Hiking reflections: It’s not just about the goal

It’s planning time for our hike once again. We’ve booked ourselves in for backcountry hikes in Jasper National Park this September and while checking out the views and researching conditions for the hike, I’m reminded again of the past hikes we’ve gone on before.

It’s often the journey which sticks with us the most and sometimes, it’s not just about getting to our goal. The journey is also the most important part of hiking. Hence, I’m hoping that my research helps us be better prepared this time. Not that we weren’t the last time during our snow camping trip. We just weren’t toughened enough to hike through the conditions. We are urban people who also yearn for the outdoors, nature and quiet.

I think backcountry hiking is something which one needs to experience before even furthering the research. Much like getting work experience first before taking your MBA. It enriches knowledge absorption and appreciation. I did not research this extensively during our first few hikes. Although, the first hiking trip at Mount Robson in 2014, turned out well, our backpack system was a mess, plus I had so many blisters and a loose toenail.

M had a backpack which looked more like a day pack, for a 4-day/3-night hike. And he had our foam mattresses hanging off the bag, in addition to some other dry sack and carried two cooler bags, like we were off for a 4-day picnic. I carried M’s clothes in my 65 liters backpack.

We have definitely ‘graduated’ from this into this:

New Zealand_Greenstone and Caples
New Zealand, Greenstone and Caples, September 2015

And this:

Healy Pass to Shadow Lake, October 2017

Mount Robson, 2014, still tops all other hiking experiences so far because the route was well-marked, we were better prepared (again, despite how our backpacks were packed), Berg Lake was magical, fewer flies and bugs or even the lack thereof, deer spotting at our campsite, a curious chipmunk which came right up to our trash bag at our tentpad and warmer temperatures.

Our next hiking trip was in 2015 in New Zealand. We initially wanted to do the popular Routeburn trail, but was informed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) folks that some trails are washed out from the flood. So, we searched for other trails and decided on Greenstone and Caples.

Greenstone and Caples, 2015, is not a tough trail. It was tedious as we took a wrong turn and went AROUND the lake, which set us back a day. It was a psychological setback more than anything else. We setup camp on the first day near the river and I think that was the best spot. We were informed by DOC folks that it was too early in Spring for there to be flies at that time. We did not bring the bug spray. Big mistake. The moment we stopped, we had a swam around us and our heads. It was crazy! The next day, we hiked through a forest and river flats. The route wasn’t well-marked and we were looking out for signs and orange posts. The distances do not really match up to what was mentioned on the map. I was ill-prepared for sleep during this trip. The ground was freezing cold at night and I had this bubble mattress with lots of air circulating under me. It made me even colder and I woke up with stiff and painful back. In the end, we slept in the huts along the way. The huts were quite comfortable but you would have no privacy. The huts are mostly long bunks which you would share with other hikers. We shared a hut with another hiker who really snored…. i’ve shared a tent and room with snorers whom I thought was the worst before, but this one, topped it. I was lucky i brought my ear plugs and eye cover. They are now in my mandatory items packing list. We’ve also tried to shower stealthily with other hikers around. And exposing our bare skins to sand flies. We’ve also managed not to be hunted by hunters as we discovered that it was just at the end of hunting season then. We stayed with a roomful of five hunters at our last pitstop. There were bloody deer antlers just drying out outside the hut where we brush and wash up…We also met a chatty vagabond at that hut. He hikes from one place to another and just stays at hiking huts. He eats the leftovers from hikers who leave food behind at the huts and he grows his own sprouts…which he showed us…if it’s any consolation, it didn’t rain until our last day. There were hikers who wanted to wait it out at the hut with the hunters. We were prepared to call it a day at that point in our journey. We waited for the rain to subside a little and hiked out. Since it was our last day, we didn’t care that much about our shoes getting wet. Our raincoats didn’t really keep us dry. We perspired inside and just got wet outside. It was really a counter intuitive situation. We just wanted to get to our car. All in all, the journey was interesting on hindsight.

We went on another hike in 2016. This ended almost prematurely. We intended to hike the Besseggen Ridge in Norway.

Besseggen Ridge, Jotunheimen, Norway, August 2016. It is a very popular hike in Norway. There were lots of people at the carpark and around the area when we started. Before we started our hike, we already had a setback then when we were about to fly from Prague to Copenhagen after attending M’s sister’s wedding. He forgot his driver’s licence back home and we were supposed to drive from Copenhagen to Oslo, where we’d booked a night at the hotel before continuing our journey to where we start our hike. In the end, I drove us from Copenhagen to Oslo that day and it was my first time driving on the right side. The challenge was actually in getting M’s driver’s licence as we’d experienced. My father sent it via DHL to us and initially, we had the delivery address down as one of the DHL centers in Lillehammer , en route to Jotunheimen. Of course, DHL does not deliver to its own delivery center. The package was rejected and returned to Oslo, DHL center at the airport. Yes, we checked the location before setting off, to chase down that elusive DHL package. We finally picked it up at the main cargo facility at Oslo airport, after three days of waiting.

It started raining on our way to Jotunheimen and continued raining. In fact, it was a pretty wet hike. It rained on and off. We took the wrong turn from the get-go. After an hour into the hike, we were wondering why hasn’t the trail started to gain in elevation. We suspected that we were on the wrong route. We were. We had a family with a young boy who overtook us a couple of times on the trail…and I slipped twice. The second time hurt so badly that I had just about given up. I fell flat on my face with my backpack and a twig on the ground at my throat. We spent two nights at the campsite deciding if we wanted to continue as the weather was not too great as well. We decided to call it a day and took the ferry out, instead of hiking back out.

We stuck to day hikes in Norway after that failed hike.

We didn’t stop hiking after that. We went on another hike in October 2017, this time back in Canada. It was past shoulder season by then and we experienced snow camping!

Healy Pass to Shadow Lake, 2017. We had to get snowshoes by the time we got down to hiking. We initially wanted to hike Skoki, which was one of the few trails still open in shoulder season. We decided on Healy Pass as there isn’t as much snow then. It started snowing on our way up and the trail was completely covered in snow on our way down. Because of the cold and darkness by the time we get to camp, we ended up eating dried food and protein bars instead of cooking. Plus, the bear poles are usually a bit further from camp. Hiking and camping in the snow certainly meant taking more load as we had heavier clothes and more equipment it seems. We had snowshoes strapped onto the bag when we weren’t using them, we brought thick gloves which looked like ski gloves and a new addition from an outlet store. It was certainly not fun waking up in the night to pee in the snow…and hiking in the snow meant that your shoes and socks are wet during the trip.

Hiking 2018: 

Each time we go hiking, we buy new gear; be it more clothes, or a change of equipment. I bought a new insulated mattress last trip, Yaktraxs and more thermal wear from MEC. My best piece of thermal wear still remains as the Rab thermal pants I bought sometime back. Good socks make such a big difference too! I’m probably able to appreciate the insights on hiking and equipment by Andrew Skurka [The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide]  now compared with before when we first started hiking or before we started.

With each hike, we learn something new. I believe we did get our sleeping equipment right. I like being slightly toasty inside my sleeping bag, so I use a liner inside my Big Agnes mummy sleeping bag. It looks huge but it is quite compressible. The foam mattress has great value. We use that as base, followed with our sleeping pad and then the sleeping bag. It keeps you off the cold ground. As I’ve learnt in New Zealand, sleeping with the cold on your back is not pleasant. Next, my small pillow. I realize may not be working very well as it moves around way too much for me to be comfortable. So that’s going into a new shopping list this year. I bring dedicated sleepwear which becomes my last day wear sometimes. I find that having dedicated camp/sleepwear adds to comfort in the tent.

For clothes, I have found myself overheating before which made me really tired and I wanted to take everything off. So I hope I have found my optimal clothes system suitable for the weather conditions. I do like my current light outer shell from Helly Hanson but probably need a better mid-layer.

What I think we can do better this time is our meal plan. We both have sensitive guts and packing food which we both like and won’t cause major stomach problems, light, easy to pack and easy to cook, can be challenging. I’ve learnt that you should just pack what you want to eat and it doesn’t need to be healthy. Trail mixes can be great for that protein and energy boost but somehow pales in comparison to a chocolate bar, nougat or even gummies. Finding a good balance of good nutrition and what we crave can make it more enjoyable.

What I miss is having some snacks at hand in the tent. That is something we can’t have when camping in Canada as most campsites have very strict rules around keeping a clean site – with no food trace. All food and cookery must be kept in bear lockers or bear poles.

Sometimes, the fun is also in the planning. I am looking forward to our next journey…our goal, making it an enjoyable journey.