Thanks to everyone who donated we raised over $1800 CAD for the International Bipolar Foundation! If you’d like to read more background on the “4 peaks” day go here.
Summary of the day
On September 1, 2015, three friends and I hiked four peaks in the Banff area in one day. Masaki (Saki) Yokota, Tyler Williams, Loucas St-Cyr and I hiked Cascade, Rundle, Sulphur and Tunnel in that order.
Cascade Mountain – We started hiking Cascade Mountain in darkness from the Mt Norquay parking lot at 5:32 am. Using a headlamp and a flashlight we were about one hour into the hike before the sun started to rise. We had a bit of intermittent light rain until we got to the ridge above the Cascade Amphitheatre. Once on the ridge we had some horizontal sleet and very strong winds. Some of the rocks we had to hike over were glaced with ice. Despite some of us wearing toques and gloves, we were all very cold once we got to the summit. We got a few quick photos and rehydration before starting to head down. On the way down Tyler broke both of his hiking poles. Saki’s knee put him in a lot of pain. Some of the rocks were very slippery from snow, ice or being wet from the light rain earlier. We completed this hike at 10:58 am. Total time for Cascade was 5 hr 26 min.
Mount Rundle – Once we were back at the car in the Mt Norquay parking lot, we all stretched and ate. Coconut water, gummy bears, green smoothies, brownies, chips, and lots of other stuff! We got to the Bow Falls parking lot and started hiking up Rundle at 11:50 am. Up until treeline most of us felt pretty good. Once we got to the “dragon’s back” our pace slowed. The last third of the climb up Rundle was very tough. Most of us had jello legs at that point. It felt like we were barely moving at times. Near the top we were able to see Cascade, which was so motivating knowing that we had just been up there! It was very windy at the top. We got some other hikers to take our photo, and then headed down. Once we got back down to the Spray River Loop trail, a group of horseback riders were riding on the trail back to the Bow Falls area. A few of them were just ahead of us. At that point we decided to jog for a few minutes to get ahead of them… We got back to the car at 5:11 pm. Total time for Rundle was 5 hr 21 min.
Sulphur Mountain – By this point we were all starting to have very tired legs, some of us more than others. As we started hiking up at 5:38 pm, my legs were pretty well spent. Luckily Saki had his iPad with some good tunes playing! That really kept me going. He had sporadic foot cramps while going up Sulphur. At the top we got a lot of photos and used the washroom in the gondola terminal building. Heading out of the building we took a look at the gondola entry area. It was VERY tempting to take the gondola down…however we did hike down. We got to the bottom at 8:03 pm. Total time for Sulphur was 2 hr 25 min.
Tunnel Mountain – Knowing that we only had one short peak left and daylight fading fast, we took only a minute or two in the Sulphur Mountain parking lot before driving to the Tunnel Mountain trailhead. We started hiking from the St Julien Road parking lot at 8:14 pm. On the way up were all in good spirits despite being spent physically. We did a moderate pace and were fortunate to get some photos at the top while there was still daylight. On the way down I was mostly thinking about what I was going to eat after getting back to the car! We completed this hike at 9:17 pm with high fives all around! Total time for Tunnel was 1 hr 3 min.
“4 peaks” is the toughest physical event that I’ve ever done. I was sore pretty well all over for a couple of days afterwards. I used hiking poles the entire time while hiking all four peaks. Since I used them a lot for bracing, my hands, arms, upper back and chest were sore. The poles really helped ease pressure on my knees especially on the way down…believe it or not my knees were not sore at all afterwards! I have the hiking poles to thank for that. The balls of my left feet were sore for four days. Five days after “4 peaks” I did a very easy mountain bike ride and my legs still felt like they didn’t have much power. The following day I did another bike ride and felt great!
My lessons from 4 peaks
There were so many lessons that I had before, during and after our “4 peaks” experience. I will highlight some of them below.
Gratitude – The one thing that I thought about most of the day was how many things I have to be grateful for. At any point when I started to consider complaining or whining about being sore or tired, I would do my best to quickly think of something that I’m grateful for. A big one that came up numerous times was that of me celebrating my five year medication free anniversary the day before (August 31, 2015). I have met many people that take daily psychiatric medication that are very healthy and mentally stable. Fortunately I have found a way, with my doctor’s support, to be medication-free. There were a ton of other gratitudes I had during the day including – being happy and healthy, being content with where I am in my life, having supportive family and friends, that I had fantastic parents, that I live in such an incredible and truly free country, that I have a roof over my head and food in my fridge, that I am pain-free, that I have the full use of all my senses, that I have no physical disability of any sort, that I live in a place with such clean air, and also that I am improving at many things. Some of those include: not judging others, not comparing myself to others, not beating myself up, letting go of resentments, not complaining, not gossiping, loving myself more and more, consistently having a clearer mindset, and being increasingly comfortable with who I am. A handful of people told me that I’m their role model or guru. That is very humbling and I am incredibly grateful that they shared that with me!
Support – The amount of support that I received before, during and after “4 peaks” was incredible! Almost unbelievable at times, including sporadic tears of gratitude. So many people said kind and supportive statements to me. Friends and family shared my various social media posts related to the event. People who I’ve never met cheered me on in person or virtually. Some people donated financially, anything from $5 to over $100. A friend of mine gave me a $5 donation and was a little embarrassed that it was not more. That truly meant a lot that he gave what he could…ANY amount was greatly appreciated! Local businesses stepped in as well. Defending Awesome gave us fantastic free custom “4 peaks” shirts and snacks. Old Spaghetti Factory Banff gave us a free lunch the day after. Saki and I both work for Caribou Properties. Caribou’s president Gordon Lozeman gave the two of us massage gift certificates, which I used two days after the “4 peaks” day.
Real conversations about mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder – I had a number of meaningful conversations with people in a variety of contexts. It really hit home how nearly everyone is affected by some type of mental illness, however it is generally not talked about. A few people disclosed to me that they have a mental illness and normally don’t let other people know. That really touched me knowing that they felt comfortable enough around me to disclose that. Various people diagnosed with bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses sincerely thanked me for doing this, for doing my part to fight stigma, and for being brave enough to share my story of my bipolar disorder journey.
Letting go of my ego – About twenty minutes into our first hike, the other three were slowly and steadily moving away from me. They stopped at one of the switchbacks and waited for me. I was honest and stated that the pace was too fast for me. That was a hard thing for me to do. Quite often when I’m hiking with people I’m the one near or at the front. I knew that if they kept up that pace and I matched it, that there is NO WAY I’d be able to complete hiking all four peaks in one day. I would burn myself out on Cascade. Tyler and Loucas especially could have easily done all of the hikes much quicker than the pace we did.
Team – I am very grateful to have completed the “4 peaks” with such incredible guys! Saki, Tyler and Loucas were always so patient for me when I was the slowest hiker. Each of them kept asking how I was doing, how my legs were, if I was sore, etc… Before the hike they were very proactive in helping raise funds for the International Bipolar Foundation, an organization that really means a lot to me. They didn’t have to do that at all. The guys truly embodied the word TEAM. There was no “i” in our “4 peaks” team! Each of the guys were so considerate and I couldn’t have asked for a better group. The t-shirt that Jim Kwan at Defending Awesome custom made for me is a souvenir that I will cherish for years to come. The picture below is us wearing our shirts at the top of Sulphur Mountain.
Silently supporting others – During the last third of the hike up Rundle, Saki’s knee was giving him a lot of pain. He was saying a number of choice four letter words and grunting. I hiked just behind him the whole time. Once in a while I’d say something encouraging, however for most of the time I was simply hiking behind him. It was my way of supporting him silently. I’ve been fortunate and am grateful to have had friends and family silently support me during the most difficult times of my life…in both manic and depressive episodes. In my experience, the mere presence of someone there meant so much during those challenging periods.
Mindset shift – There were many instances during the “4 peaks” day in which I changed my mindset quickly – when I was slipping on some icy rocks going up Cascade, having freezing sleet being driven into my face, falling a few times going down a difficult part on Rundle, having my legs feel like lead going up the fairly easy Sulphur, and feeling pretty well depleted during the Tunnel ascent. During those aforementioned and numerous other times, I focused on being grateful for the support I had and was receiving. When Saki was grunting and swearing going up Rundle, it would have been easy for me to get angry listening to that. Instead I chose to be inspired by it since I knew he was in a TON of pain yet he was still pushing on. Even now simply remembering that truly inspires me.
(Dis)connected – On the day of “4 peaks” just before 5 am I posted on my personal Facebook page that we were heading out. I posted a picture of myself at the top of Cascade at 8:39 am. After that I was disconnected for the day. Looking back it would have been much better for me to have posted that I was going to be disconnected for the rest of the day. I found out later that day that various people had texted, messaged, or emailed me wondering how it was going. Some were very concerned. Between hiking, taking short breaks, eating, drinking, stretching, and driving, I had very little time to be on my phone. Plus I wanted to be fully present in the moment and totally take in the experience of an epic day. If I wasn’t driving I would have most likely used the time in the car to post updates and reply to people. One of the “4 peaks” guys posted a few updates after we got down from Rundle letting people know where we were. For those of you that did reach out during that day and didn’t hear back from me please accept my apology.
Local celebrity – A few people joked around with me that I was a “local celebrity” with the media attention that “4 peaks” received locally and in other parts of Alberta. Although being in various media was a new experience for me, I certainly didn’t feel like a celebrity! Especially at the start of the CTV interview. I was in the CTV Calgary studio being interviewed by someone from CTV Edmonton remotely. There was an assistant helping me in person, however I was essentially looking into a standalone TV camera. When my earpiece said “you’re live” my stomach went up nearly into my throat and I was bug-eyed.
Prior to this “4 peaks” event I never had any media interview experience. Thanks to my friend Lee Solway for sharing a blog post with local media, the media ball got rolling. I ended up having two newspaper interviews, three radio interviews (two live) and a TV interview! During these experiences I felt totally out of my comfort zone and was nervous, however I am very grateful to have had them.
Crag and Canyon article (local Banff newspaper) – Aug 19
CTV interview – Aug 24
MountainFM pre-recorded interview – Aug 24
AM 630 CHED Edmonton interview (I’m on between 19:20-20:26 and 23:10-35:02) – Aug 28
AM 630 CHED Edmonton interview (I’m on between 34:27 and 42:04) – Sep 3
Crag and Canyon article (local Banff newspaper) – Sep 9