Sweat, Tears, Pain (Days 20-21)
Day 20 began optimistically. I was sure that the worst of the bushwhacking was behind me, and I had a modest distance goal for the day: my planned camp was only 22kms away. I packed up camp and said goodbye to the beautiful landscape surrounding Stewart lake in the morning mist.
On the road walk to the White River, I saw a few deer and what I believe was a mink (whatever it was, it was adorable, running across the road in front of me!). Once I crossed the bridge, I hopped onto the trail that meandered up the roaring river. Cobbled together from existing elk trails, it passed by some big old cedars and through salmonberry bushes. There was definitely some blowdown to climb over/under/around, and of course I got lost a few times, but it was not as bad as Grilse Creek the day before.
After breaking for lunch in the sun, I turned to head up Kokummi Creek to make it to Kokummi Pass. I was hoping to camp on the saddle point of the pass – I imagined watching the sunset with the views, and a nice downhill morning the next day.
Heading up the valley was a steady incline in the heat of the afternoon. I ws quickly drenched in sweat. Though my phone said it was only 22C, it felt punishing to me. “I don’t know if I would be able to desert hike if I can barely handle this,” I thought. After getting heat exhaustion in the heat wave last summer which took me weeks to recover from, I’m still weary about pushing too hard and getting too dehydrated in the sun.
The valley was moist and lush. I passed many streams making their way into the creek at the bottom; water was not hard to come by. Watchtower peak was an impressive sight on the other side of the valley, with its stone cliffs reaching like fingers into the sky, and waterfalls of fresh snowmelt tumbling down. You could hear the low thundering as all that water leapt off the cliffs.
The second growth crop of trees covering its sides was still young, allowing plenty of space and sunlight to reach the blueberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries, and wild strawberries below. bear scat lined the road like black cairns marking my way.
Yes, I saw no less than 3 bears on my way up to the pass – which made sense to me, as the landscape had everything to offer. It really was beartopia! One was strolling along the road eating berries, not in a hurry to get out of my way. Another shot up a tree as I passed, startling me. A third was munching berries a few meters off the road, and I saw its furry butt as it turned down the hill when I walked by.
The top of the pass was all snow and mud. Elk tracks and droppings were everywhere – evidently this path through the mountains was used frequently by animals too. Unfortunately, it did not make for a great campsite – and, I was still on alert for bears, having just passed through beartopia. So I changed plans. Schoen Lake had an established campsite, and it was only 13ms away. It was 3:30pm. I could make it, though it would be a long day. I prayed my swollen ankle would continue to support me through to my destination.
All Dried Out
It was crazy how different the northwest side of the pass was compared to the southeast side I had climbed up. Descending the northwest side, it was clear it had been more recently logged. Large cedar stumps, bleached white in the sun, rose out of the rocky, woodchip-covered hill. It was a steep, hot, rocky road all the way down. Quiet, no wind. No signs of wildlife. (As I got off the mountain and into the valley though, I could definitely smell the musky smell of elk! Didn’t see any though).
I broke down for real halfway along the road to Schoen Lake. I had been crying off and on throughout the day, but this time it the sobs doubled me over. It was not even a consideration to stop, however – once I put my mind to a destination, I can’t conceive of stopping before I reach it. For better or for worse. My foot screamed at me.
At some point I hopped off the road to wander through the forest down to the lake. The trail was not marked, but the mature forest’s high canopy made for a spacious forest floor that required minimal bushwhacking. I followed elk trails through the soft dusty moss in the warm muted light of the evening.
On the brink of exhaustion, I reached the quiet water, golden in the light, and cried again.
But I had to make my way around the lake to where the campsite was before the day was done. Moving slow, climbing over fallen trees and up and over cliffs, I finally made it to the log jam at the mouth of the river that drained the lake. I picked my way across the shaky bridge and made it to the other side. I made it to camp!
The lake was so beautiful, with Schoen Mountain in the background, lit by the sunset. I collapsed into my sleeping bag, utterly spent, having ended up walking 36.5ms with 600ish meters of elevation gain and loss.
Lying in my tent that night, my feet throbbing in pain, I realized that I might need to change my approach to this journey. I’ve rushed up here, getting from Victoria to Cumberland in 2 weeks – that’s one third of the trail already behind me. And now I’ve done 93.3kms of a 116km leg in 3 days. In my initial plans, the whole 116kms was going to take me 6 full days. I was blasting through the trail. And yes, I do enjoy a good pace – I like hiking all day, seeing the land change around me, and doing longer distances. But my feet, and my body, were protesting.
I looked at the calendar and saw that I had another six weeks until I needed to be back home. That’s more than plenty of time to do the remainder (300ish kms?) of the trail and still have room for rest and relaxation. Plus, if I rushed it all to get home ASAP, what would I do at home but sit around wishing I was back out here?
So, I decided that rather than pushing to get to Woss the next day (which, with 25km remaining, was possible, in theory), I would rest and enjoy the lake a while. Dip my aching feet in the cool water. Nap and read my book. And maybe split that 25km into two shorter days. I let out a sigh of relief, not realizing I had been stressed about ‘keeping up’ and ‘making good time’. but I don’t need to race anyone- I’m the only one I know of hiking this trail right now! Who cares what my journey looks like to other people?
And so I chilled at the lake for most of day 21. Watched some fishermen, some kayakers, and even some environmental researchers launch their crafts and float on by. Watched the sun come up over the mountain. Ate, read my book, and blogged. It was really what I needed.
I felt better by the time I started my short road walk in the direction of town, with the plan of camping halfway. I relished in the new spaciousness I had granted myself, by not feeling like having to rush anymore. Let me get there in my own time!
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Enjoying your blog and how well you are conveying to us your thoughts, feelings and emotions. Great stuff, Carly! Only sorry we couldn’t do better for you at Grilse, but you’re too fast!
You have the courage and knowledge, now glad the “wisdom” is kicking in. Take your time and enjoy this, probably once in a lifetime experience. Continue to observe your self, and not just the physical needs, as you are doing during this journey. That kind of awareness and sensitivity applies well throughout life.
Enough, eh Dave..!!
Your whole blog has been such a pleasure to read! Thank you for being so honest and expressing yourself so eloquently. I wept intermittently as I read because so many of your small moments and emotions brought me back to similar moments Ive had on long distance solo hikes. What an honour to get to experience this journey with you.
I can’t wait to hear more about it when you’re back!
Sending energy and fortitude for those days you don’t feel like you have quite enough.