Finding Middle Ground on Middle

With all the snow now melting, it brings back memories of spring hiking, which is soon to start. The southern-exposed hillsides are starting to clear, and by the end of April our crocuses might bloom – along with a little yellow cinquefoil here and there.

Some years ago at the end of May or early June, I put the kid on the school bus here in Mendenhall at 7:05 am. Jane had arranged babysitting for her younger ones, and off we ran.

In those days, we ran up those mountains – my time being determined by raising a child.

When I got to Jane’s at 7:10, we strapped a canoe onto the top of the car. We were off to Middle Mountain. Both Jane and I move quickly and efficiently; our goal this day was the top (although we don’t always meet our goals).

Our destination was a small mountain – although as high as the others around it – lying behind the village of Champagne, tucked in between two much wider mountains, Bratnober and Kelvin.

We had asked permission from the Champagne people to climb it and asked about its name and accessibility.

According to Champagne elder Ed Chambers, now deceased, the First Nations here didn’t name mountains. No reason to, was his reply.

We learned that this perfect wedge-shaped mountain was known just as Middle Mountain, and people did go up there for sheep hunting.

Jane and I don’t really know how they accessed it, so we figured out our own most logical way.

We drove the road behind the village towards the boat landing at Dezadeash River – opening and carefully closing the fences keeping the horses in their free-range fields and forest.

We used the canoe just to cross the river, going northward from the landing. We pulled the boat onto the shore and, chattering away, headed for the mountain, with Mount Kelvin at our backs.

The forest was typically thick on the riverside, and the river here was a meandering stream, looping back on itself in various ways.

You know what a river like that can do to a person. After walking about 10 minutes in a seemingly straight line, we noticed something was off, and realized we needed to pay closer attention to our surroundings.

Ahead of me, I saw the dry, grassy slopes so typical of this area on the Kelvin side of the river. And open spaces with meadows I had walked the previous summer, with long, fragile wildflowers like blue flax in the tall, thin grass.

I knew that hillside!

Indeed, coming out by another loop in the river, north and south didn’t seem to apply any more, because we had come full circle and were back at the canoe.

Using the compass, and moving even faster now, it didn’t take us long to reach the foot of Middle Mountain.

As I said, Middle Mountain is a perfect wedge, and we decided to climb the east slope toward the ridge running straight toward Squirrel Creek.

In ancient times, the mountain was perhaps carved out by the river on the east and Dune Creek far below on the west side.

The ridge we were heading for was still wide, but narrowing toward the top. Near the bottom, it was thinly forested, but strewn with beautiful boulders.

As we climbed this perfect slope for hiking, with the ridge opening up before us, we were amazed by the profusion of spring flowers – the purple of the oxytropis nigrescens (commonly called purple oxytrope, or blackish oxytrope) and more – fed by the melting patches of snow, which still lay in hidden corners and crevices.

After our little detour at the bottom we were making great time and are enjoying the great views, including the odd glimpse of the waterways below. But nothing prepared us for the spectacle at the top.

We stood in awe, taking in the 360 degrees of the Dezadeash range, and gazing down upon Dezadeash Lake.

What we didn’t expect, though, was that the mountain here dropped vertically on one side. We held on with all fours as we peered down into the depths.

After enjoying a well-deserved rest on this spectacular mountain-top, Jane – who is much fitter than I am – began to explore the way down on the south side, toward the lake. She and I have always shared the desire to see what is around the next outcrop, but this time I just sat there in awe.

Too soon, it was time to head down again, the joy of moving quickly, lightly, galloping almost, watching the views while watching our feet.

This time there were no detours. Having circled the area a bit in the morning, we now knew the terrain and easily found the canoe.

We arrived at the mailboxes exactly as the school bus turned into Mendenhall. The driver was even kind enough to offer me a lift, although hitchhikers are not allowed – not even a parent.

Awesome day! I arrived home exhilarated, but tired, and happy to share a bus ride with my kid.

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