Saturday, November 18, 2017

A summer & fall in the mountains.

It's going to be hard for me to put into words the depth of my love for the mountains. The unexplained affinity I have for these tall piles of ancient rock and how it is that I'm drawn to them in the first place, as a woman born in an archipelago of 7,000 islands who spent her entire life in countries surrounded by the ocean (amongst zero mountains). During this first summer in Canada I chased after them like they were going to disappear tomorrow, and so, this is what most weekends looked like.

As I gathered the images for this blog post I realised that for these adventures, I was usually joined by a troupe of women. How lucky I am to have spent so much time in nature with fellow females, each of us unique and strong in our own right; whose best qualities remind me to work on the same within myself. All the best parts of me made up of the best bits of every woman I've ever admired; the list grows the longer I live.

Looking back on all this, something else I reflected on was my own privilege. A word that, these days, in such a polarising and tense political climate, can be so incendiary. This is, however, the fact of it: to be able to have two days off a week to do as I please; to be able to afford to buy gear & clothing that will keep me safe, comfortable and alive in the mountains; to be able to drive to these places and even the sheer fact I was able to move from a place I called home for 17 years and start over somewhere else with relative ease without fear of persecution, death or some other terrible fate—this is privilege. My family came from far humbler beginnings. The life I am living now is thanks to the life my parents carved out for themselves; the years of hardship they endured and their commitment to the life they wanted for us, brimming with opportunities they did not have. I do not, and will never forget it, and every time I stand amongst nature far bigger and more beautiful than the insignificance of my own being, I am, without a doubt, grateful. I think of all that it took to get me here. I think of how I wish my parents and my siblings were here to see all this with me; so that we can help our parents to live the dream they also had for us. So that we can stand there together and ask them if this life we are now leading is better than anything they could have ever imagined. They too, deserve to be here.

But, back to the summer. Apart from the temperature sitting mostly around the mid-20ÂșCs (a rather mild summer in comparison to our Australian ones), it was a season plagued with thick smoke from wildfires burning several hundred kilometres away in British Columbia. An area of approximately 17,000 hectares burned for months on end. Some days, the smoke was so thick the mountains were invisible. All open fires were banned, so camping was done without the romance and ambience of a crackling fire. We'd make sure to only venture out on days where the wind had carried the worst of the smoke across the valley and we knew we'd at least still be able to breathe, but even then a thin layer of it would remain. It made for some interesting lighting.

Then came fall, and with it the famed larches took on their golden hues. On the day of our first “larch march”, we got to the already half-full carpark just before sunrise. As we got higher up in the mountains, so too did the sun. That day was still one of the best days I've ever had; silence on the trail except for our chattering and occasional yelling to make the animals aware of our presence; the mystique and grandeur and constantly evolving nature of the mountains abundantly clear. It struck me and it was like all of my heart and my being swelled amidst the magic of being here. In a place that is still wild. How is it that I could be here for the first time, yet feel so at home? In the distance, as the morning light illuminated the valley floor, hidden just between the shadows of the trees were a family of elk. Some grey clouds threatened us beyond the pass. The season's first snowfall like a soft white blanket over the rocks we were standing on, and at one point, a stark backdrop for the purplish hue of bear scat which prompted a several minute investigation as to how fresh it was, and if we should in fact be turning around (we concluded that we were fine, and continued on). We pushed on to the pass and made it just past the border where British Columbia and Alberta meet, before the blustering winds made us scurry quickly (but not too fast, lest we slip on ice) on our descent to less exposed terrain.

I love the Canadian winter and the different kind of beauty the snow brings, but I already can't wait for the summer again. I've been making a list of all the places I want to hike to next year and it never stops growing. Researching trail conditions, the weather, bear reports and elevation gain; waking up well before the sun so that we can have the trail mostly to ourselves with the bonus of completing our objective before lunch-time; feeling the struggle as we approach steep inclines and endless switchbacks for kilometres on end, and then descending, excited for a repeat experience the following weekend, already forgetting the aforementioned misery, simply elated at the thought of being in these wild places again. I'm having a hard time imagining life any other way, but I know there will come a time I will have to put pause on adventures like these, to make way for different kinds of adventures to come.

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