We start our morning early. The route we took backpacking to Mount Assiniboine was difficult enough: we have little hope that the other half of our planned loop back to Aurora Creek and the trailhead will be any shorter or easier. Again, we are both nervous as we get ready to cross through this area. Yesterday’s bear sightings do not bode well for the bear-free day I want to have.
A Long Road Down
From the top of Wonder Pass, we drop down towards Marvel Lake.
The switchbacks here are steep and frequent. Unfortunately, my knees are aching, and I can see clumps of dirt torn up and bear scat littering the trail. I have goosebumps – do I sense a bear?
We shift gears and walk at “bear evasion speed” and turn up the Bluetooth speaker. For obvious reasons, I want off these switchbacks as fast as possible.
Near the bottom of Wonder Pass, we reach the junction to the Marvel Pass Trail. I am hungry and thirsty, but the prospect of stopping for lunch near a bear (again) forces my legs forward. An hour later, I give in to my hunger, and we stop for lunch. An eerie feeling is a constant companion.
We stop for about 15 minutes when I finally say: “Let’s pack up and get out of here, something doesn’t feel right.”
Craig has a similar instinct, and we pack up. No sooner do I shoulder my pack when from a switchback somewhere above, I hear the telltale warning from another hiker: “Bear! Bear!”
Hurriedly, I sprint down the switchbacks without looking behind. Craig and I yell back and forth to each other on the way down. A helicopter crosses overhead, and I groan inside. If the bear is running down the switchback behind us, then the helicopter is herding it toward us!
The trail levels out, and we continue sprinting down the path, leaping across fallen logs and boulders along the way. Suddenly, I am stopped short by a large creek which flows from Gloria Lake into Marvel Lake.
A slack rope and a slippery log are there to assist the crossing, but they are positioned upstream of a sweeper logjam. The water is fast and deep. A fall here is risky.
Luckily, I memorized the map earlier today. “This creek runs into Marvel lake. Downstream, there is likely to be a shallow peninsula where the creek runs into the lake. I’ll hike that way and see if there is a better crossing.” Craig seems relieved; he doesn’t care for this crossing anymore than I do.
Just downstream from the risky log crossing, I find a much safer spot to cross. Consequently, my fear instincts settle down. So I take my pack off and take my boots off and prepare for an uncomplicated crossing with no risk of drowning.
The Other Side
Once on the other side of the Creek, I find myself in what feels like a fairy wonderland. Moss, mushrooms, and rocks look like they conceal fairy villages in little nooks.
“There and Back Again”
The West Fork of the Marvel Pass Trail (where we are hiking now) is much different than the low-lying marsh beds in the East Fork, where we hiked on the way into Mount Assiniboine a few days ago. Instead, the West Fork follows forest floors and dry creek beds up to Marvel Pass. Also, there are even fewer trail markers on the West Fork. Often, all that guides my way are aged cut lines and the occasional boot print from a solo backpacker who had crossed through recently.
By mid-afternoon, I am settled into “trudge mode,” and very little piques my interest along the way.
We pass Aurora Lake without a backward glance. Late afternoon was well upon us, and we are certain that we have at least 15 km (9 mi) ahead of us. We have already traveled 22 km (14 mi) today.
Pinnacle of Marvel Pass Backpacking Trail
After several hours of hyper-vigilant trekking, we reach the epicenter of Marvel Mountain and the tri-branched passes which offer inspiring views. Although cloudy and obscured in a mist on our trip towards Assiniboine a few days ago, Marvel Pass is open and clear with sunlight edging its peaks today.
Every direction offers a new view; my fatigue is washed away in the shadow of Marvel Mountain. I desire to explore this alpine meadow.
Although we still have several miles to go, I reluctantly leave the beautiful pass behind me and struggle through the increasingly dark forest. Predictably, the sun drops deeply behind the peaks, and the light is beginning to fail.
Failing light forces me to hike much faster than my muscles like. Also, fresh bear signs make me uncomfortably aware of sounds in the forest.
Unfortunately, hiking the last couple of miles to the truck is like walking on a razor’s edge.
I know about those warning signs that I had seen coming in on Marvel Pass Trail. Also, the scat and tracks I see now are new and large. Within 6 km (4 mi) of the truck, Craig yells, “Bear!”
We back off, grabbing for bear deterrents.
Craig fires off a bear banger. An exceptionally large male grizzly crashes through the trees with awkward grace. He breaks through to a meadow in the opposite direction of us.
The grizzly wants less to do with us than we want to do with him (is that possible?). Thankfully, within moments, we can hear him crashing far enough away that we begin to sprint down the trail in the opposite direction while talking as loudly as possible. If the bear circles back, we do not want to be anywhere near where he saw us last. However, we can’t keep up the fast pace for long; we have already put too many miles on our feet, and exhaustion and fatigue slow us both down.
When we reach the Aurora Creek Road, we slow to a moderately fast walking pace and glance in all directions with paranoia. Then, thirty minutes later we arrive at the truck. I have never been so happy to get back to my vehicle at the end of a hike. In what may have been record-setting time, I wash, change clothes, load gear, get into the truck and slam the door with finality behind me.
A summary of this trip is challenging to describe. Do I start with the need to be prepared for encounters with wildlife? Perhaps the importance of having a backup of the most important supplies? Or perhaps the value of kindness on the trail? I could talk about the crucial skill of never outsmarting your common sense on safety decisions.
But this is Backpacking Light, and I do feel compelled to consider what unique aspects came out of this trip as a result of going light.
So within the context of lightweight backpacking, going light made this trip possible in two important ways:
First, in spite a few minor snags, I had everything I needed throughout the journey. I did lose my lighter, but I had enough matches to get me through. When Craig injured his knee, I had the tensor bandage he needed. When the map got lost, I had another copy on my camera’s memory card. Carrying a light pack still allowed us to complete the trip in relative comfort and safety.
Second, as I look back on the Marvel Pass Trail, I would say that most crucial point is this: I would not have been able to push as hard as I did for 114 km (71 mi) in four days if my pack was not pared down to lightweight essentials. At no point on my trip to Mount Assiniboine did my back feel sore or my feet hurt. Even after 37 km (23 mi) on the last day, I knew I could have easily hiked another 10 km (6 mi) – maybe more – if required. Not only was I able to push my mileage, but I was also able to push my hiking speed for extended periods of time.
Notes on Gear Lists
- Of all my weight numbers, I’m happiest with my Group Gear (weight < 2.7 kg / 6 lb per person). The Group Gear encompasses my shelter, cooking, repair equipment, first aid, navigation and emergency supplies for two people.
- Part of going light is also being able to participate in hobbies and maintain enthusiasm and physical engagement (less fatigue!) while backpacking. To that end:
- I carry some extra first aid supplies and items that contribute to my overall physical comfort;
- I carry a relatively heavy camera, but using it to capture images is an important part of my enjoyment; On many occasions, I have left my camera behind to save weight, or I was pushing speed and time but lost some memorable moments and shots in the process. This summer I had a different goal, I reminded myself to look around and spend time taking photos because “I will not pass this way again.” If I wasn’t intentional about savings weight in other areas, I might not have the option to bring my heavier camera gear.
- On first glance, my other weight numbers are less than impressive (in the context of what you might consider as “state of the art” in ultralight backpacking); however, when you subtract out photography equipment and items which were not in my pack the numbers seem much less daunting.
As you review my gear lists, consider your needs: what would you do if your gear weighed less, and what items would you enjoy more if you brought them?
Note: all numbers are rounded up the nearest half ounce, and all weights are rounded heavier than actual.
|Item||Weight||Notes on Field Use|
|Nemo Equipment Blaze 2P Tent||2 lbs, 5 oz (1.1 kg)||product in review|
|Woods Cypress Kettle||9.1 oz (258 g)|
|First Aid Kit||9.9 oz ( 281g)|
|Repair Kit||7.6 oz ( 216 g)|
|MSR Pocket Rocket||2.9 oz (82.2 g)|
|Silva Ranger Compass||2.3 oz (65.2 g)|
|Banff - Mount Assiniboine Map||3.6 oz (103 g)|
|SOL Mylar Blanket||11.3oz (320g)||custom cut for Nemo Equipment Blaze 2P Tent|
|Outdoor Tech Buckshot 2.0||3.8 oz (108 g)||product in review|
|Tru Flare Bear Bangers||.4 oz (12 g) x8||consumable
used 6 of 8 bangers
*Emylene’s Portion of Group Gear: 2 lbs 11 oz (903 g)
|Item||Weight||Notes on Field Use|
|Osprey Aura AG 50 L XS||3 lbs 3 oz (1.4kg)||Removed brain
Actual volume available: 43 liters
|Medium Exped Downmat UL 7||1 lbs 6 oz (623.7 g)|
|Enlightened Equipment Prodigy||26.50 oz (751.2 g)|
|Platypus 1.8 Liter Big Zip Hydration System||5.4 oz (153.1 g)|
|Carbon Water Flavour Filter||0.1 oz (2.8 g)|
|2 Mini Carabiners||0.3 oz (8.5 g)|
|Spork||0.3 oz (8.5 g)|
|Black Diamond Spot Headlamp||3.3 oz (93.6 g)|
|Black Diamond Women's Ultra Mountain FL Z-Poles 110 cm||9.5 oz (269.3 g)||single pole only
|Cactus Creek Nylon 225g Bear Spray Holster||1.4 oz (39g)|
|Tru Flare Bear Banger Launcher||1.3 oz (37g)|
|Frontiersman Bear Spray 1% 225g Canister||7.9 oz (225g)||consumable|
|Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II||16.5 oz (469 g)||includes batteries|
|Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO Lens||13.5 oz (382g)|
|Joby Gorillapod||1.6 oz (45.4 g)|
|Apple iPhone 6||4.6 oz (129 g)|
|FRĒ for iPhone 6/6s Case||1.2 oz (35 g)|
*Emylene’s total gear: 10 lbs 2 oz. (4 kg 899g)
*Actual carried weight in pack: 9lbs. 8oz. (4 kg 309 g)
*Actual carried weight in pack minus camera equipment: 6lbs. 10 oz. (3 kg 61 oz.)
|Item||Weight||Notes on Field Use|
|Woman's Zamberlan Voiz GT Gore-Tex Backpacking Boots and Prescription Insoles||3 lbs 4 oz (1.4 kg)||not carried|
|Outdoor Research Women's Verglas Gaiters||6.5 oz (184.3 g)||not carried|
|Merino WrightSocks||2 oz (56.7 g)||not carried|
|2 Pairs of WrightSocks||2.2 oz (62.6 g)|
|MEC Watchtower Pants||8.3 oz (253.3 g)|
|MEC Hydrofoil Rain Pants||9.3 oz (263.7 g)|
|Colghan's Mesh Pants||1.6 oz (45 g)||product in review|
|Purple Rain Adventure Skirt||4.3 oz (121 g)||product in review
|IceBreaker Siren Bikini||1.10 oz (31 g)||not carried|
|Seg’ments Merino Wool Base Layer||4.8 oz (136.1 g)||not carried|
|Smart Wool Bra||2.9 oz (82.2 g)||product in review
|MEC Women's Hydrofoil Jacket||10.7 oz (302g)|
|MEC Uplink Vest||7.9 oz (224g)|
|Liner Gloves||0.8 oz (22.7 g)|
|Silk Scarf||1.8 oz (51 g)|
*Emylene’s layers: 11 lbs (5 kg)
*Actual carried weight in pack: 2 lbs 8 oz (1 kg 134 g)
*Emylene’s actual total carried weight minus camera equipment: 11lbs 13 oz (5 kg 352 oz)