By Jamieson Findlay
Well, we did it. Six peaks in six days — and right during the July heat wave, too. At times we felt like steamed mussels just out of their shells. But we like to think we’re a bit closer to Mt. Everest now, at least in our imaginations.
It all started in the late spring, when we (a group of local hikers) were brainstorming about ways to publicize our October charity trek in Nepal. The trek will raise funds for an NGO called Global Family Village, which provides community-based orphan care in Nepal, and will take us from a little place called Lukla to the storied Everest Base Camp. Along the way we will get spectacular views of six Himalayan giants — Everest, Pumori, Changtse, Nuptse, Lhotse, and Ama Dablam. One of our group, Arlene Gregoire, pointed out that we had our own local “giants” — Vorlage, Camp Fortune, Mont Cascades, Edelweiss, Calabogie, and Mont Ste Marie. Why not get acquainted with our local giants before the Himalayan ones?
And thus was born the six-peaks-in-six-days adventure, intended to raise awareness and funds for our Nepal trek. The idea really took off when we discovered that if we climbed each peak twice, the total vertical elevation would add up to 2,480 metres — exactly the elevation between Lukla and the Everest Base Camp.
We even came up with a tag-line to draw the ever-hungry Ottawa media — “Everest via the Gatineau Hills!”
A ski hill in summer has a dishevelled and slightly wistful air, with the chairlift suspended over scruffy waves of clover and milkweed, and the ski school bell hanging silent and unsocial in front of an empty lodge. But on a nice evening it’s just the place for a ramble. That was the atmosphere for our first climb, Vorlage Ski Hill in Wakefield, on July 19. “This is just like the last bit into Namche Bazaar in Nepal!” said trek organizer Anda Bruinsma, when the hill acquired a modest slope. (You may be surprised to learn that one can conjure up Nepalese vistas at Vorlage. But with a bit of imagination, any wildflowered hill and continent of blue sky will do it for you.) We hiked the hill twice in less than two hours, enjoyed watermelon and cold drinks in the parking lot, and drove off in a fine mood. This is going to be a breeze, we thought.
Then the heat wave hit.
The next day after work, our target was Mont Cascades, just north of Cantley on the Quebec side. The evening descended on us like a moist, tepid shawl, and we wore it up the hill while blackflies and horseflies joyously kept us company. All the time we could hear the shouts and laughter of kids enjoying the Cascades Water Park below. That’s where we should be, I thought, as I sprayed myself with yet another layer of Off! But at the top, we had a marvellous view of the Gatineau River, only slightly obscured by haze from distant forest fires.
Down we went at an unhurried pace, chatting about the various hikes we had done around the world. Our group of about 15 was a real cross-section of hikers with a wide range of experience and equipment. (One of the group, Judy, had forgotten her hiking boots that day, and so had to make do with blue Crocs.) Anda had persuaded her three 20-something daughters to do the Nepal trek as well; they had all been hiking from an early age, taking part in community walks called Volkswalks. Each of the girls had done a 10K section of a Volkswalk before her third birthday. “I lured them along with gummy bears,” said Anda.
The next evening was Camp Fortune — which, with the heat and humidity, we knew would be a grunt. (Afterwards, Anda had only one word for it on the trek blog: “Brutal. Bruuu-tal.”) But we gamely wound our way up the hill in the 35-degree heat, accompanied by Racket, an Australian Shepherd dog with ice-blue eyes, the colour of Annapurnan twilight. (Racket belongs to Anda’s eldest daughter Leisha, but during our climbing week he became the group’s mascot.) Afterwards we had a dip in Meech Lake and—thanks again, Anda—a cold beer in the O’Brien Beach parking lot.
By the time Edelweiss rolled around the next night, we were getting used to the heat and the bugs. We followed a road up the first section of hill, but then decided to bushwhack through long grass and nettles. “When you’re skiing,” remarked Anda’s youngest daughter, Tanya, “you never think about how much life there is under your feet.” At the top, we performed our standard ritual of the group photo; then it was down for another ascent-descent, followed by the usual beer and watermelon in the parking lot. Four down, two to go.
On Saturday it was Calabogie, just over an hour’s drive southwest of Ottawa. The day was still hot, but some of the humidity had dissipated, and the hike was very enjoyable—hawks hanging in a conflagrant blue sky, a palette of wild smells for Racket to enjoy, and (at one point) a deer bounding across the path.
The last climb was Mont Ste Marie, the highest of the hills at 382 metres, and the best hike of all. At the top we took in a 360-degree view and ate blueberries collected by Tanya. We ended the day around 2:30 p.m. and enjoyed a picnic complete with champagne (each glass contained a hill-picked raspberry). The toast went up under the lodge gazebo: To us, for powering through heat, bugs, and blisters and conquering the six peaks!
Okay, Sir Edmund Hillary would have called them humps rather than peaks. And maybe, come to think of it, we should have called the campaign “Six Humps in Six Days.” Then we really might have got some media attention.
Each participant on the Global Family Village Nepal Trek commits to raising $1,500 for the organization. For more information, please see the trek blog or the website.