“Ok, I’m just going to stay squatting and push myself along as a penguin,” I called out, mortified at how ridiculous I looked, but also kind of having fun with my first accidental tobogganing experience.
“You do you,” he called back with a cheeky grin on his face. This was not how I pictured this going…
Of all the hikes and beautiful places hiding in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, open to travellers with even tiniest bit of adventure in their blood, Mount Edith Cavell is one of the most coveted. And one of the few I hadn’t made it to yet.
Named in 1916 for an English nurse executed by the Germans in WWI for helping allied soldiers escape from occupied Belgium, an easy 15 minute walk would get you to a lookout providing a close-up view of Angel Glacier, hanging between two mountains over a relatively small lake that remained frozen even in the middle of summer (not unlike myself). Another 1.5 hours along the meadow trail would take you the mountains’ peak.
When a dashing local suggested the hike, I obviously wasn’t going to say no. If it didn’t live up to the hype I’d still have something pretty to look at, but I’d seen colleagues’ photos of wildflowers covering the mountainside and panoramic views from the peak, so I didn’t really think that would be a problem. I threw on my worn but trusty runners, glanced at the hiking poles I’d picked up from lost and found and almost immediately vetoed them, then bounced out the door.
I should have taken more time.
What I failed to grasp was the rest of my workmates had done the hike in July, when Jasper is at its (not very warm) warmest. This was September. Having joined my hiking buddy and been concentrating more on the conversation then where I was going, looking up was a shock.
There was more snow covering this mountain than I had ever seen in my life. The pure, untouched brightness of the white clinging to green pine trees and covering the ground like a thick, fluffy blanket was straight out of a storybook. The small pockets of dark earth poking through was a stunning contrast. Thick cloud blocking a wider view only added to the mystical effect. Then I noticed the other hikers.
Every one had hiking boots, winter coats and hiking poles. Unlike my thickly padded one, their backpacks were meant for long walks and lots of sweating. All this I had been noticing all through summer, and, if I’m honest, had simply scoffed because my far cheaper gear was doing just fine. But now there was snow, and with snow there was ice, and I was slightly screwed.
Never one to back down from a challenge, and if I’m honest, still trying to be a little impressive, turning back was never an option. Getting up there is never that hard anyway, and coming back down was future Kassia’s problem. Plus, the further up we made it, the more the cloud began to clear, opening up to literally breathtaking views (or was that the altitude?) of the glacier below and mountains around us.
About an hour later, we made it to the peak. As the queen of under preparation, I had brought two apples and a small bottle of water. Luckily my hiking companion had a whole picnic in his backpack; he even used his waterproof jacket as a picnic blanket for us. Who says chivalry is dead?
I won’t lie, it’s cold up the top, but food or no food you’ll want to spend a while up there. If you start early in the day to avoid the crowds, there’s an added peacefulness, if not you’ll still enjoy soaking up the beauty in the presence of like-minded people. And then, if there is snow, and like me you’ve never before made a snowman, and especially if you have a Canadian with you to impart the secrets of perfect snowman making, obviously you’ll want to build a snowman. And the snowman will want you to build him, because what a view!
Eventually though you will have to head back down. In mid-summer that won’t be a problem because you will be surrounded by wildflowers. Come Autumn, just hope you have hiking boots, or an extremely padded butt. I was now future Kassia and I had a problem.
Concentrating hard, I followed my companion back down the mountain trail, letting him and his sensible hiking boots go first while my very inadequate runners lost their grip again and again. I could no longer take part in the conversation, no matter how much I wanted to. For his part, he kindly took over talking and patiently waited for me to try and find my feet. Eventually there was no other choice, I was on my butt so much I may as well make use of it.
And that was how I ended up making like a penguin, surrounded by experienced and prepared hikers, up the top of Mt Edith Cavell. I have to admit, I was still having fun. My hiking buddy (and everyone else on the mountain) seemed to find the situation as funny as I did, and I’ve always wanted to toboggan; I had just imagined there’d be some sort of sled between me and the snow. Sure there was one particularly hairy bit where I slid down about 5 metres before I was able to dig my feet in to stop myself, but hey, I’m still alive!
I’d also still 100% recommend this hike. If you make it to the top and you see a pretty stylish snowman, give Edgar a hug for me.