OR “When To Pull the Plug on Adventure”

We recently had a beautiful, snowless cold-snap here in the valley. For a few weeks, the temperature rarely rose above freezing and we were treated to bluebird skies and blinding sun. On one of these days, I decided to head out onto the Forbidden Plateau trails for a run. This is an area that we have explored often (especially B) and which feels incredibly remote although it is only minutes from town. Although I know my way around some trails, I find the many ridges and creek drainages a bit confusing and do not yet have a reliable mental map of the area.

Having a work-free afternoon, I decided to head out and try to run B’s “short loop”. This is a 10km mountainous loop which takes about an hour and a half to complete. We have run it together before but B has always led the way. I figured that the only way to truly learn the route was by leading or going it alone.

The first 7 km were uneventful and familiar. I have run the Comox Lake Bluffs many times and love the occasional views of the lake and glacier.

From Comox Bluffs looking west over Comox Lake

From Comox Bluffs looking west over Comox Lake

After crossing the Comox Main Logging Road, I headed up Boston Tea Party, Goat Head and Dust Witch trails, all of which were mostly familiar but there were some sections of smooth, exposed rocks where the worn trail faded and could have gone in a number of directions. Luckily, heavy use by mountain bikers made route-finding easy, but I occasionally wondered if I had left B’s Loop. Popping out onto a clear-cut area or a logging road spur jogged my memory and I discovered that I was exactly where I wanted to be.

As I climbed up towards the height of land, the Boston Ridge, I came upon a familiar ATV track and merrily cruised along the ridgeline. In the back of my mind, I knew that B would never stick to a wide track when there were so many exciting single track routes nearby. I slowed my pace and peered down each trail option, trying to spy some familiar landmark. I found a named trail heading down off the ATV track – Easy Rider – and decided to take it, knowing that it was not part of B’s Loop. The fact that this trail had a sign posted and that it headed down off the ridge gave me enough confidence.

Easy Rider is a mis-nomer. This trail drops severely off the ridge and had me scrambling down with four points of contact through rocky outcrops and washed-out trail. Somehow it didn’t feel right. I am always wary of losing so much elevation so quickly, knowing the effort required if I had to hike back up. So when I came to another trail junction with a sign – Back Door – and I decided to take it. This was my error.

Back Door took me on a long circuitous route, through more unfamiliar sections and had me guessing at my direction. I seemed to be heading generally West, which I knew was the wrong way. I was also no longer heading only down, but I was climbing and dropping erratically.

Suddenly I had that Frodo-feeling, “I have been here before”. Back Door had spat me out on Easy Rider again. But now my confidence in my route-finding was gone. The -4° C temperature was starting to chill me. The sun, although still visible, was almost below the mountains. I had been out for just about two hours. I took out my smartphone and tried to pull up the route map from our previous run but just then my battery died. All signs were telling me to smarten up. I decided that I did not want to be the next Search and Rescue story. I did not want my photo on the front page of the local paper with the caption “She Was Only Wearing Running Shoes!”. I would not disgrace my ultra-running friends with such nonsense.

In deciding to pull the plug on my adventure, I had to retrace my steps. Just as I had feared, I had to climb all the way back up the steep trail to the ATV track on the ridgeline, which had the benefit of warming me up. Once there, I followed the ATV trail back to where I had joined it earlier and decided to continue along it, hoping that it would take me back to the main logging road, which it did. As I chugged along the gravel road back towards my car, I felt enormous relief. All had turned out just fine.

Looking back, I see that my confusion only lasted about 8 minutes. I still had more than an hour of functional light in my favour. My GPS track, before the battery died, shows that I was only 200m away from rejoining the end section of B’s Loop. If I had stayed on Easy Rider, I would have ended up exactly where I intended. Having just re-run the route with B yesterday, I clearly see where I was and where I needed to be. I can see that I was not in trouble.

But at the time, I recognized that I had reached the limit of my comfort zone for solo adventure. I am glad that I chose the cautious path.