Hooked on the Feeling (And the Tang)

Where do I even start? So much has happened in the last 12 days. I decided to go on this trip because I love the outdoors, I love the feeling of being fully surrounded and engulfed in the nature and world around me. From the beginning on my family backpacking trips to Algonquin Provincial Park in the Ontario Backcountry, I was hooked on the feeling. The adrenaline rush that came with being off the grid in the middle of nowhere. The feeling of accomplishment after completing part of the trek. The breathtaking views from the campsites. It had been quite some time since I was able to experience these things but since going on this trek, I am indeed hooked on the feeling. A feeling like no other.

We left early in the morning from the Hanifl Centre on May 14th and had a long 7 hour bus ride up to our drop off point. We did not do any hiking that day but rather just set up camp in one of the locals fields, with permission of course. Those fields would then become apple orchards if I am correct. There were small trees planted in a couple different areas. We set up camp and then proceeded to make dinner. We had our nightly debrief and then after hanging out, talking for some time, and watching the stars we headed to bed. The next few days somewhat have collided together for me but one of the first villages we reached was Bhitri. It was my first time communicating with some of the locals and I remember G, one of our guides, giving me phrases in order to ask one of the girls who was maybe a little younger than me, where the temple was in the village. I managed to get a little bit of direction and our group headed off towards the temple. We had to ask a few other villagers on our way to make sure we were going in the right direction. Once we reached the temple, there was also a town hall of sorts where we were allowed to gather and place our belongings. We met there and had our first Hindi lesson: Hindi 101. We learned a couple key phrases in order to be able to greet and communicate a bit with any local villagers we ran into. After getting some water and snacks, we gathered again and continued out of the village on our trek. We continued a bit farther until we stopped for a break on the outskirts of another village where we talked to a women who offered us to stay in the field right by us. We ended up setting up camp there for the night and the next morning set off for the forest above us.

This was one of the longer days and pretty challenging for me. In high school as a competitive swimmer, I would often be swimming pretty hard sets and at a certain point had to deal with Muscular Costochondritis, which is just a fancy name for inflammation of the cartilage in your chest that connects your ribs to your sternum. I had not had this type of chest pain in a really long time but with the elevation and the physical exertion of the trek that day, I was struggling a bit. I could feel my chest tightening and it becoming harder to breath, especially since we were ascending most of the day. I knew I would be okay, I just had to push through and thats what I did. But what really helped me to get through the portion of the trek that day was everyone else around me. We took lots of breaks in beautiful places in the forest and every time I seemed to be struggling, there was someone who was giving words of support or cheering me and others on. We would hike in two groups of 7 (because there were 12 of us and 2 guides, Vipul and G) and so I was in the second group that day and when we approached the first group who was resting, I was a little behind in the back but I saw Chris cheering me on and it was just little things like that that made me feel better. Especially the three girls who I have become especially close with, Anita, Hannah, and Ally. They were all in my group that day and I am so grateful because they really had my back. When we reached the next campsite it was so worth it. It was a large field surrounded by the beautiful forest. We quickly set up camp and were starting to set up dinner when a HUGE herd of sheep came running down the hill. It was such a crazy scene. We later had chai and shared it with the Shepard as well. The next day was a rest day at that campsite which was much needed and we had some self reflection time as well as individual meetings with the guides. The next morning we set off yet again and continued on our trek.

Pictured above: The sheep !!

The next couple days did not get any easier thats for sure. We were ascending fast in elevation and I could definitely feel it in my lungs. One challenge thrown at us, many many times, was the weather. This is something that is expected in the backcountry but is always an unknown. We knew there would be back weather but you can never know exactly what to expect. Well, as we were hiking to one of our next campsites (although campsites were not designated, we just had to figure out the best place to camp for the night) it began to pour. It was windy and raining very hard as we had reached an open area on top of the mountain. We took some shelter under the couple of trees nearby but it was not much help. We ended up setting up the tarp under the trees as we waited for the second group to arrive. Once they did we decided to continue on in the rain and look for a campsite. It was muddy, wet, and cold but we hiked through it with high hopes for a place to camp soon. We eventually walked up over a bit of a hill beside the trail to find a small place that was okay to camp at. We began to set up our tents in the rain and get the campsite ready. Eventually the rain cleared and the clouds dissipated as they usually do and it opened up to be a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. There was one problem though, we realized there was no real water source nearby. But the team came together and quickly began to gather snow from the nearby hillside. We had to dig down a bit to get to the cleaner snow, but once we did we brought back as much as we could at a time and began to melt it on the stoves for water. We worked on this for about and hour or two before we had enough water for all of us. It wasn’t the best campsite but we made it work.

The next day we headed for the snow covered ridge. I knew there would be snow and that we would be trekking through it but I don’t think I was prepared for what awaited us. We began hiking across the ridge and there was a lot of snow, a lot of snow. At certain points it was almost 2 to 3 feet deep and we would stick our trekking poles down to stabilize ourselves and they would go straight down deep into the snow. We trekked as a group of 14 that day along with two others (who were also guides checking out the route for the group they were planning on taking following our trek) Raju and his fellow guide. the first several people who were in the front of the group had the job of kicking in the snow to create foot places for everyone to place their own feet. The mountainside was very very steep and along with the snow it made it very dangerous to cross. One misstep or slip and you may very well be sliding down the mountain side several hundred feet ending up running into a plant, tree, or off the cliffside. If we did fall or slip we were instructed to remain calm and stick our trekking pole into the snow on the side of the mountain with both hands and hang on. I would like to say that I am not scared of most things but in this moment, while crossing the snow I was scared and it was really hard to not let my thoughts get the best of me.

But once we got to the other side off the snow, which took us hours to cross. I felt really good. Well not physically, I was exhausted but I felt accomplished. Like I did something really impressive. It was a good feeling and crossing that snow was definitely one of the craziest things I have ever done in my life. It was an adrenaline rush for sure and an experience I will never forget.

Following the snow we had a rest day which was really nice and the views from that campsite were amazing (pictured below).

After this campsite we began to descend and ended up at a very very large field which I call the campsite between the two pines because there were two distinct pine trees which were very large that stood at the bottom of the field. We also had another rest day here which was really nice. Although, this is the day I started to miss home a bit. I had time to think and self reflect and I thought of home and my family and friends but I knew I’d see them soon. That is another challenging part of being in the backcountry. Missing your friends, family, and your home because there is really no way to contact them while you are away.

After the rest day, we headed down even further into one of the two villages below us, called Phitari. This was one of my favorite experiences on the trek by far. It was a really good day. When we reached the village we were greeted by a group of school boys running up to us. A lot of them spoke some English which made it easier for us to communicate with them but we also spoke some of the Hindi we knew to them as well. They led us into town and to the area by the school where they were playing cricket. Both Chris and Mitch joined in on the game and it was a great time. We also were able to see one of the village’s celebrations and ceremony’s while we were there and it was a really interesting experience. The ceremony was one that G explained to us where they call their ancestors to the village. We spent a couple hours in the village and then continued on our trek to our last campsite which was at the point where the Supin river flowed into another. We reached there and I felt a huge relief. It was so pretty by the two rivers and hearing them and the constant noise of the water was a really cool experience.

All these different feelings that I felt along the trek were really like no other and I wouldn’t change anything about it. There were a lot of challenges but we overcame them together and had a really great time. I am definitely hooked on the feeling of trekking in the backcountry and I forever will be.