By Keili Bartlett
On my first trip to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, my heart was set on summiting Kicking Horse Mountain, from which you can see five national and provincial parks (Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Bugaboo and Glacier). But to get there, the Terminator Peak scramble must be conquered. It’s rated as an easy 30-minute scramble, but for me, the name took on a special meaning; it was three weeks after my ACL reconstruction surgery and, with shiny new scars and a hamstring recovering from an auto-graft, this would be my first post-op hike.
I was trying not to get my hopes up. It would be hard enough to get myself up the mountain (even with the assistance of the gondola), and I didn’t want to be disappointed. In a car packed with three mountain bikers and two hikers, it was obvious that the mountain resort appeals to people of all ages and abilities. From the extensive terrain than hosts skiing and snowboarding by winter and mountain biking, the Via Ferrata, and hiking by summer, a resident grizzly bear named Boo, and Canada’s highest restaurant, there’s a lot to see and do.
After our braver, more able-bodied friends rented the gear they would need to tackle their chosen terrain, we all boarded the gondola. I couldn’t help but think of the last time I was in a gondola – in a wheelchair. As we slowly rose to the terminal, I silently hoped that I would be able to get back down on my own. Does what doesn’t kill you really make you stronger? I had my doubts. The muscles around my right knee had atrophied, and even this small scramble might be asking too much from them. My nerves, of course, were also exaggerated after spending most of my first summer in the Canadian Rockies on my couch. I had imagined summiting mountain after mountain, but actually only reached the top of Tunnel Mountain in Banff before a skiing accident temporarily benched my high-altitude dreams.
Us hikers watched our friends mount their bikes and quickly disappear down the trail. Then, surveying our own route, Sara and I agreed that if the hike got too hard for me, she would continue to the summit and I would wait for her return before descending together. I braced myself for a potential breaking point, but it never came.
I would write, “Before I knew it, I was at the top,” but that’s a lie. I was aware of every carefully placed step it took to reach my destination. Mere weeks before, I couldn’t cross an intersection before the light changed. Sara, then and now, patiently walked next to me as other hikers quickly out paced us. But past loose gravel, large stones formed a staircase and made it easy to summit, even for me. I sat down to take in the stunning view as Sara captured it with her camera. I made it.
After a slow walk back down (descending was the most unstable move for my knee), Sara and I decided to celebrate at Eagle’s Eye Restaurant. We ordered Caesars with our lunch, enjoying more views from the patio of Canada’s highest restaurant (at 7700 feet above sea level). Our biking buddies happened to take a break at the same time, and joined our table.
We shared our morning’s adventures as we refueled, then the guys took off again. Sara and I decided to pay a visit to Boo, the captive grizzly bear. Down the gondola, then up the chairlift, we got off at his enclosure. People gathered around the fence that stood between us and the bear. It’s the closest you can safely be to a bear. For many, he would be the first bear they had ever seen. A tour guide described Boo’s life, and we all watched as he shook a moose carcass – his version of lunch.
Soon, it was time to go. It was a smelly ride back to Banff in a car packed with three sweaty bikers (not that Sara and I smelled much better), but I was thrilled to credit my new knee with a hike, no matter how small.
To quote the original Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger; I’ll be back.
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