Mount Cook: Alone in the Mountains

I’m not a solo hiker. I know people who spend a lot of time alone in the wild and choose to climb mountains by themselves but I am not this kind of person. It isn’t out of fear or even out of a rational sense of safety. It’s actually just a visual preference. I like seeing people move in the mountains. I prefer to shoot pictures of people against mountainous backdrops and try to document how they interact with the environment.

All of this subject matter for my photography is lost when I go there alone.

However, recently I had a day free during the week when Spring was working. I had an itch to get up high into the mountains but I also wanted to visit a peak that I’d never been to before. The decision to head to Mount Cook was an easy one. It’s a technically easy mountain to climb and it’s a good workout, climbing steeply to around 2676 m (8780 ft), but more importantly, Spring had already been up this mountain before by herself a few years ago when I was recovering from an ankle injury.

When you are surrounded by thousands of mountains, and you always have the option of visiting a new one, it can be hard to get a mountain climber to accompany you to a mountain they’ve already been up, especially if the route is technically easy. While I know Spring would definitely accompany me up Mount Cook if I asked, I didn’t want to have to ask. So I went alone, as she did.

The climb up was straightforward. I fast hiked to the lake below the mountain, Wedgemount Lake, in a few hours. Clouds hung low on the summit of Cook but I pressed on, hoping for them to clear. Soon above the lake I began to leave all vegetation behind as I started to walk up slopes of rubble and dirt. A recent storm had dumped snow on the upper reaches of the mountains and the wind had formed it into fingers which streaked across the bare slopes. Loose snow on unstable scree is challenging so I tried to traverse around these sections were possible. When I did have to cross them I made sure to probe ahead with my hiking poles so that I wouldn’t step into what is affectionately called an “ankle breaker”, a hole between some small boulders obscured beneath loose, unsupportive snow.

I gained the subsummit of Mount Cook in short order and kept moving, within a short while of hiking along this broad and flat ridge crest I came to and passed a notch in the ridge before finally reaching the summit. Clouds surrounded me. I smirked as I touched the summit cairn and looked out into the soupy white fog, it was identical conditions to when Spring had visited this mountain by herself years ago. Back then she had also had no views from the top.

On the Summit

On the Summit

I set down my pack, found a flat rock to lie down on and went for a nap. The silence on the summit was deafening. Maybe it was the clouds, or the elevation or the novelty of being alone but it felt like the world had stopped moving. It actually started to feel cold and I relished it. I’m not a fan of heat in any way and we’ve been having a prolonged, warm Summer in our home of Squamish. While most may adore the feeling of their skin being warmed by the Sun as they lie on a beach I am wired to love the chill and bite of the cold high in the mountains.

I napped for a while, enjoying the odd shiver from the cool air, but eventually I had to shoulder my pack again and start my descent. I slowed my pace to spend more time here, not really wanting to leave so soon. I stopped regularly to observe the changing light and take some pictures. I frequently deviated off my route to change my perspectives and investigate parts of the mountain I had not passed on my way up. I could feel the light start to turn golden and realized that the day was getting away from me so I hurriedly continued back down to the lake. From there I moved quickly down the steep trail back to my car. By the time I got home it had been dark for a while.

I left though with more than just a new summit reached. I understood more why people prefer to travel alone in the mountains. I always feel anew when I return from the mountains but after this trip I felt it even more so. It was refreshing to not only not have to deal with the problems of modern life for a day, but also to not have to talk or engage in conversation. When I finally got home and said hello to Spring I realized I had not heard my own voice all day. It had simply been myself and the mountain and I appreciated that experience. It is something I know I will try to repeat now in the future.

Alone in the Mountains

Author: Leigh McClurg

I grew up in County Dublin, Ireland and moved to British Columbia, Canada with my wife in 2010. I fell in love with being in the Backcountry and Mountains that are all around me here and try to spend all of my free time exploring those wild places. My main goals are to chase happiness, see as much of this planet and its cultures as possible and grow every day through knowledge and experiences.

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3 Comments

  1. thanks for sharing Leigh! =)

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  2. The Couch Potatoes and the Workaholics will never understand the beauty and the freedom of the mountains. What excuses can one have for living in B.C. and not exploring and enjoying the outdoors. The workaholics say they don’t have time to go out and the couch potatoes say is too difficult or nearly impossible to get off the rotten couch and into the nature. I think maybe 15 -20 years from now on, walking long distance will become an Olympic sport. Few weeks ago me and my wife we did the Black Tusk as a day hike, including the summit (well the sub summit). People on the trail thought we were crazy for doing it in a day. How is that crazy i say? There’s people who do it as a trail run, never mind walking.

    I grew up in a small village in Europe and people there had no cars and used to walk tens of kilometers a day. There were people in their eighties walking from morning till dawn, doing work around the house, taking care of the cattle’s, fixing their houses, etc. But that was then, this generation is the most sedentary generation of all times. So yes, when we climb a peak, we feel more human than when we send a text or check a comment on Facebook. Thank you for the post Leigh 🙂

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