I’ve been back at home for a couple of days keeping a low profile, slightly embarrassed and processing my failed attempt at reaching the absolutely stunning Berg Lake this past week. I didn’t quite make it and called it quits at Whitehorn before the grueling 5 KM trek up to Emperor Falls. Tears streaming down my face, my body beaten up from the trail, bruised, blistered, heat rash, chafing in places I never thought would chafe, ugly bruised toes, and soaking wet from the cold downpour as I crossed the suspension bridge and made my way into the shelter at the camp to refuel with a late lunch and contemplate our next move for the day.
In the moment, failure feels like the worst. It was hard to accept, and a huge disappointment to call it quits after just 11 km in and planning this trip for nearly a year! (Especially as this was Josh and I’s 10 year wedding anniversary trip.) But I was mentally and physically exhausted. I pushed myself as far out of my comfort zone as I could, and hit my mental breaking point. I could not go on any further. (Even thinking about getting back to the trailhead seemed like an impossible challenge I was not ready for – and it was almost all downhill!) To add more salt to the failure wound, I wanted to create a video of our trip, which unfortunately did not happen. Time was a very precious thing along the trail and night set in FAST. I had to prioritize distance covered over footage shot.
About an hour earlier (while I was hitting my mental breaking point), we had met a lovely couple who was heading home early. They were cold, soaked, and wanted to go home. They generously offered up their tent pad for us to use as they knew if we were as mentally and physically exhausted as we were at this moment, the next few kilometers were going to be near impossible. (In the moment I was a bit thrown aback by their honesty, but definitely appreciated it after the fact.) This was THE BEST form of trail magic that could have happened to us, and I will be forever grateful for this couple and their wonderful random act of kindness. (I was sure to pass on as much trail magic to others as I could, to pay it forward and keep the magic alive) I felt super guilty staying in a camp we weren’t registered at, but knew that this was the only option we had. Night was coming up fast (and the cloud cover didn’t help), we finished eating, grabbed some water from the river, set up our tent, played a game of cards and was fast asleep by 8:00 PM.
As we were setting up camp, we discussed what our options would be for the next day. We could either continue up to Berg Lake, or call it a trip and head back home. We were both leaning towards heading back home, but it wasn’t confirmed until I took my socks off to see the damage of my feet from hiking for nearly eight hours, and when I woke up in the middle of the night with a major cramp in my thigh and my ankle in tremendous pain (from rolling it several times throughout the day). There was no way I was going to be able to hike up to the lake and come back down without wanting to throw my pack off a cliff. We needed to accept defeat and head home. I felt a bit better the next day as I was chatting with an ultra-marathoner who had also called it quits where we did, as she knew what lie ahead and did not want to attempt it again (and she didn’t even have a backpack!)
Heading back to the Jeep on our second day was hard, but I think hiking during the marathon helped. Spirits were super high on the trail and we cheered on everyone that ran past us. (Some of the ultra-runners were cheering us on as well. We had a tonne of respect for what they were doing, and they respected us and what we were doing a tonne as well) We decided to take the Kinney Flats and bypass the many PUDS (pointless ups and downs) that there were between the bridges and Kinney Lake. Initially, we took the wrong trail to cross the flats and ended up on the other side of a small, but raging river. Contemplating taking off our boots, socks, and hiking up our pants to cross it I knew it was going to be a bad idea. We couldn’t tell how deep it was, and I knew the second I touched the icy cold water that my leg was going to cramp up again, so we decided to backtrack and head back to the bridges and find the trail leading down into the Flats. This was the right way, and while we had to backtrack – we still saved some time! It was a relief to get to the Kinney Lake shelter. We stopped and ate some food to fuel up for our next seven kilometers. There wasn’t many uphills left, and we only had about two and a half hours to go!
So why did I fail?
I definitely underestimated the trail and overestimated my capabilities. In all the trip reports, blogs and maps – no one mentioned the PUDS on the first half of the hike. EVERY SINGLE hike we had been on previously did not have any PUDS, and the distance became MUCH further than intended. 11 km turned into 18.5 km, and it tired us out rather quickly. Hiking a day hike at Elk Island National Park (relatively flat), up Wilcox Pass (steady incline), or Troll Falls (minimal incline) is A LOT different than hiking the Berg Lake Trail. And I knew that, but didn’t know HOW different it was going to be. I thought it would be a bit more like the Wilcox Pass hike where you steadily climb the mountain.
I did not train enough. I briefly touched on why on my last blog post. Essentially due to the bug bite situation from last year, training was pretty much non-existent. I am also not the best at keeping a routine training schedule… Something I need to work on this coming year.
I was not mentally prepared. I didn’t think how much a hike like this requires of a person mentally. There are moments where you want to quit, but need to dig deep to find that little sliver of determination and willpower to make your next step, to turn that one step into 10 steps, and to one kilometer. It is really tough to let your mind know that yes, you CAN do this when you have hit that wall and can’t find a way to break through it.
I used to hate failure, and I’ve played it safe most of my life by choosing not to do something I knew I would fail at. But at the end of the day – even if you failed, you got further than by not trying. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is where we learn, grow, and experience new things. Without pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I might have turned around sooner, or maybe I would not have gone on this hike at all… I pushed past hills I thought were going to be impossible, I pushed through the pain in my feet, and I crossed bridges I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do. And although I did push myself a little further out of my comfort zone than I would have liked to, I now know that I am capable of doing things I never thought were possible. I can sit here and mope about how I much I feel that I suck at backpacking, or I could choose to learn from it. I know what I did wrong (and right), so that the next time I attempt a backpacking trip I will be more prepared for what lies ahead.
So despite everything, I still hiked 36.5 km over two days (according to the FitBit) with a heavy backpack. This was my first backpacking trip, my longest hike, and even though I cried a few times over failing, I am still proud of my achievement regardless of completion or failure!
More information about the Berg Lake Trail can be found on the BC Parks website.
*Please leave no trace when enjoying the outdoors!
*When photographing wildlife, please keep your distance. (Parks Canada recommends 30 meters from large animals and 100 meters from bears.) Never bait, call, crowd, chase, or capture an animal to get a photo.