The trail is more of a route than a demarked trail, twisting through root-y trees, up over lichen covered boulders and down sheer sides, jutting sideways and over any place feet can safely be placed on this pre-Cambrian rock, among these northern trees. The trail is unserviced but marked by community members, mostly with tape, an occasional cairn.
Everyone who marked it used different tape — yellow and pink trail tape, green painter’s tape, occasionally, white and blue stripes. It’s the kind of trail where there is no just settling in and walking — after every marker, I have to lift my head and scan for the next marker. In the 9 km or so I walk (far further than the estimated distance, maybe because of all my back and forths looking for the trail!), there are maybe two straight stretches of 50 m or so, both of these on boulders where the path was scraped by glaciers eons ago.
I hike alone, tempering my nervousness about the barely-there trail, the lack of map, with the reassurance that the trail is mentioned on the official visitors’ site for Yellowknife. Just finding the starting point was a challenge, just a rough pullout off the highway about 23 km outside the city, the only sign that I’m in the right place a trailing pink piece of tape entering the forest. I’m not sure why I was so determined to do this particular trail instead of the flat prospectors’ trail in the territorial park closer to the city, but I only have one day here, and I’ve never been to the Canadian North before, and I want to feel inside it, feel its bones and spine, just a little bit.
The first part of the hike is sunny, and I’m completely present, my feet moving nimbly over the roots, my scrambling up the boulders as graceful as that can be. It’s not warm, and the geese feel it, honking in giant vees flying south overhead. Their trajectory is partly how I know I’m going in the right direction. They are the only noise I hear, and I’m completely alone on the trail, almost alone in the entire vast area I can see.
I come to a high point, flat boulders where I can see in every directions. Trees, rocks, small lakes, darkening sky. I meditate for a bit, bask quietly in the sun. Gratitude practice. When I stand up, I have the deep restfulness of waking after a good nap.
I walk and walk, just me and the rocks and the spindly trees and the clouds. One scramble up, and the lake the hike is named after. I sit on the edging rocks, eat an apple, look skeptically at the dark clouds that are appearing.
The only description I had of this trail called it a “hidden treasure” and a “6 km round trip trail.” Somehow I had it in my head that it was a loop, so I spend about 15 minutes looking for the alternative entry. I don’t find it, and as I start back the way I came, it starts to rain, first gently, then pouring. The boulders become slick as the lichen gets wet, and the trail tape gets less jaunty. I go off in the wrong direction several times, and at one point, lose track of the tape entirely. Good lord, I’m lost in the northern woods, I mutter out loud. Twice, I step into marsh I managed to bypass on the way out. But I stay calm, and I backtrack, and every time, I find the trail again.
Winding my way back is less full of wonder. It’s harder to find the markers in this direction for some reason, and the slippery rocks make me a little anxious. I try not to think about the story I heard recently about someone’s friend canoeing on her own who broke her arm on a portage and had to wait 3 days before someone came along who could help her get out. (Who just told me that story?). Mostly, I think about how a hiking trail , like everything else in the world, can be summed up in one terse sentence — unserviced 6 km round trip trail, beautiful view of small lake — but walking it requires step-by-step presence, is a whole world in every moment, a world filled with the honk of geese, the slick of rain, wet shoes, the focused scan for the next marker — and brief elation and relief when it’s spotted, giving way immediately to scanning for the next, endless sweep of trees and jutting rock, low heavy cloud, the distant sound of occasional cars, slight ache of foot, an unexpected deep sigh, fogged glasses, planting every footstep with caution and certainty. Here, now, where I find myself.