Facing the Giant at Healy Pass

My husband’s father was visiting recently, and we wanted to go out hiking with him. It had been a couple of weeks since I had embarked on a longer hike. Weekly forays had taken me up Tunnel Mountain here in Banff, a local favourite for having just enough elevation gain to give you a great view without a huge time commitment. But, the last long hike had been in August and now I was sixteen weeks pregnant.

We knew the golden larches would still be in their prime up at Healy Pass, which would involve about 18 kilometres of hiking. So, while I was still unsure of my boundaries with the baby inside sapping my energy, I agreed to the hike, knowing that I could always turn around.

A bit of a different silhouette than I’m used to. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

The hike up to Healy Pass involves a steady climb through forest, and Paul and I kept each other entertained with vibrant conversation about future projects and possibilites for our lives (the best kind for the trail). I felt good, though unusually winded on the steeper bits. My spirits were pretty high as we bounced up the trail, belly in tow, but I couldn’t help but compare my current state to my pre-pregnancy body that had treated me so well for so many years. The changes to my psyche and my body had been nothing short of humbling thus far.

About three-quarters of the way to the pass, the trail opened up to reveal vast, low-angle terrain covered with golden larch trees. From this open place, we could see up to the pass – our final destination. Behind us peaks rose up in the distance, including one very familiar one: Mt. Assiniboine. At 11,870 feet, Mt. Assiniboine is the highest mountain in Banff National Park and is known as The Matterhorn of the Rockies. It is a stunning mountain, particularly from its North side, and a prized objective for many mountaineers. Just two years ago, I stood on top of that peak after one of the hardest, but most rewarding climbs of my life.

Mt. Assiniboine from Healy Pass. It is the higher peak on the left hand side. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

Now here I stood, facing the giant of Mt. Assiniboine en route to Healy Pass. A range of emotions washed over me as I came to terms with everything that mountain represented for me. Just two years ago, I was climbing hard, out every weekend and tackling the largest peaks in The Rockies. Now, here I stood, struggling to catch a breath as I meandered my way up a trail on a day hike. I wasn’t particularly sad, just feeling a bit forlorn as I thought back to those years of ultimate freedom and independence.

I know that I will be able to climb at that level again if I want to. But, things will be different, knowing there is a little one to take care of. I totally and whole-heartedly invite the changes this will bring, but that day on the way to Healy Pass, I had a moment where I had a clear view of my past, and the course my life has taken since. It called me to simply observe, not to judge.

Cresting Healy Pass. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

When we crested the pass to view the lakes and peaks on the other side, I let out a big sigh. It may have not been the summit of Mt. Assiniboine, but it was so beautiful. I sat there, taking in the views on both sides while I refuelled with snacks. I still needed to get back down to the car – something I hadn’t thought much about on the way up.

The descent proved to be tougher on my body than the ascent. My joints ached in my feet, knees, hips and pelvis – and all I could do was laugh at myself. I felt a bit pathetic, but knew this was just the way things were. In just a few months this experience with pregnancy will be over and its significance in my life will tower over Mt. Assiniboine in the end.

Author: Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Canada, and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Meghan has written several books, as well as produced content for films, anthologies, blogs and some of North America’s top outdoor, fitness and adventure publications. She has a forthcoming travel memoir (Fall 2022), to published by Rocky Mountain Books.

12 thoughts

  1. Although I still need more ambitious adventures in the mountains, I now find that the kid’s hikes I lead are my favorites. Being able to relive the wonder of a fossil in a piece of scree or of following a marmot over talus is a true gift.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ken. I have had an inkling that I may find myself quite satisfied with the new types of adventure I’ll be pursuing with kids. It will be so much fun to ‘rediscover’ the things I love in the mountains.

  2. My sentiments exactly all round!! I am at 25 weeks and did a stunning hike last Monday – I’ve found my pelvic area and knees give me a little more heck on the downhill too, though my uphill energy is still quite good…I am hoping I can keep my mountain self intact too…

    1. Keep it up, Michelle! I think if we at least give it a try we’re already doing ourselves a favour. So much of it for me has been that if I don’t at least try I can’t know what I’m still capable of. The mountains will always be there for us to come back to in whatever shape we’re in. 🙂

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