By Gay Reagan
I fell in love with tall mountains when I was thirteen. My parents and I took the Trans Andean Railway from the pampas of Argentina to Santiago, Chile. It was winter and we were the first train through in a month. High in the mountain peaks of the Andes the train stopped at an army camp. The soldiers were throwing snowballs and laughing. The sky was intense blue and the snow dazzled. The previous eerie silence of the landscape outside of our window was shattered by this moment of human joy set against nature’s cold but beautiful power.
I have been lucky to be able to go to Bhutan to see the Himalayas and to visit the Alps on several trips during my adulthood. I had never seen, however, the Canadian Rockies. I was able to fulfill that dream on Aug. 25, 2017. My traveling friend, Joan Paul, and I began our trip in Banff before we traveled by train to Vancouver to catch our cruise ship to Alaska.
In Banff we had our first spectacular introduction to the Canadian Rockies. The town of Banff has an elevation of 4,500 feet, with high mountains rising above the town. Our hotel was near the gondola that takes skiers in the winter and tourists year around to a nearby peak. We climbed into the four-seater gondola at six in the evening and made our way up to the large building that clung to the rocky peak above us. This building housed a landing platform for the gondola cars, two restaurants, a small museum and ample decking to observe the rings of peaks that encircled this large observatory. A boardwalk, approximately a mile long, followed the saddle of the mountain ridge that led to a small, historic observatory.
Joan and I began to amble down the many steps of the boardwalk, taking pictures, studying the moss that clung to the various evergreens, sitting on the occasional bench, and watching the other people on their pilgrimage to the original rock observatory. There were turbaned men and women in saris and groups of Japanese and Chinese tourists and all of the brown, black and white diversity that came from all of the Americas, Europe and Africa. We were all there to soak in the dramatic vista of endless rows of peaks, some as high as twelve or thirteen thousand feet. Sometimes we peered around the trees, and at other spots along the boardwalk there was a clear view. As the sun went down it provided a staged lighting of the crags—some rose-colored in the spotlight and some dark in the contrasting shadows. It was a moment of sharing my personal joy with a community of world strangers.
Joan and I walked and climbed steps for about an hour and a half. All those hundreds of steps were my first test of endurance after my double knee replacements ten months earlier. I ached as I climbed the last 50 or more steps to the old observatory but celebrated my achievement as well. On the way back an uninspiring hamburger at the cafeteria tasted great. I slipped alone into a gondola car while Joan took a last few pictures. The car dipped down into the darkness while a few canine-toothed peaks caught the last glimmer of the day.
I have loved all of the great mountain ranges that I have been lucky enough to visit over a lifetime. They are all natural wonders that have produced in me this sense of awe. I am pleased that my experience in our neighboring Canadian Rocky Mountains stands proudly among my other memories.