false summits must not deter us

If the possible first snows of the season hold off, a Yukon Outdoor Club expedition this coming Sunday will head out from Whitehorse for Stony Creek.

If the possible first snows of the season hold off, a Yukon Outdoor Club expedition this coming Sunday will head out from Whitehorse for Stony Creek. Around 50 kilometres west of the capital a gravel pit on the north side of the Alaska Highway marks the pull-off point and the beginning of the trail. An old road mining and woodcutting road heads almost due north from there along an escarpment rising up above Stony Creek.

The road narrows to an ATV track as it climbs through poplar and pine. A trail takes hikers away from the creek towards the northeast eventually reaching the subalpine and views south of the Kusawa Valley. Now the real fun begins as the trail vanishes and animal tracks or just straight dead reckoning draws trekkers towards the summit of an unnamed mountain that is some 50 or so metres higher than Grey Mountain.

When my wife, Eva, and I first followed an intrepid Yukon Outdoor Club leader here nearly two decades ago the lure of wider vistas kept us climbing. The angle of our ascent coupled with a clear blue sky above the ridge line kept giving us the impression that we had almost reached our goal. However this mountain enjoys playing with the minds and bodies of weekend wanderers.

With the hope of finally cresting the summit ridge, pushing our straining lungs and faltering calf muscles we climbed. That hope was dashed not once but several times. After catching our breath and enjoying the new higher altitude expanded view for a few moments we could face looking up again. Surely the next slope will be the last. This mountain’s false summits and the next apparent short climb to the pinnacle probably kept us going beyond our normal comfort zone until we finally did reach the erratic-strewn top.

From any mountain top the world opens. Even from a modest perch like the one this hike offers, the hiker’s spirit is offered the opportunity to expand into the immenseness of creation opening in all directions. On one lucky Stony Creek hike a few years ago we even got to see a line of sheep across the valley heading down a much steeper trail for water in the late afternoon

Xavier Albó, a Jesuit priest and anthropologist from La Paz, Bolivia, visited Whitehorse last week as a speaker at the ‘Building on Success’ Conference of the Yukon Region of the Assembly of First Nations. Normally he wakes up each morning at over twice the altitude of the Stony Creek summit. The Bolivian capital officially sits at 3,660 metres.

Doctor Albó brought his a long experience of the struggle of indigenous peoples in his adopted homeland to shake off the shackles of colonialism and an awareness of the powerfully assimilative forces of globalization they now face. As a young Jesuit novice he witnessed the Bolivian Revolution of 1952. One of the true revolutions of Latin America that popular government nationalized Bolivia’s mines, redistributed the great estates to peasants and through other reforms like universal suffrage gave the Quechua, Aymara and others indigenous peoples a voice for the first time.

Immersed in a global reality antithetical to Bolivian revolutionary goals, a series of military dictatorships tried to turn back the clock. The political false summits could have disheartened the indigenous majority struggling to build a just society respectful of their cultures. It didn’t.

Evo Morales, who has declared himself the first Amerindian president, won the Bolivian presidency for a second time last December with over 63 per cent of the vote. His party, Movimiento al Socialismo, again seeks to empower Bolivia’s poor and indigenous communities through efforts such as land reform and the redistribution of the profits from natural gas production.

Maybe this isn’t just another false summit and as Xavier Albó wrote in 1995 in the Duke University Press book The Postmodernism Debate in Latin America edited by John Beverley et al. “(T)hose small indigenous nations, or testimonial peoples, that dot our jungles and mountains, should not only manage to survive but may also constitute the basic cell of the social regeneration of the continent. Reviving the embers currently covered with ashes, they could become the embryo of that new genuine society we aspire to build.” From that hoped for true summit the immenseness of creation may just be allowed to open in all directions.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.