Pyramid Mountain, Jasper
August 1980 with Ravishing Ruth, Lumpy Larry, Furry Murray and one or two others I forget.
Pyramid Mountain dominates the scene just north of Jasper and is imposing from the south, but from the north it’s a relatively easy scramble to the summit. The trouble is that it involves several kilometres on an extremely tedious gravel road to get to what’s actually a rather short climb. It’s a long slog which discourages many attempts.
My only trip to the summit came on August 1 of my first summer there. At that point I didn’t even know if I’d come back for another summer, so I wanted to grab the opportunity while I could. I got off my night shift stocking shelves at the Save-Rite (now Super A) and we piled into the back of Larry’s pickup truck (in the days where you could do such a thing) to drive up to Pyramid Lake where a gate prevents further progress.
Then it’s a long walk on a road that’s even less interesting than the Signal Mountain road. About a third of the way up, a branch road goes to a lookout atop The Palisades, where there’s supposedly an excellent view, but I never did it. The main road eventually emerges into a bowl near treeline where there is a steep ridge going up on the left, a steep ridge going up on the right, and a steeper gravelly face in the middle. In those days there was a tramway from this spot going up to the microwave antenna station on the summit. The tramway was removed a couple of years later, and I think even the summit building is gone now. The joke was to tell inquiring tourists that the building at the top of Pyramid was an A&W, and if you got to the top you got a free Hiker Burger.
It got a bit wet and soggy on the way up. But the quartzite rocks that Pyramid is made up of are a lot more stable than the shale on Tekarra or Opal. Except for being slippery when wet. Making the summit (turning back once up on the ridge was not much of an option) was my biggest accomplishment to that point. My first real summit. I hadn’t gotten around to getting real hiking boots yet, and did this in an old pair of North Star running shoes. North Stars were incredibly well made shoes, made in Canada back in the day when things like that were made in Canada.
At the summit, we met Herb who came up on the tram to do work on the machinery in the microwave station. He showed us around, then pointed out an easier route down the southeast ridge. He told us that he had to climb down the face and check a cable or something, but if we got down to the base before him he would give us a ride down the road.
I loved K-way jackets. You could sweat like a pig and get wet from the rain at the same time. But it was neat the way you could stuff it into itself and wear around your waist.
The shoes actually worked reasonably well for climbing, considering that this was a new experience for me. Coming down the mountain in light showers, however, they were pretty close to useless. I very slowly picked my way down the rocks on all fours, scared out of my wits but completely awed by what I saw around me. I think we came down the ridge to the right of this tarn, whose appearance led me to meditate on the John Denver line “the serenity of a clear blue mountain lake”. Which serenity was only interrupted by the sound of Ruth bellowing “Kinkaid move your ass!” from far below.
Herb’s truck was still there when we got down so we kept walking down the road. The hike down seemed to take twice as long, and every now and then we’d think we were hearing his truck coming behind us, but it never did. We finally made it back to the lake and back home in Larry’s truck. That was when I could work a full night shift, go hiking for the day and then make it back into work that evening, but I don’t think I made it in that night.
A couple of days later we found out why Herb never caught up with us – he had fallen on his way down the mountain and died. It was an early lesson that mountains are dangerous, even one you know as well as he would have. I never got back up there – we made it as far as the base one time but the mountain was socked in, and one or two plans to hike up and camp there never came together.