Wednesday, June 2nd, 2004

weekend activities

Filed under: camping and hiking — alison @ 08:46

We just got back from climbing Camel’s Hump in Vermont. Mark had identified two walks not too far from Montreal that might reasonably be done in a day and a bit and asked me to choose one. Well, that was simple: the “easy” one of course, it’s the beginning of the season and I at least am very, very out of shape. And then I thought: hm: if it’s easy, then it’s flat. Boggy. Buggy. Beautiful I’m sure, but buggy. Perhaps do the easy one in the fall when the birds have had a chance at some of the bugs.

So the “strenuous” one it was. (Total distance: 11.8 km. Hiking time: 6 hours. Vertical rise: 806 m. In American that would be 7.4 miles, 6 hours and 2,645 feet respectively.)

It was a beautiful walk with perfect weather. To reach the trailhead we took a small dirt road and then a very obscure-looking steep gritty road, but there was enough parking lot for 40 – 50 cars, mostly full. While we got ready in the parking lot I put on both layers of my winter coat, the polyester shell and the fleece lining. Someone else in the parking lot wore a tuque.

I warmed up as we walked of course, and eventually took off the shell and unzipped the fleece.

A couple of kms in was the campsite, reached by walking along (meaning in) a stream. (As it turned out, most of the way up and much of the way down involved walking in what appeared to be more-or-less full streambeds.) The site was deserted but thoughtfully set up with eight platforms for tents, a bear hang (for hanging food, not bears) and a moldering privy (poops only: peeing to be done in the woods, pads and tampons to be packed out). Setting up a tent on a wooden platform was a little tricky: the tent didn’t need to be staked to stand up, but it did need to be staked to keep from being blown away by the wind. I wouldn’t say the wind at that spot was fierce exactly, but it was certainly aggressive. We did our best, left our packs there and just took a fanny pack of water and some snacks.

The next kilometer was easy, peaceful and a little rainy, climbing up steadily and pausing at a beaver pond. The rest of the way to the summit though was beautiful, peaceful and slogging. We went down and up a couple of times, looping around for a view before going down to the col between the lower peak we were on and the higher, steeper Camel’s Hump peak we were aiming for. By this time I was walking two steps and stopping to breathe, walking two more steps and stopping. Mark assured me that the walk itself was difficult, that I should walk more slowly, and enquired anxiously about my heart. We encountered a company of friends with their dog who looked at us skeptically and wished us well. Then O joy! A Climb! We were faced with an outcropping of rock. No big deal I thought, we went up, but Mark was very happy to impress upon me that we were on a Level 2 climb, no ordinary hike. (For those not familiar with climbing, Level 2 is a scramble, meaning that you need both hands; Level 5 is, oh, an unprotected climb with no rope and no way to go back, clinging with no more than finger- and toe- tips for 15 meters or more and certain death if you fall. Or something like that.) I think that Mark’s Dutch background has something to do with his level of excitement over a Level 2: he tells me that there’s one stone in Holland, that it’s in a town and the town is named after it. He’d never hopped across a river on stones before hiking with me: waterways in Holland are silt. Or perhaps it’s nostalgia for his climbing days in Switzerland, when he did Level 4 climbs on real mountains, not these old worn-down nubs of hills we have here. Or perhaps it’s just me refusing to acknowledge that anything I do might be considered an accomplishment.

The summit was windy. We had been warned by a lone backpacker on her way down that she had been very nearly blown off. She looked at us and thought that the summit might be safer for us because we didn’t have full packs, and wished us well. It was completely bare except for some spots of bright yellow lichen; the water ran under a cover of ice; and while I had been pausing for breath every two steps on my approach, on the summit I was blown right up by the wind at my back and hardly had to pause at all. I was happy to be there but crabby because of the cold. I didn’t see much of the view because I lay down in a crack in the rock to escape the wind and wished for sun. (Not forthcoming.) We ate some dried apricots. I persuaded Mark to zip on his pant legs, which he did. He found gloves, was tempted to wear them and decided that if his hands were cold mine must be colder and passed them to me. I put them on and promptly headed down the path again. I’d had enough.

Going down was easier. No stopping to breathe, but we needed to go slowly to protect our knees and my ears kept popping with the quick change in altitude. Being out of the wind and back into the trees was a huge relief. It was going to be dark in about two hours and it was going to take us about that to get back to camp. Then Mark paused to pee, I took a wrong turn, and he rushed down the right path toward the campsite to catch up with me. When we each realised we were alone on the path there was some thinking to do.

Mark never questioned that he was on the right path, but he had to wonder whether I would ever figure out I was on the wrong one. Should he go back and look for me? Should he walk slowly and wait for me to catch up? I have no sense of direction at all, no awareness of where North is. But I did have a map and I wasn’t totally stupid. He decided to leave me a little pile of M&Ms to reassure me that we were on the same path, and pushed on.

I didn’t figure out that I was on the wrong path until I got worried about Mark and started heading back to look for him. I dimly recalled that there was an option of heading off on a detour or turning back to camp, checked the map and realised that I was on the detour. All the same when I got back to where I had last seen Mark I diligently checked for body parts, shredded clothing and full and happy bears. Nothing. Next thing to worry about: was he looking for me? I took the map and stuck it on the pine tree bearing the sign to the campsite, and stuck a twig through the map at the campsite to show where I was headed. For good measure I decorated the whole assembly with a dried apricot.

It was actually kind of nice to be heading down the path alone, free of excellent and well-meaning advice. Especially after I found the M&Ms, because then I knew for certain he was on the path ahead of me, and I could worry compassionately about him because I knew he didn’t know where I was. Not for sure.

I passed a man with a dog, who told me Mark was ahead and that he would have supper waiting for me. How sweet!

Half an hour later, a man with two children who told me that Mark was ahead, that he was getting the headlamps from camp and would come back looking for me. Oh dear, I’d better hurry.

Twenty minutes after that, I found Mark sitting dolefully on a rock nursing his knees, realising that he was in too much pain to conduct a night search for me on a mountain and very grateful that he didn’t have to.

Back to camp, slowly this time. We were in bed by eight: it was too cold and windy for sitting outside to be fun, even with a fire.

Morning found us in fine shape, if cold and a bit slow and tender-kneed. It had hailed in the night but our food was dry. Packed up, back to the car. The path down was very soft, easy and gentle compared to what we’d done the day before. We appreciated it. And we met lots of interesting people heading up.

An extremely fit and energetic couple in their sixties rushed by, wearing sleeveless shirts and carrying small water bottles in their hands. Not dressed for the 70 kph winds at the summit, and with water bottles in their hands how would they scramble up the rocks? But whatever, they looked like they were used to doing things outside.

A family of seven, including a toddler being carried on her father’s shoulders and a four-year-old anxious about the mud on her new white shoes.

A group of middle-aged folk, one of whom asked us plaintively if the path kept going up? Yes, we answered, wondering privately how he thought he was going to climb a mountain without going up.

And various more prepared-looking hikers. We wished them all an enjoyable day.

Back to the parking lot, a brief consideration of another day-hike, nixing that in favour of a tour of the Ben and Jerry’s factory and a visit to Wal-Mart to pick up some weewee pads for Pepe.

Home in time for tea.


[originally transmitted by e-mail June 2, 2004]

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