Moraine Lake, early morning – a perfect start to the weekend?

Maybe! It really was rather early, certainly earlier than intended. We’d dashed out to Lake Louise after work last Friday, with fingers crossed that the forecast for Friday evening and Saturday was accurate – sunshine and warm for September temperatures.

Quick, before Fall arrives!
Quick, before Fall arrives!

A chance to have a pleasant night or two in the tent before the chillier Fall nights arrive. The weekend following Labour Day has always been pretty quiet, so we didn’t bother with reservations…Hmm. We should have! Only one night was available, despite our pleading. (Memo to self – always make a reservation, even after Labour Day – and particularly if that has been a rainy holiday – because everyone appears to have the same plan).

Only one night? Oh well...
Only one night? Oh well…

We had hoped to have a lazy Saturday morning, nothing more strenuous than coffee by the fire, followed by a shortish PM hike up to the Lake Agnes tea house. Then get up early on Sunday to paddle on Moraine Lake before heading home. The tea house hike had to be abandoned for another day, and we started early on Saturday, packing up the tent and into the car before the sun had hit the campground. Might as well get to Moraine a little ahead of the bus parties…

Get here early!
Get here early!

Well. No buses, but when we arrived at the parking lot, it was over half full, and before 8am. Huh? High summer, maybe, but into September after the long weekend? This was not good! You can’t rent a canoe before 10am, so we strolled along the lakeshore trail, soon leaving most people back at the lot and near the cafe and store. The relative quiet restored me back to my usual chipper self (it can be hard to tell when I’m chipper, in truth) as we enjoyed the cool autumnal air in the shade of the trees, and marvelled at the clear reflections in the water.

It'll warm up shortly...
It’ll warm up shortly…
Upside down?
Upside down?
Right way up?
Right way up?

It is such a beautiful part of the Canadian Rockies, and well worth getting up early for. Arriving to see the sun come over the top of the peaks is quite wonderful. (Ma PlaidCamper experienced the sun up there a few years ago. She loved it, but has never quite forgotten how cold it was, even on a bright July day. She bought mittens and a toque from the gift store, wore them for an hour or two, and reminds me she hasn’t worn them since returning to the UK. A lovely souvenir, I like to think).

Cold, but clear!
Cold, but clear! You might need mittens…

Being later in the year, we didn’t see the sun crest the peaks in the early morning from the shore, but from our canoe, just after 10am. Pretty much the first canoe onto the water, and away we paddled, back down to where we’d been strolling earlier, but this time in glorious new sunshine, the rays bouncing off the water.

View from a canoe - aim for the sunny patch!
View from a canoe – aim for the sunny patch!

From chilly to warm in scant minutes, and it more than made up for a crowded campground, only one night, and an earlier than planned start to the day. A sunny morning in a canoe makes for a sunny PlaidCamper. A few hours of Canadian outdoor delight to start the weekend – probably the perfect start to a Saturday – and so we have our fingers crossed we can get out there for another weekend or two before the snow flies.

imageThanks for reading. Please feel free to write a comment or share a story about a perfect weekend start, real or imagined, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Saturday mornings should be like this!
Saturday mornings should be like this!

Little Bear…

…cabin! I know, last week it was teddy bear cholla, this week, Little Bear cabin, so next week? Goldilocks?

Three bears would love to live here
Three bears would love to live here

It won’t be about bears, real or otherwise, I promise. But back to this week! Little Bear cabin is where we stayed recently on the return leg of our road trip. Just outside Bozeman, Montana, this cabin has to be about the most perfect cabin imaginable. Or at least, in my imagination. Original, yet in a good state of repair? Yup! Isolated, but not too hard to get to? Certainly! Wonderful views on all sides? Definitely! Less than $35 a night to rent it? Unbelievably, yes!

Isolated yet reachable
Isolated yet reachable

For less than many a campground fee, you can stay in a pretty as a picture cabin. Keep warm by the fire pit in decent evening weather, or remain warm by the wood stove inside during less friendly weather. Does it have modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and wifi? Nope! But if you’re ok with an outhouse, and can make do with a solar shower, and don’t mind your beer being a little warmer towards the end of your stay, then you’ll do just fine up at Little Bear. When we got back, I sent my brother a couple of pictures, and an invite to join us next time. I do understand that places like these aren’t for everybody…

The
The “shower” tree (be honest, isn’t that better than an indoor bathroom? In summertime anyway)

If you’re more like my brother, you might find it a struggle. His definition of outdoors is being more than 30 minutes from pizza delivery, and he’d prefer his bathrooms to be attached to the main building. And for the building to have more than one room, and appliances that require a remote. (I’ve tried several times to get him along on a camping trip, but to no avail. I’d even let him bring a remote or two as a comforter, so he can adjust gently…)

You could easily reheat a pizza
You could easily reheat a pizza

To be fair, he did join me for a few nights in a cabin some years back. We were visiting another brother in WV, and I may have oversold how comfortable the cabin was. It did have an indoor bathroom and a rudimentary kitchen – with a real fridge. Luxury! But I might have skipped over the heat, humidity, bugs and mice part. He was flying in from the UK, so the look on his face when he arrived was priceless. As was the squealing and shoe throwing and interesting vocabulary throughout that first night when he confronted the mouse. And the second night. And third. Happy memories…He’s a really good sport, but has a long memory, and, as brothers should, he holds a grudge. So camping likely won’t be happening any time soon, or a trip to Little Bear. Oh well!

A wood shed is way better than a television!
A wood shed is way better than a television!

We weren’t plagued by mice, the bug count was low, and the beer remained tolerably cool. The days drifted by delightfully – daydreaming, have a beer, reading, have a beer, writing, have a beer, dozing, and daydreaming some more. Maybe even have a beer. Idle and not so idle chit chat; a wonderful chance to while away some time free of any outside influences or concerns.

Maybe even have a beer
Maybe even have a beer

Thank you Little Bear – I honestly do believe that we all should have a Little Bear in our lives, with the chance to truly unwind and breathe deeply. It doesn’t have to be on top of a mountain in Montana, but if it is, well, so much the better!

imageThanks for reading! As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Chlorophyll camping in the rain at Green Point…

Summertime camping in a rainforest on the coast of the Canadian Pacific Northwest sounds exactly what it is – simply delightful – but what this old PlaidCamper really didn’t think about when reserving the campground many months ago, was the rain part of rainforest. Green Point campground, situated beautifully on a steep rise overlooking the Pacific, is also nestled in the fringes of a lush green forest – rainforest! 

It’s a rainforest!  

In recent years, most of our summertime camping has been in the deserts of SW USA, and our spring and fall camping at sites on the eastern side of the Rockies in Alberta. Generally, these locations are dry, often hot, and in the case of the Rockies, only an hour or two from home if heavy rain threatens to wash away the tent. (We did once abandon the campground at Lake Louise in early September, when the promised light rain showers became hours and hours of torrential deluge – small rivers were flowing past the tent, and if the grizzlies are paddling two by two, you know it’s time to go home). 

Don’t go home…

When we were approaching Green Point and the first few drops spattered the windshield, we weren’t too concerned. Our stay in the area had been dry and warm up to that point, and a little drizzle wasn’t going to be a problem…(we should have paid attention to the information at the botanical gardens, something along the lines of “autumn is wet, winter very wet, springtime it rains, and summers aren’t dry.” Annually, Tofino gets over three meters of rain! On some measures, two meters annually qualifies for rainforest, so Clayoquot has a super rainforest!) 

Moisture

We weren’t really that unprepared for camping in the rain, it’s just usually rain is a cue for us to not go camping. So the rain that started as we put up the tent, continued as we rigged up a tarp shelter, and did not stop that afternoon when we hiked along the beach, was outside our usual comfort zone. Still, with the tarp, decent waterproof gear in the backpack and a natty new toque, we managed just fine. Although wet, being summer it was not too cold, especially when hiking. 

Overlooking the Pacific (honest)

The trees collect the mist that drifts over from the beach, and all the moisture slowly drips and drops to the forest floor. Your camping soundtrack of rain pattering on the tarp and tent roof is soothing – and it sounds far wetter than it really is, with the dripping continuing long after any actual rainfall. Stepping out from under the tarp, we were surprised again and again by it not raining – or barely raining – when we thought it was! 

Greenery

All the moisture contributes to the creation of absolutely beautiful forests. The shades of green are numerous, and even the humid air seems to have a greenish tint. The air tastes and smells a verdant green, if that doesn’t sound too strange. Chlorophyll! Moss cloaks and hangs from the trees, and lichens cling to trunks. Small bushes, broad leaved plants and fern fronds crowd the forest floor, which itself is a rich decaying mulch, satisfyingly springy underfoot. Water, water, water, and growth, growth, growth in a delicate and unique ecosystem. 

Delicate and intricate

I’ve had to rethink my general dislike of rain, at least in settings as spectacular as the Clayoquot biosphere. At the information level of thinking, it is easy to understand that rain is important, but experiencing the natural wonder, by camping in a rainforest for a few days, has made me appreciate this precious resource in a far more vivid and tangible way. Knowing something is not the same as experiencing and then knowing it a little better. Funny how I sometimes forget the obvious from the comfort and distance of my modern life. Maybe we should all have a rainforest experience – go so far as to insist it is a mandatory part of a child’s education – then serious and real conservation efforts might be mainstream rather than marginal…Enough of that, school’s out and I’m on vacation.

Did I already say “green”?

It didn’t rain the entire time we were camping, and in fact our final day was a beauty – blue skies and an empty beach to wander along just a few minutes from the tent. 

Overlooking the Pacific!

I probably still wouldn’t go camping locally if the forecast calls for rain, but I would certainly camp in a NW rainforest again! 

Rainforest cooled…

Are you a happy camper in the rain – or would it take a rainforest to entice you?! Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

The desert is beckoning and we just can’t resist…

I’m generally an undemonstrative OldPlaidCamper – I say that I’m smiling on the inside – but I will confess to being and even appearing rather excited this week. Why? We have arranged to visit Joshua Tree this coming summer! I love this place! We met up with old friends there a couple of summers ago, and will be meeting them again in August. Why do I love this particular desert so much? Is it because the scenery is amazing?

We’d seen Joshua trees in pictures (and on album covers…) but those images did not prepare us for how strangely unique they are. Each one is so very different; they have an almost alien beauty. They grow in a desert full of rocky outcrops and sandy stretches, with mountains in the far distance – these are landscapes you just don’t see every day.

 Quite remarkable…

I will confess that we weren’t camping on our last stay. We’d been on the road for about a month, a trip from Alberta, zigzagging down to Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and over to Joshua Tree, mixing up a few nights in a tent with a few nights in a cabin. A campground owner took pity on us in Needles, renting us a cabin that had a hardworking air conditioning unit. If you’ve ever been through Needles, CA in the summer, you’ll forgive us the air con unit…hottest place I’ve never camped! Anyway, no tent for us in Joshua Tree, rather this lovely little house perched on a rise above the town and overlooking the desert:

 Mrs PlaidCamper always finds great vacation rentals!

 Lovely vacation home!

Our jobs mean we take our vacations in the summer, a time of year that is off-season down in the desert. The high temperatures were fine provided we stayed in the shade, kept hydrated, moved slowly, and used sunblock. The National Park and town were pretty quiet in terms of other visitors, and when we headed up into the park, either early in the morning or towards dusk, there were few people about. I’m not an artist or photographer, but these times of day were really special in terms of the quality of light, and it was easy to see why the area attracts artists. Scenery plus light equals spectacular!Pretty shades

Intense shades

I am so excited to be returning here. Maybe it was the heat, but we really slowed down and relaxed thoroughly, soaking up this amazing place. At night, the lack of light pollution afforded us tremendous views of the Milky Way – this August, maybe I’ll try taking a photo…

Next time, I’ll write a little more about our trip to Joshua Tree, and how it was almost a wilderness too far upon our arrival. (Don’t wait up, it’s not as exciting as it sounds). I know, it’s the header picture again. But this place, love it, love it, love it!

 It isn’t on fire or smouldering, just looks that way!

Have you visited Joshua Tree? Where’s the hottest place you almost camped? (I’m such a boy!) Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

A new Kananaskis campground (well, it was already there, just new to me)

Sometimes, undiscovered and new outdoor places can almost be in your own backyard! This was the case just last weekend for us. We stayed at a new – to me – campground, and it was a wonderful discovery.

Our short stay at the Tunnel Mountain campground just outside Banff a couple of weeks ago was enjoyable enough for the views and to try the new tent, but it maybe wasn’t the most peaceful of places. When I mentioned this to a colleague, she recommended Beaver Flat campground on the Elbow River in Kananaskis country. I’ll admit to being a bit doubtful, thinking that a site barely an hour from the city couldn’t possibly be tranquil. 

  The Elbow River – a little bit tranquil?

As is often the case with outdoor related items, I was wrong. Once again. The campground and surrounding area was absolutely delightful, and relatively uncrowded for a warm and sunny weekend. I got the impression that the folks we saw out and about – cyclists, campers, hikers, twitchers, photographers and all – were there for the quiet, and because there isn’t a Banff or a Canmore nearby. I love those mountain towns, but they can fill up fast…

  A quiet stretch of the Elbow

Our weekend patch of the Elbow valley was people quiet but teeming with wildlife – although we didn’t see anything much larger than this little guy: He was busy enough, so we backed away!

Being unfamiliar with the area, we didn’t wander too far, yet uncovered plenty of natural delights. A short ramble from the tent, we saw where beaver activity had created a series of small ponds with dams that provided lovely views:

  Industrious beavers nearby…

  A babbling brook

Several times, a pair of geese flew directly over our tent, heading for the pond pictured below – we saw this single goose bank in and land on the water, an impressive sight! The goose in this photo seemed quite despondent, calling frequently. We wondered, had it lost a mate, was it one of the pair we kept seeing?  A lonesome goose?

 Maybe…

There was plenty to indicate the presence of beavers:  

Didn’t see any beavers, but we did spy a small amphibian:  It was tiny!

Quite honestly, walking around and investigating the immediate surroundings, we didn’t get more than an hour from the tent yet really enjoyed our explorations. It was a welcome short break from the city, and a chance to recharge before the final few weeks of a busy school year.

  Come the evening, is there a better way to unwind?!

I’m so happy to have had the recommendation about where to camp out in Kananaskis, as it was such a pleasant place to spend a weekend. It’s early in the camping season here, and K-country does get busier as the weather warms up, so I’m passing on the recommendation: if you get the chance, head out to the Elbow valley and stay in one of the campgrounds sooner rather than later – you won’t regret it! You don’t have the enormously epic mountain scenery of the nearby national parks, instead it is gentler, yet still rugged, scenery.

 Old and plaid, and enjoying K-country!
I’m hoping the weather remains fine and we manage to return in the next week or two – there were some enticing trails to be explored…

Do you have a favourite camping spot, or a campground recommendation? Thanks for reading, please feel free to share or make a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

A new camping season and a new tent challenge – or is it just me?

Don’t you just love the first camping trip of the new season? 

Especially when you are trying out a new tent! Ah, a new tent, carefully shopped for and chosen wisely. Right weight and size? Check. Within budget? Check. Positive reviews? Check. Easy to put up and pack away? Well…let’s just say for me, in the past, this last part has involved a certain amount of blood, sweat, toil and tears. Being a grown man of a particular age, I don’t need to read instructions because I can figure things out with my innate logical reasoning abilities. Just ask Mrs PlaidCamper. She’d tell you about that time in Scotland…  The new tent looks secure from a distance…

The Scotland story? OK. We arrived at a campground just as it was getting dark and starting to rain. PlaidCamper Jr. was not quite ten months old, a happy camper in the making, but not at that precise moment. It might have been Junior’s tears, or my tears (and rather choice language) as I wrestled with a new tent in the increasingly blustery gloom, but rain or no rain, we drew a sizeable Scottish crowd there. By the end I think the Highland bush telegraph was really buzzing, and they were pouring in from the hillsides to watch the hapless Englishman. It was a bit like a scene from Braveheart, but more grisly. They all wanted to help I’m sure, but I think they realized there are times when it is best to leave well alone. Probably not my finest moment. The trip did get better, and Scotland (in the dry) is a beautiful place to be a camper. He watched the tent antics last week, but didn’t help… 

Back to last weekend and our new tent. With many more years of experience – I’m an older and wiser PlaidCamper than I was on our Scottish adventure, and tents are much more user friendly these days – it was shaping up to be a fun first excursion of the new camping season. 

 This one kept a beady eye on us

It’s worth repeating, I’m a grown man of a certain age, I don’t need to read instructions because I can figure things out with my innate logical reasoning abilities. Hmm. Who needs instructions? Where did I put the instructions? Why didn’t I read the instructions? There are times when learning by doing is great. It’s time to admit it: there are also times when a set of instructions should be read carefully before doing. Don’t tell anyone I said that. In the end, the new tent went up beautifully (or more accurately, was beautiful once up), there was less of a crowd than on that Scottish trip – all done before nightfall, and it was neither windy or rainy.  Looks good close up – now get those guy ropes secured!

It was chilly once the sun dropped behind the mountains, but we were prepared and kept warm as follows: 

Blue Buck, Phillips Brewing, Victoria BC

  Kept warm (I did use one match, sorry Ray!)

Another one of my beer geek asides here: Blue Buck is one of my all time favourite beers (although that’s quite a long list), perfect as a campfire accompaniment, even to those who normally prefer lager beers, so go out and find some. And save one for me! I’ve never tried a Phillips beer and not enjoyed it. Wonderful brewery!

Back to the camping. The following morning was lovely, warming up quickly once the sun rose above the mountains. The view from the new tent made everything seem just right with our little corner of the world:

 Mount Rundle, AB

Overall it was a pleasant overnight excursion, with the new tent a great success. This old PlaidCamper is hoping the tent will be a long lasting one, that way I won’t have to worry for a while about following instructions or another public display of campground ineptitude.

Have you experienced new tent frustration? Or is it just me? Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Camp fires – an outdoor essential, and how old PlaidCamper likes to play with matches…

Never play with matches. There, that’s the public health warning, along the lines of “don’t try this at home” etc. Now, if you burn down your cabin, or set fire to your tent, it’s not my fault. Or are you trying this at home? Really? Go further outside!

When I was a little boy, like many, I was fascinated with fire. Not in the pyromaniac sense, although, with three likeminded brothers and knowledge of where the “emergency” matches were stashed, of course we set little fires out in the backyard – don’t all young boys have a need to know how their least favourite toys will burn? We all experimented diligently, desperately trying to hide the singed remains before our parents got home – I’m sure they saw (smelled?) the evidence, but figured that as the house, the fence and our neighbour’s shed were still standing, it was better not to ask. (In case you’re wondering, plastic soldiers and model fighter airplanes were our favoured test subjects – unbelievably, we’d set fire to action figures, launching them on homemade parachutes from bedroom windows out into the garden. How the house or neighbourhood didn’t burn down…just very lucky I guess).

Camping in the UK, we never had fire pits or rings at most campgrounds, so imagine my delight that first trip to Lake Louise. You were allowed a fire, the wood was ready chopped, and, due to evening temperatures, it was almost a necessity, never mind the ritual. Marvellous! And a beer tastes so much better with a campfire. Safety first – I never have a beer until I’ve trimmed and chopped the necessary pieces with my trusty hatchet. I love owning and using a hatchet, it fuels my outdoorsy hunger. I chop even when there’s more than enough kindling. So sad. It’s a fact that views improve, and even lite and flavoured beers taste better after hatchet use:



Matches – remember, don’t play with them. I’ve used matches and fancy slow burning fire lighters to get a blaze going, and very efficient they are too. But somehow, to an almost outdoorsman, that feels like cheating. My outdoor idol and hero, Ray Mears, rarely seems to use matches, except in his extreme survival shows when speed and survival are of the absolute essence. I like when he demonstrates how to prepare the ground and materials before using a fire steel – planning and preparation being essential to success – see a video by Ray Mears here: Light a Fire. He also likes to showcase aboriginal and/or traditional fire starting methods, as with the bow and drill technique seen here: Bow and Drill

I’ve used a Swedish fire steel successfully, after much trial and error – more error, if I’m honest (revisiting with Ray put me right). For tinder, I know many use lint from their home dryers, doused in petroleum jelly and kept in a Baggie. That is great, especially when time and efficiency demand a quick result, but I aim to use what is in the vicinity – it feels more real. Or more Ray. Which is odd when I consider my manufactured tent, clothing and other camping gear. Who am I fooling? 

My goal this summer is to become proficient with a traditional method. (Mrs PlaidCamper may read this before we depart, and I suspect will carry extra matches. There is wish fulfillment practicality, and there is realism and proper practicality). It’s just that I’m an old school Old PlaidCamper when it suits me…but on those days when I’m in a hurry or it is raining? Why, matches, borrowed from Mrs PlaidCamper, of course! I can always burn the evidence…

Do you have a preferred fire starting technique? Or burn your childhood toys? Feel free to share! Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.



A stash that will need chopping…

Little Bear Cabin, MT