Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I know that 2020 was a nasty year for many folks and let me say right off the bat that I am deeply sorry for you if it was a year of personal loss. I know many of you have lost jobs and some of you have even lost loved ones in 2020 and that sucks. I hope your new year is much better! I have to admit that from a personal perspective 2020 wasn’t all bad. My immediate family remained happy and healthy for the most part, despite two of us being front line health / social care workers. We kept our jobs and we got through it the same way everyone else did – slogging on as best as possible, working and going to school from home, wearing masks everywhere else and washing our hands more than ever before. We had a very quiet Christmas and New Years and missed friends and family while enjoying the down time. Our parents stayed Covid-free and for the most part our extended families and network of friends got through this strangest of years without too many permanent scratches. Now it’s 2021 and I hate to say it but this is looking to be another very challenging year for most of us. It’s going to be heads up hockey until Covid is sorted out and in Alberta we need to find our feet after the double whammy of a down energy market in combination with the pandemic and its many negative side-effects on us all.

Selfishly 2020 was a great year for me doing what I love most – hiking, scrambling and climbing. The BC wildfires held in check keeping Alberta skies relatively clear for summit views. The weather also cooperated nicely when we needed it to – overall it was one of the best summers and fall seasons I’ve had since moving to Alberta over 20 years ago. While I didn’t get out climbing anything too serious this past year, I did manage to complete some very long sought adventures including fantastic trips up McConnell Creek and Upper Martin Creek. I scrambled mountains that have seemingly been on my list forever including Baril, Soderholm, Shanks, Boar Station, William Booth, Hangman, Tornado, Harris, Augusta, Wind, Foch, Prairie Lookout, Block, Panther, Flints, Abruzzi, Evan-Thomas, Glendowan, Dungarvan, Bishop and Marvel and many others. I completed a few long day trips this past year including a season-opener 52km trip up Haunted Peak (likely a 2nd ascent) and a monster 73km day trip up Mount White and likely first ascent of its neighbor – unofficially “Grouse Peak”.

Littlehorn Creek runs over a rocky outcrop as we hike back towards Littlehorn Pass, out of sight at right.

2020 was the year of rare ascents following decades long gaps between Rick Collier and ourselves on peaks such as Augusta, Harris, Kentigern, Boar Station, Panther, Flints and many others. Phil and I even managed two likely FA’s (first ascents), first on the unofficial “Grouse Peak” and then on Bellow Peak, one of Banff’s most remote and hard-to-access summits. Spending time in these remote areas only added more peaks to our respective mountain lists as it always seems to! 2020 was likely the year that I’ll look back on as the year I became more interested in hiking and backpacking than just bagging peaks (don’t worry – I’ll continue to do both ). I’ve always known that this was my trajectory and it seems to be started now with plans in place for 2021 involving much longer trips with a larger pack and weeks worth of food on my back rather than mere hours. As I get older I find I care less and less what others are doing and accomplishing and more and more about taking advantage of my healthy body while it lasts by doing more and more intentional objectives that allow room for personal relaxation and meditation. Moments of pure magic that stand out from 2020 include;

  • Seeing the Banff bison herd on approach to Mount White, lounging along the Red Deer River
  • Finding an ice cave along our unplanned exit route from Mount Baril and thinking we were the first to see and walk through it (of course we weren’t but it was a fun few hours…)
  • Acres and acres of wildflowers on many approaches including Wind, Tornado, Hangman and Schlee
  • Viewing the incredible, remote waterfall feeding down into Martin Creek between Mount Augusta and Harris and witnessing a mama and kid goat while drinking our morning brews at this special place
  • Wandering up through forest on an ancient trapper’s trail into the McConnell Creek Valley and sitting at our bivy with a cup of morning coffee the next morning before exploring the area
  • Hiking past a herd of mountain sheep on our way to Hangman Peak on a lovely summer morning
  • Witnessing the Neowise Comet with my bare eyes all alone on the summit of Prairie Mountain – by far my most ascended mountain of all time
  • Opening the old PVC summit registers on Panther Mountain and Flints Peak and seeing Rick Collier’s signature from almost 30 years before and nobody else’s since
  • Bushwhacking through extremely wet undergrowth on route to the oddly named “Mount Schlee
  • Finally walking the gorgeous summit ridge of Prairie Lookout – a peak that was on my list LONG before Kane made it recognizable to the masses
  • Soloing an ‘easy’ route on Mount Foch on a gorgeous summer day
  • Biking towards and then hiking up the GDT on route to Tornado Mountain by myself on a lovely day in late July – another long sought summit and gorgeous, quiet day of meditation and relaxation
Beautiful lakes and tarns in the Upper Martin Creek valley with Clearwater Mountain looming above. The “secret” col we used for access to the valley at mid right center.

It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns of course. I managed to put over 7.7 million steps on my feet in 2020 (that’s almost 6,000 kilometers) but still managed to gain weight by the end of October, necessitating a pretty strict diet and exercise (and you wonder why I went up Prairie Mountain 74 times in 2020?!) regime since then. Thankfully this is going quite well through the holidays and into 2021 – a first for me in my never ending quest for thinness. Over the past 20 years I’ve never managed to actually lose weight over the holidays until this year. I’m sure there’s people out there that understand but it’s hard to convey the level of frustration I feel sometimes when I look at the numbers on my iWatch and Health app and then at my body. How the f_ck is that even possible?! I should enroll myself into some sort of scientific study on metabolism or something. It’s off-the-charts ridiculous how much exercise I get in a year and my corresponding body shape at the end of it all. Put it this way. I’m living proof that eating (or rather not eating) does much more for your weight than exercising. Enough of that depressing topic! 😐 Another downer for me in 2020 was spraining my ankle quite badly right at the end of hiking season when I still had a number of primary objectives within sight (literally and figuratively). Thankfully a few months later and it’s mostly healed now. That was a lesson in patience and the frailty of the human body – even after a season of conditioning.

Hiking McConnell Meadows.

Speaking of “numbers” – I meditated often this past year why we have so many measurements and lists for things like weight, speed, distance, height gained and things accomplished but hardly any for the stuff that really matters such as contentment, happiness and fulfillment? How come there’s no Strava for total amounts of contentment felt or happiness shared or lives fulfilled? It frustrates me more and more that our society is so damn focused on numbers that don’t mean anything rather than lives that are meaningful and fulfilling. If racing up and down Prairie Mountain makes you feel good than do it! Who cares how many others do it faster, slower or as often as you do? If you want to complete a group of peaks in record time – go ahead! I hope you take time to actually enjoy the ride cause it doesn’t last long. I know I’m just an old grumpy fart but if I can get one thing across in this blog it would be for people to really think about what makes them happy and fulfilled and chase after those things with all of their heart and soul without a care in the world how fast or how long it takes or who else has done it!

Grant scrambles along the south ridge of Prairie Lookout with stunning views of Mount Smith Dorrien, Mount Jellicoe and Mount French behind him.

It’s funny how many folks email me or contact me and are intimidated by some of my posted times or distances on certain trips. Please trust me on this. I only do things fast or long or however I do them if that’s the way I feel like doing them at the time I’m there. I don’t do races and I don’t like racing or feeling rushed on my time off. I don’t compare my time to anyone else’s. I only post my times on trip reports so that you can estimate your own time needed for planning purposes. Phil and I have discussed numerous times how we only like long and fast trips because we love moving through so much landscape in one or a few days. We love seeing all the different micro-terrain features and different alpine zones in all their unique beauty as close together as possible. For example, on our Panther Mountain and Flints Peak trip we only had two days and wanted to experience remote Banff landscapes. This meant traveling far and fast. It was worth it – big time! We ended up signing two registers which had last seen Rick Collier’s signature almost 30 years previous! Our bodies are still healthy enough to allow this – someday sooner than later I’m sure we’ll slow down quite a bit and then we will simply enjoy other things such as photography, birding or identifying plants. Maybe I’ll even start fly fishing again soon. I miss that particular relaxation.

After scrambling down a steep moderate rock step to the creek below we discover this amazing landscape feature.

Last but not least I’ll address the changes I made to explor8ion this past year, limiting many trip reports to registered users and eliminating GPS tracks from my reports altogether. Most of the feedback I’ve received on these changes has been positive but there are those who don’t get it. That’s ok. We’re allowed to differ on what we think is good or bad for the environment or good or bad for ourselves. I am furthering the changes I’m making by stepping away from social media for a while. This change might become permanent in 2021 with no continued presence on Facebook or Instagram. When Facebook asked me why I was suspending my account the only answer that made sense was simply, “it doesn’t make my happy”. The promise of social media to bring us altogether in one big happy society was a false one. It forgot that we all are human after all. 😐 Certain personalities are better off avoiding the poisonous and unhealthy aspects of social media and I am borderline such a person. I’ve hung on for many more years than I probably should have. C’est la vie. We grow and learn or we shrivel and die.

Please note that as of January 6th 2021 you no longer need to be manually added to the “premium content list” on explor8ion. Just registering and signing in will automatically give you all the access you need.

Incredible morning views looking east off the east summit of Mount Harris include Martin and Trident Lakes at center running into the Clearwater River. Also visible are many familiar but remote summits such as Icefall, Mamen, Peters, Condor, Smoky, Dip Slope, Cataract, Deluc and many others.

I hope I continue to learn and grow in 2021 and I hope I can continue to share the little bits of paradise that I manage to stumble through, scramble up or ski down along the way. Please continue to contact me or comment on my reports as you see fit. I appreciate knowing that you are out there enjoying the same things I do or disagreeing with me on just how enjoyable some of them might be…

Cheers and a very Happy New Year to you all! 🍻

9 thoughts on Happy New Year!

  1. Happy New Year Vern!
    I see that you have dropped your FB account?… Probably same for Instagram?

    If so, I applaud you for such a move! Sometimes I consider dropping Facebook as well (I have a IG account, but haven’t logged on for about 7 yrs).

    • Happy new year Doug! Yes I’ve temporarily and possibly permanently removed my social media accounts. They don’t make me happy so it made sense for now. 🙂

  2. This was a very nice read bud. 2020 was certainly a great year in the mountains for us. I’m certainly looking forward to what 2021 brings us from our adventurous scheming.

  3. You are such a wise man Vern! I love your perspective on the world around you and how introspective you are of how you interact with it!

  4. Happy New Year, Vern! You’ve had a full year, mindblowing amount of adventures.
    Thank you for being such a great inspiration and motivator by doing and sharing your trip reports!

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