The hike, from the Ribbon Creek Parking Area near Nakiska, to the third and uppermost Memorial Lake, is not an easy one. When Clare shared her story with me of the family effort to visit the Memorial Cairn, I was impressed.
Twenty-six people assembled at Ribbon Creek in the early morning of July 28, 2012, twenty-six years after the plane carrying Ken Wolff and Orval Pall crashed in Kananaskis Country on June 6, 1986. Horrific mountain weather conditions contributed to 13 lives lost over 13 days in the largest, and most tragic search and rescue operation launched in Kananaskis Country history. Clare’s story immediately reminds me of truths I have come to hold as self-evident. First, the recognition and reward belongs to every person who stands at the start with courage and intent to conquer the challenge. Each of the 26 people who begin the hike has earned this distinction.
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Many years ago, a woman at my workplace was struggling emotionally with the first anniversary of the loss of her Mother. Her sister, from Manitoba, also struggling, travelled to Calgary so they could support each other. Over many decades, I have experienced the healing power of nature. They accept my offer to accompany them on a hike to the summit of popular and nearby Moose Mountain. I do not know, until we meet at the trailhead, two children will be hiking as well. Normally, this would not be an issue, however, one young girl is not sufficiently fit. I do not believe she can reach the top of the mountain and as we hike the ascent, I am considering an alternative to the summit. After the switchback climb to the false summit, I lead the two sisters to a spectacular overlook of Canyon Creek and leave them to mourn the loss of their Mother. When they return to where I am sitting with the children, I am surprised when everyone chooses to continue the arduous climb to the fire lookout at the true 2,437 m (7,995 ft) summit of Moose Mountain. I know the girl, maybe 12 of 13 years of age, is hurting. The fact is, she makes it to the top without a single complaint and she works very hard to get back down. Back at the trailhead, I seize an opportunity to spend a private moment with this young lady. When I tell her I know how hard the hike is, and how proud I am of her achievement, her eyes mist over and she gives a smile I will remember forever. She knew. Her effort was impressive. It would have been, even if she was unable to make it to the top. She stood at the start and left it all on the mountain. No one can ask more. She did something special and she became someone special. Her life changed forever.
All days are not the same. Several years ago, when I hiked Balu Pass in Canada’s Glacier National Park, I was hiking in a group to Nakimu Caves. I fall behind. No matter how hard I try, I fall farther behind to the point of personal embarrassment. No matter how hard I hit the switch, nothing happens. Everyone has days like this. It just happens. It is like writing. Some days, the words flow. Other days, I could not string two intelligent words together if my life depended on it. These bad moments help to make the good ones look better. In this large group, I expect at least one of the Wolff family members turned back, shaking their head and muttering, ‘What the heck happened there?’ No excuses. No fault. It just happens and it is very discouraging.
Some of the young children may come back later in their lives and make another attempt. The aura of this day will have changed their lives forever in a very positive way.
Six Wolff family members arrive at the Memorial Cairn. It is an impressive showing considering none are accustomed to the mountains and four are from the prairies of Saskatchewan. Big sky country. The photographs in this post have been graciously provided to me by Clare. The hikers who arrive at the third Memorial Lake range in age from 9 to 57. Impressive. I was unaware of the timing of this mission and knew nothing of it when I was sitting at South Buller Pass two days later, looking over at Guinn’s Pass and thinking about Ken Wolff and Orval Pall.
Congratulations on your impressive family project. You have created a lifelong memory of escalating personal value in an incredibly beautiful place where eagles soar. Most importantly, you have honoured the memory of Ken Wolff, all the others who gave their lives, their families, and all the participants of the massive search and rescue operation.
Good on you.