There are just so many rocks.
In last week’s post I mentioned how the snow was melting to reveal a rockier and less gentle landscape throughout Yellowknife than I had previously envisioned tucked below winter’s blanket. A time or two over the winter I have discovered this topographical lesson the hard way: attempts to climb many of the “hills” flanking Great Slave Lake on my snowshoes has proven fruitless as they were near-vertical rock faces, deceptively covered in some fresh fluffy white stuff. Those observations, aligned with the fact that the summer's main event here is a music festival called “Folk on the Rocks” would have appropriately tipped off someone swifter than I, but it wasn’t until an early morning adventure this past week that I discovered just how pervasive the rocks are.
Regular readers (at last count, aside from family: 11 classmates, four co-workers, two childhood friends [plus one of their moms] and the entirety of my mother’s Monday morning knitting circle) will know that I’ve been house-sitting for the past couple of weeks - an adventure in and of itself that came to a merciful end on Saturday. Some of you will also know that I try and swim before work a few days a week. The house-sit was located in a different part of town than my usual Northern abode, and so I’ve been doing some bipedal exploring on my early morning strolls to the pool.
Last Thursday I slipped out the door at about a quarter after six – an undertaking that has become much less painful since the sun started rising earlier than I could possibly get out of bed – and headed towards the pool. I made the now-familiar turns through my temporary neighbourhood in the direction of the pool, but decided not to take the easiest route that would lead me out to the main drag within about four blocks of my destination. Instead, intrepid Arctic explorer that I am, I opted to continue on the side-streets, operating on a “general direction” principle that I was sure would spit me out roughly where I wanted to be. Gee, I wonder if the loyal reader can see where this is going.
I plodded along, thinking I was parallel to my goal street of Franklin Ave. It eventually became apparent, though, that I was walking for longer than I probably should have been without seeing an appropriate place to make the right turn I needed to. After realizing this, the problem became that I had recently passed a couple of folks out brushing off their cars, so to turn around and back-track would be to risk being spotted and having to admit to being unsure of my whereabouts and direction. This embarrassment would have resulted in my Uncle John permanently expelling me from the family (this is the man who once spent two hours trying to find the ocean in Los Angeles by “following the sun”), so it clearly wasn't an option.
So I kept on, knowing that I had to make that right turn at some point. Lucky for me, the decision of when to turn right was made for me when the street I was on came to a cul-de-sac, penned in by low-rise apartments. “Sweet,” I thought. “I’ll just pop behind these buildings and I should be right where I need to be.”
That was before I saw the rocks.
I cruised around behind the apartments and was immediately faced with about thirty vertical feet of Canadian Shield. Now I wasn’t looking at a straight cliff here, so I thought I’d give ‘er the old college try, drawing on some time spent climbing mountains and convinced that the pool would be just on the other side. It took me a few minutes to navigate my way up the rocks, which were still somewhat snow covered and had become impossibly icy in the thaw/freeze/thaw/freeze cycles of the previous few days. I was nearly at the top when a quick stumble almost had disastrous results for my orthopedic well-being. I recovered without losing much ground, but my thermos full of chocolate milk that was strapped to the side of my back pack decided that it had had enough, and I could only watch as it gleefully slid back down the rocks and came to a smug rest at the bottom. Were the thermos empty I might have cut my losses, but chocolate milk has become integral to my daily existence (what am I, eight years old?), so I gingerly chased it back down the rocks, only to have to climb back up again.
Back at the top after a ten-minute setback I could happily look just a couple of hundred metres away and see…not the pool. Crap. I was looking at what seemed like some sort of industrial complex (or school, or maybe it was a mall), but I was convinced that the pool must have been on the other side, so I headed in that general direction. I was happily cruising along on top of the snow until the snow decided that it didn’t much care to support my weight anymore (snow and thermoses are both quitters, apparently) and shrugged me off, causing me to sink waist-deep while wearing my cleanest pair of office pants. I kept on, though, trying to tip-toe as if that would some how keep me on the surface (it didn’t) and sunk fully on about every third step. Still, I was making progress.
Progress, that is, until I saw the fence.
Upon closer inspection, I could see that the school/prison/un-pool seemed to be encircled in several vertical metres of chain-link, heading way out to both the right and the left. This posed two problems for me: the first being that I am not a particularly adept fence-climber, and the second being that it didn’t seem as though meandering co-op students trying to get to the pool were being particularly encouraged to swing by. Left with little recourse I returned the way I came: through the waist-deep snow, back down the icy rocks (stupid rocks) and past the low-rise. Luckily I wasn’t spotted on the return trip.
Now sweating in my cleanest work shirt I took stock of my situation and figured that my best directional option was behind some other buildings just downhill from, and slightly right of, the ones I had previously gone behind. I approached the back lot of this new set of buildings and saw a path, which I decided to blindly follow. Lo and behold, after about five feet on the path I could see the pool just across the street (I have no idea what street I was on) and behind a curling club. The relief was short-lived, however, as I soon realized that I was about five feet back and another thirty feet up from the road. I don’t think you need to know that slope equals rise over run (thank you, Wikipedia) to figure out that this wouldn’t be an easy descent.
Oh yeah, and it was almost all rocks.
The face had some small shrubs growing out of it, so I used those to anchor myself as I eased my way down diagonally. Again, glare ice was the order of the day. I lowered myself until I was about eight feet off the ground. I had nowhere to go but straight down at this point, so I tried to slowly lower myself. The first couple of inches of this final descent went smoothly, but something gave way round about inch five, at which point I was instantly spit out onto the sidewalk eight feet below, which would have been much to the displeasure of any passersby. There were no witnesses to be seen, though, and I was thankfully in one piece and finally able to make my way to the pool, sticky with sweat, damp with snow, pants muddy but spirit unbroken (albeit hanging by a thread).
I mentioned in an earlier post that Yellowknife is a city where a city shouldn’t be. That a southern lifestyle won’t always work when ignorantly superimposed on a Northern geography. That was in reference to the climate, as opposed to the geology of the area, however I think it’s safe to now extend that viewpoint to the physical landscape. Don’t get me wrong, Yellowknife is beautiful, but it is a rugged beauty that doesn't co-exist well with a cosmopolitan lifestyle. The locals up here have found a way to carve out an existence against the most stubborn of backdrops, and for that feat alone they are to be respected and commended.
There are just so many damn rocks.