April 1st is the first day of the North Shore Bagger Challenge. It's also April Fools day.
I trust Environment Canada. So 'round about 11:00 last night when Conroy calls me to see if I am into earning some first bagging bragging rights, I consulted the most reliable weather website I know of before opting-in. I truly didn't suspect that Environment Canada would say it was going to be warm and sunny if it wasn't going to be warm and sunny.
It was cold, pissing rain and there was absolutely no hope of catching the promised rays when I called Conroy around 8:00 the next morning in an attempt to weasel out of our date. We hemmed and hawed over the relative merits of bragging rights versus pneumonia for about 15 minutes before opting to throw caution to the wind. I couldn't blame Conroy for taking 10 minutes to dress, pack and hit the road... after all, he did work until about 2:30 am. However, the fact that we were slow out of the gate meant that we missed the 9:00 ferry to Bowen Island by about 10 nanoseconds and had to wait a precious hour. I guess if there is a silver lining to that cloud, it is that we had time to find free 3-hour parking, thereby avoiding a brutal fleecing at the pay lot.
The 20-minute ferry ride to Bowen was uneventful. We couldn't see much through the driving rain and a thick blanket of fog shrouded the island. Conroy noted that he forgot his gloves. As we exited the ferry, we became aware of the fact that there would be two ferries more, then a 3 hour pause in service. That meant we had all of two (2) hours to complete our run or risk getting the car towed. This was disturbing news, as the estimated time to the peak of Gardner and back was 2.5 to 3 hours. It was in this awkward frame of mind that we set off running backwards into the rain, hoping to hitch a ride up to the trail-head of the Gardner Hardner.
Lady Luck was with us! A nice lady stopped and took us to the trail-head, thereby saving us 15-20 minutes. With Conroy in the lead, we hammered up the Skid Road trail. Within 10 minutes we were bushwhacking. "No, Ryan, we should not take this opportunity to guess where the trail might be. I have a meeting this afternoon!", I half-muttered as we doubled-back. Following the red-painted tin can lids on the trees, we raced through puddles and mud on a nice running trail right past the sign indicating "To the Peak". I take credit for this snafu. After descending a totally decent trail and climbing back up it again, clock ticking more loudly by now, we ran hard pausing only briefly to take action hero shots with my waterproof camera.
As the trail wound its way steeply upwards, we crossed into the snow zone. Not quite a whine, Conroy make a comment about his lack of gloves. When we reached the higher east summit of Mount Gardner, we were immediately underwhelmed by the view. I have to say that I was impressed, however, when I saw that the rock cairn I started last year had grown in size and been cloned. (Why in the heck have a second cairn 5M below the true summit?) We made a very cool video of what we suspected was the first bag of the year, then noticed that the camera was not rolling. So we did another video as the clock ticked-down and big, chunky snowflakes fell all around us.
Our descent was impressive, if I don’t say so myself. We ran as if with the wings of Mercury at our heels. We didn't make a single navigational error. Well, we made a minor one, but it took us to the main road leading to the west summit, which was actually faster than the Hardner trail. At the road, we opened a can of whop-ass and raced to the ferry dock. With a couple of blocks to go and just about as I felt like puking-up a lung, the ferry came into view. We actually beat it... and in the process, may have established a new world record: 1 hour 43 minutes.
We briefly debated keeping the drive alive and bagging Mount Collins while on the island, but common sense and the fact that Conroy's car might get towed got the better of us.
Back in civilization, Conroy dropped me off at my meeting, muddy legs, soaked shoes and all. By the time I was able to access email, there was quite a thread under the subject line "Indecent Proposal - Jackson". Apparently, at least 20 fellow baggers were out seeking first bagger bragging rights as well on this fine morning. There were bagger photos on top of Mount Baker, Mount Everest and even Mons Huygens, which if you're not familiar with it, is on the moon. Thankfully, none of those peaks qualify for the 2011 Bagger Challenge.
The suspense is killing me... were Conroy and Jackson the first "true" baggers of 2011?