I showered three times before arriving to the car.
I’d never hiked before, nor been on a camping trip of any sort. All I knew was that the warm glow of cleanliness I was currently basking in was temporary, and I had to cling to the remnants. The sprawling grey above our heads was testament to the fact, but we tossed our packs into the trunk knowing that it didn’t really matter. It was raining with a gentle insistence and it would only get worse; there was dirt and wet to come. But it was okay. The journey was now all there was.
I couldn’t pinpoint the moment where civilization turned to rugged country. It must have happened gradually, but the scattered heads of mountains and trees had become more and more frequent, until they demanded to be observed. The juxtaposition of majestic landscape and humble road was a breathtaking one, and it didn’t seem to matter that most of the four-hour ride was spent in appreciative silence on my part. Imposing blocks of cold, lifeless concrete that towered above the world in a jarring sea of monochrome was the only home I knew, so to see them replaced with snowy peaks and vibrantly coloured leaves was surreal. A month before, I had never seen a mountain — now I was amongst them. That I would soon be climbing one was impossible to believe.
Our car was encased in darkness for the last leg of our ride, our view narrowed to whatever road was illuminated by the headlights. The rain had taken on a much firmer tone as we disembarked, making setting up our tents a slippery task. We knew nothing of the cold yet. I had slept a little in the car in anticipation of a sleepless night, but was pleasantly surprised; the tent became a warm cocoon and the sound of droplets against tarp was soothingly therapeutic. After a wonderfully sleepover-esque conversation, we were fast asleep. The bleak circumstances were forgotten.
The morning brought with it a picturesque 5km hike up to Phelix Creek. I’d never seen such a rich fall: the entire landscape was painted in fiery autumnal hues, with some of the mountains striped haphazardly with trees of yellow and orange. The smoke around the mountains matched our breath in the air, as if the surroundings had a life of their own.
A few hours later, we reached the Brian Waddington Hut. The lake was shrouded in a deeply atmospheric fog which was equally as surprising as the presence of the sandy shores.
The bookshelves inside the hut were fittingly stocked with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I attempted to read one. Despite wearing all my clothes at once and burrowing to the bottom of my winter sleeping bag, the cold was so overwhelming that the words on the page became unintelligible blurs and I couldn’t bring myself to turn the pages for fear of exposing my hands to the stinging air. Eventually we decided to go on another hike to keep ourselves warm.
By the time we returned, the sun had come out and some of the fog had cleared.
We slept so well that the night was a silent oblivion, ending with a collective wakefulness expressed through shuffling sleeping bags at around six or seven in the morning. This marked the start of our day and our consequent hike to Mount Gandalf. It began uneventfully enough, with nothing but remarkable views to wonder at.
As we continued upwards, however, the air turned brisker and the words, “it’s snowing” was repeated with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Before long, whatever excitement the light sprinkling of snow held for us dissipated as it grew heavier, making our climb a difficult and finger-numbing one. We were a few metres away from the summit when it became clear that the conditions were too treacherous to continue; our visibility was reduced to about twenty feet. The rest of the world was a searing white haze. Our tracks had long since been filled in with new snow and picking our way through the now-slippery boulders proved more difficult than the dry ascent. Stopping was not an option; you would keep moving or you would allow the frost to seep into your bones.
We arrived back at the hut approximately eight hours after we’d initially left. Spirits were high after having (sort of) conquered the frosty mountain. It was a golden evening of flaming stoves, warm apple crumble, and Feuerzangenbowle. I’d peeled off all my wet layers and sat in my oversized UBC sweatshirt and borrowed leggings, which were miraculously still dry. The relative warmth coursing through my body was a welcomed relief. We’d made it.
The hike back to the car the next day was unremarkable until I pulled a tendon in my knee. It was a slow and excruciating descent, but the thudding successes of the last few days were still echoing through my mind and made it possible to push on. For the first time, I’d hiked, camped, and refused to give up despite desperately wanting to at times. After all I’d achieved, I knew I could make it down the last few kilometres. And I did — over an hour after everyone else, of course, but I didn’t particularly care. The sight of the 4×4 was almost one of the most beautiful things I’d seen all weekend. Still, it was an abundantly worthwhile trip. I’d never before felt such a sense of victory and pride.
I showered three times after I got back home, too.