Old Glory

Last weekend, my Mom had one of those birthdays ending in “0”, bringing the Johnstone Clan together in the Kootenays to do the presents, cake and singing thing that is obligatory for such events.

Born in Castlegar, I don’t get back there very often; home is very much New Westminster now. Any idea I used to entertain of moving back to the Koots is usually pushed aside pretty quickly by thinking about everything I would need to give up: my City Girl wife (whom I am still rather fond of), my job (that I also quite like), my funky little house (that I can almost afford), my curling team (who are just good enough), riding a bike in the winter (without snow tires), and this great New West community into which I have somehow become immersed.

That said, I think the hike up the Plewman trail to Old Glory Mountain is my favourite place on earth.

Old Glory is a 7,800-foot peak in the Rossland Range, part of the Monashee Mountains in the West Kootenay. It is the highest peak in the range, but not as tall as the highest peaks in the Valhalla Range, which is clearly visible from the top. What makes Old Glory so great is it’s 3,400-foot prominence, the fact most of that prominence is above the tree line, making for spectacular sights much of the way up, and the accessibility of the peak by a relatively easy 2-hour hike.

The first time I went up Old Glory, Mt. St Helens was erupting, so it was probably summer 1980. I remember this distinctly, as I thought every cloud passing over head was ash from St. Helens, and when I found out the rocks that make up Old Glory were “volcanic”, I turned that into pre-teen angst that it would erupt when we were there. Of course, Old Glory is made up of Jurassic volcanic rock that erupted in an oceanic island arc something like 180million years ago, long before this part of the world had accreted to the North American continent. So eruption risk was pretty low.
Last time I was up there was a year ago at the Seven Summits Poker Ride. That day it was windy enough at the summit on a cloudy day that hoar frost was forming. I had to provide proof to the Seven Summit organizers that I had made it to the top of Old Glory with my bike in order to get a “Bonus Card” in the Poker run competition, so here is the i-Pod video I used for proof (also providing proof I am not Stephen Speilberg… or even Kevin Smith).

It was damn cold up there for Labour Day, but at least we didn’t get snowed out like the previous year.

This trip, I walked up Old Glory with my brother and two of my nephews, both a couple of years older than I was the first time I climbed this hill, and they soldiered up there like solders (totally resigned to their fate and no doubt cursing the names of their commanders for leading them into certain death and discomfort), and this time the sky was blue and the view was spectacular.

One of the great features of Old Glory is the mini-ghost town on top. This was once the location of Canada’s highest elevation weather station, and a forestry fire protection lookout. The lookout shack is still there, kept up as a hiker’s shelter, but all that remains of the homestead is foundations and scrap metal.

And a very windy outhouse.

But for me, the best thing is the view from the top: the rolling hills of the Rossland Range, all just touching the tree line, with the Valhalla and higher Monashee ranges in the distance, landmarks all around that I can just barely recognize from my growing up climbing mountains, skiing, and riding bikes. This landscape is my favourite place in the world.

Probably made more so by the fact I only get to go out there once in a while to visit. And that’s OK.

Leave a Reply