Friday, August 28, 2009

Not so Lonely Mountain

This last QNY Dave off-handedly invited me out to Calgary to climb a mountain with him. I said that it sounded like a summit would be a great place to have a celebratory game of chess. Dave insinuated that should I bring the necessary gear to play chess, the act of carrying it up any mountain he chose for me would make it likely that I would leave the board and pieces on the mountainside out of sheer exhaustion.

I didn't take a chessboard, but after five months (and very near the end of my summer holiday) I managed to make it out on a tight schedule (if there is any other kind) to spend a fantastic day with a very old friend.

Dave drove out from Canmore to meet me at the Lac des Arcs campground at 7:15am. I was prepared to leave earlier, but Dave assured me he had not planned an overly ambitious hike. I pressed a quick bodum of coffee and we headed into the national park.

This is Bow Peak. I had to take this picture the next day after a lengthy debate with Dave over where the actual vs apparent summit was. I used all the power of my 12X Canon zoom and I believe that this image contains several pixels representing the cairn which has been built at the summit. About 1/3 from the left side at the top are two small pyramid points. The left-most of these is the summit. I swear.

We found a place to park the car and headed off into the bush. In short order we reached a ford where Bow lake empties into the beginnings of the Bow river, which is the most distant headwaters of the South Saskatchewan River. The glacial water was very cold and the rocks on the bottom uncomfortably sharp, but the crossing was easy enough.

Once across, Dave repeatedly scared the shit out of me with surprisingly loud guttural utterances. Designed to alert bears to our presence, I can vouch for my own alertness. And though we saw plenty of bear spore, we spotted little wildlife, save one very cooperative grouse and some interesting spiders. We spent about 1.5 hours under cover of trees. There were wildflowers at the beginning of our journey that only increased in number as we increased our altitude. The season in the valley seemed to be nearing its end, while higher up it was just peaking.

We came out of the trees and spent another 1.5 hours on a steep and rocky trail including a brief stop for a few energy bars. The views were already awe inspiring. Rock lining the slopes which had always seemed like grays and browns from the roadside, proved to be virtually every colour you can imagine only their variety and proximity caused them to be blurred into a common mass.

After filling my water bottles from a long lasting snow pack -- a sort of micro glacier, we began the scramble portion of our climb. It consisted of rocks of all sizes from those the size of my fist to blocks the size of a mini-van. It was tricky going. Even the very large rocks often shifted underfoot and made me nervous that I would wind up with a 500kg block on my ankle. I had been feeling the altitude for the last 90 minutes and this stretch was quite strenuous. We had to stop and rest every 5 or 10 minutes. I really enjoyed this section. It was the only part that required some upper body involvement. The gloves that Wendy suggested I bring were of great use since the rocks were all covered in lichen and quite rough on our hands.

The wind had been blasting down below as it whipped between the mountains on either side of us, encouraging me to don a toque, but coming up over the ridge the wind was surprisingly calm. The way from here was fairly easy, yet the best views down both sides at once were provided only with a bit of climbing effort. Eager for my first taste of the spectacular scenery, I hopped and pulled myself to the top of any pile of rubble that looked marginally higher than its neighbours.

I bubbled inside and the feeling poured out of me in a constant stream of laughter. Fortunately, Dave took a slightly different route at this point so he wasn´t forced to listen to my idiotic giggling. Every time I looked from side to side or down the side of a steep cliff, I was struck with awe and I couldn´t deny the joy inside me.

Here we are next to the cairn at the summit. Dave didn´t want to stay too long at the summit for fear of bad weather and stiffening legs. I managed to squeeze a half hour out of him. At that altitude it was just long enough to give me a light sunburn on my nose and cheeks.

We were nervous to try the boulder slope on the way down as it would have been harder to spot our foot placements while going backwards and onto sketchy footing. Luckily there was a scree strewn slope that made for a much quicker and safer decent. It was hard on the ankles and we had to travel different lines so as to avoid tumbling rocks down on one another´s heads. This part of the slope was a parabolic oven. The sun was at just the right angle as we did this part to force me to strip down to my lightest shirt for the first time all day. Even skidding down this part was difficult and I required several stops. Dave had climbing poles which I eyed jealously and my gloves once again proved useful.

The way down was just as beautiful, yet I failed to enjoy it very much. I was fatiguing and I grudgingly took each step. Re-fording at the mouth of the river was heavenly and I was compelled to fall backwards into the icy waters. Very refreshing.

The whole event was life changing and I rank the experience right up there with my marathon and my trip to Italy.

A few other photos are available here . With any luck I will soon acquire some of the terrific pictures that Dave took (which are almost the only ones that I am in).