Always Expect the Unexpected in the Mountains

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I’ve learned a number of things about being in the mountains from being in the mountains. Despite trying my best to be absolutely prepared, I’ve been caught off guard countless times. Take for example my first time climbing in the Rockies. My partner and I were approaching a climb in Kananaskis Country and assumed we were alone. After 45 minutes of quiet forest time, we came to a scree slope which we plodded up to the base of a cliff. Knowing the climb was only minutes away, we hurried along and turned the final bend. That’s when we were caught off guard, not by the fact other climbers were on top of the first pitch, but because we caught them mid-sex. They yelled down, “We’re clucking!” Use your imagination to figure out what that means. So, my partner and I went to find another climb.

Then there was the time I was hiking down Ha Ling (back when the mountain was actually open to recreation) after climbing the north face. My partner and I heard a faint bass beat as we left the open alpine into the forest. As we descended, the sound of music grew louder. Then the unexpected happened: a shirtless 70-year-old man wearing rainbow coloured wrist and head bands with a boom box strapped to his pack rounded a switchback. “A hell of a day for some drugs and a hike, eh fellas,” he said. Behind him was a much younger woman, dressed in similar garb and sporting Top Gun-esque aviators and carrying a Chihuahua. We let them pass and continued bouncing down the trail to the beat of their music until it faded away.

But the unexpected is not always lighthearted. Take the time I started up an ice climb on the Icefields Parkway and another climber far to my left took a lead fall. He pumped-out and let go of his ice tools. With no ice screws in, he fell to the snowy ground below. Upon impact, his tibia and fibula exploded through his skin and into his baggy pants. His partner was first on the scene and the rest of us were quick to lend a hand, which meant pain management until the helicopter arrived. Then there was the time a group of us were sport climbing in Squamish. My friend took a big fall and her shoeless belayer wasn’t prepared, he was pulled into the wall at mach speed. With nothing protecting his toes, the impact with the rock left them broken and bloodied. Again, we rushed to control the pain and get him to the hospital.

Then there was the time we found ourselves between a mama grizzly and her cubs while hiking out from the top of Howse Peak. No matter how ready you think you’ll be when you come face to face with a grizzly, nothing can prepare you for when you do. Luckily, she didn’t care much about us and went on her way. Despite trying to be as prepared as we can, there will always be things that catch us off guard in the mountains. On June 13, local climber Elise Sethna will be talking about things that she experienced while climbing her first big wall last year (Canmore Brewing Company at 7:30). – Brandon Pullan

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