Hiking in Valhalla

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Yesterday probably qualifies as one of the most memorable birthdays I have ever celebrated.

First, it was a decade day – I turned 70! Second, it was the first birthday I spend with my love. Third, I spent it in our new home and fourth, I hiked in the magnificent alpine of Valhalla Park.

I think I want to write about the hike first. It was epic in every possible way starting with the drive. I’d boned up on the area enough to know that getting to a trailhead here is generally more challenging than tackling the actual trail. Ergo – the reason we bought a 4×4 truck and lifted it to high clearance plus installing all terrain tires. We were not disappointed. The road lived up to expectations, which is one way of putting it. It wasn’t too too terribly bad for the first 35 or so kilometres, if count “not bad” as massive potholes and rocks the size of small boulders. The last uphill bit was a different animal altogether. If I were prone to drinking milk, I would have had a milkshake spewing out of my mouth. It made the road to 5040 (A Vancouver Island reference) look like a highway.

But we made it and parked the truck – the only vehicle at the trailhead. WE then proceeded to wrap the truck with chicken wire. Not because we necessarily think it looks pretty, but to keep the porcupines at bay. It seems that every trailhead in this part of the world comes equipped with chicken wire.

And then we were off. The skies looked rather ominous. Fresh snow had fallen overnight on the tops of the surrounding peaks. But I put in a request to the alpine gods of Valhalla for a no-rain hiking day and they complied. Thank you.

The hike to Gwillim Lake has been described by some as the most beautiful hike in the whole Kootenay region. Right from the beginning it wasn’t difficult to see why: no trudging through miles of forest to break into views. Mountain spectacle began at the parking lot and simply grew more wondersome as we went.

It was a very good trail – much better than the road and wound up and up past a spectacular lake or two before we crested Drinnon Pass. The autumn colours filled our senses as did the majestic peaks all around us. Valhalla is another world – true back country wilderness. We were acutely aware of being the only humans present. The mountains here don’t tower as they do in other parts of the Rockies – they loom. This is a place for humans to visit – not stay. The tors inspire awe, fear and reverence.

To my chagrin, we had to cross two boulder fields (I don’t’ like boulder fields) but truly – the trail was excellent. The last elevation gain took us steeply up to the final ridge. I expected that we would crest the ridge and then look far down on Gwillim Lake. What a magnificent surprise when we topped out to fine ourselves in a massive alpine bowl, backed by huge peaks and the bowl – a great meadow, studded with tarn after tarn surrounding a meandering mirror of a lake.

“Wow!” didn’t begin to express our feelings. We would have loved to have explored for hours and made a note to come back and set up a tent – yes. This is a maintained camping site. Lucifer Pass calls but mostly, the meadows and tarns demand an hours-long stroll.

After lunch, we headed back finding, as always, that the trail goes up both ways. Total elevation gain was almost 1200 metres and yet felt kind and not exhausting. Gwillim Lake is another one that is now up there on favourite all-time hikes. With every new hike we do in the Kootenays, I am more impressed with the beauty of this region. It appears to be a hiker’s paradise.

So – the hike done and the bumpy ride back handled, we headed home where I indulged in a hot shower and then popped a bottle of very good champagne. After all, if you can’t get drunk of fine champers on your birthday, when can you?

We played “drunken Scrabble” and we danced. Simon made the yummiest omelets for dinner and we talked and talked, mostly about how much we loved each other (and we do) and how we were the luckiest man and woman alive to have found each other (I am so lucky). As I recall, there was a certain amount of giggling that took place through all this as well.

Before I finally fell into bed, I looked at the more than 100 birthday wishes posted on my Facebook page and the many more in my inbox. I feel blessed by every one of these wishes. I have the world’s finest friends. The wishes warmed me, made me feel loved and reassured me that yes, age is just a number. That said, I feel pretty darn proud of my number. I am determined to wear it well.

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