A few weeks ago I was fishing for walleye off of my dad’s dock. It was getting late in the evening and I was curious to try out fishing in the dark, I had heard that due to a walleye’s excellent vision they are more of a night predator. I did catch a decent walleye on a bright white rubber fish, but I feel I must test this theory further. The entire time I was absolutely swarmed by mosquitoes… as can be expected at that time of day. It got me thinking of possibly my worst experience with mosquitoes and quite possibly my worst experience in hiking. It was back in 2012 when Erin and I decided to try back country camping, we bought a tent and two small mummy style bags, and headed to Jasper. My brother drove us there as he had a fancy new truck and felt like seeing the sights, he opted not to join us on our hike… in hind sight that was a smart move.
We departed from Edmonton early in the morning with all of our gear and headed directly to the tourist information office in Jasper, that’s usually a good first stop. Erin and I asked about hiking trails and overnight camping while Kyle inquired about the local sights. After much deliberation it was decided that Erin and I would set off that day to do the “Saturday Night Lake Loop” which is considered one of the easiest overnight hikes in the park (I recently found out it also doubles as a mountain bike trail, though I haven’t been back since this trip). While we would hike and camp, Kyle decided he didn’t feel like camping alone, so we suggested the local hostel. I’ve been a fan of hostels since my New Zealand trip, they just sort of force you to interact with people who are generally in a good mood from traveling and sight seeing. We drove to the hostel and took a short tour, my well dressed clean cut brother, in a brand new truck didn’t exactly fit in and I honestly think that played a role in his decision not to stay there. We offered to help him find other lodging but he said he would be fine and dropped us off at the trail head. We planned to call him the next day, toward the end of our hike, so he knew when to pick us up.
We began our hike full of ambition, excitement, wonder, and I was also a bit nervous. We found ourselves on what I think was an old logging road along side a sizable lake.
Toward the end of the well traveled gravel road, just before it turned into a trail we saw an adorable black bear. I was quick to whip out the bear spray (Quick PSA! Always carry bear spray!). Lucky for us, the bear, and my nerves, the bear kept its distance, looked at us, and with little thought or concern walked away and carried on with its life, I like to think it lived happily ever after.
As the trail went on, I started to realize a few things: we were hiking in a valley, it was spring time, and it was an especially wet spring. The mosquitoes were starting to get more and more frequent. After much casual chatting, swatting, repellent spraying, and scenery enjoyment we side tracked off of the trail up a few switch backs to our campsite.
We set up camp in our stall as fast as we could, since the mosquitoes were even worse there. We then went out into the more open dining area, which had fewer of the blood thirsty insects, and began prepping dinner. On the menu we had canned stew heated to perfection on a mini camp stove, with a side of soda crackers. There was one other couple camping there, we exchanged greetings, but other than that they weren’t too chatty.
After dinner I washed the dishes in a clear mountain stream, which I think is pretty awesome, to me it always feels like a throwback to the pioneer days when I do stuff like that. We then walked and looked out at the small lake. It was pretty, but the shoreline was muddy and the mosquitoes made it hard to stick around.
Then we went to bed and attempted to sleep. We had purchased two mummy style bags which could be zipped together, what we had never been told is that while they’re zipped together, if one person moves it creates a vacuum that pulls cold air in between the two people. Calling me a fidgety sleeper is a bit of an understatement. Calling me an unpopular tent partner that night is also an understatement. At this point in our hiking careers we had yet to buy any form of sleep mats, so there we were, cold and uncomfortable on the hard ground.
After dropping Erin and I off at the trail head, Kyle, in a rather James Bond kind of way, walked into one of the higher end hotels Jasper had to offer. He asked the going last minute rate of an empty room then offered them that for the suite and it worked. He hauled his things in, went to a pub for dinner and to watch some TV. He then retired to his suite and soaked in the Jacuzzi tub, he would later remark that his only complaint was that the tub was almost “too hot.” I however think he may have just said that to bug me.
The next morning came and I awoke to a loud hum that resembled electricity travelling through wires. It didn’t take me long to realize it was a swarm of mosquitoes, I was concerned they intended to haul us away, tent and all. We packed up as much as we could inside the tent and got dressed lying down, for fear of exposing ourselves to mosquitoes… and fellow campers. Erin went off to make us some oatmeal for breakfast, and I tore down the tent as fast as I could. We enjoyed breakfast and I decided to use the toiled before we headed off. This would prove to be an unfortunate time to need a washroom. As I approached the toiled the mosquitoes got more frequent and the hum got louder. I saw the toiled and remembered the lady at the tourist center trying to explain to me that they dont have outhouses or porta-pottys they have “green thrones” which well, looks like a throne. Imagine a three or four steps leading up a to a platform with a toiled seat on top. The toiled seat was somewhat enclosed in a semi circle that only ran about half way up my back. It was about as open air as you could get while still technically using a toilet. It was the perfect place for mosquitoes to ambush me… and did they ever. Lets just say I had bites in the tender areas and was really starting to not enjoy the hike.
We set off and the mosquitoes were unbearable, hands down the worst I have ever seen. They were so bad they effected visibility. We walked along beautiful log bridges and passed amazing waterfalls, at top speed to avoid those darn bugs.
We only stopped at the tops of hills where we could feel a breeze and only for long enough to catch our breath and re apply as much mosquito spray as possible. I remember my shoe coming untied at the bottom of a hill right beside a nice infested swamp, I stopped went down and inhaled no less than four mosquitoes. I was also introduced to the pleasures of a mosquito bite on the edge of my lip, kinda like a bite on the knuckle but worse. We kept walking and swatting and my patience was running low. Finally and embarrassingly… I cracked. I had what Erin and I call a “temper mantrum” I remember throwing off my pack to grab some water and going on a rant along the lines of “THIS BACKPACKING IS HORRIBLE, YOU CAN JUST KEEP THIS TENT AND USE IT WITH YOUR FRIENDS OR WHATEVER, BUT I’M JUST NOT INTERESTED IN DOING IT AGAIN” Erin now finds it funny but at the time I think she was about ready to crack too. I put my pack back on and we continued.
We eventually found our way to higher and windier ground which caused the mosquitoes to disperse and suddenly the trail became much more pleasant. We rounded a corner and in the distance I saw something tan in colour jump into the woods. From where I was standing it appeared high in a tree, I panicked as my mind immediate thought “Cougar!” I grabbed the bear spray and pondered just how good my reflexes actually were. As we walked closer I felt very silly, the trail went up a steep hill and what I had actually seen was a beautiful bull elk jumping from the trail up a small berm. I kept the bear spray out and decided to see how close I could get. I got to withing about 40 yards and snapped some pictures before it eventually got annoyed with me and left.
We were getting near the end of the trail so I pulled out my phone to call Kyle, only to discover that the battery was dead. I must have bumped the power button and turned it on in my pack. Luckily for me, Erin’s phone still worked and I had submitted Kyle’s number to memory. No answer, I tried a few more times, with no luck. We eventually walked out into the parking lot to see Kyle there, he was simply amazed at his timing.
He explained that his phone had met with his temper when it was failing to work. I saw the “smart” phone in the back of his truck and it appeared to be folded in half (he seems to go through a lot of phones). So he ended up calling my phone from a pay phone, which ended up not working since my phone was dead, maybe this phone trouble is a family thing. In the end he just guessed what time we would be there and as luck would have it, he only waited about ten minutes for us to show up.
It was undoubtedly the worst hike I’ve ever been on, based slightly on the poor sleeping conditions and overwhelmingly on the mosquito infestation. I now really enjoy back country camping, and I would even do the Saturday Night Lake Loop again… if it was during a drought.
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