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?

 Maybe…

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.

Heading out and returning home – thoughts on belonging (plus a little book review)

These post headings are getting longer than the posts. Apologies on the PlaidCamper meander…

I never know what is best about a trip away from home – is it the planning, the trip itself or returning home? I love the anticipation, and even the thought of a short day out or a weekend trip can raise my spirits during what (sometimes) seems a lengthy work week. (Just to be clear, I enjoy my day job, teaching, but there can be moments when a lesson seems a lifetime, and then a brief thought related to an outdoor adventure puts things in perspective!) Positive longing for the outdoor trips, without wishing away the present, is likely no bad thing. 

If you’ve read even a little of what I’ve posted previously, you know that I’m an almost outdoorsman, with more enthusiasm than expertise, but a willingness to try most things, safe in the knowledge I’m not living the wilderness life full time and I go home at the end of the day, weekend or time away. I’d love to spend more time outdoors, but we have annoying responsibilities like educating students, and feeding a family…not to mention financing the adventures. 

                  

Colorado cabin – I’d happily spend more time here…

The reality is that the return from a trip can, for me, be almost as satisfying as heading out. I suspect it is because there is a marked contrast between the (very pleasant) everyday life I have, and the wonderful contentment of simply being in the mountains, or whatever version of the big outdoors I find myself in. The journey home is a time to reflect on this contrast. (Or maybe I just can’t wait to bore the pants off any audience with tales of my latest exploits?) I often wonder, can I call the mountains home? Our second home? Is home simply a sense of belonging? 

                  

North to the Fairholme Range, AB. Is this home? A sense of home?

The idea of contrast, between belonging somewhere and a sense of longing for somewhere else, is one that William Fiennes explores in his marvellous little book “The Snow Geese”. I had not read this until Mrs PlaidCamper urged me to a few weeks ago, saying she thought it would appeal to me. As ever, she was absolutely right. The book covers so much ground in a genuine and beautifully written way. Reducing it to the most basic description is to undermine exactly how good the book is, but here goes:

Fiennes was recovering from a dangerous illness, one that had left him weak, scared and uncertain about much that he had taken for granted. He spends time recuperating at his parents’ house, a place of security and familiar comfort. Slowly, his strength returns, and with it a growing restlessness. Part of the restlessness stems from watching and reading about migratory birds, some reading specifically about snow geese. As Fiennes thinks and researches more about migration patterns, he begins to feel the need to follow the snow geese on their journey from the southern US up to their northern breeding grounds in Canada. The security of the familiar has started to stifle him, and he questions his sense of identity. To find out who he might now be, Fiennes follows the geese, describing the people and places he visits along the way. 

Reading the paragraph above, I know I have done a terrible disservice to how brilliant the book really is. Trust an old PlaidCamper when I say the book is so much more than the sum of its parts. If you have ever pondered on the nature of home, belonging, and the need to travel to different places – and you have a love of wildlife – then you will enjoy The Snow Geese. It’s a delightful meditation on travel, learning, and the kindness of strangers in strange places. You’ll also incidentally learn so much about migration patterns in birds you might even want to follow in Fiennes’ footsteps. It’s got me thinking about a trip…



In the end, it doesn’t matter how or where you define home. A combination of being with the right people or person at the right time in a particular location, and feeling contentment in all that, can amount to a sense of belonging. Perhaps it isn’t easy to define – I do know that being in the wilderness helps me think about such matters, and that’s a fine way to spend time.

Have you read The Snow Geese? Do you have a travel or outdoor book to recommend? How do you define home? Feel free to share, thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Camp fires – an outdoor essential, and how old PlaidCamper likes to play with matches…

Never play with matches. There, that’s the public health warning, along the lines of “don’t try this at home” etc. Now, if you burn down your cabin, or set fire to your tent, it’s not my fault. Or are you trying this at home? Really? Go further outside!

When I was a little boy, like many, I was fascinated with fire. Not in the pyromaniac sense, although, with three likeminded brothers and knowledge of where the “emergency” matches were stashed, of course we set little fires out in the backyard – don’t all young boys have a need to know how their least favourite toys will burn? We all experimented diligently, desperately trying to hide the singed remains before our parents got home – I’m sure they saw (smelled?) the evidence, but figured that as the house, the fence and our neighbour’s shed were still standing, it was better not to ask. (In case you’re wondering, plastic soldiers and model fighter airplanes were our favoured test subjects – unbelievably, we’d set fire to action figures, launching them on homemade parachutes from bedroom windows out into the garden. How the house or neighbourhood didn’t burn down…just very lucky I guess).

Camping in the UK, we never had fire pits or rings at most campgrounds, so imagine my delight that first trip to Lake Louise. You were allowed a fire, the wood was ready chopped, and, due to evening temperatures, it was almost a necessity, never mind the ritual. Marvellous! And a beer tastes so much better with a campfire. Safety first – I never have a beer until I’ve trimmed and chopped the necessary pieces with my trusty hatchet. I love owning and using a hatchet, it fuels my outdoorsy hunger. I chop even when there’s more than enough kindling. So sad. It’s a fact that views improve, and even lite and flavoured beers taste better after hatchet use:



Matches – remember, don’t play with them. I’ve used matches and fancy slow burning fire lighters to get a blaze going, and very efficient they are too. But somehow, to an almost outdoorsman, that feels like cheating. My outdoor idol and hero, Ray Mears, rarely seems to use matches, except in his extreme survival shows when speed and survival are of the absolute essence. I like when he demonstrates how to prepare the ground and materials before using a fire steel – planning and preparation being essential to success – see a video by Ray Mears here: Light a Fire. He also likes to showcase aboriginal and/or traditional fire starting methods, as with the bow and drill technique seen here: Bow and Drill

I’ve used a Swedish fire steel successfully, after much trial and error – more error, if I’m honest (revisiting with Ray put me right). For tinder, I know many use lint from their home dryers, doused in petroleum jelly and kept in a Baggie. That is great, especially when time and efficiency demand a quick result, but I aim to use what is in the vicinity – it feels more real. Or more Ray. Which is odd when I consider my manufactured tent, clothing and other camping gear. Who am I fooling? 

My goal this summer is to become proficient with a traditional method. (Mrs PlaidCamper may read this before we depart, and I suspect will carry extra matches. There is wish fulfillment practicality, and there is realism and proper practicality). It’s just that I’m an old school Old PlaidCamper when it suits me…but on those days when I’m in a hurry or it is raining? Why, matches, borrowed from Mrs PlaidCamper, of course! I can always burn the evidence…

Do you have a preferred fire starting technique? Or burn your childhood toys? Feel free to share! Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.



A stash that will need chopping…

Little Bear Cabin, MT