If you’ve ever done the scenic drive from Calgary to Banff, you’ve seen the stunning peaks of the Bow Valley (hopefully it wasn’t snowing). Tiny in comparison to say the Himalaya, 3000 meters vs 8000 meter peaks. But a very aesthetic range to say the least and even more so, they are accessible. Driving west, when you hit Canmore, Alberta, you’ll see this on your left hand side. A giant wedge in the middle/left frame is the famed Chinaman’s Peak.
The controversial name of the mountain was originally referred to by locals as ‘The Beehive’. In 1896 Ha Ling, a Chinese cook for the Canadian Pacific Railway was bet 50 dollars that he couldn’t climb the peak and plant a flag on the summit in less than 10 hours. According to News Report of Oct 24th 1896, he started the ascent at 7:00 am the previous Saturday morning and was back in time for lunch. Because nobody believed him, he led a party of doubters to the summit where they planted a much bigger flag beside the original, this one visible to the naked eye from Canmore. The townsfolk referred to the mountain as Chinaman’s Peak in his honor. The name Chinaman’s Peak became official in 1980, but later changed to Ha Ling Peak in 1997, as Chinaman was viewed as somewhat derogatory for some.
Now, history aside, there are two things you may be surprised to learn I don’t enjoy, much. One is running, the other, hiking. For me running is like walking faster on purpose, which is fine if you have to get somewhere in a hurry, say to deliver an important message, like good ol Pheidippides did when he ran to Athens in 490 BC to win the battle of Marathon.
But lets not forget, once he delivered his message “we won”, he died on the spot. Running is hard work, it’s hard on the bowels and stressful on the joints, I don’t do it unless I’m trying to get away from something or if somebody throws a frisbee across an open field.
As for hiking, that’s not really my bag either. I would much prefer going for a walk, like say, through a wooded park, an after diner stroll around the neighborhood, or a walk down to the store to get some sugar. Walking is good, hiking… not so much. Hiking usually involves special boots, a nap-sack full of supplies, a swiss army knife, and more often than not includes slogging up and down hills (which makes me cringe just a little bit). Don’t get me wrong, I hike, I just don’t particularly enjoy it, or at least, I haven’t much before. My mind starts to wonder, “are we there yet”, “I’m hungry”, “I think my ass is chaffing?”, “my quads are killing me”, “is there a bar at the top?”. These are common voices that scream inside my skull.
I think my problem is that I’m somewhat of a goal oriented person, I need an objective in order to stay focused and follow through. I need a frisbee, I need a crag to get to, I need a summit, a loop, something that makes me WANT to get to the end. I can’t seem to just go for a hike, turn around and go home for no reason (and exercise alone is never good enough, that’s lame), I need to reach a goal, I need to have a climax. So it was this motivation that led me to eventually hop and hobble off the plane in Vancouver like a war vet.
The day before leaving Canmore to come home to Squamish, I wanted to rock climbing, I got up at 8am but couldn’t close my hands very well, knuckles a tad bit swollen. I suppose 5 days of guiding and 4 days of climbing on either end at Lake Louise took its toll. All in all, I climbed 10 out of 11 days and decided to go for a hike instead because I still needed to get into the mountains one way or another, and more than that I wanted to be alone. A day alone in the mountains is my equivalent of going to Church, I pray to ‘god’, I eat the bread, I drink the wine, but I don’t have to listen to some guy in a black dress tell me what to do all the time. But like I said, I can’t just ‘hike’, I have to ‘hike’ with a purpose, a dream, an objective. Some of my best friends still can’t believe after nearly 2 years of living in Canmore I still didn’t climb the beautiful Ha Ling Peak. Which takes about 2 hours for anyone relatively healthy. So, It was 2 pm in the afternoon after I finished my coffee and cigarettes, and I had the whole day to kill. What would I do after Ha Ling if it only took me 2 hours?
On the opposite side of the valley rises Mount Grotto, a gigantic mass of Terra first climbed in 1858. The ever expanding mountain sits at 2,706 meters in height and who knows how wide, maybe 3-4 kilometers?
So, here’s the plan, climb GROTTO in less than 4 hours, run down, grab food and water and run up HA LING in less than 2. I wanted to go from Car to Car in less than 6 hours. If you don’t count the 15 minute phone conversation I had with Lydia, I made it. If you do, then I did it in 6 hours and 15 minutes.
Looking back towards Banff from the “false” summit at Lady McDonald.
Looking towards the “real” summit, which is another 15 minute scramble to get to.
Me taking a pretty gay self portrait. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. See the highest rock on the stack behind me? I put that there, Boooo-YA. Ha ling in the background.
Throwing rocks is almost always a bad idea. Beer bottles are the preferred choice. That’s a joke by the way, please don’t do stupid shit in the mountains, it’s not like going to the crag where stupid shit is common place and even expected, the mountains are sacred, and deserve better than that. Spread the word.
Towards Banff from the Summit, you can see the tip of Mount Rundle on the left side.
Another gay portrait, but this time a helpful bystander did the deed. How could I refuse, she offered. So I smiled and she clicked, thanks, to whomever you were. Grotto in the background.
Okay, so I made it, I stuck it out, I hustled, I moved and I hobbled back to the car and I don’t remember anything. I think I have my fathers knees. The I.T. Band on my left leg got so tight I could hear it playing music. The friction in my knee during the last 20 minutes of the day felt like someone was rubbing sticks on my bones, trying to light a fire. It burned like nothing I’ve felt before or since, I had to skip down the trail, people must have thought I looked cheerful, but I had no choice, the searing pain was blinding. In the end I climbed Grotto in 3:45 min and Ha Ling in an 1:35 min. From car to car. I ain’t no runner, I ain’t no hiker, this my first time on these hills and it was a personal best for me, this was also a one time deal, but I had a goal and I went for it – It’s sort of what I do, it makes things more fun when I challenge myself this way, not sure why, I’m an egocentric bastard I guess. Beat that Will Gadd, I double dog dare you fool. Just because you climbed Mount Robson (3,950 m) in 17 hours, doesn’t mean you can beat ME, I’m the best, or maybe you’re scared? Wink. Wink.