Seven Valleys: View from Calgary

August 21, 2008

At dusk, a few days ago, we witnessed the rare visual phenomenon of seven valleys, clearly layered in graduated hues against the prairie sky’s orchestra of colours.

For some months now I have been studying the names, heights and geomorphology of peaks, valleys and ranges visible from the city 125 km to 200 km to the east so I could recognize them by their distinctive features and their relationship to one another: Devil’s Peak, Mount Aylmer, Orient Peak all the way south to Remus and Romulus. We had been seeking out all the higher viewpoints the city provided in parks and mundane parking lots and it seemed at times as though we shared our passion for summits with what may well have been dealers who wanted visibility for different reasons.

Growing up beside ocean waves ceaselessly rising, folding, crashing, merging, blending it has taken months to find words to help me see the mountains more clearly. Like an exercise in seeing, I forced my eyes to focus only on the contour line of distant peaks, to not lower my gaze to the paper so that my pencil traced not what I knew about other mountains but what I could see at that particular moment from that exact space. White patches of snow caught on the peaks and striated edges made winter-viewing more productive for all but the highest summits. Regardless of the season however, I came to realize that the Rockies were like the ocean and the mountains like waves, endlessly appearing and disappearing as the quality of light and air changed.

On that particular evening Google maps 3-D view was no longer virtual. We could clearly see the Trans-Canada like a thin silver thread on the surface of the rolling foothills. We could see Moose Mountain, the most easterly of the range and we could imagine Sibbald plains below. Spray Valley, Sundance Creek . . . We could see Mount Aylmer in the Palliser Range 50 kilometres further west viewed a week ago from Sulphur Mountain gondola. Beyond Mount Aylmer the ocean of peaks stretched into British Columbia …

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