We often believe we have to leave home to experience something extraordinary. We seek out the mysterious and exotic places of our imagination in the far away and hard to get to. We take for granted what is familiar, dismissing the sacred as mundane. Because it’s close to us and always there, we never visit.
We’ve visited spectacular places in the world, tens of thousands of miles away from home. We’ve walked up the barren valley in Tibet that leads to Mount Everest, staying in the highest monastery on earth, and stood alone at base camp. We hit the tourist jackpot and got the chance to greet the rising sun at Mount Fuji on a clear day with no else there. We’ve trekked the Himalayas, lived in the mountains of India and explored the hidden places of northern Burma. We even walked by ourselves in the early morning at the Athabasca Glacier in the Rockies. And we’ve walked the fells of England.
It’s easy to forget that we grew up in a place of stunning, supernatural beauty. Indeed, just 90 minutes from Vancouver is of the world’s incredible alpine parks. I’ve been there before, several times. But you forget about the things you take for granted. It wasn’t until we’d moved to Toronto that we understood what we had given up to leave British Columbia. Separated from the ocean and the nearby mountains, we felt withdrawal symptoms. Ontario is a beautiful place, but the landscape of our new home was unnervingly flat. People in Toronto talk about “skiing” on “mountains” nearby, but I could never figure out what they were talking about. There are no mountains east of Canmore, Alberta. Lake Ontario never smelled right and I can’t trust a large body of water that has no tidal changes. For over a decade, we got our mountain and ocean fixes on our journeys away from Canada.
My nephew Markus loves the outdoors. Karen and I have long promised to take him on a wilderness camping trip, and we thought it was finally time to make good on our promise. Armed now with her global outdoor experience, Karen was keen to return to the outdoors. She missed her time in our Hilleberg. She missed the heavy hauling up steep inclines. She even missed the rain. If you think I’m lying, here’s a photo of Karen in one of her favourite places, cozily ensconced in the Hilleberg.
We fished out our wilderness gear from my sister’s basement. She has generously allowed us to store a couple of boxes we use to keep winter clothes and our gear. The last time we saw the tent and stove and water filter was in Ukraine in 2017. Markus, Karen and I checked and tested everything. We charged up batteries for our Beagles, cleaned up and weather-proofed our Limmers, and stocked up on four days of meals. Then we set out at 6:00 am up the Sea-to-Sky highway to Garibaldi Provincial Park.
It was a three and a half hour hike into the park to the campsite we reserved at Garibaldi Lake. The trail is just under ten kilometres long with just over 900 metres of elevation gain. It’s a steep incline, especially with loaded packs. But the end is worth it.
When I used to camp here, there were no reservation fees and just a handful of wooden tent platforms. My last trip here was in the summer of 2003. Two of us spent three days in the park. Alone.
Things have changed a lot. Instagram has made this place popular with the twenty-something Instapeople. And there are now huge numbers of foreign tourists who book up the 90 campsites available in the area. But despite these depressing modern changes, the park remains a wonderous place to spend a few days.
Incredibly, Karen worked the whole time we were there. Each morning at dawn, she’d hike down to the parking lot, work for several hours, then hike back up to the campsite. That’s a 20 kilometre roundtrip with almost two kilometres of elevation change. By the third day, she had shaved an hour and forty-five minutes off her uphill time. She was working out 5 hours a day. I think they were starting to sing songs about her along the way. The Queen of Garibaldi trail, greeting hikers at sunrise. She was coming down just as they were starting up. On their return to the car lot, they would see her on her way back up. She became a legend, encouraging people along the way as she lapped them up the mountain after putting in a day at her mobile office. She’s my hero.
Markus and I spent our days targeting two different peaks. Our first trek was up to Panorama Ridge, a rocky outcrop overlooking Garibaldi Lake and the Coast Mountain range.
On our third day we climbed up to the foot of Black Tusk, a well-known basalt cone from an ancient volcano. It’s a stiff and precipitous hike up, but the views are jaw-dropping.
Our time came to an end just as my right illiotibial band was telling me I was at my limit. We packed up early on day 4 and I slowly limped for three hours back to the parking lot. We drove to Tim Hortons to celebrate our victory in the wilderness. And if you’re worried about my leg, don’t be. It was just fine the next day.
We are now taking our time to visit with family and friends and to get ready for our last volunteer trip. We return to Mexico for September to conduct a 10-day retreat and to catch up with friends Jorge and Julia in Mexico City. Then we will start our resettlement process back into the mundane world of work and normal routines. That will be a new transition and an exciting next phase of our life.