Rocky Mountain High

By Goody Niosi


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Hiker Goody Niosi has a passion for climbing - and testing her limits. Photos: Simon Lindley

Simon and I topped the last of the four summits on Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country. Done, done and done! So much easier than the guidebook had implied: cross a logjam, head up through trees to an alpine meadow, top four summits and then head down the other side. Well, we knocked that off in less than three hours, almost half the time predicted.

Feeling proud of ourselves we looked ahead – and straight up. There, in front of us, was a massive wall of scree and rock towering hundreds of metres above us.

“I wonder what that is?” I mused.

Simon stared at it intently. “Thank god we don't have to go there,” he said. Long pause. “I think I see people moving.”

“No way,” I said. “I think those are just rocks.”

“No, they’re moving.”

Another long pause. “Ohhhh – yeah – they are.”

We stared a while longer and turned to each other. “Uh-oh.”

“I’m not going up there,” Simon said.

“Well,” I suggested, “We could just go as far as we feel comfortable.”

It turned out that the fourth summit we were standing on was actually only the first summit – the other bumps along the way were just that – bumps. The true ridge was in front of us. And so, we hiked on, and not for the first time in our three-month Rocky Mountain adventure, scrambled past Simon’s vertigo issues to go far beyond where both of us had expected to go.

I was 69 when I met and fell in love with Simon, who was 20 years my junior. I fought it – after all, 20 years is a big gap – but Simon fell in love too, so we chose to jump off the metaphorical cliff and take a big chance on creating an “us” out of two strongly independent individuals.

Six months later, we took an even bigger gamble, committing not only to each other but also to a summer of adventure. We purchased a 35-foot motor home and set off from Vancouver Island to explore the Rocky Mountains, where Simon had lived for many years. I’d been an avid hiker all my life; Simon was only beginning to re-introduce himself to the high alpine.

We started gently in Whistler, hiking to Elfin Lakes, Garibaldi Lake and Rainbow Lake, often through melting early-summer snow. After a brief pause in the Okanagan, where I decided to solo the High Ridge Trail and became a buffet lunch for hordes of mosquitoes, we tackled Jade Pass at the top of Mount Revelstoke. We’d been warned by park rangers that the pass was still snow-covered and not entirely safe.

Oh pish-posh, I said. Up we went until we encountered exposed rocks covered in part by snow, making it difficult to navigate the steep slopes. But we did, with a certain amount of tricky manoeuvring and bum sliding. The reward at the top: views of the gem-like frozen lake and a mountain goat perched overhead.

It was at our campground near Revelstoke that I encountered the second person who thought I was Simon’s mother. Simon had the perfect answer for those situations: “I’m the older one,” he said. “Goody is the young one. I can barely keep up with her.”

Was it any wonder I loved this man? But his statement also made me think. It was true that most of my life I had hiked with friends who were 15 to 20 years younger. I am blessed to be fit, healthy and strong. Good genes? Perhaps. But I have always attributed my health to attitude. I love being outdoors, climbing higher and longer, pushing myself, chasing adventures, revelling in high-mountain bliss and seeking out the joy of nature. I expect I’ll be doing this when I’m 90.

After Revelstoke, we pushed on to Glacier National Park where we hiked Glacier View and Asulkan, another high-ridge hike ending on glacial moraine – another hike where Simon pushed himself past his vertigo to the place where the ice-born winds blew, and the frozen icefield toe reached down toward us from its rocky bowl.

In Yoho, we hiked Simon’s favourite: the Iceline. Hours of peaks, glaciers, tarns and views made our hearts soar. We challenged ourselves in Banff with Sentinel Pass, a long switchback that ended on a wind-swept ridge at the base of Temple Mountain. And then we drove into Kananaskis, where we drank in the wonders of Burstall Pass, Buller Pass and Chester Lake.

For me, there was one “must-do” for the entire trip: Mount Assiniboine from Sunshine Meadows. Thirty years previously, I had stood at the trailhead, looking down that lengthy path, longing to set foot on it. But on that occasion, it was not to be. I’d never forgotten that beautiful place and when I’d told Simon about it, he said without one moment’s hesitation: we’re going.

And so, on a chilly morning that threatened rain, we parked at Sunshine, took the shuttle to the trailhead, strapped on our enormous backpacks, and headed straight uphill.

It was difficult from the start. I’d insisted on carrying all the food. My pack, weighing in at about 34 pounds, exceeded one-third my body weight – the rule of thumb backpackers use for what they can comfortably carry. When Simon saw how much I was struggling, he offered to take some weight from me. But he was already carrying the tent.

“No,” I said. “I can do this.”

Two hours into our 23-kilometre trek to Og Lake, I was hurting. But I was also stubborn. I wasn’t just Simon’s wife now – I was his hiking partner and I was going to carry my weight (literally and figuratively), no matter what. Despite my aches and pains, I was aware that this was one of my dreams and it was coming true. Pain and bliss – completely intermingled – along with mist, rain and chilling winds. The sight of Lake Og as evening fell was one of the prettiest things I had ever seen.

The next day, we arrived at Lake Magog at the foot of Mount Assiniboine and it was everything I dreamt it would be. We hiked all day around the lakes, falling asleep that night to the sound of a torrential downpour buffeting our tent.

The next morning, we pulled up stakes, thinking to hike halfway back. But the campsite was full and, as it began to rain again, we made the rash decision to tramp back to the trailhead – 32 kilometres before the last shuttle left near six p.m. The long trek with full backpacks included a steep 600-metre ascent of Citadel Pass.

We made it – with 45 minutes to spare. I may have been aching and sore, but I was also deliriously happy and secure in the knowledge that 30 years ago, I couldn't have done it any better.

On my seventieth birthday at the end of the summer, we made an epic trek to Gwillam Lakes high in the Valhallas. While Simon had spent the season pushing past height challenge, I’d also stretched my comfort zone, reaffirming, beyond doubt, that age truly is just a number.

 

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