When I applied for a volunteer editor position with This Side of West (UVic’s undergraduate literary magazine) back in October, I didn’t really expect to be chosen. Last year, I’d been been told that they hired mostly upper-year students or those who had been involved with the magazine in the past. I forgot the submission deadline, didn’t make it to any of the events, and missed the magazine launch in the spring. This year held more opportunities to get involved, whether or not I was part of the team choosing what gets published in the magazine.
And I am. I was delighted to get the email from Editor-in-Chief Vanessa Herman (whom I know from a class last year) saying that I would be one of the Creative Nonfiction Editors this year. So far, we’ve had one meeting to plan the year, one brunch to get to know each other, and an editors’ reading on Thursday night to promote the magazine.
Choosing My Piece for the Reading
On Wednesday morning, my husband asked me if I’d picked what I was going to read yet.
“I’ll do it today,” I said. I was thinking of sharing the Virginia Woolf parody I wrote for my creative nonfiction class last year, but when I read it to my husband, he wasn’t sure about it. It wasn’t “me,” he said, even though it was descriptive and interesting.
On Thursday morning, I dug through some older files, going back to the very first creative nonfiction class I took during my first degree. I rehearsed both stories during the day, and Sunshine even asked me, “Read it again, Mommy.” That evening, I read both stories to my husband and my cousin (who babysat for us). They voted on the second story.
This Side of West Editors’ Reading
By 6:00, we were in the Jeep on the way to the reading. Intrepid Theatre was small and quiet when we got there; black curtains around a stage area, forty-five chairs arranged on risers. Within half an hour, it was packed with the 55 people who had RSVP’d on Facebook and more. People sat on the floor around the microphone and stood in the doorway. Four friends from my fiction class who arrived just at the start of the reading ended up in the corner behind the microphone. My husband and I had gotten seats in the third row up, so when it was my turn to read, I had to climb over several people to reach the stage.
When I got there, I had no idea what to say to introduce my piece, so I just said “hi” and started reading…
“A Fickle Mountain”
A thick, heavy fog swirled around my mom and I as we picked our way over snowy, rocky ground. It was midmorning, but the clouds hid the sun and made the day seem timeless. Somewhere out in the fog was the valley and the mountains facing us, but we’d been hiking all morning and hadn’t seen them yet.
The trail sloped gently upwards, a barely discernible rut in the snow-covered shale. As I followed my mom, the clouds began to part. A ray of sunshine met us and sparkled on the snow. We reached the top of the ridge and turned to watch as the swirling clouds slowly revealed Berg Lake, a turquoise jewel nestled far below us. Dark evergreens crowded the near shore, while rocks and glaciers guarded the far shore.
Then, as the clouds continued to move, we stared upwards at the towering mountain now directly across from us: Mount Robson.
Mount Robson is known for hiding in the clouds. It is the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies and seems to have its own weather system. For those of us who hike the mountain, it appears a fickle being. When you have climbed twenty-some-odd kilometres up a steep trail, carrying a thirty-pound backpack, somehow you expect the mountain to reward you by showing itself. That’s why you have done this hike, after all. It’s very discouraging to sit in the Berg Lake cabin reading the logbook reports of clear skies and views of the top when you haven’t seen even the bottom of the mountain yet.
The clouds did not stay parted for long, as the next wind through the valley blew the fog back in again. But Mom and I had had our glimpse of the top, and we went clambering down the trail with lighter steps. Later that evening, we sat in the Berg Lake cabin, laughing and chatting and reading the logbook again.
“Saw the top – glorious!”
“Cloudy skies for the whole trip; couldn’t even see across the lake.”
“Perfect view of the top all the way up.”
“Mountain hiding in clouds still.”
“Clear blue skies, awesome view of the mountain.”
“Been here for three days, haven’t seen the top yet. Hoping for a glimpse on the way out tomorrow.”
The trail that most hikers take goes up to Berg Lake. Another trail goes straight up the mountain to a hut perched a few thousand feet up. That hut is a base camp for the climbers who attempt to get to the actual summit of the mountain. Black and white pictures in the visitor’s centre show the first rude attempts at this in the early 1900s. In 1983, a man proposed to his girlfriend in that hut. They were my parents, and I grew up hearing stories about Mount Robson.
My first hiking trip was the Mount Robson trail. I and my twin brother were seven at the time, our younger brother five. We each carried our own gear—sleeping bag, foam mattress, clothes, gorp, poncho, water bottle, and mess kit. I also brought my Koala Bear. Mom and Dad carried the tent, stove, and food.
We camped at Kinney Lake, the first campground seven kilometres up the trail, and dayhiked up to Emperor Falls. A few years later, we hiked all the way to Berg Lake with a group from church. Both trips were in midsummer, and we had sunny, clear weather. Mount Robson was smiling for us then.
The summer before I started university, I told Mom we were going to hike the North Boundary Trail again. My parents had met while hiking that trail in 1982, the year before Dad proposed on top of Mount Robson. I took two weeks off work and we packed for our overnight backpacking trip.
The North Boundary is a ten-day, one-hundred and ten kilometre trek from Jasper to Mount Robson along the north boundary of Jasper National Park. By the eighth day, we were watching for Robson. At the end of the valley was a snow-covered mountain that kept us debating whether it was the right shape or not. We kept our eyes on that mountain as we placed one weary foot in front of the other and tried to ignore the weight of our packs.
Then we came around a bend in the trail and there, looming over us, was the real Mount Robson. In late August, it was still covered in snow, sparkling in the sunshine against the bluest of blue skies. Sore feet and heavy backpacks didn’t matter then; the mountain was smiling on us.
We sat on the porch of the Berg Lake cabin the next day and just watched the mountain. Time doesn’t matter when you’re in the middle of nowhere and only have to make your next camp by nightfall. Mountains are then the most fascinating and can be watched for hours. We had just hiked for nine days and we were on the last downhill part of the trail.
Eighteen years before, my parents had come through Berg Lake in pouring rain without even a glimpse of Mount Robson. This time, the mountain was there to reward us.