Not Quite Alone and the Crowsnest Wind
Sometimes all I want is to hike alone. Alone enough to feel the thud of my boots against the earth. To have my face tickled by the breeze as it blows between yellowing larch needles. To feel my heart flutter with tweeting sparrows from the treetops of a windy ridge.
Alone enough to clear my head.
Because my head gets jumbled. So jumbled at times I find it difficult to escape from, a ferocious storm of emotions whirling uncontrollably in-between the sides of my skull. Serious anxiety; and maybe spending time alone isn't the right cure, but sometimes it works temporarily. A natural medicine to somehow rectify the chaos.
This September, I need ‘alone.'
Mid-week I make a plan, choose a trail from my list of must-do trails, one relatively safe but challenging, one that will pump my blood to parts of my body which need it the most (my heart). A trail with a little soul and a lot of reward—Table Mountain in the Crowsnest Pass. I've never hiked it so we can get to know one another intimately.
“Why don't you find someone to come with you?” Ben asks Friday night. “You don't actually want to hike alone, do you?”
“Yep. I do.”
“No one likes to hike alone.”
Early morning on Saturday I wake, make myself a turkey sandwich and pack some snacks, water, bear spray, a shell jacket in preparation for that Crowsnest wind, a toque because suddenly it's fall, and I drive.
An hour and a half later, through the rolling hills of southern Alberta, past weathered barns, farmhouses, and leftover hay bails, I arrive at Beaver Mines Lake and the trailhead to Table Mountain. My dog Brady leaps from the car, pants with excitement, and we ready for the ten-kilometre round-trip into the woods and up a mountain.
We weave through stunted Poplar trees, leaves flickering emerald and lemon in the sunlight, and make our way up the well-worn trail to a slanted meadow below a line of towering cliffs. Quick 'hellos' are exchanged upon passing fellow hikers, but I can't slow.
The vibration of my boots on the earth grows like aggressive vines up my legs, bringing with them the goodness I so unwillingly lost a couple weeks ago. Each step leaves me feeling empowered, a little more like my old self, and my pace quickens naturally.
Brady runs wild in the wind-blown grass, his eyes bug-eyed and black, his ears perking with each squeak of a chipmunk or gopher who slips beneath thick brush or stacked rock. He feels the same goodness I do, only a little more frantically.
The trail turns up into a drainage, a creek which no doubt rages in the early spring is barely visible now, except for the lapping of Brady's tongue in freshwater puddles.
“Okay, we go straight up,” I observe. We meander up boulders and loose scree, zig-zag left then right, my quads burn and my breath feels heavy, though I feel strong. I've worked hard all summer to do hikes like this.
Before long I reach the false summit, a stacked cairn. Steep cliffs fall hundreds of feet down to the lake, and a gradual incline on the plateau leads to the true summit. Krumholz, deformed and stunted trees shaped by relentless wind, hold to the red rock of the plateau. I weave between them, then stop for a quick lunch hidden from the wind—so cool now it pierces my skin—between a mini forest of larch.
Finally, a hundred feet later and wrapped in my jacket and toque, I find myself on the top of Table Mountain. Completely alone, but with Brady by my side.
We sit huddled on fossilised ripples; a beach millions of years ago now hardened on top of the world. I tell him this, as though he understands, and we look out at the Rockies falling way to rolling hills. I can spot the road I drove in on, and the flat grasslands of Alberta to the east.
Then I feel it, a shift. Infinitesimal, but there. And I descend back along the ravine, through the crooked forest of Poplar, for home.
Because the very best, most important thing you can find on a hike, is yourself.
Jesse's advice to you—if you're ever feeling the need to be alone, honour it. And if you feel the need to be too alone, don't hesitate to ask for help. For more information on Table Mountain, visit the AllTrails App.