I never thought I would say that I am homesick for Canada, but this pandemic business changed my perceptions, or mixed them up. Where actually is my home? Never mind the place where I was born and spent my first 3 years. I never considered it my home, and suspect I never will. But Israel is the place I spent most of my childhood and early adult life. For the past 24 years I have also spent a significant amount of meaningful time here. Yet, my years in Canada practically equal the time I spent in Israel, and it is the place we raised our children and where my grandchildren were born and still live. Those were formative years in my professional development as well as in my personal development as a mother, a person, and a caring human being. The first 30 years I spent in Canada were also years of exploring and enjoying the vastness and beauty of nature. The indelible memories of the changing seasons, each with its unique beauty enriched my whole concept of possible experiences in nature. I love nature, and spent time in nature in Israel too, but Canadian nature offered me much more expansive possibilities and variety.
Some experiences of nature will stay with me and my family forever. It was around this time of year when we spent time again in our favorite spot in Yoho National Park. As usual, our “trustworthy” Land Rover failed us again, and we broke a shock absorber, plus the door on the driver side came off, so we had to leave it closed, and have the driver climb in from the passenger side. Opposite us camped a family from Boston with children the same ages as ours, and the father a biophysicist, as my husband, and on top of all that Jewish. So, we decided to have our Friday night Shabbat meal together. Each family left for the day’s hike, and since we did not trust our car, we chose a trail which was easily accessible by hiking from our camping site. We’d always wanted to hike the trail which led to Burgess Pass, and descended from there to Emerald Lake. The youngest child was just 5 and a half, the next one 7, and the oldest 12. They enjoyed hiking with us, but the climb was pretty steep. We promised that when we got down the other side of the mountain to Emerald Lake, everyone would get ice-cream at the local restaurant there.
When we signed in at the foot of the trail, there was a note saying that there may be still some snow at the high places of the trail. But we were not worried. We had good hiking boots, parkas in our backpacks, and some basic provisions for the day’s hike. We started up the mountain trail, admiring the views which opened up for us on every turn between the trees. It took us a while to reach the top, since we did encounter some snow higher up. When we reached the top of the pass, we rested, ate our canned beans and sardines, drank water, and were ready to descend to Emerald Lake and get our ice cream for dessert.
That was when we encountered a dilemma. The trail markers were nowhere to be seen, since the snow covered them. However, we had a great, large topographic map which showed all the trails and the lay of the land. Our trusted leader opened the map, and pointed. The trail was right below us. We just needed to get to it, one hundred or so meters down. We were delighted. Here was a great slope covered in snow – what a great opportunity to sit down on our bums and slide with joyous laughter and screams! As soon as we got to the bottom of the slope, we started in the direction the compass showed the trail should be. After about 20 minutes or so of hiking we came to a big ravine. No way to cross here. There must be another way to get around it. We must have taken a wrong direction. We started to go in the opposite direction, always climbing a bit downward. We got to another slope, this time not a ravine, but ending in a river flowing at the bottom. We decided to go down to the riverbank and follow the river, which was bound to get to the lake eventually. Down we came, and managed to rest for a bit, before following the river. This was a much easier hike, since it was a gentle slope downward. We followed the river for a couple of hours and arrived at a high point above the meeting of two rivers. No way to continue. We were at the end of the road, and at the end of the children’s endurance.
Looking at each other and at the time of day, we realized that we would not be able to retrace our steps before dark. One of the children asked “are we lost?” to which my husband answered “no, we know exactly where we are, but we cannot get out of here.” We went to a flat space beside the river, and started to gather driftwood for a fire. It was starting to get darker, and we had to hurry up. We were well equipped with matches and aluminum canteens. A big bonfire was quickly assembled and we took water from the river to boil. No ice cream, but when we melted chocolate bars into the hot water, we all had a delicious cup of hot chocolate. That was our special Friday night Shabbat meal. We had no more food left, since we’d eaten it all at the top of the trail. Out came the parkas, and off came the wet boots and socks to dry by the fire. We were singing Shabbat songs and other favorites around the bonfire, when suddenly my husband commented “look, there is a searchlight coming up there, they are looking for us!” But alas it was only the most glorious big moon shining down.
Our oldest son and both of us took turns staying up to watch that the fire did not go out, and that no wild animals were approaching. The area is home to deer and mountain goats, as well as mountain lions and grizzly bears. It would not be pleasant to encounter one of them. Morning came early, and the sun started warming us a bit. Before the fire went out, we boiled water for our morning cup of chocolate, and to refill our canteens for the day. I stashed away a bar of chocolate for emergencies, although the children thought we’d had the last of our chocolate bars. We thought we heard some whistles, and saw a helicopter fly over us, so we waited till 11 o’clock, but then we realized that we were not seen. Our daughter had a bright yellow rain cape which we spread on the ground, and the children wrote S.O.S. on it with stones. We started straight up the mountain.
I must say it was a real ordeal. I am full of admiration for the way our kids encouraged each other and helped on the climb. We literally climbed without a trail, in dense forest, over rocks and tree roots, making our way up the mountain. It was manageable, since there was no snow at that level. Every once in a while we rested, and drank some water. Around 2 o’clock we reached a small clearing and the 2 young ones were exhausted. I did not think they could make it any further. I asked my husband to take our oldest, and go on to bring help. At that precise moment we heard a helicopter, and started waving and yelling like mad. They saw us! They told us to stay put. They could not land, but would send a guide.
After we waited for about half an hour, the guide arrived and checked us out. He announced on the radio that we were OK, just dehydrated. He gave us water with glucose pills, and I cracked open the remaining chocolate to celebrate. Then came the hardest part for me. As we started climbing higher, we hit snow again, and every step was torture. I sank in the snow up to my knees, and had to pick up each leg for the next step. I actually was crying as I climbed. It was slow going and it took us a while to get to the summit. The helicopter was waiting there, at the same spot we’d started from the previous day! We could not all fit into the helicopter, so it was decided that I would go with the boys, the youngest and the oldest, in the first round, and our daughter, husband, and guide would come in the second one. We climbed in, and the helicopter took off. What a glorious view we had of the entire valley! It could not have been any more beautiful. We soon came to land on the road at Emerald Lake. As we ran out from under the helicopter which took off to bring the next set of passengers, a man holding the hand of a small child ran towards us shouting, “did you just come off the helicopter? Where do you get it, and how much does it cost?” I answered, “It costs nothing, but first you have to get lost.”
We all had our ice cream, and the park rangers gave us a ride back to our campsite. Our friends were glad to see us, and we had a meal together, “only” a day late. It turned out they were worried when they did not see us and the rangers checked the head of the trail and found that we had signed in. It was too late to look for us at night, but they did send people on horses in the morning. We had indeed heard the whistles of the rescuers, but they could not hear us. The helicopter was brought to search only when they reported back that they saw no trace of us. It turns out that the helicopter we saw in the morning was on a routine flight to check batteries in the radio repeater nearby. And the map – a printing mistake. The trail line moved a bit during the printing. The government mapping department thanked us for discovering the mistake, and the new maps are accurate now. I am still waiting to climb again to Burgess Pass with the new map. Now I am really homesick.
Photos of Burgess Pass and Emerald Lake courtesy of Parks Canada