Thoughts from the events of a year ago were circling through my mind. Pain, it seems, is the bodies way of reminding the head of that which it hopes to forget. My ankle was twinging from the weight of my heavy backpack that was burdened with food and equipment for 8 days of Mountaineering. I propped my hiking pole in my side, below my rib cage, and put my weight on it to give my ankle a rest. The aching began to subside and I exhaled. As I did a lone wasp landed above my sore ankle on my shin and stung me. Through gritted teeth I swatted it away, but it had done it’s damage. The ache from my ankle had now been replaced with a piercing throb from this sting.
“Why don’t you want me here? “
I heard myself irrationally ask inside my mind. Who was I asking? The Mountains of this Range?
It’s not unusual for people to anthropomorphise places and things, but I usually don’t. My history with the Tantalus Range had skewed my usual high tolerance to apophenia however. I’ve written about this history before (see: Tantalized by the Tantalus) and I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t played at least a small part in my decision to turn around when attempting to push into the heart of the Tantalus Range from the North this Spring (see: When Sisyphus met Zeno: Tantalus Digressions). Curiously, I’ve never written a post about the events of last year though, about my injury and the ramifications of it. I suppose that is telling. Anyway, this history of trying to push into the Tantalus Range and feeling as though it is constantly trying to push back was wearing on me.
As I continued to hike, I tried to reason with myself. My ankle was weaker than usual and causing me more pain as, the previous weekend, I had run in the Squamish50 trail race, completing the 23km variation of the course (see: Running the Arc’teryx Squamish 50 23k). Wasps were everywhere this year, so getting stung was not unusual at all. The Tantalus Range is known for being difficult to access and for having complicated terrain, the weather here is also known for being gnarly at the best of times.
I remembered a quote, by a man who had to deal with circumstances far worse than I was facing:
“Felicity, the companion of content, is rather found in our own breasts than in the enjoyment of external things; And I firmly believe it requires but a little philosophy to make a man happy in whatsoever state he is. This consists in a full resignation to the will of Providence; and a resigned soul finds pleasure in a path strewed with briars and thorns.” – Daniel Boone
I resigned myself to the will of the Wild, the will of Providence. Felicity would only come from letting this place shape me, and not in hoping that I could shape and bend it to my own machinations.
In the late afternoon we reached our home for the next two nights, the Tantalus Hut. A low ceiling of dark clouds hung overhead, obstructing our views of the surrounding peaks and giving the locale an ominous feel. As we entered the Hut we met those who had already arrived here and were planning to spend the night.
We spent the remainder of the day sharing stories with those staying in the Hut and those who were camping outside but were using the Hut to dry their boots and to warm themselves by the wood burning stove. Before dinner we went down to the dock by the lake and took one of the Canoes out. I had hoped to be able to do this to gather information about the conditions on the peaks around the lake as we planned to visit them over the coming days but alas the clouds still hung too low and obstructed our views. We enjoyed just being in the Canoe, and took our time exploring the lake before returning.
Over dinner we got to hear about the past adventures of those staying at the Hut. A couple of older ladies regaled us with stories from their decades of adventures in these mountains. They had visited all of them in their youth and were here now simply to enjoy being present in the mountains that held so many memories.
Hearing them talk about their experiences on peaks in the vicinity that I would view as challenging for myself was inspiring. I began to imagine a point in the future when I would do likewise, when my years of climbing hard Mountains would be behind me and I’d be telling stories to those, like myself now, who are nascent Mountaineers.
We turned in for the night early. If the weather looked better the next day our plan was to visit 4 peaks nearby.
We slept soundly. There was only 6 people staying in the Hut that night and everyone was quiet.
We awoke before the dawn, but in the dull, early morning light I could tell that the weather had not improved. Outside the clouds still clung low to the steep rock walls surrounding the lake. We had breakfast slowly, hoping to see some sign of the weather breaking. By around 8am we decided to just go for it and hope that the weather would change in our favor as the day progressed.
Our plan was to try and reach the summits of Thyestes, Iota, Niobe and Pelops, which sat to the South of Lake Lovely Water. We put in a Canoe and paddled across the lake to a sandspit that was the beginning of our route towards these mountains.
We began climbing higher, first through some meadows, then over boulder and talus fields and eventually we started to gingerly work our way up some wet, slabby sections. The weather was deteriorating quickly. Visibility had dropped significantly now as we had ascended up inside the cloud ceiling. The winds picked up and it began to rain hard. We attempted to shelter beside an overhanging section of rock to try and wait out the rain. After 20 minutes or so we began to get cold and needed to make a decision. Should we press on, further into the whiteout, or retreat?
With some hesitation we decided to retreat as there were no signs that the weather was going to change anytime soon for the better. As we descended I tried to summon a disposition that would allow me to simply resign myself to the fickle nature of the mountains, but I felt defeated. My audacious plan to summit 11 peaks in this place had now been reduced to a mere 7. The wet, slabby section we had passed coming up now had water flowing over it from the rain. There was no way around it so we inched our way down. A feature that would be inconsequential on a dry day was now downright dangerous as a slip would mean a substantial slide down this slab onto the rocks below.
We eventually got past this section and made our way back to our Canoe, and then back across the lake to the Cabin. I watched the weather, hoping it would not change now and prove our decision to retreat a mistake.
As late afternoon pressed on a helicopter flew in and abruptly broke the silence of this place. Three men hopped out and made their way towards the Cabin. We had met one of these men before when we had booked our stay at this Cabin and picked up a key to access it. His name was Ron, the Custodian of the Huts of the Tantalus Range. This was his 50th year visiting these huts and his 35th as custodian of them.
What followed over the next hour or more was a tornado of activity. Ron instantly set everyone in the Cabin to action, polishing wood surfaces, organizing furniture, getting the tables set for dinner with plates, cutlery and wine glasses. Ron was here to perform some maintenance on this Cabin, with the help of some other ACC members, before flying on to the Haberl Hut in a few days to perform some additional maintenance there.
When the dust settled and all the chores had been completed, Ron set about making himself and his two work partners one of the meals that we’d heard he was famous for. While myself and Spring ate our foil bag of rehydrated mush, Ron produced restaurant quality steak dinners with glasses of red wine for those who had flown in with him. The wine was graciously shared with us also and, as the evening drew on, we were asked about our plans for the coming days.
I loosely mentioned that we’d be making our way up to the Haberl Hut the following day. A short time afterwards, Ron and one of his friends left to go outside for a bit. When they did, his other friend that had stayed with us whispered across the table “If there is anybody that I’d recommend being extremely specific about your plans to it would be Ron”. His reasoning was sound, himself and Ron are both active members of the North Shore Search and Rescue team. If we were to get into trouble and need to call for help then they’d already be aware of our plans and our possible location. So when Ron returned I shared that the following morning we planned, if the weather was good, to climb Mount Alpha via it’s East Ridge and then descend its West Ridge before traversing to the Haberl Hut via the Ionia/Serratus col.. Ron, let us know that our plan was ambitious and wished us good luck, afterwards he asked us what time we’d be getting up the following morning, I said 5am, and he said “I’ll have coffee ready for you”.
With that we all went to bed. As I lay there, going to sleep, I recalled that as I was mentioning getting to the Haberl Hut via the Ionia/Serratus col. that one of the guys listening seemed to raise his eyebrows, almost in surprise, but had never said anything. I drifted off to sleep and thought nothing more of it.
Continue Reading: Tantalust, Part III: Finding Jim