“It is always the same with mountains. Once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape.” ~ Ruskin Bond
It's true. We lived in a tiny house on the final slope of the Rockies in the mid-70s, one of the happiest periods of my life. I have always longed to return.
They lie on the western horizon, grey and lowering like storm clouds. As you drive toward them they seem to rise up from the earth. We turned off Highway Number One and drove down Highway 40, into Bow Valley Provincial Park between two towering rows of mountains with mile after mile of dense coniferous forest. Trees which have grown so closely together that their trunks are bare rough posts for the first six meters (20 feet) with green topknots casting a deep gloom below.
It is a perfect day. A week ago we had 35 cm (14 inches) of snow. Today it is 24 C (75 F) and we don't even need a jacket. The sky is so blue you could fall up into to it, and breathe in the effervescent mist of one of the clouds which pass by.
The magnitude of the forces which created these mountains is unimaginable. The Canadian Rockies are made up of sedimentary rock, limestone, dolomite and shale, which was laid down in layers kilometres thick when western North America lay beneath a shallow sea.
In most places the Rockies are formed of pieces of continental crust that are over a billion years old thrust up as two tectonic plates collided. As one plate was forced beneath the other it shattered the layers of sedimentary rock above it pushing them into broken rows of jagged and tortured peaks.
And then the ice came. Again and again the ice crushed and gouged and milled cliffs off boulders and boulders to dust. It carried boulders as big as houses down these valleys and out onto the prairies like your mother carried a roll of quarters in her pocketbook to the laundromat.
Some mountains look like a horrified baker just dropped her layer cake to the floor on its side. The layers of another were at a 90 degree angle to the ground, and looked exactly like an enormous petrified tree trunk which had been broken off by the wind. One appeared to be a medieval castle with battlements, another a stone hawk hunched against the wind, its wings poised to fly. The snow glistening from ridges and slopes accentuate the fantastic shapes.
As we drove Ian pointed out the many peaks he'd climbed. I may complain about his climbing, but I understand it. The Mountain may be a fickle lover, and a dangerous one, but to embrace her is enthralling.
The glacial lakes that dot the valley floor like a string of beads are indigo in the shadows, milky turquoise and radiant Caribbean green in the sun, depending on depth. We stopped at Barrier Lake to take pictures. The air is rich and crisp with the scent of pine sap and aspen resin. A few miles father along we stopped and walked up a trail at Wasootch Creek. We stopped to buy a soft drink at the only service station in 100 miles of road, then turned to make our way across to the next valley over, where we found more mountains, more trees, and a washboard gravel road.
At a rest stop we saw the only wildlife spotted on the trip, a chunky little chipmunk who kept his distance. And in due time we arrived in Canmore where we had dinner and helped one of Ian's friend's celebrate his 50th birthday.
There is a deep solid peace which I glean from those mountains. They speak to me in a language I hear nowhere else on earth. As evidence of their power I slept that night without pain medication, the first time I've been able to do that in several years.