Hiking in Jasper National Park during our two week camping trip when I was thirteen, was one of the many times we explored the natural wonders west of my hometown. Driving out past the source of the mighty Bow river, at Bow summit and heading past the Columbia Icefields, we stayed in a campground within walking distance of the Mietta hot springs.
Dad had a love of the natural hot pools, and we’d often stay close. Radium was our favorite, but even the trip up to Alaska, featured stays close to natural hot pools at Laird, and in Fairbanks. The sulphurous fumes were a small price to pay for the soothing relief it brought his arthritis, the closer he could get to the spot where water bubbled from the earth, the happier he was.
A soak in the silky mineral water after a long day hiking was a necessary treat. Muscles were never as sore the next day, although the relaxation was so deep, I often fell asleep on the trip back to the campsite afterward. Here the walk back to the tent was zombie like, a desperate series of steps, carefully strung together, until I could collapse on top of my bed; a six inch foam mattress. Sinking into it’s body molding comfort was pure bliss.
I digress, this hike, up to Amethyst Lake was ambitious. Seventeen miles round trip, Mom worried about my little sister being able to go the distance. She was only nine that summer. We would leave early, hoping to get the climb out of the way before lunch. Getting dressed in the tent trailer in the crisp damp air as the sun peeped over the side of the mountain, was always a fight to gain the promised warmth of clothes. Crawling out of the cocoon of comfort provided by my down sleeping bag to shiver, knowing I had to expose more skin to pull on jeans damp from dawn humidity, was sometimes the most difficult task of the day.
Dad was already out rebuilding the fire. I heard him splitting kindling, the axe biting into one of the logs he’d put under the tent trailer the night before. Similar noises crept in from other campsites as our neighbors started their days as well. The tangy spicy scent of pines and firs was intense. It would fade into the background as the morning progressed.
Next pressing problem, getting to the camp washrooms, at least in this one, there were showers and running water. We’d been to places where the stream gurgling beside our site was where you went to wash up before breakfast. Feet slipping and ankles threating to twist on uneven rocky creek sides, you crouched to dip icy water into your hands and splash it over your face. Let me tell you, if you weren’t awake before, there was no choice after.
When I got back for breakfast, Dad already had bacon sizzling in the heavy cast iron pan, and he had veggies sliced, ready to add. Mom had the red and white checkered plastic tablecloth on the picnic table, with four plates and glasses of milk for us kids poured. Coffee was perking in the old fashioned aluminum coffee maker on a corner of the grate spanning flickering flames. Boiling water shook it and you could hear the furious rattle over the crackle of burning wood. I always wondered why it didn’t vibrate it’s way onto the ground.
The smell of cooking food, the coffee and the acrid smoke from the fire brought an instant growl from my tummy. As always, the first meal of the day was best. Dad cracked eggs into the pan to scramble with ripe red tomatoes, and I detected the pungent scent of onions he’d managed to sneak in with green peppers and a few mushrooms. Five minutes later, we were eating, scooping the steaming mixture up with lightly toasted slices of rye bread. Mom didn’t allow white bread on the table.
My felt the rough texture of the plank I was sitting on through the thinning seat of my jeans. I’d managed to keep this well broken in pair, in spite of Mom’s frequent raids on my closet. She only learned the joy the soft supple comfort of worn denim when she gave in and got her own for the first time. The hot food I shoved in, took the last chill of getting up away, and I told Dad he made the best camp chef. He always did the cooking when lived outdoors.
As my sister and cleaned up the dishes, washing them in a small dishpan mom used to pack plates, cutlery and glasses in. Most things served double purposes, when it came to our gear. Mom put together sandwiches for lunch. After spreading a generous layer of pale yellow butter on each slice of bread, she squirted a bit of mustard onto her assembly line.
Always efficient, she had twelve slices of bread spread out on her cutting board. Thick slices of ham went down next, and generous slices of cheese came next. She slid them into Ziploc bags, well used ones at that. Nothing was ever thrown away until it was worn out. If plastic sandwich bags were still airtight, they were washed out and used again and again.
As we came out of the trailer, after stowing the dishes, Mom swatted at whisky jacks, bombarding her looking for free handouts. Their raucous calls brought attention to the food source they discovered, and more arrived in a flurry of wings. Dad smacked a log against the steel side of the firebox, and the ringing bong startled the birds for long enough to put the sandwich makings back into the cooler. The opportunistic pests scattered, moving to the neighbors, where the kids had pieces of bread ready to feed them.
We worked together stowing gear, the routine familiar. Knapsacks were packed, water bottles filled, and juice boxes were added to the outer pouches. Mom made sure her camera was loaded with film. Dad zipped the door of the tent trailer. No need to lock anything up, no one broke the trust between fellow nature enthusiasts. We were ready to go, time to drive to the trail head.