Monday, 1 August 2011

Mountains, mentorship and [insert something else that starts with M]

This weekend I led two trips. On Saturday, we did a moderate scramble up Little Hector, which isn't so little. Steep right from the start, it had a little of everything: hands-on scrambling, route finding to gain the ridge and again to get up the final rock band to the summit, scree slogs up and scree slides down, and amazing views from the top of the Hector Glacier below and mountains that stretched beyond the horizon. On Sunday, we did a moderate hike up to the Sparrowhawk Tarns. Again, it had everything you want in a hike: grand views once we got above the tree line, a mix of terrain that included rubble heaps and soft alpine meadows, and amazing little lakes hidden at the back of the cirque.

Most importantly, both had good groups to share the mountains with. On Little Hector we had a mix of ages (from 21 to 40-something) and experience (some making their first summit, some taking the next step from easier scrambles to more advanced, and some more experienced scramblers). On the Sparrowhawk Tarns hike, we ranged from people in their 20s to those of us in our 40s, advanced beginner to experienced hikers, and people from Canada, Spain, Japan and India.

Growing up, this is how we learned. The mountains were a form of apprenticeship and mentorship. There were no introductory hiking or scrambling courses. We didn't even call scrambling "scrambling". They were just steep hikes. More experienced hikers took those of us with less experience onto trails and we learned by watching what they did and listening to what they said. We made some mistakes, got lots of scrapes and bruises, but we absorbed some of their knowledge and developed our own connections to the mountains. As we progressed and gained more experience, we passed on our knowledge to those coming up behind us with less experience. And as we got older, we realized that we were learning as much from them as they were learning from us.

That's what made these two  hikes so good. On Little Hector, a couple people set new personal records for how high they'd climbed. I relearned some things that I'd taken for granted by watching them. At the Sparrowhawk Tarns, one hiker gained the confidence to commit to going on her first scramble. Others gained more confidence descending over rocky terrain. I was reminded of how fun it was to just take off my pack at the objective and explore. I even found half of a geode, scuffed and imperfect compared to polished specimens you find in the souvenir shops on Banff Avenue, but that's what the real mountains are all about. Scuffed and imperfect, they'll teach us a lot if we listen.

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