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(2022 - Spring/Summer Issue)


Has your mind ever floated alongside the silent whir of a mountain breeze? Beware of such a calming state, a craving that flows so intrinsically it defines you. Dare you stop after just one trip?

My grandmother, Carrie Shouldice née Eyres, peered across this same valley. Like mine, her eyes looked higher, past pine trees in 80 shades of green towards dull granite. Dull rock striated with cracks, creases and hidden clefts turned simplicity into an intricate maze of the unknown. Our goal—although 104 years apart—was the upper tip of that hazy point of rock, Mount President, in Yoho National Park.

My grandmother spent the summer of 1913 helping her uncle set up the Alpine Club of Canada’s (ACC) Cathedral Mountain Camp on the shores of Lake O’Hara. Like many alpinists, the spores of wilderness trickled into her veins and would not let go. A year later she returned to summit Mount President. The climb earned her membership into the ACC. Nowadays, anyone can join for around $50.

The Lure

Imagine a place where every direction presents longer ridge lines, deeper glacier dips and craggier cliff bands. Imagine feeling exhilarated to wake up with the sun at 5 a.m.

The Beginning

Outdoor adventure swept into my own blood by my grandmother’s taste for untainted mountain vistas. I followed the same course—albeit swapping woollen knickerbockers for synthetic trekking pants.

Gear-laden and with knee-saving walking sticks, we left the cushiony seats of our vehicle one summer morning. Takkakaw Falls bid us adieu with its watery call as we wound along a pathway strewn with pine needles further into Yoho, a Cree expression for awe or amazement. Three hours later, we arrived at the Stanley Mitchell hut—our home for two nights.

The next day, nearing 4 a.m., I tore open a Starbucks instant coffee pack and glared at the French press missing an essential part. Instant crystals would have to suffice. Thirty minutes later I was outside, following my headlamp’s semi-clear track. Our bobbing lights wove through pines and glinted against the narrow stream. Blackness blotted out everything more than a metre away.

By 5 a.m., blisters sent one trekker back to the hut. Three of us remained to follow our guide. Each step carried us higher along the rim of a gravelly ridge, remnants of glacier melt much like the spine of a curvaceous beast. The valley’s base lay hidden beneath a blur of shadows.

Two hours later the glacier’s tongue appeared. Its pale glow seized the early rays of sun. Tucking away my headlamp, I eased into my harness and laced on crampons. Their talons gnawed at the ice while I cinched and double-knotted, hoping all was secure.

The Slog

Roped up and with ice axes in hand, we zigzagged up the glacier. Scattered rocks tarnished the ice to our left. Watch the snow. Look for hidden crevasses. Higher, a bergschrund at the saddle of the pass taunted us with its sly grin.

It was 9 a.m. when we topped the glacier. Shifty scree took over where the glacier’s packed snow ended. Pointy struts of granite shepherded us higher. Up, scrunch, pivot and scramble.

Layers of blue, grey and white cascaded in all directions. Emerald Lake looked like a tiny turquoise dolphin trapped in the valley below. The once vague peak we had seen during our walk transformed into a colourful bed of rock. Rusty-coloured lichen mottled with black and white patches claimed stark grey stone. In other sections, slats reflected the sun, appearing almost iridescent. A mishmash of triangular ridges and peaks spread around us, dulled only to the west where forest fire smoke smeared their crisp edges.

I am certain my granny’s smiling face and firm grasp followed me along that familiar track once again, feeling the exhilaration of Canada’s wilderness. It was a sense of freedom that I craved but it will be the sense of connectedness that will bring me back.

The Prize

Canada’s Rockies offer a chance to escape the crowds and bolster your mental and physical resilience. In today’s uncertain world, isn’t that something worth seeking?

Insider Tip

Decades after my grandmother’s forays, the ACC has constructed huts all over Alberta and B.C. Hikers and skiers can book these basic accommodations and pack in their own food and sleeping gear.

Travel Planner

For more travel information about Yoho National Park pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/bc/yoho

Yamnuska Mountain Adventures offers programs across various skill levels in Alberta and British Columbia’s parks yamnuska.com/mountaineering/

Trek accommodations are often dorm-style huts, owned and operated by the ACC

Pre- or post-tour accommodation in Canmore malcolmhotel.ca/ or basecampresorts.com/canmore

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