Having arrived in Calgary, I spent the next two days and nights working on various projects and reports, and catching up with Rick. Our conversations shifted from adventures past, present, and future, to work, life, and our attempts at some sort of balance between the two. Our time seemed to be divided between travel, bouts of laughter, and serious discussion, although much less of the latter, and a whole lot of the former. For the most part the nights were very low-key, with hair cuts and a trip to MEC being the highlights. And as I was jet-lagged in a way that I’d never experienced before, Rick found himself often chatting at the wall as I’d fallen asleep mid conversation. I guess that’s the side effect of time traveling through however many time zones I’d jumped through during my weeks and months of summertime travels.
Fortunately I awoke Saturday morning feeling almost human. Showers were had, teeth were brushed, and freshly cut hairs were combed as we set about our routine prepping for our trip to the mountains. We doubled checked our bags, made sure our water bags were sufficiently filled and properly sealed, packed a variety of snacks, loaded up the jeep, and then stuffed ourselves full of caffeine and food.
Since I hadn’t been hiking in some time, and given that I was still jet-lagged, Rick selected Grizzly Ridge for our first hike. The entire trek, he assured me, should take no more than 4.5 hours and would be a nice reintroduction to the mountains. He also assured me that the scenery would be breathtaking, and the scramble a lot of fun. He was right about almost everything.
As it turns out, the description he’d read when selecting Grizzly Ridge was off just a little. What we assumed was going to be an easy reintroduction, a gentle mountain hug if you will, was in fact a 7.5 hour intense (at times) scramble over a jagged saw-toothed mountainside filled with several holy shit moments, lots of breathless steps and careful hand-over-hand one-tiny-step-at-a-time navigation that had my heart pounding in my ears, and my eyes constantly scanning the rocks for the next foothold or handhold.
And it was absolutely amazing.
The scenery as promised was stunning. When we reached our first peak I stood in awe at the views of the valleys below. To my right was an almost all grey-rock valley, and to my left was a valley of intense greens (the outcome of a rather wet Kananaskis summer), the contrast of which was magnified by the intense blue skies that stretched forever in all directions. In the distance we could see row after row of purple-blue mountains, hazy against the horizon. And as the sun played peak-a-boo behind the clouds, we watched as the light danced through the valley bringing whatever it touched to a quick and vibrant life.
And this awe-inspiring scenery revealed itself to us with every ascent and descent over and around the saw-toothed Grizzly Ridge. Between breaths and the breathtaking moments where I scrambled for a handhold whenever I misjudged the distance to the next safe rock beneath me, I found myself thinking about the summer and my travels and how fortunate I was to be in the mountains again with Rick.
And even though my heart was pounding in my ears, and even though adrenaline coursed through my body, my mind was calm in a way that I rarely achieve in my day-to-day. Perhaps it came from the clarity of purpose, the need to focus solely in the moment because a simple slip could be disastrous. Perhaps it was the simple act of being outdoors, free of the various technological shackles that tend to pull us in all too many directions. Perhaps it was the sense of being small and insignificant in a huge and impossibly beautiful world. Or perhaps it was just the perfect combination of these.
Then again maybe I was just delirious, an effect of the coffee, jet-lag, physical exhaustion, and exposure to fresh air that comes from hiking through the mountains. Whatever the reason, I tried to memorize these moments because I knew they’d last for only so long.
After we descended the mountain and made our way to the jeep, I realized just how exhausted I really was. My body complained and stiffened as I worked to remove unnecessary gear. Boots were carefully replaced by shoes, the mere act a defiant stand against the tightness that seemed to spread across my lower back. I fell exhausted into my seat, tired, in desperate need of a shower, and rather hungry. But most of all I fell into my seat extremely happy, and content.
I looked at Rick and smiled, realizing once again how goddamned lucky I am.