Part VII – Chapter 6 – 2010

The photo above shows Charlie’s first good look at the rock band. He’d have to climb it. That was the only way he could get up to the south end of the ridge.

If he’d started at the north end of the ridge by Wall Lake, he’d have had to climb down the rock band once he got to it, and he saw his trying to do that as absolutely insane.


In Post 3c, I posted some photos that I took from the top of the Akamina Ridge. If you want to see them, just click the hyperlink in the previous sentence.

Here are some other photos starting from the trailhead that might also interest you.

In the parking area that morning it was a bit foggy. And the fog continued for a while up the trail.

But before Charlie turned left at the junction by the Ranger Station where the climb up to Forum Lake begins, the fog had burned off.

You’re already aware, of course, that I know nothing about flowers or butterflies. I admitted that earlier. Now you’ll learn that I also know nothing about birds.

Initially, I thought this might be a rock ptarmigan below. It looked like one to me when I checked out photos on the Internet.

But then I realized I wasn’t at a high enough elevation. So now my guess is that this is a female spruce grouse with at least four chicks – one before, one beside, and two on the log.

Female Spruce Grouse

But I could easily change my mind about that within the hour.

When Charlie got close to the top, but before he’d found the rock band, he thought the trail might go to the right here. There was no signage, and the trail was difficult to see. So he went right.

Just Before the Rock Band

That’s the ridge up there straight ahead in the photo above. And that’s Wall Lake below where he’d end up.

But the so-called trail in the photo below, which soon became a wee ledge, in fact, kept getting narrower and narrower. When it got to about six inches wide, and was still narrowing, and the drop went straight down hundreds of feet, Charlie decided that couldn’t possibly be the way to the rock band.

Just Before the Rock Band

So he slowly inched backward, being careful not to let his backpack, or his hiking poles, or his camera, or his monopod, or the stuff on his belt, catch on anything that could cause him to lose his balance.

(An aside – but please don’t tell BJ. This was Charlie’s third-worst ledge. The worst one could easily have been his last one. And he couldn’t back up on that ledge like he did here. He had to keep going. Even today, it bothers him to look at the one photo he did manage to take.)

And even after all his other hikes, and after all he’d read, he was still completely unaware that he never, ever should have had the poles’ wrist straps around his wrists while climbing.

He hadn’t met his three Canmore Angels yet. But after he does meet them, and after they ask if he’d ever scrambled before, and after he says No, and after they ask him if he’d mind a little advice, and after he says No, one of them immediately tells him about the straps.

“Worst-case scenario,” she concludes, “catch a pole on a rock with the strap on and down you go. Better just to lose the pole.”

But now for that twenty-five-foot rock band, which is the last hurdle before reaching the plateau at the top, and which various websites warn newbies about.

Charlie mentioned back in Part IV, Chapter 5, when he was explaining his hiking project to BJ, that he was somewhat afraid of the rock band. He thought that maybe it was something a seventy-year-old novice shouldn’t even be trying.

And he couldn’t stop thinking about David in Earle Birney’s poem “David.” He kept imagining himself splayed on boulders on a ledge, like David, his broken body drying in the sun, his shriveled eyes staring up at the rock face he’d tried to climb.

But if he did fall like David did, and if a sharp rock pierced his spine, too, he’d have no Bob to show him mercy and push him off the ledge to the icy moraine far below.

From a distance, the rock band didn’t look all that daunting.

That’s it up ahead and to the left.

Just Before the Rock Band

As he got closer, though, it started to look a bit more challenging.

Just Before the Rock Band

That’s the Akamina Ridge on the skyline to the right and the left. You can go left once you get to the ridge, if you want, and look down on Forum Lake. But the main trail goes to the right and then descends all the way down to Wall Lake.

The Angels arrived just as Charlie had started up, but before he’d gotten to any of the really tough parts.

He stopped climbing to let them pass.

After talking to him for a bit, however, they suggested they could choose a route up, and he could follow them, if he’d like. And, of course, he’d immediately said he’d like.

Later on, he suspected that after talking with him, they’d decided to babysit him for the rest of the day. They’d go over a crest, and then futz around until they saw him. Then they’d go over the next one and do the same.

Finally, on a flat part at the end of the ridge, they waited until he could see them, and then one at a time they walked across to the northwest corner, so he’d know where the trail started down to Wall Lake. They knew the Akamina. They’d mentioned earlier that this was not the first time they’d hiked it.

The Akamina Ridge
Descending from the Akamina Ridge. That’s Wall Lake in the center.

And once he knew where to start, they left. The hike down to Wall and back to the trailhead was easily doable, even for a novice. Painful and tiring, but doable.

That’s the Akamina Ridge along the top of the last two photos, where he’d been shepherded along by his Angels.

And those Angels were the only people he saw all day.

Just before Charlie and Victoria left the beer garden on the stampede grounds in the chapter you just read, he told her about the ptarmigan he’d seen.

Later on, he told her he thought the ptarmigan were breeding white-tailed ptarmigan in summer colors.

But he also said he’d thought they were rock ptarmigan for quite a while from the pictures on the Internet.

The only thing he knew for sure was they weren’t robins.

(Perhaps someone who knows birds will solve Charlie’s problem for him by leaving a comment at the end of this post.)

At one point, he saw all four of her chicks. One was nestled in between his feet, another was on top of his right boot, and the other two were off to the side.

And when he left, he had to keep chasing the boot-top one back to its mom. It kept trying to hike along with him.

By the time Charlie got down to Wall Lake, he was starting to feel a lot safer. He knew the six kilometers from there to the trailhead was basically flat. He’d hiked into Wall before.

But he wasn’t nearly as safe as he thought.

He’d been sweating a lot all day because of the extra gear he’d brought, including two Nikon camera bodies, three prime lenses, and a monopod.

And he hadn’t refilled even one water bottle at Wall when he had the chance.

As a result, he was out of water for the last two hours on a hike that took him almost eleven hours.

He told Victoria he’d gotten to the point where he could barely walk. “Sometimes I just stood still in the middle of the path and wondered if I could make it out. And I was no longer afraid of bears. And I was no longer even afraid of dying. It didn’t seem to matter anymore one way or the other.”

He also told her that two days later at his annual checkup, Dr. Aulan told him he’d probably had a close call. He told him that without salt and water after he’d been hiking that long, his system might have been starting to shut down, and that at his age he easily could have died.

But he didn’t die. And he did get some photos he really liked.

And one final point, as an FYI, those clouds you saw in several of the photos worried Charlie. Any suggestion of lightning, and he’d have had to climb down off the ridge thirty or forty feet for the duration. Otherwise, he’d be a lightning rod up there just waiting for the inevitable.


Copyright © Glenn E. Christianson, 2017- 2022. All Rights Reserved.



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