Click here to Read Skoki Part I: I’m Fucked, Aren’t I?
In retrospect, it should have been obvious to me that we’d be snowshoeing uphill.
I mean, I was aware we would be trekking through the Rocky Mountains, an area not exactly known for its wide expanses of flat terrain, and yet I was still somewhat shocked when we began our hike in and it was uphill. Very uphill. Uphill a lot and for a long time and then steeper uphill and more uphill and then the mother of all uphills just to really fuck with me.
I’m not even sure I was aware that snowshoes could go uphill, but I think that’s because I was envisioning those old wood tennis-racket looking things. In short, I had no fucking idea what I was getting myself into.
Here’s what happened.
On Thursday evening I drove up to Lake Louise and stayed at my friend Peter’s place. On Friday morning we loaded up, got some breakfast and then headed to the trailhead to begin the hike.
This was me twenty seconds after strapping a pair of snowshoes on for the first time in my entire life:
Oh Madeleine, you lovely fool.
And for fans of heavy-handed foreshadowing, this would be me four hours later:
Here’s something I realized after having what I can only explain as a panic attack about ten minutes into our journey: I am far more comfortable trusting my emotional strength than my physical strength. I’ve been through several intensely challenging emotional situations in the past few years and having gone through those, I have every confidence in my ability to survive pretty much anything.
But I’m not used to challenging myself physically. Because of my kidney condition, I really don’t trust my body to do what it needs to do. I’m not used to thinking of my body as strong and capable like I do my mind, my intelligence level, or my decision-making abilities.
And so, confronted by the next few hours which would rely almost exclusively on my physical self – my lungs and my legs and the finite amount of physical strength I possess – I started having a mild panic attack. We had passed into the woods by this point and were surrounded by trees and an unfamiliar silence broken only by the sound of our snowshoes.
It was beautiful, yes, but I was so far out of my comfort zone that I could barely speak.
Even though we were less than a kilometer from the ski run, I started to feel extremely panicked thinking about what lay ahead. My breaths were rapid and my legs felt week and I kept envisioning having some sort of kidney emergency in the middle of the wilderness and not being able to make it. I kept stopping and trying to take a deep breath but it felt like my lungs wouldn’t fill properly. At one point I felt like I was going to cry and I turned to Peter and said: “I don’t think I can do this.”
The main issue was fear. And this was something that once I was in, I was in. Committed. Even if I gave up and turned back, we’d still have to trek out the same way we’d come in! I was terrified of getting halfway there and not being able to go on.
Peter was incredibly patient. He gave great pep talks while I was freaking out, and each time we stopped he’d wait until I calmed down enough to press on again.
Eventually, I began to get out of my head and start looking around me enough to distract from the terrible what-if scenarious I had running through my mind. I began enjoying the stillness. Feeling my legs as they warmed up. Trying to regulate my breathing into an easy rhythm.
And guys, I fucking did it.
I snowshoed all over the goddamned place. Up narrow paths, through boulder patches, across frozen Ptarmigan Lake, and up the last steep summit called Deception Pass.
It had snowed 15 cm the night before we left and there was a thick layer of powder in some places and lifting those snowshoes was work. And, I’m not sure if you’ve seen my legs but I’m not what you’d call “thick”. One time a few years ago I was wearing a tulip skirt and my boss told me I looked like I was riding a chicken. So, by the time we reached Deception Pass maybe three and a half hours in, my legs were desperately trying to nope out of the whole situation.
My right hip flexor (?) hurt like hell and each time I lifted my leg I’d get this sharp current of pain radiating through my hip and down my thigh. And, as many of you predicted, my borrowed hiking boots had rubbed a huge patch of skin off the back of my heels (click here and swipe right for gross photo). So I mean, was doing it, but my body was not happy about it.
To my credit, I don’t think I ever whined per se and I definitely never cried, but I did stop pretty much every minute the entire way up that goddamn pass.
At the top, I just straight up collapsed.
I wanted desperately to nap. At that moment absolutely nothing in the world felt more appealing than a sweet snooze in the fluffy snow atop that mountain. But Peter, that jerk, made me keep going. I’m glad that we did, though, because an hour later we came around the corner to see this.
Look at that face. Have you ever seen a more happy, bewildered, relieved, grateful, dog-tired human being? It took us a total of 4.5 hours to get there and although I felt like I was really slowing us down, the other guests there all took around 4 hours, so I wasn’t quite as behind as I thought.
Now the hard part was over and all I had to do for the next day and a half was lounge around on daybeds, read books, chat with the other guests and eat delicious food.
Seriously, there was a chef (!) and the food was unreal, check it:
I don’t know how they were able to create such gorgeous, incredible meals with no eletricity or running water, but they put my meagre cooking efforts to shame.
That night I slept like a baby in a cabin reassuringly named “Wolverine”.
The next day I planned to be a complete slug, but some of the other (more experienced) guests suggested that given the state of my hip (I was hobbling around like an old lady and couldn’t lift my leg straight out in front of me) I might want to do a small hike to warm it up and stretch it out again.
So, I sorted out my blisters with band-aids and duct tape (the duct tape saved my feet – I am bringing it with me wherever I go from now on) and we went out for a 3k snowshoe out behind the lodge.
That day was so lovely and relaxed. Peter had brought his laptop so I could work on a talk I’m giving at a conference next Friday (more on this other terrifying endeavour soon) so after we got back from the mini-snowshoe-trip I worked on my presentation, then finished my book club book, and then busied myself eating my weight in cheese.
Here’s a 360 photo Peter took of the inside of the lodge (click and drag to rotate the view):
As it got closer and closer to evening, however, I began to dread trekking out again the next day. It was almost worse now that I knew what to expect and although the majority of it would be downhill, we would start the day going up the backside of Deception Pass and I was not looking forward to it in the slightest.
Luckily, I didn’t really have a choice, I mean…if you want to leave Skoki Lodge, that’s how you do it – chicken legs and shredded feet be damned. So, the next morning I taped up my feet, took two muscle relaxants and after a hearty breakfast we set off.
The weather had been overcast and snowy on our way in but Sunday morning was all blue skies and sunshine.
Up and up and up and up we went, following the tracks the other guests had made as they left ahead of us and stopping at every trail marker to rest a bit before carrying on.
And then, finally, once again we reached the top.
Here’s a 360 view of the top of the pass (just scroll around to change direction)
I was super impressed because I didn’t feel nearly as close to death this time, a miracle I credit entirely to the delightful combination of duct tape and muscle relaxants (they’re the real heroes of this story, I couldn’t have done it without them!)
We made the trip back in 3.5 hrs and my god was it easier leaving than it was coming in. We were positively racing along and it felt like a delightful walk in the park rather than a brutal four-and-a-half hour Stairmaster session. I actually enjoyed it! Who the hell am I?
All in all, it’s one of the most physically challenging things I’ve done in my life, but good lord am I glad I did it. (Meanwhile, Peter now plans to snowshoe there and back in one day, presumably just to fuck with my fragile self-esteem.)
And to close this post, I have to share my wondrous admiration for the ladies at Skoki Lodge who keep the place running. There is also Leo, the general manager, but by and large it’s these incredibly gorgeous Amazon women who are hauling water from the river, chopping wood for fires, cooking the aforementioned delicious meals, checking guests in and out, changing bed linens, and providing an unlimited supply of band-aids and duct tape to clueless city girls who didn’t even know that snowshoes could go uphill.
(They can also put together – and sing along to – a sick 90’s playlist. Best entertainment ever.)
Thank you, Skoki Lodge. I don’t know if I’ll be back again but I’ll always be so proud of myself for making it there in the first place.