Four years ago today, April 14th, 2014, myself and Spring finished our journey from Ireland to Canada and set foot in our new home in Squamish. Spring was returning to her home country after living away in Ireland for 6 years and I was moving somewhere completely new and foreign.
The trip to Canada was not enjoyable. We ended up on a 9 hour flight in the middle seats of the middle isle of coach on the plane, wedged between an individual on our left who drank himself into a stupor within the first 45 minutes of the flight and an older, spindly lady on our right who packed the area around her seat with bags and clothes and then fell asleep in a ball on top of them. To add to this, in the seats in front of us were two mothers with newborns. They fully reclined their seats into our laps in the first minutes of the flight and they stayed that way for the duration. The crying and teething stopped us from being able to sleep through any of this.
When we finally, wearily arrived at Vancouver airport, made our way through immigration services and went to pick up our rental car they told us that we could not have it. Spring had a driving license and I did not. But the credit cards we had were all in my name. The rental car company insisted that they’d only allow us to take the car if we provided a credit card in the drivers name.
Without options, we got a taxi to the nearest Hotel and decided to figure this all out in the morning after sleeping off the day.
The next morning, my first morning at my new home, I opened the curtains and the day was glorious. Blue skies and sunshine. We turned on the TV and switched to the news. Our jaws instantly dropped.
Breaking news was coming in of the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, an Icelandic volcano, and European airspace was shut down. Had our flight been a day later we’d likely have been stuck in Ireland now. This delay may have also impacted my chances of getting my permanent residency in Canada. The permanent residency application insists that I be in Canada within 12 months of taking the medical exam that it requires. That 12 month deadline was on April 15th, my first day in Canada.
The qualms we’d had with the previous days flight and being refused our rental car washed away. We were at least here, our 3 meager suitcases of clothes had arrived with us and we were fine.
We asked at the desk on ways to now get from Vancouver airport to Squamish and they shrugged their shoulders. Knowing nobody in this part of Canada we had no one to call. Luckily, a taxi driver in the lobby overheard our situation and offered to drive us to Squamish for $250. It was a steep cost, but we decided to pay it.
We arrived in Squamish an hour later, found our apartment, and exhaled at last. We’d made it. But where had we made it to? We looked around Squamish, a town we still knew precious little about, and decided to start exploring this strange new part of the world that would become our home.
That thirst to explore has grown exponentially in the past four years, from outward explorations of the mountains around us to inward explorations of the capabilities of the human mind and body.
Through all of those explorations, there has always been summits. Sometimes figurative, sometimes literal.
For our fourth year anniversary of living in Canada I’m going to pick my favorite four, literal, summits that I’ve reached thus far. Something about all of these summits has stuck with me and when I want to remember why it is that I have come to love the mountains I will usually think of memories from these adventures.
This summit was the first that I felt I really had to earn. The first time myself and two friends attempted it we got lost and underestimated the complexity of the terrain, we were forced to retreat. The second time I attempted it I spent most of the day doubting the success of our endeavor as the weather was horrible, it was raining and the low clouds made for terrible visibility.
But we pushed on and were rewarded by being able to climb above the clouds and into the sunlight. That moment of stepping into the sun was a moment of pure serenity.
We camped below the summit and the next morning climbed up to the top to watch the sun rise. It was nothing short of spectacular. Being up high in the mountains and paying witness to the birth of a new day is one of those ineffable experiences, impossible to describe. It leaves one with a sense of well being that I have never experienced while dwelling at sea level.
Sky Pilot Mountain:
Sometimes all a mountain needs is a good name, and “Sky Pilot” is a great name for a mountain. It’s how I imagine these mountains when nobody is there, like silent pilots in the Sky, their summits sitting above the clouds, unencumbered by the fervor down at sea level.
I first read about this mountain shortly after moving to Canada, but it took me the better part of the next year to prepare myself for it. Reaching the summit requires some stiff scrambling and navigating some exposed, loose sections.
We reached the summit in the middle of a perfect day. It felt awesome being there, not only because of the view and the friends that I was sharing that experience with but the satisfaction in knowing I was now capable of reaching this summit when, a year previous, I was not. That feeling of personal growth is something I now search for constantly.
Another milestone summit for myself. This mountain had intimidated me for a while. We ascended it via an aesthetic and steep gully known as the “Aussie Couloir”. I’ve always found this peak to have a presence and whenever I am high up in the mountains in the vicinity of it I scan for its shape on the horizon. Many mountaineers in this part of British Columbia will share stories of cutting their teeth on the rock and ice of Joffre Peak at some point in their careers.
Mountaineers seldom talk about the emotions of being in the mountains. It is why it is so difficult to express to others why we go there. When I was above 4000m’s on the steep, icy slopes of Mount Rainier, gasping for oxygen in the rarefied air and watching the Sun break the horizon after moving upwards in the dark for nearly 6 hours, the emotions in that moment were intense. Feelings of extreme well being and happiness.
I shared this summit with 4 other friends on a beautiful morning. It was one of those adventures when everything went as planned and the weather and conditions were perfect. Summits like that are rare so when they happen we savour them.
What are some “summits”, both literal and figurative, that stand out in your life? Whether they are literal places of rock and earth or milestones that you’ve set your sights on and surpassed.