It Was Raining
Jun 1st, 2012 | By Carol Lovegren-Miller | Category: Road Trips, Travel
By Carol Lovegren Miller –
It was raining. Not a drizzle, nor a downpour, just a steady solid rain. My troops were near mutiny. We had been tent camping in liquid luxury for eight days straight. Every comfort that could be crammed into a minivan had been available for our use. Now we were gearing up for the grand finale of our trip to Canada, a backpacking adventure into Mount Robson Provincial Park. Up until this moment my ungrateful troops had dubbed my carefully planned day hikes, “death marches”. Easy jaunts were derisively named “perfume hikes”, and I was hailed as, “General Ponytail”.
As we cruised through the campgrounds near the trailhead, the rain drummed on our minivan’s roof. These campgrounds, although located in one of British Columbia’s rainforests, did not have protecting shelters like the camp ground sin the adjoining Banff and Jasper National parks. Even my spirits flagged as I pictured waking up to soaked belongings and preparing for a 12-mile hike with backpacks made heavier by wet, soggy equipment. I abruptly ordered a retreat. We stopped and I shelled out a day’s pay, (laboriously earned while substitute teaching junior high students) and rented a cabin.
My troops’ spirits soared, and my long-suffering family did everything but sing, “For she’s a jolly good fellow.” They set to unloading the van with gusto, hauling everything we had into the blessedly dry, quaint, pine-paneled cabin. There we carefully sorted our camping gear into piles of nice to have, and absolutely must have. The must have equipment was then divided up between backpacks.
It was an easy job; we simply had each person carry their own sleeping bag, insulating pad, and clothes. Next we put practically everything else, tents, much of the food, etc. into my twenty-year-old son Chet’s pack. Four of our packs weighed from less than 25 pounds to not even 35 pounds. Chet’s pack weighed a full 75 pounds. Perfect. We reasoned that since Chet was leaving in two weeks for Air Force Officer Field Training in Alabama, we would sacrifice and help him get in shape for his trip.
Morning dawned with threatening clouds; the peak of the mountain we had traveled so far to see was shrouded in a filmy gray wrap. Hey, it was not raining! I sounded reveille, and roused the troops. Prepare to march; we have a long way to go!
Mount Robson, west of Jasper National park, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies also one of Canada’s best kept secrets. Stunning scenery starts the first minute you set foot on the Berg Lake trail. The Robson River, a milky aqua from glacial rock flour, races by roaring and foaming. The first three or four miles of the hike are fairly level with a wide trail that is ideal for family hikes.
At the top of one small grade, a herd of four and five-year-old kids scampered up gleefully shouting, “We beat the adults! We beat the adults!” Behind them, their parents, laden down like pack mules, labored up the hill.
Beyond Kinney Lake, the trail begins to change. To avoid crossing &re-crossing the braided river snaking across a barren gravel glacial plain, the trail starts mimicking a roller coaster track through the woods. The loss of hard earned elevation was so discouraging, and the now relentless rain so annoying, that Private First Class, 22-year-old Sierra mutinously threatened to hike no further.
Halfway, at the six mile point, we cautiously crossed the Robson River via a long swinging bridge. By then rain was falling in earnest, so we were more than grateful to eat lunch in an open sided shelter we found at Whitehorn Campground. We shared the shelter with an ordinary assortment of youthful backpackers, fit, health conscious, and dressed in the latest high tech backpacking fashions. Then up trudged three overweight middle-aged men, smoking, dressed in soggy cotton camouflage army fatigues, with the final fellow clutching a tattered umbrella. These guys made my sorry troops, clad in an assortment of yellow raincoats, camo hunting gear and army surplus wool, look spiffy.
We were now in the Valley of a Thousand Falls. On a rainy day like we were enjoying, there truly appeared to be 1000 waterfalls cascading off soaring 700 foot cliffs all around us. The difficulty now was that the only way out, was up.
Signs at the bottom of the stretch of trail that climbs its way up along a succession of waterfalls warned, “Caution, Falling Rock,” and “Warning, Area of Steep Cliffs & Drop-offs,” and “Supervise Children.” Supervise children? This is not a hike I would recommend for children, although we did see a few of them. One future Olympian six-year-old had the stamina to do the hike in two days, but the little wild thing had to be one scary kid to take over the treacherous stretches of trail. The other children we saw laboring up the steep hill looked desperate and near tears. I suppose it would be a good hike, if your goal is to ensure your offspring never want to go backpacking again.
Ulysses S. Grant once said, “In every battle, there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten, he who continues the attack wins.” With a 12.2 mile backpack trip involving nearly 3000 feet in elevation gain, we had ample opportunity to remind ourselves to not quit.
In Canada, one does not just sign in at a trailhead and wander down the trail until a suitable campsite is found. Instead, you look at a map, select a campsite in advance, and pay $10.00 per person per night, plus fees. These are not wilderness, “leave no trace,” campsites. They have 10’ X 10’ tent sites delineated with wood and filled with wood chips for comfort. Nearby sits a odiferous outhouse, locked on the outside to keep the porcupines out. Also provided are communal sinks, and either a bear pole, or a bear-proof steel locker to keep all smelly gear out of reach (Even toothpaste is considered bear attractant).
Why in the world would I subject myself and my troops to a 12.2 mile hike in one day, when there certainly were nice campgrounds located approximately every three miles along the way?
My research indicated that Berg Lake Campground is the holy grail of backpacking in Mount Robson Provincial Park. Not only does it have stunning views of nearly 13,000 foot Mt. Robson, but it has a close-up view of Berg Glacier, which calves icebergs directly into the striking milky-aqua colored Berg Lake. Most importantly, considering the severe weather in the area, Berg Lake Campground has a fully enclosed cabin/shelter with a wood stove. Although the wood stove is not allowed to be used except for emergency situations. Never was there a more welcome sight then seeing the shelter — with smoke curling from the chimney.
We shared the shelter with at least twenty other hardy souls, mostly in their 20’s & 30’s, who like us were drying clothes and gear, and fixing dinner over backpacking stoves. The air was filled with chatter in several languages.
No one is allowed to spend the night in the shelter, so as it grew dark, we tiredly made our way out to our tiny backpacking tents. Naturally we picked the sites across the bridge and as far from the shelter as possible. Hey, our sites had their own outhouse and a view of the lake and mountain – when the clouds cleared. Chet, who has the best sleeping bag of us all, was a bit puzzled that he was the only one getting cold at night. Several days later, his younger brother Jeff admitted that he had unzipped the foot of Chet’s bag, and then conveniently forgot to mention it.
Our second day out was a recovery day. Overused muscles actually do better with some easy hiking, so my well-disciplined and battle-tested soldiers set out for a nearby lake. All along the way we discovered piles of moose droppings, but sadly no moose. Unbeknownst to me, my insubordinate son Chet, picked up a handful of dried droppings from each pile, and surreptitiously slipped them into my raincoat hood. Then he prayed for rain. When God answered his prayers, I flipped up my hood and showered myself with moose poop. Pellets pattered noisily on the wooden planks of the bridge I was crossing making the joke even funnier.
The first evening in the shelter there were no other families, the second evening the atmosphere was entirely different. Not only had the weather nearly cleared so that there was no need for a fire and we could see most of elusive Mount Robson, but the shelter was even more crowded, this time with a number of Canadian families. The shelter had the ambience of a popular restaurant.
Our hike out was drier and easier, until we decided that the old horse trail route might circumvent some of the up and down sections. Apparently the trail is no longer being used and before long it was obliterated by an old avalanche. As we sank six inches deep into the moss, and dodged viciously spiny devils club, we could only hope our reconnaissance scouts (a.k.a. energetic young adult children) were finding the hiker trail.
Returning to our minivan at last, we must not have ruined our grown children on backpacking, for they promptly started planning who they wanted to bring with them the next time they trekked into Mount Robson. I was miffed that they did not even mention inviting their General Ponytail. In grates. I thought having them haul my share of the gear was brilliant strategy.
Carol Lovegren Miller lives in Oakland Oregon, population 950. Carol and her husband Kyle, of 27 years, travel often with their three children, ages 23, 21, and 18. Carol is a substitute teacher for middle school and high school students when she is not writing or traveling. Carol can be reached at email@example.com.