Ready for a slushy descent, my hiking boots crunched against the snow on the side of the mountain. The sun baked down and a cool breeze rolled in; I took a few stumbling strides until I lost my balance. Nearly face-planting, my heels started gliding downward—like I was skiing. Then my ass met the powder.
It was over thirty degrees in Whistler, British Columbia, but at the top of the Panorama Ridge, with over 1520 meters of elevation gain, and over fifteen kilometres of upward hiking, mountain-peak snow was surviving the heat to cushion our falls.
Surrounded by Goliath mountains and forests of thousand-year-old trees that dwarfed our twenty-something-year lives, the FML group had begun our ten hour hike early in the morning.
We had picked up the group in Vancouver the day before, expanding our bus occupancy from three to nine. After driving to Squamish, BC to hike The Stawamus Chief Trail—an iconic 11 km round trip with 600 metre elevation gain (marginally higher than the CN Tower)—we were turned down because of the overcapacity of hikers. Our alternative plans brought us to the Panorama Ridge Trail, 1520 meters of elevation gain (almost three CN Towers on top of each other). It’s known to be one of most gruelling hikes in the area, full of rough terrain, mountainous incline, and a winding path that rises skyward. (Our pounding hangovers wouldn’t help the challenge.)
Up we went, breathing in thinner air, adjusting to the change of altitude. Gatorade-blue lakes shimmered beneath us. Dense greenery glowed, and rocks with emerald moss landscaped our way.
“Guys! Are we in Heaven?” shouted Bianca, one of the additions of the group, as the trail opened into an expanse of valleys spotted with flowers.
We might’ve been. But our legs didn’t think so.
They ached and crackled as we moved forward on the endless trail, each step sloppier and heavier than the last. As our boots stomped forward, our minds split between scenic overload and physical exhaustion. Ragged breaths were broken by complaints about hips, tight calves, and sweaty ass cheeks.
Conversations varied. There were confessions about work dissatisfaction and uncertainty, animal noises, heart-to-hearts about loss and grief, stories about previous mountain ascents gone wrong, and a weirdly thorough analysis of who in the group would be most capable of getting away with murder. But there were also moments of mesmerized silence as we took in the screensavers all around us.
When we made it near the top, we struggled to keep moving. Eventually the path became less distinct—just a mountainous terrain of rocks and snow, an abrupt and unforgiving slope taking us to greater heights than our mortal bodies believed we could ever go by foot. We clawed and lunged. We slipped and stumbled up the snow, moved through boulders, and reached for sturdy ground that wouldn’t send us tumbling. For a while, we wondered if it was worth the pain rippling in our sweaty asses. But then we made it to the top.
If there really is a heaven, I hope it looks like what we saw. The view bursted with vibrant blue, green, gray, and white. Jagged cliffs and mountain peaks reduced us to specs in the wind, fleeting life that could never rival the magnitude of what lay ahead.
It was mostly just a place to breathe a little deeper with good people by your side—to feel small and on top the world at the same time.
We stayed there for a while, drinking beer and eating sandwiches.
Eventually, we made our way back.
As my ass slid down snow on the descent, I ignored the pain and kept my eyes forward, ready for more, thankful for what I had.
From the Forests, Mountains and Lakes,