Story and photos by Ken Irving
Two thousand feet above the valley floor, my right foot grips a quarter-inch ledge above nine pitches of exposed vertical rock. My left foot searches the hard grey wall for a blemish, anything to gain slim purchase. I stretch my left hand up to the ledge just beyond my reach with the fast tiring fingers of my right hand seeking a hair crack. I hug the rock wall for a second to get my head in gear and move my foot along the crack. A shift of weight, a swing of balance and with a burst of energy, I thrust upward and gratefully grasp the missing piece in the giant puzzle, as my left hand grabs the wonderfully big handhold above. I pull up with both arms onto the large mantle-ledge, let out a resounding, “YEEHAW!” and take in the views with snow still topping the massive peaks like frosting on giant sweet buns. I psyche myself up for the next problem above.
Mountain guide Matt Reynolds and I are on the multi-pitch route of Morrow Peak in the climber-favored Colin Range in the spectacular wilderness of Canada’s Jasper National Park. Though both capable of something more extreme, we are on a moderate climb chosen because of the forecast for rain, a wise choice in the circumstances.
Matt has been guiding and mapping out routes in the park for years and knows exactly where to take an out-of-practice family guy to rediscover his mountaineering skills. I must admit, I am surprised at how fit I am. Is it possible that I could have grown fitter with age? That the work of an organic farmer and father could keep me limber enough to climb the multi-pitch routes I was accustomed to in the past? Or is it just the mountain air and the sheer exhilaration of adrenalin rushes?
We climb the last pitch in the rain and the wet slippery rock takes on a more sinister quality. My hands are cold and there is an urgency to finish before the weather worsens. The wind howls as we pull over the last rockband and I am relieved to top out near the summit of the mountain.
We snap a few quick photos by the summit cairn and hasten back down to the warm valley to partake in a well-poured pint of Guinness at the Whistle Stop pub in Jasper town site. Later, I retire to my digs in the rustic Bear Hill Cabins backing on the forest, a perfect spot to kick back and relax after the day’s adventure.
The next morning, feeling subdued and slightly sore, I drive to Lake Annette. On a still summer morning, the crescent shaped sandy beach wraps around the pristine water with the surrounding mountain peaks reflected in the smooth glass-like surface.
I discover a “Hands Across the Sand” event with local residents joining people on beaches across the globe, all holding hands to form symbolic human barriers opposing offshore oil drilling. Walking along the waters’ edge, I see thousands of tiny fish, synchronized swimmers darting this way and that in the shallow clear water. I think of the millions of marine animals in the Gulf of Mexico dying through negligence or just because of the inevitability of human error.
Joining hands to complete the chain, (photo above) we joke about how we would “for sure” stop them drilling in Lake Annette in the middle of a national park. Is it any more acceptable to risk destroying marine eco-systems in environments that are not protected?
On Sunday, I decide to decompress from adventure and activism in the Miette Hot Springs. I drive the long winding road into the primeval Miette Valley of thick forest where undulating limestone cliffs define the skyline and dinosaurs would not look out of place.
In the heart of this magical landscape, I alternate between soaking in the hot pools, and plunging in the two icy cold pools. As braced as I am for the shock, air rushes from my chest in a sharp exclamation of surprise as my body feels the jolt of icy water. I rush back to the hot pool and immediately feel wild tingling all over as blood seeks out the tiny capillaries under my skin once more and I leave feeling truly invigorated.
A red fox ambles along the verge hunting for a tasty gopher sized meal, oblivious to my presence. Farther down the road, a mother black bear appears with two cute black balls of fluff bouncing behind her on barely visible legs.
I pull up to the Jasper Park Lodge and decide on the classy but relaxed atmosphere of the Emerald Lounge for dinner. The carrot and yam soup bursts with vegetable goodness, no fake flavours here! I follow this with grilled Pacific halibut and garden couscous with roasted fennel. The fish tastes like fish should, fresh from the sea, but the blood orange vinaigrette is the magic touch, delighting the tongue. Fish never tasted this good so far from the sea.
I admire the mountain view and sink into one of the lounge’s big comfy sofas. I am happy here. Rounding out the day, the live grand piano music creates the mood for the end to a perfect day and a contrasting and fulfilling weekend getaway.
Jasper is sustenance for the soul and I feel ready to return to the flatlands of our family farm, rejuvenated and looking forward to home. I know I will return again and again. There is so much more to experience in this slightly off the beaten track mountain paradise.
Guest writer Ken Irving is substituting for regular Well Traveled writer, Pamela Irving. Ken is Pamela’s Guy Getaway expert and partner in life. When he is not gallivanting in the Rockies, he farms Caledonia Organic Farm, producing high quality hemp for healthy food products. www.caledoniaorganicfarm.ca