"If something goes wrong, Justin is now the one more likely than me to save you," He said, sounding very proud. "Just think, your brother would do anything to save you."
"You hear that, Justin?" I shouted back. "You'd do ANYTHING to save me."
"Oh, uh, I'd try..." he replied.
"Would you murder someone to save her?" asked JP.
"Well, he would kill someone to save her," said Dad.
"Uh, how did we get to this conversation?" asked Justin.
"Suppose that someone is running at Carla with a knife to kill her, and she's tied up, so she can't move, but you're standing there with a loaded gun. Would you shoot him?" said Dad.
"But if you let Carla die, world hunger ends," added JP.
Justin declined to respond.
Though certainly uplifted by the thought of people trying to murder me, I nevertheless was hitting my limit. I seem to be susceptible to altitude sickness. It's strange to describe: I wasn't in pain, I wasn't breathing particularly hard, my muscles weren't straining, but I was just not up to exerting myself at all. I was slightly light-headed, but not seriously. As far as I could tell, nothing much was wrong, except that I felt on the brink of despair, ready to cry, and quite certain that I couldn't make the massive climb ahead. Try to summit a mountain without exerting yourself. It's extremely difficult.
Uncle Dale agreed with me. "I sure wouldn't do this alone," he huffed, "but now I have to do it since your dad is doing it."
Competition doesn't motivate me like it does him. "You can all go ahead of me," I said.
Everyone guffawed. "Don't be ridiculous," Dad exclaimed. "I am not going to leave you behind!"
"I'm not going to leave you behind!" Justin exclaimed.
"I might," said JP.
Very slowly, with many breaks, we continued up. JP gave me his dried cherries. I needed the sugar, but I didn't feel hungry.
"After you get to the top, all your misery will melt away. You won't even remember it anymore," Justin said for the thousandth time. "It'll all be worth it."
A random hiker passed us on his way back down. "Do I have to go to the summit?" I appealed to him with a whimper.
"Yes," he said without hesitation, "You have to."
You might think it was exciting to be on the final push. It wasn't. It was despair-inducing. Up until this point, the climb had at least been in the form of switchbacks, or longer, lesser angles than was strictly-speaking necessary. But partway to the summit, the path just gave up and made a beeline. Here is a map of our hike so you can understand my anguish. It's impressionistic and based on my navigationally-challenged memory. Do not use this map to plan your hike or you will probably die.
But, after much ado, and despite the agony of the ascent, we did, in fact, all eventually crest the summit. I did not quite forget all my former misery, but the view, the rest, and lunch worked wonders for restoring my spirit.
|Summit and Lake Minnewanka|
|Justin: "Pose like we're tough and cool and-- oh, uh, or that. That works, too."|
|Dad insists that he's paid good money for us, so he always gets to be in the middle.|
|Triumphantly sitting down|
|Uncle Dale catching a few z's on the summit|
|Starting back down. Please notice the incline.|
|Go left, Justin! Left!! Don't take the path less traveled by!|
"Are you okay?" I asked. "Do you want to come with us?"
"Ah, please, go on," she said in heavily accented English, waving me by. I figured she probably hadn't understood me, so I tried again.
"You can come with us," I said, trying to wave her in front of me. She smiled and continued to wave me on, so I figured she was okay.
By the time Dad and Uncle Dale passed her, she was in obvious distress, descending so slowly through the rocks (backwards), that by comparison we looked like a sprint team. Uncle Dale didn't give her a choice. Hoping that he wasn't volunteering for a night's bivouac, he said, "I will stay with you."
Dad and Uncle Dale lent her some gloves and helped her pick her very slow way along. Her shoes were sadly inadequate for the task, and by the time they reconnected with us at the next major ledge, she was crying softly. Nevertheless, she was determined to be conversational with the group that had picked her up. As she pulled herself up with us, she sniffed, looked at Dad, then back at Uncle Dale, and asked, "Are you gay?"
It was such a non sequitur that the question didn't even compute. She received no answer.
At a later point she gestured to JP and asked me, "Cooorrrooor," (she had trouble with my name), "are you together?"
First I said, "Yes." Then I thought that it was so extraordinarily obvious that we were hiking together in the same group, that her ambiguous question must have meant something else. "He's my cousin," I specified. Hopefully she understood that I didn't mean I was dating my cousin. Then I pointed out the others. "This is my brother, this is our father, and this is our uncle."
Justin then stepped in and immediately threw it all into question again by trying to explain that Uncle Dale isn't really our uncle, but our dad's loooong-time, verrrrry good friend.
But whatever else she thought, she did tell me that my family was very friendly and that it was very good we were helping her because otherwise, she might have spent the night on the mountain and been eaten by a bear. She probably wasn't far off in assessing her near miss. We gently reprimanded her for her careless planning. Dad's psyche was slightly traumatized from always being in the back of the group, but he got over it.
Eventually, we celebrated again when we stepped over some fallen logs, thinking we remembered those being near the trail head (yeah..... we were still feeling hopeful). Out of the encroaching dimness, a young couple suddenly emerged, coming down the path towards us. Justin, in front, said their faces lit up with sheer relief when they saw him.
"Oh, we are so glad to finally see someone real!" they exclaimed. "We're lost! Do you know where this trail goes?"
They were informed that they were currently traveling up the mountain, but that if they turned around, they'd one day soon hit the parking lot. They gave their heartfelt thanks and immediately turned a 180. So, that is how we bring the number of lives we saved that day up to 3. Champions.
Finally, finally, finally, we broke through the trees into the ski resort and we celebrated! (We forgot that the parking lot was over a kilometer beyond the chair lifts). I was just about dragging my body along the ground with my hands by this point, while ahead of us, the young couple walked holding hands.
Then I noticed that they had stopped walking and were looking at something shielded from view by a ski cabin. I didn't give the slightest thought as to what they could be looking at. However, when I was still a good stone's throw away, they turned back to me (somehow I was in front this time), and again they looked rather relieved.
"There's a bear!" they exclaimed, pointing.
"A bear?" I repeated. Sure enough, as I got closer, I caught a glimpse of the rear end of a black bear lumbering around behind the ski cabin maybe thirty yards away.
"It was coming at us!" they exclaimed.
"What?" I said, "Was it really?"
"Wait, don't scare it off!" chimed my brother, jogging up. "I want to see!"
The bear ambled into the foliage away from us.
"Yes, it was!" the couple said. "It was looking at us, and started to come towards us, but then it paused like it was confused about whether it wanted to charge or not. Oh, we're sure glad you guys came when you did! It turned around when it heard you all coming!"
So that's how we ended up saving their lives two times in less than an hour. Medal, please.
In any case, by the time we saw the actual chalet where we had parked the car, we didn't have much celebration left in us. It had taken us five hours to get up that mountain, and it took us five more hours to get down it again. It would have taken our Japanese friend a lot longer still, because she was planning to walk down to Banff, but we told her no and stuffed her into our vehicle. The young couple also asked us for a ride, but we already had six people in five seats, so someone else gave them a lift.
Uncle Dale took our final proof-of-completion "picture" (see below), making JP shift around on his maimed knee a while longer, and then we hopped into the car, got pizza for supper (at 9:30 pm) and drove our sorry selves home to the sound of Uncle Dale mumbling "Justin, you didn't borrow the clothes," in his sleep. As I write this, four days later, my muscles are still so taxed and sore that I can barely hobble down a set of stairs. And the newbies survived. We keep telling them that after this, any future hikes will seem like joyriding by comparison. So far, they appear to believe us.
"Half the fun of camping in those days was looking forward to getting back home." Patrick McManus