March 27, 2006

Intellectual interlude, by Magalie

While I was in Hanoi, Vietnam I purchased a copy of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book that has little to do about Zen or motorcycles. But it is a great book, a fantastic book that makes you think and reflect. A good change after some other books that I had been reading.

When I read Robert Pirsig's take on mountain climbing, I was really interested. Obviously I love hiking. But what he said about the purpose of climbing and the types of climbers was what really got me. It made so much sense.

Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you're no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn't just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It's the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here's where things grow. (p.183)

I think why I liked his take on the purpose of climbing was that I had found myself with one bad hiking experience, and I was blaming the mountain instead of me for the experience. While I was in Japan I wanted to climb Mt Fuji. I wanted to climb it because it was "the thing to do" as well as I wanted to be able to say that I climbed it. I wanted it to be a notch on my belt. And so, I climbed it, at night, like the locals do. At first it was all fun and games but quite soon I was no longer having fun. I wanted to be at the end, at the top. That's all I thought about, all I wanted. That and for my misery to end. See, Mt Fuji is not an easy mountain to start with. It is a steep volcano and the footing and the altitude makes for a very challenging hike. I did not know that prior to starting the hike, and I wasn't ready to hike in the dark, where you cannot let your mind wonder on the little things around you or the beautiful scenery. This hike was all about the next step. Catching my breath. The next station. Making it to the top for the sunrise.

Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster. Now we're paying the price. When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it. And even if you do it's a big hollow victory. In order to sustain the victory you have to prove yourself again and again in some other way, and again and again and again, driven forever to fill a false image, hunted by the fear that the image is not true and someone will find out. That's never the way.


He never reached the mountain. After the third day he gave up, exhausted, and the pilgrimage went on without him. He said he had the physical strength but that physical strength wasn't enough. He had the intellectual motivation but that wasn't enough either. He didn't think he had been arrogant but thought that he was undertaking the pilgrimage to broaden his experience, to gain understanding for himself. He was trying to use the mountain for his own purposes and the pilgrimage too. He regarded himself as the fixed entity, not the pilgrimage or the mountain, and thus wasn't ready for it. He speculated that the other pilgrims, the ones who reached the mountain, probably sensed the holiness of the mountain so intensely that each footstep was an act of devotion, an act of submission to his holiness. The holiness of the mountain infused into their own spirits enabled them to endure far more than anything he, with his greater physical strength, could take.

To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical. Both kinds place one foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out at the same rate. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that's out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or too late. He's likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he's tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the trail trying to see what's ahead even though he knows what ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He's here but he's not here. He rejects the here, is unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then it will be "here". What he's looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn't want that because it is around him. Every step's an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant. (p. 198-190)

At the nth 8th station I had to face the reality of the situation and abandon my goal of getting to the top. I watched the sunrise but it was a blur: I was tired, hungry and suffering from altitude sickness. When the hike was over, 11 hours after the start, I was angry, disappointed and frustrated. This had been the worst hike ever. Only crazy people hike Fuji. This had been the worst idea of my life.

But on my trip I also encountered the best hike of my life. In New Zealand I did a section of the Tongariro crossing, another volcano. But this time I was doing the hike because I really, truly wanted to do it. I wanted to see it. Experience it. The hike took me 6.5 hours to accomplish, and that was with me taking my time, taking breaks and taking a whole lot of pictures. Never have I had so much energy. Never have I had been more stunned by the beauty of a landscape. I was just amazed the entire way. It was not about reaching the top. It was about seeing the now. Enjoying the impossibly stunning everything, from the volcanic rocks to the flowers to the lakes.

It was effortless.

September 11, 2005

The Lions, by David

A review of this hike will be posted soon.

August 17, 2005

Black Mountain and Eagle Bluff, by David

The plan was to hike to Black Mountain and then to Eagle Bluff, but since our guide indicated this as a 5-hours hike and we only had limited time since we were leaving from work, we were going to see how far we could get before it got too dark.

We drove to the Cypress Mountain ski station and parked in the parking lot at the foot of the chair lifts. Parking is $5.

We hiked up alongside a ski slope for a little while until the trail entered the woods. The trail is well maintained and probably used a lot, even though we were the only people on the mountain that night. There is always a slight incline and some roots in the way, but nothing too challenging.

Black Mountain trail
the trail has a few small bridges and logs to avoid stepping in the mud

Black Mountain trail
near the boulders

The trail passes several small lakes and a wall of boulders until it branches at the loop. We took the Cabin Lake trail which shortly takes you to the aforementioned Cabin Lake.

Cabin Lake
Cabin Lake

We had a little break there to enjoy the lake and feed the mosquitoes and headed towards the top of Black Mountain which took only another 15 minutes. There is a big rock there where you can enjoy a 260 degree view over Howe Sound, English Bay, Coal Harbour, downtown, Cypress mountain, and even the Lions.

Black Mountain - the view
The spectacular view from the top of Black Mountain

Black Mountain - view of the Lions
View of the Lions from the top of Black Mountain

Black Mountain - view
The view is very nice all around

Then we kept going towards Eagle Bluff, which, the guide says, has "some of the most magnificent views ever seen from the North Shore". Unfortunately, about half way there, we encountered a mother bear and her cub crossing the trail. We quietly snatched a few pictures and took the decision to go back the way we came, so that we wouldn't have to walk by the pair again on the return, especially since we had a dog with us.

Black bear
Mama bear

At Black Mountain we took the other way to complete the Black Moutain loop and made it back to the car in just about 2 hours. After re-reading the guide, it looks like the 5-hour estimate includes starting from the bottom of Cypress mountain near Highway 99. The hike we did was perfect considering we had a limited amount of day light ahead of us.

I'll have to go back sometime to see the views from Eagle Bluff.

July 30, 2005

The West Coast Trail, by David

Review of this trial coming soon

July 13, 2005

Mount Seymour, by David

A review of this hike will be posted soon.

July 10, 2005

Whistler, by David

A review of this hike will be posted soon.

July 02, 2005

Black Tusk, by David

A review of this hike will be posted soon.