Orpheus Mountain

We have been enjoying an endless, beautiful fall this year.

A few Fridays ago, still having lots of things on my To Do list, I knew I had to into the mountains again. As I am not much of a planner, I had not arranged to go with anyone.

Now, I actually do like hiking on my own a lot, but lately I find it harder to motivate myself that way, as I have all sorts of other things on the go.

After an hour of fidgeting and getting my pack ready just in case, at 9 am I headed out the door and drove to the trail-head on the Alaska Highway, opposite from the west side turn-off into Champagne.

This morning, while writing, I phoned Alex Van Bibber to ask if it was OK to write about this amazing countryside. The trail is his trapline and one way leads to his cabin on Shaneinbaw Lake.

I know I had permission to hike there; Alex likes it when people ask for permission to walk to his cabin.

Around 9.30 am I started walking.

What is wonderful about hiking on my own is that I can keep my own pace, which varies from day to day. Some days I have to start slowly, to get into it.

This day I was all gung-ho, feeling that I had to move fast, to actually be able to saunter and dream when I was high up.

I set my self a half-hour without stopping. After 15 minutes the lungs started having to work, as I like to keep the keep the same pace when the trail becomes steeper.

Magically, after exactly half an hour I reached a beautiful viewpoint, looking back at the mountains around Champagne, a glimpse of the mountains ahead and the rolling hills around me falling into the creek below.

After being very much in my body that first half hour, the next hour I moved into my head, my body moving maybe a little slower, but going by itself.

I was thinking of things and enjoying the trail more now. Walking on a steep-sided, narrow esker, I come upon some late bloomers, the beautiful mountain harebell. I snacked on blueberries and cranberries that were growing along the trail.

The poplars here made way for buckbrush and evergreens.

After an hour or so, without knowing it, I finally moved into the mountain; I was now One with the wilderness.

I think it’s the sheep that did it. As I got glimpses of the mountain I was walking toward, I instantly recognized that they were sheep, not white rocks.

Somewhere around here the trail splits. I took the right fork, where I know I would end up on the mountain with the sheep.

The left fork leads to the cabin and actually brings you to the foot of Shaneinbaw Mountain, which is an even more incredible hike I may be able to tell you about another time. On this outing, it was already too late in the day to accomplish that hike to its full glory.

The sheep were still far away, but did notice me and moved slowly to the west to disappear around the corner. I didn’t intend to follow them, as last fall I had climbed up the mountain where they are. Today, I intended to take the east side.

The trail ends right on the pass above the tree line, in a world of rock and buckbrush.

When you look over the edge of the pass you can look down into the lake, but I go past that and look up, knowing when I reach the top I will see the lake anyway.

It is a steep scramble up here, and since I haven’t done this climb I don’t know if the mountain is going to fool me, and that what looks like a top from below actually isn’t.

High up in the rumble of rocks I am greeted by a flock of gray-crowned rosy finches that fly up out of nowhere in unison, chirping, landing again, disappearing among the rocks, flying back over me, ahead of me, until suddenly they leave without a trace.

And as suddenly as they left, there I am! On top of the mountain, which I now call Orpheus, who charmed even stones with his music. Endless fields of rock, with dry, yellowish ground cover.

Here I dance and sing in the wind, taking in views in all directions, with the sun shining on beautiful Shaneinbaw Lake below.

Not so much sauntering now, I battle a strong headwind to reach the true top. In a little sheltered spot, I lie down and have my lunch, accompanied by shrieking sounds from companions who live here.

I walk back on the lee side which is north. As it turns out, there is beautiful rocky outcrop as an arm pointing towards the lake; more little harebells here and a vertical drop into the valley where Alex’s cabin is.

Today the sun and clouds are playing chase and the colours of fall light up in different places all the time.

After a few hours, I started my descent. The way I came up was more precarious on the way down, but since I had made it up, I knew I would somehow make it down safely.

One thing I love about hiking is that, on the way down, no matter how tired I am, gravity will bring me home; always sooner than I wish.

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