Feeling nostalgic for Shangri-La

greenspun.com : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Just for the hell of it, here's a story. It's about me, but a much younger incarnation - me at age 25. I am very fond of this memory. It will always be one of the high points of my life and a treasure I will keep for as long as I live.

One summer, when I was 25 and footloose, I decided to backpack for two weeks in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. Alone. The alone part didn't bother me. I'd backpacked a lot. I'd been weeks alone in the Oregon wilderness. What bothered me was how to get there.

I did not own a car and I had very little money, but I figured out from my map that the Canadian Pacific Railway had a station quite near to Lake Louise. There was a trailhead leading into the park located about 1/2 mile from the station. All I needed was a ticket. I got the cheapest one.

I took the bus to Vancouver, BC, then boarded the train for Lake Louise. I ate nothing but some sandwiches I brought with me from home. My only luggage was a backpack loaded with my food and gear for two weeks.

Sure enough, the train pulled up to Lake Louise station at about 11 am. The station was little more than a platform next to the tracks. I got off, hoisted my pack, walked across the Trans-Canada highway and up a dirt road. There was the trailhead. I was home free!

The first day was easy enough. On the second day the trail led into a broad, flat, marshy meadow - the bottom of a U-shaped valley formed by a glacier in the long, long ago. Now, instead of a glacier, the valley bottom was filled with a dozen channels of a meandering stream. A rather big stream. Too big to jump across. Too deep to have stepping stones. And no bridges in sight. Even the trail was reduced to some rather desultory cairns to mark the way.

As I crossed and recrossed this stream, getting crosser with each crossing, cursing and muttering and wading up to my knees, I came across a moose's skull. Only one antler was intact, but that was plenty impressive enough. It took a while, but I wiggled out one of the teeth and put it in my pocket. I still have my lucky moose tooth. (I challenge anyone to say "moose tooth" repeatedly and fast.)

On the third evening, I saw some other people. Actually, it seemed like a traffic jam after not seeing anyone for most of three days. There must have been four or five other parties camped within a mile of me. You can bet I didn't linger there.

By the fourth night I had shaken them. From then on I saw no one for another five days. I traveled higher and deeper into the park, farther and farther from any road until I came to Shangri-La. Well, maybe not exactly, but close. The next four days were some of the most perfect in my life.

I set my camp well away from the trail at the head of a hanging valley. The nearby peaks were all about 10,000 ft. high. My camp was at about 8000 ft. I chose to put my tent in a flat, grassy spot that once must have been a mountain tarn, but which had filled in with sediment over the hundreds of years. It was as flat and perfect as floor and as soft as a meadow. From my tent site I could see right down the valley to a large, turquoise-colored lake with a braided, snowmelt creek running into it and several waterfalls from snowfields, plunging down from the nearby mountaintops.

As I raised my tent, some prairie hens came strutting through my camp, foraging for bugs in the grass. They paid very little attention to me. I was enchanted by them, because they seemed so tame. This became a theme over the next days. The animals there did not seem afraid of me.

I especially recall going each night to visit a colony of picas (also known as coneys) that lived in some rockfall about 1/4 mile from my tent. I'd cook and eat my dinner, wash my dishes and then wander over to the pica colony to sit and digest, watch the sun set and the picas at work. I could sit about 15 feet away and watch the picas gathering grasses and stashing them in their dens, sunning themselves in the last rays of the day, socializing with each other.

In years since I have seen and heard my share of picas. In all other places I have visited, they are wary and timid creatures. You are lucky if they don't spot you coming 100 yards off, shriek a warning to the others and dash into their dens. In my Shangri-La, they were as unconcerned about me as if I had been another boulder. They simply didn't care. I was not insulted.

On my last day there, I was exploring along a ridge and spotted a herd of about 20 bighorned sheep grazing about a mile off, below me. I dropped down so as not to spook them. This was too good to pass up. I decided to see just how close I could get to them. I picked my route and started my approach, careful to stay out of sight. The terrain favored me. I was able to keep a ridge between them and me for quite a while.

I won't pretend it was any more than dumb luck, but I was able to get as near as 100 yards three times in succession. As soon as the herd spotted me, they'd charge off over the next ridge. But as soon as they got well over the ridge and I was out of sight again, they'd settle right back down to grazing. With another ridge keeping me out of sight, I'd just sauter right back up to them. It was exhilirating stuff!

I stayed at my Shangri-La as long as I could, given how far I had to hike out and how much food I had in my pack. Right after I broke camp I saw a party of maybe six riders on horses appear on the high pass, where the trail passed over to the next valley south of me. They did not see me, I am sure.

They sat their horses and gazed down my valley, at my lake and at my mountains. They did not venture down the trail into Shangri-La, but stayed at the crest of the pass for maybe twenty minutes, just looking their fill. Then they left.

I stayed there for five days. I still haven't got my fill. I wonder how the picas are doing.

Next week I'm packing in to the Three Sisters Wilderness. I'm not 25 anymore. The pack is blasted heavy, but it is worth every drop of sweat. I know a pretty good place. It's off the trail. And I ain't tellin'.

-- Brian McLaughlin (brianm@ims.com), August 03, 2000


ain,t nature =healing tho??---away from the lights & the noise--GODS- MEDICINE ---for stress!!

-- al-d. (dogs@zianet.com), August 03, 2000.

Thanks for the peek into Brian M. Now your comments about the Buddhist monk in the Himalayas makes a bit more sense to me. Thank you and enjoy your trek next week.

-- Bingo1 (howe9@shentel.net), August 03, 2000.

Sounds wonderful Brian! Thanks for the tale. (reminds me of Snow Canyon in Utah, the peaceful part!)

Have a great trip!


-- Not now, not like this (AgentSmith0110@aol.com), August 03, 2000.


Those Canadian animals can be friendly. I remember a trip in the late 60's. A friend and I were camped in the middle of nowhere on the the BC side of the same range [fortunately in different tents]. At about 3:00 he started having trouble breathing [said he felt like a great weight was on his chest]. He looked out of the bag and there was a small bear sitting on his chest staring into his eyes. He politely asked it to leave and it did. I have never laughed so hard since then

-- DB (Debunker@nomore.xxx), August 03, 2000.

>> He politely asked it to leave and it did. <<

Must have been a black bear. They are peace-loving bears for the most part. Smarter than the majority of dogs.

If I had to reincarnate as an animal, a black bear (in an unpopulated spot) would be at the top of my list. No enemies but man (and his dogs). A nice warm coat and an easygoing way of life. Curious. Mostly harmless. A sense of humor, too.

But when they get a taste for human food, they are a bloody big nuisance!

-- Brian McLaughlin (brianm@ims.com), August 03, 2000.


Yeah; it was a black bear. A young thing. Probably just been booted out by its mother. To be honest, in all of my years packing in the west, I never had trouble with black bears. Saw a few Grizzles, but they usually stayed away. Ran into a few herds of bison. You move off of the trail, and wait for them to pass. They snort a few times and move on. Now moose are another thing. You should be very scared, VERY SCARED. [to quote FS].

-- DB (Debunker@nomore.xxx), August 03, 2000.

Moose. Not many of 'em here in Oregon. But I hear they are damned belligerant and frequently charge at people. Moreover, they aren't always satisfied to just run you off, but sometimes overtake you just for the sake of putting a major hurt on you. Nasty temperments, moose.

I am just happy that there are so many deer around that the cougars are seldom hungry enough to experiment with other prey. A cougar is just a damn hunting machine. It has just enough of a brain to get the job done and not a single other thought in its head. Since I am not a deer, they have never bothered me. I've seen scat, but no tracks.

Truth is, large predators (or large animals of any description - other than deer) are getting mighty scarce now in the lower 48. The biggest predator that is halfway common is the coyote. They aren't worth a second thought in terms of danger to humans.

-- Brian McLaughlin (brianm@ims.com), August 03, 2000.

I must admire your tenacity, Brian. I don't know how old I was when I gave up tent-camping. I DO know we'd purchased a camper by the time the third kid was born. I can still sleep on a bare floor, but I, obviously, made poorer decisions about where to pitch the tent. EVERY morning [for several years], we learned that the slope was either SLIGHTLY downhill, and we woke up with a head-ache, or that lovely grassy area had tree-roots or rocks that could only be discerned via eight hours of sleeping on them.

I remember waking up unable to catch a breath. I wish my story included an exotic animal sitting on my chest, but we'd simply zipped up the tent too tightly, and all the air was gone.

-- Anita (Anita_S3@hotmail.com), August 03, 2000.


Good one. Back in the low tech olden days, we didn't hike the back country with the kind of tents they have nowdays [back then they weighed too much]. We either sleep under the stars or carried a tarp and a rope. You could hang it open on both ends to prevent condensation, or close the ends in a storm. Not so high tech, but it worked. Haven't done this in a while, so it may have changed.


From friends in Montana, I hear that the G. bear population has increased. In the 70's, I met wolves [which NBC said weren't there] but evidently there are more now. I have only seen cats at a distan

-- DB (Debunker@nomore.xxx), August 03, 2000.


Being from Oregon, what do you think os Sasquatch. Haven't there been many "sightings" around Bend?

-- Lars (lars@indy.net), August 03, 2000.

I had avoided mentioning grizzlies, because they inspire so much fear and so much controversy. I have only seen them in the wild at a distance and mostly know what I've heard and read at second hand.

My main impression is that they are smarter than just about anything on four legs. Similar to elephants in terms of foresight and problem-solving ability. They know how smart they are and how strong they are and they are not especially impressed by humans. Unless they have had a lot of bad experiences with us. Then they dislike us.

If I were a grizzly, I'd feel exactly the same way about humans. We are either insignificant or extremely annoying.

So, when you meet one, it is hard to predict if they will simply disdain you, or resent you. This makes the encounter a bit nerve wracking. Luckily, the odds favor disdain.

-- Brian McLaughlin (brianm@ims.com), August 03, 2000.

>> Being from Oregon, what do you think of Sasquatch. <<

Mildly curious.

I don't accept footprint evidence as meaning diddly squat, and it seems like 98% of the evidence is footprints. The sightings are about as reliable as eyewitness reports anywhere. Meaning, not very reliable.

There have been some hair/fur samples claimed. They test out as unidentifiable. But a clever faker could dummy up some samples from a rare mammal and no ordinary lab would be able to nail it.

My gut feeling is that Sasquatch living in Oregon is a phony. This state has been comprehensively crawled over by humans. There should be bones found by now.

-- Brian McLaughlin (brianm@ims.com), August 03, 2000.


When I lived in Montana, I knew the team studying Grizzels [this is a Montana spelling which I screwed-up in the first post] in Montana and Alberta. They felt that if you carried a gun, the bears could smell the gun oil and would avoid you [while these were biologists it was just a guess]. Some ranchers that I knew said you only had to pull out a gun and they would run. You didn't have to shoot them. Well, I don't know if any of this is true, but when I hiked into areas with a significant population I always carried an unloaded Winchester on my pack, and I never got within a mile of a bear.

You know the joke about traveling in bear country. Paraphrase:

Wear bells to make a lot of noise and carry pepper spray to protect yourself.

Learn to identify bear scat.

Black bear scat contains berry seeds and rodent fur.

Grizzel bear scat contains little bells and smells like peppe

-- DB (Debunker@nomore.xxx), August 03, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ