Up, Up, and Away From The Trail: Lessons Learned From Getting Lost

Sometimes, even when you are experienced, you can lose sight of the trail in an instant. The other day my good friend Josh and I experienced this firsthand. It wasn’t exactly the most fun day I have had, yet I can easily say that it was the most productive of the week.

Sometimes you can find solutions to your problems in unlikely places at unlikely times. Depending on how much you are paying attention, the lessons you seek to learn can breeze right by undetected. Yet through proper attitude as well as a commitment to optimism I was able to see the value from our misstep that ended up with the two of us getting lost on a mountain, 4,000 feet above the valley floor.

Up, Up, and Away

Over the past few years the Whistler community has been working on something special. On the other side of the valley from Whistler and Blackcomb mountains is Sproatt, the quiet and unassuming relative of the two world-famous ski and bike playgrounds. I’ve found out that if something is unfamiliar it quickly dissipates from the forefront of one’s consciousness. This happens in all aspects of our experience. Like that quiet girl in school who you would always forget her name even though you had been in the same class since elementary school. What the hell was her name?

The long climb to the top
The long climb to the top

So, too, can you translate that same lack of attention to natural wonders. Poor Sproatt. All it wants to do is be noticed by all the attractive nature lovers and thrill-seekers. It’s just not the loud type that tries to draw attention like some of the others around it.

But like the barely-noticeable quiet girl in school, Sproatt’s late blooming has resulted in a university-aged bombshell that you never saw coming. Thanks to the help of some dedicated mountain bike and recreation organizations, the alpine area around Sproatt is in the midst of a beautiful transformation that will usher in a new gold standard for self-propelled mountain biking awesomeness.

Almost at the top…

My friend Josh and I went up, up, and away (that’s the trail’s name) last year and were duly impressed with the climb and the trail down. So although I didn’t plan on it that morning, when Josh called with the suggestion to go again I enthusiastically agreed. Never mind it was the hottest day of the year so far and we were a bit late to start, sometimes you just have to take opportunities if they come out of the air. Never mind if you have been going hard all week and were planning on it being a rest day today. To use the extended parlance of our times, You Only Live Once!

Pay Attention, Always

The climb was rough. You can only drive up a couple kilometers from the highway and after that the pedal begins. Last year we were able to start a bit higher but this year someone decided to put a few boulders on the road. This action is bittersweet, as it means adding at least 1,500 feet or so to the climb, but at the same time limits the amount of potential people who would attempt this arduous affair. So in the only way you can do anything in life, we set out one foot at a time, one pedal pushing in front of the other. Thinking about the end result never does you any good. In one of my favorite biking and life analogies, you have to learn how to enjoy the painful moments otherwise they will paralyze you in your track. Once you find the good in the grind, life becomes a bit easier. Then the reward is so much more worth it.


Life keeps teaching lessons when you least expect it. Because the next lesson after that was that we mere humans have very little control as to when the grind begins or ends. We thought the grind was to end at the top of the mountain. Some lessons need to be learned the hard way.

In retrospect I now remember where we went off the trail. I was behind my friend Josh and I saw him turn left when he should have turned right. I thought that he knew where he was going; that there was some shortcut that took us through a fun diversion. I found that out to not be the case very soon when we began to ride downhill over the heather bushes and wild flowers. At this point we were both optimistic that we were going to find the trail. But after a few miles of traversing we soon realized that we were lost. So we had a choice: either backtrack up the mountain to hope that we can find the trail, or head downward in hopes of finding another trail. We opted for option number two.

The Creek Will Lead You Home

I was already sore and tired from all day activity on the way up. Now that we were heading down and had bikes on our back while stepping over massive wet boulders, I was borderline delirious. But the creek was (and pretty much always is) our best bet at a consistent fall line without vegetation.

Of course, there is always a catch, and that is the fact that sometimes, creeks carve out canyons. Just when we thought we had a good pace, we looked ahead to see that the creek was taking a drastic turn for straight down. We would have been fools to keep going. We needed to find a new route for this section. And so we climbed up the canyon wall with our bikes on our back, slipping every now and then to lose ground covered; pushing forward with each tiresome reach to another branch, another foothold. All the while trying to make sure we didn’t drop the bike or allow its’ weight to throw us off course.


Finally we made it back to the creek, and in a great relief we looked up at a gorgeous waterfall that accented a quintissential BC mountain forest scene. It was a much welcome moment of beauty amidst a depleted willpower.

Not too much longer we hit another steep point and had to climb up again. This one was almost harder than the first, only because I was so exhausted by this point. But the body had gone into full survival mode; seemingly able to provide enough energy to keep on going. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you move, only that you move. Idle time is what kills anything. And so you need to pursue onward. And then sooner or later you get a break. Which was what happened with us.

Josh’s cheers when he first saw the trail were the boost of energy I needed. He was admittedly more fit than I and was a step ahead the whole time. To hear him though took any weak sauce effort on my part into full action mode. Just when you

Equal parts frustration and relief
Equal parts frustration and relief

think you’re out of energy, some more comes out right when you need it. That’s one of the great things I love about life.


Lessons Learned

Sometimes it takes a few days for memories of thought patterns to come back into the forefront of your mind. Now that I sit down to write this out I am revisiting the experience and what I can learn. Hopefully actually writing this down will help make me more accountable.

  1. Good Friends are Priceless – People often underestimate the value of a good partner in crime on missions like these. Josh and I have been friends for a while amongst a massive group of Whistler misfits who somehow don’t want to grow up. Thank God for that. But the person you choose to risk your life with needs to be able to mesh well with you.
  2. Speak Up If You See Something Wrong. I saw the trail divert. I assumed that my friend knew where we were going but I didn’t say anything until it was far too late.
  3. Look Up Sometimes – Now that I look back on it I see that I had my head down in some pretty beautiful terrain. This was fueled by exhaustion, frustration, and a necessary drive to keep moving because we very well could have been hiking after dark. But at the same time, we were far off the beaten path on a mountain that has a bit of an aloof familiarity, having never explored much of it but looked at it every day for the better part of 12 years.
  4. Look For Terrain Clues
    1. The terrain leading up to the canyon probably steepened over time. I wouldn’t know because my head was down. Had I been a bit more aware of my surroundings and learned the third lesson in time, We could have changed our course long before it became dangerous to climb out from the banks. Instead it took a good 30-45 minutes to travel just a hundred or so meters on a steep canyon slope with bikes on our shoulders.