HIDAYAT ULLAH Enlarge
My transformation from university professor to backwoodsman took a few minutes at a wayside rest stop on Highway 16 outside Edmonton, Alberta. It was not a new identity, but a new mind-set as I switched from being a visiting professor at the University of Alberta to a camper in the Canadian Rockies.
Dr. Hidayat Ullah, a Calgary physician, was my contemporary at Islamia College and Khyber Medical College in Peshawar, Pakistan. The lure of camping in the Rockies overcame my hesitation about vacationing with someone I had not seen in 35 years.
The Canadian Rockies are part of the Rocky Mountain range that stretches from northern British Columbia to New Mexico. They are the epitome of mountain grandeur and beauty.
Dr. Hidayat is an experienced outdoorsman, an avid photographer, and a painter. He knows the mountains and the vistas well, and would be my guide as we set off in a 21-foot camper to Jasper, Alberta.
Jasper is a small town in a wide valley surrounded by snowy mountains. In its 200-year history, Jasper has been a trading post serving the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company. Now it's the commercial center of Jasper National Park.
Courtesy, hospitality, and friendliness pervade the town. We picked up a few provisions and headed south to find a campground.
Campgrounds in the Canadian Rockies, as elsewhere, range from ones with no amenities to ones with water, electrical, and sewage hookups. Whatever their amenities, most campgrounds are in idyllic settings.
On our way to Wilcox Creek Campground, we stopped at Columbia Ice Field. At an elevation of 10,000 feet, it is the largest ice mass in North America outside the Arctic Circle, and one of the more important sources of fresh water in North America.
Like other ice masses around the globe, it has been shrinking. Parts of the Icefields Parkway, which runs from Jasper south to Banff, Alberta, were ice-covered a century ago and now are bare. I am always surprised at people who, despite irrefutable scientific evidence, refuse to acknowledge global warming and its consequences.
Our overnight stay at Wilcox Creek Campground was memorable. Late in the evening, it stated to rain. During the night, the rain turned to snow.
In the morning, the valley was blanketed in fresh snow. With the sun playing hide-and-seek with mountaintops shrouded in fog, the vista became surreal.
Such settings are rare photographic opportunities. The magical interplay of sun and fog continued as we drove south toward Lake Louise.
Called the "Jewel of the Rockies," Lake Louise is a beautiful glacial lake hemmed in by mountains on three sides and the elegant and picturesque Chateau Lake Louise hotel on the fourth. The hotel exudes an air of elegance that is rarely seen. It serves a formal English tea.
While we were not properly dressed for high tea, the hostesses at the Chateau were extremely accommodating. It was an experience to sip rare Darjeeling tea and nibble exquisite sandwiches, scones, and assorted confections while we gazed at the emerald-green lake.
Our next stop was Banff, a town that sprang up in the Rockies after Canada's transcontinental railway was completed in 1883. It is known for winter and summer sports and its hot-water springs.
In a narrow valley, it has the distinct flavor of an Alpine village.
On the way to Banff, we spotted a herd of bighorn sheep grazing at the roadside. We thought that with humans so near, they would scatter, but they didn't. They seemed to like the attention and the clicking of our cameras.
Most evenings, we sat around a campfire, enjoyed our dinner, took in the beautiful surroundings, and talked. We reminisced about our college days, the friends we made, and the teachers who touched our lives. And we talked about our flings and unfulfilled loves, and the girls who married someone else.
Some cynics sneer at nostalgia. But a week spent in the company of an old friend added texture, substance, and humor to the idyllic scenery, our stories, and our lives.
I think they call it nirvana.
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.
Contact him at: email@example.com