It was 6am and we were pulled over on the side of the Icefields Parkway, in the middle of nowhere. This stretch of highway spans from Lake Louise north to Jasper. In winter, there is no real reason to drive here. There are no hotels, no gas, not even a tourist stop is open as the road weaves between the giant peaks of the Canadian Rockies. The glaciers are heaving forth with their winter collection of snow and the peaks are shrouded in looming grey clouds waiting to bury all below in another torrent of snow. It is also along this lonely stretch in winter that I saw my first wolf lopping down the middle of the snow covered road, a grizzly fresh from hibernation prance through the snow bank onto the highway, and a large herd of Elk laden heavy with icy coats daringly cross the frozen ice bridges of the Bow River.
We are here, in the dark, to try an ice climb above our pay grade and our nerves are high. We are ready to step out of the truck when low and behold another vehicle pulls up. This can mean only one thing, another team headed for the same route. But I am wrong, the young man in a t-shirt in -10 temps leaps from the truck and runs to our window. We wants to know if we need assistance as he saw our “luggage” on the ground. We tell him of our climbing plans, thank him whole heartedly for his gesture and wish him a Merry Christmas. That must be it, it is Christmas Day, the kindness of the season is upon us.
A day later, we are standing at the base of another climb. It pours over a steep cliff from the very tip of a glacier fed by the Wapta Icefields. Though it was -13 at the truck it must be -20 here as the icy chill sweeps down off the heart of winter above. With windchill, even colder as all of our clothes are on and we are shivering. We see 3 people below us ski up. We are intrigued by these hearty souls and after repacking our packs head down to meet them. A jolly Scotsman tells us of their venture to climb this same route. We realize this trio is not made up of just regular folk, the kind that turn tail and run in weather like this. This trio has individually slayed the dragons of these mountains and lived to tell their story. The lines on their faces tell of the wind they have endured over their collective 160+ years in these mountains and upon realizing who they are: I am speechless. Their names accompany routes that I dream about and fear to even approach, but they do not mention these feats. Instead, these men resonated the joy and spirit of the mountains as if it was their first day out.
We are parked here again, on the side of the road, in the dark. Attempting the same ice climb that eluded us last week. We are expecting a long but rewarding day. Our boots are on and we are ready to step out of the truck when low and behold, another vehicle pulls up. Again, this can mean only one thing, another team headed for the same route. But I am wrong again, another person offering help.
In one week I have met more heroes than in the last year. How can this simple word represent such dramatically different embodiments but still be the only word I would use? The new year is coming and I think it means one thing-make a resolution to try and embody all of the virtues that make these people heroes in my eyes.