Articles tagged with: British Columbia

Canadian Rockies: Great Vacation Destination

What characteristics make for a wonderful vacation destination? I suppose the answer might vary depending on the person, but the Canadian Rockies has a lot to please just about anyone.

My wife Mary and I spent nine glorious days camped there this summer, and I think it was the best choice for us. We’d planned to visit Italy, but we came up short on frequent flyer miles. Our next thought was to hike a 74 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail. A drought brought forest fires and water shortages to Washington’s high country, so two weeks before departure we switched our plans to Banff and Jasper National Parks, along with Mt Robson Provincial Park.

Not knowing better, we scheduled our trip to start during Canada’s busiest camping weekend, Civic Holiday or “August long weekend.” We figured it out when we couldn’t find a camping reservation anywhere near Banff. Lucky for us, our time freed up and we departed a couple of days early, just in time to grab one of the last first come first serve campsites at Castle Mountain Campground. Those that weren’t so lucky got to pitch their tents a few feet from each other on the edge of a big gravel parking lot (overflow camping).

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Mountain Thrills and Dangers

For thrill-seekers, the Rockies have mountains to conquer, rock faces to climb, and whitewater rivers to raft. Even backpacking in the mountains holds a number of dangers. There are cliffs to fall off, storms that can move in quickly, potential for getting hypothermia, getting lost, and of course, there are bears. We camp regularly in the North Cascades, which has lots of black bears but few grizzlies. The Rockies have a lot more grizzly bears, and grizzlies can be big, mean and ornery. In fact, Banff and Jasper National Parks have frequent trail closures, an electric fence around the Lake Louise campground, and lots of bear boxes for food storage. I kept bear spray close by and heard from a fellow backpacker at Mt Robson that he actually used his. If you’re going to Banff and want to see bears, try the Lake Louise Gondola.Grizzly bear warning sign

We never got around to riding the Gondola, but we did see a couple of bears. They left us alone and seemed far more interested in doing their own thing. The biggest danger we actually faced was our long drive across British Columbia on Highway 1, the major east-west truck route across Canada. We’d left in early afternoon, and I was road weary and still driving past dark, on a section of Highway 1, that winds through mountains with only two lanes. This meant temporary blindness as semi headlights came at me at a combined speed of over 220 kilometers per hour. To make matters even more exciting, we came across plenty of warning signs for deer, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep.

We were very relieved to reach the Husky Travel Centre truck stop in Golden, BC, where we found semis, and a few smaller rigs, parked for the night in every available spot for blocks in both directions. Eventually, we found an opening, crawled into the back of our pickup, and slept until 6 am.

Canadian Rockies: International Destination

I think we heard just about every language and encountered nice people from all over the world. If you’d like to practice your language skills, this could be a good place to do so.

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Our Luxurious Accomodations

French seemed to be almost as common as English. I realize French is the other official language of Canada, but I thought most French speakers were in Quebec. At Lake Louise, we encountered a teenage daughter yelling at her dad about a picture of her he apparently had threatened to post on Facebook. She started her tirade in English then switched over to French, when things really got heated. I chuckled and was glad my youngest of three daughters is now 20 and past that stage.

We also heard a good deal of what I suspect was Chinese (Mandarin), especially while camped in the Lake Louise campground. Our campsite sat in very close proximity to the neighboring site, which held two large tents and lots of young Asian children. The weather continued to drizzle, so we didn’t bother setting up any gear. We just sat in our truck and listened to our neighbors chattering, joking in Mandarin and laughing loudly until long after we’d climbed in the back to go to sleep. I actually thought it was great that they were having so much fun, and exhaustion put me to sleep quickly.

Toyota Tundra

Home Away from Home

The next morning, the neighboring kids started in again early, until their parents noticed us climbing out of the back of our truck. Up to that point, since we had no tent, they must’ve assumed it was just an empty truck sitting next to their campsite. When we wished them good morning, they just smiled nervously and waved. Until we left that morning, they kept shushing their kids.

World Class Hiking and Scenery

People come from all over the world to see some of the best scenery in the world. We love to hike, and there is some fantastic hiking in the Canadian Rockies. I have to admit though that there is an awful lot of spectacular scenery that can be enjoyed without getting far from your car.

Curt at Lake Louise

Curt at Lake Louise

Our first day in Banff, we had clear blue skies, so we decided to cover lots of ground and shoot lots of pictures. We visited Lake Louise then travelled up the Icefields Parkway to Bow Lake, Peyto Lake and finished off the day with a stop at Moraine Lake. That’s a lot of alpine lakes in one day, but each is unique, with a different shade of water, varying from deep blue to milky turquoise.

On our second day in Banff, we got up early and headed back to Lake Louise for a 10 mile hike that brought us high into the mountains above the lake with stops at two teahouses. The Lake Agnes teahouse is a solid log and stone structure sitting at the edge of the lake’s outflow, with a babbling creek on one side and a cascading waterfall dropping off behind it.

Lake Agnes Tea House

Lake Agnes Tea House

At the second teahouse, Plain of the Six Glaciers, we spent $30 (including tip) on two pieces of blueberry pie and a “mocha coffee,” which tasted like a mixture of instant cocoa and coffee. The price almost seemed worth it when we considered employees had to haul ingredients in by backpack and prepare everything without electricity. Besides, the glacial view was fantastic.

During the trip, we hiked a variety of trails and covered more than 60 miles with elevation gains of over 10,000 feet, a good deal of hiking for a sight-seeing trip. We chose our hikes carefully, with exceptional scenery as the highest priority. I do like to take good pictures. The most scenic hikes are also the most popular, so there can be a lot of people on these trails. To escape the crowds, we got up early (5:30 to 6:30 am) and hit the trail hours before the less serious hikers. Less serious hikers also don’t tend to hike more than a few miles, so you lose much of the crowds by choosing longer hikes.

Johnstone Canyon, Banff National Park

Johnstone Canyon

Our Hikes

  • Lake Agnes, Big Beehive Mountain, Plain of the Six Glaciers and Lake Louise Lakeshore (combined together)
  • Johnston Canyon – This unique trail winds up a canyon past waterfalls and pools, with catwalks over much of the creek. The trail is only 3.4 miles round-trip to the upper falls, and it is one of the most popular day hikes in Banff.
  • Lake Minnewanka – The entire lakeside trail is 18 miles long. We only did a small section of this, since we came to a place that requires hiking in a group of four, due to grizzly bears, or face a $5000 fine. Coincidentally, another hiker told us a grizzly bear was on the trail just ahead of where we turned around. The lake and trail looked quite scenic, but there’s boat noise and you may need to have a group of at least four.
  • Bourgeau Lake and Harvey Pass – We felt out of shape as a group of young Banff employees and a number of serious hikers passed us by on this steep, very scenic trail.
  • Bow Summit Lookout – There is a network of trails here, in the vicinity of Peyto Lake. I’m not sure we we’re on the right one, because where we ended up doesn’t look anything like the guidebook photo. Looking down on Peyto Lake is stunning!
  • Parker Ridge – The trail climbs to a high, extremely windy ridge with excellent views of Saskatchewan Glacier.
  • Moraine Lakeshore – As far as I’m concerned, this short hike ranks amongst the most scenic I’ve ever seen.
  • Mt Robson and the Berg Lake Trail – This trail is reported to be one of the most popular backpacking trips in the Canadian Rockies, and I now know why. We’ll be back to do this one again sometime.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Banff Springs Hotel

Banff Springs Hotel

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Banff Springs Hotel

We decided to take a break from hiking and drive our truck, which also served as our home, into Banff to see how the other half vacationed. At $600/night, the Banff Springs Hotel was a bit beyond our budget, but it was well worth wandering around in. It was built in 1887, in the Scottish Baronial style, and looks more like a castle than a hotel. The interior has an old elegance that definitely reminded me of The Shining or Titanic. Extensive patio areas to the rear provide wonderful places to enjoy the mountain views. In fact, a wedding was taking place there.

Mt Robson

Rangers cabin in Valley of 1000 Waterfalls

Rangers cabin in Valley of 1000 Waterfalls

Our backpacking trip to Berg Lake, in Mt Robson National Park, brought us deep into a very beautiful and rugged wilderness area. We departed early, in a light rain, and the rain kept up all day. This turned out to be a great opportunity to learn of the shortcomings in our gear, which managed to get very wet. We now have new hardshell jackets, gloves, and a tarp. At Berg Lake, we reached a crowded day use building with a woodstove and lots of wet gear hanging from the rafters, nails, and anywhere else you could put wet clothes. We leisurely cooked dinner while our gear dried.

Mt Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, towers over the lake. Unfortunately, low clouds and fog blocked the view our first day. The next morning we woke to more low clouds, so we packed early and were on our way back out. A brief break in the clouds and a message from a spirit guide told us to stick around for a few hours, so we turned around and made our way further up the valley. The low clouds lifted and a little sun broke through, making for a stunning 14 mile hike out past Berg Lake, down through the Valley of a Thousand Waterfalls, alongside Kinney Lake and the Robson River.

Mt Robson, British Columbia

Mt Robson, British Columbia

What Makes a Great Vacation Destination?

Like I mentioned, it may depend on the person, but here are some of the things that people look for in a wonderful vacation destination:

  • Luxurious lodging and fine dining – Like we discovered at the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise, you can find it here, but we were perfectly content in our truck.
  • Lakes and Beaches – There are beautiful lakes, but the water is cold.
  • Things to do – There is plenty to keep you busy, especially if you like to hike.
  • Opportunity to learn about another culture – You may have to be outgoing and make an effort to talk to some of these fascinating people from all over the world.
  • Spectacular mountain scenery – The Canadian Rockies are amongst the best in the world!

We had a great time in the Canadian Rockies, and I’ll bet you would too.

An Excerpt From The Passage

The Passage

by Curt Remington

A chartered yacht, en route from Alaska to Seattle, struck a rock and sank, leaving seven people stranded in a remote part of British Columbia. Jenny, one of the passengers, and Trent, the yacht’s captain, set out for help in a hand-carved cedar canoe. A catastrophe that they’re not aware of has left almost no boat traffic in the Inside Passage.

Whitecaps with Canadian Peaks in the Background

Whitecaps with Canadian Peaks in the Background

Jenny dropped another log on the fire, sat back down on the picnic table’s seat and watched flames engulf the new piece of wood, dancing and flickering as it too caught fire. This camp, at Safety Cove, sat only nine miles south of their previous night’s camp, but it was the last resting-place for miles. Trent had explained that it’s a well-known shelter for mariners waiting to cross Queen Charlotte Sound or recovering from having crossed it. Once past Queen Charlotte Sound, they’d be in the more protected waters between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia coast.

Upon arrival at Safety Cove they had found an empty twenty-foot Boston Whaler, sitting cockeyed on the sand and mud flats, just out of reach of the high tide. Public mooring buoys in the middle of the cove sat empty, as did a shed on a bluff overlooking the cove.

Their campsite, on the south side of the bay, was one Trent had stopped at on a number of earlier trips. It was much brighter than their previous night’s site, since many of the trees had been thinned out. A wooden picnic table and concrete firepit made the site relatively comfortable.

In spite of the pleasant surroundings, Jenny couldn’t stop worrying about the lack of people and boats. What’s going on out there?

Walking back into camp with an armload of firewood, Trent barely noticed her as he dropped the wood and sat next to her on the picnic table bench. He stirred the fire with a piece of wood then dropped it in.

“What’s up?” Jenny asked. His concerned expression wasn’t helping her worries any.

He looked up slowly. “Just stirring the fire.”

“I mean what are you so deep in thought about? You’re worried too, aren’t you?”

“Probably just tired.” Trent feigned a yawn, but his face looked strained.

Jenny laid her head against his chest, closed her eyes and let the bright colors from the fire flicker before her eyes. They both stared into the fire for some time then talked quietly until dusk.

In the middle of the night, Jenny was awakened by Trent crawling out of their double sleeping bag. “What’s up?” Jenny asked, watching as Trent unzipped the tent and crawled halfway out the door, in his underwear.

“Checking the weather.”

“I can hear it’s raining. Why are you doing this in the middle of the night?”

“Actually it’s three am, and I’m more interested in what the wind is doing.”

“How’s it look?” she asked.

“There’s less movement in the trees tonight. I’d rather wait for calmer weather, but we can’t afford much more time. What do you want to do?”

“I’m game whenever you are.”

“Let’s do it then.” Trent crawled over to his bag and started pulling clothes out.

“Do we really have to get up this early?”

“The wind’ll get worse by afternoon. We need all the morning we can get. If you’ve got a solid stomach, eat a good breakfast too. There may not be much time to eat later.”

After a hurried breakfast, they loaded their cedar canoe and walked slowly through the dark camp again, looking carefully for anything they might have missed.

The water on the bay was smooth as glass, as they paddled out toward the mouth. Once out into the passage, there was only a minor chop, less than a foot high. They closely followed the steep, rocky shoreline of Calvert Island, which made navigating in the dark much easier.

Trent had told her it was roughly seven miles to Cape Calvert and the start of the big waters. By the time they reached it, the first light of dawn was starting to glow in the east. As they got closer to the end of Calvert Island, standing three hundred feet high, the size of the waves gradually increased. Soon Jenny spotted the undiminished waves that rolled past the island’s point. Oh my God! He did have reason to be worried. The waves were long, so they weren’t that steep, but they looked roughly eight feet high from trough to top, and they undoubtedly would get bigger as the wind picked up. Most of Jenny’s boating had been on Lake Washington or the Puget Sound. It wasn’t like this.

“Trent, do you have any Dramamine?” she asked, only half kidding. She hadn’t been seasick since she was a kid but had heard anyone can get it if conditions are bad enough.

“Sorry.”

Entering the big waves, Trent kept the bow aimed nearly straight into them. At the peak of the first wave, the bow was lifted out of the water, until the wave swept farther back and it dropped down, with a splash. Paddling through the next few waves, Trent gradually turned the canoe more to the south, sliding crosswise down the backside of a wave, then paddling hard to climb the next. As they reached the crest, they would turn the canoe into the wave, avoiding getting knocked over sideways by the crest. Along with the waves, a stiff breeze blew out of the west, carrying the damp smell of the sea.

After the first fifteen minutes, Jenny wondered how she could tolerate a whole day of the roller coaster motion, climbing up and riding down these waves. She glanced back and saw Trent paddling with a determined look on his face, showing no sign of apprehension. He smiled at her, in a forced manner. Jenny turned back around and paddled an efficient steady pace, remembering she had to keep it up for many hours.

Half an hour later, Jenny began to feel dizzy. She breathed deeply and tried to ignore it. A few minutes after that, she started sweating profusely. She pulled off her wool sweater but felt little relief. Soon the back of her throat began to tingle. Although she wanted to think otherwise, the signs were clear. Seasickness was setting in. She turned around again and saw the same determined look on Trent’s face.

Fresh air was supposed to help, but air doesn’t get much fresher than what she was already breathing. Looking out at the distant horizon was also supposed to help, but she couldn’t see it most of the time. What she could see were walls of water in constant motion, listing and rolling, rolling and rising, sinking and splashing, crashing and churning. She closed her eyes, but then her head reeled with dizziness. Fifteen minutes later, the inevitable nausea started to settle in.

Jenny turned around to face Trent. “I’m not feeling well.”

“You do look pale. Honey, I’m sorry. I just don’t have anything that would help. You want to head back?”

“I know we can’t. We’ve got to do this sometime. I’ll just have to tough it out.”

Jenny continued paddling, but quit thinking about the canoe, the ocean and the waves. She tried to imagine herself walking peacefully up the inlet trail with Trent, toward the mountains. It calmed her for a moment, then the trail started heaving and rocking. As nonchalantly as possible, Jenny leaned over the side and vomited, painfully aware of the stomach acid passing through her nostrils. She leaned over and vomited again, then she leaned over once more and blew hard through her nose, pushing out the remnants there.

“Jenny, take a break,” Trent yelled. “I can handle it myself awhile.”

She nodded, not wanting to face him, then set her paddle down and slumped down into the bottom of the canoe. Jenny sat there for fifteen minutes, then realized resting wasn’t making her feel any better, and sitting on the bottom of the canoe was probably making her feel worse. She also realized Trent wasn’t likely to make it across the Sound by himself, so she climbed back into her seat, picked up her paddle and resumed the tedious stroke, stroke, stroke.

The hours dragged on, and Jenny pushed herself to keep paddling, knowing that even with two of them, it would be hard to make it across to Vancouver Island. As Trent had predicted, the wind picked up as the day wore on. Much of their energy was expended, just bucking the wind and waves. Whitecaps had also formed, adding spray to the rain and stinging their eyes. Along with paddling, Trent would pause to bail with his pot, after each half dozen waves.

By late afternoon, Jenny’s arms ached more than she had known possible, and she began to wonder if her attempts at paddling were really doing much good. Waves of nausea still flooded over her, and now her arms felt like lead weights. Open sores on her hands stung each time salty spray reached them, and the rain kept coming down.

As the daylight started to dim, it became apparent they’d never make it to Vancouver Island. The wind and waves had pushed them off course to the east, so the steep, rocky mainland shore was close enough to hear the breakers pounding into the rocks. When Jenny looked over at the force of those waves, smashing and sending up plumes of spray, it scared her enough to paddle harder than she thought possible.

“Jenny,” Trent shouted. “There’s an inlet along here somewhere, in about a mile, if I remember right. It’s going to be tough to get into, but it’s our best chance.”

He means our only chance. She turned and nodded, feeling too weak to shout.

Half an hour later, the inlet came into sight, and it was a frightening sight. As the waves rolled into the shallower water of the inlet, they slowed down and piled up into tall, steep breakers that curled over, then smashed down hard. She realized that was a better alternative than approaching the steep, rock shoreline to the left of the inlet, where being smashed against the rocks would be inevitable. On the right side of the inlet was a large island that rose more gently from the water but still had a rocky, boulder-strewn shore that the waves pounded against.

Soon, they were even with the inlet, facing the rollers which the canoe climbed up and over.

“Jenny, why don’t you rest a few minutes. I’ll watch for a let-up in the waves, then turn the canoe around and we’ll paddle hard for the inlet.”

Jenny knew the waves never really let-up, but some series of waves were smaller than others. That was the best they could hope for. Turning around, she saw Trent was alternately paddling, to keep them in place, and bailing with the pot he kept under his seat. Trent set the pot down and started swinging the canoe around with powerful sweep strokes. Jenny dug her paddle in, using draw strokes to help turn more quickly.

“Let’s go,” he yelled, and they paddled forcefully forward.

Jenny could see another large wave right behind them, which carried them considerably before sliding underneath them. It was followed by another big wave. Jenny paddled hard, riding the front of the wave. She hadn’t realized a canoe could go so fast. A hundred feet ahead, she could see waves curling over and breaking.

“Let this one go,” Trent shouted.

Jenny held her paddle up and felt the stern of the canoe rise steeply behind her, until she had to grab the gunwales to keep from sliding out of her seat. She glanced back and watched the crest reach the middle of the canoe, washing great quantities of water over the side. Trent swore, threw down his paddle, and bailed frantically for only seconds.

“This is it. Let’s go,” he shouted, picking his paddle back up and driving the canoe forward. Jenny paddled as hard as she could, temporarily forgetting all her pain. They gained momentum, but the first smaller wave passed under them. She could feel the canoe surge forward as Trent stroked.

With the canoe tipped down, Jenny’s feet were covered with six inches of water. Another of the smaller waves passed under them, lifting the stern high and washing more water into the canoe. The small waves seemed to come in a series of three, so the next one was their last chance to ride it past the breaking point.

Again, she paddled as hard as she could, gaining more momentum as they rode the front of the wave. The wave was so steep and slow now, that it had no intention of sliding under them. They rode the front of the wave like a surfer, with Trent ruddering to keep them straight.

Glancing back, she saw a wall of water towering over them. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and braced for the impact. As the water hit, she was knocked out of her seat and onto the floor, covered and driven down by a mass of frothy water. One hand stayed tightly clenched around the paddle, while the other searched through the churning water for the seat. She knew she had to stay with the canoe. Seconds later her head came to the surface, and she wiped the saltwater out of her eyes. The canoe bobbed up, thanks to the buoyancy in the cedar and the gear lashed to the crossbars.

“Keep paddling,” Trent yelled, to be heard over the roaring breakers.

“Are you okay?” would’ve been nice. Jenny climbed back into her underwater seat, sitting waist deep in the water, and stroked, momentarily wondering why they were paddling a sunken canoe. Then, she glanced back and saw a larger wall of water building up behind them. Wedging her legs against the sides of the canoe, she pulled her paddle through the water again and again. The immense wave broke behind them, carrying them forward in a torrent of foam. She kept paddling, knowing that wave would be followed by another and another.

“Nice job,” Trent yelled. “We made it through the breakers in one piece.”

Their situation wasn’t great, but Jenny realized they could’ve been caught in the midst of the breakers and pounded to pieces. Now, on top of being sick and exhausted, she was also cold and wet. Although she felt miserable, she was thankful to be alive.

When they reached the rocky shore, Jenny sat on a boulder with her head down, listening to Trent moving slowly and steadily back and forth with loads of gear. By the time he had the gear hauled inland, Jenny realized her seasickness had diminished some.

“I suppose it’s too wet and windy for a fire?” Jenny asked, feeling deeply chilled from the cold water.

“Unfortunately, I think you’re right.”

They soon had the tent set up and the sleeping bags thrown inside. Trent also grabbed the smoked venison and a canteen, then followed Jenny into the tent. Jenny quickly stripped all her wet clothes off and climbed into the sleeping bags, moving against Trent and shivering. He didn’t feel much warmer than she did, and the sleeping bags felt damp.

She stared at the damp ceiling of the tent, knowing that in the next few days, they would have to face the waves again. Maybe the seas would diminish. The shelter of Hope Island was within a half-day’s paddle. The town of Port Hardy, and help, wasn’t far beyond that, but first they had to make it through the breakers. Jenny rolled over and tucked the sleeping bag around her shoulders. Exhaustion soon outweighed her anxieties, and she fell fast asleep.

Sierra Trading Post

Goat Hunt (a Story of Aging & Survival)

An Excerpt from The Passage

by Curt Remington

 

Goat Hunt

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

This is from The Passage, a thus far unpublished novel I set aside some time ago.  It’s about a group that is shipwrecked off the coast of British Columbia.  This chapter is a story of a man dealing with aging and survival in the wilderness. 

Mountain Goat

Mountain Goat

John bolted upright in bed, hearing a loud clang in the adjoining room. He quickly realized it was Lori  dropping something. She probably wants to get me up and out of here. Lying back down, he tried desperately to recall his dreams, but they had disappeared. More than ever, he’d wanted to remember his dreams during the past week, but each morning he woke in such a state of anxiety that his dreams were immediately forgotten.

 It had begun the morning after his incident with Lori. He’d had almost the same dream about wolves and was lying in bed fretting about the dream.  On top of his worries, he’d felt painfully uncomfortable around Lori. She tried to be friendly, but it was obvious she was uncomfortable too. She was probably humiliated that he’d called her by his wife’s name. As if she wasn’t enough to command his full attention. John felt terrible, and he desperately wanted to regain their previous friendship.

Constantly working on the canoe for the past few days had given him more time to think and worry. He’d thought about hiking up into the mountains and hunting for mountain goats. That would help clear his head. They might need all the food they could get, and Lori would appreciate a coat like Catherine’s. Maybe when she wore it, she’d think warmly of him.

John climbed out of bed nervously excited about a goat hunt, knowing he faced a long, hard ordeal. He vividly recalled hunting mountain goats in southern British Columbia, twenty years ago. He had hiked, climbed and stalked until he was sure his legs would give out, but they kept going. I’m sure I can still do it. It’ll be just what I need to get my mind off my worries.

He quickly dressed and found a camouflage coat Trent had left behind. Stepping outside, he glanced up and saw a mostly clear blue sky, just beginning to glow from the rising sun. Lori was already outside stoking the fire and warming her hands. Her long blond hair was twisted into a knot to keep it out of the fire.

“You’re up early.”

“Morning,” she said, turning and smiling. “What’s up for today?”

“I’m thinking of heading up into the mountains to try and supply you with a goatskin coat like Catherine’s.”

“John, you don’t have to do anything special for me. Besides, do you really think that’s a safe idea?”

“With the salmon run almost over, there haven’t been many bears around, so-”

“I meant do you think it’s safe for you. Getting to the mountains is a tough climb.”

“Do you think I’m not up to it?” He was a little concerned himself but wasn’t about to admit it to anyone.

“I just think it sounds risky.”

“I’ll be all right.”


John ate a quick breakfast, then packed a daypack with a tarp, blanket, water bottle, food, a garbage bag for carrying meat, extra clothing and a folding hunting knife. It was certainly possible darkness would fall before he could return, especially carrying a heavy goat quarter. Catherine and Paul argued with him about leaving but eventually succumbed to his stubborn insistence. They, like Lori, seemed to question whether he was still up to such a trek. John was in the best shape he’d been in for at least ten years, and his outdoor skills had been honed by the past few months in the woods. He knew he was as ready as he’d ever be.

Starting up the trail, with the pack on his back and the magnum rifle slung over his shoulder, John decided to set a reasonable pace, knowing that at sixty years old, he didn’t have the stamina he’d had when hunting goats at forty. He also wanted to avoid stumbling into a bear. As he hiked, he concentrated on paying close attention to his surroundings, watching for game and identifying the trees and plants he knew, rather than falling back into worrying about Jenny, Trent and Kevin. For the first few hundred feet, a blue and black Steller’s Jay followed him, landing on a spruce branch, then flying ahead and landing again. Once it realized the hiker wasn’t going to feed it, it turned and flew back toward camp.

Reaching the cottonwood lowlands along the creek, a well-used watering hole for game, he approached quietly from downwind, practicing his stalking skills. He peered around a tree to the creek and marshy area twenty yards away and slightly below him, startled by the sight of a sow grizzly with two large cubs, playing in the stream.

Bears made him nervous as hell since that earlier incident on the trail. He watched them silently and looked for a solid, climbable tree. As he was looking, the wind shifted and carried his scent to the bears. The sow roared and rose up on her hind legs, with her nose high in the air, apparently trying to decide where the scent came from. John froze, partially in terror and partially to conceal his location. She ran ten yards down the stream, in his direction. His heartbeat drummed in his ears. Then the sow turned, looked back and crossed into the woods on the other side, with her cubs following close behind.

His heart still pounded like a jackhammer, so he sat down and breathed deeply. After a few minutes and some sips from his water bottle, he felt shaky but up to continuing his trek. He sure as hell wasn’t going to go back and tell the others a bear had scared him into his senses. The scar tissue on his shoulder itched like a burlap bag.

The trail continued to wind and climb, haphazardly following the creek, mile after mile. As the trail gained elevation, the trees and vegetation thinned and the terrain became more steep and rocky. When it opened up to a quarter-mile-wide meadow, a spectacular view of the jagged, snow capped peaks came into view. Wow! That’s where I’m headed. Past the meadow, the trail climbed steeply a few hundred feet to a lightly wooded plateau. John followed the trail through the woods another quarter mile, where it ended at a primitive campsite, on the shore of a small alpine lake. The lake’s mirror-like surface reflected a perfect image of the gray mountains, which rose steeply behind it. The trees ended with the plateau, but there were patches of green ground cover and white snow on the mountains, with snow becoming prevalent toward the top of the peaks.

Trent had told John about this place, but seeing the rugged beauty for himself made the whole hike worthwhile, even if he returned empty handed.

John glanced at his watch and realized it was already past noon. If he went much farther, it would be difficult to make it back before dark. Trent had been gone for two days, when he brought back that mountain goat. Maybe a good goal would be to make it back to this campsite by dark. He could build a fire and stay reasonably warm for the night, then hike down to camp the next morning.

John took out some venison jerky and water, then sat down behind a large boulder and started glassing the mountainside with his riflescope. A pair of binoculars would’ve been better, but Jenny and Trent had taken the only pair. He’d make do with the riflescope.

Working a section of the mountainside at a time, John examined every detail, especially the white patches. Most of them turned out to be snow, but after twenty minutes, he found a group of white patches that, on close examination, had legs and black horns. The goats were high above him and would require a long hard climb to reach. John kept scanning, looking for a good route up, one that would keep him out of the goat’s line of sight. Goats tend to expect danger from below and to run up hill if they feel threatened, so John wanted to work his way into a position above them.

A steep ridge stood above the goats and to their right. John decided that if he carefully worked his way around the lake, to the right, then stayed on the far side of the ridge, he should stay out of their line of sight. That plan should also keep them from winding him, as long as the breeze didn’t shift much. He tore off another chunk of venison, then packed the gear and shouldered the pack, moving slowly back into the woods. Goats have keen senses of vision, as well as of smell and hearing.

Although the going was tougher, John stayed well back from the edge of the lake, using the cover of the trees. By the time he reached the end of the lake, the ridge was between him and the goats. The terrain rose steeply from the lake, consisting of bare bedrock, loose boulders and patches of ground cover.

John’s breathing became labored, and he could feel his pulse pounding in his temples. He looked back and saw he’d gained a few hundred feet in elevation. This seems like a good time for a rest. He sat down on a boulder and looked out at the panoramic view of the lake below, the lush green valley he had spent the morning climbing through, and the distant ocean sparkling from beyond the network of islands. The sun’s warmth soaked in deep, even in the cool, breezy mountain air.

In a few minutes, John resumed his climb, feeling a slight ache in his thighs, with each step. It was the kind of ache that told him he was getting a good workout. He just had to be sure not to overdo it. John leaned forward and started using his gloved hands to climb, scrambling up a steep section, climbing upright where he could, then using his hands again. Occasionally he’d come to a plateau with green ground cover, using these spots to rest.

He glanced at the ridge, a hundred feet to his left and picked a spot to climb it, another hundred fifty feet above him. Once in position, at the base of the ridge, John rested, knowing it would take all his energy to get up the ridge. Looking up, he realized this would be more of a technical climb than a scramble, the kind you should have a rope and a belayer for. Unfortunately, he had neither. This looked like the safest place to go up, and he wasn’t about to turn back after coming so far. He’d just be very careful. This part of the ridge wasn’t vertical, but it was scarily close. The ridge’s jagged edge stood roughly eighty feet above.

He rubbed his stiff shoulder, the one the bear had chewed on, then tightened his pack, pushed the rifle’s sling over, and started up. His heavy hiking boots weren’t ideal, but they held while he used a combination of smearing and edging to work his way up, always careful not to move his foot until he’d found the best foothold. Two thirds of the way up, his calves starting shaking violently from fatigue. John found a good ledge and stood straight legged with his weight on his heels, resting until the shaking stopped, scanning for handholds and footholds farther up the face. After a few minutes, he resumed his climb.

Almost at the top, he stopped on a narrow ledge, slipped his rifle and pack off, and hooked the pack over a rocky knob. With the rifle in hand, he edged up the last few feet to the top of the ridge, carefully looking over the top. He spotted the goats about a hundred eighty yards out, on a knoll with steeply sloping terrain towering above them. Two goats were lying down, while the largest was standing, looking down at the valley below. John’s pulse was still pounding, and his mouth felt dry. The climb had been damn hard, and now was the moment he’d worked for.

John took off his gloves and placed them between the rifle stock and the lip of the ridge. He fixed the

scope’s crosshairs just behind the goat’s shoulder and gently squeezed the trigger. The rifle’s response was not gentle. The heavy .375 bullet knocked the goat over, and at the same instant, John realized he’d made a terrible mistake. This gun wasn’t the .270 he had hunted with for years, but the type of magnum that kicks so hard you wonder if it was you or the game that got shot. As he was thrown backwards, John flung the rifle out, freeing his hands to grab for rock, but his feet had already lost their ledge. As he started sliding, his hands and feet searched frantically for a hold to stop his descent but found nothing to cling to. Soon, he was sliding fast and gaining speed. When his legs hit an outcropping of rock, they buckled and he was flung outward, rolling and bouncing against the rocky face.

At the bottom of the ridge, his legs hit hard again, shooting up bolts of pain, while John extended his hands to break his fall, snapping both wrists. He continued to roll another forty feet down the mountainside, coming to a rest on a green plateau.

John looked down at his shattered legs and wrists, twisted at unnatural angles, then he looked up at his pack, high above him. He was filled with terror as waves of pain shot through his body. My God, I’m going to die here slowly. He quickly lost consciousness, his head dropping to the green ground cover he was laying in.

Minutes later, he looked up again at the sky and it was a deeper blue than he’d ever seen it, accented by soft white clouds. His body didn’t hurt anymore, in fact he felt unusually strong and healthy. He also realized that he wasn’t on the rocky peak anymore but sitting next to a fire at the alpine campsite. The greens of the forest were sharper than they had been, and the air smelled even cleaner, scented with pine and cedar. Looking toward the lake, he saw his wife Sandra walk up, smiling. She looked radiant and as youthful as when they married, with long flowing brown hair.

“John, everything is going to be okay.” She touched his hand, and he felt warmth and love radiate from her. “We’ll be together soon.”

“What do you mean?”

Suddenly pain shot through his body again, and John opened his eyes. He was back on the mountain, and the sun was now a large orange ball on the distant horizon. The pain started to numb, and he didn’t feel the fear anymore. His clothes were torn badly, and he suspected he was bleeding internally.

Many thoughts raced through his mind. The hunt had been a bad idea. Now Lori, Paul and Catherine were left without a rifle, and they would panic when he didn’t return. He also remembered something he’d told both Jenny and Kevin. When you’re alone in the mountains, one mistake can be fatal.

God I love them. I just wish I could see them again before I go. They must both be alive, or I think they would’ve been in my vision.

He also wished he’d missed the healthy mountain goat that was now lying on the mountainside, going to waste. Maybe it’ll make a good meal for a hungry bear. Maybe I will too.

His thoughts then turned to the significant events of his life, the impact people had on him and that he had on other people. He remembered his parents and his childhood friends. The events he remembered most vividly were those with his own wife and children.

Sometime well after dark, his heart stopped beating and his body grew cold.

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