Weekend mountains

Weekend mountains! They really help keep things in perspective…

Busy report card season or not, you have to play! We went to Louise last weekend, speeding (within posted limits) out of the city, across the prairies, through the foothills, and into the mountains. Poetry. It is a thrill every single time, and every single time we pass Castle Mountain, I say it is one of my favourites. This time around, the light was soft, fading fast, and Mrs PlaidCamper took a couple of photographs:

Speeding (carefully) towards Castle Mountain
Even through a car window, it has such character!

We mixed up our snow activities, opting to snowshoe on Saturday (more on that another time), and snowboard on Sunday. Saturday was bright and cold, whereas Sunday had a little more cloud cover and mist. It is great to see the mountains under perfect blue skies, but there are different moods created in other conditions.

No worries

I usually enjoy the first hour or two of the day the most – empty slopes, morning light, and the best conditions on the snow. We had all that and different mountain views with the mist and clouds.


Unwritten report cards, sore legs, poor board technique, and other cares are all put aside for a short while when you can sit on the snow and take in the view. A little perspective, a reminder of just how lucky we are, and to enjoy the time you have while you can. Try and appreciate that often in life “we’ve really got a good thing going!” (D. Bowie “Hang on to Yourself”)

Something of an aside here, but I can’t let it go unremarked. Bowie’s passing is such a shock, and maybe a reminder to live as fully as possible. I think he did! He seemed so full of vitality and creativity, and often appeared to be enjoying himself enormously. “Don’t stay in a sad place, where they don’t care how you are…” (D. Bowie “Everyone Says ‘Hi'”)  – this sentiment seems fine to me. If you know it, an upbeat little pop song to celebrate an interesting life.


Anyway, hopefully we are back to the mountains soon. They always work their magic.

I’ll keep it short this week. Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

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.

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…

“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.

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.

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…)

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.

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…

Happy New Year!

Wishing you all a bright, healthy, and happy 2016!

Looking forward!
Really looking forward to reading all of your creative and inventive posts, and to enjoying the wonderful photographs that go with the writing and thoughts.

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on OldPlaidCamper, each and every time you do is always appreciated.

All the best!


A holiday story and a picture…

…to raise a shiver! I know it is meant to be a time of goodwill to all, and I sincerely hope it is (beyond today), but sometimes, scary things happen. Anyway, a little gift in the form of a true story:

Last December, we were snowshoeing near Lake Louise, slogging up a short but steep trail in an attempt to shake off the sluggishness of a Boxing Day cabin morning. Decent snowfall the previous couple of days left everything looking just right – a blanket of brilliant white. But the light accentuates the dark, and a forest isn’t always a welcoming place. Nothing seemed to stir, and all was quiet, yet we were disquieted, with a nagging sense of being watched. We didn’t see anyone else on the trail, but were we alone? It felt like there were eyes on us…


Junior and Mrs PlaidCamper keeping watch…
 We decided to ignore my uncanny sixth sense, and bravely – foolishly? – continued, onwards and upwards. We turned a corner and came to a dead halt. A few yards off the trail, it was standing. No wonder the trail was empty. Quite unlike anything we’d ever seen before, there stood a woodland creature that defied description. It didn’t seem to be looking our way, so I decided to risk it all and crept forward to take the following photograph:


Beyond description…
I hope we never see anything like this ever again. Even now, a year later, I shudder at the memory. We are going to be super-vigilant tomorrow, only too aware of what might be out there on the trail…

Have a wonderful day, and a pleasant weekend! Thanks for being brave enough to read this. As ever, please feel free to comment or share a (seasonal) story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

All time favourite wilderness movies (#3 in an occasional series…)

How about a movie recommendation that doesn’t have a holiday theme? Holiday movies can be a bit hit and miss – do you really want another turkey? For the record, I do enjoy “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Die Hard” this time of year. But let’s imagine we’d like a great movie without a holiday connection to enjoy, and allow us to escape – for a little while –  from the festivities. (Not saying you want/need to escape, but just in case…)

A holiday escape? (Alberta Rockies)

This is a great teaser isn’t it? No? I’ve stretched what makes a wilderness movie here, and would like to recommend a movie that at least 15 people, (possibly one to two more), have seen. It really set the box office on fire – not that that is necessarily a sign of quality. The movie? “Slow West” (dir.John Maclean, A24, 2015). Huh? Slow West? Never heard of it! Slow West? That’s a terrible movie title! Yup, probably contributed to a lack of excitement about seeing it. Awful title, marvellous movie. Honestly, that title is by far the worst aspect of the movie.

Slow West – why go fast?

It’s a recent western, and I’m making the argument many westerns are also wilderness movies if the director has taken the time to include interesting outdoor locations. Most westerns include sections set in the big outdoors; I think of them as prototypical road movies, with horses instead of cars. Slow West is no exception, being beautifully shot in what we are informed is Colorado sometime after the Civil War. Big skies, big mountains, rivers, hill country, and grassy plains all figure in the movie. Western staples? You bet! Yet, there is something off kilter about the rugged scenery. It is familiar, though…

Colorado (somewhere near Pagosa Springs)

Turns out the movie was filmed in New Zealand! This explains the familiar unfamiliarity. Or is that the unfamiliar familiarity? I found that to be part of the fun and appeal of the movie, a slight oddness in setting that extends to an oddness in character, story and photography. You know you are watching a western, but with delightfully subtle subversions of the genre. Slow West pays respect to the conventions, then plays with audience expectations, and that was most enjoyable.

Colorado hills

Like many a western predecessor, the plot is slight – a tale of love, revenge, mixed motives, and shady characters encountered on a difficult journey. There is redemption for some, loss for others, and a neat resolution that is not necessarily what you might expect, but makes for a satisfying conclusion.

Colorado sunrise

The acting, particularly of the leads Michael Fassbender (weary gunslinger) and Kodi Smitt-McPhee (an innocent abroad), is strong, and there is a fine assortment of well played characters encountered throughout the movie. The violence is realistic, as expected, but less expected is the way the movie confronts the consequences of violence. This is not a celebration of gunplay – the final shootout is certainly handled carefully, and is also quite unusual. Perhaps that is the real pleasure of this little movie, the quirky and unexpected wrapped up in familiar packaging. Not too bad if you’d like a different movie this holiday season.

Big (Alberta) skies

There are so many great westerns out there! The Searchers, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Johnny Guitar, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven, any Sam Peckinpah western – these are all favourites of mine. Chances are you’ve seen those, so I chose Slow West instead. Quirky, not turkey. I think it stands up as a decent recent example…

Shot in widescreen cowboyrama

Thanks for taking the time to read this. As ever, please feel free to make a comment or share a story. Were you one of the few to see Slow West? Do you have a favourite (holiday) wilderness or western movie recommendation?  Thanks, pardners, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Looking west

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?

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)!

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.

Snowshoe shuffle

It’s the latest dance craze, kids…

Fresh snow

No, it’s not. Last time out in the mountains, there was so much fresh snow we decided to put on our snowshoes and take a little wander.


If I’d bothered to check the overnight temperatures, I wouldn’t have left the snowshoes in the car. But I hadn’t, so I did. Great. It was so much fun trying to strap unforgivingly stiff fasteners and clips over my clumpy boots with numb fingers. Trying to look balanced, leaning nonchalantly against a tree and reaching down and behind to fix and tighten the back strap. Of course I intended to hop left, left, left, and then right, right, right back to the tree. It’s a method. Cursing? No, that was singing, you misheard me – they were the words to go with the snowshoe shuffle.

Funky footwear

Early season deep snow and raring to go! Raring? Might have had to stretch out a cramp or two, ease the legs back into it, and then off we go, relearning the wider stance and slightly exaggerated strides, over the railway tracks and down into the woods. (Every time we cross the tracks in snowshoes, I can’t help remembering the scene from “Stand By Me” where the boys are crossing a wooden bridge and a train comes around the corner. Not helpful…)

Find the river…

The woods were silent, snow hushed and pristine; white sheets marked with tracks left by snowshoe hares, and a few bird prints, although we didn’t see or hear either. The air was still, but every now and then clumps of snow would fall from tree limbs where there was just enough sun heat to prompt the drop. As we shuffled through the trees, the faint sounds of the creek and river rushing, splashing, and attempting to outrun winter could be heard.

Early winter

We emerged at the confluence, enjoying the bumps, lumps and humps of a landscape putting on the first layers of seasonal finery. Fresh, textured and intriguing, almost impossible-looking in places. An early winter wonderland, enough to cause a little jig, and maybe I fell, but the landing was soft and powdery, and you could only laugh at it all.

Taking a break (or maybe I fell)

The Bow doesn’t always freeze over, but Baker Creek will. Too early yet, but the signs were there. We saw the beginnings of a frosty, blue-white waterfall where the waters meet; icy, beautiful and brief, soon to be frozen over and buried under snow. It was something to see, and strange to think that when we return in a week or two, we’ll be able to snowshoe over the top of the creek, and closer to, if not over and above the banks of the Bow as winter takes hold.

Winter is taking hold

Our snowshoe shuffle was brief, but an exciting and enticing reminder of the outdoor delights in store for the next few months. Now, if only I can remember to defrost the snowshoes before putting them on next time…


Thanks for taking the time to read this. As ever, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.


PS As I was writing this, the song “Bad Boy Boogie” by AC/DC came into my head, only my brain changed it to “Snowshoe Shuffle” – showing my age, questionable musical tastes, odd neural pathways, and now I’m off to find the CD. Mrs PlaidCamper will be pleased.

The Moose Meadow Moose! (Animal magic…)

“Why is it called Moose Meadow? We never see a moose in Moose Meadow!” whines a pouty PlaidCamper every time we head to and from Louise along the Bow Valley Parkway. That PlaidCamper, always asking silly questions. Just because he never sees a moose…

There is a moose in the middle!

I saw a moose in Moose Meadow! I believe it may be the moose of Moose Meadow. Last Sunday, a little before noon, a splendid sunny day, crisp and clear, and there he was! A safe distance from the road, right in the middle of the meadow, chewing contentedly, and far enough away that we weren’t bothering him by stopping and watching for a few minutes. It made our day.

Moose Meadow on a crisp and clear day

I snapped a few grainy shots, and these are the clearest – the most moose-like of the bunch.

A marvellous moose

It really is quite obvious why this place is called Moose Meadow – who would question that? It’s a beautiful patch. In fact, if you ever get the chance to travel along the Bow Valley Parkway, take it. Running parallel to the Trans-Canada, it is the slower and quieter (off season) way to connect Banff and Lake Louise. You might even see a moose!

The Bow Valley Parkway – a pleasant route…

A very brief post this week – I mostly wanted to share this little highlight from last weekend. Before finishing, and as we’re on an animal magic trip, I’ll go back to last week. The picture of the wolf or coyote that ended the previous post prompted a couple of questions, so here’s the story…

Coyote? Wolf?

We were heading down a quiet run at Louise, our first turns of the day. I dropped left into a steep slope and stopped as fast as I could, digging in my heel edge and using my backside as a brake (pretty effective anchor there), because a large coyote (wolf?) was trotting across the slope, right to left. As I sat down, and Mrs PlaidCamper joined me, the wolf (coyote?) halted and stared up at us. Hmm. Now what?

DSCN2498Fortunately, he decided we weren’t very interesting, and turned away and headed towards the wooded fringe of the run. Quite sensibly, Mrs PlaidCamper proceeded down the hill, and I started to follow but couldn’t resist peeking into the trees as I passed the spot the coyote had disappeared. He was still there! Not very sensibly, I drifted past and below as slowly as possible, toe edge in, reaching for my phone and taking the indistinct pictures you see here. Not at all the right thing to do, but Snowboard PlaidCamper isn’t the smartest fellow…

Proceed down the hill

Animal magic – you never can tell what you might see or when, and the surprises are always a delight!

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

One more time

Snow pictures – happiness and equilibrium

For many of us this past week, our determination to view the world positively has been tested, but perhaps a solution to this problem can be found outdoors.

An outdoor remedy
An outdoor remedy
I’m aiming to be in a happy place mentally and geographically this weekend (do you find the two are inextricably linked, or is that just me?) We will be snowboarding at Louise, our first outing of the new season, and I’ve only been looking forward to this for about six months. The snow pictures this week come from the previous season or two.

Looking for Louise
Looking for Louise (other way – it’s behind you)
I’m likely getting on a bit to be so excited about stepping onto a plank of wood and launching myself down steep snowy slopes, but what can I say? I love it! Don’t go thinking I’m some sort of daredevil riding a snowboard (only in my head), it’s more like a slower version of Driving Miss Daisy, where Miss Daisy is shaking a fist and yelling at me to move over. I get down the mountain…

It’s definitely not the adrenaline rush. I find that when I’m on the board, being on the board is all I’m thinking about, if thinking is the right word here. Everything else has to drop away, and there’s the balance, the movement – leaning one way then the other – and all the little adjustments made on the fly as you navigate the terrain. Finding equilibrium. If you’re lucky enough to be first out on a powder day, and the sky is blue and the scenery is sparkling, then so much the better.


I smile on a snowboard – it may look like a grimace, but honestly, that is a smile. I love how fellow riders and skiers all appear to be happy. Faces are lit up, stories are shared in lift lineups, and the mood of the day is upbeat. I know there are risks and accidents, and some can be severe, but life is about risk and exploring boundaries (without trampling over your fellows along the way), so enjoy it as best you can while you can. If that means being an elderly(ish) snowboarder, well, off you go!

A bit of a selfish post here, so I’ll keep it brief. A weekend in the mountains riding my board at Louise – fresh air, good company, a cabin at the end of the day – definitely a happy place!


Some sort of a daredevil?!
Thanks for reading! Do you find happiness and equilibrium on a snowboard? Maybe somewhere elsewhere? Please feel free to make a comment or share a story, have a happy weekend, and keep your guy ropes secure.

We were both surprised...
We were both surprised…