Two loons and a canoe

Sounds like the start of a Canadian shaggy dog story. Don’t worry, I’m aiming lower and it’s a short post…

Back to our recent Yoho trip. On Sunday, learning from our late start the previous day, we headed to Emerald Lake bright and early to enjoy a fine location in relative quiet.Thoroughly prepared, we brought our very important second cup of coffee with us, parked in a near empty lot, and found a quiet spot to sit and enjoy the almost silence. Emerald Lake was looking lovely as always, and being early paid off. The canoe outfitters had us on the water two minutes after checking in, and away we went. No wind, calm water, and warm sunshine made for a very pleasant paddle.The outfitters mentioned we might spot a pair of loons somewhere out on the lake, so we kept our eyes peeled. Sure enough, they were bobbing and splashing right in the middle. We maintained our distance,  slow floating past, and I tried to take a shot or two. What a fine sight, with their markings, the mountain reflections, and broken blue-green water creating a colourful scene.What a way to pass the time of day, paddling and floating on an emerald lake surrounded by towering mountains. As we (reluctantly) paddled back in, the store was getting busy, and several canoes headed out as we got back, with many more punters lining up almost out of the store door. If we’d just arrived at that time, I wouldn’t have bothered. I’m a picky paddling PlaidCamper that way – just a teensy bit selfish about sharing. Not attractive, I know…I can’t imagine how busy some of the mountain national parks are going to be come summer and the peak of the Canada 150 celebrations. We’ll likely wait until late summer or early fall before heading out for a stay.

Anyway, two loons and a canoe made a for a delightful May morning!

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Rare sighting of some old loon…

Between the rain and the snow…

…a chance to have a final paddle before winter really takes hold.

Being almost outdoorsy, we’ve hiked around Emerald Lake, snowshoed and skied over the frozen surface in winter, but we’ve never been out on the blue-green water. Last weekend, feeling adventurous, we hired a canoe – and what good timing! It was the last couple of hours the outfitters were going to be open and renting canoes for this season. We really left it to the last minute…

dscf3852On Saturday, the forecast was for snow and more snow in Yoho. Above the tree line that was certainly true, but where we were staying, down in Field, we received rain and more rain. Freezing rain, rain that said drop your notions of paddling, and stay in front of the fire instead. So we did.

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On the water, blue skies, and it’s not freezing
Sunday, the rain stopped, and skies were blue, with a few large clouds floating down the valley. Friendly clouds, the sort that weren’t carrying snow (or rain), and the temperature rose a few degrees above freezing. As much as we love cabins, there can be too much fire time, so we dressed in layers and made the short trip to Emerald Lake.

Expecting a busy parking lot, we were surprised to see few cars, and happy enough to watch two busloads of visitors depart just as we arrived. I know, I’m such a misery. Anyway, after a stroll around the lake and a picnic lunch in a sunny spot, we decided just above freezing is plenty warm enough to take out a canoe. Didn’t want to miss out and wait over six months for the next chance…

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A sense of scale (spot the canoe)
With calm conditions, the paddling was enjoyable, and seeing the slopes from the lake offered different perspectives and a sense of scale. We’re so small, as I always seem to say after a mountain stay. Quiet off the water, and quiet on the water, save for the small splash of a paddle and the ripples we created. Generally speaking, I’m against making unnecessary waves, but these were okay.

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Please don’t make waves
Thanksgiving weekend, with the rain stopped, clearer skies, some warm(ish) sunshine, and floating across an emerald lake  – it’s not always calm waters, but we had plenty to be thankful for right then – and right now.

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Heading back
As we clambered out of the canoe and slipped off our life vests, the wind picked up, and a few flakes of snow began to fall. Good timing! That’s about the end of paddling for us this season, but with the snow beginning to fly up top, and the white stuff steadily heading down the mountain along with dropping temperatures, there are plenty more different outdoor delights to be looking forward to. We’ll squeeze in a few late fall hikes, but I’ll admit it, it’s the snow I’m looking forward to!

dscf3845Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and have a wonderful weekend!

“A disappearance is in order…”

We’ve been spending the week at Little Bear cabin, Montana, disappearing for a while. Our days have been fast paced; books, small wanderings, sitting, books, sitting some more, and maybe a beer by the fire. Maybe.

One book I’ve really enjoyed is “Canoe Country” by Roy MacGregor. It’s a delightful account where MacGregor argues the canoe made Canada, and his argument is supported with tales and anecdotes about well known and less well known paddlers in Canadian history. If you’re even slightly intrigued by the canoe, you’ll like the book. Sitting outside a cabin up a mountain, it was like catnip for an old PlaidCamper. Mrs PC has been right to point out we have nowhere to store a canoe…

In a book full of memorable passages and quotes, here is one MacGregor uses that particularly appealed:

Every so often a disappearance is in order. A vanishing. A checking out. An indeterminate period of unavailability. Each person, each sane person, maintains a refuge, or series of refuges, for this purpose. A place or places, where they can, figuratively if not literally, suspend their membership in the human race.”  (John A. Murray, Colorado naturalist)

Most of the time, being a member of the human race is just fine, and I maintain that most people are well intentioned and propose no ill will to their fellows. However, the weight of bad news headlines prefacing endless appalling atrocities and scandals are apparently the only stories worth telling, and this can take a toll. Thank goodness for Little Bear, and all the other natural refuges available to those lucky enough to reach them. And perhaps there’s still time this summer, for those so inclined, to find a new place or two – maybe even traveling there by canoe…(don’t worry, Mrs PC, we’ll rent it!)

Thanks for reading, and have an enjoyable weekend!

Canada!

Happy Canada Day!

Many nations celebrate, and today is Canada’s turn! This won’t be a long post, and it features some photographs I’ve included previously, but I hope you can forgive that.

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Spring in Big Valley, AB

I simply wanted to pull out a selection to show the True North across the seasons and in different lights. I feel so privileged to be a citizen of this wonderful country.

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Summer, near Tofino BC

It isn’t perfect, but when we live in increasingly challenging times, Canada and many Canadians are choosing to be inclusive, welcoming, and fair-minded.

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Have a seat, let’s talk!

Many countries, and many citizens in those countries, seek to be positive. They choose collaboration, mutual respect within and between nations, valuing and celebrating diversity in all forms, and extending an open hand of friendship, rather than angry raised fists and pointing fingers.

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Above Canmore, AB

I’ll say it again, Canada isn’t perfect, no nation ever is, but a positive effort by each citizen in each country has to be made. What is the measure of a decent society? Perhaps how that society chooses to behave when times are tough?

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Be thoughtful, be positive (Wonderland, Bow Building, Calgary AB)

As an approach to making the world safer, how is building walls, rejecting collaboration, abandoning treaties, making threats, and fear-mongering to pursue personal and political ends that are only designed to seek profit or control, really going to help? We can do better than that, want to be better than that. Don’t be misled, or exploited. Let’s be amigos, not enemies…

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Fall in Montreal QC

Time to stop – getting a bit bossy. I’m keeping it short and positive this week! If you are in Canada, you are Canadian, wishing you were Canadian, feel Canadian in your heart, or simply love maple syrup, then happy Canada Day!

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That old fella has the heart of a Canadian – get on board, there’s room…(Moraine Lake AB)

Have a wonderful weekend!

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This will pair nicely with Canada Day…made with sitka spruce tips – just right!

Spirited away

I gave myself a little homework to do this week, researching our destination from last week, Lake Minnewanka. A quick visit to ParksCanada uncovered a few interesting facts about this beautiful lake.

The Stoney Nakoda called it “Minn-Waki” which translates as “lake of the spirits” and our brief time there convinced me this is a pretty apt name. Early Europeans named it “Devil’s Lake” and again, if you can imagine arriving the hard way, or catching a tough spring season, perhaps also a reasonable name. Place names are often given for good reasons…Easy to forget you are in wild territory when the modern conveniences of Banff are mere minutes away by car.

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Wild, challenging, chilly

Archaeological evidence uncovered at Minnewanka suggests human activity here as far back as 10 000 years. It is easy to see why. Mountain environments are challenging, but at Minnewanka, in milder seasons, there would be the everyday means to survive. Timber, fish, animals to hunt, and berries and roots to gather would have enabled earlier, knowledgeable, and hardy people to maintain their existence.

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Minn-Waki

Lake of the spirits. I love that! I’m somewhat ignorant when it comes to beliefs held by First Nations peoples, but have some understanding and no end of respect for the spiritual connection many have with the natural world. Given the unpredictable nature of mountain weather, and the size of the lake – it is over 25km long and 2km wide – sudden changes in the weather, particularly if you’re on the water, would have you considering spirits. Is it really so hard to believe that the natural world is teaching us something, whether in fury or on more benign days? We treat the planet as we do, and perhaps the planet responds in kind. Is that simply my imagination?

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The last of the blue skies that day

The day we visited was a cold one, the wind rushing across the ice and freeze-burning exposed faces. The morning had started fine, with blue skies and sunshine, but soon enough clouds were scudding over and amassing, and it was clear a change was coming. Undeterred (but well wrapped up), we opted to follow the shoreline trail at least as far as Stewart Canyon, where the Cascade River feeds the lake. We set off in high spirits that only soared further as the trailside trees afforded some protection from the wind, and the views delighted with each turn in the trail.

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The path itself was extremely icy, and we slipped and slid along, hugging trees because we like to, and because they helped us prevent a fall over the edge. Even with ice cleats, the going was interesting.

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An interesting trail…(this section above the lake was quite forgiving!)

Blinking away tears – must have been the keen wind – it was wonderful to see witch’s hair (or beard?) hanging in abundance from branches. A positive indicator of clean air,  and I can only hope nature’s witches continue to display spirited green defiance and resilience.

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I’m planning a return to Lake Minnewanka when the weather warms up and the ice has melted. There are a number of backcountry campgrounds reachable by canoe, and I would love to paddle up the lake and share a night or two with the spirits. Parts of the trail and campground locations are closed in high summer because this is the prime time for mama grizzlies and cubs to feed on buffalo berries. (Even though I’ve been living out this way for close to a decade, I can’t describe how much of a kick I get from writing phrases along the lines of mama grizzlies and cubs feeding on buffalo berries – isn’t the world great?!) I don’t need to see the bears, and certainly wouldn’t want to disturb their habitat – knowing they are out and about is enough – but a camping and canoe trip before they move into the area is high on my hope list…

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Downstream Cascade, Stewart Canyon

We only hiked a few minutes more past Stewart Canyon, enough to get partial views of the lake below. By then the day really had shifted from benign to more malign, with the increasingly gusty wind throwing sharp crystals in our chapped but happy faces. We listened, took the hint, retraced our steps and were warmed on the inside by our delightful introduction to this spirited lake.

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Upstream Cascade, Stewart Canyon

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share a story or leave a comment – it is always appreciated. Have a great weekend! I’m having one of these:

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Yesterday!

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!

Canoes, Ray Mears again, and a slow start to paddling by PlaidCamper

With winter appearing to be over, my thoughts turn to spring as lakes slowly thaw and rivers start to flow. Canoes! Patience is required, at least here east of the Rockies, but as we wait, I ask myself, is a canoe the best transport ever? Yes! On northern waterways in particular. (There you are, question answered, and PlaidCamper’s shortest post ever).

Waiting for the waterways to open…

I love canoes. I wasn’t born in Canada, but my home is here, and there is so much about this country that is remarkable, especially for a late developing would be outdoorsman. If I had to make a top ten list of Canadian wonderfulness, canoes are near the top. (Oh no, will PlaidCamper be doing his Top Ten of Canada? Yup, sometime in the future. Man’s gotta blog, and I love lists too).

My first canoe experience took place in the UK, on the River Wye. A lovely river, it flows fairly serenely through beautiful border countryside between England and Wales. At the time, I was lucky enough to be living in Herefordshire, and we often took trips crisscrossing the border country, visiting crumbling castles, peaceful abbeys, pretty priories, and delightful inns and pubs. 

Just as well I’d taken in the countryside views previously, because, at the start of my first canoe voyage, I don’t recall seeing the scenery pass gently by. It was more me spinning the canoe around and around, my buddy in front getting steadily more irate at my inability to steer a steady course down the river. It didn’t help that we were a little flotilla of five, all close friends on a stag weekend, and there was a considerable competitive edge throughout. With each rotation, buddy in the front wasn’t happy watching the rest of the canoes disappear up ahead through the next river bend. (Earlier, I’d already proved to be hopeless at clay pigeon shooting, and let’s say I lacked speed when quad bike racing. Although when it counted, I was a clear leader in one event – sinking pints). Fortunately, we didn’t sink or overturn the canoe whilst performing a wobbly yet well choreographed swapping of places. I adopted a suitably heroic pose at the front, pretended to know what I was doing, my buddy let me paddle every now and again, and he steered us safely downriver to the pick up point. Another pub, if you were wondering.

                

Canoes on Moraine Lake, AB

So, not the best debut ever, but I didn’t let it get in the way, and I am happy about that, because every summer since being in Canada, we take out a canoe whenever we can. Is there a finer way of whiling away a few sunny hours? Spectacular scenery on a calm lake, or along a more challenging journey downriver, taking gentle to more strenuous exercise, and enjoying good company. I saw my first bald eagle from a canoe – what a feeling. I become completely Canadian just clutching a paddle, and I can’t wait for my buddy from above to come visit one summer – show him I can navigate safely and with confidence now!

For me, canoes are such a part of the Canadian identity, seemingly ever present in books, songs, movies and paintings. I can never resist taking a photo, always seeking to capture the essence or spirit of what canoes represent. The shape is beautiful, so elegant and purposeful, an absolute triumph of form and function. 

                

Lac Beauvert, Jasper, AB

Not only do I love canoes, I also love learning about them from Ray Mears. (Ray Mears is a role model for appreciating wilderness. And yup, there will be a future blog about him. He is a marvellous man). For an eloquent and boyishly enthusiastic video essay on the beauty, history, and total practicality of the canoe, I highly recommend watching Ray Mears learning to build and describing his love of birchbark canoes:

Ray Mears Bushcraft – Birchbark Canoes

A lengthy video, worth all the time, and really entertaining. Ray Mears’ bushcraft company Woodlore (RayMears.com) has occasionally offered courses related to birchbark canoes and canoeing. I think that one of these trips or courses really should be on my important things to do list. I hope Mrs PlaidCamper reads this and remembers it next time old PlaidCamper has a birthday. (Yes, I’m that unsubtle). If you’ve watched the video, you’ll be adding it to your own list too. Won’t you?

An evening view from a canoe – Bow River, AB

Have you ever stood in front of the canoes in an outdoor store, saying to your partner “but if we bought one and used it x times, it would be better than renting, in fact it practically pays for itself,”? Or is that just old PlaidCamper, every time he’s in MEC, trying to convince Mrs PlaidCamper it’s a good idea? One day, PlaidCamper, one day…

Be warned, canoes will likely feature over and over in this blog – and why not? Do you have a canoe story, or piece of water or stretch of river you’d like to share? Thank you for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.