• Lara

Meeting The Devil on Sumas Mountain (Abbotsford)

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

Three times in my life, I have found myself struggling to breathe on the top of a mountain ridge in British Columbia in August.

The first time was 11 years ago when I trained for and completed the Emperor's Challenge half marathon in Tumbler Ridge. This epic challenge was done as a fundraiser for my father's medical expenses from an unexpected accident that left him as a quadriplegic for life. It was the hardest thing I had ever physically and emotionally done. I was left exhausted and contending with wind and ice as I crossed the summit. But I finished with a silver medal and enough money from donors to buy him specialized equipment.

The second year I ran the same race at a slower pace for myself. I was hoping to find a way to enjoy the journey and the run, and as recovery therapy from the first race. It wasn't as cold, I ran much slower, but it was still extremely grueling even with all my training. I finished with a bronze this time. So, needless to say, I had long since checked off mountain climbing from my bucket list. Been there. Done That. Literally got the T.Shirt. Check. My two medals were packed as my focal points during my labour with my first child years later.

However, on almost the exact anniversary date of my last two summit climbs (one day off), it seems the universe had other plans for me. A friend invited me on a (don't bring your kids) hike to Chadsey Lake in Abbotsford, with goals of swimming and lounging around in a hammock, overlooking a pristine lake, for most of the afternoon. I had no idea I was about to embark on another mountain range climb with no training, no breakfast, and a simple salad and granola bar packed for my lunch.

Mistake #1. Aside from the obvious mistake of not eating breakfast, I had parked my SUV at home and decided to take a smaller gas saving vehicle on this 2 hour drive to get to Sumas Mountain Regional Park. I realized this mistake when the road turned to gravel with potholes that left me swerving left and right across the deserted road trying to avoid hitting the bottom of the vehicle. It was foggy and perhaps a foreshadowing of the day that lay ahead.

Mistake #2. Although I had taken a quick look at the 20 degree weather expected for the city of Abbotsford that afternoon, I hadn't thought to check the forecast on the actual mountain. The thermostat on the car said 12 degrees when we finally parked. and I shuddered thinking of the thin tank top I was wearing beneath my equally thin wind breaker. I didn't need a wind breaker, I needed a PARKA!

Luckily I was able to dig up my husband's spring jacket from the back seat of the car and I thought that would suffice if I walked quickly enough. I had no idea just how much walking was in store for us.

We tried to drive to the upper parking lot and found the gate closed off. We were unsure why so we parked and walked up the road. We discovered the start of the trail was decommissioned and we had to walk back to our car and drive to the lower parking lot to begin the hike further away from the lake than we had expected. We joked that the letters on the rock were abbreviations for "Just 'Effing Run" We had no idea how true that would come to be.

The trail was rugged, and beautiful. Narrow walkways with boulders and roots exposed throughout the path made it feel like this was a well kept secret. We crossed wooded logs anchored together over flowing streams and waterfalls. I couldn't have designed this level of beauty if I tried. Recognizing that although I was armed with a container of bear spray, I did not have a bear bell. I improvised with a metal container of breath mints that I pulled out and began shaking intermittently for the next 6 hours of the day.

We made it to the lake after an effortful but not too exhausting trek. The water was clear and still as glass. I didn't hesitate to go for a swim. I restrained myself from swimming across it to an island.

Laying there, floating on my back with my eyes closed and the sounds of the world muted, I felt so at peace. The sun came in and out of clouds and I felt like I was living in my favorite movie "Their Eyes Were Watching God".

Mistake #3. I had hesitated to put my hair in the water while I was swimming because it takes forever to dry...but I couldn't help myself once I got into the lake. I paid the price for the rest of the day as the sun stayed behind clouds and left me with a chill I couldn't shake. I had packed a facecloth as my towel for the day and it hardly dried an arm before it became a useless and soggy ball I had to carry back.

After swinging on the ropes, laughing hysterical at so many of the experiences of the day, I strung up my hammock and enjoyed the view while eating the salad I had packed for lunch. I had definitely worked up an appetite! After lunch, I tried so hard to have a nap. I had even brought my eye patch to shut out the light so i could snooze. But, I was too cold and the mosquitoes were no longer feeling deterred by my repellent. I shivered in the hammock for as long a I could muster and then it was decided we should begin our journey back to the car. We stopped mid way to eat the last of our snacks on what was affectionately called "Pride Rock"- yes, we sang THE song and I held up my backpack as though it was baby Simba! The occasional hiking camper passed by armed with tents and sleeping bags in this "no camping allowed" park.

Right after this photo was taken is where the biggest mistake of them all was made.

Mistake #4. Failure to examine our route! As you can see from the yellow line below, we had a decent trek from the green pine tree icon to the lake. However, the blue line shows our detour and the extent to which we went off track. We were too far gone to turn around and come back by the time we noticed. So, we pushed forward down the mountain and looped back only to discover we had to ascend the mountain range again on a dirt bike path rather than a proper walking path.

There were signs for the bikers naming the runs and as we conquered the "World Cup" we didn't think it could get any worse. We were wrong. The last leg of the hike was basically a one way trail coming down by mountain bike...and we were attempting to go UP on foot. Crawling, or more accurately, clawing... we pulled ourselves up an unpleasant elevation and ended up adding 2 hours to our hike with this detour.