Tuesday, July 18, 2006

wild things

A hoary marmot hibernates eight to nine months out of each year. I think this is a hoary marmot:

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It may be the environment that makes him (her?) into such a sleepy little beast because last night, up there near the summit of Mount Robson I slept twelve hours straight. In the one and a half person tent no less (meaning, conditions weren’t ideal).

The previous night I fared less well. We reached our campsite just as the clouds spilled their waters on us. Things were wet and clammy inside the tent and at sunrise, the temperatures plummeted to below freezing. That night, for only the second time during this trip, I felt crying might not be a bad idea (the first, of course, was up there on the mountain ledge some days back).

Ed, of course, failed to see the reason for any expression of great sadness. Wet tent? What are you gonna do. Take out a book and read. My book was clamped shut from the water and I refused to pry open its pages.

The thing is, you have to expect sudden clouds and storms up there near Mount Robson’s summit. This is the highest peak of the Canadian Rockies and it makes up its own weather patterns. And, nearly 50% of the time the peak itself remains under cloud cover. So that on the approach the views are often like this:

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But on Sunday, the clouds took a trudge. We had timed our final ascent well. Hugging the Robson River, milky aqua from the “rock flour” that it picks up along the way…

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…we made it all the way up to the base of the glaciers racing down the mountainside.

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Fine, they weren’t really visibly racing. But every once in a while you’d hear an explosion and a few feet of snow and rock would cascade down in your direction. Forget about fear of bears. I was certain an avalanche would happen if we so much as sneezed. I hated the two hikers who passed with double-duty bear bells. If you ask me, it was like an invitation for the snow and rock to come crashing down on us all.

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courageous climber attends to hair for photo

Still, a preoccupation with the peak(s) leads you sometimes to neglect what’s there at your feet. These guys, swaying gently at the river’s edge – such a nice balance to the rocky summits surrounding them:

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Or, the thin ribbons of water, coming together to form a lake:

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Or the mosses and flowers. Please let me give due recognition to the gorgeosity of the little things that grow up there.

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Alright, let me get to the pressing question. When you come back from a Canadian wilderness trip, people want to know about the animals that you encountered. Face to face. My score sheet:

Lots of marmots (see post below and photo above). And plenty of fat little red squirrels who ate anything that you would leave outside your tent. A coyote running across the road. Birds that swim underwater to get their grub (such talent):

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And the dramatic elk who take such pride in showing me their rears.

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The bears as well. Five grizzlies were frolicking on the beach near our first campsite. No photo taken. Moving closer just so you, Ocean reader, could see a grizzly at play seemed, well, foolish. Here we were spending money on bear mace to fend the beasts off --- the least we could do is not get in their face when they were gracious enough to leave us alone.

The showstoppers, according to me, were the mountain goats that we encountered just today. I violated the three-bus rule just for a second, and I could well have trudged even closer than the two and a half bus lengths that I did, so intent were they on nibbling on grass roots. They cared not at all about me being there and they’ll never know that I am awarding them the Ocean medal for cuteness of the week.

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So, perhaps you want to know my final verdict on camping. A qualified thumbs up. Leaky tent is going out with the trash. New acquisitions: deep blue Fontana rain jacket, 10 degree REI sleeping bag were a make it or break it thing. They gave me warmth. They gave me comfort. I love them to pieces.

Canadian yellow day pack and equally golden toned walking stick were also a smashing success.

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I know, I know, so American to find solace in these acquisitions. I tallied up the cost of the above, threw in the cost of my backpack and came up with a total that would just about cover one night’s stay at the Four Season’s hotel in some splendid destination.

Still, I would do it again for the feeling of accomplishment. For the push forward with the stick when the body says – no way, leave me alone. For the fantastically buoyant hair that is the result of a wash in the ice cold glacier waters of the brook. So cold that the head hurts after the first rinse. For the roasted garlic bread and the tomato, lugged to some desolate spot with a view that beats all. For the sweetly fragrant pine forests, for the animals crossing your path, the quiet, the incredible quiet – I would do it all over again.

But there has to be a defined path, a rain-proof tent and an effective, pleasant smelling bug repellant.

And don’t forget a hiking companion who isn’t freaked at the same moment that you are by some incredibly dangerous (according to me) situation.
Will we get struck by lightening?
Hmm. Probably not.

Will I get eaten by a bear?
I don’t think so.
Isn’t that bear hair?
It’s tree moss.
It’s damn wet in here!
So it is. Read a book.
Will I make it up there to the top?

You can scream up and down a mountain faster than anyone.

Oh, and a decanted bottle of Canadian white. Not a necessity, but it helps.

It's Tuesday. Time to head back home.

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