Places to Be: Step One

I am not athletic. I can barely swim. If you asked me to do 10 push ups, we would be there a while. But I do love nature. I love big, huge, old-growth trees. I love the smell of fresh air, the sounds of birds and of the wind in the trees. I love setting out in a direction with the only stipulation being to get home before dinner. So, when I finally had a day off (only my second since the beginning of May!) I decided to head into the mountains.

This is not Places to Be: Exciting Expert Adventure Hike, this is Places to Be: Step One.

In true Natalie fashion, I waited until the day before to finalize my route and after a late night run to my (much more athletic) friend’s house to pick up a backpack, I was finally ready. My baby trail, as I affectionately called it, was Thunderbird Ridge on Dam Mountain, right beside Grouse Mountain.

I asked one of my friends about the trail, assuming he had done it before. He had, but only as a part of a “much bigger hike” and told he to take the BCMC trail instead of the Grouse Grind, but I had different plans; the Grouse Skyride. Again, I’m not athletic.

I started the day later than I wanted, but still early enough to miss the lunch crowd. Never having hiked seriously before, let alone hiked a damn mountain, (see what I did there) I got lost before I even hit the trailhead. It was also colder than I thought it would be. I was glad that I wore pants instead of the shorts I had planned on. The clear skies in Vancouver didn’t reach the North Shore and clouds wrapped around the mountains but I hoped it would clear up.

I started on Alpine Trail and after a few hiccups I was hitting my stride. I passed a couple I had started with and met up with a group and matched their pace for a while. We spilt when they turned onto Ridge Trail. My legs started to feel the burn and my lungs started to protest.

After about 25 minutes, I reached the junction for Thunderbird Ridge and the skies started to clear. 10 minutes later I reached my first ledge and I honestly thought it was the end of the hike. Overlooking Kennedy Lake, the view of Goat and Crown Mountains were unbelievable. No photo I took could do its beauty justice. But the path flattened out and continued, so I followed. I climbed up a rock lodge and enjoyed the outstanding view again. The path became narrow after this, winding around blunders and ponds but I wanted to finish the ridge. I wanted to get to the very edge of my baby trail.

Finally, after 15 minutes I reached the peak, if you could even call it that for such a flat ridge, and I was surprised to discover I wasn’t alone. That thought was quickly overtaken by the view before me. Mountains upon mountains. Blue, clear skies and picture perfect. Vancouver glistening in the sun to my right, Fromm Mountain in front of me. It was ridiculous. This is what the struggle up the mountain was for.

The elderly couple also there laughed at my amazement and invited me to join them for lunch. They had hiked more in the last year than I had ever in my life. After telling me stories of climbing Crown Mountain in their 60s, completing 10 hour hikes in Deep Cove and using crampons to climb ice walls, they turned their attention to me. My running shoes that had gotten me this far were terrible apparently; I needed to get hiking boots or at least hiking shoes. I was doing this hike solo; I should never do that, I must always bring someone who knew the trails, I had to join a hiking group. My route back to Grouse wasn’t any good; I should go up to Dam Mountain’s peak via Ridge Trail and loop around that way.

So I listened to them, as you do when someone has 60 years of hiking experience, and when I got back to the junction, instead of turning left, I turned right. When I reached the next junction, I toyed with the idea of heading up Goat Ridge to Little Goat Mountain, but the couple was right, my ankles were tired of hiking without support and my water supply was already half gone.

Ridge Trail was a lot harder than Alpine, especially for a beginner. I struggled. I was basically pulling myself up roots and rocks. After half an hour of very vertical hiking -- and wondering if the couple were actually killers living in the mountains -- I reached the peak. This one was a real peak. Slopes on every side and mountains surrounding me.

There I thought of the rest of my route I had ahead of me, of almost an hour of looking at nothing but my feet for fear I would slip on the loose rocks. There I was, standing on that rock, looking at the ocean on one side, nothing but peaks on the other, and I knew: this may have been my first real hike, but this wouldn’t be my last.