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It was poet William Blake [1757-1827] who wrote, “Great things happen when men and mountains meet.”

Let’s change that to when women and mountains meet.

On Thanksgiving Day 2018 — when Canadians were in church or at home preparing a special meal, three women from the Campbellton, New Brunswick area set off to accomplish something they’d previously considered impossible: reach the two crosses on Sugarloaf Mountain.

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The crosses are a prominent fixture on the 1,000 foot high mountain.

It was no walk in the woods.

In a sense, Rose Beek, Monique Boudreau and Gina Menzies climbed the Sugarloaf to explain who they are.

They had two goals: pay their respects to Dorvil and Lottie Ramsay, the young sisters who fell to their deaths on the mountain in 1924 … and to make a point.

Two of the climbers were cancer survivors. Their message was that there are many mountains to conquer in life and cancer can be one of them.

The women also wanted to give thanks for the support they’ve received on their journey.

I guess there’s no better time to do that than on Thanksgiving Day.

It’s always precarious to mention women’s ages, but I will anyway. The gals were 69, 64 and 45. I might add, they all look young. [And that, friends, is a ‘recovery.’]

Here’s the story of a unique venture on a beautiful fall day in Northern New Brunswick …

[Click on any of the images to enlarge them]


Gina Menzies

I accompanied the women, but the climb wasn’t my idea. It was the brainchild of Gina Menzies, a worker at the Sugarloaf Manor retirement and nursing home in Campbellton.

In the summer of 2018, I received an email from Gina asking if I’d show her how to get to the crosses. I had been to the crosses several times, and had written about them. [At the very end of this post you’ll find a link to a cool story about Sugarloaf Mountain’s crosses.]

Gina explained that reaching the crosses had been on her ‘bucket list’ for a long time, adding that just earlier this year she tried to get there — on her own, no less — but turned back after she became frightened and discouraged. That’s understandable.

But Gina wanted to overcome something she considered to be very difficult, and a bit dangerous as well. And so, her email.

There’s hardly a soul in Northern New Brunswick who hasn’t seen the crosses but few, especially women, have actually stood alongside them.

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Gina Menzies

I found Gina’s email to be inspirational and so I responded, “Sure thing! … let’s make it happen.”

Note: Unlike the path along the spine of the mountain that leads to the top, there is no safe route to the crosses. If one isn’t careful, the climb can be risky. I’m talking about scrapes and perhaps a sprained ankle or a broken bone or two, but nothing worse than that.


Make That Three Climbers…

I mentioned Gina’s goal to Rose Beek, a former classmate from Campbellton Composite High. She revealed it was also her dream to reach the crosses. Rose then invited her good friend, Monique Boudreau, who gave the plan a thumbs up as well.

All three women grew up seeing the crosses on Sugarloaf Mountain but never thought they’d actually reach them. Perhaps many in Campbellton dream of seeing the monuments up close, hard to say.

We set off by scooting across Highway 11 [part of the Trans Canada Highway] where cars and transport trucks whiz by at the speed of light. It’s Canada’s autobahn, I tell ya.

When we reached a short path that led to the Terry Fox Trail I joked that crossing the road was probably the most dangerous part of our hike.

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The Terry Fox Trail

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All set to go! Monique Boudreau and Rose Beek with packsacks, water, flowers and cameras.


The Climb

From the Terry Fox Trail, we took a small path that cut through a forest to the base of the mountain.

It’s here where we made our way up a rockslide. Judging by all the moss on the rocks, the only rolling stones in Campbellton were those on CKNB.

Thing is, when you’re at the base of the mountain you cannot see the crosses because of the trees. But if you veer slightly to the left, you should hit them. But go straight up and you’ll meet a large rock face. Avoid that.

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Tip: Watch your footing on the rock slide. Remember to step near the centre of the large boulders to help prevent them from shifting. A landslide could be messy.

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This isn’t the greatest selfie, I know. Behind the Author is Rose who began our climb by blowing loudly on a whistle. “What’s that for?” I asked. “I’m scaring away the bears,” she said. I shot back, “Don’t do that! I want to take photos of them.”

I watched in awe as the girls scrambled up the mountain, such was their excitement. “This is not a race,” I reminded them … “take time to rest.” What I was really saying was that I was out of shape and I needed to rest myself.

Monique had already worked that out. She quietly told her friends to “slow down because Byron is old.” Funny, but true I guess. I turn 70 in May 2019.

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While it’s said that mountains are demanding places that don’t allow for mistakes, the hike to the crosses is fairly safe — provided one rests and uses common sense.

Wait. If you have a weak heart, then it’s a different story. Put it another way, the climb is a good cardiovascular workout.

Something else to watch out for: dead trees and branches. Try not to grab onto them because they won’t hold your weight and you may go for a tumble. Ask Rose about that. Another thing. It’s best not to climb alone … and when you do climb, take a cell phone and make sure the battery is charged.

It really doesn’t take long to reach the destination, half an hour perhaps.


Finally, the Crosses!

Up and up we climbed. Suddenly the main cross came into view, prompting Monique to stop, position herself against a tree and snap a picture …

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With the main cross in sight, the girls scrambled full speed ahead to reach it. They were some excited.

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Rose Beek joins the Author at the base of the main cross.

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Monique Boudreau climbs to the second, smaller cross, perhaps 50 feet up from the main cross.

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Rose Beek … another check-mark for her bucket list.

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Monique Boudreau, Gina Menzies and Rose Beek at the base of the main cross.

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The women brought a bouquet of flowers to honour the Ramsay girls. With the help of two screws, some wire and well-placed fissures, the artificial flowers were attached to the rock face.

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Rose holding the flowers, enjoying the moment and contemplating the beauty of the area.

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The Author wonders if the flowers will survive the winter storms.


The View …

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Standing at base of the main cross, here’s a view of the East end of Campbellton and the Restigouche River.

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The Author and Rose make their way down the mountain. Another climbing tip: wear proper footwear.

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No need to say ‘cheese.’ A beaming Rose, Gina and Monique back safely on the Terry Fox Trail. Tucked away in that ‘hard drive’ on their shoulders is one special memory they’ll cherish forever.


Facebook … and reaction

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Photo credits:  Monique Boudreau, Rose Beek, Gina Menzies and Byron Christopher.

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “Giving Thanks

  1. Thanks Byron for being our guide and mentor. It meant a lot to us to be able to reach the crosses and enjoy this adventure safely.

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  2. Ladies, all I can say is WOW. What a Thanksgiving you did!

    As a teenager I could see those crosses from where I lived.

    Many blessings to you for your recovery from cancer. Byron, thank you so much for this story!

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  3. Wow, this is a nice story. Kudos to all of them.

    They’re braver than me — and much more fit than I am for sure to complete this endeavour.

    There’s something to be said for crossing things off one’s bucket list. Something we seniors do that our parents would have never ever considered.

    Growing old gracefully yet fiercely … not conceding that grey hair means a dead brain or a loss of the zest for a vibrant, fulfulling life until it’s time for another journey.

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