Week 4: days 25-27
We continue in our journey to the Saskatchewan River Crossing
Woke to a surprisingly dry tent and started off on a moderate climb which got steeper along the way. Again, the sun made this quite demanding and we tried to take on as much water as possible.
Stan had set a quick pace to get as much of the climb done before the midday sun but this left me quite tired. The ascent was taking longer that planned and we were making poor progress towards our rest stop. This time it was my turn to think, "What is the point!". After a cry, a supportive chat and some calories we set off in better spirits. The sun was now quite strong and we later found out it had been 31 degrees so quite unsurprising that we were finding uphill difficult. Our energy sapped, we stopped at a ravine to stock up with water and more calories. We had worked out that we were horrifically under-consuming food only taking in about 400-500 calories per day. We had planned to increase this but after our change of plans, food rations were a bit tight. We both found that day quite hard and I suspect food and dehydration played a major role. Despite our rationing, we had a big supper complete with an apple turnover and a cup of tea.
A well earned rest after a testing day- image author's own
We woke early and set off up an immediate climb where the sun was still below the level of the mountains, and such a beautiful sight when it did finally appear. Smoke from the wildfires lingered in the valley, giving an eerie feel to our morning, but we soon rose above the smoke after a significant climb up 'Jona's shoulder'. The final stage to the summit of this mountain gave two options- a long zigzag or a short but steep ascent- feeling strong, I opted for the latter. Near vertical in places, this path was exceptionally difficult in the muddy shale.
Nevertheless I made it to the top just a minute or two behind Stan. It was great to be out of the forests and back in the Mountains with the reward of far reaching vistas for all the hard work of the ascents. Stopping regularly for small snacks and water we made quick progress. At a junction we met two lovely ladies who we chatted with at length about the trail and what we had in store. My ankle was in quite a lot of pain but we decided to keep going in order to reduce the distance for the following day and also so we could have dinner with the aforementioned new friends.
We reached camp after a further 45 minutes and set up our tent out of camp as we had not booked a place in advance here. We had a lovely discussion with Karen and Diane- seasoned hikers who shared tips for the best bits still to explore. They heard we were running low on food and gave us so much extra (including cake which we decided to keep for my birthday!). They were such kind ladies and interestingly I felt completely at ease with them and not as anxious as I had previously. Perhaps because they were older ladies they gave off a maternal vibe, or because they had hiked so extensively, I knew they understood our journey better. Whatever the reason, we enjoyed a lovely evening with them and left with a bounty!
The smoky ascent up Jona's Shoulder- image author's own
After a warm night, and consequently an abundance of mozzies we started out along the Brazeau River. Expecting torrential rain from Diane's sat phone weather report, we donned our waterproofs at the first raindrops but this proved to be a big mistake with the upcoming climb! We were both feeling quite emotionally low despite absolutely smashing the physical side of things. This became such an issue that we nearly left the trail at Nigel's pass which was an easy 5km trek to the road. However, after some serious deliberation we decided to press on and were not rewarded for our decision as we turned the corner straight into a never ending boulder field. We downed walking poles and scrambled hands and feet over, round and under boulders. If it wasn't for how difficult we found this section to negotiate, I'm sure we might have turned back later in the day as our motivation continued to be low.
However, before long we approached Cataract Pass with staggering views of vertical rock faces, glaciers and mountain lakes. It was here we entered White Goat Wilderness and we signed the trail register at the summit. Either the smoky air or the dust we were kicking up with our footsteps, meant that the air tasted chalky- a very odd sensation.
The descent was difficult with no discernible path but some cairns to follow made it manageable. After several slips in the sharp scree, we reached the river in the base of the valley which we followed as our path was meant to. 5km of scrambling along the river's edge later, we found a path on the opposite side of the water which led to the camp. We set up camp beneath Mount Stewart on one side and a large glacier on the other and treated ourselves to a hot chocolate after a mentally testing day.
(Unsurprisingly there are no pictures from this day due to heavy rain and heavy moods!)