Carellin is an urbanite, much happier in a pair of Miz Mooz New York City boots than any first-rate Murrell Hiking Runner even if Murrell offers modern glowing colours. But her nine-year-old daughter, Clover, isn’t aware of high fashion yet. She’s interested in everything including hiking, school and friends.
Clover did her first hike with my husband John and me when she came to Prince George three years ago. We climbed Teapot Mountain, a lump on the Nechako plateau that rises about 700 feet straight up and, on a clear day, offers views of distant snow-capped mountains. That year a photo of Clover on the summit was on Carellin’s Christmas cards sent to all of their friends and relatives. The resulting fame made Clover want another hike, which her mother arranged with me. She felt my 45 years of backcountry experience would be an asset in making things go smoothly and developing the same skills in her daughter.
What Carellin didn’t know was that the hiking experience my husband John always provided was far more pleasurable for kids than what I could offer. John’s secret was to carry sugar-coated cereal and a few large bags of chocolate bars that he supplied to the first kid who whimpered. On overnighters, he carried milk for the cereal that could be placed in creeks so it would be cold in the morning and he always quit early so the kids could play pack free. John has given up hiking with kids or with me for that matter, due to a new titanium hip, which he doesn’t want ground down from the pressure of carrying heavy packs. Fair enough.
In choosing a place to hike, Carellin and I looked for something that Clover could do without too much difficulty. Ease was a consideration for me too as I’m phasing out. John had insisted that I would go on day hikes only and with him. His attitude to this hike was not all that encouraging until I reminded him that this trip had slipped under the radar during a dinner at an Italian Cafe in Vancouver, in the course of which he’d consumed even more wine than we had.
Carellin on the other hand, was at the perfect age and strength to hike up steep hills for hours with 50 pounds on her back. But she was also at the age where one’s love life could result in certain ups and down of motivation. When our plan was hatched when the motivation was high, and the love object within reach.
We chose four days along the Sunshine Coast Trail, starting in Powell River, BC. There at the tourist office, the attendant, Priscilla (not her real name) took one look at us and assumed we were deranged novices off to kill ourselves. We explained the parameters, four nights out, and introduced her to Clover, who expressed her eagerness to get started. Within minutes, Priscilla talked us into three easy days featuring splendid views of the surrounding mountains, babbling brooks, blue alpine lakes and a forest seething with wildlife. And, she said pointing her finger at me, this trail was accessible by car from Powell River; we wouldn’t have to hire a water taxi as most SCT trailheads required.
John was hovering around and agreed that three nights rather than four would be better even though he would spend that time reading and watching movies on TV in between walks to the local Micro-brew and cafes. Priscilla’s plan sounded good to Carellin too.
Once we accepted her recommendation, Priscilla continued to lecture on the need of maps, what the contour lines meant, how to find a lake both on the map and the landscape, and how much water we’d need to carry — 4 litres each per day. Carellin bought the map and I calculated the suggested water supply to weigh to be 8.8 kilos/20 pounds per person. I’d planned to use water from the creeks and lakes and carried purification tablets for that purpose. If we followed Priscilla’s recommendations, we’d have to leave tents, sleeping bags and dinners at home.
Blinking rapidly, Priscilla went on to explain that mosquitoes, black flies, and wasps were attacking in hoards this year and only the strongest repellent would work. I pulled out our bottle of DEET, which seemed to satisfy her. She then said the 30-kilometer route took hikers 200 meters upward over dangerous rocky cliffs, and passed through isolated bear country. She glanced down at her hands and whispered that there was — no — cell — service. I pointed to my bear spray hanging in my pack’s side pocket.
Some of the creeks, Priscilla said, would have to be forded. As she spoke, her hands, now clutching the trail guide, flew into the air above her head for emphasis. I hauled my trail guide out of my daypack and explained that I had emailed the local hiking club about details about this year’s conditions, and the website photos showed bridges over creeks. Carellin took Clover across the street for ice cream.
Once we got past Priscilla we landed at the hotel we had booked at the Rodmay Heritage. The website had shown the foyer and halls dotted with antiques and leading to newly remodelled rooms. After a noisy night in a $50 room (we had used the misleading web postings to bring the price down) above the bar where the band played Abba over and over, John drove us to trailhead. Boots laced, packs adjusted, water bottles filled (one each) and secured in side pockets, obligatory departure photos taken, Carellin and I followed Clover, who determined a perfect trekking pace, up a well-marked and groomed trail.
We listened to the silence that was interrupted by the occasional twitter of a bird and we admired the lush ferns and heavy moss that the tall trees shaded from the scorching sun. We crossed trickling creeks rather than babbling brooks, on maintained bridges covered with metal netting to prevent slippage when wet. We used our tin cups to scoop drinking water into our bottles to which we added the purifiers. The chemicals made Clover nervous so I explained that if she got dehydrated, she’d feel faint and eventually fall off the mountain and probably die so drinking the purified water was a better choice. She nodded and gulped.
Our first bush pee-stop was also a rest/water stop and we discussed the danger of wild animals and the need to keep a clean camp. During lunch, I explained that we’d need to ration our lunch food so it lasted three days. Clover, still not sure of her own survival from the chemical laden water, saw my logic and enthusiastically nibbled the trail mix until it was just half gone. She was going into grade four and maybe practicing her dividing.
We ended our day at a campsite that had broken beer bottles in the campfire ring, plastic containers in the bush and TP decorating the edge of the road that led back to town. Lucky for me, there was no cell service or Clover may have wanted to call John for a rescue.
Tired but content, Carellin took over the cooking while Clover and I pitched the tents, blew up the sleeping matts, and opened the sleeping bags. After dinner Clover did the dishes and then had a good slug of hot chocolate while Carellin and I enjoyed a wee sip of whiskey. Sleep was quick and sound.
On day two of the trek, pack weight was redistributed by Carellin who now carried close to 40 pounds while I carried a mere 25. It made walking, especially uphill, much quicker and it felt marvellous.
As we walked, we saw three snakes, lots of frogs and some racoon/porcupine scat but we saw no paw prints, scat or claw scrapings indicating the presence of bears or cougars.
Lunch was served at the edge of a muddy lake next to the only hut we saw on the hike. Mud or not, Carellin went for a refreshing swim while Clover lay on the hammock provided by the SCT hiking club. We located the lake on the map and decided we could make it to the second lake where we could camp for the night. This proved to be a good decision as Carellin went for another swim that evening and again in the cool temperatures of the following morning.
To her, the trip had all it could possibly offer. I, on the other hand, kept longing for alpine or at least the glimpse of a mountain peak or glacier and Clover was now talking about how much she missed her friends at home.
Early on day three we spoke with two young hikers who were doing the entire 180 kilometer hike in seven days, making each day’s hiking 27 kilometers long. Carellin eyed them suspiciously, finding their enthusiasm fanatical, but Clover was hell bound to walk at their speed all the way to the end of trail.
“If you hurry,” she sang to Carellin, “you’ll see Josephine soon. And you,” she said looking at me, “will see John.”
Clover smiled, hoisted her pack and moved on after the young hikers.
As we trudged toward town, with me always in the rear, we noticed a number of bear poop piles but Carellin and Clover didn’t blink. They were going home to friends and lovers. After lunch at the top of a knoll, I called John and got through.
“We’ll meet you at the bar at the Marina about three.”
We were half an hour early and as I stumbled toward the marina, I heard John’s familiar voice and, as I turned, I saw him wave. Then I heard Clover, from the opposite direction, telling a group of four young women who had been behind us on the trail, that she had hiked with her grandmother (I had gotten that honorary title early on day two), her mother (who was now enjoying a beer on the deck of the marina) and that she was just nine but had no trouble on the trail. I detected a slight trace of pride in her voice.