By Kim Gray
When you’re enjoying a hike in the woods or scrambling up a mountain trail, do you ever pause to consider who made it possible for you to be there in the first place?
Not likely, unless you’ve built nature trails yourself and understand the effort involved.
Here’s a shout-out to the all-female crew behind a new alpine trail that was recently completed in the Canadian Rockies near Island Lake Lodge in Fernie, B.C.
Playfully called Goldilocks (because it was built entirely by women and it guides people high into the Three Bears mountain peaks), this wild flower-rich addition to the area’s network of trails offers up impressive views of the Lizard Range that were previously accessible only by cat skiers.
We recently chatted with Island Lake Lodge employees and trail builders Brenda Wright, Megan Kelly, Marie-Hélène Jodoin and Vickie Vanderpyl about how this unique day hike — a five hour round trip from the lodge and ideal for advanced hikers — came about.
Q. Goldilocks is a picturesque 2.5-kilometre loop extension located off the area’s popular Spineback Trail. What did you have to consider before building it?
Marie-Hélène Jodoin: We walked a few times up and down where we thought the trail should go, then laid out flags to see possible routes. We looked at the grade of the trail, potential hazards, natural erosion, where the water flows and, of course, we thought about the views. After this, we could start building. We hiked up to the new trail head with tools we thought we’d need — including a hand saw, pry-bar and Pulaski — keeping in mind we’d be working with rocks, dirt, grassy slopes and steep terrain.
Q. Were there any challenges you faced as an all-female trail-building crew?
Vickie Vanderpyl: Trail crews are full of burly, muscular males because of the type of work required on a trail. Being a female crew, we just had to create ways to simulate strength with the tools we had on hand. Sometimes, we used all four of us to move a rock into place. The motto we employed once or twice was “Work smarter, not harder!” We’re a pretty strong crew, though. Fear us in an arm or leg wrestle!
Q. Were there benefits to being exclusively women?
Megan Kelly: Our team was strong and supportive. We complemented each other’s strengths incredibly well. I was good at picking lines and grunt work, and the other ladies were good with finishing details and patience. I was so proud the day the trail was completed. Not only did four women create a beautiful and fun alpine hiking trail but we did it every day with lots of laughs, smiles and amazing team work.
Q. What was the biggest challenge for you, personally, during the construction of Goldilocks?
Marie Hélène Jodoin: Hiking the Spineback Trail (a seven-kilometre return hike with a 530-metre elevation gain) to access Goldilocks (which has an additional elevation gain of 210 metres). We hiked the Spineback three to four times a week during the build, while we were carrying heavy backpacks filled with three litres of water, lots of food and extra layers before starting a full day of digging and moving rocks. Let’s say we got to know the Spineback Trail by heart and by the end of it, we were in really good physical shape. Luckily, seeing progress every day gave us the energy to keep going. This, plus Brenda quoting famous expressions like “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or “A change is as good as a rest.”
Q. Can you describe what the Goldilocks Trail experience is like?
Vickie Vanderpyl: First, you hike up the Spineback. When you get to the top and want to turn around, that’s where Goldilocks starts. You climb through the first rock garden and before you know it, you have reached Upper Non-Stop and WOW, what a view! Let’s sit and have lunch. Now it’s time to lose all that elevation you just gained. Feels like a nice break. Then back up again? What’s this? Oh, wait, look at the view now! Baby Bear and Mama Bear have never looked so close and so beautiful. And you can see the lodge below. It’s so small! Need more photos. Then, back down we go. Can’t believe there are stairs here! Finally, dirt. We made it back to the Spineback Trail, our homestretch. Let’s go for a beer!
Q. Once the trail was complete and, as you’ve said, all the “blood, sweat and almost tears” were behind you, what were your thoughts?
Brenda Wright: It’s been a dream of mine for many years to share this piece of paradise with folks who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access such a powerful place in nature. The views are magic and the feeling you get looking down the Lizard Range electrifies the soul. You might see a goat family who lives here or grizzlies perched up on the ridge backlit by the sunshine. Goldilocks is essentially a rock stairway through heaven. So, for me, when we were done, it was the feeling of dreams do come true.
Note from editor: This post is the result of an arm’s-length editorial collaboration with Island Lake Lodge. The operation did not review or edit the story before publication.
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