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!

Desperation and thievery on the high trail…

…rest assured, all emerged unscathed! Signing off last go around with promises of a tale of desperation and thievery seemed like a bright idea at the time, but not so much now. Oh well, reduce those expectations, and please accept this apology in advance!

Onwards, past the teahouse
Onwards, past the teahouse

The trail up at Agnes Lake continued on past the teahouse (now closed for winter, much to the disappointment of a group of young people – “we should have stopped for a Starby’s” was a wail that rang off the mountainsides – couldn’t help thinking that the surroundings might have made up for that little issue!) Anyway, I took the trail away from the decaffeinated huddle, enjoying how the path hugged the contours of the lakeshore, and a little wary of the blind bends and rises, ever mindful of the slight possibility of a bear encounter.

Like a drum...
Like a drum…

No bears, but I was alarmed by a booming and rumbling as I approached the midpoint of the lake. Was there an avalanche risk? It hadn’t snowed anywhere near enough, so perhaps a small rockslide? Oh, the overactive imagination of the solitary hiker! A quick up and down over a small rise and out onto an open part of the trail soon revealed the cause. A group of teenagers were doing what teenagers outdoors like to do when confronted with a frozen lake – they were hurling small rocks onto the ice to see if it would break. The rocks bounced on the ice, causing it to reverberate and send booms off the wall of mountains circling Agnes. I was listening to the world’s largest kettle drum.

Onwards, around the lake
Onwards, around the lake

Nerves settled, and reassured all was safe, I continued on my way, smiling to myself as the party leaders attempted to stop the teenagers from throwing rocks. They soon passed out of eyesight and earshot, and the path carried on to the far end of the lake, revealing a spectacular view back towards the valley opening, and the mountains beyond.

Looking back
Looking back

I decided to press on up the trail as it switched back and forth, climbing high above Agnes and onto a wide promontory. Pick a direction to be stunned by the views!

Long views...
Long views…

A few steps east, and down to Louise, step to the west and down to frozen Agnes, or south to the six glaciers, or north towards the mountains towering above the ski hill. All of those compass directions are approximate, but you get the idea. Where to look?!

Down to Agnes
Down to Agnes (my poor knees)

Epic stuff, enough to make you want to sit down with a stale cheese roll and try and make sense of the overwhelming scenery. Just shy of 7500 feet up, and time for a well earned lunch (my knees had really struggled on the last part up!)

Lunch above Louise
Lunch above Louise

I was desperately hungry, and at this point I discovered I wasn’t the only one! A camp robber took advantage of my inattention to the cheese roll as I gazed dreamy eyed at Louise, and attempted to thieve it away. That gave me a start, and I was most happy to have been sitting well away from the steep drop. It would have been a dismal end, death by defending a cheese roll, (and I hadn’t finished all of the chocolate bar from earlier…) The bird (a Clark’s nutcracker – I think) was most determined, so much so, I had to clamber wearily to my feet and find another picnic spot.

The culprit (terrible phone photo, taken with jangled nerves)
The culprit (terrible phone photo, taken with jangled nerves)

He followed me for quite a way, clearly an optimistic creature, but my steely eyes and ferocious demeanour eventually convinced him to pick on another hiker. Or perhaps he caught a glance of the cheese roll and decided it could fare better elsewhere. Can’t blame him…

Heading back
Heading back

So there you have it. A fearsome encounter on the high trail, a tale of (potential) thievery, desperation (mostly mine), and disappointment (mostly yours, and maybe the bird), all in a wonderful wilderness setting. Heady stuff, and with the potential for a gritty outdoor adventure movie I shouldn’t wonder.

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Can you see the trail, over the far side, ascending the scree?

I returned to Lake Louise by retracing my steps, excited at the thought of telling Mrs PlaidCamper all about my adventure as we headed home. (I think she fell asleep before I got to the best parts…)

Returning
Returning

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment or share a story – perhaps an exciting wilderness encounter – and keep your guy ropes secure.

Looking for Mrs PlaidCamper
Looking for Mrs PlaidCamper

Snow day! A hint of winter already?

Is it really winter already? No, not according to the calendar, but if you take a hike up high here in the Canadian Rockies, you don’t have to look too hard for a hint of winter (at almost any time of year!)

An early hint of winter
An early hint of winter

Mrs PlaidCamper was presenting at a health conference in Lake Louise last weekend, so I selflessly offered to drive her out there. Good of me I know, and nothing to do with the beautiful and crisp sunny day being forecast, or that I really wanted to hike up and behind Agnes Lake after our postponed attempt a little while back…

A good place to start...
A good place to start…

So while Dr. PlaidCamper entertained the academics, I entertained myself with a solo jaunt away from the scholarly and furrowed brows, and the big words I pretend to understand.

Armed with a stale cheese roll (tasty when you’re hungry), an energy bar (dry and chewy but better than the cheese roll), and a bar of habanero and sea salt chocolate (better by far than anything else in the backpack), I set off up the trail to Lake Agnes. Or is it Agnes Lake? Best do some research on that, and find out more about Agnes.

Heading up
Heading up

The day was about perfect for an uphill hike; too cold not to have a down jacket when standing still, yet sunny enough in and out of the trees to remove the jacket and get warmed up on the move. The icing on the weather cake was the light dusting of snow that had fallen in the early hours. Not a significant amount – barely a few mm – but it was cold enough to prevent it melting in the shade and remain on the ground as the day progressed and I gained trail height. The first winter hint.

Beautiful Louise!
Beautiful Louise!

The switchback trail is pretty short to Agnes, with only a couple of breaks in the trees to allow a view back down to Lake Louise, but those gaps do offer pleasant glimpses of the famed water.

Just shy of Agnes is Mirror Lake, and here was the second hint of winter that morning, an almost frozen mirror.

A frozen mirror
A frozen mirror
Will it be a severe winter? (I ask myself)
Will it be a severe winter? (I ask myself)

I was there at almost the same time a couple of years ago with my brother, and Mirror Lake wasn’t frozen then. Is an early frozen mirror a harbinger of a hard winter I asked? As nobody replied, and I felt a bit foolish talking out loud, I continued sheepishly up to Agnes. It had seemed a reasonable question…

Winter?!
Winter? Delightful!

Agnes was simply delightful! The third and best sign of winter, with an almost totally frozen surface, and light ripples in the snow covering the ice. Or light ripples in the ice covered by snow…

Lightly rippled
Lightly rippled

Honestly, my heart really did beat a little faster – and not just because of the chocolate reward I’d earned here – but for the sheer surprise and pleasure the pristine view provided. It is a beautiful little lake, yet I hadn’t expected it to be as wonderful as it was that morning. I brushed the snow from a rock and sat there, munching and smiling, and likely drooling wet crumbs of chocolate. A few other hikers were present, although none seemed to want to sit near me. I think I must have gotten some grit in my eye, the view did get a touch blurry there.

Agnes is a beauty
Agnes is a beauty

There is more to this wintry adventure, for I wasn’t done with the trail (and there is still that stale cheese roll), but I’ll save that for next time (it was a tale of desperation and thievery as the trail unfolded, let me tease you with that – although seriously, if you have plans of any sort next week, don’t change them!) A teary OldPlaidCamper seems quite enough for this go around. Clearly the cold really can get to a pair of old eyes…

DSCF1527Thanks for reading! As ever, please feel free to comment or share a wintry story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

To be continued...
To be continued…

A tale of two forests…

…in one place! A short piece about the changing environment, and uncovering a forest preference.

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Lakes and forests – marvellous!

We were out at Yoho recently, enjoying a long weekend away from the city. The weather was pretty changeable over these few days, ranging from cold and damp to very cold and heavy rain. The ceaseless drumming of rain upon the cabin roof was initially calming, but we weren’t sorry when it stopped! Cabin fever…

It stopped raining, and the skies started to clear...
It stopped raining, and the skies started to clear…

The grey weather lifted a little, and we made for Emerald Lake, enjoying the sporadic beams of warm sun as the clouds broke up.

Easy walking!
Easy walking!

The stroll (hike is too strong a word for this one) around Emerald Lake isn’t too far, perhaps just shy of 6 km. The fun is in how the view changes when the trail zips in and out of the trees lining the lakeshore, and enjoying how the sunlight brightens the surface, illuminating the water. Mountains appear to shift their bulk as your perspective changes, and cloud shadows race over the slopes.

Familiar territory
Familiar territory

The more exposed side of the lake is familiar alpine territory, the evergreens and undergrowth not too crowded, with open views up the sides and across the water. Following the shore to the end of the lake, you cross an open area of alluvial plain, the sediment of thousands of years being deposited slowly into the water, ensuring it will one day disappear, one little flood at a time. Now that is a long term, yet inevitable event.

The sediment is growing, and the lake slowly shrinking
The sediment is growing, and the lake slowly shrinking

I’m not overly fond of the alluvial plain; it seems a dismal place compared to the majesty of the mountains around. But it is this contrast that lends the vistas their grandeur…so I should be happy really! It is a unique, important, and changing environment. The changes can barely be seen in our brief lifetime, but they are speedy by mountain measures.

Mossy greenery
Mossy greenery

The return portion of the hike is my favourite. We stepped from the plain and back into forest. And such a forest! A complete contrast to the other shore, this forest feels like a coastal rainforest. We were just remarking on the change and how it felt, when we arrived at an interpretive sign explaining the local differences. (If I need a teaching break, maybe I’ll write interpretive signs; PlaidCamper interpretations of the clearly evident…) It’s ten hours or so to the Pacific, yet because of the relative lack of sunshine, and higher rainfall this side of the mountain, the environment really does have the feel of coastal rainforest about it.

A rainforest feel
A rainforest feel

Cooler, darker and much, much wetter overall. The forest floor is carpeted with beautiful moss, and the mushrooms were everywhere.

Another boot test (passed!)
Another boot test (passed!)

The heavy rain left the trail muddy and puddle strewn, adding to that coastal feeling. It only lasts a couple of kilometres, but it is so wonderful, and such a pleasant surprise – especially as landlocked, semi-arid Alberta is just down the road. I think I prefer this side of the lake…not that it is necessary to choose! It’s probably the contrast, and my delight at finding it in such close proximity.

Love this lake
Love this lake

A changing environment to be found in a few short kilometres – this is why we love Emerald Lake. So much to enjoy and appreciate, particularly after a cabin feverish couple of days!

Coastal? Not really!
Coastal? Not really!

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