Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hinde Sight

I climbed the Golden Hinde.  

The weather was perfect, I had a wide open schedule and the mountains were calling.  I needed to clear my head and figured a nice, long, solo 'walk about' in the mountains would be the best place to do it.  

And so, I packed my pack, planned my route and drove out to The Park for a grand finale summer adventure.  This would also be my very first solo overnight journey...

The Golden Hinde is the highest point on Vancouver Island at 2195m and sits in the heart of Strathcona Provincial Park.  Most people take 4-7 days to travel in and out to the peak from the Myra Falls mine but I have heard of FKT (fastest known time) peak baggers hammering the route in 16-20 hours.  I must say the thought was very tempting, once I knew it was humanly possible to get there an back in less than 24 hours... But now that I have travelled the route and experienced the pace of these ridges and mountains I know a speed record or fast pack is not truly the best way to reach the Hinde.  This is a magical place.  The magic is not only in the summit, or the 360 degree panoramic views or even the dynamic path under your feet.  The magic is in the the spaces... between the ridges and the valleys.  The magic is in the dawn and in the dusk.  The magic is not in the peak- but truly in the journey itself.  

The route to the Golden Hinde is approximately 60kms round trip and forces you up and down 4800 metres of elevation along the way.  This is NOT a walk in the Park.  This is NOT a trail.  This is a back country adventure in remote terrain that should be given the respect it deserves.  Although the majority of the route is well marked by cairns and a beat-in path, there is route finding and navigation along the way.  There is scrambling up and down chimneys, loose shale, root ladders and steep rock.  And the remoteness of the terrain exponentially increases the potential risk.  Back country experience, preparation and safety measures including emergency communication, are necessary to manage the risk.  If you are ready, however, it is a world class, spectacular adventure, sitting right in your back yard.

The journey from Phillips Ridge to the Hinde is a relentless route that taunts you down and up and down and up and down again.  It is a path that humbles you and makes you feel invincible all in the same day.  And it is a place that gives back as much as it takes (if not more).  It was just what I needed.

Myra Falls Mine to Golden Hinde via Phillips Ridge Route: 3 days, 26 hours on feet.

Sidebar: Oh the freaking irony of starting the most amazing wildlife journey IN a fully operational mine (that just dumped acid in Myra creek I might add), but is a massive scar that may serve to remind us WHY we must fight for our greenspaces.  

I hit the trailhead at 7am, tuned in, tuned out and began putting one foot in front of the other up the 80 plus switchbacks to Arnica Lake.  It took approximately 2.5 hours for me to reach the lake at a nice steady pace.  Loved having my hiking poles for this section.  Although my body and mind are used to travelling for hours and days, they are not accustomed to carrying a 35 pound pack.  My legs felt fantastic.  My body, however, was covered in hot spots and blisters from new levels of friction by the end of the trip.

The trail travels counterclockwise around Arnica lake and there are a few tent platforms at the north end.  From there, the trail pitches upwards again and climbs up to Phillips Ridge.  Time for a quick breakfast while overlooking the lake below.  Then it was Up Up Up...with a few bonus downs between each of course.

First view of the Hinde!  Seems pretty far away to me.  Better keep walking.

I stopped for another snack at around 11(in the spot above) once I got my first view of the Golden Hinde.  One of my last opportunities for shade over the next few hours.  It was smokin' hot but I loved it.  Anything is better than rain IMO.

 My little pack.  Less is more!  I had everything I needed for a 3-4 day trip in this little 28 litre pack including my giant bear spray, bear bangers, InReach comms, stove, cooking kit, food, tent, sleeping bag, pad, warmth, down jacket etc.   Light gear does help, but so does knowing what you need to be safe, warm, fed and as comfortable - and not bringing the kitchen sink. 

Once up on the Ridge the views were unstoppable.  The trail disappeared amongst the rock, but the cairns were always there to lead the way.  Trust your GPS or compass and map, not the cairns, however.  Weather takes away these false securities and you best trust your compass instead.  Don't try and guess.  Sure, its all fine and dandy on a blue bird day, but it's a hell of a lot different in a white out with cliffs on either side of the ridge...

View of the Ridge as it heads north towards the Hinde.  '3 Humps' along the way.  Up down Up down Up down...oh my.  This aint' Flower Ridge people!  I'd say the 3 days of relentless up and down with a multi-day pack were just as hard as an ultramarathon.  Multi-day backpackers are tough and don't get enough credit!  Props to the group of three, 60+ year old men I met along the way who had just finished their mission of summitting every single mountain over 2000m on VI!  Those dudes are tough!  I see my future...

Chimney to scramble down along one of the 'humps' on the Ridge.  Somehow I managed to avoid having to climb back up this on the way home.  I realized there was more than one route to take on the way back!

 My destination for day one.  I was on my way to the first lake in the distance-Carter Lake.  Schjelderup would be another hour beyond and I wanted to get my pack off and camp set up sooner than later so I chose the smaller, closer of the two lakes.  I bumped into two tired boys who were nestled into a tiny patch of shade at this point on the Ridge.  They had just climbed up from Schjelderup and were beat from the smokin heat on the ridge.  They gave me a much better idea of the time frame and terrain ahead of me, en route to the lakes.  I had another hump to climb before I reached the low point on the Ridge.  Then I would be looking for a trail that dropped down through the bush to the lake.  Better keep moving...

 Time to drop down into this lovely bushy gully!   Steep!  Grab onto some trees and pick your way down.  My only wildlife spidey sense experience occured at the very bottom of this gulley.  Just as the trail reached a small creek (outflowing from Carter lake ), a series of big slabs of rock/boulders lined the trail.  I had been feasting on blue berries the entire drop down and suddenly got hit with a very strong odor of animal eating animal or such.  I looked down and saw a nice little animal den directly below my feet!  Had to hop right over it to continue on.  YO BEAR!  YO MR COUGAR!  Likely the critter wouldn't be back until a bit later in the season but the primal scent sure lit a fire under my butt.  When I got to the creek I had been out of water for nearly 2 hours and was desperate to fill my supply...but NO WAY could I crouch over and wait right there!  My spidey sense insisted that I move on and up out of the area, and get up to the lake.  Onward!
 Home, sweet home:). After a 9.5 hour day I reached my my little camp at Carter Lake... Not a soul in sight- so awesome to have it all to myself.  A quick wash in the lake then it was time to get settled before the sun dropped behind the Ridge.  Thanks to my buddies Gen and Kim for lending me a couple of very light pieces of gear for the trip!  They were awesome!  All settled in and enjoyed my Annies Mac & Cheese as the sun went down...

Preparing for darkness...I was given an awesome surprise...a giant moonrise!  Magic.

 Schjelderup Lake, just a short walk from my camp at the North end of Carter lake.  Took nearly an hour to travel to the far side via boulder scrambling and forest walking.

I slept in until 7 (well, you know how that is when you are lying on the ground with a 4mm foamy under you...let's say I got UP at 7) and planned to head out for a shorter day on the Ridge, walking towards the Hinde.  Maybe 4 hours on my feet.  Still recovering from the Squamish 50 mile run and our epic Tyax biking trip the weekend before, I didn't feel the need for anything too epic.  No intention or pressures to reach any specific spot...just wanted to get up high again and sit face to face with the some thinkin...enjoy the energy on the Ridge.  I just started walking...and, well, it's hard to stop when you start sometimes...

Schjelderup Lake at about REALLY did look like that.  The water in these alpine lakes was breathtaking.  And not too chilly for a dip:)

From Schelderup, there was a short steep trek back up to Phillips Ridge, and the shoulder of Burman Mountain. I was getting closer.  It was right there!  I could see the remainder of the Ridge leading to the Hinde.  How long could that take?  Up down up down up down...

I stopped to chat with a couple who had just camped out at the very base of the Hinde beside 'Climbers Lake'.  Just below the scree slope in the image above.  There is a beautiful gem of a little lake hidden there.  What a spectacular spot to sleep over!  They told me they weren't planning to summit...but they managed to scramble up without too much difficulty the day before.  Said it took them 4 hours up and back from the little lake.  I started doing the math...  If I could get to the lake by 12, I decided, I would climb a little higher.  My 4 hour short day suddenly turned into a 'must turn around at 2pm to get back by dark, possible 12 hour day'... It was so could I turn around now?

 After a very challenging drop down to the gulley at Burman Lake and then back UP to the Ridge I had arrived at Climbers Lake.  It was 11:30 and I had been walking since 8:00am.  It was go time.  The image above shows my view of the scree slope and south gulley approach.  I would never have guessed this to be the natural route but there was a little path in the scree, winding its way all the way up.  See the little gap on the right at the top of the scree (small saddle)?  That was my destination... Poles out, slide and step, slide and step and try not to destroy my shoes and legs on the sharp shale too badly...

Made it!  Just turning up the final bit of the scree slope and taking a breather before scrambling up the saddle.  The saddle was thick with vegetation and the pitch was getting steeper...hands and feet now...pick your way up...

Up and over the saddle and then UP some more!  Look at Burman lake way down there now!  The Ridge in the distance is where I had just come from (see the big drop down to the gulley at the same elevation as the lake?  Brutal!).  This is the first photo I took after I returned from near the summit to catch my breath.  Above this point  I lost my ability to comfortably pull my camera out.  It got steep.  It got loose.  It got steeper.  It got looser.   I made it to the East gulley with a mini snow field - within 50 metres of the summit.  When I started slipping I called it good.  I was not comfortable going any higher on my own.  When my belly did it's first flip I said good enough.  What the heck was I doing up there anyway?  How did I get up there?  I was just planning on a little walk about lol.  The plan was always to turn around once it got too sketchy- and well, it got too sketchy.  And...I still had to get back down, safe and sound:).  It was 1pm and time to turn around.  I took it slow, sliding down the scree and trying not to release mini rock slides (not for fear of falling to my death but rather wounds due to impalement!).  I took my time, picked my way back down and spent a few minutes catching my breath once I returned to the spot in the image above.  Good enough for me! 
Down the south scree slope I went...returning to this lovely little Climbers Lake after a 2.5 hour adventure on the Hinde.  My feet were absolutely on fire from travelling in the hot scree for the last couple of hours.  I soaked my legs in the lake and was overcome with pure bliss.  Ohhhhhhh...did that ever feel amazing!  After my little break, it was time to return to my walk about...and back from the way I had come.  I knew exactly what was coming...every down would become an up...every up would become a down...

 It was a lovely walk back to my camp and I arrived by 5pm after about 2.5 hours from Climbers Lake.  I decided to move my camp to the other end of the lake so that I could enjoy a view of the Hinde...(see above!).  Made camp, enjoyed my supper on the lake and watched the sunset on the Hinde.  Once again...the moon surprised me as it rose over the Ridge above me...even bigger than the night before!  Magic.  Pure magic.

Day 3...I so wanted one more day in the mountains.  But, I was out of Annies Mac & Cheese;).  I had blisters on my heels. I had cuts on my hands that were covered in duct tape and hot spots from my pack on my hips, neck and shoulders.  I was sun burnt and my hair was in dreads.  After only 3 days, I was already being absorbed into the wilderness.  I absolutely loved it and wished I could stay forever.

I left camp at 8:30 under the burning aches and pains of my house on my back.  I walked slowly, taking it all in.  Repeating my steps inversely.  There were even more ups and downs on the way back out.  I swear.  The entire journey I had been immersed in the moment...but once I reached the high point on Phillips was all I could do to stop myself from running back home.  

I was suddenly obsessed with getting my hands on a grilled cheese and fries.  Yup.  Obsessed.  

I couldn't eat my snacks.  I just wanted that grilled cheese:).  I haven't had a grilled cheese in years!  I went from travelling without purpose on my magical walk-about to marching onward, one determined foot in front of the other.  I tell ya- time passes a heck of a lot slower when you are on a mission!  

I regrouped and worked hard to tune out the 'mission' and simply enjoy the last miles of my  journey.  Would I ever be here again?  Maybe not.  Would I ever experience something quite like this again?  Maybe not.  Would I ever have the chance to feel this magic again?  You never know.

I settled back in to my walk-about pace and enjoyed every last step.  I ate the blueberries.  I felt the rock.  I listened to the wind.  I smiled at the Hinde when I caught my last view (cheeky dude).  Then I turned down to Arnica Lake and let the grilled cheese pull me back down the 80+ switchbacks and all the way to my car.  Which...was filled with mouse shit when I opened the door.  Nice.  BONUS.

I cleaned up myself and cleaned out my car and made my way to Strathcona Park Lodge in search of that grilled cheese and fries.  They didn't have that, but they did have a wall filled with lovely salty snacks and cold drinks and organic ice cream sandwiches and such.  That did the trick:).  

The shock of a sudden transition from true wilderness back to the mainstream always catches me off guard.   Deer in headlights kind of thing.  Wondering how exactly I found myself driving when hours earlier I was building cairns and eating blueberries in the wind... I desperately wanted to go back.  But the pain of my blisters, the smell of my feet and the thought of sharing my tale with the love of my life sent me running madly back home.

There is magic in those mountains.  Between the peaks and valleys and cairns.  In the sun and in the moon and in the wind.  It's there... just waiting.   Go get some;)


Chris Wille said...

Great write up, Thanks for sharing your story.

Sarah said...

Glad you enjoyed it Chris! Have you been??