Technology doesn't have to be something that divides us from nature. It can be a tool through which we can explore the natural world...

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Walls of Stone - Across the Canadian Rocky Mountains (Introduction)

"I grew up in Calgary and I got used to seeing the fronts of the Rocky Mountains along the western horizon, beckoning me." That's how I began my last story, but then I proceeded to go on about the prairies. This time I want to talk about the mountains. The mountains have always held a deep fascination for me and I am preparing for a hiking trip-of -a-lifetime that will take me across the Canadian Rocky Mountains, from east to west. Over the next year or so I will share the preparations, obstacles, technologies utilized and the story of my journey.

Childhood Dreams
My father did something when I was five years old that changed the lives of everyone in my family. He moved us from England to Canada and took a job in the oil business. I have heard Calgary called a "prairie town" many times, but to me that isn't what makes Calgary the city that it is. It is the close proximity to the Rocky Mountains from which it derives its fame. Being immigrants in a new land, both my parents were interested in exploring their new surroundings and the mountains were both close-by and novel.

We made trips to nearby Banff and Canmore. Waterton Lakes National Park soon became one of our favorites. I remember enjoying the many day hikes that we embarked on, but I would find the low-level hikes to be a bit disappointing.  The hoodoos near Canmore, the "paint pots" in Kootenay National Park, Crandall Lake in Waterton and the inevitable Johnston Canyon in Banff were all enjoyable walks, but I did find them to be a bit of a yawn... It wasn't until we took a family trip to Banff and beautiful Moraine Lake that I "got it".

I can remember exactly when it was that I fell in love with the mountains. That day we did a popular hike called "Larch Valley" which took us up into the subalpine and alpine zones above the forested valley. The unusual alpine larches were just some of the unfamiliar living things which inhabited this alien landscape. The sounds of marmots whistling form the scree slopes and the pikas scurrying about collecting vegetation, the sight of open meadows with rivulets of water, small tarns among the limestone boulders reflecting the blue sky and the sight of hanging glaciers across the valley all contributed to my growing sense of euphoria at every turn. I could see the switchback trail climbing to a high alpine pass (Sentinel Pass) and I wanted to push on, but my parents (perhaps wisely) said that it was getting late in the day and that it was further than it looked. I remember that feeling of disappointment,  but when I became a young man I was able to go further - across those passes and into the high windswept places of my imagination.

My childhood dreams of the savannah of Africa, the rainforests of South America, the Gobi desert and sailing the oceans were replaced by a new, more plausible dream - one of the Rocky Mountains. This was a dream I could see every day. Whether I was driving, going to school or building high rises in Calgary's downtown core, I could look to the west and see those limestone peaks. I got to know all of their names and where they were situated. I spent hours perusing topographic maps and reading guides. I did as much hiking as I could afford , but it never seemed enough. When I met my wife, we spent much of our free time exploring the Rockies (mostly in nearby Kananaskis Country). We have enjoyed the beautiful locations and many adventures that have happened along the way. This summer we will return to both the Kananaskis and Waterton regions. For me, it will be part of my preparations for a bigger adventure next summer.

I am definitely closer to the end of my hiking career than the beginning, so I have resolved to make this one last journey. The plan is to complete a hike from the eastern front of our Canadian Rocky Mountains, through the Front Ranges of Alberta and across the Great Divide. Then I will cross the magnificent Main Ranges of British Columbia. The finish will include a traverse of one of the less traveled Western Ranges and in to the Rocky Mountain Trench, ending at the banks of the Columbia River. I have the route planned, after many winter nights pouring over maps and playing with Google Earth. I won't go into the details, but it comprises the absolute minimum of front-country road bashes and contains several classic hikes. Somebody mentioned that there is a bike path that I could take across the Rockies, but that doesn't interest me in the least. It isn't about me or saying I made the journey. it is about the journey itself and the places I hope to see. It is about the mountains.


  1. I always enjoy your posts. You've been away from your blog too long. I'll be watching this hike. does it start this summer?

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    2. The actual hike isn't until next summer, but the preparations are already under way.I am headed to Kananaskis in two weeks to begin scouting and preliminary shooting for the film. Will be hiking and appraising my own fitness as well.