Follow the Sun (And Daughter)
We have been climbing hard for over three hours and find ourselves perched upon the Dragon’s Back, a slender ledge of rock on the upper slopes of Mount Rundle in Banff National Park. While the view is spectacular, my focus is on other things. Like survival. My daughter is ahead of me, brazenly standing at cliffs edge, tossing rocks into the abyss. I am so out of breath I don’t have it in me to yell at her to stop. Further up the ridge narrows and steepens. This is all a little bit more than I was bargaining for.
Meanwhile my daughter’s friend Ashleigh is down on all fours, a look of terror in her eyes. “Never knew I had a fear of heights” she says repeatedly, which I surmise is not the self-discovery she was hoping for this day. Mind you I was no paragon of confidence. To this point in life I had never pondered the characteristics of ‘scree’, which happens to be an ancient Norse term for landslide. Seems those Vikings chose words well, as with each step shards of rock would break loose and threaten to send me scudding down towards the precipice and a most unfortunate demise.
I was torn. You see I was raised to hang tough – to never give up. And now, with the peak in view and seemingly so close to bagging my first real mountain, the urge to get to summit was very strong. But something just wasn’t adding up. I felt as though I was holding a lousy hand in a high stakes poker game. Was I all in or was it time to fold?
Just weeks before finding ourselves in our rumble on Rundle, I faced a different sort of dilemma re: my university age children and their lack of summer job prospects. Both were at school in Halifax. Every week I would inquire about how the search for work was going. ‘Don’t worry ma, I got it covered’ they would say. Of course, being told not to worry had the opposite effect, sparking a continuous loop of images in my head of my aimless progeny spending the summer sleeping in, playing video games and emptying the fridge of its contents. On a positive note it had the makings for a new reality TV series along the lines ‘Real Dead Beat Kids of Oakville.’
But in an amazing case of serendipity, they both landed jobs in Alberta. So while hopes of a TV series were dashed, plans for our summer vacation were put in place, and my husband and I were soon Alberta bound.
Bear With Me
Our hike on Rundle was inspired by the fact my daughter’s roomie, Danielle, was turning 21. So what better way to celebrate a landmark than to climb one!
So, when my daughter first talked about the climb I thought ‘How tough can it be?’ reasoning that (based on about 19 years of history) anything my daughter can do, I can do too! So with precious little planning, and an abundance of enthusiasm, we set out early on a cool Thursday to climb Mt. Rundle.
Truth be told, I sensed this venture might be a tad more than I (we?) had bargained for. There were two reasons for this. First, we were rank amateurs in matters of the high alpine, and would soon learn that such is not a place where ignorance and bliss should be expected to coincide. Second, since arriving in Banff it seemed like every 2nd person was asking me if I carried bear spray. While it was conceivable that a 45 dollar investment could save my life, I remained unconvinced. Maybe all these folks telling me to buy bear spray were genuinely concerned for my safety. Equally plausible in my mind was that locals were on the take and getting paid a commission for every canister of product sold to gullible folks who had watched too many YouTube bear attack videos.
So as you can probably guess, I never did invest in bear spray.
Back at the Mountain
Upon arriving at the Mt. Rundle trailhead I briefly scanned a brochure titled ‘A Scramblers Guide to Mt. Rundle’. The guide included a ‘Gear List’ for the hike consisting of 12 ‘must have’ items recommended by the wise folks at Parks Canada. It was no confidence booster to find that we did not have in our possession a majority of items listed, such as: first aid kit, tape, trekking polls, rain gear, gloves, or pants. Ominously the guide warned about sudden changes in weather and biblical instances of hail, lightning and snow, even in summer. But on a positive note, the Guide contained no references or mention of bear spray.
And so it was a few hours later that my husband, Andy, and I found ourselves in a wee dilemma on the upper slopes of Mt. Rundle. There were two choices: push for the summit or toss in the towel and sip chardonnay a few hours ahead of schedule?
As keen as I was to give the summit a go, I also sensed that the mountain was reserving its best punch for last. Given that we lacked proper gear, adequate water and that one of our crew members was apoplectic with fear, it seemed pretty clear that we weren’t set for success. I reminded myself this wasn’t some casual Sunday hike, where your worst nightmare would be a bee sting and a blister. I also knew that Mt. Rundle would always be there for the climbing.
Andy looked at me. “Well, I think I’m done. You?” he said. I nodded in agreement, a sense of relief washing over me. I then turned to Madelaine to offer motherly direction. “It would be best to all head down together” I said, knowing that the chances of her willingly complying were well less than slim and none. “Nope! Not happening” she said before turning on her heels and continuing upward.
As a parent I had to fight the urge to demand that Madelaine and Danielle return with us. And under the circumstances keeping the group together may have been a wise decision. But I reminded myself that she didn’t come to Banff to be told to take hold of Mommy’s apron strings. And given that the risks were manageable, not perilous, it hardly made sense for me to play the heavy.
It was hard to deny the symbolism of this moment. After all, one of the ultimate goals of parenting is to raise kids who are independent, responsible and ready to step up to life’s challenges. At certain defining moments in their lives you have an obligation to park the parental angst and let them find their way.
The real question is not if they will reach that point, but rather when they do, whether you as a parent are ready to let go. This was one of those moments.
And so with Ashleigh gladly in tow, Andy and I turned around and headed down.
Four hours later we watched Danielle and Madelaine emerge from the trail, glowing with accomplishment. We took a seat on the deck at the Waldhaus, the famous pub at the Banff Springs Hotel where many a hero of golf and industry has sipped a drink and taken in the view. “Let‘s toast your achievement” I commanded looking Madelaine square in the eye. It was, I figured, the one order she would be prepared to follow. And given that I was picking up the tab she gladly complied.
“Here is to conquering dragons” she said, as we brought our glasses together.