trouble to make breakfast for me, cutting up some fruit and snacks for the plane ride. What can I say? I’m pretty lucky. On top of this, when I arrived in YVR and stepped outside and into Dan’s green pathfinder (with an awesome motorcycle on the trailer), he also had some breakfast waiting. We caught up on the drive through Vancouver north towards Whistler and more specifically towards Garibaldi Provincial Park. Three hours of sleep or not, we had a 9 kilometre hike ahead of us up and down a mountain to reach Garibaldi lake and the glacier that feeds it. Uphill was a bit rough on me, being both tired and somewhat out of shape, and I forgot my camera in the car which I thankfully discovered on our first kilometre and ran back to rectify. Not the smoothest start to two weeks of outdoor adventure.

Aside from that little snafu and the almost-sleeping-in however, everything went fine. After a seemingly interminable uphill slog we could glimpse that indescribable blue of the glacier lake through the trees below us. And then we began descending, finally reaching a clearing downstream on the Garibaldi River and giving us our first view up the river to the lake. The colour was nothing short of incredible and though in this age of cynicism everything beautiful has been photoshopped, I can tell you that I did not touch the colours or do much more than a little cropping here. Even had I wanted to, I don’t know what could be done to improve them, even if they fail to do justice to the spectacle in real life. We hiked the rest of the way to the lakeshore and set up camp and after looking around a bit and getting some photos we cooked up a sausage spaghetti primavera. Not bad for being in the wilderness, not bad at all.

The sun was beginning to set on Garibaldi which burned up our digital film with each minute change in shade. It was a perfect sunset in a perfect setting, the glacier ahead absorbing colour from the sky like ink on a white dress. It probably got a bit chilly in the evening but I don’t remember, I was so tired that I pretty much passed out instantly. That sleep was needed and then some, for the second day brought 24 km of ground to cover on foot, hiking up to the top of the Panorama Ridge which affords amazing views of the lake and glaciers below, the mountains distant, and the Black Tusk, an ominous looking spire of obsidian clawing at the sky. And we couldn’t have asked for a better day to do this hike. The weather was perfect, the skies clear, and the sun shining, and we set off again, up and up to the Panorama Ridge.

On the way, our eyes were peeled for bears. It is a sad Canadian that has not seen a bear in the wild, and I was tragically a member of this oft-scorned club. I was hoping to remedy this. No bears were spotted, but I did see two marmots, which was also a first for me. Soon we were at the top and it was better than I could have expected, bordering precipitously on perfection. I had reception on my iPhone and even photos taken from its poor camera had received plenty of praise by the time we finished hiking out. Our main goal complete, and a quick lunch of apples and peanut-butter sandwiches, we set off for civilization again, making pretty good time in the mountains at about 5 km / hr. Even when we’d reached the vehicle again, there was still plenty of ground to cover. There weren’t any really significant stops for some miles.

We stopped in Whistler, as I’d never been, and looked for a cheap place to grab a bite while we explored the small town. I didn’t realize that they used the mountains for mountain biking in the summer, this was a revelation that I found very exciting. Dan was meanwhile impressed by the sheer number of people using the lift, particularly those with high-end gear. I think that had we more time and money a day on the mountain here would’ve been in order. Instead we returned to the car and set off north towards Jasper. There was no time for cooking so we stopped for some pizza in Pemberton which, somehow, felt very familiar to me. I think I’ve seen a photo of my mom at the Pemberton train station before. At 10 we finally came to a recreation area where we pulled in, made camp, and called it another very long day.

Although we had been looking for somewhere to stop along the way, very little presented itself to us that next day. We took the road less-travelled and headed north to 100 Mile House on the old gold trail before turning east. I’m sure both of us will find ourselves on the southern highway again at some point, but up here, excuses are harder to find. We cut across the northern country and skirted some fires nearby enough to darken the sky, making our way for Wells Gray National Park. Thanks to the distance we had covered yesterday, we made it there early enough in the afternoon to drive and see some waterfalls. They were beautiful to look at, particularly Dawson Falls (I think that was its name) a wide, terraced fall. There were others that could have been captured in different light but it was not meant to be today. We debated coming back for some sunset photos but driving and hiking and, in my case, a lack of sleep precluded that. We instead had pork tenderloin for dinner while pouring over the maps, planning the next few days, grabbing a shower, and roasting marshmallows while admiring the impressive array of stars. Tomorrow, we would head to Mt Robson, sitting on the edge of BC and Alberta and boasting the tallest mountain in Canada’s Rockies.

Garibaldi Photos
Wells Gray Photos

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