The Ultimate Alpine Start

It’s 2 am. After one of my many trips to the washroom, I lie awake in bed thinking about the other times I have spent awake at this time of day. This hour has become very familiar to me throughout this pregnancy. But the wee hours of the morning are also familiar to me on a very different level. Beyond the all-nighters I spent studying and writing through university, I associate these precious early hours with very fond memories of alpine starts in the mountains.

First light on Mt. Assiniboine. That's me in the pink jacket, second down the rope. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
First light on Mt. Assiniboine. That’s me in the pink jacket, second down the rope. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

I feel a kick – more like a roll-over inside my belly – and let out a deep sigh. Here I am adjusting pillows around various body parts, not adjusting a harness. I listen to my baseboard heating clicking and clunking instead of the tinkering of carabiners, ATCs, ice axes and crampons as we get organized to depart. I munch on Cheerios to suppress my hunger. Under different circumstances I’d be spooning hot oatmeal into my mouth to help shake off the night’s chill and kick-start my system.

Early this morning, those alpine starts felt so far away, as if I had never even been there for those climbs. The thought of pulling on that harness; roping up for a walk on a glacier; willingly, gladly, climbing upwards for hours on end and then down-climbing it all was almost unimaginable. Almost.

I’m only a month away from birthing this little bambino. And while my body is somewhat unrecognizable at the moment, I know that I inhabit the same vessel that carried me up those mountains. That vessel that climbed through the night, stood on the summit as the sun came up, rappelled into the unknown and hiked back down to the valley bottom is the same vessel that will bring this baby into the world.

35 Weeks. Silhouetted by the night sky at Vermilion Lakes. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
35 Weeks. Silhouetted by the night sky at Vermilion Lakes. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

I have trusted my body and my mind to get me through many difficult mountain climbs in the past: when I didn’t think I could continue, when fear threatened to paralyze me, when I had already been climbing for 20 hours, when I wasn’t sure what the heck I was getting myself into. Sounds a lot like labour. In this case, however, the feeling of total satisfaction we experienced once we were safe back at home, freshly showered, gear put away and with food in our bellies will shy in comparison.

It turns out that reading that pregnancy test back in July was the ultimate alpine start. And a 20-hour climb has nothing on this 40-week journey.

“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

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.

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