Into the Sky – an Adventure with Adrienne Moody

“I walked to the edge on the south side and scanned for any sign of human life on the two other peaks. I appeared to be totally, completely, alone… Suddenly airborne, having slipped on black ice, I fell on my left side and slid dangerously toward the edge of the mountain… I felt the coldness of the mountain seep into me and knew I had to let go and slide.” – Adrienne S Moody

Now.readthisplease.com is featuring Adrienne’s experiences hiking and mountain climbing in the coastal range of British Columbia. Click here to view her picture book series.


The Stawamus Chief

My activity partner, Steve, and I discovered the Stawamus Chief by accident one gorgeous sunny August day. We were exploring the area and had stopped at Shannon Falls, located a short walk from the Chief. We stopped at the Tourist Information booth to gather information about the area, when a middle-aged man gasping for his breath entered, and went directly for the cooler to buy some bottled water. We found out, through him, about this majestic granite monolith, considered to be the second largest of its kind in the world.

We drove by the Chief afterward and pulled over to the curb to visually embrace its majestic beauty. We discovered that professional rock climbers from all over the world come to this mountain and challenge themselves on the rock face. It is the backside that novices like us climb to access the summit. The man in the info booth explained how it is an amazing climb, nonetheless.

“There are chains to help pull yourself along, near the summit, and ladders to climb that are welded into the rock. It’s an intermediate level climb and certainly not for someone who isn’t sure-footed. It’s steep and unrelenting, so bring lots of water and nourishment. The last half hour you are on bare rock that is a steep grade, so make sure you wear proper footwear.”

The Stawamus Chief is a granite dome located across the Sea to Sky Highway from the town of Squamish, British Columbia. It towers over 2,297 feet above Howe Sound. We strained our necks to gaze at the top and I just knew the view would be spectacular. But could we do it?

We looked at each other and smiled.

I had no idea then, just how important this mountain would become in my life. It is, even today, a place that brings me peace and a connection to Mother Earth, as no place ever has.

 

The Climb

The Stawamus Chief is a mountain of multiple personalities. I’ve climbed when he’s been docile and have reached the summit barely out of breath. I’ve descended sure-footed without a slip or an indecisive step. Yesterday he was in a foul mood and I barely recognized him.

I arrived before noon and immediately could see it would be a temperamental climb. On my approach through the forest, the air chilled me through a light hoodie and track pants. Looking upward, I could see fog hugging the massive rock midway—and I wondered if I was dressed adequately.

I passed the sign which warns hikers that this climb is not a ‘walk in the forest,’ and lists precautions such as dressing appropriately for weather changes, wearing proper footwear, letting others know where you are, and hike with a buddy. I was hiking alone, but didn’t feel a breach of safety as I’ve climbed this mountain more times than I can count. In hindsight, ‘too much confidence’ should be added to that list as a danger to anyone venturing into the wilderness.

We had experienced heavy rainfall in the few weeks prior and I could see that the waterfall was engorged when I crossed the wooden bridge. The spray hit my face as I walked across and I knew, in that moment, this hike would be different from the rest.

The climb takes me a minimum of two hours and I stop only to sip water or take pictures. It was a weekday and I passed a lone hiker descending. We greeted each other with a nod of the head. Midway, I was immersed in a light fog and the mountain took on an eerie, moody feel. I saw a couple embracing 20 feet ahead and they moved closer to the edge to let me pass.

I finally reached the last quarter and this is where stamina is tested. I’ve often turned back, but I was determined to succeed on that day. The steel ladders welded into rock were slippery and my body tensed, unfamiliar with the threat of falling. Chains are necessary to grasp and pull yourself up the next 200 feet, and at last the summit becomes visible.

Granite grooves act like toe holds and will assist hikers to reach the top, but the climb is always unnerving for me at such a vertical grade. I feel like a mountain goat. At last, I am at the top of the world, into the sky. On the day I am now recounting, the climb winded me and it took a few minutes for my heart rate to return to normal.

I walked to the edge on the south side and scanned for signs of human life on the two other peaks. I appeared to be totally, completely, alone. I laid down and closed my eyes. Moments later I could hear the sound of people approaching and I lifted my head to see the embracing couple I’d passed earlier. They wanted me to take their picture. After one shot the young man asked me to take more.

“You can zoom in if you like, or turn the camera.”

I obliged them and then decided to walk the gentle slope of the summit across to the north side, where the view of the ocean is prominent. Suddenly I was airborne, having slipped on black ice, I fell on my left side and slid dangerously towards the edge of the mountain. I traveled approximately twelve feet before I came to a stop with my side aching and my confidence shaken. I should have known better. The temperature hovered around freezing and any moisture would become perilous. Black ice is something I encounter in northern climates, but most often driving, and I didn’t expect it at the summit of a monolith. Again, the mountain had something to teach me.

 

The Descent

“Are you okay?” I heard a male voice behind me. I raised my hand to signal that I was.

The euphoria of reaching the top had dissipated and all I wanted to do was descend, without any further mishaps. I began my trek downward.

I stepped tentatively and felt disorientated. I couldn’t see the orange trail markers on any of the trees 200 feet below.

“You’re off by 30 feet to your left.”

I heard the voice of a man beginning his descent. I turned to see the couple were also heading back. I raised my hand again to them, uncomfortable depending on anyone to help me find my way down.

I stayed on track for the next 10 minutes and then realized I had veered seriously off trail again. I found myself clinging to a skinny tree trunk on smooth vertical rock with only another tree 50 feet down. I felt that sense of impending danger. To my right I could see the trail with chains moored to the rock and knew I could not climb back up nor skirt over to the safer route. I felt the coldness of the mountain seep into me and knew I had to let go and slide. Every curse word I know echoed through my mind.

The two hikers were nowhere to be seen, or heard, but what help could they possibly be at this point? All I could do was let go and hope. I let go, but I didn’t move. It must have been because my track pants were wet from my earlier fall. I was stuck. Then finally, a bit of luck.  I moved my feet downward and inched slowly to the tree trunk…

Where I normally skip down the rocks to the parking lot, I measured my steps carefully. Near the bottom I had to stop and remove a shoe and massage my throbbing right foot while my left leg shook uncontrollably. As I listened to the rush of the waterfall, I recalled meeting a man who told me he wanted to go kayaking on this remote mountain lake and had no one to join him. He had a decision: go alone or don’t go at all. He decided to go solo. The weather changed on him before he could paddle back to shore.

He had a near-death experience and he wrote a poem about it, which he wanted me to read during the first coffee date we ever went on. The poem wasn’t artistically styled, but I could tell it was written with such emotion—that his experience was too impacting to just let it pass by—without documenting the occurrence the only way he knew how.

I shouldn’t be hiking alone, but once I returned to the safety of the trail through the forest and the sun warmed my face, the feeling that I defeated the mountain once more, brought me a smile. Throughout the years I have felt this compulsion to return and be challenged by whatever the mountain had in store for me, but this climb was the only time that I was pushed, literally, to the edge.

 

Into The Sky © 2011 Adrienne Moody for Now.readthisplease.com. Read more of Adrienne’s stories and her romantic exploits—just click her profile. Click here to view her picture book series.

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6 Responses to “Into the Sky – an Adventure with Adrienne Moody”
  1. Adrienne, Kudos to you for your strength. Beautiful place, beautiful story.

    • Adrienne says:

      Thanks, Train! I’m definitely NOT an adrenaline junkie. Thanks for reading.

      • Gaboo says:

        Those people should have stayed close! I brake for hikers in Fedoras. Great tale, Adrienne. Nail biting read. Full circle.

        • Casimirr says:

          Adrienne’s visits to the Stawamus Chief were like love trips with multiple personalities; reached for the unknown, lost in complete confidents, ventured into the wilderness of superiority, immersed in blur, fell from unfamiliar threat of falling, loneliness within the crowd of well-meaning strangers, deplorably dissipated and degraded by games of chance, uncomfortably depended on someone in times of crisis, felt that sense of impending danger, had to let go at the edge of hope, measured the past experience in a form of forced poetry and returned to safety with a smile. This is written in the best first person writing style I prefer to read.

  2. osonegro says:

    Heart-in-throat read, Adrienne. Gorgeous photos too! This tale has it all.

  3. Adrienne says:

    casi, oso and Gaboo,

    Thank you for reading and for your kind comments.

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