One of the hardest things for me to navigate when I found out I was pregnant was how far I could reasonably push myself. I wasn’t interested in trying to prove something or impress, only to discover where my limits were now that I had a little human growing inside of me. Something I had previously overlooked was how much happens in the body in even those first few weeks of pregnancy. At just five weeks in I was already starting to feel discomfort in my abdomen and pelvis and I was ravenously hungry.
Beyond this I found that something had shifted psychologically. All of a sudden I was so completely aware that things were different. It’s not that I was looking for an unnecessary excuse to back out of the things I loved. But I felt different on the inside and in my mind and heart. I have no other way to explain it other than to say that I think that protective maternal instinct had already, surprisingly, kicked in.
Finding Out the Hard Way
Mid-July, my husband, Paul, and our friend, Ian, decided to take in the northern lights from high up and they invited me to join. The plan was to hike in from Sherbrooke Lake up to Scott Duncan Hut (a hut operated by the Alpine Club of Canada), which rests on the edge of the Waputik Icefield in Yoho National Park. To get there we would cover only 11 kilometres, but gain about 3,900 feet in elevation with overnight packs and glacier gear. I was only five weeks pregnant, but I was hesitant. This is something I had done so many times before, and suddenly things were different. How would my body cope?
The hike up to the glacier went fairly smoothly. I noticed I needed to eat much more than I normally do. I’m used to pushing pretty hard in the mountains and going ridiculously long periods of time without eating while I’m climbing. Apart from the hunger, we faced very high water levels from the “June Monsoon” and were forced to do some fording in quick moving rivers. At one point, the guys took half an hour to throw some trees over a section where a bridge had completely washed out.
Upon reaching the glacier that leads up to the hut, the skies were beginning to look a bit dark, but still quite harmless. The boys decided to scramble up Mount Daly and I waited down below, eager to retain my energy for the remainder of the trek. As I sat and waited, my radio in hand ready to contact them if need be, the storm clouds began to gather quite quickly. Thunder could be heard in the distance, then suddenly right overhead. The boys decided to bail on their climb and turn back just a few minutes from the summit in order to avoid the impending storm. By the time they reached me, the rain had started. We quickly geared up to walk the remaining two kilometres on the glacier.
By now things were getting very bad. The boys decided to start running as flashes of lightning began to light up the sky around us. Considering I was tethered to them on the rope I had no choice but to pick up my pace. The rain fell hard and soaked us right through, and as the temperature dropped we were all becoming very cold. Visibility was poor, so we aimed for the rocks near the edge of the glacier, knowing that the hut lay somewhere just above them.
Just a few minutes from the edge of the glacier, the lightning picked up more fiercely. I kept a close watch on signs we needed to take cover, but there was nowhere to hide anyway. With one particularly loud crack! I spontaneously threw my ice axe, concerned it would get me electrocuted. Knowing it was an important piece of gear, though, I tracked it down a few steps away and gingerly picked it up.
When we reached the rocks, the fight wasn’t over. We realized we were too low to access the hut. Water poured over the boulders and rocks as we scrambled our way up to our refuge. Fingers frozen and water streaming down my face, I was at the end of my rope but knew I couldn’t stop. The lightning followed us all the way up the rubble and a final snow patch before we finally caught a glimpse of the hut. It was the second time I think a hut has perhaps saved my life.
That night we dried out and I lay on the bunk feeling absolutely horrible. The pressure of my harness and the overnight pack, compounded by running across the glacier, had left me in pain. The hard, desperate push at the end had done me over. It would have, pregnant or not. But it was obvious I lacked my usual strength and stamina, not just physically but emotionally and mentally. It was the latter two factors that made me feel so different on this trip. I no longer had the “extra gear” I had relied on so many times in the past.
I learned then and there that it wasn’t worth finding out the hard way – at least not for the next 8 months. I could survive and feed my need for the outdoors by hiking and scrambling. Granted, our conditions going up to the hut were not exactly favourable, I still made the decision to leave mountaineering out for the duration of my pregnancy. This is a tough reality for someone who thrives in the alpine, but I know it’s only for a short time (and entirely worth it).
Despite the hardship, the journey to Scott Duncan Hut concluded with an amazing reward. In the early hours of the morning, Paul gave me a nudge to wake up. The northern lights had come out in full force and the sky had cleared. I rolled out of my sleeping bag and sat outside watching the starry sky pulse with purple and green.
It was a special moment, shared with my dear husband, a dear friend and a dear little being, who ran across a glacier in a thunderstorm with me.