The Kananaskis Caper

Sounds like the title to a spy novel, when all we did was go snowshoeing – a thrilling enough true life adventure, but no mystery, unless you are mystified that people enjoy the ancient and honourable tradition of plodding through snow on old tennis rackets (or racquets?)IMG_20180225_114233

Sailing a bit close to an untruth there; we’ve never used the old school snowshoes, handmade, traditional and really rather romantic. No, we opt for the modern form when it comes to snowshoes. Perhaps we’ll tackle the classics sometime? I can see it already, pure PlaidCamper poetry in motion. Speculative fiction, at any rate.IMG_20180225_121552

It was wonderful to be back in some mountain and forest scenery for the weekend, after rather too many consecutive weekends in the big city. All the recent snowfall created landscapes blanketed in snow, much of it deep, thigh deep if we stepped off the trail. Or fell off the trail, if one wasn’t too attentive to matters underfoot, all too distracted by the sheer delight of being in the woods. Did I mention poetry in motion? Flailing, failing and falling can be balletic.

Mrs. PC makes it look easy
Some of the tracks ran parallel with and occasionally crossed some xc ski trails, and although we saw no others out on snowshoes, there were a few skiers sliding along and enjoying the day. It was generally pretty quiet, noise wise, just the happy cries of speeding skiers as they hit some of the steeper patches, and these cries were muffled by the trees and snow. We’ll have to investigate some flat tracks next winter, see if we can navigate them on skis with a well trained dog padding alongside. If only we knew a well trained dog…or a dog with well trained humans?

“Let’s both pretend we’re well trained, ok?”
A short post about a brief trip, but the energy boost and recharge from our Kananaskis caper lasted long after we returned to the city – I can still feel the effects. Temperatures are edging up dangerously close to spring-like numbers, but perhaps we’ll manage one or two more mountain jaunts on snowshoes? Ooh, a serial adventure…

“Stop falling off the trail, PC. It’s embarrassing…”
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!fullsizeoutput_550

How cold is too cold?

Too cold?! Is that even possible? Maybe…

This past week was spent with a small group of 12 year old students out in Kananaskis. They – we – were learning more about teamwork, leadership, and meeting challenges together. Fun stuff, and one big challenge was the super subzero temperatures. The daytime highs were minus 20C, and in the valleys and shadows a touch colder than that. At sun up yesterday, it was minus 35! Yikes – toe freezing temperatures!

Cold from top to toe, and toe to top
It was certainly a talking point amongst the students – and they were sold on the notion that few people can say they’ve experienced what they did in such temperatures! I was so happy to see them rise to the challenge of skill building and cooperating when it could have been easy to complain. Yes they mentioned the temperatures (hard to ignore!), but most of the time they cheerfully stepped up and reached personal goals set each day. City kids with very little outdoor winter experience between them, they were delighted to be in a wonderful setting and were heard exclaiming how pretty the landscape was.

They did have to hug trees, because it’s mandatory on all Mr. PC field trips, even if it isn’t an explicit curriculum requirement. (It should be!)

Does this tree look like it needs a hug?
It was too cold for high ropes, but not too cold to learn a knot or two, or learn how to lash logs together to build a rudimentary shelter (although it was too cold and getting too dark to hang around and finish it!)

Let’s finish it later, when it warms up…late April sound good?
It was too cold to bore into trees (they were frozen) and extract a core sample, but it wasn’t too cold to hike to Chilver Lake (one student renamed it Shiver Lake) and admire a long view in the late afternoon.

Beautiful Shiver Lake
No sign of the cougar seen by many the previous week, but deer tracks, coyote tracks, and squirrel tracks were everywhere – those little guys are so industrious and could still be spotted scampering from tree to tree and scurrying up trunks. It was too cold to stand around watching for long, but they always excited our students.

In lovely light, with Mount Yamnuska to the right
Seeing students learning and problem solving together far from their regular classroom, and in trying conditions, gives me hope for the future. Not just their appreciation for the environment, although that is essential. No, it’s something else as our generation looks to the next. Let’s face it, when I’m in the retirement home (many, many decades hence), the young ones we’re teaching today will be (amongst other things) the healthcare policy makers, care workers, nurses and doctors looking after me in my dotage.

I take this seriously. Imagine you’re bedridden, awaiting the next dose of medication, the door opens and that student from way back when walks in – surprise! You know, the one you’d wished you’d helped a bit more in, say, measurement and math, especially as now they’re stood in the doorway holding a large syringe. Those thoughts keep you focused when teaching, let me tell you…

A wee heavy for a cold, cold night – and a little reward
Anyway, on the basis of what I observed this past week, there are going to be some fine citizens taking responsibility for themselves and each other in the future. Too cold wasn’t possible for these young people – and, one day, we might all be safe in their hands. A happy thought.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story, and have a wonderful weekend! (Stay warm…)


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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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


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!

After a cold day, this seemed about right!

Brutal, bold, and beautiful

Without forgetting bloody, intense, and controversial. Here we go, #4 in an occasional series, the latest in my list of favourite wilderness and outdoor movies. This time, I’ve gone up to the minute, unafraid to seize the bull (or buffalo) by the horns, and thrown myself headlong into the furore that is the publicist’s dream surrounding “The Revenant” (dir. Alejandro Inarritu, 20th Century Fox, 2015). You know, the one where a man goes for a very long walk intent on exacting revenge upon those who left him for dead. It’s not heavy on plot, but it is heavy on everything else.


How could an almost outdoorsman resist?! Rugged winter scenery? Tests of survival? Nineteenth century setting? Buffalo and bears? First Nations and trappers? Beards? It’s like all my birthdays arrived at once. Throw in a much admired director and cinematographer, an excellent cast list, and it was all Mrs PlaidCamper could do to calm down an overexcited little boy heading in. Yikes, I hope I like it…


Best make my position clear here – I loved the movie, flaws and all. One large reason is that it was shot in part in Kananaskis, little more than an hour from our door. The locations had such an air of familiarity, it was like coming home on the big screen. I’m sure that many have been spellbound by how beautiful the mountain and foothill regions are as depicted in this movie. Kananaskis is an area of outstanding beauty, and the movie takes full advantage. The cinematographer – Emmanuel Lubezki – shot outdoors in natural light, often early or late in the day, and the results are breathtaking.


I’ve written before about how the outdoor setting in a wilderness movie can be like an extra character, and in “The Revenant’ this is certainly true. Nature here is shown as terrifying, fierce, seductive, raw, and overwhelming in scope and power. This is quite possibly almost to the detriment of the movie. The human tales of revenge, greed, betrayal, love, and honour are compelling enough, but the sheer magnitude of the movie settings threaten to swamp or distract from the story. I didn’t mind, because the movie is more than just beautiful to look at. It is bold, thought-provoking and challenging.


There is no beauty in violence, and “The Revenant” doesn’t shrink from being brutal. The scenes of conflict between Native Americans and European fur traders are realistic. Arrows fly, knives stab, lances pierce, musket balls strike, and hatchets inflict awful injuries. The movie has received criticism for being violent. Given the setting and source material, it is naive to expect this movie to be free from violence. I don’t think the violence is gratuitous; it serves the story, and most viewers ought to be aware of this before purchasing a ticket. However, it is more than wince-inducing, as acts of violence should be.


Staying with the violence, not all the horror is between humans. There is a bear attack, and it is scary. You will wince (again), forget to breathe, and grip your seat. You certainly won’t blame the bear, or the character for defending himself, and you’ll never wonder again what a bear attack might feel like. It is absolutely terrifying, and for me, wonderful movie-making. I want to be moved to feel something, and if it is fear, then great.

Feeling transported by a story on screen or on the page is essential. The setting works, the action engages, and, most importantly, the acting is convincing. You might think that some of the harrowing situations endured by Hugh Glass – played by Leonardo DiCaprio – are too much for any one human to survive, but DiCaprio gives his all in showing the cost Glass pays for survival. As his travails mount, you do start to think maybe Glass/DiCaprio deserves a break, and could you really survive even one of the incidents?

DSCF1815It is all so well acted, so thoroughly immersive, that you forgive the slightly ludicrous powers of recovery displayed by Glass. Based on true events, my guess is the writers and director fell prey to the tendency to over dramatize when there was no need, and shrink timelines to serve the running time. A slight criticism, and it leads to my next, that the movie is too long. I do like a movie that can breathe, unfold and explore. However, for this movie, the truth is the revenge plot is clear, and maybe we don’t need quite so many tribulations and sufferings for Glass. The audience will get it! Those rivers and streams are deathly cold, the storms can kill, bears are a bit dangerous, wounds do get infected, starvation isn’t great, don’t get abandoned and buried alive, and falling over cliff edges will hurt. Revenge must really be a motivator for Glass…

That said, you have to admire the artistry. The director is in full control of his camera, with close ups of actors pulling back to reveal scenery and backdrops that delight. The camera weaves and bobs, low along the ground, then at human eye height, in long takes that are expertly constructed to draw you in and feel and see what the characters are experiencing. Their surprise, shock, horror, and pain is yours too.

IMG_20160109_152512Like I said at the top, I did love this movie. As an almost outdoorsman, I could only admire the survival skills of Glass. I wouldn’t have lasted one tenth of the time! As a resident of Alberta, I delighted in how the movie showcases our outstanding province. For the convincing period detail, gripping yet unsettling action scenes, wonderful acting by the entire cast (Tom Hardy has a marvellous role, and his character, John Fitzgerald, is more emotionally interesting than Hugh Glass), and amazing control the director exerts scene after scene, I highly recommend “The Revenant”. It’s not for the squeamish, but the fully immersive experience, the commitment of the cast and crew, and sheer boldness of the undertaking makes this one to watch.

Have you seen “The Revenant”? Is it as good as I think it is, or an overlong and violent art house movie? As always, thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, 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?


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.

Last chance for a winter walk – where did winter go?

Two weeks ago, PlaidCamper was a very happy boy because it snowed overnight in Kananaskis – while he was there! OK, enough of the third person…

Normally, that is not such a noteworthy weather event, but it was probably only the first or second time this winter season that I’ve experienced snow falling while being out in the mountains…maybe I haven’t been out there enough this winter! It has been an unusual six months or more, where the highest snowfall in Calgary was back in September. At school, students were making snowmen a few weeks into the new academic year. It is not entirely unheard of to get snow in any month, being so close to the mountains, but still – snow angels in September? There hasn’t really been that much snow on the ground since then. Continual chinooks over the city and relatively light(ish) snowfall out in the eastern Rockies have made it a different winter than usual. Lots of Calgarians don’t mind the chinooks, but there have been so many this year, and I like winter being just that – winter!


Winter in Kananaskis

So, to be out in Kananaskis and to be hiking through deep(ish) snow, and in ongoing flurries was very pleasant. As the day progressed, the snow eased off, the clouds drifted away and the sun broke through, lighting up the landscape. Skies were the beautiful Alberta blue that I’ve come to love in the winter months. Stands of aspen that were a dramatic and moody black and white against grey skies earlier in the day, became silvery and shimmery when the bright sunlight hit them, the air so crisp and sharp that every spruce needle on each tree stood out clearly. 


Becoming brighter…

It being late winter in the front country of the Rockies, nothing could be taken for granted, and not more than an hour after the skies cleared did the clouds come rolling back in, at first providing a misty cloak for the near distant mountains, and then completely enveloping them. After that, it was back to the more sombre feel of a monochrome winter day. The sparkly and the sullen all in a short while, winter fickle as a teenager.


Back to the mists again – still beautiful!

There has been little snow and unseasonably warm temperatures since that walk, so it feels as if that’s it for winter this year, at least as far as snowshoeing and easier winter hiking goes. There’s still time for skiing and snowboarding up in the heights, but an early spring seems to have arrived in the foothills…unless winter has time for one or two more tantrums – here’s hoping!

Do you look forward to the end of winter? Is it a favourite season? Or is spring your thing? Feel free to share. Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.