Friday, May 18, 2012

Golden Eagle: Close Encounter

      At one time I taught some outdoor education to middle school students. Mike was the leader of the team. We were always on the look out for suitable locations for field trips. Of course, we always had to quality test the location and maybe we were looking for a good excuse for ourselves to get out into the Rocky Mountains in an area called Kootenay Plains.

      We had looked a a site that we called Whirlpool Point Ridge. It looked like there was a long ridge that went up to a peak. So on a Saturday morning we drove to the area prepared to scale the peak. A huge Golden Eagle gave us a close look as it was sitting in the top of a very large spruce tree.We were able to park along the highway. We didn't find a trail so just went off in the general direction of the peak. We found the beginning very steep and had to scramble to get to the ridge. After that the ridge walk was pleasant with only the odd steep part. For the last 300m (900ft) to the summit it was very steep and required scrambling. This means using hands to maintain balance. By this time we could see that someone had built a cairn on the peak. Each man picked his own route through the large boulders. Mike is much faster than I am  and summitted before me. I happened to be watching as he made the summit. I saw his arms go up and he appeared to dodge something. Then I saw a huge Golden Eagle rise over the summit and cairn just a meter over Mike's head.

     After this major surprise we pieced the scenario together. The eagle had been using the cairn as a perch which gave him an awesome view over the valley below. Mr Eagle had been flying up to his perch from the other side of the ridge and did not see Mike until he reached the peak. Mike could not see over the peak until he got to the top. So these two creatures surprised themselves far out in the wilderness when they met simultaneously at the top of the ridge. .

     We discovered that the peak was only the end of a ridge. From the road it looked like a summit. A ridge continued on for several km. Of course, we had to continue. In  places the ridge was only a meter wide and steep drop offs on either side. You don't want any wind in a situation like that.

     We led many field  trips up Whirl Pool Point Ridge after that. I made it to the top one more time. Only the most fit students made it to the top. Sometimes it was just too windy to go to the top.

    The story we talk about most is the time Mike had a close encounter  with a Golden Eagle. We never saw another Golden Eagle in that area after that.

    I was so moved by this experience that I wrote poem.

             The Summit

  Panting grunting exhausted man
  with relief and excitement reaches the
    hard won summit.

   The Eagle, cruising updrafts
   rises to light on a favorite possession,
    the pinnacle.

    Startled climber...Eagle surprised
    to find his high altitude perch occupied

   Eagle veers wildly , dives down
   the opposite cliff 
   and screams his escape
   to the valley below.

    The unsettled intruder has again
    missed the photo opportunity of a