It was back in '96, while living in Sydney and studying in my first year of a Sports Science degree, that I discovered how many amazing travel opportunities are available to a student. The fact that I could go abroad and spent a year studying at one of dozens of universities involved in collateral exchange programs with my university seemed too good to pass up. It took me about five minutes to decide that I was going to do it. The question was where? Where turned out to be the University of Alberta, Canada. It was my first choice so I was happy to find out that I'd been accepted to study there for a year. I'm glad I made that choice because 1997 turned out to be one of the best years of my life (so far).
It was during my first semester on exchange that I was first introduced to the Rocky Mountains. The beauty of those mountains is incredible. Not only are their sheer size something to behold, the plants and animals that call them home are fascinating and somewhat alien for an Aussie boy. The place is full of weird animals like squirrels, pikas, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, bears, moose, deer, caribou and wolves to name a few. And there are trees that actually lose all their leaves in winter and others that look just like oversized Christmas trees. Where are all the normal things like kangaroos, koalas, emus, and gumtrees? I decided I would have to come back to these mountains and investigate the situation further.
During that summer, I spent most of my time in eastern Canada before returning to Edmonton in the autumn to study again. I was eager to get back to the mountains to do more hiking before the snow came. So I pinned a note on a notice board in the hope that there might be others who would like to join me in hiring a car and spending the weekend on the trail. There was bound to be someone out there with a love for the outdoors, a healthy ticker, and a good strong set of lungs and legs to match. Alas there was not. The only reply I got was from a lad named Simon Dyer, who apparently had trouble reading the notice because I'd stated specifically in the fine print "this trip will involve a fair amount of strenuous walking. Milky Englishman need not apply."
My options were limited. Team up with the fragile "Pom" ("Prisoner of Mother England"a derogatory Australian term for the BritishEd.) or not go because I couldn't afford to hire the car myself. So, against my better judgment, a weekend alliance was formed. We headed to Mount Robson Provincial Park with the intention of doing a relatively easy hike up to a glacial lake, camping the night, and strolling back to our car the next day. As we walked up the trail however, the milky Brit appeared to be handling the hike without too much trouble. His lips appeared to be working harder than his legs, though. The skill of small talk was one that Simon obviously possessed. A skill that a bunch of Finnish exchange students would, later that same month, have the displeasure of enduring during a four-hour trip in the back of a camper van. I decided that a "more walking less talking" strategy was in order and suggested we add some more mileage to our itinerary. So we set a new target.
We reached our goal with ease and plenty of daylight remaining. I would have been satisfied with that if the flow of insults directed at my beloved sunburned country of birth were not still sliding from my pommie companion's lips. It was time to make the boy from Britain earn his bed and breakfast (which I carried the whole time, I should add). I was in fairly good condition at the time, having just spent the last couple of months playing Aussie Rules football in Toronto, so we decided I should carry the lion's share of our gear. We checked our map and decided we would continue heading uphill. If we where lucky we could make it to Snowbird Pass and back to our campsite before nightfall. We made it and the view was sensational.
Next day I was disappointed to find the Englishman was still in good spirits, still not broken, and still yapping away. He spoke about wanting to hike something called the Continental Divide Trail. Had we not just hiked 40 odd miles with an elevation gain of around 6,000 feet, I probably wouldn't have thought it a realistic proposal. But considering he'd managed this without training I jumped at the opportunity to join him. Although I won't be carrying his bloody gear from Mexico to Canada.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication