CRUISING UP THE MOUNTAIN (Sulphur Mountain, Banff)

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As we glided up the slope, I kept watch on Tessi. I was concerned on how she’d handle the closed-in movement over the considerable height. She spent most of the ride looking around, curiosity evident in her eyes. I’d be the one to end up fighting panic. Plans Almost since the day I decided I wanted to travel with my dog and write about it, I knew I’d return to Banff to take her for a gondola ride to explore the top of Sulphur Mountain—one of my more memorable excursions. The response from an email I sent to Banff Gondola confirmed they were dog-friendly. I held that information in my heart for a number of years. Realizing Tessi wouldn’t appreciate mountain scenery as I do didn’t deter me. Yet, when we’d eventually make it, she’d find an alternate activity—wildlife observation—to keep her senses captivated. Peek-a-boo Mountains As we headed into the Rockies, I worked on curbing disappointment; an overcast sky hid their majesty. I hoped for at least one record shot of Tessi’s presence in them. By the time we weaved our way through and reached the gondola’s parking lot, however, the clouds had largely dissipated. The scenery revealed was incredibly clear with a sharp blue sky and razor-edged, snow-topped mountains. The bit of cloud cover drifting over added an artistic touch for photographs. I had re-confirmed the destination’s dog-friendly status before leaving home. Still, I was reassured after consulting a guy with a dog as they returned to their vehicle from their outing. No one had commented on the nature of his companion. When the attendant at the ticket kiosk asked me how many were in my group, I indicated just Tessi and me. “Dogs are free,” was all she had to say. We rode alone in the gondola cabin built for four. No distractions took my attention off the striking surroundings other than my concern for Tessi. I took pictures of her and the scenery while watching her take it all in. When I looked down through the vast space to the ground far below, my claustrophobia attacked. I instantly realized it has worsened with age. Tessi then started shaking. I assumed she picked up on my nervousness, though she did quickly calm again. I spent the rest of our conveyance—probably half of the excruciating eight minutes it takes—convincing myself that we were safe. Tug of War After stepping from the terminal building onto the raised wooden walkway, we saw a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep relaxing on a patch of dry grass overlaying hard ground. Tessi stuck her snout between the rails and stared. I had difficulty convincing her to keep moving. As we eventually continued on, she’d spot quite a few golden-mantled ground squirrels along the way. Our individual desires to appreciate our surroundings resulted in a persistent tug of war on the leash. I’d stop for photo ops or to read the information signs and Tessi would pull in search of wildlife; or she would stop to stare at a creature and I’d want to keep moving—after I was satisfied with pictures captured of same creature, naturally. As one guy passed us, he advised me to keep my dog leashed. He found out the hard way about the fine if the existing bylaw is violated ($100, I learned from later research; $250, for chasing wildlife). I know I push it with Tessi in giving her freedom, but with our lofty position—this mountain in particular is over 2000 m (7000 ft) above sea level—and its assorted wildlife, some of which are huge and potentially vicious, I wasn’t at all tempted to free her. I noticed a few other dogs. I watched a woman hitch her German shepherd to the rail and step back to take her own record shots. We passed an enthusiastic shih tzu trotting in front of his or her family. And I glimpsed a Yorkie snuggled up in a guy’s jacket. The crisp air was quite chilly. Sensing the possibility beforehand, I had layered with a sweatshirt and jacket. I could have used my winter hat at certain points, especially at the walkway’s end at Sanson Peak, where the raw breeze bit at my sensitive ears. If your canine companion finds cold unbearable, you may want to bring a doggy coat. Tessi tends to be quite comfortable in colder conditions. A Kindred Spirit I ended up chatting with a fellow traveller named Susan, who had flown into Calgary from Toronto, rented a car and drove straight to the mountains. She explained though she has been to New Zealand, she much prefers the Rockies in Canada. She says they’re not only prettier, but also faster and easier to reach. I always thought New Zealand would be an awesome place to visit someday; however, I appreciated hearing that comparison about our own beautiful landscape. As Tessi and I neared the terminal building on our return, several sheep stood halfway below the walkway. She scared them off to a nearby patch of snow, on which they proceeded to munch. Other tourists around us, including Susan, were pleased with Tessi; the sheep were now in a better position for photographing. A few minutes later, another squirrel skittered across the deck in front of us, ran behind a garbage container and then peeked out from inside its hollowed support. The two animals endured a staring match before I finally dragged mine away. During joyful sightseeing of the endless mountain panoramic views, one thought nagged in the back of my mind. How was I going to get us back on the gondola to descend, now that we each knew what it involved? We could have hiked down—there are trails, but I was unprepared for that exertion and I had planned other activities to fill the remainder of the day. We kept running into Susan as we traversed the mountain spine, each time stopping for further conversation, so eventually I asked her if we could accompany her back down the mountain. I hoped someone to talk to would distract me from my anxiety. Before joining the gondola lineup, she mentioned using the bathroom—she had thought of possibly getting stuck and left adrift during the descent. I didn’t want to contemplate that scenario. I took her up on her offer to watch Tessi while I made the suggested pit stop. It would have been tough for us to respectfully maneuver through the crowded room. As I was ready to head in, Susan suddenly thought about whether Tessi would be okay in her care, wanting assurance that my dog wouldn’t freak from my absence. Funny, because of my panic attack issue, she’d state the same concern about me as we waited in line for the gondola. Cruising Down When we were second in line, the attendant asked the unaccompanied woman in front of us if we could join her. She glanced at Tessi and shook her head. The attendant shut her in leaving us to wait for the next ride. Tessi easily boarded without hesitation, but she briefly shook again at the same spot where she had on our ascent, leaving me to wonder if she was picking up on a particular vibe in the air. Otherwise the journey proceeded smoothly. Chatting mostly distracted me. We landed in the gift shop, so dogs must be allowed. I wasn’t going straight outside just because I had one. With Tessi at my side, I bought a souvenir pen to add, along with newfound, heartwarming memories, to my collection. (The claustrophobia had already receded back into my subconscious.) With no interest in souvenirs, Tessi was ready to move on to her next wildlife adventure. For More Info

 (c) Cheryl Smyth, 2013

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