I think I learned a lot by organizing my own overnight hiking trip. I remember being pissed that a leader of an overnight once was so wishy washy with plans and didn’t seem to have any more stoke than hatching the next hackeyed plan. Fast forward to this weekend, and I found out that I’m exactly the same.
What I remember: losing motivation at the last quarter of the hike even though I could physically go on; wanting to exclaim “I hate exercise!” to everyone jovially in the hut after a 20 degree day 400 m snowboard run in the sun without sunscreen; freaking out over the dark red spots on my arm after said solar-intensive excursion; shoving as much couscous into my mouth as possible before I could really taste the sourness of my cooking, so I could unweight my heavy pack.
And throughout this, I was constantly worrying whether the others were having fun, and how I could balance spending my time with the people that I did know, and make welcome those who didn’t. Things that went right: ice cream making. Mixing readily available snow with salt to lower the temp and tossing it in a bag, with a smaller bag filled with cream, vanilla and sugar, makes ice cream after five minutes of vigorous shaking. It was delicious, and it made our nights as well as a couple who got to try with our last portion of cream.
Being the May long weekend, the 33 person capacity hut was near filled. There were at least ten tents too, reports told; I was glad I didn’t go ahead with my original plans to go all-out and tent, too. Because although I planned the trip, I was the slowest person most of the time.
The way up requires snowshoes. Two weeks ago I visited this place and it was a winter wonderland. The snow was deep and untouched, save for a few telltale parallel skinny tracks. This time I was jealous of the parallel wheels that populated the start of the trail-people going mountain biking in this paradise that was no longer suited for winter. So to my relief, I was the only one who hauled ten pounds of snowboard-even though I nagged and nagged in my emails that this was the perfect beginner friendly ski trip because I would wait-actually, I’d be slow and waiting regardless.
This trip to the hut was the hut that I remembered from New Years. Bursting with languages and international travellers, the May Long weekend attracted not as many, but still a substantial amount of campers from Vancouver Island, India, and places I can’t remember. Listening to their stories was always a joy, and like last time, the first day of the weekend was filled with partiers, whereas the second was more mellow, filled with people with a bit more time on their hands. The first day up was filled with strong sunshine and I forgot to apply sunscreen until it was too late; when we got up, to my relief and to everyone else’s joy, we basked in the sunshine and the wonder of snow in 20+ degree weather. Feet were soaked. Boots, relegated to the sunny deck, refused to dry overnight.The fireplace/heater, unlike last time, was shut off, with a finality that belonged to the official start of summer. It took us (me) roughly 6 hours. The final stretch was prolonged by the fact that I insisted on strapping on my snowboard for one tiny little hill, to make carrying the dead weight up worth it. The problem wasn’t just the slow slushy snow; it was that the subsequent trek in snowboard boots was compounded by the incompatibility of my snowshoes to bind around the bulky boots. Restrapping the snowshoes every ten steps, I quickly lost self esteem and tried not to cry at how stupid I felt. But I made it. Remembering what it felt like to lose motivation on a difficult trip, one of my hiking party stayed behind with me to encourage me. “I give up,” I proclaimed at one time. “This is crazy,” at another. “The snow is…so bad.” I bet I sounded like a negative nancy and not like myself. But I was struggling in the sunshine and heat and probably the fact that the third time up here isn’t much easier than the first, despite four months having passed.
So I thank my hiking party, the same one that looked to me for the lead. Secondarily, we immediately shed our snowshoes and made dinner. Mac and cheese, some well thought out precooked lentils/rice/spice/veggies and salami sandwiches were our fuel of choice; mine was some overcooked angel hair pasta and a can of mushroom soup I hope I forget forever. I didn’t bring any chocolate for myself, since I knew I’d be over tempted to eat it instead of real fuel; but I was offered some chocolate middle cookies that I just could not resist from a fellow hiker. Card games, aka meet and greets with the other hut goers, was next; we played endless intense rounds of Banagrams and some card game I can’t name, but know; in a weird twist of fate I actually ended up on the winning side and stayed there for a long time. I hated being the leader and winning, but no one else seemed to notice. What I enjoyed much more was our ice cream making session. I was glad to see that ice cream made other people happy as it did me. Also, I was glad that no one had heard of this DIY recipe before, one which I had fantasized about. After procuring the different sized bags and ingredients needed from our hiking party, we donned winter gloves and shook the ice bags around. I smiled inwardly and outwardly at the ingeniousness of using the snow around the hut to make this treat. Like everything, the more harmonious the means to the desired end, the more fulfilling it is.
We slept at twelve that night and woke up around nine the next day. Every camper but our party left, done their one night excursion. The night had been cloudy but we were awake, from the loud party music and probably being too keyed up from the sunny hike. The next day we awoke and our driver went to go on a long hiking excursion, leaving me to answer “What are we going to do today?” “Whatever we want,” I answered, not realizing how anti climatic this answer was. People on hikes liked plans. One was sick though, and sat out on the deck to sun and draw. Her friend eventually joined her. “I might just go check out that hill over there,” I told them. “I’ve been there before. It’s really short. I’ll be back in the hour.”
So commenced my first attempt at the slushy hill. The sun was relentless. The angle of it rallied my ability to stay cool. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but after an hour at least out in the sun, I realized:
a) I was sunburning
and b) Being alone here freaked me out.
So I went back up to try to build a small jump on the hill, where I could either do a straight air or 180. Turned out making a jump with one’s own hands, even if one dedicates half an hour to it, reverts to slush. It was dramatic, the way my weight collapsed the jump. Deterred, I trudged-snowshoed-back and harnessed the shovel. Fifteen minutes later, I had a jump, but no more motivation to do it. That was when I realized that it was the sun, beating down on me so hard that I felt sick. On the other hand, my solar heated body felt more flexible than it had been since I stopped stretching several years ago. I took two go’s at the jump-and promptly ran to hut to the smell of myself burning.
My hiking mates were still drawing and sunning and enjoying the view at the cabin. Because I was too sunned to joined them, I went into the darkened hut, where my happiness dropped even further, although my brain murmured relief.
Two lunches, some sunning on the deck and a dinner later (not because I was that hungry, but because I wanted to get rid of extra weight from my backpack), I was so bored and hyper I took out my board again. Leaning down to buckle on the snowshoes gave me nightmares. I wondered if it was worth it to switch to backcountry (free) snowboarding. I decided it wasn’t. The sun had lowered in intensity considerably though, and so now instead of punishing rays I felt a gentle glowing cast to the landscape. Beautiful. I hit the run one more time. Amazing. This time I went further than just 400m~. I followed the snow through the mostly-buried trees until I hit flat ground. And then still I pushed the board-but there was a stream. There was snow all around me in a memory burnishing vista but a rusty green orange patch of undergrowth peaked out from a cusp of snow and there it was, a fast flowing stream of clear water.For the first time, I thought Beautiful. and Fuck, I’m lucky to be here. If I weren’t alone, I wouldn’t morbidly philosophically think It’d be okay if I died here but I was, and I knew I had the whole vista to myself. Amazing.
But the thunder rumbled, and, shaken out of my reverence and reverting to paranoia, I scrambled up the slope. I cursed the clumsy snowshoes and was glad my overnight pack had enough straps to hold a snowboard. Clawing my way up the hill, I eventually reached my original spot, did a few more runs off the very small jump safely, and went back to the cabin again. (I couldn’t ride switch but I managed to switch enough to do a 180 rotation, but so poorly it was pure hip movement; still, it was so satisfying to land and not fall.) Such was the life of not having anything to do and being at a cabin for the day.
Thinking I’d shoot myself if I carried the same amount of food down as up, I had a second dinner and sat outside the cabin where the usual crowd sat watching the beautiful landscape and drawing or talking. The sky was now streaked with oranges, golds, and pinks, and as my hiking fellow held up a pencil to me: “Draw!” I protested, “I drew here once but it sucked, and I feel like if I drew again it’d suck more.’ “Nonsense,” she said, “you get better every time you draw” and I saw the fallacy in my words. Alright, I was failing at most things this trip it seemed, including not being tired out, snowboarding (I seemed to have forgotten how to snowboard in the two months I’ve been away from it after a snowless season and not thought about it since) and making everyone in the party feel equal. So I accepted the piece of paper, and was struck by the perfect idea: how about I snowboarded down the hill to capture the beautiful vista of the sunsetting mountain? My hiking companions nodded enthusiastically, it was done, and I rolled the piece of paper between two newspapers (gotta have reading material) and into a plastic bag with a thicker jacket for when I sat down. So I commenced my third trip down: this time knowing there would be good.
Because the sun had beat down in the morning, and lessened in the afternoon, I knew now, now was the time to snowboard: with dusk-chilled snow, I made sure I had a half hour buffer to snowshoe back up, and went on my way. I slide over the small jump dramatically, because now it was more solid (but nowhere in the vicinity could anything be called ice) and landed board first on the snow. Next, I retraced my boring but safe track down the hill-I hated to be boring, but I was deathly scared of riding on my own, and that hill was the only tame spot. 3/4 of the way down, I gasped in awe and sat down. I slotted my board into the snow with a satisfying crunch. Next, I took out the newspaper, gingerly unrolled my paper, fished out the pencil at the bottom of the bag, and turned over my backpack with the snowshoes inside to make a seat. My brain was frazzled from being outside for two days and mostly on the move now, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to control a pencil. Neurons fired hopelessly. I began to draw, feverishly. My graphite grey could never hope to capture the melting pot of rainbows in the sky. Still I tried and, mostly haphazardly capturing individual items in the landscape, I came up with a coherent drawing and called it a day. When I sat down I had aimed to finish as soon as possible so I could go back to snowboarding, but once I was done, I was chilled, and slide more contemplatively down. I went a few more metres further this time, and got a really good peak at the sliver of stream. It was simply amazing. In the sunset, it looked like tundra, something out of a book. I was almost in a bowl; I was at a river valley; I was in the centre of a vast sheet of white with a stroke of verdant greenery in the background and slate blue mountains rearing in the distance. And beyond that, I was a child of the fiery sky, which went on endlessly; and of the white tree-dotted snow, which sloped down into some delicious secret.
As I stood there all alone, thinking I was so lucky and also so right to be in this situation, I was equally faced with the torture of reaching this moment. 6 hours of snowshoeing, my 3rd time strapping on my snowshoes and walking up and down the hill to see if it was worth snowboarding, and exercising when I really didn’t want to (all the time).
And I had no answer.
I just had to accept the torturing reality of the beautiful and ugly moment.
it was a cloudy night but tonight’s crowd was a contemplative one. We discussed how life changes with travel and how different country’s perspectives make us appreciate our own. Another midnight night in considerably chillier weather, card games forgotten. We went back the next morning to a bout of hail, the worst snowboarding on the worst slushiest five minute of snow I have ever experience, zero fun, and lots of traffic in Squamish, but also plenty of interesting sights, such as the pre requisite expensive car with an N sticker; a trailer with a truck attached to the back of it; loads of bike starfishes created by piling multiple bikes on back of the car bike racks; motorcycles strapped to trucks; and pointy-ended canoes pointing all but demurely from the backs of open trucks.