There was no way I was going to let my out of shape old body hold me back from going on this camping expedition!
Our boys were in grade 11, and a part of their schools heritage is a camping trip for the grade 12 students into the backcountry of our national park system. Although the trip is affectionately called the “Lake ‘O’ trip, meaning Lake O’Hara, close to Lake Louise, Alberta, the truth is that with around 140 students participating there is no way that they could flood just one small area of the national park. So there are groups of 8 students with 2 chaperones in many different areas.
The area I was to be chaperone was on the “Ball Pass” route which went up to Egypt lake. Stunning scenery…once in a lifetime chance to spend with at least one of my sons. The other was put in a different group, and that was okay. There are plenty of amazing hikes in the Rockies. Since we had been given maps and information about our routes, I knew that our first day would be a tough slug, climbing almost a kilometer vertical over 12 kms of trail. I was not in shape, but I had been out hiking with small amounts of weight in my camera pack, as much as I could find time and muster the will for. I wanted to prepare. And in fact, the chaperones were responsible for “practice hikes” to discover issues, weed out non committed participants, and get to know the group so we could prepare for what may happen on the actual outtrip. We had hiked a small day hike as a group before, but on September the 11th, I found myself on what was to be my last outtrip with my group.
Filling backpacks, lunches and a last minute add on to our group took up my morning. Finally the drive to the rendezvous point brought us all together as a group and we set out for a hike to go to the peak at about halfway on our trail up Okanagan Mountain. The hike was similar to what we would be encountering on the first day of our trip, so this was a really good sample trail to pick. As expected, the group of kids took off like a shot. The boys seemed like they had to prove how well they could handle the physical exertion of the hike; the girls trailed after them with resolve not to let any boys show them up. The 2 of us chaperones were the fallbacks. Slow and steady wins the race. And for the most part, I was the very tail end. Admittedly, most of that tailing was because of how out of shape I was, but there was a part of me that has always liked the vantage point of the last on the trail. Besides, if anyone would see a cougar, it would be the one at the tail end as the cougar jumps on your back and bites your head. I’ve always loved wildlife sightings.
Our plan was to walk until noon. We had left at 10 o’clock from the parking lot, and lunch seemed like a good break for us at the top of the trail. As we came to the top, where we knew we were going to stop, I lagged even further behind. An overwhelming feeling of exhaustion came over me. It was like a wet, cold thousand pound blanket. After years of determination to push through as much as I could and never give up, I found the strength to walk the last few hundred yards where the group had perched on a rock outcropping to enjoy their lunch. I dropped my backpack onto the ground, looked for a smooth place to sit and let gravity pull me into a resting place. I felt as spent as ash, and maybe that was my color, but no one commented or noticed. That whole lunch break, I had no idea of the damage that had begun to happen inside my skull, damage that I wouldn’t discover for some time to come. Tired was the only thing I felt. So very tired.