On my journey to summit all the peaks on my Island Alpine Quest, I don’t often find time to hike a mountain more than once, but when I do, it’s because I’m hiking with my children. On October 27, I led a group of ten that included Hemingway and Octavia on a quick trip to Gemini Mountain in the Nanaimo Lakes area. It was a less than perfect day: cold wind made short work of our layers, cutting through our clothes to thoroughly chill us, but we took the chance to cross the saddle between the two peaks and scramble to the summit of the second bump.
My first visit to Gemini Mountain was on a bleak, blustery day, back in 2016. It was the type of day where we wore our jackets, gloves and toques, and by the end of the hike, our gloves were filled with icy water. Relative to that trip, this one was an improvement in almost every metric. But it was still frosty, and above 1300 metres we found ice on the tops of puddles– Hemingway took delight in smashing the ice with a hiking pole.
Total Distance: 5.7 km
Starting Elevation: 1138 m
Maximum Elevation: 1518 m
Total Elevation Gain: 626 m
Total Time: 5h 44m
We followed my original route up through the old-growth, and before too long we picked up a very lightly-booted route leading to the summit. I think Hemingway must be a fair-weather hiker, and he kept placing his cold hands into his pockets, so he lost his balance often over the steep and uneven terrain. In the end, as much to ensure his stability as to keep him warm, I held his hand as we walked. It’s a good thing I did, because in the first hour the moisture from the bush and low grasses had saturated his pants. Eventually, he got so owley that he stopped dead in the middle of some “naughty bush”, on a steep slope, and demanded that I help him put on his rain pants. There was nothing I could offer that would coax him to move a few meters higher to an open area.
We kept a leisurely pace; the kids made sure of that. But even so, we were on the summit of Gemini Mountain in about ninety minutes. There, we huddled in a protected hollow for a break. At first, the clouds obscured our view as they raced all around us. We ate patiently, and eventually, the clouds parted and the valley and second peak emerged from the mist. In my trip listing, I had indicated the trip to the second peak was conditional upon the purview of Hemingway and Octavia. The wind and cold weighed heavily on the decision, but the forecasted rain still seemed far off — so despite my better judgement, we carried on.
The path between the peaks is more well-booted than I remember. There are still several bushy sections, but we found our way with little need to examine my GPS/Map. At the base of the massif, we took the direct route to the summit, the scramble one route. Hemingway did an excellent job listening to my instructions, including grabbing rocks and pausing when needed, accepting my helping hand, and generally working to get the job done. At one point he was overcome with frustration, howling “I can’t do it!” I’m sure everyone heard his frustrated yelp echo up and down the mountain. After a few hugs and calming words, he refocused on the individual steps instead of the thirty metres of scrambling above. Of course, we made it over the bump, and then we stopped to acknowledge the accomplishment: stop, breathe, and recognize, “Yes, I did it!”.
Cresting over the top of the rock is where I call the end of the fun part of the trip. Although Hemingway amused himself by breaking the ice that covered the puddles we found, Octavia was starting to struggle. The wind cut straight through her layers of clothing. The jackets and sweaters protected her core, but her legs were left more exposed to the wind and cold. In fact, I imagine her discomfort was due to her core and head being too hot, while her feet and legs were too cold. Whatever the case, all my attempts to add more layers were met with shrieks of disdain– she’s a powerful screamer!
While I fussed to help her get comfortable, the other hikers did their best with Hemingway. At lunch, he had pulled off his boots because his feet were cold and wet. Rest assured, bare feet in the cold air didn’t help his situation. Hemingway must have been standing in a puddle because when I squeezed his socks, water ran out of them. Carole graciously gave him plastic bags and helped him wear them over his feet (a common trick that people from off Vancouver Island resort to; and an act that dredged up a near-forgotten memory of my mother, a Northern Albertan, doing the same with me as a child). The plastic wrap did the trick, as did the extra treats plied upon him. He loved being showered with attention, especially talking Carole’s ear off on the trip back to the car.
As for poor Octavia, I could console her only through song. We beat a hasty retreat to the vehicles with me singing almost the whole way, and the other members suffering through the crying and the singing. Let’s face it, I’m not a nightingale crooning a dozen different songs; oh no, Octavia repeatedly asked for “Bus” (just one stanza from Wheels on the Bus) and Zoo Zoom Zoom.
Despite the chilling experience, once they were back home with hot chocolate and in a warm bath, the kids told me they had fun. And, when Hemingway and I wrote in his hiking journal that night, he mostly had good things to discuss– except the naughty bush, and wet pants.
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