Skip to content

OPINION: 'Don't become the news' on your next hiking trip

'I could see a million ways to die, and started to move down the hill carefully'
A hiker walks down the Elk Thurston Trail above Chilliwack on June 22, 2024. (Jessica Peters/ Chilliwack Progress)

Summiting Elk Mountain in Chilliwack had been on my hiking to-do list since last summer, and Saturday felt like a great day to tick that box.

My unpopular opinion is that busy hiking trails are best. That's because, more often than not, I'm hiking alone. And more people means more safety features built right into the hiking plan. More noises to keep the wild animals wilder, more eyeballs, more helping hands, and so on. 

Elk is also well within cell phone range. So, if I were to be lost or injured and nobody was around to help me, I could probably call 911 myself. Hopefully. 

In retrospect, now that I'm safely back down the mountain, all of this contributed to my feeling overly confident. And so, when I packed up my car and headed for the hills, I am here to confess that I did it so nonchalantly that I was underprepared.

I did do a number of things correctly. And I'm here today to write this, so I didn't screw up too badly. But it was close.

First off, I had forgotten hiking poles, which are almost a requirement for the upper portions of this hike. And since in my mind, I was going to run back down the mountain, I wore the wrong footwear entirely. And while I remembered to bring food and plenty of fluid, I left my rain gear in the car in the parking lot. 

So. Many. Fails. 

The first realization of this was near just the top of the first lookout. A little background first; every time I go somewhere like this, I take photos of the area that we could use here at The Progress for future story purposes. Elk is a place that we write about from time to time, and so I spun around, this way and that, snapping away with my phone. 

Just as I was thinking how handy these photos could be this summer, when we have to write about search and rescue attempts and lost hikers, I lost my bearings. Out of habit, I grasped for a non-existent railing before realizing where I was. 

Oh crap. 1250m above elevation hits different than the much lower elevations I'm used to at Chilliwack Community Forest. I took a few beats and then slowly made my way to the rock bluffs, focusing intently on the ground below me. 

"I'm not going to summit this mountain today," I told myself, resigned to failure. "This is far enough." 

Happily, a brief rest visiting the hungry chipmunks and whisky jacks was enough to feel refreshed. I was no longer dizzy, and reminded myself how hard I would kick myself if I gave up that easily. 

"Wish me luck," I told the lady I had been chatting with, but not really believing that I'd need it. Despite the little scare, I was still feeling pretty capable and prepared. 

And sure, the next little bit of the trail is sketchy, but I focused on the wildflowers that were popping up all around me, and all of a sudden I was at the summit. As a bonus, the meadows are currently in full bloom of purple phlox, deep orange paintbrushes, and delicate wild strawberries, to name a few. 

While time sort of slipped away, I listened to the heavy buzz of bees and wasps and looked out over to the white-capped ranges all around our region, marvelling at the steep mountainsides and in awe of those who climb them. Simply incredible.

READ MORE: $750K shortfall for new Chilliwack Search and Rescue building

But what goes up, must come down. Even happy hikers. 

Almost immediately upon descending, I was standing at the top of one particularly slippery and steep slope. The long-time reporter in me could see a million ways to die, and started to move down the hill carefully. 

"This is the moment that starts all those search and rescue calls," I thought to myself with a shudder. "Don't become the news."

But just three short steps later I was flat on my butt, palms down on the gravel, hoping beyond hope that my fall was truly over. 

It was, thankfully. And there I sat. 

I sat there and looked at my shoes, and an image of my hiking boots at home popped into my mind. Once I realized I was OK, I gathered myself to carry on. 

And then, you guessed it, I slipped and fell again. 

The second fall was much less scary. But there was still the potential of broken limbs, a long-line rescue, general embarrassment, and knowing that a whole rescue team was being pulled away from time with their families. 

So, this time, I made the humble choice to stay down on my butt and wiggle myself the last few feet off the shale. 

The rest of the hike down was unremarkable in a good way, if not a little painful. But I spent it going over my safety plan in my head, and chiding myself for feeling a false sense of security. I have been on the listening end of the scanner for decades now, in the newsroom. I know how dangerous even a basic hike can be. 

I vowed to follow the rules that I know by heart, no matter how "safe" a trail may seem. And I decided to swallow my pride and remind you all. 

And instead of running all the way back to my car, I stepped ever-so-carefully around every gnarly root, and tiptoed down every man-made staircase, so as not to require so much as a bandage.

Which of course, was in my first aid, which I'd left in my trunk. 

For more information on hiking safely this summer, check out the Chilliwack Search and Rescue website





Jessica Peters

About the Author: Jessica Peters

I began my career in 1999, covering communities across the Fraser Valley ever since.
Read more