20160528: Midnight Peak to Tiara, or When adventure becomes ordeal

“I heard u got chased by a bear and u fell into a canyon”, my brother messaged. Um, yeah … Not really. Funny how rumors start.

Septuple: seven summits, one day. 25km, 2330m elevation gain, Kananaskis Provincial Park

I was driving out to meet up with J and K when I realized, I left the map at home.

The car clock was showing 5:53AM, not enough time to turn around and retrieve it. Well, should be okay. I’ve studied the route and bailout points. I’ve reviewed trip descriptions, GPX, Strava splits, elevation chart. Seems pretty straightforward. Anyway J’s leading; he’ll have GPS, and K might too.

We achieved Baldy Pass in 40 minutes and were on Midnight Peak (2348m) shortly thereafter. Down and back up to Midday Peak (2340m) followed by a small downclimb to Boundary Ridge and up to Boundary Peak (2400m). We were going at a good clip, far ahead of projected pace. “When does the scrambling start?” J wondered out loud. I was thinking the same thing.

Descent to Midnight-Midday col
Descent to Midnight-Midday col, headed towards Midday summit on the left. You can see the far end of the route (Crown and Porcupine ridges) in the middle distance.

Off to the west the clouds were threatening an afternoon thunderstorm. “A couple hours till it rolls in” the man we met on the Boundary Peak summit declared, or something to that effect. “How are you getting down?” J and K and I let the pause linger. J finally answered with a gesture towards the south. I think none of us wanted to acknowledge the chunk of distance and elevation still to go – we were taking it one peak at a time.

But there it was, the ridgeline and its rocky mounds of peaks, laid out before us. May’s well get moving.

We left Boundary peak and started down and up towards Belmore Browne. K ran the 600m out to tag the outlying peak (2332m) while I headed directly to Belmore’s 2nd peak (2411m) figuring he’d catch up, which he did.

While contemplating something down the valley I rolled my ankle. This sounds benign but it hurt – it’s a recurring thing that over the past years has required significant rest time and physiotherapy. Even so, I thought it would start to feel better in a little bit, just gotta suck it up for the initial half hour and the pain will subside… K, a physio student, saw me favoring the foot and tensor bandaged it. It felt better immediately, though still quite sore.

When we reached Tiara (2545m) I decided to pass on the actual summit – scrambling on loose rock with this injury? Nope.

We had only Crown Peaks left to do and the downhill via Porcupine, but I was anxious to get home in time for Scott’s birthday BBQ. “Go ahead guys, finish it up. I’ll take the drainage out.” We’d previously discussed that I might cut out early, so it wasn’t a surprise.

My subconscious did process that often gullies are worse going than ridges. Still, I somehow had it in my mind that it would be faster. That it would be the better choice for my foot injury. That it would be less exposed to weather.

Looking West, clouds gathering.
Clouds gathering in the West, dusting their path in snow.

The highway looked like a very far distance away but I remembered seeing the drainage connect to a trail (creek bed) on my map and I could see the creek bed from the ridge.  J and K reconfirmed that I was comfortable going it alone and they continued along the ridge towards Crown while I headed straight down.

We should have stayed together.


A couple of unanticipated things happened with the terrain.

  1. Around treeline water started pooling, forcing me to scramble around drop offs and deadfall and boulder debris, and up rubbly loose side slopes.
  2. The stream narrowed and carved itself into a small canyon where the water collected into pools. The pools gradually connected and flowed into each other via small cascades. Those soon became waterfalls too tall for me to navigate directly.

I should get out of here before this becomes a chute. What if I break my leg or drown?

Down the rabbit hole – the waters of the pools

All of a sudden I thought, I don’t want to die here. I scrambled up and out of the little canyon, and around the waterfalls. The cold water had been good for my foot but soon I was in pain again from the stress and strain of the terrain and scrambling.

As I was wondering whether to head down again (it looked like I’d bypassed the worst of the falls) I heard twigs snapping and froze. The noises continued. I looked down towards the water and saw a black bear sniffing around with its head up, looking away from me.

Later, I wasn’t sure if I’d been hallucinating/ dreaming. Adrenaline surged and I scrambled way way way up. I was kicking down rocks but didn’t care; I hoped that would scare the bear away rather than incite its curiosity.

Now I found myself sandwiched between the creek and bear below and rock cliff above. I inched along the loose rubble below the cliff. It was very slow going. I’m not going to make it home in time. Should I go back up to Tiara and retrace my steps? That’s 6 hours at least… The night is going to be so cold.  

I had an emergency blanket and a down puffy and toque and mitts and I knew I was still heading in the right direction so I decided to continue following along the base of the cliff. The pain was intense. You’re tough, girl, you’re going to make it. Just one step in front of the other. You’ll get there. Might not be today, might not be tonight, but keep going, because no-one’s coming to help you.

I gave up hope of connecting to a trail. I must be in the wrong drainage. 

That animal is going to hear you sniffling and suffering and try to attack, I told myself bitterly. Great. Injured and mauled. Despair set in. I lost it. I thought about all the things I wanted to say to Scott. I thought about how I was going to live differently if I made it home. Please, I just want to go home.

There was a little rock outcrop up ahead and made it my interim mission to reach it. I climbed it and down the other side onto soft moss, which was such a relief for my throbbing foot (was something broken?). Through the trees I could see a small scree run. It connected to a dry fork that led me to a small stream that connected to the original bed – now it was the wide bed with low water I’d seen from the ridge where I left the guys. The crossing of the brook signals a shift in time-space.

The creek bed went on and on and time seemed to be flowing backward. Just keep going.

Then through the trees, a view of Mt. Kidd, symbolizing the other side of the highway.

Then, a boot print in a section of sand between the rocks. Order is restored; my existence is affirmed.

Then, the smell of fire and a couple of men tending a camp.

“Two kilometers to the highway”, one of them said in answer to my question, then added in observation, “You’re moving well.”

True to his word, it was two kilometers to the highway, maybe less. Then another kilometer back to my car. The pain was excruciating. J had texted to make sure I’d returned safely – he and K were long gone. “Made it to the highway,” I wrote in hilariously severe understatement. “Limping back to the car now.”

Next a text to Scott. “Sorry I’m late for the BBQ – be there in about an hour.” Pain flooded my foot as I crawled into the car.

“I burnt the chicken,” he texted back.

My, how easily one sheds the armor forged in the alternate universe of adventure quest/ ordeal and, like Alice through the looking-glass, slips back into the realm of an ordinary life…





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