It was a weekend of firsts:
My first time using my own crampons and personal ice axe.
Mikey and my first backpack in the Rockies (even though they are in our own back yard!).
Our first backpack with another Calgary couple (hi Luke and Mariena!).
Mikey’s first summit since his chemo and radiation treatments.
All in all, it combined to be a pretty incredible weekend backpack away! We were so excited when our friends asked if we wanted to head out into the Rockies and climb Mt. Willingdon; usually we are the people doing the asking/planning. Moreover, we don’t have many friends in Calgary who love to hike/backpack and spend a weekend outside in the midst of the Stampede and release of the last Harry Potter film! We jumped at the chance to head outside with them, not knowing exactly what the trip would bring or what to expect, which we learned can be a good thing…
The trip started out rainy and cold – the EXACT opposite of what the forecast said it would be. Admittedly, we weren’t super excited about the rain, but the scenery was beautiful all the same and we trekked on, through the valley from the Mosquito Creek parking lot just outside Lake Louise until we left the trail and were bushwhacking to get up and over Quartz Pass.
The top of Quartz Pass.
At the top of the pass after a long hike through the valley, we descended onto our first snowy slope, moving slow over the steep parts and bootskiing down the rest.
Mariena heading down!
This is where we thought we were close to camp. Nope! The theme of the trip quickly became: “It’s further than it looks!” We came across an absolutely stunning alpine meadow – the largest one we’d ever seen – that was full of wild flowers and babbling brooks. The photos don’t do it justice (do they ever?) but it looked like something out of New Zealand! Simply incredible.
My “Welcome to the Shire!” look…do I resemble a hobbit?!
The little lumps of earth squished water as we marched through the marshy lands, enjoying the views and soaking it all in. After nearly 2.5 hours, we reached the end of the valley (like I said, longest alpine meadow EVER!) and agreed with the guide book: a “surprisingly undulated valley.” Camp was still a few twists and turns away, but eventually we made it, nearly 9 hours later. We were all ready to make camp and get to bed, especially with the cold wind that was whipping around us, and just like that the first day was done, 15 km (almost 10 miles) later.
Day 2 began with a 5 am wake up so we could get moving up the summit of Mt. Willingdon and be down before the snow got too soon in the afternoon sun. I woke up after my best-ever backcountry sleep and enjoyed the morning view so much it made me feel ready to go!
What a view!
We gained elevation quickly but the theme of the trip came back: “It’s further than it looks!” We were okay with that, however, as we knew we had lots of elevation to gain but not a far distance to go and had many hours to get it done. At the col, after climbing over talus and hiking along gorgeous ridges, we took a break to put our crampons on and get our ice axes out.
New crampons and the best backcountry snack ever: goldfish!
It was long, there were a few 45 degree slopes and a few moments where we all weren’t sure if we were going to make it, but before long we were at the summit of Mt. Willingdon, 11066 ft / 3373 m high overlooking multiple mountain ranges and glaciers!
With the wind whipping and a cloud that settled just as we summited (bummer!), we moved back down off the top, roping up for one sketchy section down a rocky face that brought us to a cliff. Thanks to Luke and Mikey for the makeshift harnesses and solid belay system as a backup!
It was another long day but a beautiful one, and we were glad to have summited and then had the rest of the afternoon at camp in the sunshine (a rainy hike in made us super thankful for the sun on day 2, even if the mosquitos were a-swarmin’!). With an early supper inside our tired bodies, we nestled into our tents for an early night and listened as the rain began to fall and the day came to a close.
Despite the rain at night, day 3 began without any drops and only a slight morning wind. Although our tent was wet, we were able to get up, have some oatmeal and instant coffee, pack up, and were on the trail by 7 am anticipating a long day’s hike out (I’ll refer you back to our theme of the trip!). It did indeed turn out to be a long last day but we were happy and content with the weekend and trying to take it in on the way out, enjoying each other’s company and the still-stunning scenery around us.
We enjoyed filtering water in the beautiful, crystal-clear streams and had some good conversations with Luke and Mariena (such a great couple!) on the way down. The good weather showed us really how incredible that first day’s hike was; very different to experience it in the sun versus the rain! Seven and a half hours after beginning, we were out, excited to make it to real trails and the road once again. After such an incredible trip, what was on our mind as we finished? Bison burgers and sweet potato fries at Bill Peyto’s in Lake Louise! nothing tastes as great as a burger after a long weekend of hiking, especially a lean and tasty one like the bison burger!
Special thanks to Luke and Mariena for the great trip, fun company and good leading as we hiked! It was so neat to share this experience together and to take a moment to pray before beginning each day; we sure are thankful for safety and incredible views from God. Furthermore, after hearing that he might never climb mountains again because of the damage done to his lungs from radiation, it was an amazing celebration that Mikey climbed a mountain post-treatments. Praise God for his faithfulness!
Thanks for enduring a long update – just about as long as our hike felt (and was! 20 miles in and out total plus the elevation gained on day 2!). I’d love to know:
How was your weekend? Anything in your life, small or big, to celebrate?
We are now at Fairmont Hot Springs to have some family time as the Langs before Sarah and Craig go back to Mongolia; we’re grateful to go from this weekend backpack to time away with family! Love embracing the summer and so grateful for life and bodies that can move. I’m off to the pool with the fam to relax, but I have a feeling even after a long, active weekend it’ll be hard to keep myself from a run today! As always, live well & be well,