THE WHITES OF OUR EYES
By Carmen Faulkner (Squamish, British Columbia)
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!
Like any good book, the foreshadowing was evident after the fact. There was a clear, starlit sky, which crowded with cloud the moment the sun rose. There was rain, turned sleet, turned snow on the first day of summer. There was a lost bag, forcing me into rain boots and cheap yoga pants rather than hiking attire.
We called Yoho National Park: “Any chance we could re-schedule?” The voice on the other end laughed, at or with us. “We’re fully booked until January.”
The bus ride in was bumpy and tree-lined, punctuated with the fogging, then icing of windows as we peered into the falling snow. I wiggled my toes, already losing the battle for warmth. A Parks employee greeted us as we stepped off. “We cannot condone any person to hike Abbot Pass today.” We exchanged glances and went.
It began with a chorus of birds, with cedars humped over in snow along creek beds, to the base of a near-vertical scree mountain. We saw the peak as the sky split open into blinding sun. I checked my pockets. The pit in my stomach announced what I already knew: we’d left our sunglasses in the car.
Up and up we continued. The sharp incline meant our faces were often but inches from snow; we squinted endlessly into a white so bright it is nameless. We took extra clothes from our packs and wrapped them turban-like around our heads, attempting to shield our eyes, but it was useless.
The clouds remained absent, a satirical reminder of our unpreparedness. How can I describe hours of staring into sun reflecting off snow? Like fire, like dehydration, like an abstract painting of differing shades of red on every wall, in every room, of every house.
We reached the top of the 3,000-metre col just before sunset, our reverence for the mountains reminding us why we do this. The world sprawled in every direction, every colour making use of itself: the lake of turquoise, the black of rocky mountain, the purple and yellow of sunset, the red of our eyes.
We spent the following day inside the hut, eyes crusted and swollen shut, a burning sensation making its way into our brains. We survived, of course, descending with appreciation for optometrists.
The pain, though, is not what we remember. It is the sunset. It is the mountain. And now, it is a reminder to check our pockets for sunglasses before we ascend.
→ This piece was originally published in Volume 4 of the Canadian Rockies Annual.
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