The land­scape’s lure is fraught with dan­ger

We love our wa­ter­falls — let’s keep them safe for ev­ery­one

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT -

I’ve writ­ten be­fore about my younger brother, Peter, who died along with a cou­ple of friends when they ran off the es­carp­ment at Ball’s Falls. I think of him a lot, of course, I’ve missed him since his death. But he’s come to mind more lately with the chal­lenge our new-found sta­tus as Water­fall Cap­i­tal of the World presents to way­ward walk­ers and their risky be­hav­iour on slip­pery sur­faces.

I’d never been to Ball’s Falls un­til many years af­ter my brother’s death. I went with a friend. We ex­plored the area up­stream from the falls, fol­low­ing it un­til it came to the es­carp­ment precipice.

Across the stream was a rusted chain-link fence, spoil­ing the view and clearly not there when my brother went over the edge.

We found a place to climb the fence, clam­bered over and scaled the slope down to the bot­tom. I’ve been climb­ing the es­carp­ment in some way or an­other since my child­hood. Whereas once I played with friends in the Red Hill Val­ley on our many hikes to Al­bion Falls, now I walk along the trails and climb the stairs.

I gath­ered some stone and built a lit­tle cairn to his mem­ory, tucked over in a space that would with­stand time, and we climbed back up and over the fence and went home.

Years later, I was in Scot­land — not to climb Ben Ne­vis, the high­est peak in Scot­land, but I did, be­cause, well, it was there. I wasn’t alone. There was a char­ity chal­lenge hap­pen­ing. The idea was to see how many times you could go up and down the moun­tain in one day.

It took me all day to go up and down once and when I got back to my room, I was too tired to even eat, my legs felt like rub­ber. But I was passed, sev­eral times, by groups of the same peo­ple. Run­ning that day was a boat race where peo­ple sailed from peak to peak, climb­ing each one be­fore head­ing off to the next. Ben Ne­vis was the day’s stop. The place was packed.

There were also two he­li­copter res­cues, which, of course, stopped peo­ple in their tracks as they mar­velled at the skill of the res­cuers and chas­tised the fool­hardy who ven­tured off the clearly beaten trail to at­tempt a short­cut through de­ceiv­ing ter­rain.

The res­cues were re­ported on the nightly news and dis­cussed at the din­ner ta­ble with lo­cals who con­demned, with no mercy, those who would tempt their fate on the moun­tain, its weather un­pre­dictable, the bu­colic land­scape with sheep graz­ing the green slopes seem­ingly safe and easy to man­age. One woman had par­tic­u­larly harsh words for the dan­ger such fools put the res­cuers in, as they risked their lives hang­ing out of he­li­copters and heav­ing bod­ies to­ward safety.

I’ve been res­cued my­self, car­ried off a ski hill in the Rock­ies, twice in fact, but not through dan­ger­ous ski­ing. And there were times when I was hik­ing in the Rock­ies when I thought, if I don’t move, I’m go­ing to have to be car­ried off this moun­tain in a he­li­copter. The im­age fu­elled me as I climbed higher and higher. The chal­lenge met, I reached the top. Com­ing down was al­ways harder.

There is no doubt that get­ting out and into na­ture is a good thing for peo­ple. I’ve just re­turned from the Yukon and I couldn’t soak up enough of the trees, sky, wa­ter, rocks and just plain un­in­ter­rupted wilder­ness for as far as the eye can see.

I stood at the edge of sev­eral nat­u­ral tourist at­trac­tions, with noth­ing to stop me from fall­ing to my death ex­cept for my re­spect of the place I was stand­ing in and the dan­ger I know that comes from a slip­pery rock or a twisted root that trips your toes.

Our wa­ter­falls are not in the grand ma­jes­tic land­scape of the Yukon, where peo­ple are primed to be on guard and who go there for the sense of wilder­ness.

Our wa­ter­falls are con­tained within a large ur­ban area, where peo­ple look out for cars, not bears.

They are too ac­ces­si­ble to those who have no re­spect for the dan­ger the es­carp­ment presents.

We cre­ated these wa­ter­falls. We need to de­velop them as a tourist at­trac­tion in a way that al­lows peo­ple to ex­plore them safely, maybe by cre­at­ing view­ing plat­forms to ac­com­mo­date those ig­no­rant of the dan­ger na­ture presents.

But we don’t need any more rusted chain­link fences, that’s for sure.

Mar­garet Shkimba is a writer who lives in Hamil­ton. She can be reached at men­r­va­ or you can “friend” her on Face­book and fol­low her on Twit­ter (@men­r­va­sofia)


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.