TRIBUTE TO GEORGE MAREK
© by E.J. Lavoie
from the Annals of Goshen,2012 :pages 102 - 104
27 PIKE’S PEAK
Pike’s Peak or Bust! Zebulon Pike espied the Colorado mountain in the year 1806, but he failed to reach its summit. He predicted that no one ever would. In 1820 someone did.
In 1859 rumours created a gold rush, and seekers painted the slogan on their canvas-topped wagons. However, they found no gold.
From this brief review we learn two things about peaks. One, people want to climb them. Two, peaks are not always enriching experiences.
In August 1980 Yours Truly aspired to climb to the continental divide in the Wind River Range of the American Rockies. Sixteen of us hiked up the Sweetwater River in Wyoming, and nineteen of us came back (Well, you have to count the guides at some point). We were mountaineers.
Mountaineers! That has a ring to it. We used no fancy equipment – no ropes, no pitons, no helicopters. We hiked. We were going to do this thing unaided, stripped of civilized conveniences, save for the guides, the sixty-pound packs, and detailed maps from the U.S. Geological Survey.
The pass in the mountains was Sweetwater Gap. At that point the river did not even qualify as a crick, as they say in them parts. It was more of a croak. The last one. The pass was as level as Peter Mansbridge’s head1, a lofty plain of waist-high shrubs. Then we were following a crick downhill. It was the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie2 River. We had crossed the divide. And lived to tell about it.
And I learned another thing about summits. It can be fun getting there. It can be fun leaving there. But some peaks are just plateaus (Okay, for you bilinguals, plateaux).
This year, after the spring breakup, I climbed the continental divide, the one that runs east and west in the land of Goshen. Three of us hiked there unaided, save for the graded road, the 6-cylinder Ford truck, and detailed maps from the Geological Survey of Canada.
For the last few miles we paddled, assisted by a 15-horse Johnson outboard. The top of the world here is called Summit Lake, a shallow pond with waist-high water plants. I had come to scatter my friend George3.
George loved this place. So I dumped him there. The wind caught some of the dust; the water, the rest. The water leaves Summit at one end by a crick, some of which eventually trickles into the Atlantic. And the water leaves Summit at the other end by a stream, some of which trickles into the Arctic Ocean. So, you see, Summit Lake is a peak. George has crossed the divide. Both ways. And he’s still traveling. I just know he’s having fun.
By my calculations, some of George has already reached the Kapikotongwa4 River to the north and Ombabika5 Bay to the south. Some might be wintering in a wild rice bed, some lodging in a beaver house, and some powdering a peak in Colorado, carried there by the muddy feet of wild geese.
Now, as for the wind-borne motes of George . . . they could be on the other side of the world by now. They could be fertilizing Alice Springs in the Australian outback. George and I are both having an enriching experience.
I looked up Pike’s Peak today, on the Internet. It seems it is still a lot of fun to get there. There is a paved road to the top of the mountain, and 265,000 people drive up every year. This does not take into account the ones who walk up, bike up, or ride the cog railway (Don’t ask). Few ever stay long. Nor did Katharine Lee Bates, who, inspired by the magnificent view, hurried back down to compose the nation’s unofficial anthem, America the Beautiful.
Zebulon might have been wrong, but he would have been proud.
* * * * * * * *
Peaks can be fun, whether getting there or leaving there,
but no one lingers there – not even as dust.
P.O. Box 279
Geraldton, Ontario Canada