Johnson Canyon

It’s that time of year, again, when schools shutter their doors for 11 days in the name of a break that is not particularly Spring-like. Unlike years past, Spring Break 2016 unfolded somewhat differently and not because we joined the throngs of North Americans flying to Mexico and Hawaii and anywherebuthere.

This year the professor’s parents opted to drive a mile (or 5000) in our shoes, making their way from the Heartland to Cowtown to pay us a visit. Their presence (and the new basketball hoop they brought with them), along with a calendar filled with obligations, meant there was precious little time spent sitting at home listening to our boy-children fight or lament their lack of things to do. Also the weather was remarkably Spring-like which eliminated the need for total hibernation.

Hence, 2016 will be remembered as the fastest, most painless Spring Break in history. (Though of course, it’s Saturday and we still have two point five days to go…..)

A small, 23 hour window of time with neither meetings nor teachings, presented itself late Sunday afternoon, so we ventured to Canmore for the night. The next morning we drove to Johnston Canyon, because the professor had waterfalls on the brain and we hadn’t been out there since Percy was still in utero.

As these things go, there was a slight kink in our Spring Break hike-to-the-waterfall plans: the pathway was covered entirely in snice (snow+ice). Perhaps you, the reader, are thinking ‘what’s the big deal, so you had to walk on some snice?’

I suppose on the spectrum of dangerous things: (1) being sitting on the couch and watching a movie and (10) being climbing Mt. Everest, walking on an ice-covered path for 2.2km would probably register somewhere in the 3-4 range. But did I mention I’m no longer in my 30s? That breaking a leg or a hip is now something I actually think about? And that we had two sexagenerians with us? And that we were all wearing… shoes?

We arrived at the foot of the trail and I observed the long stretch of snow, thinking little of it other than: my tennis shoes are probably going to get wet. And then, ten or so paces in, I set my foot down and it slid and I realized this was not snow. At all.

My eyes darted to the nearest thing I could grab onto, which was nothing,


Pure Snice

I waited for the only logical conclusion: ‘let’s turn around’ or ‘this is probably not the best idea’ from the professor. But it never came. Inexplicably, we kept walking while I imagined convalescing on the couch with my shattered limbs. Hikers returning from the falls passed us going in the opposite direction. Alive and uninjured. Though I noticed they were not wearing tennis shoes. They were wearing hiking boots. With crampons. I hadn’t thought about crampons since reading Jon Krakauer’s account of his Everest disaster-expedition Into Thin Air. Which was probably more dangerous than walking a kilometer on ice. But only slightly.


I considered every one of my 1,320 steps to the falls with utmost care, casting aside my pride and clutching the railing as though my very life depended on it. While freaking out about Percy and the Hen running ahead of me and the inevitable catastrophe that could befall them.


Why yes, a six year old boy could slip on the ice and slide through the gap in the railing, plummeting to his death.

Thirty minutes, or five hours, later we made it to the lower waterfall, which one views by entering a small, ice-lined cave (err, holding cell.)  While waiting for other eager tourists to release their claim on the shelf of rock upon which one stands in order to stare at the water and ice. I gratefully accepted the advice from a departing, red-jacketed woman that the only way to make it out of the cave alive is to exit on one’s posterior.


I dutifully snapped a photo and slid out on my butt, anticipating a happy reunion with my minivan in the very near future. (Choosing to ignore the 1,320 steps between us.) Near the start of the trail, we  passed four park ranger/paramedic types carrying a stretcher, heading towards an injured hiker near the falls. We also passed a raven-haired, Spanish-speaking family of four. The two daughters walked ahead, ensconced in the foolish confidence of youth. The mom – dressed for shopping, more than hiking – lagged behind, clutching the shoulders of her husband walking in front of her like a cat suspended over a tub of water, while wailing some variation of ‘Ai, ai, ai.’

Translation: I’m no longer 30 and I’m wearing the wrong shoes.




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