Ha Ling Peak in the Canadian Rockies is one of the most-climbed, looked at and hiked mountains in Alberta.
It has a steep north face and a sloping south side. It’s the most westward summit of the Ehagy Nakoda Range south of Canmore.
It has long been known that Ha Ling was named in honour of the first man to climb it in 1896, but few people know why he climbed it.
Jerry Auld, Canmore climber and historian, had always wondered what day of the week Ha Ling climbed the 2,407-metre mountain on.
He assumed it was on a Sunday, the day of rest, but his curiosity led him to discover something very different, it was climbed on a Thursday.
Auld explained: “Ha Ling came from Hunan province, which is very mountainous. The east, south and west sides of the province are surrounded by mountains and hills, such as the Wuling Mountains to the northwest, the Xuefeng Mountains to the west, the Nanling Mountains to the south, and the Luoxiao Mountains to the east.
“And then I found out that the date in October corresponded to the ninth day of the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Since nine is a masculine number, heavy in the ‘yang’ energy, this date was auspicious for an abundance of energy, and was the so-called double-yang festival. It’s more commonly referred to as the Double Ninth Festival.
“There is an old legend in Hunan that the festival celebrates the occasion that a monster appeared in the province in pre-history and was wreaking devastation.
“A hero told everyone to climb to the top of a nearby peak for safety until he was able to dispatch the monster. So, ever after, on the Double Yang festival, young men would climb mountains to commemorate the feat.”
Double Yang may have originated as a day to drive away danger, but like the Chinese New Year, over time it became a day of celebration.
In contemporary times it is an occasion for hiking up mountains, but climbing races are popular, the winners get to wear a wreath made of zhuyu.
To protect against danger, it is customary to climb a high mountain, drink chrysanthemum liquor and wear the zhuyu plant. Both chrysanthemum and zhuyu are considered to have cleansing qualities.
“This was an old tradition that came over to Canada with the Chinese workers, and that is what Ha Ling was doing.” said Auld.
“It wasn’t the bet that started the whole deal, but the fact that the whites couldn’t believe he was going to do such an asinine thing (in the eyes of the whites, anyway).
“Ha Ling said, ‘Sure I’m gonna climb it. We do it all the time, ya wanna bet?’ And off he went. Anyway, it is interesting to me that some of the deeper history of this mountain wasn’t recorded since it was only written by the white observers at the time, who probably did not understand the Chinese traditions and, in fact, despised the Chinese as inferior.
“But in a bigger way, there is a real possibility that the act of mountain climbing in Canmore might have had some origins in far off China. Best we not lose that part of our history.”