One very hot weekend in July, I decided to take off on my first solo hiking trip through some of Hope and area’s local history.
The Hudson’s Bay Company Heritage Trail, originally a fur brigade transport route over the Cascade mountains that follows routes Indigenous people have used in this area since time immemorial, was for me at first just a line on a map and a number. Seventy four, as in 74 kilometres of hiking from the trailhead at the Tulameen River to the opposite end on a stretch of Peers Creek forest service road.
Having zipped through these miles in a few short days, it still feels like somewhat of a dream. Luckily, some of those fleeting memories are logged in my trail diary.
Day 1: Tulameen River trailhead to Olivine Camp
“Started off very late from trailhead and thought I might die from the pack weight many times on the climb,” read my first diary entry.
I’m an eternal time optimist, so my start on the trail got delayed due to optimistic planning and a few wrong turns through Tulameen. Arriving at the Tulameen River at 6:30 p.m., I bid goodbye to my dear friend who had driven me to the start of this wild adventure. She left me with the words “you’re one of the bravest people I know!” and a wave from across opposite sides of the river.
Any belief in my bravery faltered shortly after, as I began to doubt whether I could carry my pack, let alone make it to camp 9 kilometres up a forest of clearcuts and newly planted trees bravely regenerating the ravaged landscape.
Yet up and up I went, driven by a zeal I didn’t know I posessed.
Beginning a nature hike through clearcuts brought some thoughts to my mind of how destructive humans are, a theme that has percolated in my mind since March as the coronavirus pandemic made the structural inequalities in our country all the more obvious.
Yet I wasn’t allowed to marinate in those feelings for long. I hiked on with a crazed fervor, eventually completing the last few kilometres after sundown.
Reaching camp by 9:30 p.m, I surprised two women in their 60s who were on one of the many hiking adventures they have undertaken in the 20 years since they first trekked the Juan De Fuca Marine Trail on Vancouver Island. They happily recounted their first experience, of knee deep mud and a love for hiking ignited, with laughter.
Theirs was a friendship I marvelled at as their muffled conversations drifted over while I drifted off to a fitful sleep.
Day 2: Olivine Camp to Horseguard Historical Camp
When one walks for eight hours a day through nature, the expectation, at least on my part, was to have some kind of grand realizations about life. At the very least, taking off on the HBC trail I hoped to cast off some of the weight of the pandemic, to cleanse somewhat from the personal and societal angst that COVID-19 has generated for months.
Yet as I walked and walked on my second day on the trail, I didn’t come to any realizations other than a recurring self-admonishment for packing far too much, as well as the regular fury at the mosquitos who so happily swarmed. Day two took me along ATV trails, where mosquitos organized targeted attacks on any uncovered areas of my body at 15-minute intervals, ignoring my natural bug spray.
Needless to say, I was a miserable solo hiker for most of the buggy day. Yet the upside was a whooping 26 kilometre day, which as a leisurely day hiker I did not think was within the realm of possibility.
It’s amazing how one can go from not believing in ones own abilities, to achieving a goal and then reaching far beyond that goal to something that only a few years ago seemed crazy and certainly impossible.
Perhaps one weekend trek, even if it was 74 kilometres long, is not enough to sort through the gravity of what we are living through.
What I did gain a realization of on the trail, is the magic that exists among humans who are going through a shared challenge (this one we put ourselves through willingly).
Halfway through day two, I arrived a victim of an unwinnable war against mosquitos, ready to keel over on the banks of the Tulameen river at Horseguard Historical Camp. I slept well that night.
The next morning, two lovely guys who were hiking the trail in the other direction at a more sane pace were kind enough to check that I was still alive, as they hadn’t heard my exhausted body stir since sundown.
Day 3: Horseguard Historical Camp to Campement du Chevreuil (Deer Camp)
On day three I entered, in my opinion, the most scenic section of the trail from Jacobson Lake to Deer Camp.
Arriving at Jacobson Lake, I re-encountered the two women who I’d first met at Olivine. Having braved the 30 degree heat and bugs that first day, they decided to turn around and head to the lake for a relaxing weekend of camping and day hikes.
When they saw me coming in, gung ho and running on adrenaline, they offered to take all of the crazy things I had packed and deposit them at my driveway in Hope. Out went the 500-page tell-all account on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the 300 gram container of Nutella, the extra clothing and fuel canister.
I was 10 pounds lighter and nearly floated along the next section of trail. My two trail angels had also gifted me a bottle of bugspray, the kind with ominous warnings about ingesting the stuff.
The rest of the day was full of natural alpine beauty. Climbing up through alpine valleys, complete with wildflowers and views of far off jagged peaks, I marvelled at the unique wilderness and finally understood what friends who run away to the mountains every week are really on about.
Palmer’s Pond, a small body of water resting on the edge of a cliff, felt like some kind of mountainous mirage with its clear and turqoise blue coloration, its cool water.
“Wow what a campsite!” my trail diary read that night. “I am on a platform away from the main camping area, my tent facing a majestic mountain vista (Mt. Hatfield and friends). Sun is setting on these giant grey peaks, still flecked with snow.”
Day 4: Campement du Chevreuil to Peers Creek Trailhead
Fully intending to marvel at Hatfield and friends the next morning, I awoke at 4 a.m. cold and unable to submit to another hour or so of chilly sleep. Instead, I packed up camp in the dark and stumbled back onto the trail.
A little over 30 minutes later, I stopped for a now-typical trail break that involved five minutes of standing rest, dancing away from mosquitos and taking in the breathtaking views of the mountains before descending down to Sowaqua Creek.
The rest of the trail past Sowaqua Creek was a gentle winding path through the forest – some areas reminding me of the West Coast with its muddy skunk cabbage groves. A last painful ascent and descent of Manson’s Ridge – Grouse Grind eat your heart out – was the final challenge before the trail wound down towards Hope.
As I ticked down from kilometre six to zero, I realized the trek didn’t cure me of the COVID-blues. Yet it did open my eyes to the possibilities of what one can accomplish alone, should there not be any crazy people or willing adventurers around.
As with every new hiking adventure, there was also learning. I learned that I need a very light pack and very lethal bugspray to be a happy hiker.
Most of all, I understood that each of one’s easy, safe steps on the HBC trail rests upon the love and work of many.
I marvelled at the trail magic and connections along the way that weekend, as well as the countless others (Indigenous peoples of these lands, outdoor enthusiasts and environmentalists of days gone by, trail builders) who have protected the land and made it so much easier to adventure compared to the fur trading days.
Sitting at home with a map of the trail spread out on the kitchen table, the whole experience still feels dreamlike. Despite my constant insect companions and my own crazed trekking pace, I saw enough beauty on this trail to attempt it again soon.
And next time I’ll take a page from Hope Mountain Centre’s program director Kelly Pearce’ book: spending more time lollygagging and less time logging miles.
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