Mountain magic! A spell was karst…

…on a magical trail beneath mountains hiding behind murky mists.

At school, we’ve been working on starting stories, so apologies for the opener. It may not get any better, but rest assured, I’ll stay away from fiction and stick to the facts. PlaidCamper facts, anyway. Perhaps you’re a little concerned about the spelling?

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Lots of rain…

Last weekend was a holiday long weekend, and, as science, statistics and superstition has taught us, that meant lots and lots of rain, starting at 4pm on Friday, then stopping at 8am on Tuesday. So, camping plans were abandoned, and a new hike sought on Sunday, never mind the weather. We wanted to visit the Spray Lakes area south of Canmore, into Kananaskis country, and follow the Karst Spring trail. A trail leading to a geological feature? Let’s go!

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Spring time, and a long weekend – let’s go!

A weather eye out the window just before departure confirmed it was raining, but by the time we exited the parking garage it had started to snow. Hmm, I thought. Still early, and when it warms up, it’ll soon be just rain again. Forty-five minutes later, we were crawling across the prairies and into the foothills in driving snow. I am an almost outdoorsman.

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Seen, shivering, along the trail

We had fun(?) slipping and sliding down the Smith-Dorrien Highway, likely a lovely dusty road in summer, but current conditions had reduced it to a series of water-filled potholes linked by treacherous gravel stretches. Those were the better bits. When we weren’t slipping and sliding, we were bumping and jumping, and not in a good way.

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Smith-Dorrien Highway (later in the day)

Such fun. The snow had become so heavy that we couldn’t see the mountains or the lakes – and this is a narrow valley. We ploughed on, arrived at the trailhead lot, staggered out of the car, reattached loose fillings, and set off on the Karst Spring trail.

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Spring sign

It was probably the lack of any views due to the snow-rain (Snow-rain? Ha, I knew it would improve!) mix still falling, but the first part of the trail isn’t that interesting – scrubland and small trees each side of a wide track. Stick with it though, and after a couple of kilometres the trail rises into denser coniferous forest, and the atmosphere changes. The path narrows, and the humidity increases. There is more standing water on the ground, and the forest floor, boulders and fallen logs are covered with moss. Patches of wild flowers grow here and there, and witch’s beard hangs from branches. Enchanting!

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A sharp left turn descends to Watridge Lake. This lake is popular with anglers looking to catch trout, but no anglers were present. In fact, we saw only six other hikers all day. The first couple we encountered barely fifteen minutes into our hike. They’d been camping overnight, and looked damp, and thoroughly downcast. When we told them they were mere minutes from the parking lot, their faces lit up, and they actually started to run! We were happy to help!

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Past Watridge Lake, the trail becomes magical. You have to cross wetlands on a narrow boardwalk, which lends a sense of achievement when you don’t fall off. The forest was hushed, melting snow a threadbare carpet on the mossy floor, with drips and drops of rain falling softly. As we followed the path, the faint sound of rushing water grew steadily louder.

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Rushing

Another turn or two and we were alongside the most delightful creek! We knew the spring couldn’t be too far, and continued up the pathway as it hugged the cascading creek.Image 7

Photographs don’t do justice to the mossy, emerald treasures we saw as we approached the source of the spring. Hiking boots don’t allow for much of a jig on a muddy, rock and root ridden path, but I swear I did a little dance of joy. Steady, PlaidCamper. Must have been a sprinkle of fairy dust, or maybe an allergic reaction to Fairy Slipper (thanks, Walt) pollen, but this was a special place.Image 9

With time pushing on, and an increased chill in the air, we couldn’t hang around too long. We did promise that we’d return, perhaps in the fall, to uncover the autumnal charms of a truly wonderful trail. Image 16

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Spellbinding…

We’d fallen under the spell of Karst Spring, a magical place deep in the forest, hidden in the shadow of mist-shrouded mountains. (We’ve been working on story closings as well – apologies once more!)

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Karst Spring!

On our drive back home, the cloud cover lifted enough for us to see some of what we’d missed on the journey in. Wild country.Image 4

Thanks for taking the time to read this, it is always appreciated. As ever, please feel free to leave a comment or share a story, and have a wonderful weekend!

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After a cold day, this seemed about right!

A mountain rush

We managed a quick mountain fix last weekend, just enough of a boost to push us on through the next few weeks. It’s almost report card season, and the end of academic year activities are starting to loom. Not the worst position to be in, but a short and steep mountain hike helped recharge and refocus.

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A mountain fix

We had a few hours, so opted to try the Grassi Lakes trail just outside Canmore. This is a relatively easy hike, barely 4km there and back, with wonderful views over the Canmore town site.

DSCN6657The trail is named after Canmore resident Lawrence (Lorenzo) Grassi, an Italian who arrived in Canmore in 1912. He reportedly left his home because he needed to get something to eat! A coal miner in Canmore, he spent his free time building trails and acting as a mountain guide. He was so loved in Canmore, there is a school named after him, as well as a mountain and the lake trail. What a wonderful legacy!

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Thank you, Lorenzo Grassi!

We hiked in bright sunshine and with temperatures nudging the high teens centigrade. Too soon for bugs, it was very pleasant to be out.

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Very pleasant

The trail forks, with the right hand gravel road being the easiest, and most accessible option. Don’t use it unless you have to – the more challenging left fork has the best views over the valley and takes in a waterfall. Go this way! Towards the top of the trail there are a few steep steps, and the steps have a higher reach than average, but if you’re moderately (or almost moderately) fit, there’s no real effort involved – or the real effort is mercifully brief…I was only stopping to take a photograph.

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Rest stop

One or two parts of the trail had spring meltwater flowing across, creating muddy and slippery sections, but proper footwear and a little caution took care of any chance of a fall. I wish I could say all the fellow hikers we encountered had adequate footwear…flip flops? On a mountain trail? Hmm. Perhaps that’s the fashion – I expect the local ER staff are very understanding.

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Be kind to yourself, and wear suitable shoes!

The lakes at the top of the trail are quite beautiful. The clear water is blue-green in certain light, and catches the reflection of the delightful surroundings. The cliff faces above the lakes are popular with climbers, although the jumble of scattered rocks at the bottom made me wonder about how secure the climbers were. It’s a different sort of mountain high, I guess, and not one I have a head for.

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Blue-green reflections

If you have the chance and the time to take a little hike up this trail, I’d recommend it. My suggestion would be to go mid-week or set off early at the weekend, as the slight downside is the number of people who might have the same excellent idea for a brief hike.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our time on the trail and at the top, making the most of the lovely legacy of Lorenzo Grassi. A quick fix of fresh mountain air, beautiful blues and bright greens, and all in the spring sunshine. An easy addiction, and hard habit to break (who’d want to?!)

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Refreshing

When we returned home, we celebrated the day with an appropriate ale:Image Thanks for reading. As always, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and have a wonderful weekend!

 

Bicycle chains and bear spray

Now that spring has sprung, bear spray is always a must carry item when out hiking. Safety first! It’s important to be prepared, because once you are in wild country, anything could happen. (But why bicycle chains, PC? Have you joined a ’50s motorcycle gang, switching plaid for leather? Read on if you are interested, but no, this isn’t a tale of ruckus and rumbles…)

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Good place for a short hike

Last weekend, we enjoyed a short hike with friends and family around the outskirts of Canmore. The hike was short for a number of reasons. The biggest reason was the way certain members in the party celebrated our reunion after quite some time being apart. Mrs PC’s twin brother, and his best buddy, hadn’t been out to Alberta before, so they made up for lost time by trying as many local craft beers in one Friday evening as is (in)humanly possible. We didn’t even try to keep up. If you were unable to get hold of a pint of Last Best IPA last week, well, now you know why.

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Plenty of trees

So, a few sore heads slowed down our small band of happy hikers. Other reasons for dallying? The pre-teen, M, was on his bike because “walking with old people is boring” and his mother, S, was on her bike because a season of snowboarding had worn out her knees. M. kept disappearing onto side trails, and his mother would head off, find him, and shepherd him back to the main group. Her other son, teenager A, is an avid photographer, enthusiastic to the point where he has to take a picture of everything. Not necessarily a problem, but there are a lot of trees out there. This might have slowed our progress just a little. A’s father, Mr. S, enjoyed exhorting him to “come on A, keep up, there’s another tree over here!” Didn’t work.

Like me, Mr. S is bear aware, and he carries a canister of bear spray on his belt. You never know…although the chances of an encounter were greatly reduced that day by the heartfelt and voluble pleas of the youngest child wanting to know if we could go home now. No.

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Why go home?

Mr and Mrs S live with their two boys quite close to Canmore Nordic Centre, so hiking and biking trails are almost right outside their door, and just above the town. We wandered along forgiving trails, admiring the views across the Bow Valley, the fresh new leaf growth, and feeling apologetic toward the single elk we did encounter. To be honest, I think the elk was ok, had probably seen and heard worse, and in fact looked rather unimpressed. It allowed A to take a photograph or two, and then sauntered off into deeper woods.

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Unimpressed – and grainy

All was well with the world, the fresh air working its soothing magic on those that needed soothing, the younger boy was beginning to understand no means no, and enjoy being out on his bike in beautiful country. Not that he’d ever admit it. The weather was rather cool, skies were overcast, with more than a hint of rain in the air, but not enough to dampen spirits. Then, near disaster struck! The chain on Mrs S’s bike came off! That wasn’t the disaster though. It was the fact she didn’t want to get her brand new gloves greasy putting the chain back on. Truthfully, they were lovely gloves, and perhaps the grease would not have washed off.

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Soothing

Never afraid to help in an emergency, and because my gloves are a filthy disgrace at the best of times, I turned the bike over, reset the chain, and was about to guide it back on, but it seemed we all had to inspect the work. Fair enough. Mrs PC’s twin bent over the back wheel, his buddy along for the weekend bent over the back wheel, I bent over the back wheel, Mrs PC bent over the back wheel, S bent over the back wheel – it was her bicycle after all – and Mr. S bent over the back wheel. Quite a crowd! A didn’t bend over the back wheel – he was taking photos of all the adults bending over the back wheel. I hope he had a wide lens, and I hope he isn’t on FaceBook.

IMG_20160430_154940Anyway, happy that the work was sound, S bent down slightly further and reached across to turn the pedal. PSSSSHT! Huh? What was that? Too many beers the night before? We looked up at each other, a slight frown on faces as we searched for the guilty party.  Then we all staggered back as we inhaled. Yes, it was that bad. No, not that. S had set off his can of bear spray! Fortunately, the cloud avoided a direct hit on all who were gathered, and apart from some of us feeling a touch asthmatic, the only damage was to the back of S’s jacket and jeans. I’ve never seen people leap like gazelles before, but the explosive jump away was quite something.

It was one of those situations where you had to be there to really see the funny side of such a narrow escape, but can you imagine the headlines? Tourists shoot themselves with bear spray just outside of town. No bears were present.

IMG_20160430_140854We laughed until we cried, mostly with relief, and that’s when the closest to real damage happened – S rubbed away a tear or two and discovered he had bear spray on his hands…

I’m very happy to report S is fine now, after much eye irrigation, and there were no lasting side effects. He does still carry bear spray when hiking, no longer on his belt but in a side pocket of his hiking pants. Mrs S wears old gloves when out cycling.

IMG_20160430_155306 - Version 2So there you have it. No rumbles, perhaps a bit of a ruckus, and we’re all a little more careful about where we hang our bear spray canister. Thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment or share a story, and have a wonderful weekend!

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!

Peace like a river…

…on the Bow. Changed the words a bit, but the tune still fits, at least in my head each time I use the Peace Bridge to cross the Bow River. Sing along if you’d like.

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From the bluff

We’ve been in the city the past week or so, heading back to work and getting knee-deep into report card season. If you teach, that’s a season. Our outdoor time since the turn of the year has mostly been along the banks or up on the bluffs of the Bow here in Calgary, upstream and downstream.

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Fine and bright, if a little cool?

The weather has been mostly fine and bright, if a little cool for some. My brother visited for a few days, just before these photographs were taken, leaving balmy DC (+22C) for chilly Calgary and Louise (-25C), and it’s probably best if I don’t repeat what he said. No idea what he was on about, because after all, it’s a dry cold…

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“Look, we’re only sitting ‘cos it’s a dry cold I tell ya!”

The banks of the Bow provide quite delightful views, so much so that even though you are in the heart of a large city, it doesn’t feel too urban. On a sunny day, even the towers of oil and gas central can look attractive.

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Not unattractive on a sunny day

Our little neighbourhood of Sunnyside – love that name – borders the Bow, and there are a number of bridges to choose from within walking distance. My personal favourite is the bright red Peace Bridge.

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The Peace Bridge!

At school, when we are studying city infrastructure, or on Downtown field trips, the students say I’d like the Peace Bridge less if I’d been here to pay for the construction. According to some of their parents, the bridge was/is a costly eyesore. My response is to endear myself to parents by asking the students to list the Peace Bridge benefits, then draw, photograph and make up alternate (polite) names for the bridge. Amongst others, they’ve suggested Snake Bridge, Stampede Bridge, Dino Bridge, Spine Bridge, Tube Bridge, and, yup, you guessed it, Red Bridge.

I like Peace Bridge as a name – pretty hard to argue with that (unless you don’t like peace, the design, or paying for it, but “Tax Burden Like a River” doesn’t quite fit the tune or make sense…)

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A+ for colour and bold design

Anyway, here was a little something about our urban outdoors. Now, it being report card season, I’ll stop this and get back to awarding high marks and positive comments to any student claiming to like the Peace Bridge.

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Our urban outdoors, looking across the Bow to Fort Calgary

Thanks for taking the time to read. Perhaps you have a favourite song to sing when crossing favourite rivers on favourite bridges? Perhaps that is a strange thing to ask? As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

I got, peace like a river…

A week in the life of old PlaidCamper (and how I’m feeling my age)

Don’t panic, this isn’t turning into FaceBook or anything – but do find something else to do if you read the title and thought “No, he wouldn’t!” because yes, I would.

Not a strong narrative thread, simply how the past week went and why I’m so tired – in a good way.

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Aiming high – top of the world

Thursday evening and Friday morning: parent/student/teacher interviews! Time well spent, and often invaluable for students and parents, but listening to myself speak for eight hours on educational matters is hard – did I really mean to say that? Was I too honest? What was I saying at the start of this sentence? Are they asleep?

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To the mountains!

Once the Friday interviews wrapped up, it was into the car and out to the mountains for some snowshoeing and snowboarding. A cosy cabin in Field, about twenty minutes from the ski hill, meant an easy early start Saturday for the best of the first turns. Except that only happens if I remember to set the alarm. Old and tired without an alarm means an unexpected lie in. Oh well, must have needed it, and we took a short woodland hike instead through pretty woods above the cabin. Lots of creaking; I think it was the trees.

Sunday, alarm set, and a good early start to Louise! The lift lineups were nonexistent all day, and conditions were pretty pleasant on the slopes given poor snowfall the previous few days and strangely warm weather. Grey and overcast, with the mountains looming and slightly menacing without strong sunlight, but striking anyway. We searched for patches of blue, and found one at the top of the world. It didn’t last, but we weren’t blue with so much mountain to play in.

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A patch of blue

Back to Calgary Sunday night, and packing hurriedly for two days in Kananaskis country with a group of students. An outdoor challenge camp designed to develop collaborative skills and boost esteem, as well as encourage a love for the mountain environment. And if they have a laugh or two at their teacher failing to keep pace, then all the better…for them at least. Hiking, climbing, clambering, and singing (not me, not the last one, that would be cruel…)

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Try and keep up…

Tuesday evening, hand over the camp students to a colleague, and back to the city and hurriedly unpack and find clean(ish) clothing for three days of learning to ski/snowboard with grade 5/6 students at Canada Olympic Park. So you’ve had hardly any sleep the previous couple days – those bunks at camp aren’t luxurious or quite full size – but you said you really wanted to go to Kananaskis and be part of the learn to ski program, so stop your whining old boy.

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I can help here

Have you ever tried to “assist” with teaching snowboarding to forty enthusiastic children? You will laugh, you might cry, you will be nimble and in fear for your life, and you will discover you aren’t as young as you once were. When your most gullible student asks “are you sure you’re 29 years old, Mr. Plaidcamper?”, the game is almost up.

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Kananaskis! Not much snow, or sun, but we can learn out here…

What a week! I complained (to myself), I laughed (a lot), I pulled new muscles (still have some), I wobbled (in many different ways), and I had a blast. To observe how students love to be outside, love to be challenged, and often don’t even have a (formal?) sense that they’re in a learning environment when it is outdoors, is wonderful. The perseverance and problem solving skills they develop are transferable to other life settings, sometimes explicitly, but often implicitly, and they’ll have an enormous reserve to draw on when faced with necessary adversity later in their learning. It was an exhausting week, (and I couldn’t do it every week), but tired as I am, I suspect it keeps me young at heart. Why, I feel 29(ish)!

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A small reward at the end of the week – this evening!

Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

My Montreal morning…merveilleux!

Quebec! La belle province! Montreal! Don’t worry, this won’t be written in French, or my butchered version of French, that would be too cruel for lovers of language. This week, I’m writing an urban piece, but it has a flavour of the outdoors about it. So bear with me, and we’ll take a trip…on y va!

Leafy Montreal
Outdoor flavour
We were lucky enough to visit Montreal last week. Mrs. PlaidCamper was presenting at a conference, someone had to carry her bags, and I secured that prestigious gig (just to be clear, Dr. PlaidCamper is more than capable of carrying her bags, but I’ll do anything to visit somewhere new…) I had never been to Quebec, never mind Montreal, and was curious to explore a new (to me) corner of Canada.

A healthy start...
A healthy start…
While Dr. PlaidCamper was making her contribution to global health, I started the day by making a contribution to my expanding waistline. Although I do believe a cup of great coffee and a flaky croissant is a health food if consumed without a cigarette. Obviously, Mrs. PlaidCamper is the expert on the health front, but I want to help, and this next bit is for the smokers of Montreal – stop it! There are far too many of you doing this, and you are too pleasant a bunch of people to want to self harm in this way. I think I passive smoked my way through at least a pack and a half…

Beautiful buildings
Beautiful buildings
When the smoke cleared – to be fair, the smoking is all outside (but it is hard to walk down a street without passing through clouds of exhaled smoke near the entrances of many buildings) – I set off for Mont Royal. I knew this to be a delightful park overlooking the city. It’s a place where urban dwellers get their outdoor fix, so I decided to head there to get my first real impression of Montreal, geographically speaking. The route I chose was delightful; mature trees shedding leaves in front of buildings far older and more architecturally interesting than I’d expected.

Looking for Mont Royal
Looking for Mont Royal
It is easy to find the park, looming over the city as it does. You catch glimpses at the far end of streets that rise toward the heavily forested hillside, with the huge cross and communications towers perched on top. Earlier, I had smiled to myself at the description of the hill as a mountain in some guidebooks. That seemed too grand a description. By the time I’d slogged my way to the top, via winding paths and seemingly endless wooden staircases, I was very happy to concede the title of mountain. It is steep enough, and an excellent workout if you’re so inclined, which I wasn’t, but it was an unexpected personal mini-triumph.

Clean air and falling leaves
Clean air and falling leaves
The air was clean, and heavily scented with leaf decay – far richer and earthier than alpine Alberta. It seemed to me a more familiar autumnal tang, reminding me of London and the parks I played in as a boy. Aroma driven nostalgia…autumn does that.

To the city
To the city
The views back down to the city and the St. Laurent river were wonderful. As autumn had hung on a little longer here, the leafy trees provided enticing and beguiling natural frames for taking photos of Montreal. I spent a while at the top, wandering wherever, and really enjoying the feeling of being in an almost wilderness – the green heart of a great metropolis. How wonderful for the people of Montreal to have this pleasant place, a beautiful space in the middle of their city. It was such a marvellous and colourful Montreal morning!

Marvellous Montreal
Marvellous Montreal
We are always grateful for the opportunities we get to travel and experience new places – it is energizing and rewarding to be able to do so. Thanks for reading. As ever, please feel free to share a story – maybe you have visited Montreal? – or make a comment, as they are always enjoyed and welcome, and keep your guy ropes secure.

At the foot of the hill
At the foot of the hill

At the top of the hill
At the top of the hill

Montreal
Montreal!