Waking up in Happy Camp, the weather hadn’t changed much overnight. Fog continued to blanket the landscape and a cold wind drove a lighter, but still present, rain. We were counting on this to improve once we got further along the Canadian side of the trail and were discussing our shared hope of better weather with another hiker when the park warden stepped out of her cabin and promptly crushed our dreams.
“Forecast shows rain all the way to Whitehorse,” she said, only the slightest bit of pity in her voice. A row of disappointed faces stared back at her.
I’d later learn that this warden had worked on the Chilkoot Trail for 35 years. She had most likely given the same news to thousands of hikers and spent countless days in this miserable weather herself. Which would explain why she didn’t seem to feel as sorry for us as we felt for ourselves.
We wasted no time that morning.
There was no boiling water for oatmeal or leisurely coffees. We filled our water bottles and broke camp in record time. I put on my still-wet boots and shoved an energy bar in my pocket to eat on the way.
We were getting the f**k out of Happy Camp.
Having been forced to put on wet clothes, we felt cold and soggy right from the start. The only bright spot was the promise of downhill sections. After crossing the Chilkoot Pass the day prior, we were looking forward to avoiding any steep ascents. But shortly after leaving Happy Camp, we started…climbing.
What the hell?! I thought we were supposed to be going DOWN, not up!
Apparently those tiny little bumps in the trail profile map, which had seemed so insignificant in the comfort of my own home, translated to actual hills in the real world. And although they were nothing compared to what we had done the day before, climbing even the slightest incline was not how our tired legs wanted to start the day.
In the rush to get out of Happy Camp, Mark had shoved most of the wet gear and clothes into his bag. With everything being water-logged from the day before, his pack weighed an extra 10 pounds, or more. In hindsight, we should have split this up, but we had followed our regular routine – clothes in his bag, food in mine – which left him lugging around a much heavier pack than usual.
I could tell early on that Mark was suffering under the extra weight in his pack. Unlike me, he’s not usually one to complain. So when he briefly mentioned how sore his feet and shoulders were, I knew it must be bad. I offered to take some of the clothes from his bag and put them in mine but he refused, claiming he didn’t want to stop and waste time unpacking and repacking the bags. I could tell he just wanted to get this day over with as quickly as possible.
Where anxiety and pride had failed to motivate me in the days prior, concern for Mark did the trick. In uphill sections, where I’d normally stop to catch my breath or let the burning in my legs pass, I pushed through as hard as I could. Where the trail was narrow and steep, instead of slowing to a snail’s pace as usual, I tried to ignore the sharp drop offs and keep up my speed. When I did have to stop, I made my breaks as short as possible, trying not to add any extra time onto the day. Mark had gotten me through the day before, now it was my turn to try and help him in any way I could. Even if all that meant was to keep my ass moving.
When we reached Lindeman Lake I suggested we stay the night there. I knew that last 5km would feel like forever and I could tell it was getting harder by the minute for Mark to keep going. But he insisted we continue on to Bare Loon Lake. Since it was cold and cloudy and windy at Lindeman we had no other incentive to stay there. And so, we pushed on.
There was, of course, a steep climb up and out of the campsite but after that the trail flattened out a bit. The fog cleared more and more as we went on and the wind seemed to let up ever so slightly. We were finally able to see the landscape in all its glory, no longer obstructed by rain and fog.
We arrived at Bare Loon Lake just after noon and were the first ones there. Mark picked out a waterfront campsite and we happily dropped our bags with a resounding thud on the tent platform. And that’s when mother nature rewarded us for all our hard work.
Defying the warden’s forecast, the wind had died down to a light breeze and it felt much warmer here than at any other point on the trail that day. The clouds started to break up and tiny patches of blue sky appeared. It felt like forever since we had seen the sun and oh how sweet it was when it finally came out again.
And then we got to work. I set up the tent, propped it upside down against a rock, and hung the rain fly and ground sheet from a tree. Mark constructed a clothes line and we hung up every. single. thing. from our bags to dry. I pulled the insoles from our boots and set them out in the sun. I was almost giddy with excitement at the idea of being dry and warm. Such simple things, that I would take for granted on any other day, had suddenly become a source of absolute joy.
All our worldly possessions, hung out to dry.
Since no one else was around, I changed my clothes and had my baby-wipe shower out in the open instead of inside the small, dark, smelly outhouses like I had done for the past 3 days. Abandoning the baby wipes altogether, Mark jumped right into the lake to rinse off. I dipped my toes in the cold water but refused to jump in. I was fully committed to the idea of staying warm and dry.
It was such a great afternoon. With the weather allowing us to be out in the open air, I used one of our sleeping pads as a yoga mat and stretched my aching muscles. I sat out on a rock beside the lake, soaking up the sun, taking in the views, and listening to the loons while I wrote in my journal. It’s amazing the difference one day and a few miles can make.
The view from my makeshift yoga mat.
As the afternoon wore on, the clouds rolled in again and a few raindrops began to fall, though nothing like the rain we had experienced the night before. Nearly everything we had hung up had plenty of time to dry, which not only meant we’d have dry boots and clothes for the next day but that Mark wouldn’t have to lug that extra weight with him anymore.
It was a perfect last night on the trail and I was so glad we decided to go on to Bare Loon. The Chilkoot Trail, which had pushed me to my mental and physical limits for the past two days, was starting to win me over once again.
Day 4 Trail Stats:
Date: August 12, 2016
Trail Section: Happy Camp to Bare Loon Lake
Total Distance: 13.7 km/8.5 miles
Total Time: 6 hrs; 6:10 am to 12:15 pm
Read about Day 5 here.
Plan your own Chilkoot Trail hike with my how-to guide!