Note from the Author: All of the pictures in my post today, with the exception of the Pixabay snowshoe picture, are of the hike I was on courtesy of George Mach, an exceptional photographer and friend.
I went hiking in the mountains on Saturday. My friend invited me to hike Spreading Ridge on the Icefields Parkway, the majestic, mountainous road linking Lake Louise and Jasper. There would be seven of us. I was told to bring cleats and snowshoes, as there would still be snow. Temperatures would range from +5 °C at the bottom to -5 °C at the top. It was a two hour drive from Calgary and as we travelled North, the landscape looked gradually more wintery. I’ve never been a huge fan of winter, but in the last number of years, I’ve tried to embrace it more, as it’s an inescapable reality in Canada.
We met others, those travelling from Edmonton, at the trailhead. The sun was shining and the sky was blue, as we strapped on our snowshoes. My snowshoeing knowledge was minimal, as was my experience and this would be to my detriment. I had received a second-hand pair for Christmas and had tried them out once before on flat terrain with no major issues. Once we started going up, it was apparent that my shoes were too big. I couldn’t cinch the binding up tight enough around my foot. Consequently, my foot slid around in the binding and the shoes never seemed to land where I planted them. As the incline became steeper, there were numerous places where the shoes wouldn’t bite. The snow was too slushy and often I was walking in place for a few steps, before I could gain some traction. There was one very steep section where I couldn’t get up at all and someone suggested I take the snowshoes off and climb.
I started looking at the shoes of those in my company and noticed they were all the same and very different from my own. Their shoes were much more streamlined and compact with additional teeth running down both sides of each shoe, whereas my shoe only had the requisite cleats at the underside of the toe and down the foot to the heel. Their shoes also had a bar under the heel that they would flip up when they were going up and their heels would rest on that bar and push up against it. This bar was absent on my shoes.
I’m not a fast climber, no matter the conditions. I go slow and steady and I always make it to the top. Sometimes, I’m at the middle of the pack. Mostly, I’m the last one up. My friend tells me it’s not a race and I take him at his word and do my best and try not to worry that there are others far ahead of me. On this day, I was struggling, dragging these clunky, unwieldy snowshoes up a mountain, not even realizing that these shoes weren’t made for mountain climbing, but for flat ground. While I wrestled with my body and my snowshoes, I recited scripture in my mind over and over. It’s as much a mental game, as it is a physical one. I knew it would get ugly in there, if I didn’t program it myself. Every once in awhile negative thoughts would creep in; “Why do I like doing this?” or “Why is this so hard?” or “I’m never doing this again!” or a stray curse word would bounce around like the ball in a pinball machine.
By the time I reached the top, I was so fatigued, I didn’t think I’d be able to perform the easy scramble required to get there. I was worried about my balance and felt I might pitch over the side when trying to stand, I was that exhausted. My lady friends encouraged me and I was able to join the others for lunch with the most spectacular view, but I was quiet, all the while wondering if the nourishment would be enough to get me back down.
I thought the going down would be easier, but it wasn’t. I continued to slide around. I might as well have been drunk, lurching and careening. I spent more time on my backside or on my knees than my feet. I had so much snow down my pants, I was a walking snow cone. One of the guys stayed with me, encouraging me, which I’m very grateful for, but being that needy stings. I felt humiliated at my inability to do what everyone else was doing.
At one point, the people out in front lost the trail and we were forced out of the trees to traverse a steep slope. The guy in front did his best to make a path across the wet snow and the rest of us followed. At the halfway mark, my one shoe sunk in so far, I couldn’t see it anymore, nor could I pull it out. The rest had all made it safely and I was stuck. I tried digging it out, but to no avail. One of the ladies came back and tried, as well, and then left to get one of the men. My mind went to dark places involving plummeting to my death and/or dying of exposure on a mountain. My friend assures me these were crazy thoughts, but when one is exhausted and grappling with fear, the mind goes where it will. I was glad that in the past number of months, I’d read books and listened to seminars encouraging me to question my thoughts and feelings, especially the extreme ones. I called out to God for help. I attribute my ability to stay calm in that situation to the presence of Jesus. I’m so thankful I didn’t overreact in that moment. I was nearing the point of tears, but didn’t succumb. I reasoned that panicking wouldn’t improve my situation, but compound it. I worked at getting my shoe out of the binding, thinking that taking my weight off the snowshoe would solve my problem. By the time more help arrived, I had accomplished this and my friend and I were able to retrieve the buried shoe and get on with the hike. The others had recovered the trail and we were on our way again.
I’ve never been so happy to be done with a hike. I thanked God, as I removed my snowshoes and stepped on to the asphalt near our vehicles. The next day, I consulted the Google regarding snowshoes and finally understood why I had such a difficult time. It’s critical your snowshoes fit snugly no matter what type of land you’re travelling on. A snug fit enables the snowshoes to track straight without swaying, which is what I was experiencing. There are also three different types of snowshoes and one of them is designed to handle slippery, mountainous terrain. These were the shoes those in my cohort were wearing. It turns out that bar called a “heel lift” is a critical piece of a equipment. According to this article from Backpacker, which I encourage you to read, if you’re considering purchasing snowshoes of any kind, this bar, flipped up while ascending, places your foot “in a more natural, flat position while the shoe continues to grip the steeply angled incline. The lifts reduce Achilles tendon and calf strain and fatigue.”
I don’t regret going on this hike and I would do it again, but only with the proper equipment! It was beautiful and hard all at once and that’s life. I saw awesome sights that most people will only see in pictures. I got the most incredible work out and, thankfully, my body recovered quickly. I was able to maintain my composure and, hopefully, not sour the hike for the others and I was humbled by their kindness and patience. They met my need and blessed me. They reminded me that I can’t always do everything I want to do on my own, that I need help. Last, and most importantly, and this happens every single time, I was drawn closer to my Lord, in the toil and sweat, in the camaraderie and repose, in the beautiful ecstasy on the mountain.
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