PART TWO: –“Look at all that…ICE!”
A cold breeze began blowing and the shadows were growing longer as we began our descent of Parkers Ridge. We were reluctant to leave the ridgetop, but we knew we did not want to be up there after dark. If one of those sudden storms came in, we’d be stuck there with no shelter because downclimbing would be too risky. We had just enough time to snap some photos before we headed back down into the darkening shadows.
The summer days are long at this latitude, but the sun had set by the time we arrived at the Sunwapta Pass campground. Indeed, it was nearly dark by the time we’d got one small tent erected and the rest of our camp hastily set up. Jimmy and John got the fire going while I attended to the van, and the others got the supper on.
Over our mundane but fulfilling meal of Kraft Dinner, we sat around reflecting on the trip so far and speculating about what wonders might lay ahead of us. The maps showed us that it was all downhill from here and we wondered if we’d experienced everything these parks had to offer in our time remaining.
Then the guitars came out, and so did every star in the sky. Soon we were joined by other campers from the nearby sites. I was glad we had that fire because none of us had ever experienced such a cold night in mid summer before. But life was good.
Morning came early, and it was freezing cold. Janice and I had slept inside the Goose, but a few of the pranksters opted to roll out their sleeping bags and spend the night lying in a circle around the campfire. I pulled the curtain aside and peered out to greet the day. They had let the fire burn itself out during the night, leaving just a thin wisp of smoke rising lazily into the frigid air. When I cast my eyes over the sleeping bags, I could see vapours rising from red noses poking from the small breathing holes they’d left open. There was frost on the tops of their bags. I hoped they were warm enough in those summer-weight bags, but those pranksters were in for a chilly shock when they eventually were forced out by the call of nature.
Janice and I donned our parkas and stepped out of the van. It really was quite cold! I rekindled the fire while Janice got some coffee going. One by one the bags began to move. I heard the sound of a zipper, and there was Dawn’s head looking out warily. Then it retreated back into the bag. A moment later the bag rose up into a vertical position and stood motionless for a while before it began hopping up and down as if it had a pogo stick inside. Dawn was trying to warm up by doing calisthenics while still inside her sleeping bag. Janice and I stood fascinated while she performed this amazing balancing act. Then the bag began moving on a zig-zag course toward the only tent that got properly erected the previous night. It took about nine or ten strenuous hops to arrive at Jimmy and Sharen’s little canvas pup tent. I couldn’t make out the mumbled words, but she stood there balancing in place for an impressively long time before she turned and began to hop away. Then the flap opened, she stopped, did another about face, and got down and crawled into that tiny tent like a caterpillar without ever unzipping her bag.
Meanwhile, Mike had emerged in a pair of long-johns and began jogging in place in his bare feet. Janice rushed over with a coffee which he downed in two or three gulps. Next was Johnny, head out, calling, “Hey, is that coffee I smell?”
As the sun began to warm the camp, the rest of the crew managed to get themselves up and dressed. Jim and Sharen began making hotcakes and bacon on our cast iron skillet. more coffee was consumed, and the camp gradually revived. By 11 AM we had broken camp and were prepared to move on. Nobody knew much about what lay ahead, but our only option was to keep heading north.
When we rolled up the hill into the darkening campground the night before, we failed to notice our surroundings by the feeble glow of our headlights. No sooner had we rounded the first bend, when the morning light revealed yet another panorama opening up. This was our introduction to the Columbia Icefield. We were at the very base of the most impressive peaks we had encountered so far. There was a Visitor Centre and a Park Warden Station, so we stopped to get information. The scene we beheld from the warden’s big window showed a 180 degree view of long glaciers descending from huge mountains. And one big glacier ended within walking distance of where we stood….
PART THREE–Where the prankster get high:
I looked at the clock on the wall– It was just past noon. Jimmy was up at the counter in a small group, listening to the Park Ranger. I walked over in time to hear the man concluding, “…and whatever you do, don’t wander over onto the glacier.” I approached Jim to ask, “What was that all about?” He just shrugged and reported, “Um, I dunno, something about crevices forming in the ice so we shouldn’t go near them. Something like that, anyway.”
I looked out at that inviting alpine view again, thinking ‘Wow, just look at all that–alpine scenery– and we may never get this chance again.’ Just then Sharen and Johnny came over, all excited. “Hey, Tom! Look! It looks like a hiking trail going right up the side of that rocky…ridge type-thing…and it goes way up alongside the ice pretty far. We want to go up there!” I gazed back out the window to get a better of this route of their dreams. Seeing it face-on, it seemed pretty steep, like a rocky ladder leading directly up to the very shoulder of this enormous spike of rock and ice.
“Come on, come ON!” They were doing that bouncy jumping again. I deferred to Mike, our ‘mountain man’, the only member of our crew with any technical experience on real mountains. He explained that the rocky ridge was called a “lateral moraine” and that all those thousands of tons of rock had been pushed aside when the glacier inched down that valley it was now occupying. He said the hike they were proposing was relatively safe so long as the hikers were not afraid of heights, since the moraine became a lot more “exposed” when it was time to climb back down.
Then I asked him about Jimmy’s “crevices”. He grinned and replied they were not just little cracks in the ice, but great big crevasses that could easily swallow up a man, leaving not a trace. Daagh, so that’s what the ranger meant when he kept warning visitors not to go wandering across the glacier. Well, that was something worth remembering. Then Mike herded us all back to the van for a safety lecture. He told us we could do the hike on the route the rangers had suggested. When the excited chatter settled down, he explained that he wanted each one of us to follow right behind him and not to stray to either side of that rocky staircase. Suddenly Mike had transformed himself from just one of the gang, into a serious mountain guide. He certainly had a way of getting everyone’s attention.
And so we merry pranksters laced up our boots, filled our canteens, tossed a jacket, a bit of cheese and sausage into our packs, checked our cameras for film, and chased after Mike, who had already crossed the road and was starting up the ridge.
By the time we’d caught up to him, most of us were pretty well winded. Mike stopped momentarily to remind us that steady upward movement would be the only way we could attain our goal and be back before dark. He told us that we would climb on at a steady pace, stopping for five minutes after an hour had passed. At that time we would check our progress. Regardless of how far we climbed, we would have to turn around at 4PM in order to have a standard safety cushion of one hour in case of circumstances, and an additional half hour because we lacked experience.
And so the climbing began. The ridge was flat on the top where you’d place your feet, but it dropped off precipitously on either side. Upward we climbed, heads down, hands holding onto pack straps. I soon envied Mike his ice axe, which he was able to use as a pointed walking stick for testing the footing ahead. Then I noticed that he’d brought that long coil of rope, still strapped to his pack. Oh, man, I hoped he wasn’t planning on taking us up anything where we’d be needing a rope!
At last our first hour of climbing was up. “OK. Five minutes break. How is everyone feeling?” There were only the sounds of heavy breathing and rooting through packs. I dug out a bit of Swiss cheese and some of that good Swiss chocolate with the picture of the Matterhorn on the box, thinking ‘I wonder if this is what those real mountain climbers eat?’ Then Mike rose to a standing position and told us our break-time was over. We had climbed about 500 feet above the road, and we had at least that much more to go before the moraine ended at a vertical wall of solid rock. Whoa! My legs felt all rubbery when I stood up. Then I hoisted my pack and looked back down the way we’d come. I could see the road in the far distance, but where as the Grey Goose? Finally I spied it where we’d left it in a small pull-out. Heh, I was regretting my choice of the grey Tremclad we’d bought because it was on sale. Should have gone with the psychedelic scheme Sharen had suggested. The poor old Goose was the same size and colour as the boulders that surrounded it on three sides.
Somehow Dawn had managed to pass me by on that narrow trail. Maybe she was trying to get closer to our guide for the day. I was certainly not providing her any assurances. Upward we trudged. My mouth was dry and my breath was coming in gasps as we tried to gulp in the cold, thin air. I had to stop, just for a few seconds, to catch my wind. Right away Johnny rear-ended me, nearly knocking me from my perch on the ridge crest. As I regained my footing John shouted, “Oh, wow, look up there!”
I’d been slogging along, eyes on the trail, only looking around occasionally to get my bearings. When I looked ahead my eyes were drawn up…up…and upwards. We were at the spot where the ridge hits that vertical rock wall. It looked like a slab of steep rock the size of the Empire State Building! I got this queezy feeling in my stomach as I watched Mike starting to uncoil his long rope. I was holding onto the rock wall in front of me with both hands. Then I glanced over my shoulder to see five anxious-looking pranksters gaping incredulously up at our leader. Just as I spun round, wide -eyed, to inform Mike he’d gone completely mad, he spoke over the rising wind, “OK! This is as far as we go today! Take ten minutes to enjoy the view, eat the last of your lunch, and snap your photos. Then it’s time to start climbing back down!”
Easier said than done. We had climbed nearly 1500 vertical feet since we left the van, but it looked a lot more than that to me. We were all turned around and looking down now. Nobody was moving. Some were laughing nervously, some were silent, but nobody was moving down that steep ridge. Then Mike asked me if I’d mind leading the way downhill; he’d follow at what had now become the new back end of the line, with his rope at the ready in case anyone was overcome with a bout of vertigo.
In order to get to the new front of the line I had to get around five anxious pranksters. “Er, excuse me, could I please get by?” I’ll tell you, not one of them was pleased with the conduct of this exercise. “Ow, hey, you’re standing on my fingers!” “Oh, sorry…sorry…” or “Don’t push!” Finally, there I was, on point, looking straight down.
Now it was up to me to set the pace. Mike’s gentle urging came floating down from above, “Start moving.” I began moving down, one hesitant step at a time. To make matters worse, the rock comprising the ridge itself was all very loose. Every time I moved, some of the smaller rocks would move along with me. After about 50 steps I began to wonder exactly what it was that was holding this mountain together. Which of these blocks would be the keystone that would bring the entire ridge tumbling down onto the ice below?
“Keep moving.” There was Mike’s voice again, directing me from behind. The first hundred feet were the worst. I began to feel more confident after that and began moving more smoothly and even a bit faster. We continued on like this for some time. I even found myself outpacing the others, and had to wait for them to catch up a couple times. Then I heard Mike telling us to stop. Our ridge had flattened out just enough that we could quit our single-file descent. We all clustered around and he told us we’d be taking a different route to the bottom from here on.
Mike said the loose rock on the ridge-top was slowing our downward progress too much; he’d sussed out a safer and easier route down by the edge of the ice. Our team meeting was being held on a saddle in the ridge, not too far above the glacier itself. We had to move together as a group again, but this time we’d be spaced out in a horizontal line, so that any rocks we might dislodge did not have a chance to gain momentum and cut down those of us who might get ahead of the rest.
Gradually the rocks we had to contend with above were turning into smaller ones, then into golf balls, then angular pebbles. We began our way down in that ‘line abreast’ formation, first by walking warily down the side of the moraine, then by trudging like Frankenstein monsters, then by sitting down on the loose pebbles and doing what Mike called a “bum glissade”–sliding down on our butts. That worked OK, since there was less chance of falling. Ultimately I discovered my own mode of travel: I could get down on one bended knee so I was able to sit on the back portion of the boot. Then I could put my other leg out straight to the front, and slide on my one boot heel and use my other boot for ruddering and braking. I quickly became so proficient at it I could balance with my arms outstretched like a giant bird. There was Janice inching down on her butt when I thundered by with both arms held high. I heard one of them shouting, “Hey, look at Tom, he looks like one of those crazy Cossacks!”
We had arrived at the bottom of that ugly scree slope, laughing and pointing at one another. A couple of us had ripped holes in our jeans from doing the bum glissade, but it was OK–we were just glad to be off that ridge.
So there we were, off that scary ridgetop, and looking up at an enormous wall of white. Mike came trotting over and somebody asked him, “OK, what now?” He informed us that the ‘white thing’ was the side of the actual glacier. Then he held a finger aloft and said, “Shhhh…listen….” The glacier was making noises none of the rest of us had ever heard before. It was sizzling, popping, groaning, and thudding as it made its ponderous way down the valley. I don’t know how much all that ice must weigh. Billions of tons? Certainly enough to squish everything in its path very, very flat. We sat there for some time listening and watching this icy monster as it made its way inexorably down towards the valley bottom. Then our hero of the day got up and said it was time to move on. “Keep moving.”
While the rest of us were beholding the glacier’s might, Mike had been off scouting a safe route up onto the top of the ice. Mike explained that we were on the “dry” part of the glacier–the part where the winters’ snows melt away during the summers, making it relatively safe to use as a highway. “As long as you stay away from the crevasses.” The dangerous part is up higher where the snows do not melt, but rather build up until they form “snow bridges” that freeeze solid at night, but can turn to soft slush under the warmth of the summer sun. At times it’s perfectly safe to walk across them (on a rope) while at other times the bridge may give way, sending an unroped hiker down into an icy grave. But we were now low enough that we could easily see the crevasses. Some of them were enormous–20, maybe 30 feet wide, dropping for hundreds of feet into freezing darkness. Others were small enough to simply hop over (provided you were brave enough to risk a sudden misstep).
A couple of times we came upon rushing streams of melt-water coursing downhill on top of the ice. We followed one of these downstream where it was joined by evermore tributaries until it grew into a roaring whitewater river. 100 yards farther downstream all of that icy water simply disappeared into a hole large enough to swallow a small car. We tried to imagine what would happen to anyone foolish enough to venture too close to the bank of that thundering river. And we remembered to steer well clear of where that river might be rushing along, just below the top layer of ice. There were times we could hear the water off to one side as it roared its way down its icy tunnel. When we finally made it down to the toe of the glacier, there was a large cave where the meltwater was rushing out into the open.
We made it down in time to have a celebratory supper at the Visitor Centre before returning to camp. No music was played that night. Our camp was quiet. Everyone was exhausted. Nobody bothered to build the fire.
PART FOUR: Getting dumped on by an angel.
Everyone got sunburned! Wow, the next morning we looked like raccoons, with white circles around our eyes and red everywhere else. Even Mike had forgotten his sunscreen.
We had to leave the ice and snow behind as we packed up again and made our way north to the town of Jasper. The Van’s heater was about as effective as its headlights, but I started the engine and let it warm up. We tossed all the gear under the bunk and five pranksters took their usual places in the back, all of them wrapped up in their sleeping bags.
We had been seeing a lot of wildlife on this trip: Bighorn sheep, mule deer, a few bear encounters, mountain goats, huge elk and moose, all were in abundance here.
We went through a tremendous amount of film shooting the denizens of these parks. Back in Glacier National Park, Sharen shot three entire rolls of 36 on just one chipmunk!
We decided to make one more stop before we arrived in Jasper, and that was at a place invitingly named ‘Angel Glacier’. From the ‘Parkway’ it’s a few miles up a narrow, winding gravel road to the shores of an alpine lake. Across the lake soars Mount Edith Cavell, like a gigantic fossilized fin of a long-extinct sea monster. The glacier rests in the saddle between this prehistoric fin and its neighbouring mountain. The ‘angel’ is formed with two outstretched wings of thick white ice meeting the body where it then begins to slide, inch-by-inch, until it comes to the angel’s ‘knees’ where it breaks and tumbles down the face of a cliff, ending just across the lake from where we were standing.
This time Johnny had paired up with Jimmy, and they asked Mike if they could walk around the lake with him. He said he didn’t mind, so the trio took off at a steady clip. The three girls were already stretched out on logs along the lakeshore, warming themselves in the sunshine. The boys were not expected back for about two hours, so I decided to kick back amongst those grey goose-down sleeping bags in the van for a mid-day nap…
I was well-snuggled into dreamland for maybe an hour when I was awakened by two of the girls at the door. “Tom, Tom! Wake up! Something’s happening across the lake. Wake UP!”
The girls were not having much luck in getting my attention, but what happened next sure did. There was this loud thunderclap that rattled the windows in the van. I was quite wide awake after that, but still trying to comprehend what had just happened. How could there be a thunderstorm? There was not a cloud to be seen.
The girls were now dragging me out of the back of the van. I got up to see Janice standing by the shore, looking through my binoculars at something across the lake. No trees could grow over there because the ‘beach’, right up to where it met this great snowy wall, looked to be covered in large rocks and boulders. I turned to Janice, “What was that big noise? That wasn’t thunder.” She was still glassing the opposite shore, “I’m not sure, but I think something big just fell off that mountain… I can see something moving…like…is that a rock or…? I don’t know, it’s hard to tell, but I thought I saw at least one of them…they were there a minute ago… It might take a minute or two for all that smoke to clear.”
I asked to have a look. Just as I raised the binocs to eye level there was another rumbling and I could see what looked like snowballs rolling off the side of the monster’s fin. Then I focused down toward the shore. I could see two figures standing motionless, some distance above the water’s edge. They were turning to look up at the angel, where a block of blue ice the size of a house had just broken away from the glacier and was rolling and sliding straight toward the angel’s ‘lap’. I moved my focus back to see what the lads were up to, but they were not where I’d left them. They must have decided to make a run for it.
Clinically, it was an interesting dilemma those boys were facing. They had managed to work their way to a point almost directly below where that iceberg had come off. So the question that begged an answer was, which direction should they flee? Should they turn tail and run back the way they’d come, or should they press on to whatever might await them in the unknown ahead? Either way , they would have to decide quickly, because that ice block was really starting to move now. Then there was another thump that I felt in the soles of my boots before the sound waves had reached the van. Looking back up at the angel, I could see the block was having troubles of its own.
That unstoppable force had met some immovable object in its path and exploded into about six smaller blocks, each one the size of a VW van. Now, instead of having just one gigantic iceberg to contend with, the boys were to have six, all tumbling and bouncing down the mountainside toward the angel’s knees. From there it was a drop of a few hundred feet down to the lakeshore where I had first spotted our boys.
Jimmy and John had opted to continue on around the lake, and were rapidly picking their way over and around the rocks by the water’s edge. They’d come to a stretch where the trail had become buried by rock that had fallen down from the angel. Now it was definitely a footrace to get out of the path of destruction those new blocks of ice and rock were taking.
I scanned the route ahead of them, and there was Mike, crouching beside a larger boulder about 100 yards farther on. He was punching a fist up and down in the universal signal for ‘Quickly, quickly, keep moving!’ We were powerless to help them, but could only watch as they began picking their way across those crazily heaped shoreline rocks. We could see they were in distress as they tried to hurry, because there was no trail on that side of the lake; it was all blocks of broken rock. I thought, ‘Good God, don’t stumble and injure yourselves or all those tons of rock and ice will bury you!’
They were nearly out of the danger zone when those blocks of death tumbled over the angel’s knees.
The fall from the knees to the lake was not quite vertical. There were spots where the rocky surface protruded, and others where it was set back, such that, as each of those automobile-sized blocks of ice and rock began its tumble, it began to break up into lesser pieces. The farther they tumbled, the smaller the chunks became.
Now there were dozens of lethal blocks, each one with the power to crush a man like a bug. The noise had become a dull roar. Then I looked over to check on the boys’ progress. They had closed the gap to Mike’s position to about 20 yards and it looked as though they might just make it, but their speed over the ground was painfully slow.
I watched the two of them as they dove toward the boulder Mike had been sheltering behind. It hardly seemed large enough to hide the three of them from what was coming at them like a runaway freight train, but they somehow managed to melt together into a ball just a bit smaller than the boulder. They were barely beyond the area that was now beginning to get pelted by the falling rocks…. The barrage lasted for several minutes, but the trio appeared to be safe, tucked into their little shelter. After a while more, the barrage seemed to be lifting and I saw some movement behind the boulder. All along the shore there now was what looked like a thick fog coming in, but it was not fog, it was a cloud of rock dust made by the collisions of all that falling rock. It was making it hard to see what was happening across the way.
Then I could see their tiny heads poking up to look for any more stray bombs when something hit the lake, sending a column of water high into the air.
They waited another ten minutes in silence before they left their safe haven, and it was another agonizing five minutes or so until they located the trail at the other end of the debris field and began sprinting toward the parking lot. Once on the trail, it took them no time to get back to the van, but it was another ten minutes for them to catch their breath. They were covered in rock dust and barely able to speak, but there were no injuries. Everyone agreed: That was enough adventure for one day!
PART FIVE: The Goose gets sick; the pranksters hit Jasper town
I drove down the valley and turned left onto the main road, then continued to the town of Jasper. Back in those days it was still possible to find reasonably priced motels there. We stopped at the first one, pooled our remaining funds, and booked into two adjoining rooms and slept until mid morning the following day.
We all had hot showers, then reconvened at the adjacent diner for that ‘hearty breakfast’ we never had after that wild party back in Revelstoke. Was that just ten days ago? It seemed longer than that. We’d done so many things and seen so much in such a short time.
As we were finishing the last of the coffee, the conversation drifted around to what we’d be doing after we got home. John said he’d been away from his home on Staten Island so long he might just hang around in Jasper for a bit longer. Some of us had jobs to go back to, while others of us would be back at school when September rolled around.
But we were not home yet; far from it, we still had something like 600 miles of BC ‘Interior’ to get through before we made it back to the coast. We left the diner and spent some time poking in the gift shops and getting some groceries. We pulled out of town before noon with the flat nose of The Grey Goose heading westward. We were going home….
We were just passing the city limits when I hit third gear and there was a loud bang. The clutch pedal stopped responding. I got out and got under to discover the cable that connected the pedal with the clutch was all frayed where it had parted near the front end.
Our van had broken down for the first time.
It was mid-afternoon when Mike and I drove east to a small town called Hinton, where some Jasperites told us there was a VW dealer.
Shifting gears without the aid of a clutch cable was not easy . It’s possible to do grindy shifts with judicious interplay of the gas pedal and shifter, but you mustn’t stop when it’s in gear, lest the engine die.
We drove 90 miles without stopping before we got to the town. Once there, we drove along slowly, eyes bugged out, watching for the VW dealer… driving slow… a sign: “THANK YOU FOR VISITING HINTON!” Whaaaat?? We had to pull a “youey” in third gear, all in one go… We made it! Back thru town, looking-looking…there’s that gas station again…suddenly Mike shouted, “Stop! There it is! There’s the dealer!”
Aha. Great. I pulled up in front of the station, and there in window, was a 3” circular VW decal.
I deftly bumped the shifter into neutral and the two of us went in and asked the man at the counter. It’s him, alright. He’s the VW dealer in Hinton, Alberta. By then, the shadows were starting to get long. We’d left the rest of our Manson Gang look-alikes to entertain themselves at the Jasper city park until we got back. They had a Frisbee. What harm could they do with a Frisbee…?? The man emerged from the cellar with a clutch cable for a van. Excellent. We decided it’d take less time if we installed it there rather than trying to do it back at that public park in Jasper. But the new cable was 8” too long. The man told us it was the only one he had in stock, but he gave us this clamp we might use to adjust the cable to the right length. It was closing time at the station and he locked the door after we stepped out. We found we could shorten the cable by looping it through that clamp just the right amount before tightening it down hard. If I were the religious type I’d have made the sign of the cross. We rolled out of the station and I jammed that Goose into third gear and…YES!… our patch job was working! Caution to the winds, we booted it back the 90 miles to Jasper before sunset.
Meanwhile, back at the village…
While we were gone, our girls had challenged the town to an Indian Leg Wrestling contest, and had fared pretty well for three hippy chicks. They even made a few dollars when the townsfolk starting betting on them!
Meanwhile, Jimmy and Johnny had decided to toss a bit of Frisbee on the lawn of a block of garden apartments. That all went well for awhile, until the spinning disc floated thru the open sliding door to one of the units. According to witnesses, John approached the patio rail to gaze into the darkened maw of the dwelling and, in gentle voice, asked, “Hello? Hello? Please, could we have our Frisbee back?” That was when he spied the errant discus where it had wafted to a gentle landing in the center of the living room carpet, just barely out of reach of his very long and very skinny arm. One more tentative, “Hallooooo?” and he vaulted the rail like a hurdler. When he was just about to snatch the Frisbee and be gone, a lady emerged from the bathroom, only to encounter this 6-4 barefoot and shirtless monster drug addict with his red dreadlocks standing in the middle of her living room. John turned and dove over the rail and hit the ground running, Frisbee in hand. After he’d gone a safe distance, he turned around and started walking backwards, saying things like, “Er, sorry, lady, I was just trying to get my Frisbee… um, hi, my name’s John, what’s yours?”
But the time for introductions had passed, because he could see the lady was already on the telephone.
This was the scene Mike and I were met with when we returned. I rallied everyone together and informed them of our immanent departure, stuffed them all back into the van, and pointed the entire enterprise west before the police arrived.
As we passed the city limits I began to breathe a little easier. Our merry pranksters were excitedly chattering away like adolescent raccoons on speed. Then one of them dragged out a guitar and began doing her best Janis Joplin cover of ‘Bobby McGhee’.
Oh, it was grand—the pranksters were back on the road again. Except that it had become as black as the ink of spades outside, and those VW excuses for headlights were only about one candlepower apiece. We chugged across the border into British Columbia where I found a clearing to pull over. People began setting up camp, someone got a nice fire going and magically all this food emerged from backpacks. Somehow the pranksters had managed to collect enough food to feed us all. Later on, as we sat around the fire, strumming guitars and spotting falling stars, our eyes grew heavy and we fell asleep under that star-filled sky.
Dawn came early. I awoke to see John and Mike standing on the far side of our clearing. They were looking up at something standing far above my left shoulder. I turned around to the most overwhelming mountain I’d ever seen. It was enormous and it was right there. We’d seen lots of mountains on that trip, even managed to scramble to the tops of a couple of them, but
Mount Robson seemed to be of a different order entirely. A quick look at our map showed Mt. Robson to be the tallest mountain in all the Canadian Rockies.
Part Six: The home run
With time and money running low, I wanted to try to be home by that evening, so I ordered to gang to pack up; we’d try to find coffee on the road. We bade farewell to “The Monarch of the Rockies”, and headed south toward Kamloops.
No sooner had we lost our view of Robson in our mirror, when we found a small diner where we could stop for breakfast. There were no signs of a town, so we asked the waitress. She said, “Oh, it’s called ‘Valemount’ and it’s just about five miles south of here.” While we awaited our orders, John and I went over to read their notice board. There were ads posted by folks wanting land, and others with land or houses for sale. All of it seemed pretty affordable, even to youngsters like us. John said he’d like to try living in the area someday. All we’d have to do was find jobs.
And so we made our way south.
Later on, we pulled into a rest stop for lunch break. Somebody had remembered to pack a football! It’s a testament to the boundless energy of youth that we were able, nay, eager, for an impromptu half-hour game.
We did make it home late that night, after a marathon drive, but the day turned out to be a lot longer than expected.
After a quick stop for supper, I asked the designated navigator how we looked on the map, and he replied, “About a hundred miles to home.” Now, 100 miles in an old VW van is no small undertaking, but I decided to press on regardless.
There we were, bouncing our way down the Yellowhead Highway to the steady whine of that 1500cc engine, in near total darkness. Our weary pranksters had sung out every song they ever knew and had grown quiet. I turned to my navigator and shouted over the engine and road noise to ask whether we were getting anywhere close to home. We were both way beyond “alert”, having O.D.’d on coffee hours ago. “Nah…” he replied. I blinked my eyes as wide open as I could, and looked down at the odometer. “What?? I thought you said it was only about 100 miles to home, and that was 95 miles ago!” He looked at me and shouted, “HOPE!” What did he mean by ‘hope’? Hope for what? “WHAT?” He pointed though the windshield at a road sign slowly coming up ahead.
The feeble glow from our headlights picked it up at a range of about 40 feet. It read, HOPE 5 MILES. Then there was Jimmy’s voice, “I said it was 100 miles to HOPE, not HOME!”
Ugh, that meant it was still another hundred miles to home.
We’d driven from Mount Robson to White Rock via Kamloops and ‘the Canyon’ in a single day. Or was it? I don’t remember what time is was when we pulled into the driveway and shut the engine off. As a matter of fact, I had no recollection of the final stage of the drive at all. I know I drove every mile of it, all the way from Cache Creek to White Rock behind the feeble glow of those pathetic headlights. I awoke in my own bed in the daylight. The pranksters never woke up until morning; they slept the entire night in the back of the Grey Goose.
Aside from the clutch problem, and the pathetic 6 volt lighting system, that Goose performed flawlessly. The Goose had a number of other adventures that year, and through 1971. She was still using that oversize cable when I sold her to a pair of young college kids with dreams of driving her to Mexico. I’ll bet she made it.
The pranksters– It’s now been 47 years since the flight of the Grey Goose.
Dawn and Mike returned to California as a couple, committed to a long-term relationship. The following year, Janice and I drove down to visit them in San Fransisco in a new Mustang loaned by a friend. We left home at midnight and arrived at Mike’s in time for supper the same day. That Mustang had excellent headlights and a convertible top, but we kind of missed not having the rest of the pranksters stuffed into their sleeping bags in the back seat….
Jimmy was granted amnesty by the American government, but stayed in Canada anyway. He lives with his wife not far from us.
Sharen was last seen selling real estate on Whidbey Island, WA;
Johnny got his Canadian citizenship, and moved to Valemount in the early ’80s. He found a job on the railroad, and was awarded a safety medal for averting a disastrous train wreck. That once sleepy railroad town is now a centre for outdoor recreation. He lives there with his wife in their hand-made home. They have an adult son and daughter, and several grandchildren.
I went on to earn a Masters degree in psychology, and practiced in the field of addictions treatment for many years. Janice gave birth to our daughter in 1972, finished her schooling, and went on to have a successful career in social work. We now have two brilliant grandchildren. We continued our adventurous lifestyle, sailing and kayaking around the Strait of Georgia, bicycling Hawaii, and touring the coast of Ireland on our own tandem bicycle. But those are tales to be told at another time. We recently celebrated our 50th Wedding Anniversary, and are happily retired on Vancouver Island.
l to r: The author, Jim, John, and Janice at our 50th