“Guys, we’re not gonna make it by sundown.”
That’s a problem, because the nine-hour drive is just the start of it. We were meant to leave at 5 a.m., but without pointing any fingers, let’s just say two of us were a bit behind schedule. Regardless, there was nothing we could do then except zip down the windy gravel road that would bring us to Bugaboo Provincial Park.
Tucked away in eastern BC, right before you get to Alberta, is Bugaboo Provincial Park. It's one of those gems that our trip-planner Ori insisted we had to do before the season closed. Any hope of finding signal was long gone and we were blankly staring at a badly-pixelated Google map that wasn’t updating.
It could have been worse. The clouds had started to put on a show just as we got our first glimpse of the parking lot and we praised the power of Google. High-up on the horizon, the sun had started to sink below the cusp of the mountains, and along with it, any hope we had of making the two-hour hike up to the campground.
As we rounded the corner, Leo’s hopes of seeing a bear materialized as we saw both a mother and cub, staring at us curiously before scurrying off into the bushes at the edge of the road. I’m just glad we brought the bear-spray.
We arrived at camp and made the best of the last light of day. Leo and Caroline would spend the first night in the car, while Ori and I would stick to the tent I brought. As I unpacked it, I discovered, much to my dismay, that I forgot to dry it out upon my return from a rain soaked weekend in Tofino.
There was not much we could do. Hoping the tent would dry and magically start to smell better as we cooked dinner, we started to plan out the next day.
We surrounded the car with chicken wire to prevent the porcupines from chewing through the car tires (this is not a joke), and weighted the wire down with an assortment of large stones. Heading to bed, we zipped the tent up just as the first drops of the storm started coming down. Time to put my 18-euro tent to the test! Once Zeus had finished his fun, we eventually drifted off into sleep, ready for the long day ahead of us.
The hike up to Conrad Kain hut wasn’t exceptionally long at around five kilometres, but throughout that distance, we experienced almost a kilometre of elevation gain. That also wasn’t too bad, but when you account for the fact that I am out of shape and was carrying a 60-pound pack, things start to add up.
The views certainly made it much better though, and we kept stopping only to take pictures. Only for that — no other reason.
The sun was beating down on us just enough to balance out the crisp mountain air rolling off the glacier as the pleasant fragrance of the last flowers of summer waft into our nostrils. It was very much a multi-sensory experience.
As the hike proceeded, it transformed into somewhat of a scramble, and we found ourselves climbing up ladders and straddling overhangs as we grasped on to metal chains. After an hour and a half, we spotted the teal roof of the Conrad Kain hut peeking through a curtain of fir.
Two women on their way down told us we were almost there, but a couple had told us the same thing 45 minutes earlier. We eventually arrived at the hut to find some picnic tables, trails and a nice patch of grass that I immediately made my home. We rested as we ate lunch and then began the hike up to the Applebee Dome campground.
After another hour of scrambling up a windy, rocky path, we finally arrived. This campground was like nothing I had ever seen and the excitement that started to fill us quickly becomes overwhelming. All I could think about is the scene where Rey is climbing to find Luke at the end of The Force Awakens, and my mind was going haywire.
We had been scrambling over jagged stones for the past hour and now, all of a sudden, we found ourselves surrounded by smooth, flat stones and grassy meadows. Oh, and we were 2,500 metres up, so there’s that too.
We started to set up our tents, still in awe of the beautiful scenery that surrounded us. It had been an exhausting journey but in that moment, we got to enjoy it. We boiled some water and made food, resting on gigantic boulders under the sun. As the day crawled on by, we tried to justify our will to stay still and do absolutely nothing, breathing in the mountain air as we gazed upon the sprawling landscape.
The sun started to set and my level of excitement started to rise. We were meant to have a storm tonight but by the looks of it, the forecast must have been off, as the sky was still pristinely clear. And to me, this was excellent news as it could mean only one thing — astrophotography!
There are many factors that go into having a good night for astrophotography — light pollution, time of the year (to see the galactic core), time of the month (for the size and therefore, brightness of the moon/darkness of the sky) and the amount of cloud cover in the sky (by far the most unpredictable factor there is).
As the clock turned, the sky progressively got darker until we were gazing up at a canvas of black ink sprinkled with millions of white dots. We set up our cameras and started shooting, and the results were nothing short of electrifying. We could see, with great definition, the entire galactic core slowly making its way across the sky.
The wind started to pick up and the temperature dropped, but nothing short of a thunderstorm could change our minds at this point. Leo decided to call it a night and headed off to bed, but Ori and I were dead-set on getting at least one photo near a lake we spied earlier.
Scrambling our way back along the trail, we found the small glacial lake once more and set up our cameras. The wind had really picked up and we found ourselves steadying our tripods with stones. The scene was incredible, but almost pitch-black to the naked eye. We could barely make out the shapes of the mountain amongst the star-studded sky.
Deciding that we had enough, we started going back towards the tent. We reached the campground, but got lost. It didn’t seem to make sense. Based on the positioning of the other tents, we should have been standing right where our tent was. To add to the confusion, our stove and supplies were still there, unmoved from where we left them.
Could somebody have stolen our tent?
We had only been gone for one hour, had nothing of value in the tent and it was 1 a.m. Where was it? We started probing around the darkness with our flashlights, our beams painting a temporary scene with brushes far too weak. As he walked along the edge of a cliff, Ori let out a cry.
Fearing that he might have hurt himself, I rushed over. Ori signaled his beam downwards and we both burst out laughing. One hundred metres below us, the bright orange tarp of our tent was reflecting light back at us. The gusts of wind we had felt while shooting at the lake managed to rip the tent from its bindings and carry it 200 metres away to its final resting place upon an isolated ledge on the precipice of a cliff.
“Great,” sighed Ori. “Well, there’s only one thing we can do now…”
We started to climb down the rock face towards our tent, inching with caution knowing full well that one slip could result in serious injury. Finally reaching the tent, we dismantled it while trying to figure out a way to bring it back up as safely as possible. We decided to go for the “hammock” method, each of us grabbing two ends with one hand, sticking the flashlights in our mouths and climbing with our free hand.
As you might have guessed, we made it back to the top, and eventually back to Vancouver, and decided that it was all worth it. We also made a note to set-up our tent more securely in the future.