It was 1969, and I had just taken the train from Toronto to start work in the mountains, at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta. Every day off from the hotel was a hike – slopes that this Ontario kid had never experienced. My new friend Vince and I decided one day to take the Rowe Lakes trail. The turquoise waters of Lower and Upper Rowe Lakes beckoned. Partway along the trail up the valley, the trees parted, and a scree slope presented itself on the right, drawing our eyes up and up to the top of Mount Lineham. Vince and I looked at each other and knew what our next free day would be about – straight up the slope to the first mountain peak experienced by kids from Regina and Toronto.
And that’s what we did, not realizing that loose rock and gravel meant two feet up and one foot down. So naive, and so eager. Hour upon hour fell to our feet, and our breaks revealed the beauty of the mountain on the other side of the highway below us. Each time we rested, that other mountain showed us its secrets – masses of evergreen yielding to scraggly pines, fields of scree, and tiny waterfalls.
Looking back up at Lineham, we wilderness virgins got to experience the “false summit” phenomenon. What looked like the top from our angle simply wasn’t. And it continued not to be … until …
The last hundred feet to the summit was an agonizing slog. Breathing in loud gasps, we saw Alpine Forget-Me-Nots and orange lichen pass slowly beneath us. And back the other way, we were just below the summit ridge of the neighbouring mountain. I was nearly crawling, until finally the steepness lessened and lessened, till ahead we saw a plateau maybe twenty feet across. Thirty steps to go … twenty … ten … three … and we stepped onto the top of the world.
A panorama of snow-capped peaks was suddenly all around us. They stretched to four horizons, seas of white.
Silence from Vince. Silence from me. For many minutes.
In my todays, Mount Lineham remains. Years ago, I read a description of “ah-ha” moments in a book. The writer asked us to imagine being inside a tent, staring at the four brown walls. Then some magical force grabs the ridgeline and hauls the canvas up and away, revealing a sublime beauty. For me, it’s the beauty of the mountains surrounding Lineham on that sunny June day in 1969. Whenever I want to, or really whenever I’m present enough to, the ordinary moments of my life are animated with white, and I’m welcomed to a vastness beyond words.