Search For a Feeling - Claire Gordon
I am standing in the alpine with my back to the sun, in the center of a flat boulder that has escaped the mass of snow around it. Facing east, I admire Mt. Septimus and scan the X Gully. The boulder’s shadow grays the snow below me and looks miniscule compared to the mountain beyond. My shadow - even smaller. I imagine my tiny form slowly hopping from snow to stone to reach the distant mountain’s summit. At home, I half heartedly joke with friends about the misery of devils club and slide alder approaches, long days, and lost toenails. Still, I ache for this pursuit; a longing deep in my bones that feels magnetic and attracts me to places untouched by artificial light. Each year as the weather warms, I find myself scrutinizing topographical maps and taking to the hills.
It is usually late May when I embark on the first mountain trip of the season. In this particular year I head out with two friends, with Nine Peaks in Strathcona Park as our objective. The approach is a slog up spring snow and through soggy cypress with weighed down backpacks, sweltering under unseasonably warm afternoon sun. I am branded with burnt skin and cracked lips, saturated boots, and sore shoulders as we plod onwards; the art of suffering. Our view of Mt. Septimus from the bumps behind Big Interior is so dramatic that we decide to stop early and set up camp. The evening air is cool and I feel a quiet aliveness stirring inside of me, whirling knowingly as the stars emerge.
The next morning I follow a familiar routine: unzipping my tent and leaving the relative warmth of my sleeping bag, crouching out to slip on sandals and entering the dark of the predawn to boil water for coffee. The morning fills with the pressurized hiss of my stove. After breakfast I step into wet boots and listen to the crunch of crampons while we walk away from camp. The only other sound is the wind whistling, blowing my tangled hair back from my face, unwinding the knots in my mind.
We march up and over the bumps to negotiate our way across a partially exposed crevasse behind Big Interior, the diamond glaze melting into a brilliant aqua blue, and walk up cut-out snow steps to gain the ridge. There is a pause to discuss summiting Big Interior on our way back from Nine Peaks, which later becomes fallacy, and traverse around the snowy cirque towards Beauty Glacier. Clouds roll in so we drop bags, boil water for more coffee, and wait for the haze to burn off.
Patience is rewarded and the route transforms: ashy murk dissipates with the breeze and the peak is revealed, snow capped and towering above us. My breath quickens to a steady echo in my ears as I walk upwards. With each step my feet sink down and snow rises up to my knees, ice axe plunging in rhythmic motion. The sun reflects off the endless white and what might be brilliant from a distance becomes blinding. The final snowy ladder to the summit is an exposed slope, and the wind is so wild that I feel I might be swept away without my ice axe steadying me. Moments later I crest the peak, my friends close behind, and clamber along jagged black rock for the summit register, frozen fingers working it open with vigorous excitement. We pause to take in the view, a full 360 degrees of mountainscapes and alpine lakes spanning all the way to the Pacific. I can no longer hear my own breathing, only the whizz of the weather’s irregular spindrifts; frigid air sporadically accosting my face.
The descent is almost always a blur of fatigue and weather dependent urgency. A south east wind rages in and we move at a steady pace, enclosed in flurries and following our tracks in the soft snow until we reach our camp, stationed east and facing gray toothed Mt. Septimus. Amidst the moments of exhaustion I experience a calm that reminds me why I am here: to experience the intangible essence of my aliveness, the most natural feeling of connection that I know. It waits at the top of lichen crusted rock, and chases my trail home.
Claire Gordon is a chainsaw-wielding poet located on Vancouver Island. Her written work has appeared in Canadian Yogi, The Navigator, Portal Magazine, CloudBurst Magazine, and Sea & Cedar Magazine. She is submitting a piece of creative non-fiction.