115m Elevation Gain | 4.5km Hiked
Nitinat Lake has been a special place for my family for generations. As a baby, my grandpa would visit here on canoe trips with his parents and as my cousins and I often spent our summers here with our Grandma Logan. There is a special anticipation that grows from the moment you hit the gravel road until you turn into the shady, winding drive, and get the first cool breath of fresh air off the lake. It feels like we are returning not just to a place that we love, but also to all the memories that we’ve shared here over the years.
The lake sits just beyond a thin barrier of trees, just past the ancient cabin with moss growing on the roof, and beyond a beach that is constantly changing with each winter flood. The wind comes up at 11:30 am each morning like clockwork and we’ve all adopted Grandma’s tradition of having our morning coffee and tea while the lake is still as calm as glass.
We set out from Nitinat on Saturday for a day hike; thirteen of my cousins and aunties and three dogs in all. My family has been hiking on the West Coast for the last five generations and even though it was previously out of necessity, I can’t help but think that it’s in our blood to explore. My great-great grandparents and great-grandparents traveled by foot along the coast frequently to maintain telegraph and trap lines before they were charged with building the Lifesaving Trail (now known as the West Coast Trail). In more recent generations my Grandma Logan hiked the West Coast Trail with the majority of her children and grandchildren – and even, sometimes, alone.
From Grandma Logan, we learned about following water downhill if we were lost – “it will get you to the ocean and you’ll know where to go from there,” she would tell my cousins. She proved to us that a tarp or a sheet of plastic was all you needed for shelter as she would hike off in her gumboots with her (now) vintage external frame pack. My cousin Andrea recalled sleeping in a cave with Grandma during one particularly stormy trip, while my Aunty Sherry told a story about the having to scramble up a cliff when the tide came in on them. My mom told a story about hiking with Grandma during which she hollered back to the younger girls, “oh you can make it girls, we are going to have a happy hour when we get there!” And they did.
For our hike this weekend, we headed off to see the Three Sisters, a group of giant trees, in Carmanah Valley. This area, known for its incredible old growth forest and the size of some its feature trees, draws in visitors from all over the world. But I vividly recall hiking it with an unimpressed Grandma Logan as a kid – she would look up at the dizzyingly tall trees, shrug, and say, ‘I’ve seen bigger.’
The total hike was about 5 kilometers return and mostly flat other than the 20-minute hike uphill at the end. Boardwalks have been built for much of the trail, however, some have been twisted and smashed by falling trees. And while most of the trail is easy hiking, it can lull you into complacency and trip you up in the few sections where you need to pay attention to what your feet are doing. The trail winds along the Carmanah Creek which provided ample opportunity to stop for snacks and to let the dogs swim and the kids play. While we sat on the river bank, a few of my aunties and cousins asked me if this hike would count as one of my 40, to which I answered, “of course!” My goal of completing 40 hikes by next November (2019) isn’t simply about racking up elevation or setting a record for distance, it’s about much more than that. It's about reclaiming parts of myself that I've lost through illness over the last few years.
Being sick means being tired. Being tired means avoiding social situations. In the last few years, I’ve found the business of making small talk, raising my voice over music to be heard and even just staying up past 10 pm to be exhausting. There are days that the idea of meeting new people, which used to thrill me, is excruciating. And sometimes just finding the energy to leave the house so that I can spend more energy – not an easily renewable resource – is too much. So, it may seem strange that spending time camping and living communally with my huge family is something that I look forward to. While it may look like a never-ending wave of chaos filled with kids, dogs, and unending conversations to an outsider, to me it feels like pulling one of grandma’s threadbare blankets up to my chin while she tucks me in. While my family volleys a multitude of conversations like the professional talkers that they are I can participate or choose to just observe. I can rest while the noise around me escalates and erupts in laughter over and over. When I am exhausted and feeling my worst, this is the gift that my family gives me. I can belong without effort. Being able to laugh along with them without having to set up the joke or remember the punchline is a beautiful thing. I have been fortunate to find many friends in my life with whom I have this level of ease, but my family are the O.G.s who made me realize that this kind of relationship existed.
When we reached the Three Sisters, my cousin Nick looked up at them and said “oh, I thought they were going to be cedar trees. I don’t really like spruce trees.” And I know that Grandma Logan was smiling down on us at that moment, not only because she is the reason that Nick knows when to be impressed by a tree, but also because she would have been thrilled that we were all there together. And so was I.