From Car to Car in SICKS hrs.

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.

  • Good post! Funny + good pictures of places I will likely never get to see = win. Did you read Persian Fire, by Tom Holland? It’s an incredibly well written historical account of the developments that led to Marathon, the battle of the 300, empire crushage, etc. Reads like a novel, I couldn’t put it down.

  • That was a good post…..

  • Jeremy

    Normally I have the same feelings toward hiking; for awhile, I can appreciate it, but eventually I just want to reach the end, and it doesn’t seem to come quickly enough. With that in mind, I recently agreed to do the Long Range Traverse, a 3 day hike in Gros Morne National Park (don’t ask me what compelled me to agree to this). Despite my general aversion to hiking, it actually turned out okay. I suspect the fact that there was no established trail helped by breaking the hike into many much smaller objectives. In fact, the most difficult part for me was the end of the hike, on an established, easy trail, which just seemed to continue on forever.

  • Jono

    chinamans peak isnt as controversial as the ‘nigga heads’ are, located in the Bogong high Plains in Australia!

  • intrinzic

    Nice post – all the times i’ve travelled along the TC, choosing scenic but convenient stops.

    Next time, I leave 1:35 earlier and rest atop Ha Ling – imagine what $50 bought for that man, in 18freaking96!!

    Descending is hard on the IT Bands – consider using a foam roller on all those lower-body hot-spots. First two or four times, it will bring you close to tears. Then… it starts hurting soooo good, that you actually look forward to those sessions – and you may never suffer that brand of outer-knee pain again. Soon enough, you are asking friends to press down on your shins because your bodyweight isn’t enough to really feel it in your calves anymore!

  • rich wheaties

    Dude, your camera sensor is plagued with dust spots.

  • Fre

    Funny, yesterday I ran up Big Sister. Since my future father-in-law did it in 4.5 hours, I wanted to beat him but lost miserably by two minutes. Tell you what, I got a couple of days in Canmore left, let’s see if I can beat you.

  • Sonnie

    Fre, yah, do it, and keep me posted, it’s actually a pretty fun day, despite the burn behind the left knee, grin. Something I didn’t mention was getting passed at the very top of Ha Ling, before the Col, this guy was doing a time trial or something, he had hiking poles, short shorts, no shirt, no pack, no water, nuthin but spiky blonde hair and crazy blue eyes. I’m sure you’ll kill it too, as would Will Gadd, he’s actually one of my hero’s for his all around skill and fitness (hope nobody took it the wrong way).

    Rich, my crappy camera is like 5 years old, but just between me and you, I like the dust spots, it makes my photography unique and special, ha ha, I hope to get a new body soon, can I have yours?

    Intrinzic, thanks for the beta, I’m all up on that foam roller, starting today, for real.

  • Gus


    Ben Gadd did the same link up but threw in Lady Mac just for kicks.

    Oh yeah, he did it on his 50th birthday!


  • sonnie

    Hey Gus,

    Wasn’t it Ben Firths dad? Mr.Firth? Not Mr.Gadd? And I believe he also linked up Mount Rundle as well, not just lady Mac. 4 peaks in a day. WOW. For sure those guys are my hero’s. Anyone know how long it took? Respect.

  • Kruk

    Dood… Way to go.. Seriously, nice work!!

  • Mike Sampson

    Yeah, any motherfucker who has issues with coffee and tobacco is a bro of mine; export A or canadian classic blue?
    A bottle of red and a couple of blues–fuck the status quo, I can’t wait to cross paths with you.

    Hiking is boring as shit (well sometimes shitting can be funny,) no adrenaline, the pace puts my mind in the past–fuck the past, hardcores need to make things happen–ascend to a higher level than the boring ass shit most condsider to be meaningful–ahh the glory of destroyed self esteem (speaking for myself) high angle adventure, or draw the shades and make something artistic, or make some fucking money…

  • maddog sam

    Hey Sonnie, judging by Will G’s website it’s on! Your race could make a cool one hour reality t.v. spot. Better start pounding the three peaks trail.

  • a) When Mordecai Richler did a reading some years ago in Calgary, he was informed of the Chinaman’s Peak/Ha Ling name controversy. Somebody asked him if we could perhaps name the peak after him, and he said “Only if you name it Kike’s Peak.”

    b) I think Kim Csizmazia’s Dad did 4 mountains on his 75th birthday– Sonnie’s 2 and 2 others, can’t remember the names. BTW I have no idea how to spell Czismazia. So the true goal is not to kick Will Gadd’s ass, but to kick Will’s wife’s dad’s ass in 40 years.

  • sonnie

    I have no idea about Kim’s dad, but I don’t doubt it, actually, I don’t doubt any of that stuff. I heard what I heard through “a friend”, so of course I could be wrong, I can’t say nuthin for certain, does anyone have any facts? All’s I know is that Will Gadd was born and bred to scramble up choss, yes, but he ain’t 39 no more either, he he. Best of luck boys, best of luck.