Yesterday my husband and I were in Banff, Alberta on a mini-vacation together. As we're still new to the province and the mountains are so close, we decided to take advantage of the three-day holiday to do a little exploring together.
Our initial plan had been to hike to the Agnes Tea House at Lake Louise, but once the Parks Canada rep told us there was a risk of avalanches this year, we decided to change our plans at the last minute. Instead, we opted for the Tunnel Mountain hike.
Based on my reading of the map, this was rated as an easy hike targeted at all levels. Imagine our surprise, then, when the trail started at a steep, snowy incline, and kept on going up...and up...and up, switching back and forth along the mountainside until we were so high if you looked too fast you'd get vertigo.
We made it to the summit after about an hour and a bit, having stopped for multiple photo opps - the view was that breathtaking. I'd been carrying a 10lb backpack with fluids and extra clothing, so I'd found the climb a little challenging and spent much of it out of breath.
But the climb to the top was well worth it, with views of mountain-ringed valleys on either side and Banff Village far below. On one of the mountain peaks across the way, you could see snow being blown off the top in white whisps. Even though the winds were cold up there, we stood there for long moments just soaking in the view.
It was by far the best hike we'd ever been on together. Standing there at the top of the mountain, surrounded by other towering peaks, I could hardly believe that this is where we live now. We felt miles, even countries away.
The climb back down was perhaps just as difficult, with snow and ice making us having to watch our footing and me landing on my behind a few times. Back at the car, we took another look at the map again, only to find that what we'd thought was an easy hike was actually rated moderate. We'd travelled almost 5 kilometres round trip in about two hours and climbed 1,650 metres.
By the end of the day, we left Banff feeling infinitely grateful that we lived in a province where these kinds of experiences are just an hour and a half away from home.
Reflecting on it today, I also felt grateful that my husband and I are not only healthy enough to be able to tackle what really was a relatively challenging hike, but also that we live in a country where we have the freedom to have such experiences.
It brought to mind a book I recently read, I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafsai. In it, Malala describes how she, her father and her classmates received threats for even heading out on a picnic together. The girls were accused of unseemly behaviour, and we all know how her tale continues, with Malala being shot for even demanding that she and her female classmates have an education, let alone being allowed to have picnics without fear.
All the more telling, then, that our hike occurred on Remembrance Day - a day marked to recognize the sacrifices of the brave women and men (like my grandfather, who cycled to an airplane factory each night during the war to build planes, and whose roof was blown off when a bomb landed in the front yard one night while my father, at two or three years old, slept in a drawer under the cupboard as a makeshift bomb shelter) who fought for us to have the freedom we enjoy today.
How lucky we are, here in Canada, to be able to walk up a mountainside with no fear, and to be able to stand at its summit surrounded by unimaginable beauty.
For that freedom, I am infinely grateful.