Good Monday Morning,
I’m late. It doesn’t happen often as my dad taught me that punctuality was right up there with godliness. I’m so on time that a friend once said, “TA, if you are a minute late, I think you must be dead.” It’s been a whirlwind week and after getting in from a WOKies night hike at 10:30 last night, after being gone for five days, I didn’t have it in me to craft one, let alone many thoughtful sentences. After a good night’s sleep, I hopefully grace your in-boxes with greater aplomb.
What a hike we had! My dear friend Kristen, who is visiting from Orcas Island, Washington, and I had just returned from an amazing weekend of sea kayaking and camaraderie at Woody Island in Placentia Bay. We were glazed with the patina of fatigue and inertia that hours on the highway provide. After dropping my boat at school, we threw all the gear in my living room and I checked my email. The hike is on. “Oh no,” was my first thought and I wasn’t sure I had it in me to rally the energy to chose to participate. We had less than an hour to eat and be ready to head out into the night.
Leo called to catch up and said there were eight icebergs visible from Signal Hill. My pulse quickened and I said to Kristen, “Let’s jump in the car and drive to the top of the hill and see them now, just in case the fog drops! We joined the procession of the usual conveyance up the hill (i.e. car) and delighted in spotting “ice” in every direction including two that would be so close to the trail we would take 30 minutes later. We also sampled the weather and determined we were underdressed for the brisk iceberg-kissed breeze coming off the North Atlantic.
A bag of popcorn later, I donned my big black backpack and we walked over to Temperance Street to meet the rest of the WOKies. We were the first to turn up (surprise, surprise) and I introduced Kristen to the sights around that end of the harbour. The group arrived one by one and we joked we should cancel the hike because the weather was too nice! We hiked up to and through the Battery neighbourhood and introduced Kristen to the North Head Trail (which I swear is one of the most scenic trails in North America). It clings to a narrow ledge about the south flank of the harbour cliffs before rounding North Head and a commanding view of vast Atlantic. From the North Head, the famous staircases begin and lead up the steep face to Cabot Tower and the Ladies’ Lookout.
At the saddle above Cuckhold Head, a crowd had gathered to photograph two stunning bergs that bobbed near the cliffs. That’s where I first had the thought, “I live in the most incredible place.” Iceberg time is always magic and this year appears to be one where we’ll get to see the gleaming ice castles often (as opposed to some years were they are all far off shore or don’t make it this far south). We topped out the last few staircases practicing the rest step. The team wasn’t sure they wanted to climb that slowly given all the people around but most remarked how much easier the rest step made the climb. I know the rest step will be critical on Kilimanjaro and want folks to practice it some more before we go.
We dropped off the backside of Signal Hill and another few bergs awaited us in Cuckhold Cove and Quidi Vidi gut. I often find that outdoor discoveries that I’ve walked to are doubly sweet and I was charged with the joy of discovery around every bend. We took a more technical route down to Quidi Vidi and called it “Advanced Baranco Wall” training. The Baranco Wall is a steep and exposed section on our Kili route. As we climbed back out of Quidi Vidi, the sun began to set and the team eagerly put on their headlamps. Our summit day on Kili will begin around midnight in the pitch black of night. We will climb for six or seven hours under the narrow illumination of headlamps. As my motto is to practice as much as possible before a climb, we’ll do several night hikes to practice movement over steep and varied terrain using only headlights to see the way forward.
It’s funny I often find things less steep in the dark. I think it’s because the amount of stimulation and data is so reduced that all I think about is the trail in front of me. The backside gave way to the summit and the group was left with the choice of descent route. The road that we had walked down so many times over the winter or the North Head trail that has some interesting moments clinging to the edge of the harbour. We knew one team member was nervous so we left it up to her knowing we were all willing to go down either way. She said she was almost willing to go down the front side and face her fear of walking down in the dark.
She said she was willing as long as it was a “pole, pole” descent. “Pole, pole” is what they say on Kilimanjaro to remind everyone to climb slowly. We said, “No problem,” and headed down into the night. Talk reduced as folks concentrated on finding good footing. Hearing the swell crash on the shore was the reward for the quiet and the lights of the city were stunning as we rounded North Head once again. We marveled at the still air and beautiful evening. We stopped above a gaping tickle and listened to the waves pound it’s walls. The stars fought their way into visibility amid the light wash from the city and I felt truly blessed.
As we parted ways at the bottom of the hill, one team member said, “If I have one tenth of the fun on the mountain as I’ve had during training, the climb will be a grand success.” I can’t imagine where we won’t have fun on the mountain as the group is filled with folks who can laugh together at adversity, who support each other well, and who bring such a wonderful variety of skills and outlooks to any experience. I feel so grateful to have gotten to share “six months” on the mountain with them and I look forward to seeing their faces as we all see the mountain for the first time together.
I’m thankful Kristen and I were willing to shed the road trip patina and muster the energy to join the group. So often, the rewards for getting “off the couch” or out of bed so outweigh the comforts of staying put. These rewards are likely what keep me going on the training path. The mystical dancing light of dawn or the sweeping wings of a bald eagle glimpsed above the shores of Quidi Vidi bring joy and illumination to deep spiritual places/batteries within. I’m always appreciative and reverent of the recharge.
I’m looking forward to spending much of the week sharing my incredible home with Kristen and reestablishing a training routine after another week of big travel. Have a good week and I’ll catch you another week closer to Kilimanjaro.