Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mt. Muir

doesn't look like much from space.
By now, everyone I know is aware that I went to Canmore again this summer to see Dave. If you read his blog (which I highly recommend), you would already have all the details AND they would be presented in a woodsy, mountainish way that indicates a depth of knowledge in what he is talking about. As usual, I will not attempt to indicate that I possess any technical know-how with respect to the wilderness or mountains. The only thing apparent to me is that I know how to choose good friends and that I don't let a little discomfort get in the way of a good time.

In case you don't get over to his blog, I've stolen one of his nice maps to show you the route that we took during this multi-day trip.

The adventure started a little early this year. Heidi N. had been staying with us in Saskatoon while she visited with Teela. She has been doing this for many years now and it is a visit to which I look forward. Last year we drove home together after my mountain trip. This time we drove to Calgary together on my way to see Dave. About 3hrs into the drive I made a realization that I should probably check in.

Me: What would be the #1 piece of equipment to take on a mountain hike? 
Dave: Boots.
Me: That's what I thought, too.
Dave: ...
Me: Do you know a good shoe store?

It was a blow to discover that I had cleaned, repaired, polished to a gleem, and water-proofed my old army boots... only to leave them on the back deck. Fortunately we were meeting at MEC anyway. The mistake cost me $200 and a brutal reminder about the value of a pre-trip check list. We took a round-a-bout route out of Calgary thanks to omnipresent construction and made for the uplands.

This years offering started off with some mountain biking that locals would characterize as "a little warm up" for the climbing ahead. Dave has a book written by some cocky cyclists who (I hear tell) can stay in the saddle all but the last wee bit of K2. They all but neglect to mention parts of the trip that I thought presented some challenge while standing on my own two feet -- never mind trying to navigate them on a bicycle.

As you can see, the bike that Dave and Suzanne were kind enough to loan me lacked the jet pack attachment and I was forced to ford this (need I mention glacially cold?) river like any other mortal, save that I was wearing my awesome Vibram Five Fingers. These beloved shoes of mine have been showing signs of wear and although this will be their last trip, they acquitted themselves admirably.

The cycle was a bit of a grind, but the novelty of it made it worth the effort. Every so often, Dave would hop off his bike, unfurl his crisp topo map of the area and look from it to the trail and up to the mountain skyline that we were approaching. He loves route finding and nothing could please him more than being forced to make a decision about which way the correct path lies. He was kind enough on this early part of the journey to inquire which way I thought would be best. I did my best to look from the map to the path and then to the skyline and then indicated that I concurred with his choice.

We camped near the base of the head wall that we were to climb the next morning. We passed a pleasant evening betting on the exact moment the moon would rise (Dave won) and playing with extended shutter times on our cameras. Here is the moon with a 20 sec handheld exposure.

The morning was oatmeal followed by a hike up the head wall. What had looked nearly impossible from a couple km away was, in fact steady climbing, though not difficult. We soon made it to the "top" and cleverly pitched out tent well before noon. Dave says that mountain climbing is an exercise in getting to the top only to find that you're really at the bottom. It's true. You climb for hours and crest a ridge and discover that there is a ridge ahead in the distance. You just keep doing that until their are no more ridges. We figured that we would be tired at the end of the day and a camp in this pass would save us the trouble of setting it up in a state of exhaustion later in the evening.

Our spirits were lifted during this next stage. We were now able to leave the bulk of our packs behind and the going was a lot easier.

Horn Coral Fossil
Two things stand out about this climb. The first was that there were fantastic fossils everywhere. The only thing that kept me from stopping and photographing them obsessively was the second thing -- the really sharp rocks we were walking on. We had to wait for the luxury of a soft place or large boulder to sit down on. The up side of this rock was its melodious nature. It must have been almost glass. As we walked the tinkling and chiming sounds were a startling contrast to their uniform grey colour.

Coffee on the edge of oblivion
At the top, we made coffee and enjoyed the windy, but otherwise spectacular weather.

By the time we were headed down, we had long decided to forgo the second peak in the area. It looked to be a real slog of a climb and we figured we already had earned the view. That mean that the camp we made had be a waste of time. We struck the tent and began to head back down.

I'm not going to say that I got us lost, but I think I may have been in the vanguard of our duo when we went slightly off course. To Dave it was just another opportunity to assess the situation and make tough choices. It's always hard to decide to head backwards when you're tired. Every step you take back is just one more you have to take the other way when you do get back to the right trail. But, backwards we went. We only misstepped about a 1/2 hrs worth of travel, but the sun sets pretty early when there is a huge hunk of rock in the way and we wanted to make good time.

We found our bikes untouched where we left them. I thought you only got saddle sore from riding a horse, but I was wrong. My ass protested with sincerity as I climbed onto my seat. Fortunately, the ride down was easier than the up trip had been. Laughing like a maniac, tears streamed down my face, the wind ripped rivulets from the tips of my ear lobes as we careened down the rocky slopes. I scared myself and checked my breaks often. This leg of the journey was extremely satisfying and completely justified bringing the bikes in the first place. Later, Suzanne would listen politely as I explained how going down hill was way more fun than going up. In retrospect she, and every other biker in existence, may have already figured that out.

We pitched our tent right alongside the last river before our return to civilization. The proximity to people was confirmed when we saw five riders come out of the mountains and ford the stream followed shortly by three cyclists out for a day trip. I envied their expensive bikes and minuscule packs.
Day three looked a little grey as we got to the car early and drove off in search of something to challenge us. It didn't take long, but the weather didn't cooperate. It grew foggy and wet, the way became slippery and difficult and the view made me feel like I was looking for the pass of Cirith Ungol. Not a bad combination. The climb was rapidly leading into areas that were clearly prone to falling rocks. With no helmets and exhausted, we turned back -- defeated for now, by Mt. Elpoca.
While I definitely consider messing around up in the mountains to be paradise... right next to paradise would be a soak in the hot-springs followed by fantastic fire-roasted pizza with good friends. Top the evening off with a little Tranya(startrek.com) and a lesson in basic fire-arms construction(also startrek.com) and I felt like I might never go home. It was a great way to be welcomed back to the everyday world.
No Questers were injured in the making of this picture

My pictures are all here.
A selection of Dave's are here.

This marks the third time that I've made the trip to Canmore to have a little adventure. Once again it was well worth the effort. Previous mountain trips are here in 2009 and here in 2010.