The League of Geriatric Gentry

Columnist Peter Warland on the joys of the road less taken

Peter Warland

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”

– T.S. Eliot

We are the L.G.G.

A person doesn’t join us willy-nilly. A person needs to age gracefully like a fine wine and thus be accepted by the other members. Then, and only then, at last, through diligent hard work and general stupidity can that person become a fully-fledged member of the League of Geriatric Gentry, then dare to tread where none but we dare to go.

We members of the L.G.G. want desperately to get our aged bodies into the wilderness that we think we remember but the trouble is: the older we become the more difficult it is for us to attain these other Edens because the wilderness is receding at a disproportionate pace.

We senior citizens thus must become more and more sly, sneaky even, and, like latter day explorers, suffer in order to seek the hidden recesses of our chosen paradises.

I can well recall back in 1958 having trouble finding a way to approach Fisher Peak. These days there are signs for the simple minded and a trail wide enough to need a painted white line down the middle.

Probably in the 1960s, two of us spotted the pristine Bear Lake from a high ridge, having climbed up trackless slopes from Summer Lake. A few weeks later, we discovered the vestiges of game trails that led us at last to the lake. Now there’s a freeway and even a nasty new variation hacked through the bush.

Over the years, we and other lost souls found diverse ways up to the ridges and thence to Teepee Peak. Now, probably due to a guide book and Google on the computer, a person needs to jostle his way up there through the hordes of sweaty tourists.

We are forced to do what rock climbers do. Whenever a route is well-established and overly well-used, we seek alternatives and, as a rule, these alternatives are much more difficult to follow, nasty even. But we find these routes into the mountains worth the effort, despite the scratches from the alder, the bruises from the tumbling talus slopes and the mazes of fallen trees with not a vestige of a trail in sight.

This country of ours has already gone the way of all slopes in the Alps where Julie Andrews would be at a loss these days to find a flowery alpine meadow on which to dance and sing her silly song about the hills being alive.

Why today, just to get away from the crowds, a person has to line up in order to possibly die on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua and Everest.

This spring, when sufficient snow had melted off the bush roads, George and I drifted up into the St Mary’s country and Angus Creek to a place that George thought he remembered. We tottered off along a ridge that bore no signs of human activity, past or present. That was a delightful way to waste a day.

Then, another day, having spotted the traffic lined up at the foot of the trail to Teepee Mountain, we wandered off to find a less cluttered area and managed to clamber through slide alder, tangled forest, avalanche felled trees and a hellish shale slope, then to reach a summit ridge where we could find a seat and eat lunch. In some ways, the descent was even worse but our eyes go all dreamy when we think of those brief minutes of that sunny, trail-less, people-less ridge.

Last week, two of us ventured up to the Lakit trail head, by-passed it, then scrambled up to the ridge and the peak above the old mine workings. I reckoned a couple of times that my doctor ought to be reprimanded by the medical authorities for not telling me that I am a silly old fool for trying such antics at my age, but I think she understands: I and my comrades of the League of Geriatric Gentry don’t have even vestiges of common sense.