By Darryl Darwent
On July 7, 2007, Malcolm and Ginny Juss and myself ascended Mount Yamnuska. This imposing mountain is located west of Calgary, AB near Seebe on the Trans-Canada Highway. Its sheer knife-like limestone wall rises 500 feet above the Bow Valley.
The weather was overcast as we left the city, with a temperature around a 20 degrees. Upon cresting Scott's Lake Hill and looking toward our destination we could see that high cloud had settled in. We didn't know what we could expect once we got there. The forecast had stated possible thunderstorms, but the weather report from Nakiska wasn't current when we set out. We pressed on.
We arrived at the trailhead at 9:30 AM. We started our ascent through the aspen trees. We spotted many wildflowers in the grasses along the trail. Somewhere on the web, a blogger wrote that trails themselves are not too much to be admire; that the destination is the goal. I would have to disagree. I possessing knowledge of plant life and how they relate to their environment one can quickly appreciate the beauty and diversity of the trail. We often stopped to admire the harebells, lilies, brown-eyed Susan's, and wild fragrant roses; to take pictures of them. We noted dusky coloured juniper berries, horsetail growing near a creek, strawberries and even some Saskatoon's. In all you might say that June is wildflower month in Southern Alberta, and look at these specials...
Initially the written guide we had indicated our goal was a ridge. Kind of jokingly Malcolm and I teased Ginny about going to the peak. I should know Malcolm better by now, from all the hiking I have done with him that what gets discussed in the parking lot can become the objective. I have called him in the past my mountain Shepherd that I do not want. Although, earlier in the week I had discussed with others about wanting to reach a mountain top. And in reflection I now feel for Ginny who was sandwiched by these two guys who were talking something totally different than agreed upon. We took the Eastern Approach, see Topographical map that takes the hiker behind the larger mass and above a valley. By our second hour we moved past treeline and began scrambling. We had to take to handholds at several points and go through a needle-like aperture. Mostly it was an easy climb.
As we near the top, Malcolm kept encouraging us to continue. I don't know that I ever wavered. We had done The Plain of Six Glaciers a couple of years before, which I found challenging just for the sake of elevation. Even if this was just as hard, the excitement of reaching the top gave me just enough motivation to accept his urgings. It was almost with an anticlimax that at noon we came to the top and in view of outlier Y03, a spire that had been in our cross-hairs (or was it the other way around) through the whole upward journey. A party ahead of us had already been to the wall and now were making their way higher. We moved into the area they had vacated to peer over the edge. I, not being so daring as Mal, hung back a half a mete or so. It was breath-taking. Ginny would later remark that it was the "glory of God" to be where we are and to see what we were seeing. We found a nearby perch that had the Bow Valley to our backs and a shallower valley facing us. Here we ate our lunch. Malcolm feeling a bit more adventurous headed upwards along the rim to the next peak. Hereto, it appeared he had an easy go of it. Other parties came into our vicinity, including one group consisting of about six people in their mid-twenties. They followed a ledge along a parapet of stone. While on the eastern side there was steep incline of uneven rock; in front of them was nothing but air. And particularly for the women in this group they seemed to be taking a stroll in the mall back and forth along this narrow shelf.
Watching this spectacle, nearly in mid-bite of a piece of cheese, I was frozen to do anything. I feared for them. It would have taken only an updraft or a slip of a stone for peril to prevail. there would have been nothing anyone could of done. for as fast as their legs may have taken them I remain doubtful they could have been saved. The fact that they left without incident was grateful, if only for peace to restore to my being. Later, in the evening, I experienced the sense of falling over that cliff or of they doing the same when I tried to go to sleep. Very unsettling.
We stayed on top for about an hour. During our descent we came upon people making their way up. Several of whom we talked with about how bus
y the trail was and of other routes ; while with one person we were informed where scree could be encountered -- to which we humorously noted it didn't matter for we probably didn't know our scree from our schist. To our befuddlement we encountered people who had their Ipod buds in their ear, and one chap even had a radio playing out of his backpack. It seems incongruous that you would be in such peaceful circumstances and need that kind of aural stimulation.As apprentice shepherd I took t he lead going down, and in doing so nearly got us off the main trail. The strain on our knees and feet was felt during the scramble. We ambled into the treeline and found a perch on the ridge. The sun had come out and started warming us up. It would have been well to stay there longer (a nice spot for a small cabin), but we had to make our way back to the city. We arrived in the parking lot around three-thirty, somewhat spent, yet in a good way. Looking up at where we had been, holding in admiration each other for how well we diD, and rejoicing how good of a hike it was. Despite how troubled my sleep was later; this was a fantastic hike, and worth repeating, especially to go higher the next time.