2019 Reflections on Explor8ion

I would like to take a moment to to wish all my friends and readers a very happy Christmas and even more delightful New Year! I guarantee that you will have a better time in 2020 than I was in the photo headlining this post. Bushwhacking through a recent burn with a canoe on your head is a guaranteed way to make you question your life choices. But doing such idiotic things is much more enjoyable when your 20 year old daughter is there to laugh at your struggle. I truly hope that you all find health, purpose and happiness in the many different ways we all seek these things.

Upon reflection, 2019 was both a year of interminable slogging and wonderful adventures for me. As usual, the slogging was a large part of the adventure. This past year saw our family move to a new house and neighbourhood in YYC for the first time in 18 years. While moving is not what most of us would call “fun” – it  certainly was an adventure. Transferring my old website to this new one was also not a ton of fun but has benefits which I’m enjoying now. Re-reading all those trip reports and looking at the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the past years was an adventure in itself. I had some highlight trips in 2019 including a 15 day epic canoe trip with my daughter and a memorable hiking and scrambling trip in September. I repeated a bunch of peaks this past year for some reason or another – most of these were quite enjoyable too. I finally tagged BowCrow on skis which was a long desired goal of mine. I also finally got after the remote Scarab Peak in a long and beautiful solo trip this past fall. Another long desired solo effort was standing on Arete Peak – I’m nearing the completion of the Wapta peaks, not that anyone’s counting.

Hiking a moonscape to the 2nd lake and our bivy under the SE face of Dip Slope Mountain.

Yes, I had a wonderful year that deserves positive vibes and much thankfulness. I stayed relatively healthy and maintained a fulltime job in a bad economy. My family stayed healthy and employed too. I am still in love with Hanneke, my very talented and beautiful wife and my very best friend. I am shamelessly proud of my two kids for all their impressive accomplishments which include an honors roll in grade 12 and scholarships in university. Both are now pursuing post secondary degrees and doing their best to start “adulting”. It’s hard to believe that KC is in her third year of university already! It seems like yesterday that we were sleeping with our whole family in a crowded 4-person tent at the Forks campground with a wet dog in the vestibule – and eventually in one of the kids sleeping bags! Having kids is the toughest thing I’ve done but as I get older it’s the most rewarding and adventurous thing too, something I never thought I’d say when I was younger. Peaks and lakes are all the same after awhile, but kids tend to keep their parents guessing what’s going to happen next…

The Calgary Dewits pose at the Forks Campground in Kananaskis back in July 2009.

When I go back even further than just the past year, it’s overwhelming how much has changed in my life and how incredibly lucky I am. I was an overweight smoker in my early 20’s and now in my early 40’s I’m a hiker / climber / skier / writer / photographer. I’ve managed to ascend hundreds of Rockies peaks and I’ve hiked and explored countless trails, valleys and off-the-grid areas on hundreds of excursions. I’ve been the 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th recorded party on many remote peaks that most people have never heard of and felt connections with the very few folks who stood there before me. I’ve spent hundreds of days in the wild alone and hundreds more with friends and family. I’ve paddled thousands of kilometers of pristine Canadian wilderness waterways and spent untold numbers of nights under the stars or in a tent. I’ve made many new friends and acquaintances along the way both in the real world and the virtual online one.

The stream running down from Scarab Lake to Egypt Lakes provides some wonderful landscapes and tranquil scenes. This photo is from the top of the falls plunging down to Egypt Lakes just visible at left.

I was reminded again in 2019 just how inconsequential I am in the grand scheme of things and honestly, I’m more than fine with this reality. Being a “somebody” entails a lot of expectations, which in turn brings pressure and stress – both things that I avoid if at all possible. I don’t believe in making what I love  to do in my spare time into a full-time job. Once something becomes a necessary source of income or identity it loses most of its appeal to me. I’m happy to call some pretty hardcore folks my friends and it is very nice to see so many of them continue to thrive this past year. I remember when So Nakagawa was the first person I knew personally who did over 100 peaks in one year. Maybe it was even 120. I was shocked when I first found out about it. How was this even possible?! Steven Song now regularly does 100+ peaks / year and many of them quite challenging. I know others who get out at least 100-150 times per year on various outdoor adventures, many of them technical and difficult.

The Molar Meadows with the sun rising over North Molar Pass through early morning cloud and mist.

Many of my friends have far eclipsed me on both a technical and goals level, including my good friend Ben Nearingburg who recently completed the fastest time to ascend all the Rockies 11,000ers – unassisted even. What I love most about Ben is how understated he is about his feats. He does them because he loves doing them – not for the sake of followers, accolades or admiration but for the pure unadulterated joy of living his very best life. (Be more like Ben.) I’ve come to realize that there’s more of these unsung adventurers out there and I’m privileged to know more than a few of them. Some of them even compete on nationally televised cooking shows when they’re not bagging obscure peaks before I manage to get up them! I swear, Liam has bagged every peak on my to-do list and very rarely does he announce it afterwards. Steven Noel is another person I’ve become virtual friends with over the past few years who is building a pretty nice climbing resume in a rather understated manner.

Clouds over Clearwater Pass, looking towards Dip Slope Mountain from our bivy at Devon Lakes.

Instead of writing about how demoralizing the endless Social Media wheel of apparent perfection and happiness can be at times, I’m focusing the rest of this post on its more positive aspects for once. Beth Rodden, an elite climber from the US, has been inspiring me lately with her realstagram posts about body image and how it relates to self worth. Meghan Ward also posts regularly about how difficult it can be to juggle a business, a family and her personal life – a perspective that resonates deeply with me and my own situation. I have many other local inspirations to choose from when it comes to climbing, photography and outdoor adventures. Most of these people I’ve never met personally but I feel a connection with them nonetheless. In the strange new world of digital friendships, I’ve made many connections with folks I probably wouldn’t recognize on the street. Definitely not if they’re in regular clothes and not in hiking or climbing attire with a helmet on their head and ice ax in their hand!

Our nice little site on Gammon Lake.

I get a smile on my face each morning on my commute to work when I’m scrolling through IG, Twitter or FB, viewing Matt Clay’s latest hike or Sheena Mills and Carrera Dawn’s latest crazy adventure. I am inspired by folks like Nick Fitzhardinge (who is one of very few people I know who has figured out Mount Peechee) and Larissa Arthur (100 hikes and climbs for her late father). Mike Rogers and Liz Imhof were especially inspirational in 2019 with both of them completing the latest Kane scrambles list which includes some real doozies. Other feeds that brighten my day for various reasons are from Victoria Valchev, Bobby Gunning, Mike Samson, Trevor Dingman, Jake Finnan, Becky McMurray and Ali Sekera. Scott Comeau makes me laugh out loud at inappropriate times, like during boring business meetings.

Returning back along the amazing sidewalk feature – views to Armor Peak and Bulwark Mountain.

There’s many, many more inspiring people on my various Social Media feeds who I admire and am  intimidated by at the same time. Tim Banfield, Maarten van Haeren, John Price, Will Gadd, Jim Elzinga, Raphael Slawinski and Brandan Pullan are obvious candidates for the more intimidating mountain crowd. Meshwell Boschman, Chris Moneypenny and Marcus Baranow always make me wish I was a better skier with more time on my hands. Bryce Brown makes me want to quit my job and travel almost every other day. I also admire and envy (just a little) Jeff Bartlett, John Marriott, Dave Brosha, Rebecca Simrose and Paul Zizka for obvious reasons. Other locals such as Robb Schnell, Lynn Martel, Meghan J Ward and Ian Greant almost always have something interesting going on in their Social Media feeds and all provide inspiration for various reasons on different days. I still get much inspiration from two online feeds by local legends who are no longer sharing new stories with us. Rick Collier’s writing never gets old and Trevor Sexsmith’s ski adventures never cease to amaze me.

Views from the SE ridge high point include Harris (L), Icefall, Mamen, Whimper and many other obscure summits. Note the different colored tarns below. Martin and Trident Lake are also just visible at center distance.

Others that both inspire and intimidate me include Andrew Nugara, David P Jones, Pat Morrow and Nancy Hansen. I know many more folks like Raf Kazmierczak, Sonny Bou, Joanna Ford, Steven Noel, Brandon Boulier, Cornelius Rott, Patrick Seymour, Matt Hobbs, Phil Richards, Mike Mitchell, Doug Lutz and many others who just quietly go about their business, tackling everything from running 50-75km in a stretch, to hiking to skiing to snowshoeing to technical climbing to all sorts of outdoor adventures all over the darn place. And while all of these folks (and many others) sometimes make me envious with their neverending adventures and exciting life stories, of course I recognize and appreciate that every single one of them also has a “real life” behind the one they show the rest of us online. Even the mundane everyday experiences of virtual friends can be interesting and endlessly entertaining. Folks like Rod McAlister remind me that sharing our lives with others can be about more than the latest trip or adventure we just finished. Life itself is a grand adventure even in the day-to-day navigations that we all do uniquely. You just have to sell it like Rod does and it’s all endlessly fascinating and entertaining!

Late evening views from the SE face of Dip Slope Mountain.

I suppose the message I want to pass on as another year closes and another one begins is an acknowledgement to everyone reading this, that life is both beautiful and sometimes really fucking hard for each and every one of us. Life doesn’t care how beautiful, popular or accomplished we are. I think we should fearlessly reflect this duality in our virtual lives as it affects each one of us uniquely. Most of us tend to primarily exude confidence, happiness, wealth of experience and an unrealistic level of perfection on our various social platforms because this is what we’ve been told matters. We think this is all anyone wants to see and read about, but we know we’re all flawed underneath the show. I think most of us actually want to be surrounded by real people with real feelings. My experience is that true happiness and contentment are hiding in acknowledging and being 100% OK with our flaws as well as our accomplishments. Some days we might be deliriously happy and others we might be overwhelmingly sad. Some days we have every reason to be happy and yet we’re not. Other days we should be feeling awful and yet we find ourselves smiling.

My encouragement for 2020 is for all of us to not only post the highlights of our lives, but also share the lowlights where possible. I think that by being more open, vulnerable and real with each other we can make our lives feel a bit more manageable and positive. By sharing our failures and our successes we can avoid feeling like we’re missing out on the neverending party everyone else seems to be having and make ourselves more human with each other. In the end humans are always at their best when they’re allowed to be just as we are – human.

A magnificent Billy Goat near the summit of Mount Pengelly.

A corollary to the keeping-it-real theme would be a heartfelt suggestion not to take yourself, your life or your work too seriously. Yes, you might have 10k, 20k, 40k or even 300k followers, but believe it or not you’re still just one (fairly unimportant) human. There are over 7 billion of us now. Not to burst your bubble but there are many people waiting in the wings ready to steal your show at any moment with zero notice. Don’t live life for your followers, live it just for you and the ones you genuinely care about. Those closest to you are the only ones that truly matter. The only humans who have to live with 100% of your decisions is you and those closest to you, everyone else can (and will) just scroll past your life and onto the next big thing. Take it from someone who has made mistakes in the past and is living with some deep regrets as a consequence – there is much more to all our lives than what we show on our weekly media feeds.

Entering the Molar Meadows from the Mosquito Creek trail as the sun rises through early morning clouds and mists. The Fang rises ahead at left.

With that I’ll end this post with a heartfelt thank you to all of you who inspire me and make me want to be a better human in both my regular life and my weekend one, whether you know it or not. Keep the positive vibes coming and feel free to comment or correct any of my drivel at any time. I hope to get out and share our great outdoors with new people in 2020 and continue to share it with many more familiar ones too.

Cheers and Best Wishes for 2020 and beyond!


7 thoughts on 2019 Reflections on Explor8ion

  1. Great words my man. I feel the strong note of keeping it real, and will use your words to remind of that once again.

  2. Vern,

    As always, thanks for sharing and for not only inspiring my inner peakbagger but also taking time to reflect on what actually matters in all of this… The social media space is a pretty unique one and at times, I’ve found myself consumed and having to revisit my intentions. That being said, it’s also a treat connecting with similarly-crazy folks and have content like this so readily available…. Your GPX tracks have been invaluable!

    I was reading your account of BowCrow and will almost certainly be quoting you for the rest of my life, “It’s hard to explain but when a peakbagger gets a peak in their mind and has a trip planned to bag it, it’s very hard for us to focus on anything else. Weird, I know.”

    Looking forward to seeing what 2020 has in store and hoping it’s a lot less rain than 2019…Cheers!

  3. Great post! I am not a peak bagger myself but love reading trip reports by yourself and some of those you’ve mentioned. Have an amazing 2020!

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