This week, a friend of mine had posted some pictures of a climb up Mt Lady MacDonald. With the first warm days of the year upon us, I was inspired to go climb it myself the next day. Starting from Cougar Creek parking lot, I found myself leaving my car at the same time as an older gentleman clearly heading in the same direction. We exchanged pleasantries but I must admit I was anxious to have a solitary climb so I was hiking fairly quick. Somehow in the chit-chat, it came out that he learned to climb from legendary mountaineer, Hans Gmoser. Excited to get some first hand accounts of him, I plied him for more information upon which I realized he must know many of the other mountaineering pioneers. My interest and smattering of knowledge about these people kept him talking and soon I realised I might be climbing with somebody whose exploits I’ve probably read about.
I introduced myself as we climbed up (at a pretty good pace) and he introduced himself as Don Gardner. I couldn’t believe it as I had read about many of his epic and groundbreaking climbs and explorations. His first traverse of the continental divide from Jasper to Louise inspired me to retrace a portion of that trip in my infamous Wapta traverse.
We continued climbing as he answered my questions about different areas and the many expeditions I had read about. Apart from his many first ascents in the Rockies, his 500km ski across Elsmere Island may be the first but I’m not sure. He guided in Greenland for a while and learned traditional kayak construction. He now teaches this boatcraft to natives who no longer remember these skills. He also builds birchbark canoes which led me to give him some locations for giant birch trees I have encountered in my endless traipsing across the forests of western Canada. He gave me a standing invitation to his shop for a lesson in traditional Bow making (the Bow Valley is so named for the good bow making materials here.) This led to a discussion of trail building. He had laid out much of the nordic centre trails as well as many trails in Kananaskis that I was familiar with.
After a few hours of climbing and chatting, we reached the shoulder of Mt Lady MacDonald where a hang-gliding platform appears out of nowhere. We stopped for a bite to eat and he admitted that he told his wife he wasn’t going all the way to the top but was feeling good and thought he’d continue on with me. I usually stop just before the nightmarish summit ridge, an 11 inch wide razor blade connecting ridge that leads up to the true summit, a few meters higher.
Above: Don and I having a bite on the launching platform on the mountain’s southern shoulder.
We ended up at the top where I made a pencil sketch. I mentioned that sketching the mountains really makes you look at them hard. It’s a new pursuit for me which I’m enjoying though none are any good. He said he’s been doing that for 40 years and encouraged me to keep at it.
Above: Borrowing a little courage from a legend, I venture up the ridge. It looks quite wide in this picture but it really is a trick of light and colour as it is really quite a sharp point about the width of your boot. Each side is close to a thousand feet down but I managed a photo op with my favorite new chia gel.
Above: A quick phone home at the summit.
It was a wonderful day of spring vistas and stories. I hope after my summer contracts to look him up and get a bow building lesson. And to think what I may have missed if I started five minutes earlier!
It is only fitting to post the original picture of Tom on Mt Lady MacDonald from the day before that made me think, “hmmm, yeah, I should climb Lady Mac today!” By strange coincidence, it turned out he was on Grotto Mt, across the valley from me at the same time! Earlier this year when he was on Mt Burgess, he saw me on Mt Field. Considering how big the Rockies are, that’s pretty weird!
Above: Tom carefully picks his way across the delicate summit ridge the previous day.