The Ridge

I’d been wanting to walk it for nearly four years.

In a land of gorgeous mountains, rarely-trodden trails and magnificent vistas, The Ridge stands out as a place of unique beauty, something close to alpine perfection.

It is bordered on the west by a blue, blue lake, hundreds of feet deep, and to the east by squatting ice-covered giants.

It’s length comprises 13 miles of rolling alpine valleys that take you past ice-encrusted peaks, pale turquoise tarns, vibrant green meadows and endless magnificent slopes of talus and rock.

Since we first began taking guests into the alpine, we have often headed for the southern end of The Ridge, giving them just a taste of its magnificence and awe-inspiring beauty.

With the fitter and keener we have sometimes climbed a scree slope to enjoy the first of its many panoramic views.

But to walk the whole ridge requires a more vigorous effort. According to a rare guide book that details its course, you need to budget two to four days to walk its length.

The time required means backpacking. Laden with sleeping bags, tents, food, spare socks, cooking equipment and a host of other gear means carrying a 40lb pack.

I had already decided back in the spring that this would a year of exploration.

Living in one of the most beautiful but least-known corners of The New World it was time to fill in some of the blanks on the map, to get to know my own backyard.

Surveying my potbelly and atrophied winter muscles after months of easy living, I determined to get into the shape that I would need to be in if I were to venture beyond the limits of the world I knew.

When I first puffed around the garden when the snow was melting in April both Kristin and the dogs stated at me in disbelief. After half a mile or so I gave up and headed inside to be greeted by gentle mockery.

But as the weeks went by I slowly increased the distance I was running. I invested in some fancy running shoes and a pair of sleek black shorts.

By May I was donning my shiny new gear three or four times a week and trudging up to an hour at a time. On one fine day I even managed a half-marathon, though nearly keeled over in the process.

It was just as well as this year we added a holiday of alpine hiking to our offerings. The guests that took us up on the offer were often fit, sleek and eager to go.

In our first year here I remember being walked off my feet in the mountains by a 75-year-old, who kept turning towards me and bawling: “Come on young man, can’t you go any faster?”

This year I was determined not to be humiliated in the same way. And I managed, just. Anthony and Jane, who came in late July, were fearsome hikers, but kind enough not to dump me by the wayside.

Lisa, who arrived from North Carolina with her delightful boyfriend Jim with more than 30 marathons under her belt and a 50 mile ultra run was also too polite to pass me on the trail.

By the time late August came, then, I was confident that The Ridge, that beautiful beast that had intimidated me for so long, was finally within my grasp.

I wasn’t exactly Olympic material but my skinny legs were shaping up and my heart no longer felt as if it would explode inside me on steep inclines.

The plan was to hike The Ridge to see whether it might be suitable for an overnight hike with guests. If it proved a winner we would work it in to next year’s holiday schedule.

And so, last weekend, with Forest, one of our two fantastic guides, and Karu, the bigger and less intelligent of our two German Shepherds, I set off early.

It was a glorious day. Up in the high country, the snow had gently blanketed the ground and the sun was shining off the clouds in the valleys. Life felt so good I wanted to sing.

Once I hoisted the backpack onto my shoulders and began to climb the first steep hill all my exuberance faded. Forest, annoyingly, was out of sight in less than a minute.

Even though he was carrying the same weight as me (I had measured the packs to make sure we were equally handicapped before setting out) he seemed to have a secret fire in his sinewy legs.

As for me, I was struggling. Charging through an alpine meadow with a daypack on or running around the garden with only an iPod for weight was one thing.

Lugging what felt like a dead horse up a one in two incline was quite another.

Karu the dog, meanwhile, was yelping and squeaking with uncontrolled excitement. This was the land of the hoary marmot and alpine pika, two small mammals he was dying to get his teeth into.

As I struggled up the first hill I knew that even if we took the short route we still had 13 miles to go. Some of it was flat and easy but there were also some brutal hills to climb.

By mid morning it was clear that Forest was not going to let me slacken the pace. Although we had brought our overnight gear, we had already covered one quarter of the trail. By lunchtime we were nearly halfway.

And so, as the sun slowly moved across the sky, I reluctantly agreed to walk the entire ridge that day. I would have paid serious money to avoid the task, but there was no way I was wimping out in front of one of my guides.

Six hours later, my shoulders feeling as if Attila the Hun had ridden his army over them, and my legs buckling erratically, we descended that last scree slope towards home.

We had walked the trail, laden like pack-horses, in just under seven hours. Infuriatingly, Forest still had a spring in his step.

The good news is that The Ridge proved to be everything we hoped it would be. Stunning and remote, it is a gorgeous piece of the alpine, surely one of British Columbia’s finest.

Although we were walking on a weekend in August, the only people we met all day was a small group of locals on horses.

So for next summer we will be offering our returning guests the option of walking The Ridge with us.

To make it nice and comfortable we will take two days over the journey instead of one and pack in all the cooking and camping supplies ahead of time to save having to carry them.

The bad news was that far from using the day we had saved for a well-earned rest, goaded on by Forest, I was off on another trail the very next morning.

That day involved bush-whacking through an overgrown forest, getting stuck on the side of small cliff, legs all a-jittery, and a partial dunking in the river. But that’s another story.

Click here to see more photos of our journey along the ridge, or here if you are interested in our summer holidays for next year.

One Response to The Ridge

  • Kitrina says:

    What a great story Julius! A backpacking trip might just get Alan and I back up there (not that it would take much, other than time, to get back up there.) Lovely thinking about Forest, please say hello to him and Jillian for us. (And Kristen of course.)

    -Kit