I'm still no pro, but I fell in love with hiking pre-marriage. The hobby then went by the wayside what with a couple of kids to look after, a husband who was out of town a lot, home renos, a recreational property, and so on. Sometimes life just gets busy!
After my divorce, I was fortunate enough to meet my BFF — whom I met coming off a hiking trail. She kicked my butt and had me hiking everyday all summer and into the fall with the occasional winter hike. We hiked like mad women! Small hikes, big hikes, crazy hikes, bushwhacking…we hiked almost daily and clocked many, many kilometers.
Two things that I’ve always known about myself are that I have a fear of heights and struggle with anxiety; regardless, I go and do as much as I can! Sometimes I reach the summit and sometimes I don’t. It’s never been about the destination for me but rather about the journey.
Yesterday I was excited to be invited out to hike Elk Mountain in Chilliwack. I had hiked Elk in the summer a few times and even in the dark for a sunrise hike, so I thought, “Great, I’m in!” Of course, everyone advised that I should bring spikes since the trail was icy and, since my spikes had served me well on previous icy hikes, I thought I was prepared. Little did I know that the ice on Elk was unlike any ice I had encountered on a trail.
About 1/4 of the way into the hike, the trail turned to sheer ice. At first I was OK, but as we hiked on, I realized that my spikes were not holding up as well as the crampons that everyone else had on. They did not dig down deep enough into the ice to provide me with the traction that I needed to navigate the slippery slopes. I kept on trucking thinking that maybe it was just my mind that was getting the better of me.
I managed to make it almost to the top. If this had been just another summer hike, I would have emerged out of the forest near the top to find a little goat trail with firmly packed dirt that I could use to skip my way up to the false summit and basically consider the hike to be completed. However, as I made my way out of the forest on this particular winter day, I found that the ground was covered in snow and that once dirt goat trail was slick with ice and snow; my heart started racing. As many others do, I find snow to be unpredictable. Not only did the sight of the trail creep me out, but I quickly glanced back and saw the steep hill behind me and began to panic. I couldn’t help but think, ‘How can I navigate this trail with a steep drop off and how will I get back down the mountain if my spikes have not been the best?” I felt trapped.
This (picture) was the viewpoint on Elk that I had reached. I snapped a quick picture, and then my mind started racing with fearful thoughts. My breathing was becoming labored, and I had to make an executive decision to turn around before I got too much farther up the goat trail. I had experienced panic attacks on other hikes, and I was able to identify this one before it became too severe. I knew that I should encourage the others in my party to continue to the summit while I turned back.
Once I got back into the forest to a safe point, I sat and drank my coffee, had a bite to eat, took a deep breath, and then began my descent down the mountain. I had to stay off the trail as it was a sheet of ice and, as mentioned, my inadequate spikes were of little use at this point. Gravity was against me, and I ended up sliding on my bum a few times which left me wondering how I would stop if I gained enough speed. I dug my heels in, got up, and carried on. I slipped and fell a couple more times, which afforded me some lovely bruises the next day.
Many on the trail offered help in several ways, and I’ll be forever grateful to them. I’m thankful for the kindness of strangers who saw someone in need and stopped to see how I was doing. I continued to go slowly and saw that I was making progress. As much as I tried not to, I got in my own head a few times and shed a few tears about the fact that I didn’t make it to the top but still did the hike as best as I could. I was embarrassed but proud of myself at the same time.
After slipping and sliding my way down for quite some time, I entered a part of the forest where the trail turned from ice back into dirt. At this point, I knew I was safe as I was almost all the way down, and I could take all the time I needed to safely return to the parking lot and the warmth of my car.
Hiking Elk in the winter Is a whole new ball game, which I learned the hard way. I wanted to encourage other hikers, whether beginner or pro, to know your limits and be prepared (bring really good spikes, unlike me - lol!) Sometimes you will have to turn back before reaching your destination, but remember that if you get out and only make it part of the hike... you’ve already won!
I work for Surrey School District as an Education Assistant. In my free time I enjoy hiking, snowshoeing, going off-road, dragon boating, writing & hanging with my huskies.