Life was feeling like it was coming together and falling apart at the same time. My family back in Alberta was preparing for my grandmother’s funeral. When the elderly in your family is on their deathbed, it seems inevitable that a funeral will come. You can never be as prepared for the future as you want to be, and that is the whole point of following the path you see. You don’t follow it blindly, it cannot be denied.
I had just returned to British Columbia after my trip up Mount Denny, and it was already time to depart again. I was still attempting to volunteer with my time, and caught up in making my life better. I had rolled into Williams Lake, showered, re-packed, and hit the road for Vancouver Island. I was so scattered across Alberta and BC that I forgot to cancel the first aid course that I was in with TRU. I had been asked to go to a wedding on the island, and an opportunity like this to share smiles with a family that means so much to me was a narrow focus. Lessons… slowing down and being prepared is not about looking ahead. This balance is one I am still striving to achieve.
The island was a great reminder of the reasons why we need to return from our trips. No different than the trip of this life, and our time-locked reality, we also go through cycles and return to a similar place that we once visited on our path. The trip passed by without me saving any memories from it. The photos I took ring a bell, but I have nothing of importance that was worth learning from.
This to me is perfection. These moments where there was no failure, there was no tragic event that caused me to hold onto a fear, there was no cycle of inition where I needed to let go of some wrong I felt. Sure, this does mean that I did not grow from the experience. Albeit, I would have done better for myself ditching the wedding and taking the course that was paid for by a 3rd party. Yet I suppose that lesson was what I took from leaving my puddle in the Fraser Plateau.
As soon as I returned from Vancouver Island, it was time to ready myself to go to my grandmother’s celebration of life in Alberta. Living with zero incoming money, and no work, is a struggle to say the least. Climbing mountains, and affording the travel for trips, is a whole different issue. So naturally, my girlfriend, my family, and my friends, knew that there would be a major trip on my way back to my hometown. I had a traverse of Mount Willingdon in my sights, and Ian Curran – the rad dude from Yamnuska Mountain Adventures whom I did AST1 with, had just ran the summit and provided the community with enough beta to know she was a go. I immediately contacted Catlin.
Catlin had invited me to lead him through the notches on the SW ridge on Cline earlier in the year. We had bonded over the experience. Yet, it had now become so much more than a bond. Over the last 6 months, Catlin had been a huge influence on my life. He had become a positive individual who lived with action, not talk, and it was always positive. After Cline, and the learning that went on there, Willingdon was in the books with him. I do not plan ahead too much with our mountains, it is about picking summits that are in good condition and have solid weather windows. Plan A through Z need to be considered in the Canadian Rockies. You do not get your first pick often.
After trying to plan trip after trip with my partner, I was ready to give the smiling man with the big heart my confidence that we would get Willingdon. The universe provides if you have zero doubt, and Catlin happened to have the week off, but needed to spend the day with his son before his next rotation. Catlin worked in a high risk environment, and had moved up enough to sit at a station during his worktime. His strech of days off were of a focus, his son. If he had any chance of spending time with his son, of which we talked of taking our kids out together in the years to come, that was priority. If he had any free time, it was in the mountains. And after sharing more than just summits together, I knew he was the man I wanted to spend such an important trip with.
It was not the objective that was important to me. Traversing Willingdon, Crown, and Tower, there and back, was easier than my solo trip to do the Fryatt Traverse with no summit. The time spent in the backcountry, in the alpine, and in my head, was the trip. I would have two days maximum to squeeze in the trip, and it just so happened that Catlin has the same two days. The universe speaks to us beyond comprehension. I knew that this trip, to move fast and light, to be safe and watch each other’s backs, and to spend a night on the shores of a huge tairn, would almost be a NAM.TAR moment. Yet, in this case, there was zero choice in the matter. A destiny moment, that felt like it was fate. And the trip provided to be just that.
The trip was intense to say the least. I left Williams Lake in the middle of the night, no sleep, and drove through the night. I met up with the dude whom I owe so much to, and we packed. We set off on our approach, and we shared smiles down the trail. The feelings between us were pure, lighthearted, and held zero worry or doubt. I do not know how well Catlin could see NAM, yet we both saw the true outcome of this trip. We would both return with an understanding of life beyond anything a typical experience could possibly provide.
We had no issues with the trail. The path forward was clear, even if the trail was faint. The ascent to Quartzite Col was full of Talus. Steven Song’s report showed that they were heavily off trail and ascended a pile of rocks that looked tiresome and lengthy. We cruised up the col by sticking to the right, and soaked in the sunny afternoon.
Our descent into the alpine valley below was a moment of awe. The smoke from the fires back home, and the view of Willingdon, stopped us in our tracks. The moment was here. We had arrived to the point of pure meditation, and we both shared this unspoken agreement. There was no more talk except the neccessary until we reached our camp and the sun was setting. Our skills were clearly different, and we saw our strengths and weaknesses reflected in each other. We would move forward as one.
The night beside Upland Lake, which is really just a tairn or giant puddle, next to the Devon Lakes was intense. There was no conversation but just an understanding until the moon began a traverse between a gap, only to be cut off when it disappeared behind Devon Mountain.
I knew at that point that this was Catlin’s last trip with me. Due to our subconscious all being of one energy, he knew as well. We talked about the energy that surrounds us, that is us, and how we need to follow the path not blindly, but embrace that which we see coming for ourselves with zero fear. The time that the moon was visable was too short. We talked about Mount Smuts again, and how I was not going to be able to make it. And how it would be his last trip. Past, present, and future became one for the two of us. The understanding that he gave off was unreal. A truly humbling moment.
I did not sleep, but meditated the 3 hours we had alloted for ourselves to rest our bodies. We arose to a beautiful and clear night. We ascended the mountain. We gained the ridge North of the col. And we were both humbled by the sight of the summit. The sun had risen, and we were into the terrain that we were after. Racing the sun and crossing the alpine ice and snow was serious, and we had dropped the jokes. Yet, the positive vibe was still there. We moved with zero doubt in our actions. It was not about blind faith, but diligence and clear observations.
A summit was gained, and Catlin allowed me to be the first to gain it. Not only that, but he had straight up waited and told me to pass him on the final steps. Catlin was content. He always was. He was willing to go home, Willingdon in the bag. There was no way I would allow that to happen. We were standing on the same block that housed another 11000er and I knew that this was time together that we needed to relish. We could make it home in the dark, and the later we waited to ascend the icy col hidden in shawdow on our way back to our vehicles, the colder it would be, and that would be all the better. The day was warm and we were both glad to be off the snow, and back on a dry rock ascent of another two peaks.
Crown and Tower were bagged with ease and we were back to the col too fast. The walk and climb over Quartzite Col was ahead of us, and there was no more talk. The understanding between us was positive, clear, and unlike anything I have experienced. We walked out on a well maintained trail in Banff National Park in pitch black, and we were both in our cars driving towards Red Deer before I knew it. The trip was done, I made a short post in the 11000ers facebook group to help others get up her, and Mark Klassen made a comment that hurt.
The gist was that we did not take our time. A 34hr push, including a 3hr nap, was not the way to enjoy the area. That was all the time we had, and the time was some of the best I have spent. Other things happened. I went for other objectives. When Catlin told me he was leaving for Mount Smuts the night before his fall, I sat down and wrote a 3600 word obituary about why we do what we do. I used it a few days later when his family asked me to make a post to the community about his passing. The hardest part was knowing. Knowing that he knew. And knowing that we both needed to let it happen, and follow the path. The unspoken view of the reality around us is the source of all anxiety, and there was none. I am still coming to terms with living my life with such a clear path ahead, and not having anxiety knowing that the harder I try to avoid it, the harder my life will be. Embracing that is which to come, living in the zone, and loving every moment of the present is what Catlin and this trip meant to me. I am ever thankful for the 34 hours I spent with him then. They will sit with me forever.