Here’s a recipe for a “This feels like a bad idea, but it will make for a good story”:
-Two adventurous yet sometimes naive young women
-30 pound backpacks
-Grizzly bears and mountain goats
-A disappearing hiking trail
-A rock chimney
This all began when I met my friend Peeky in New Zealand. A few walks and an ex- boyfriend later, we planned the ultimate adventure of backpacking across Canada and the Western U.S. for two months.
One of our trips included the Skoki Loop in Lake Louise, AB. This three day hike spans over 21 miles giving way to beautiful mountain lakes, a ski lodge tucked away in the woods, and an abundance of wildlife. Before we began, I talked to a local hiker who recommended we take the somewhat secret Packers Pass trail back on our last day. He mentioned that though it wasn’t officially on the map, it was well worth the detour for its stunning views.
As you can guess, this minor detour quickly developed into a story for my grandkids.
The directions we received resembled a list of cryptic Nancy Drew clues leading to Narnia. Case in point, “At the fork in the path, cut to the right and follow it to the Wall of Jericho. Then climb through the Rock Chimney that resembles something like the secret staircase into Mordor. Finally, hike through some fields and up some ridges until you come upon two alpine lakes fed by a glacier.”
We began the route out at 7 am with dew still clinging to the leaves and a mist settling over the meadow. The path was easy to follow for the first hour, meandering its way through dense forests before opening up into green meadows. I was hopeful until we ended up at the base of a waterfall and a rock wall with no trail to follow. We’d come to the Wall of Jericho.
We spent 15 minutes searching for any sign of the trail, but it seemed to vanish. Usually, previous hikers will leave a stack of rocks called a cairn that indicates the direction of a trail. We couldn’t see any cairns nor signs of footprints. We didn’t know when the Rock Chimney would pop up on the trail. But hey, I’m a sporty Nancy Drew so it was my job to find the clues and reach our destination.
In order to get a better vantage point we ascended a gigantic hillside of boulders and shale to see off in the distance. After a lovely snack of 3 day old PB & Js, we did indeed discover that there seemed to be a large opening in the rocks far above us.
After numerous sprained ankles, I’m a little wary of rocks. I love backpacking, but every time I have to climb up a rock face I imagine myself becoming the female version of James Franco in 127 hours. While Peeky was spider monkeying her way up, I followed at a tedious pace while yelling profanities and blaming the rock gods for this ironic fate. I let my imagination run wild and envisioned a mountain goat batter ramming me off and becoming grizzly grub.
This was my moment of truth. It’s never easy facing your fears, especially when you’re carrying a 30 pound backpack and slipping on loose shale after a rainstorm. But if there’s one aspect I love about backpacking, its challenging yourself to go beyond your self-imposed limits. So I kept climbing. I reached the top with a blessed Hallelujah, only to find Peeky already far ahead clambering her way through the Rock Chimney. It rose above us on both sides, creating a narrow canyon on thankfully FLAT ground. We emerged on the other side a bit more muddy, but a hell of a lot stronger and my ankles in tact.
The rest of the trail consisted of us killing vegetation with our clobber steps and getting lost only 6.5 more times. I was hungry and mentally exhausted from our little venture, but we plugged along. As we climbed over the last ridge, a view unfolded that made it all completely worth it. Two electric blue lakes lay nestled at the bottom of the mountain, one of which feeds the waterfall we saw earlier coming over the Wall of Jericho. Peeky and I shared a knowing look of both serenity and accomplishment, letting the moment wash over us in its full glory. We conquered the trail! More importantly, I got to add sporty Nancy Drew to my resume.