a short walk in the canadian rockies

In early July of this year, Ross, Jon and I hiked from Maligne Lake to Cataract Pass over five days. We went very light, carrying packs really only intended for day trips, and hiked in runners rather than boots. Still, we carried sufficient gear to keep us warm, dry, and able to cope with  minor injuries. And we carried enough Scotch for a nip every evening. All this was a welcome change from traditional backpacking loads. I did take a camera but often forgot to even pull it out. And since Ross and Jon both have such good photographic eyes, I’ve poached all these photos from their blogs.

Five-day packs. Mine’s in the middle, and a bit heavier than the other two. I could have shaved another half kilo or more with a lighter bag and rain shell. But the pack weight was still barely noticeable.

We had a late spring in the Rockies this year and consequently meadows were wet and muddy, rivers and creeks were high, bridges washed out, and Jonas Shoulder still snow-covered. Below treeline, mosquitoes were a constant nuisance despite liberal use of DEET. And it was consistently hot. So some that trip was a slog.

Three things stand out from those days.

Jonas Pass

First, these caribou antlers set atop a flat boulder at the very summit of Jonas Pass, like some wild monument one might expect in the Arctic. They were an unexpected and beautiful addition to this broad and spectacular alpine  pass.

Second, re-encountering a six year old girl I had met a week earlier, wet, cold, and bedraggled en route to Pinto Lake. That was the second day of her family’s trip, and they had just negotiated a very tricky stream crossing.  Their goal was Maligne Lake and it seemed to me to be an impossible distance for such a small girl. A week later, when the three of us met them under sunny skies on Poboktan Creek, she had covered some one hundred and fifty kilometres. No small feat.She was delighted when I gave a large bar of very good chocolate I had brought in case we crossed paths as we worked our way south from Maligne Lake. For the next few days, whenever I felt the trail was  getting a bit too hard, I would encounter her tiny boot prints in the mud or snow, headed the other direction. A touch of realism.

Third was the recollection of what brought us together for these semiannual trips in the first place. While MIke was doing his post-doc in the Netherlands, he would jet back to Edmonton once or twice a year for a mountain trip. These were the events that none of us would miss. The Mike trips were  almost compulsory. And since we lost Mike, we’ve faithfully continued the tradition every summer and winter.

Mike Pollard, proving once again that great companionship makes great trips, no matter where you go.

But what made these trips special? It wasn’t so much that we climbed or skied or even that we were in the mountains. It was Mike’s attitude. Mike always found the joyfulness in all our trips. He thrived on adversity and always did more than his share to keep us happy and to make the outing safe and successful. This is what I remember of him and is, I think, the essence of what Mike taught us.

Ross on one tiring and frustrating day en route to Maligne Pass

So, in one way or another, we’ve tried to keep that part of our memory alive by doing these journeys as Mike would have – with his typical exuberance and unselfish care for others. I don’t know if I always show those virtues as well as Mike did. But I know Ross and Jon do. So thanks guys.


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