An ice axe is Mary Woodward’s favourite piece of outdoor gear. “I know if I’m taking my ice axe, it’s going to be a good day,” she laughs. “I know it’s not going to be a Sunday stroll. It’s going to be worth it. I like bagging peaks and going as high as possible.”
She loves the outdoors and being fit has been a by-product of her outdoor quests as is her healthy appetite and, seemly, her ready smile.
The North Shore resident is approaching her 80th birthday on May 29. Born in Canterbury, England, she’s been travelling all of her life.
When she was single, she moved to Kimberley as a nurse with the plan of learning to ski while she saved money to travel to Europe. Once she married her husband Bill, they moved to Arrowhead to follow his career in forestry.
She has “always liked the outdoors and sports,” and her three boys were into ski racing when they lived in Prince George.
She likes hiking because every time is different but Mt. Loki, Jumbo, and Kootenay and Valhalla Parks are on her quick list of favourites. Two falls ago she hiked through the Rockies visiting Yoho and explored Revelstoke trails on her return home. “Where ever we are, we seek out a mountain.”
She joined the Kootenay Mountaineering Club when she and Bill moved to Nelson some 30 years ago. That led to many friendships and good days in the mountains. On a normal ski season, Mary skies 80 days, but this year due to health issues she only skied 32.
Mary’s love for skiing led to her being featured in Sherpa Cinema’s Ski Bums Never Die in 2011, a short film about skiing at Whitewater with the local Backside Group. Things changed on the hill once the triple Glory Chair was installed but she likes the newer lift as there are fewer line ups.
As for skiing off piste, she skis a bit of backcountry and never did mind the walking and hitchhiking that was involved with skiing the back side. That film gave her a day of cat skiing at Valhalla Powdercats which she savoured with her family two years ago. Her sons and grandchildren joined her, making history as the youngest and oldest clients at 13 and 77.
She looks forward to the annual camping trip with the mountaineering club that will be based out of Marble Pass this summer for one week in the backcountry, flown in by helicopter complete with a cook tent and a cook. After a day of hiking, hikers return to a hot dinner ready for them at base camp.
Mount Temple’s 3,544 metres is the highest peak she’s climbed and Mt. Loki, a very distinctive peak rising above the east shore of Kootenay Lake, is one of Mary’s favourites. “It took me a while to get there. There’s a bit of scrambling and it is a bit different.”
Mary likes crossing glaciers and reaching the point just before needing to rope up.
“I have my nervous moments but I love the random obscure places which require orientating and route finding. I’d learn to mountaineer if I started again.”
Two of Mary’s sons and her five grandchildren live in the Nelson area and she feels fortunate that she gets to spend so much time with her family, including hiking and skiing together. “We all like mountains in our family.”
She likes to keep her gear as light as possible. She wears full leather hiking boots to protect against all the rocks, carries a first aid kit, and keeps a journal of her hikes.
Her family surprised her on her 70th birthday by compiling her hiking journals and photos into a 240 page book that reads like a picturesque guide book. The dates of her journal entries show Mary up in the alpine every second or third day from April to November, and the alpine photo theme is littered with snow patches, rocky peaks with turquoise tarns nearby, and a trusty pair of gators.
She snowshoes in between hiking and ski season but anything more than three days at home and she needs to get out for some exercise. “I’ve never gone to the gym to stay in shape.”
Like many outdoor enthusiasts, she does have souvenir injuries and scars like a broken wrist from a tumble hiking and a broken leg complete with a plate and seven screws from a skiing mishap at Lake Louise.
At her home near Kootenay Lake photos of her three sons as children and adults by the lake show the passage of time. Pictures of Himalayan peaks and loaded pack yaks from her trekking adventure to Nepal in 2001 have a place on the wall as well.
Her big smile and vibrant eyes have caught the attention of many people who encounter and share journeys with Mary. Her husband Bill showed an enormous handmade get well card full of colourful messages and signatures from all the employees at Whitewater Ski Resort wishing her well and thanking her for her inspirational enthusiasm. Living close to Kootenay Lake outside of Nelson, as much as she enjoys boating, given the choice between hiking and boating, she’ll always chose hiking, “hands down.”
“I didn’t know I was going to do all this; only learning how to ski was pre-planned.”