Extreme Blind Hiking 2016: Riding the Roots

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Extreme Blind Hiking

Today our hiking group, now called SPOG (Sun Peaks Outdoor Group) has grown to an email list of over a hundred. We regularly get 10–15 hikers out weekly. Today 13 of us decided to walk up the downhill mountain bike trails that will be used in the upcoming Canadian National Downhill Mountain Bike Championship. I thought we had worked out much of the language of hiking but we all learned a few new terms today doing this “extreme blind hiking.”

I was led by Susan, with each of us holding the ends of a horizontal white cane. This is now a tried and true method for me on a path with decent footing. But today the only secure footing was on the patio where, after our adventure, we sat in the sun and shared a much deserved-jug of beer.

We went up a run called “Honey Drop”. It is replete with very steep sections, twists and turns throughout the ascent. Some of the trail runs alongside the brook which is beautiful. The fragrance of the dampened forest waxed and waned as we gained and lost elevation. My team of mates talked to each other about the flowers and foliage they noticed opening to the sunshine as we hiked. They are knowledgeable about these things, I am not. But the benefit to me hearing their conversation is that it paints the tapestry of the day in my mind. The shadows and open spaces of light that I see then take on colour, detail and merge with the picture in my mind of the forest, boiling creek and our hiking group snaking through the trees. Last week a group was out on this trail and came down Sweet One.  One of our hikers put together a video of our hike that day.

The ascent also included roots, rocks, mud and wooden boardwalk structures…the ones that are about 3 feet wide with no sides. It is all good underfoot as long as you don’t drift off the side. I will refer to this type of structure in the upcoming trail bike-riding Blog. It was too steep on our way up for me to just have the cane. Susan had a pack with a good waist belt and chest belt secured. We held the white cane as usual and I held her waist strap so my hand could feel her hip flexion. This was important for height and depth of the steps we were taking over and around the obstacles.

Did you know uphill mud is slippery. Very slippery. So at one point Jim stood at a tree where he was stable and gave some of us his hand for leverage. This was much appreciated as the mud coincided with a very steep pitch dotted by gnarls of roots. Rennie was behind us and at times during our descent cupped my upper arm to lever me down a section. I am so lucky to have these strong folks around. I am strong and well balanced but without being able to see the pitch of what was coming up and what was underfoot I would not have had a chance of completing this hike successfully without this team. I came home with two ankles, two knees and the rest of myself intact. My right hand was stiff from holding onto Susan’s pack tighter than I thought I had been.

It took us almost 2 hours to get to the top of our hike.

Now came what we were to learn was the fun part. If you know the summer trails of Sun Peaks Resort, we descended on Keener and Root Dog. It was an hour and a half of tricky continuous descent. The key here was to bend the knees, lean back and not miss one of Susan’s calm, gentle directions. Read our earlier blogs to see how we have come down trails before.

Extreme Blind Hiking
Narrow Log Bridge

But this was nothing like we have done before. These trails were marked double blacks (most difficult) and posed great challenge. My position changes a little when coming down these very steep slopes. I held the cane tight to my left side as did Susan. I found this helped with lateral balance on these canted trails. Because of the steepness the waist band did not work. So I held the top of the pack and at times the padded strap. Despite my pushing and balancing against her she is part mountain goat and stayed upright. Great news for me.

Our footsteps were mirrored. It helps that both of us are a similar height and walk at a similar pace. I kept my stomach against the back of the pack for many parts of the descent. The words were “tiny shuffles” and this meant “we are going straight down: lean back, shuffle and we are moving quickly”. Then there was “jump”: this was what Susan would do when there was a drop in elevation along our shuffle section and no time to stop. As she jumped I leaned back and pivoted so I stepped. Not really sure how it worked but it did more than once. We used “skinny” to indicate “one foot in front of the other.” This was to get through rocks, roots and ditch obstacles. Anne was behind me and said “clear” when I was over, around or through a section. This is important as I can relax my vigilance.

Oh yes, then a totally new technique was done by Jim. On a very steep pitch where we did “tiny shuffle steps”, Jim went behind me and held onto the handle of my pack as the three of us descended. We called this the “Sea Anchor” technique. And there was the “Trailer Brake” which was Susan’s single hiking pole, which kept the three of us from tumbling forward and just descending as a mass of bodies. This worked out tremendously well, with me between the two mountain goats.

Extreme Blind Hiking
Root Amphitheatre

Another new term was “root riding”, but this was not on purpose, just a foot placement where I slid along a root to a place where my other foot stepped. I was not the only one in our group riding slippery roots! I know this because the surprised “Woo!” is similar across us all when our feet lose the ground and begin to slide like that. Just go with it. There is no time to even think about what is happening. The main thing is to keep moving and go in the direction you are going.

An important thing to say here is that don’t just try this one day out of the blue. We are all very active and as such fit. Even with a base of great fitness and cross training this type of hike is grueling and challenges the body and mind, me for concentration and my team for language and focus. Our round trip was almost 3 hours of constant movement. Water breaks were taken regularly but that was it.

Suffice it to say there are few pics from this hike. No time or opportunity to break out a camera and photograph. Too much going on.

If you like a challenge, have good ankle support and treaded hiking boots, and of course, an outstanding team of mates, I say give it a whirl. You’ll definitely need a wee afternoon nap as I did.

My guide Jayna that I’ve mentioned in other blogs ran up and down and around us all throughout the hike. She remains stretched out on her blanket on the couch. Knackered I believe the word would be for her.

Lots of fun and challenge. Sun Peaks remains a remarkable place to call home.