The itinerary for yesterday morning called for a “guided hike” at 10. That’s all it said—guided hike. There was no mention of grizzly bears or breathless ascents on a five mile trail nor climbing 1,260 feet up the side of a mountain. No, sir. Just a “guided hike.”
Like I said, I’m definitely the most urban guy on this trip. So when I walked into Bruce Bembridge’s funky little office (snowshoes on the walls, Hudson’s Bay blankets on the chairs, a beaver pelt here and some yellowing maps there) wearing my Rainbow flip-flops, he suggested that I might want to go back to my room and get some footwear that was, in his words, “a tad more substantial.”
How far are we hiking? I asked him.
“Oh, just a ways up the mountain,” he replied. See, that’s the problem with these outdoorsy types: They think a five mile hike with 1,300-feet of elevation gain is “just a ways up the mountain.” I think it’s a heart attack waiting to happen.
So I went back to my room and put on some hiking boots and a few more layers of clothing. When I got back down to where Bruce, who is one of Chateau Lake Louise’s heritage guides, was standing in front of the lake chatting with our group, he’d also gotten me a couple of walking poles. “You might need these,” he said. I noticed no one else was given walking poles. No matter. I took them.
Bruce turned out to be a regular Will Rogers, full of information and blustery stories about bears and avalanches and getting lost in the woods. At one point, he stopped to tell a story about the trees and how you can tell the difference between a spruce and a fir (spruce needles are sharp and hurt like hell when you grab a bunch, as Bruce insisted we do; fir are soft and pliable). He told everyone to gather around a fir while he talked and then he asked us to give the tree a hug.
“Now, no matter what your politics, you’re all officially tree-huggers,” he said.
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