While most retirees are winding down in their golden years, an 80-year-old Rocky View County resident is ramping up his activity, and recently completed a 6.6-kilometre (km) hike to the top of Prairie Mountain in Kananaskis.
The out-and-back trail near Bragg Creek takes an average of three-and-a-half hours to complete and is popular with hikers and bird watchers alike year-round. The hiking route is described as “moderately challenging” according to AllTrails.com.
But to Peter Errmann, it was a walk in the park.
“It wasn’t [challenging.] I was quite surprised,” he said of his December trek.
Errmann is part of a group of outdoor enthusiasts between 60 and 85 years old. Dubbed “The Mountain Manics,” they each go out weekly and complete a hiking excursion, bike ride, or ski day to stay in shape whilst enjoying the great outdoors.
“I go out with them and we do our best to keep up with the young guys that are 70,” he said. “I go out weekly with my group of friends but that’s not enough. You can’t really stay in top shape if you go out once a week – you have to do it two or three times.”
The retiree lives on an acreage in northwest Rocky View County and due to its proximity to Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, often goes on solo hiking trips and bike rides a few times each week to ensure he remains in good physical health.
He completed the Prairie Mountain hike with his daughter Amy Errmann and her partner, who were visiting for the holidays from New Zealand, to commemorate a trip he and Amy did together when she was just eight years old.
“When I was eight years old, my dad told me if I made it to the top of Prairie Mountain that I would be on the front page of a newspaper,” Amy shared. “Well, that was a lie, but I made it to the top.”
According to Errmann’s version of the story, about halfway up the mountain, which is about 700 vertical metres to the top, Amy remarked she was bored and wanted to turn around.
“I thought, ‘Well, you’re not tired... how do I get you up there?’” he recalled.
So, he told Amy if she made it to the top of the mountain, he would have the feat published in the newspaper.
“Because you’re so young, you’re probably the youngest hiker ever,” he said to his daughter.
Apparently, the allure of front-page fame was just the motivation Amy needed because she hiked up the rest of the trail quite easily. But once the father and daughter duo reached the top, Errmann thought better of his promise.
“It’s maybe not the right thing to have her go up there for the reason to be famous and have her picture taken and be made an admired person,” he reasoned.
“I explained to her, ‘You achieved something that’s really great. You should do that for personal reasons, just to prove to yourself that you did your best but not to make it a show.’”
The young girl agreed with her father and went on to become a “real outdoor girl” embarking on many adventures – the biggest of which was moving to New Zealand, according to Errmann.
“Before COVID, I visited her in New Zealand and we spent a whole month hiking together and that was just wonderful,” he said.
He added due to public health restrictions and bans on travelling during the pandemic, that was the last time he saw his daughter in person until her trip home in 2022.
“Last year was the first time in two and a half years that we saw her again and we did a hike together in May. Then she went back to New Zealand and came back with a boyfriend... and we did this hike together, the three of us. [Prairie Mountain] is a place that holds us together a bit.”
According to Amy, this time around, she flipped the script, telling her father if he made it up to the top of the mountain, she would get him in the newspaper. The senior raced to the summit, giving the young hikers a run for their money.
Though this wasn’t Errmann’s first time up Prairie Mountain (he's climbed to the top about 20 times before), he said he was motivated to see if he could still do it at his current age.
“I was trying to see if I could still do that, but I go out alone quite a few times and I didn’t really want to do that trip by myself,” he explained.
The trio climbed the 700 metres up to the top of the mountain and then took the far side down, which is twice as long as coming back the same way, according to Errmann, who said the group encountered deep snow and maneuvered winter mountain terrain.
Errmann is no stranger to rough terrain. He was born in east Germany during the Second World War. He never saw his father, who was captured and sent to Russia, where he was imprisoned for five years after the war. In 1950, his father came back to Germany where Errmann was living with his mother.
“At that time there was already an “Iron Curtain” that divided the communists from the West,” he recalled.
The family soon crossed over to west Germany where they had a better way of life, recalled Errmann. He later met his wife in Switzerland and the two determined to have more freedom, moved to Canada.
The couple first moved to Winnipeg in 1974 before settling in Prince George, B.C. Later, in 1987, they moved to Calgary.
“I got a job offer in Calgary and we moved everything to Calgary and I built my house here. We’re happy. We looked for some land. We always wanted to have an acreage in Canda - that was our first priority,” he said. “That’s the best thing that ever happened.”
Since moving to Calgary, Errmann has spent much of his leisure time and retirement years enjoying the Rocky Mountains.
“I always like to go to the outdoors and since then I’ve been in the mountains and that’s why I went up so many times – I've been here quite a long time,” he said.
His advice for others looking to embark on the Prairie Mountain trek is to start where you are, no matter what shape you are in, and be persistent.
“If you can only walk 500 metres, go and do that. Don’t think you’re not good enough – always do what you’re able to do,” he said. “And then you can be glad that you’ve done it. You don’t need to do what others do. If you do the best that you do, you have done 100 per cent.
“If I read of somebody who climbed Mount Everest at 80, I would say excellent for him, but I don’t feel inferior.”