Carry Only What You Need – Day One

Posted on September 2nd, 2010 in Budge That Pudge, Does All Her Own Stunts, Featured, Made In Alberta, Photos

There is an intense but simple thrill in setting
off in the morning on a mountain trail,
knowing that everything you need is on your back.
It is a confidence in having left the inessentials behind and of entering a world
of natural beauty that has not been violated,
where money has no value, and possessions are a dead weight.
The person with the fewest possessions is the freest. Thoreau was right.

So the long-awaited and much-anticipated hiking trip went off with only minor glitches.  Namely, Jack became too ill to join us, and so it was just Aiden and I, and 36 km of heavily wooded trail.  Oh, and a grizzly bear.

We pulled into the trailhead parking lot after purchasing out wilderness passes in Banff.  Basically you pay a very reasonable fee to use the backcountry camping sites (it’s about $10/night/person) so that the trails and sites can remain maintained.  We decided to sleep in the back of the van, rather than unpacking all of our carefully organized gear at a campsite.  It was cramped, and sort of chilly, and I am pretty sure I only slept in sporadic spurts, adding up to no more than four hours in total.

Friday morning came very early.  We boiled some water for oatmeal in a bag (I’d packed instant oatmeal, pecan bits, and dried cranberries in heavy duty ziplock bags, which you then add boiling water to, stir, seal, and let sit for five minutes) and instant coffee.  A local construction worker drove past us, poked his head out of his truck window, and with a chuckle shouted “I like your kitchen”.

I’m sure we looked pretty funny with our tiny backpackers stove in the middle of the parking spot next to us, decked out in our rain gear and toques.  It was already drizzling and the forecast was abysmal, and Jack didn’t feel up to hoisting on his 50 lb backpack, so he reluctantly bowed out of the expedition.  So with somewhat reserved optimism, Aiden and I set out on the first leg of the hike, which was a 2.7 km stretch of catwalks and paved trail that led past a series of waterfalls.  We hit the trail at 8:30 am.

Click on any of the following to view full-size

After the paved portion of the trail came to an end, the uphill climbing became considerable.  The next goal was the ink pots, which were another 3.2 km in, and during most of that distance we were gaining elevation.  It was somewhere around 10:30 am when we arrived at the ink pots, and we were making good time (around 6 km in two hours).  Unfortunately it began raining quite hard, and we had to pause at the far end of the meadow to put on our rain gear.

As you can see, the clouds were pretty low, and we were getting progressively closer to the snow line.  At that point we were at 1645 m of elevation (or 5,397 feet) which means that we had gained around 700ft of elevation.  For every 1000ft of elevation gained, the air temperature drops approximately 6.5°C and it certainly felt like it.

After making our way through the valley, we continued upwards, although it wasn’t as steep.  We planned to break for lunch at the first set of backcountry camping spots, commonly known as “Larry’s Camp” which was roughly the half-way point of the hike (around 8.5 km in from the trailhead).  We made it there around 11:30 am, which was right on schedule.

We selected a spot and settled in for a rather chilly lunch.  We boiled water and ate freeze-dried hiking rations, followed by hot chocolate and changing our socks, which had been soaked through for some time.  It was cold and we were both tired and damp, but Aiden was determined to make it to Lake Luellen and who was I to argue?  We broke camp around 1 pm and hit the trail.

The next 4 km were relatively easy to navigate, and only took us an hour and a half to complete.  The climbing was gradual, and we were in better spirits, having warmed up due to moving around again.  A warden’s cabin indicated that we were just about 3/4 of the way through our journey, and we stopped for a bathroom break and to soak up a bit of the sun, which was shining intermittently.  The scenery we encountered was breathtaking.  Photos really do not do it justice.

Shortly after we left the warden’s cabin, somewhere around 2:45 pm, Aiden shouted from in front of me “What the fuck is that?!?!  I almost stepped on it!!!” and when I peeked around his gigantic backpack, on the trail in front of us was a mother grouse with several chicks.  Apparently he’d nearly squashed the poor thing while she had been foraging on the trail, because they didn’t seem the least bit bothered by our presence, nor in any particular hurry to get out of the way.

Grouse are delicious, by the way, but these ones were safe, as hunting is not permitted in the park.

Not long after we passed the grouse, I heard something to the left of the trail, making quite the racket.  After a moment of searching the forest, which was not particularly dense, I spotted something climbing a tree.  Initially I thought it might be a porcupine, but it was rather large.  A longer look resulted in the discovery that it was, in fact, a grizzly bear.  We must have startled it, because it shimmied up the tree, decided that it still didn’t feel particularly safe, scooted down the tree, and ran for it’s life.  It was still a cub, likely born sometime in March, and still under the care of it’s mother, so we didn’t bother to linger very long.  Neither of has opted to carry bear spray, and I didn’t fancy having an encounter with his parental unit.

The trail began to climb more steeply, and the hail began to fall on the already-muddy maze of rocks and tree roots we were navigating.  The next 2.5 hours were some of the longest of my life.  We pushed on, at times I was certain I couldn’t move another step, but Aiden encouraged me, and we took quite a few breaks along the way.  It was incredibly challenging, and there were moments when I wanted to just lay down and die, but we eventually made it to the junction where the trail breaks off to the lake, or continues on to Badger Pass and then some.

There was only 1 km left to go, but it turned out to be almost completely uphill, and very, very steep.  Aiden and I looked at each other and sighed.  We were both exhausted, but we dug deep and trudged up the trail, slowly, but steadily.  I can’t begin to describe to you how difficult and discouraging it all was.  We were both ready to cry when finally the trail turned a bend, and over the crest of the hill, we saw the blue-green depths of Lake Luellen.  That last km took us 45 minutes.  From beginning to end we’d gained a total of 2,200 ft of elevation.  The air was thinner, and the temperature was significantly lower, but we were happy to be there none the less.

The hike in took us 9.5 hours in all, which includes the 2.5 hours worth of breaks we took, so 7 hours of actual hiking.

We were soaked and cold and more exhausted than we’d ever been before in our lives, but we pitched our tent, and got a rather small fire going.  The lake was a smooth as glass, save for a pair of loons, which were gliding over the surface.  They came close to the shore to check us out, before resuming their business of diving for food.

I cooked poached eggs for supper, which we ate with logan bread by the fire.  The lake is not very far below the snow line, which means it gets bloody cold in the evening.  We didn’t linger long outdoors when it began to get dark, especially when dry clothes and our sleeping bags were waiting.

Stay tuned for tales from our second day in the mountains…

Published by Shasta

8 Responses to “Carry Only What You Need – Day One”

  1. LiteralmanNo Gravatar Says:

    Jack can’t come, and it’s only a “minor glitch”?

    That’s gotta make him feel like shit.

    Reply To The Above Comment

    JackNo Gravatar reply on September 3rd, 2010 2:29 am:

    Actually Literalman, it doesn’t make me feel like shit. The fact that Shasta describes it that way is not an issue.

    In the big scheme of things, it was a minor glitch…bad luck even. Wasn’t like I was hauling all the food in my pack, or all the water, etc. We are wise enough to spread a little of all our supplies in each pack, just in case something like this happens (someone gets ill, hurt, fatigued, lost, etc). Everyone can still survive on their own.

    Now if we had spent thousands of dollars and/or travelled thousands of miles and/or was once in a lifetime opportunity to experience this hike or frankly was both our first times experiencing back country camping…..then maybe I would be offended.

    But this was not my first time back country camping. And the mountains are under an hour from where we live….one of the major reasons we moved back across the country. And it’s not like we aren’t ever going to do it again.

    So no worries, Jack is all good with “minor glitch”, as that is what it was. :D

    And John is also right……I insisted they go on without me although Shasta was sad. I was stuffed up and knew there was no way I was going to be able to do that hike, no matter how hard I tried. Looking at the map, I could see the elevation gain was pretty large in the last few mile’s before the end of the hike. Gotta know and recognize your physical limits. For me, head colds are a bitch.

    Wow this is almost like a blog post…lol

    Reply To The Above Comment

    ShastaNo Gravatar reply on September 3rd, 2010 2:34 pm:


    I suppose it’s a matter of perspective. In my reality a major glitch would be one of us falling off of the mountain, being maimed by wildlife, becoming lost or getting hypothermia, one of my children being hospitalized while I was out of cell phone range, or any number of more serious cataclysmic events. Someone coming down with a cold and missing a hiking trip, is pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. As my husband said, we live near to the mountains, we didn’t invest thousands of dollars into the trip, and he will have plenty of opportunities to go another time. The mountains aren’t going anywhere and neither are we.

    Thank you, though, for irking my husband to the point that he actually posted something here. You should get an award or something.


    Reply To The Above Comment

  2. John (polytime from ppercs)No Gravatar Says:

    Wow. Outstanding photos again.

    From someone who lives near Chicago and sees little but cornfields – I want you to know that I utterly envy the views you must have had.

    And literalman, it’s her f*cking blog. She’s supposed to write an Edgar Allen Poe-like diatribe on misery because Jack didn’t go? Sheesh. If I were Jack and were ill, I’d demand they go on without me – unless I suffered chest pains or colossal hemorroids necessitating a hospital visit.

    Reply To The Above Comment

    ShastaNo Gravatar reply on September 3rd, 2010 2:36 pm:


    Thank you for the comment and for the compliment on the photos. There are more to come :)

    I’ve been to Chicago, it’s pretty nice, I especially liked the cloud gate/giant silver bean thing, and the pizza. If you ever venture this way, I’ll take you to see some spectacular mountains though!


    Reply To The Above Comment

    John (polytime from ppercs)No Gravatar reply on September 5th, 2010 2:54 pm:

    Shasta, no problem.

    You mean our $30 million dollar silver bean thing? I go there and am completely impressed that a stainless steel mixing bowl factory could produce such a marvel.

    BTW, one of my ‘bucket list’ things to do is to travel by road from here to Alaska and camp along the way. Since Calgary is on the route, I might just take you up on the offer.

    Reply To The Above Comment

  3. sfsextoysNo Gravatar Says:

    omg… breath taking. love the waterfalls.

    Reply To The Above Comment

  4. RutherNo Gravatar Says:

    Incredible place!

    Reply To The Above Comment

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