West Coast Canada, July 2011
Slack-lining, yoga, smoking and sunbathing. This is the scene of a typical day at the camp ground in Squamish, Canada where rock climbers are taking a day off and recuperating from their latest vertical conquest upon the towering walls of a giant rock known as ‘The Chief”, a 500m tall granite monolith surrounded by enchanted pine forests below.
It’s been an absolutely magic and humbling month. I’m tired all over, bones throbbing and everything. A friend of mine called Monte, text me the other day and asked if I wanted to climb a rock pinnacle called ‘The Sentinel’ over in the Rocky mountains near a town called Lake Louise. (The other side of British Columbia). I didn’t refuse as I’m new to climbing in the mountains without a guide and I want all the experience I can get as I’m dead keen on being a guide myself in the future.
Hitchhiking south to Vancouver, I call up a lady friend I met on a night out once. We enjoy some cheese and crackers over a bottle of wine and some Finley Quaye. Such a nice change after living in a campsite and sleeping on the ground. A hot shower and a real bed too. Luxury. She even had internet so I got to search for some ride shares in the morning over coffee.
An hour later, I hop off a local bus and rendezvous with a family of modern looking Native Americans who pick me up in Abbotsford, a peripheral city of Vancouver. They’re driving all the way east into Alberta, so I jump in. It’s the cheapest and fastest option.
Unfortunately, they asked for petrol money upfront which is fine, only they weren’t that keen on getting to know me so I got to sit there like a heap of forgotten luggage.
A day of silence later and we pass through the town of Revelstoke, the same town I was living in at the beginning of the summer. I thought of a friend I know called Alex, a funny and sweet female earth child from Quebec. A fantastic mountain biker too.
After hugs and some chit chat it turns out she is driving with her boyfriend to Lake Louise for some hiking as well. How funny. So the next day we blast out of town in her match box car, crammed in at all sides with bags and gear with two mountain bikes drooping off the rear. Amazingly, we manage to crawl up and over the mountain road of Rogers Pass like a cheerful snail until we reach the boundary of the Banff national park in the town of Field. There’s free camping and Monte’s down to meet me there in the morning which works for me. Pretty much straight away though, it pours with rain all night long.
I call Monte upon waking to hear the crushing news that the Highway to Lake Louse is closed because of a mud slide. I lament with resignation about having hitched hiked for two days from west to east British Columbia for nothing.
With a smile and a jug of coffee, he scoops me up from the flooded campsite and we cruise on the highway south back to his place. He informs me that he’s headed to Vancouver in a few days anyway and offers me a ride, my damp spirits warmed just like my face which is pressed up against the heater.
Cranbrook is not really a place most people like me want to hang out but thankfully it’s positioned in the middle of a plateau that looks upon the western foothills of the Rockies. Head towards those slopes and maybe you’ll find Laquet Lake. A massive pond without a current but with a pretty line of cliffs surrounding it. Monte drops me off and leaves me in the dust, miles away from civilization.
See ya in three days buddy.
As soon as the air settles, a cloud of mosquitos descend, sending me into a frenzy to set up the tent and hide from this onslaught. Wiping my itching arms before entering the little green bubble, my arms glisten red with the sheen of blood. Damn.
The days pass slowly and the combination of heat and bugs drives me a little mad as being outside to go climbing or walking around is more a matter of how-much-can-you-take before you want to run around stir crazy and retreat to the tent or end up sitting by a smoky fire the whole time.
Post dinner on the last evening, I notice daylight is fading but it’s not the time of day, it’s actually due to a massive black curtain of rain that’s steadily ploughing it’s way over the wide plateau and towards the foothills where I’m currently sitting and swatting myself like a repenting monk. The shroud of thunderclouds flashes and booms over Cranbrook and continues onwards toward our little pond where all the wildlife including me sits in hushed anticipation.
Whoosh! The rushing headwind destroys the fire and knocks me about as I make tracks for the tent, stumbling over rocks and clumps of grass. The epic draft is busy trying to uproot my home so I peg it down with extra guy ropes and chuck all my gear inside to make sure it doesn’t fly away. Diving in too I sit there scared, preparing to brave another round with the powerful forces of nature. The deluge sweeps over the lake and it feels like I’m under a waterfall in a wind tunnel.
It’s now dark as night as the flash bangs that usually have a delay between the two become ‘flash & bang’. Boom! The lake is struck with lightning a few times. For some reason, the only thing I can think of doing in this frightening position is to read my mountain weather book, looking for advice concerning thunder storms for some respite.
Is there something I can do to make this situation better? Please..God..anyone?
Frantically absorbing the pages, it turns out all the climbing equipment I’ve thrown in the tent to weigh it down is made of metal, which is a major conductor of electricity. Yes, I did go to high school. Yes, I was in a panic and didn’t think about that. I’m right next to the lake too, which isn’t a good idea either. The wooden outhouse down the hill beckons me as the only viable option so I bolt out of the tent and run for cover like Bambi.
Inside the walls of the outhouse I wait out the storm and feel the explosion of lightning rock the booth a couple more times. Yet suddenly it’s all over, the clouds lift and birds start chirping like nothing happened. The sun hasn’t even set yet. Walking around the lake, only puddles remain and my tent is intact. Was that just a nightmare?
I relight the fire and sleep it off. The next morning, Monte shows up with french pressed coffee and confirms for me. “Wild storm last night eh buddy? Crazy, let’s get outta here!”. I regale the nights entertainment and we set off for the west coast. Two days later, I arrive back to the camp ground in Squamish with welcoming smiles of climbing friends ‘chillaxing’, contemplating life and juggling apples.
Just like nothing had happened.