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The Hawk's Nest

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The Hawk's Nest

Where the trails begin at the top... and go up

The hill was steep, but not exceptional, and I had only hiked about a mile. Still, my lungs felt like I was sucking air through a small twisted straw. The burn in my legs, even at the slow pace I was setting, was all too real. In fact, pace sounds a little too much like progress; it was more a “walk a while and stop” routine. Each stop allowed for views across deep and steep valleys to other ridges and peaks. A glorious place and a glorious day, with gorges dropping abruptly from the trail to tiny unnamed lakes and ponds, gave me the feeling of being on top the world. 

Wait a minute: on top of the world? That was it—the trailhead was nearly six thousand feet high, an elevation where I usually end my hikes, or turn around and start back down. No wonder my lungs wheezed and my thighs hurt. 

This was Stag Leap Provincial Park where the trails begin at the top of the pass and go up. It is an easy drive from home, in a good day trip though I planned for more. 

The drive north with the sun coming over the Cabinets and shining onto the Selkirks was exquisite. To my surprise though, the high point of the day, so far, was not the Purcell Trench in the morning I was driving through; rather, it was a cinnamon roll found in a small general store and bakery a few miles north of Bonners Ferry. It was world class—the first one I have found I could not finish in one sitting. Not because it was too big; I’ve had bigger. It was just too darn rich and sweet. 

I didn’t believe it was possible—neither did my wife when I called and told her. For her, when it comes to sugary goodies, a dip of her finger in the frosting is enough. However, I am quite good at eating super sweet stuff. Ironically, as I was heading for the mountains of Canada, I found a sweet treat peak I could not scale on the first attempt. I savored the surprise as I drove north with half a bakery delicacy on the seat beside me. 

Reaching Kootenai Pass in early afternoon, some close in exploring was in order. Wandering around Bridal Lake and then back along the Bear Grass trail via Cornice Ridge, I figured out what the agenda would be tomorrow. There were several more trails needing my footprints. 

Back in the car and driving down the west side of the pass, the valley spread out with mountain splendor rarely found on a major highway. Needing a spot to spend the night away from noise of the road I turned onto a single-track lane, which took me to the Salmo River, a perfect spot. The river’s song covered the growling of the trucks up and down the pass and gave it a wilderness feel. 

I was in an opening where the river flowed directly to me then turned just below my campsite. Golden tops of the aspen and birches reached out from between the sub alpine firs, glowing in the waning light. Fall was in the valley.

Someone once said (and I have used it on several occasions in different seasons), “If there is a time of year to just stop and absorb the beauty of all that surrounds you… it’s now.” 

I love finding places like this, especially when I didn’t have a plan. 

The next morning, while having coffee next to the river and finishing the pastry from the day before, I found a conflict struggling within me. I didn’t want leave this serene setting and I wanted to be back up trekking above the pass. Knowing the ridges would wait made it easy to settle in on a steam side rock for a long, morning meditation. The feeling of the mountain energy, carried by the water to my camp in the valley, was my reward. 

At mid morning I was on the trails and up was the only way to go. 

It was just off the main trail when my lungs and legs reminded me I was not used to hiking at these altitudes. Yet I loved every step, each one higher then the last. The trail became less evident so I followed the rim between two canyons; still I didn’t feel I was the first there.  

The next bombshell discovery, maybe literally, was a sign bolted to a tree. Bright red and yellow with black block lettering, an obvious product of a professional: “Danger avalanche control explosives may begin without warning.”

I had been thinking of coming back later to do some snowshoeing. The warning nipped that plan in the bud. Next was a structure I still don’t understand with another sign: “If you find deformed or unexploded shells contact the Ministry of Transportation.” Now, rather then scanning the vistas of cliffs and peaks to the horizon, I was looking at the ground like a soldier in a minefield. 

I had been out of the trees for quite a while so nearly all the vegetation was less than knee high. With each step, the pebbles under my boots moved a little, giving the sound and feel of treading on a gravel walkway. 

At the top where the ridge ended, no unexploded shells had been seen. 

Looking beyond that point were inviting ridges to follow to more and higher peaks. I surveyed the possibilities while a brisk wind snapped the sleeves of my jacket like a flag on an antenna. 

I thought about the pleasure I get from trips like this. With no real plans, the needs of the moment are revealed as necessary if I just trust my inner guidance. 

The trip had been full of new and wonderful discoveries. New trails, a great campsite, and a cinnamon roll; all will need revisiting. 

I looked down the hill and could almost see where I left the car, but I could not see where the trail entered the trees from this vantage. 

A message came clear to me as I started back down. It was an old message but as usual, I had to climb to the top of a mountain to relearn it. 

I see where I want to be, but no clear path for getting there. 

I cannot let the inability to see the route keep me from my goals. In fact, there is no way for me to find the route unless I start. It forces me back to trust. I will see the way as I need it, but only when I move forward.

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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

Tagged as:

outdoors, hiking, cinnamon rolls, Stag Leap Provincial Park, Canada, Bridal Lake

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