This time it was a wiener dog that got us.
Blistered, bleeding, bug-ridden and exhausted Chili and I dropped our packs on the lake shore and cursed Joey the Wiener dog one last time even though, as always, we truly only had ourselves to blame.
The plan was solid. Canada Day weekend in the Coast Mountains felt like taking the lid off a BBQ –temperatures pushed up around 35º C as the first heatwave of summer settled in. My longtime buddy Chili Thom proposed an over-nighter to Valentine Lake, a little alpine spot east of Pemberton, BC that neither of us had ever heard of.
“It should be far enough away to deter the riffraff,” Chili enthused. He was bringing his new girlfriend and hoping for a relaxed Canada Day in the mountains (not sure why I was also invited but I planned on pitching my Bivy sack far from their tent).
Chili had a book claiming the hike was 13 km round trip with only 650M of elevation gain. “We’ll leave early to beat the heat, couple hours in, should be awesome.”
We left it at that. Or we should have. I, like an idiot, turned to the Internet for a bit more beta. There wasn’t much, just a report of two hikers who went missing there in 2010 and a YouTube video of Joey the Wiener Dog dashing around tree-line boulder fields on the shores of a beautifully pristine looking alpine lake. I emailed Chili the link. “Lake looks rad and if a wiener dog can make it up there…”
Fatal error. Nature hates cocky attitudes and Chili and I had burned ourselves many times before. The worst being an early November expedition to throw a new route up Mount Colonel Foster (2135 M). We made plans about how to pose for the summit photos before we’d even roped in for the first pitch. Rock fall cut our rope just minutes later, then a snowstorm rolled in and we spent the next 18 hours holed up in a tent before mounting an epic 17km retreat that included a pulled hip flexor and a survival tea/lunch break hunkered down in an outhouse. Soaking wet and boiling water over a shitter hole– not a career highlight by any means.
But still, a wiener dog… the legs on those things are not even 4 inches long. I packed liberally for a sunny Canada day at the beach: Squirt guns, Frisbee, sparklers, a special red plaid outfit and both a throwing axe and a machete. For a 6.5 KM approach I even felt good enough to leave the expedition toothbrush (handle cut off) behind and opt for the luxury of a full length.
We left early, according to the plan. Then the forest service road prematurely ended in a creek washout well before the trailhead. Then a Volvo pulled up and four Vancouver hikers hopped out with the same hiking guide book we had.
“Looks like we have about 2 or 3 KM of logging road before we make the trailhead,” Chili guessed as the city folk group-effort turned their car around on the narrow gravel road and parked it half in the ditch. “Lets get moving.”
The hand-drawn map in the book offered little insight as to exact distances but what’s a Canada Day without a bit of adventure? We attacked the road with fresh legs and that first-trip-of-the-summer enthusiasm.
Ii turned out to be more like 5 KM of dusty, switch-backed, bug-infested monotony with at least 400 meters of elevation gain. The heat wave didn’t help and we were exhausted by the time we reached the trailhead but I tried to keep moral high, “Hey only a couple more hours, Wiener dog-Wiener dog.”
That became our ridiculous mantra for the next four hours. A mindless phrase repeated ad infintum to help power up the beautiful but instantly steep trail.
A perfect hobbit-like single-width footpath flowing through carpets of moss and bunchberry flowers . Then it gets steep and rooty. Then it becomes a rock-stair creekbed (with creek) before relaxing into four or five km of soppy muskeg and bog. Spring melt in full effect.
Perhaps August offers fields of dry swampgrass that rustles as you glide through it but for us it’s slipping and sludge and boot-top sinkholes. Then more hill (with less forest) and then victory, Valentine Lake!
Six –and-half hours of sweat-drained morale and clenched perseverance have paid off! The waters of Valentine Lake await!!
It was frozen solid.
Our expected turquoise waters were white, marked only with cancerous circles of grey where the new summer sun had almost eaten through winter’s last hurrah. Chili and I jumped in a melted edge section anyhow. And jumped right back out as quickly as possible, refreshed enough to momentarily forget the bugs. More than one conversation that afternoon reminisced the good old days when DEET wasn’t as regulated.
Needless to say there was no Frisbee game and very little squirt-gunning. The other hikers arrived but had to push on in search of a dry camp spot. We ate, napped and awoke in time to forage enough wood for a fire. Dinner tasted amazing and the night sky shone star-filled as the ones I remember from childhood. I slept under the milky way and when that Canada Day sun hit my eyes tent at 5 the next morning it honestly felt like the beginning of summer. So we got up, ate oatmeal and headed for home, stopping only long enough to douse each other in bug dope.
Chili and I have each been hiking in the Coast Mountains together for almost 20 years now. We know that we should know better than to get overconfident. But with each epic survived, you feel more equipped to deal with the next one. “Oh, how bad can it be? Remember that time we did 34 KM of logging road in full-shank boots?”
It’s a vicious cycle but you learn something every time you venture off the map. This time we learned to make sure and bring a proper map. Except we already knew that too.
So guess what we really learned is that whether you over prepare or under prepare adventure is always out there whether you’re looking for it or not.
And you should never underestimate a wiener dog.
Joey the Wiener Dog at Valentine Lake