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Contest Runner-Up: Over the Edge


By Jim Swanson (Banff, Alberta)

Mountain people have great stories to tell, so we hosted our first-ever writing contest! The challenge? Use just 400 well-crafted words to tell us about your biggest backcountry blunders. Congrats to our winners, who have received a cash prize, publication in Volume 4, and a hefty book pack from Rocky Mountain Books!

We went off-trail along the Yukness Ledges. My wife and I were heading from Lake Oesa down to Lake O’Hara and thought to explore the tablelands. She was hiking ahead and posed next to an inukshuk on the edge of a cliff.

I missed the photo and asked her to pose again. She crouched, smiled, and in rising pushed against the pile of stones. It crumbled. She disappeared backwards with a shout.

I ran to the edge. I could see down to Lake O’Hara. I thought she had fallen a great distance. The immensity of the landscape seemed to close in on me. The world turned dark.

Then I saw her lying on a ledge about 10 metres below. I yelled into the emptiness for help. It was October; there were few people on the trails. To reach her, I had to scramble below her ledge and then back up. Was she still alive, but dying? No, she had pulled herself onto her back on a little patch of grass in a field of rubble. She had no visible injuries, except for a cut on her head. She claimed to be fine.

I put my hat on her head, a space blanket and my jacket under her, and made a pillow with my shirt and t-shirt. She seemed to be okay, so I ran to seek help, to a point where I could see the trail. There were two hikers on the far side of the valley. With the wind and the creek, there was no way they could hear me, but I waved my arms and screamed. I don’t think they noticed.

I ran between the vantage point and her ledge several times. An hour passed. It started to drizzle. Eventually, two hikers came by on their way back to the lodge. I told them the situation, accepted their offer of a down jacket, and asked them to report the accident.

For another hour I continued the routine. I didn’t know what response their report would elicit. It was getting dark and the drizzle was changing to sleet. As I was returning to the ledge, wondering if I would have to leave her and run for help, I heard the helicopter coming over Abbot Pass.

My wife still does not hesitate to walk to the edge of a cliff. What are the chances of falling off twice?

*Contest entries were gently edited to prepare for publication.

→ This piece was originally published in Volume 4 of the Canadian Rockies Annual.

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The views and opinions expressed in the articles on are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editor, the editorial team or the publishers.

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