The pictures are from last year and my lens was dying but, as this place is so dear to me, I thought I would share anyway.
In the country of Canada, in the province of British Columbia, in the Rocky Mountains, in a valley surrounded by three mountain ranges, there is a little town. Aptly named Valemount (valley in the mountains), this dot on the map is where I called home growing up.
On one of the mountains overlooking the town is my favourite place in the world. There are places in the world more grandiose (even in the immediate area), more jaw dropping, more glamorous. Nevertheless, this is a place of nostalgia and beauty that holds first place for me.
When I was a child, extended family had a sheep camp up in the alpine meadows. Every summer, the sheep were herded up to pasture on the wild mountain tops, braving crazy summer storms and grizzly bears. Two canvas tents made a summer home for the shepherd and we often came to stay.
My parents let us explore and gave us free reign on that mountain. When my younger brother was thirteen, he and a bunch of friends went up to camp in the saddle (there were no longer sheep by then). “Mom!” I gasped, “what if something went wrong?” She looked at me. “You were going up on your own when you were thirteen. ” “Oh.”
I remember well, actually, going up with my sister and cousin when I was around that age. In grade seven, the class goes hiking for a week up Mt. Robson (a nearby mountain of 3.954m (12,972 ft), the tallest in the Canadian Rockies and second in BC). Our principle, also a first aid attendant, prepared the class to go up. He scared the bejabbers out of me. According to his version, we had to hug cliff walls so we didn’t fall down precipices to our death in frigid raging waters below. Bears would smash open our tents and rip us apart if we had deodorant or any other smelly thing in our tents. First aid lessons required graphic stories of car accidents.
Anyway, it was after this ‘preparation’ that we were camping alone up McKirdy Mt. (the site of the sheep camp). During the night the dog was barking and I got so scared I threw up, a great way to attract a bear if there wasn’t one already. In the morning, we found the dog had not been barking at a bear but at a porcupine, and had a muzzle full of quills.
In the morning, I was still feeling unwell and shivering. My cousin took care of me, cooking breakfast and even cleaning up my mess that got on the tent.
All this, of course, takes me further down memory lane:
The pungent scent of conifer trees in the hot dry summer air. Patches of bright sunlight speckling the shadowy trail, legs plodding one after the other up, up, the trees growing shorter and thinner with increasing elevation.
The floral wafts of flowering alpine heather in the sun. Bare feet padding the smooth slippery heather or the cool path to the water spring.
The smell of the canvas tent! Fir boughs (the first layer on the bed) mixed with wood smoke and warm canvas.
Going out to feed the sheep guard dog in summer snow, traipsing across the saddle to find him with only bare feet in gum boots and almost crying my toes were so cold.
Hard constant rain that didn’t let up all day, battering the canvas roof. A cousin and I holding as long as we could before dashing out under the trees to go to the bathroom, but getting soaked anyway.
Not being able to light a fire after said rain, and using gasoline to start one. My cousin leaning over the fire pit outside and dropping the match…Whoomp! White singed eyebrows and eyelashes.
Learning what fractions mean hiking up the trail after asking ‘how much longer?’ 2/3 of the way there, scratched with a stick into the dirt.
Gathering the sheep, those scattering sheep, and herding them up the path. Getting to sometimes hang onto the horses tail for a bit of a pull.
Unsuccessfully attempting to catch gophers by making wire nooses.
Leaving a little too late to go down the hill, surrounded by cold mist in the dark, my sister and I riding an old horse. My mother put socks on our hands to keep them warm, and I found that exceedingly strange and amusing.
There are no longer sheep in the family, but an aunt and uncle built a cabin just below treeline nearby. Called Hermit Thrush Cabin, it is an ingenious seven sided log hut that while small, easily housed two adults and four (albeit small) children. I love the large stone slab behind the stove to shield the wood, held up with two iron hands.
Available to rent summer and winter, it’s well off the beaten path. You probably won’t meet another person in those alpine meadows. A stay there is both convenient (warming fire, roof over head, screened mosquito-free porch) and refreshing to the soul.
At risk of boring you, I didn’t upload even my shorted list of photos. There are a few more on my flickr account if you are interested.