In the beginning, I felt quite apprehensive about my family’s holiday. Put another way, I was certain that I would absolutely hate hiking up and down big heaps of rock for a whole week. Yep — this year, we were headed for a backpacking “vacation” in Yoho National Park, part of the Rocky Mountains.
My sentiments were utterly unmatched by the rest of my family. My mother talked nonstop about how much she had fun hiking in the Rockies 30 years before — eight hours of driving filled with stories about a hiking nun named M.J., repetitive anecdotes on nearly falling in crevasses, and ceaseless vowing that Yoho’s scenery was ‘”o die for.” Between my father’s occasionally interjected recollections, my sister peppered my parents with questions, launching them into more chatter about hiking ascetics, life-threatening situations, and potentially lethal scenery. I buried my nose in a book.
With a short bus ride (Yoho is a strictly regulated hiking haven), we ended up being led around the campground by a psychotically perky ranger. Once the tent was set up, off we headed down the road to go up to Opabin Plateau. After a short and pleasant stroll through coniferous trees on a pine-needled path that nearly had me thinking I was enjoying myself, we reached a near-vertical, twisty path that covered the “up” part of getting to Opabin Plateau. My sister’s mouth somehow managed to stretch into an even wider smile, and she immediately proceeded to march straight up, practically running, my parents following close behind. I slowly plodded along behind my parents, miserably arguing and groaning in my head that I simply had to be secretly adopted, because these nutcases were the other side of the planet to me. Maybe the other side of the solar system. Or galaxy. However, in a surprisingly short time, we were back on level ground, looking out at the valley from a heart-stopping viewpoint.
My mother was right. Yoho is such an astoundingly gorgeous place that dying of shock seemed rather likely. Lake O’Hara, in the center of the valley, was a shimmering turquoise, filled by seven gushing falls at the eastern end, which in turn came from the sparkling glaciers perched precariously on the ridges of mountains high above. I stared up at the mountains — how can gigantic blocks of quartzite uplifted and tilted in all sorts of odd ways be so heart-achingly beautiful? Wiwaxy was a gigantic slope of shale ending in tall columns stretching up like the turrets of an enchanted castle. Yukness, on one side a sheer drop, on the other side a steep crumbly incline, towered up, impressively massive. Schaeffer, a huge mammoth of a wall with a ridge at least five kilometers long, watched placidly over everything, guarding the most mysterious secrets of beauty hidden in this valley. My whole attitude changed. Who cared that it was hard– hiking was the key to enjoying this wonderland.
From that moment on, I was up to going the extra mile. In three short days, I’d covered most of the trails through the park, exploring all the corners and seeing most of the sites. I reached MacArthur Lake, a gorgeous place unlike any I’d ever seen before: the water was absolutely, vibrantly, amazingly, stunningly blue, brighter than the sky, indescribable by all the adjectives in the world, so enticing that I, forgetting that the water was actually recently unfrozen ice, leaped in, only to do an immediate about-face and rush out screaming, leaping into many layers of warm clothes. I covered the wandering trail along Schaeffer Ridge, marveling at how new everything looked from a different viewpoint. Thor had a tantrum above our tent one night, throwing lightning bolts so close by they lit up the world like daytime, thundering so loudly it was impossible to sleep, and drenching the tent so heavily that the waterproof material became nonwaterproof on one side, causing my sleeping bag, pillow, and self to wake up in a very soggy state. But I didn’t mind anymore. Sometimes you have to put up with an awful lot, and sometimes you have to slog away up a trail for a very long time, but in the end it always turns out the better because you took the time, energy, and pain to do it. If someone had taken me up to the top of Wiwaxy in a helicopter, the view wouldn’t have been one-thousandth as astounding as it did when I hiked up there.
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