It had been a big day. After a false start in the morning due to James having to deal with some urgent paperwork, we didn't get to our climb until 1pm. We were climbing Moonlight (100m, WI4+) that day, a spectacular ice fall in Kananaskis County about 50km outside of Canmore.
We had planned to meet up with some of James's friends earlier that morning, however the paperwork gods had something to say about that. Miraculously we ran into them at the Evan-Thomas Creek car park as they prepared to climb a long WI2 route six hundred meters from our objective.
The three and a half kilometer hike in was beautiful. Temperatures were cool and crisp without being overbearing. We chatted candidly on the way in and wished each other well on our respective climbs.
Moonlight is steep from the get go and is rather intimidating. However due to its popularity, the frequent bashing of the ice leaves an almost continuous line of pockets to hook your tools into and place your crampons in. It helped relieve the nerves somewhat.
The climb went well. We didn't move fast and had a very enjoyable day, topping out around 6pm. Rappelling down in the dark we hiked back to the car, picked up some Indian food for dinner and got back to our hotel room around 10:30pm. Tired yet elated we packed out bags ready for the next day's adventure.
That is where our good day ended and the adventure we weren't looking for began.
Sometime between midnight and 1am I awoke to noise and an orange glow. I immediately jumped out of bed, wearing nothing but my underwear and shot out onto the front balcony. Another guest already outside yelled, "Fire! Get out!". Sure enough it all clicked.
Back in our room we saw flames through the back window. I grabbed the first jacket I could, I thin mid layer, James threw me a blanket and we headed downstairs to the car park. Looking back, we could see the flames flaring above the roof of the hotel.
Ushered into the office we settled down for what was going to be a long night. Seeing those flames I thought that there was no possible way they could contain the fire. Surely it would consume the entire building.
Everything I have for the Vertical Year journey was in that room. I didn't have my phone, wallet, passport, glasses, clothing or my climbing gear. My heart sank as I started to think through what it would mean to loose all of that not even three weeks into the journey.
Almost as quickly I let that go. I had to. The fire fighters were here and there was nothing more I could do accept let them do their job and hope for the best possible outcome. You can only ever deal with what is in front of you with the information and knowledge you have at the time. I am reminded of that lesson all the time in climbing and perhaps it helped me deal with what I was facing then.
About an hour later we were shuffled off to another hotel down the road. Told that we could return in the morning to hopefully recover what was left of our possessions. Though we were both wide awake by the time we got to our new room around 2:30am, James and I crashed hard and slept through to 8am.
The next morning we headed back to the Drake around midday. We were told the fire and insurance inspectors were still collecting evidence from the room where the fire started and the two adjacent. Our room was room 28, immediately adjacent to room 29 where the blaze originated from.
Just after 2pm we had a chat to the fire inspector. By this time we had learnt that the fire had been contained to the balcony of room 29 and in all likelihood our possessions would be relatively undamaged. To say I was relieved would be an understatement.
I asked Mike, the fire inspector how they had managed to contain a blaze where the flames were already exceeding the height of the roof. I am not a fire expert however I understand how quickly fires spread. Particularly in a structure made of dry pine wood on a windy night.
Mike explained that the fire crew was backing the engine into the station, returning from another job when they received the call. This meant that they had all the kit on and were ready to go. Dramatically reducing their response time.
Mike continued to say that if this had not been the case, it would have likely taken them another 5-7 minutes to get on scene. In all likelihood this additional time would have meant the building would have been lost. Along with all our possessions and potentially with people inside.
Their quick and decisive action saved lives. It is why I am able to write this blog tonight on my very own laptop. It is the reason why I still have my clothes, identity, climbing gear and am able to continue along this journey. I am incredibly indebted to them and thankful we are not currently faced with a very different reality.
I do not know what caused the fire to start and though I am curious, it is not important to me. What is important is that the fire inspectors can identify the cause so they can work towards implementing strategies to prevent it from re-occurring again.
For my part, I am just happy that tomorrow I can go climbing again.