Friday, August 27, 2010

Mountain Trip, 2010 -- Three Isle Lake

Day 1 - Aug 12

I had an early morning. My flight ($157) to Calgary was scheduled for 8:30am. I got to the airport in plenty of time. I was only somewhat put out when my army boots beeped and I was searched (Wen scores points for her foretelling of this event). Army boots? Hello? I thought Harper was all "support the troops". Sheesh. My enthusiasm remained high seeing as how I got to use my iPhone as boarding pass for the first time. Thats right. Got an email confirmation the day before after which I checked in from home. Then I was texted a QR Code that I flashed on my screen at the security station and the departure gate. Practically geek nirvana. I was seated in Row 8 :) The flight was over all too soon -- a little less than an hour.

Dave at the trail-head
Dave and Suzanne were right there to pick me up from the airport and we hopped in their car for the 1.5 hrs to Athebasca Lake. We did stop briefly for a supply of dark chocolate and chewy things.

The hike from the parking lot began pleasantly enough around 12:30pm, but after a couple of hours I was wheezing like an asthmatic watching the Beijing olympics. Although I do plenty of walking and run several times a week, I guess there is no substitute for a lengthy hike in a fully laden backpack.

Before I continue the story, I should tell you that Dave purchased himself a SPOT(wikipedia) shortly before the trip and made the subsequent map available to all. I think it is an awesome implementation of GPS tech. Try the "terrain" setting on the map and then zoom in to your heart's content. Currently there is only one other trip logged on his spot site, but I expect that will rapidly change. I tried to link the map directly, but their crappy code clipper doesn't yield a functional map (at least in my draft).

Moving on...

We arrived at Three Isle Lake Campground in high spirits. We had a fair share of sun during the afternoon with increasing cloud and bouts of rain.

One Hail of a Night
Q: What's the best way to end a long and arduous hike?
a) Set up Tent in a furious hail storm.
b) Set up tent backwards in a furious hailstorm
c) Freezing outside your backwards tent, whilst carving channels in the tent pad in an attempt to drain the inch of water which surrounds your backwards tent.*



*Dave and I have set up many tents before. In fact, Dave lives in a tent for most of the summer as part of his job. It was a new tent. Let us leave it at that.


Dave's horrible night

We managed to boil some water on the camp stove under the quasi shelter of some leggy pine trees near our tent. I had a tasty freeze-dried pasta and some coffee. We dropped our food off in the bear lockers and went to bed at 7:30pm.

Having paid my dues during the climb to get to the campsite, I was quite happy to have lugged a pair of long underwear up the side of the mountain. That, three shirts, and Wendy's fleece kept me toasty warm all night.

Even with one eye, the look says it all...
The Dr. was not so lucky. Dave managed to get a substantial amount of water into his pants during the set-up of the tent and with his body fat hovering somewhere around 0%, he had a terrible night. The sound of a lighter's flint striking, followed by a couple of seconds of butane hissing was repeated endlessly throughout the darkness as he tried in vain to heat up the air and drive out the moisture in his sleeping bag.

We had both been excited that our first night there would be the peak of this year's Perseid meteor shower. Sadly, It rained nearly all night and was overcast. The temperature dropped to near zero. I was rewarded for my persistence, however, when I got up for the second time at around 3am. There was a lull in the rain and a small break in the clouds through which I managed to glimpse a single Perseid. It was all I would get. After such a rough start to our trip, I was happy to have even that.

Day 2 - Aug 13
I woke up full of hope. It was hard to drag my butt out of the tent at 7am. It was cold outside and there was no sun penetrating the billowing clouds. The saving grace of this morning was the hot oatmeal that I made and this picture that reminds me of the cave of caerbannog... even before reading Vin's great stat sheet on the infamous bum nibbler.

Dave wasn't making any sudden moves to come out of the tent so I passed oatmeal and coffee under the fly of the tent and waited for heat and caffeine to work their magic.

It took until 10:15am, but he finally emerged from the tent. I won't say in good spirits, but certainly willing to make a foray out into the day. There was some discussion this morning about whether we should just bug out and call it even. We elected to go for a short hike. If the weather didn't break (it was still drizzling) we would pack up and head for home.


Wet and Alone -- The Theme of Day 2
I figured we would be out for a couple hours and made the mistake of failing to take any food. 4 hours later, I was quite wet and miserable. Dave eventually left me behind continued up the side of Mt Worthington for 20 minutes or so, on his own. Only the incredible array of wild flowers managed to keep me entirely from despair as we trudged back toward camp. It was still raining but we were both now too tired to contemplate packing up the campsite and hiking 10k down to our pick-up location.

Back at camp, we spent the next 1.5hrs staring at tiny breaks in the clouds and willing them to pass in front of the sun for 10-30 seconds at a time. It continued to rain even as the elusive sun taunted us. We debated for far too long over if our clothes were getting wetter with the rain or drier with the sun. Eventually, we gave up, ate and I decided to go to bed -- even earlier than the previous day.

I took one last trip down to the lake and was shocked to find that the sun at last was out. It was 6:30pm and we spent the next hour taking photos as the sun slid right down the side of the Mt. Worthington.

No meteors on night 2. It rained sporadically instead. We were both much drier and had a better sleep. As a special treat, we decided to turn the tent fly the right way round.

Day 3

I woke in time to catch the sun as it rose and burned off an ethereal layer of fog that had settled around the lake. I was finally able to see why the heck I had wanted to come camping in the first place.
The weather ended it's vendetta against us and behaved for the rest of the trip. It was sunny off and on throughout the day, but never got so hot as to make it miserable up on the heights.
We broke camp before we set out on our main expedition. We wanted to get the spectacular view from Mt. Northover. It took until 1:30pm to accomplish this goal.
Three Isle in the distance
I made it past the most frightening part of the traverse -- a knife edged ridge covered in crumbling rock. None of the pictures we got were able to do it justice. This one is close. I'm the little spike way up on the right. Now, just add the feeling to the pit of your stomach that suggests you may require a helicopter and stretcher to get off the slope and you'll get an idea of the steepness. I was quite intimidated which, I think, says it all. I was most glad to have Suzanne's hiking poles to give me a few more points of contact on that particular section.

With the money shot behind us, the trip back to camp was a lark. We played games, jumping along rocks, sliding down the last of the melting snow and taking pictures of alpine flora. Compared to the day before, the warm, dryness left me with lots of energy and, if we had another night to camp, I would have been tempted to try another climb. As it was, all that was left was to pick up our garbage (which we had to pack out) and our gear and meander down to Kananaskis Lake for pick-up.

Dave Eyes the Opals
We sat and had a last coffee as we waited for Suzanne to arrive and take us back to civilization. The Opal Range turned golden in the distance and we talked about what we could manage to do next year to top this trip. It had the right amount of everything. The small struggles we endured only managed to pull the successes into greater focus.

Here are my photos and Dave's. I've worked very hard to get the numbers down. Between the two, there are about 150 pictures (just so you know what you're getting into).


***edit Sept 15/2010***
Dave has put up his recollection of the journey for anyone interested in another (sometimes more technical) description.
***end edit***