THIS IS THE WEEK we really get our wakeup call from Mother Nature. When Daylight Saving Time comes it feels like a huge release to me. It’s time to screw our garden heads back on after all this cold wetness we’ve endured these past few months. I’m a hot weather person. It can get as hot as it wants, and it won’t bother me but I don’t like being bundled up for too long.
In Jackson we have gotten used to this date being the mark for all of us to come out of hibernation loud and proud with the St. Paddy’s day parade. It’s the annual parade that usually causes us to drag out our shorts for the first time to see if they still fit after a long winter of debauchery. I try to keep myself in somewhat respectably good shape during the shorter days because I know that when the days get longer Mimi and I are going to use every minute of sunlight we can steal so we don’t fall behind in our yard.
This year we are extra excited about this spring because we have agreed to host lots of parties/meetings in our garden at home for the folks I am consulting with about the construction of greenhouses. We want everything to be perfect for the group of plant people from out of state when they come to town every few weeks. So, our course of attack will be to hit the yard every chance we get. We built a beautiful new sunken patio down near the pond with a fire pit and lots of seating. I know where most of the action will be, but I still want the surroundings to be mind blowing beautiful. Having a party every once in a while is a great way to force you to take care of the details. We love throwing parties at this house because there is plenty of space for lots of people and parking a lot of cars is easy with good flow, if I can just keep them off my sprinkler heads.
During the winter months Mimi and I were reminiscing and flipping through some photo albums while we kept a fire roaring. We came across an album Mimi gave me for our one-year anniversary that reminded us of one of our favorite trips we took during our first year of marital bliss. We didn’t have any kids yet so we were feeling pretty brave about what we could do. We packed up our backpacks and caught a flight to Calgary in Alberta, Canada. From there we took a bus for an hour and a half to Banff which is perched in the Canadian Rockies at around 5,000 feet above sea level.
We had already chosen our route to hike out of Banff to wind up at Lake Louise. Lake Louise is a gorgeous mineral blue lake that can be accessible by car only 36 miles from Banff. The route we chose would take us up high above the tree line for 130 miles. Of course we couldn’t just take the road most traveled. What fun would that be? We had one night to gather enough provisions to get us through 10 days of hiking where we would most likely not see another person and definitely wouldn’t cross any towns or roads to restock.
Banff is a gorgeous ski town that is very crowded with people from all over who come to see the cool town with elk wandering around town like they own the place. The entire village is planted up that time of year with beautiful annuals we are accustomed to seeing in the early months of spring here. The highs in Banff during June are 65 degrees and the lows around 40 degrees so you can imagine the colorful show the pansies and petunias and lobelia were putting on.
There are some great drives around the area where your chances of seeing bears and other wildlife are very good since the bears are coming out of hibernation and are hungry enough to come farther down where the snow has melted and the berries are ripening.
The crowds are not what we came to Canada for and we had no time to waste so we could make the entire loop in time to catch our ride back home. We checked in with the ranger to get our wilderness permit and to ask about the trail conditions. He looked at us kind of funny when he said he didn’t know about the trail conditions because no one had attempted the pass we would have to use this year because it was too early in the season. He asked us to come back to see him if our attempt was successful so he would be able to advise the hikers that would come later. We really didn’t like the sound of that but forward we marched.
OUR FIRST MOVE was to hitchhike to the trail head which seems like maybe a 30-minute ride once someone picked us up. The guy who gave us a ride was so nice. I think he was genuinely concerned about our safety. I think the combination of our southern accents and that it was way too early to be doing what we were about to do had him questioning our abilities and our sanity. He questioned us about our knowledge of bear safety and river crossing and other things. We really had no idea about what we were doing. We muddled through the conversation only to realize we were in over our heads but more importantly we were in, we weren’t changing our plans. He seemed very worried as we unloaded out of his truck, that made three of us.
Our first day of hiking was on a horse trail that was steady headed up and away from the norm. We were relatively low at this point, so the mosquitoes kept us moving at a pretty good pace while we danced around the horse poop and the deep tracks the pack horses left behind. We were anxiously awaiting the moment we would be off of the horse trails and on the backpacker’s trail in one more day. The end of the horse trail wound up at a tepee village where a group of five or six cowgirls lived while they waited on the next group of dude ranchers to arrive so they could cook meals on giant cast iron skillets over open flames and generally host groups that would see the splendid area from the back of a horse. It sounded like a fun trip and something we would consider later in life.
We were more interested in what it must be like to live way out there living the lives of pioneers. I was also interested as to why the entire camp was surrounded by electric wires powered by solar energy. They looked at me like I was crazy when the answer was to keep the bears out of their camp. I jokingly asked if we could borrow a few feet of wire and a solar panel so we could keep bears out of our camp. We had seen plenty of bear tracks on our way to their camp. These constant reminders about bears was beginning to worry us. We’d camped in bear country before but never where they were so plentiful. The cowgirls cooked us up some pancakes and sausage before sending us on our worried way.
We had bear bells and talked and sang loudly enough so we wouldn’t surprise a bear family as we rounded a corner or accidentally got stuck between a sow and her cubs. I can tell you I didn’t sleep much during our nights out there. We cooked away from our camp. We washed our dishes in another location and we hung our food and any other smellables in trees at night until we started sleeping above tree line where there was nowhere good to hang things high enough. In those cases, we put the smelly good stuff in a bag a good distance from camp.
Our days hustling through those mountains were filled with telling stories, playing word games and some long bouts of silence while we took in the solitude the wilderness offers.
Some of the days we would be on snow and had lots of river crossings which are a pain because unless you want wet socks and shoes you have to take off your boots and use your sticks to cross some pretty fast moving snow melt rivers. The water is ice cold and you know that to fall in is, at best, a lot of wet gear or, at worst, not being able to get out of the rushing water with the weight of your backpack holding you down. So, we puckered up every time we came to one of these all too frequent crossings.
We saw two guys hiking in the general direction we were headed. They were blazing their own trails and were much faster than Mimi and me since we tend to stay on the marked trails when we can. After a couple of days of crossing paths with these guys we never saw them or anyone else for the rest of the trip. It’s exactly what we were shooting for, but it was pretty scary because we had not spent much time in the snowy outback. We would lose the trail from time to time which is a hopeless feeling when you are that far out.
WE FINALLY REACHED Pulsatilla pass (named for an Anemone that grows in the area). The pass is at 8,000 feet with no boot marks in the snow. The ranger wasn’t kidding about us being first over the pass that year. The trail was completely hidden in the snow and the only route we could pick was right on the ledge above one of those gorgeous blue lakes that at this point looked more like an icy death trap if someone took one wrong step. We sat down and discussed the route, who should go first, what the other would do if the other slipped and we prayed that we would make it to the other side of the pass together. We sat there figuring a little too long, during that time it started snowing really hard really fast. We were going to have to make the crossing during a white out.
We couldn’t see two feet ahead of ourselves and the snow was stinging any exposed skin. We couldn’t stay there, and we couldn’t go backwards so forward it was. I can speak for both of us that that was our scariest and most dangerous time in the wilderness. To make it even more dramatic when I was about halfway up the climb my Nalgene water bottle became unattached from my pack and did a slow slide down the pass and took the long fall into the lake below. We both watched it happen. That moment set a very serious tone to the situation. We knew we needed to hurry up and get this over with. It seemed like the longer we lingered the worse the conditions were getting.
We both made it to the top completely spent from the climb itself but also from the tension. I wish I could describe the feeling we experienced upon getting that behind us. We felt jubilant but we also felt dumb for getting into the situation. We also felt like two people who were being smiled upon.
We had a few more days to go to Lake Louise. When we arrived at the iridescent blue lake, we were way up high on ridgeback mountain looking down on one of the most beautiful mountain lakes we have ever seen. We were also looking down on the hustle and bustle of campers and cars and people seeing this great area from a different perspective. We were excited to have made it but at the same time not that excited about joining the masses and getting back to the predictable world we had just briefly escaped.
I know these trips must sound a little crazy and frankly as I write about them and read these articles to Mimi before submitting them, we both have forgotten about the need to get in that deeply. We look at each other and wonder what we were thinking. I guess we must have found whatever it was we were looking for.
TMy hope is that everyone has their own level of adventurousness and experimenting with their own limitations on whatever level that may be, it makes life worth living.