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a mountain is a mountain




a mountain is a mountain

Carrie Karsgaard

Sometimes I get a kick out of the banality of my Instagram feed. I mean, I click on the thing, and I scroll through the regular mix of artsy angles of alleyways, food sure to put my BBQ’d corn and smokies to shame, and children-children-children – not to mention the peak-of-the-day featured by every mountain-running, outdoor-loving photographer I follow. On Instagram, the masses become mundane: another mountain, then another. Rocks, trees, sky, dirty shoes, outstretched arms, tents, pristine lakes, jagged peaks. Scroll...

But the perspectives make them different from one another. I saw a photo from Ha Ling this week – a Canmore favorite. The caption: “I have conquered my fear of climbing to the top! Survived Ha Ling!” While I have my own shake-in-my-booties peak memories, my own and only Ha Ling experience could instead be captioned: “Maneuvering tourists and beer coolers on Ha Ling, Canmore’s Grouse Grind” or “Ha Ling: Eating dust while my friend eats the mountain for breakfast.” Depending on the person – and the day – dear old Ha Ling may strike fear, breed frustration or put a girl in her place.

Ha Ling becomes the conquered, the pesky, the challenging – not to mention its sketchy (former) identity as “Chinaman’s Peak,” for a young man who bagged it before lunch, impressing (and surprising) the local crowd in 1896. One mountain – much less many – can have many meanings, despite similar representations on social media through fish-eye lenses and Mayfair filters.

Despite this, I once heard a university professor state unequivocally: a mountain is a mountain. She was, of course, referring to the science of the thing. Mesas, buttes, domes, peaks – these are set. They follow patterns, laws, rules of the natural world. Regardless of whether her students are outdoorsy, bookish, urban, literary (making poetic decisions between palisade, precipice or pike), hailing from Saskatchewan or the Himalayas – a mountain is a mountain that can be taught, discussed, analyzed and diagrammed uniformly in a geography classroom.

That being said, I’d love to know a mountain like this girl I once saw skip across a razor’s edge peak while I clung to pebbles and alpine brush for security, stomach in my shoes. Or like my Pops, who’s familiar with every road, range, rock in the Western US and Canada better than Rand McNally. Or like a student I know from Bolivia, who says she’d never heard of hiking until she came to Canada, though she daily walked in the mountains the way I walk from my parking spot to the coffee shop. Or like the Stó:lõ people who keep the jagged Fraser Valley skyline always in sight – not only for geographic orientation, but to connect them to one another and their shared history within that landscape. Pop all four of these in an Alpine hut over a bowl of spaghetti Bolognese, along with my friend the professor (who may quickly find herself being schooled), and now we have a geography class…

Without such a luxury, I’ll continue my perusal of Instagram, where – whether a mountain is a mountain or not – masses of mountains share clips and glimpses of what it means to drive through, camp below, trudge upon, live amidst, scramble up, cling to, sit atop, scurry down, mark, and meander among them.