You know how much I complained about the weather (a truly Canadian thing to do, by the way!) in my last post? Well, there’s an expression in the mountains here: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes.” We experienced the reality of that hyperbole Sunday.
It was Bill’s birthday, and he was craving an adventure: a good ridge walk that we’d never done before would fit the bill, so to speak. Something up in the Spray. Something that felt really backcountry… so no trail with hoards on it. Something spectacular. But not avalanche-y. So we looked through the guide-book to find a snowshoe trek that would push our abilities, and meet the birthday criteria.
We set our sights on Conmonwealth Ridge, a favourite of local backcountry skiers who earn their thrills trudging up steep slopes with skins on their skis for the whoop and holler of a great ride down, zigging through the slalom course of the forest trees, plowing through amazing powder. It was a steep 650m ascent through thick forest with no avalanche danger, so we were set.
Here’s the interesting part: we left at -15C in Canmore; by the time we drove 300m up the pass (Whiteman’s Gap… yup, that’s its unfortunate name, though there IS, admittedly, a steady stream of white men that head up into the Spray to hike, ski, fish, scramble & mountaineer… the gentrified white-man adventurers, of which I am unabashedly one) on the road that accesses the back country, it had warmed UP to -9C; by the time we parked at the roadside point to snowshoe across the marshy flats at the base of the ridge, it had warmed up to -1C! Go figure!
We had lucked out and snagged ourselves an inversion (where the temps are warmer at far higher elevations than they are down low)!Bill figured it was the best birthday surprise, ever. There might be cloud cover up here, but it was WARM!
The route took us up through a beautiful, thick pine & larch forest. The snow fell gently from above, enshrouding the landscape in new white clothes and cloaking it with a sound deadening hush. It was gorgeous. It was strenuous and challenging at times. But the snow was deep, the forest ever so peaceful, and the views, once we got there at the top of the ridge, were powerful. Come along and see….
There were obstacles to get up and over as we made our way up through the forest and onto the ridge line. Snowshoes are a blessing in deep snow, but bushwhacking through the forest over deadfall, they add a certain element of laughable challenge. Let’s just say that it was a good thing I had the camera…. I did a lovely tumble here that involved my snowshoe getting stuck under this log!
Sometimes you get caught, falling off the snowshoe track and go into deep snow! (I fell in there, Bill saw me… and he still got caught! Ha ha!) Even Seamus got caught a few times, and sort of swam his way back up onto the track.
Back at the trailhead, the temp had reached +3C! (And I’d been so whiny in my last post about the cold spell we’d been surviving lately). As we headed back down into town, the temps gradually dropped…. though only to -4C now that the Bow Valley (what the locals call the valley that contains Canmore & Banff) was getting some of the warming from above.
And on a sad, parting note, my heart goes out to the families and friends of the two American tourists (from Boston), fatally caught in an avalanche, Tuesday, snowshoeing outside Lake Louise. No matter how prepared you are, no matter how trained in avalanche safety, you do take risks going into the backcountry of our spectacular mountains. Do be careful. Do get trained. Do carry the gear. It may not be enough… but please, just do it.
Trekking up a mountain’s shoulder, hiking through a flowering alpine meadow, snowshoeing through a dense pine forest, or taking in the 360 degree views from a ridge top vantage point make me feel alive. The experiences in these places give me a profound sense of space and place.
Travel does a similar thing, pushing me out of my comfort zone, exposing me to new experiences, new people and new ways of thinking; it also gives me that sense of space and place in this world.
I believe that life is lived in the contrasts: when you experience simplicity and complexity and life's ups and downs, whether they be physically in this world or mentally in your own personal inner landscape, you know that you are truly living.
The bigger they are, the more there is to explore!