Whitewater – what a thrill!

I usually prefer the quieter and more contemplative outdoor pursuits – honestly, there’s really no need for me to sing around the campfire or anything, that’s just cruel and unusual punishment for all the woodland creatures – but when friends suggested a morning of whitewater rafting we couldn’t say no.

  Maligne River, Jasper National Park, AB. Quiet and contemplative…

Rivers have cropped up in much of what we’ve been doing the past few weeks. We recently attended a National Geographic presentation, Chasing Rivers by photographer Pete McBride, where he discussed the importance of the Ganges and Colorado rivers. Using these mighty waterways as case studies, he spoke about how the health of a river is an excellent barometer of our environmental responsibility. The treatment a river gets from the humans relying on it for drinking water, agriculture, industry, or as a leisure resource can be quite astonishing. Rivers are such vital parts of our ecosystems, yet rarely get much attention or thought as we merrily extract millions of gallons to sprinkle our lawns, wash our vehicles or forgetfully leave taps running. Perhaps the best point McBride made was that we all live upstream of someone else. Thought provoking given that many rivers are running dry…

  Athabasca River, AB. We all live upstream or downstream to someone else – makes you think…

As well as the presentation, around the same time, and quite by coincidence, I read Peter Heller’s marvellous book Hell or High Water. Heller accompanied a group of kayakers on their expedition to Tibet, where they attempted the first successful descent of the Tsangpo Gorge through white waters that almost defy description in how dangerously wild they are. 
  Read this, it is an amazing true story!

If you enjoy reading first class writing about faraway places and grand (foolhardy?) adventures, then this is the book for you. I was mesmerized by Heller’s telling of the story. He captures the wonder of the locations as well as all the ego, bravado, bravery and dangerous politics of the expedition. He also provides astonishing background stories and histories of some earlier characters who attempted to uncover/discover the Gorge. It is a joy to read – even the very place names are a form of poetry:

Senchen La, Kondrasong La, Namcha Barwa, Gyala Peri, Sinji-Chogyal, Pemakochung. Just delightful sounding!

All this got me thinking back to last summer and our own little whitewater adventure. It was hardly riding Class V or VI rapids, but perfectly exciting Class III and IV water – more than enough for this novice. To put my nerves and fearlessness into perspective, when I say you couldn’t pay me to go on a rollercoaster, I’m being truthful. As I get older, the fear centre in my brain seems to increase in size. I shudder to recall the tree climbing and zip lining “exploits” of years gone by. What was I thinking?

  This seems exciting enough – snapped on my walk to work last week – is this his commute?! 

So I was just a little apprehensive during the excellent and comprehensive safety talk our guide gave us before launch. It was detailed enough on the whole being thrown out of the raft mid rapids explanation that I was having serious second – and third – thoughts. But you can’t lose face in front of friends and family, and anyway, I appeared to be firmly stuck into the wetsuit. Good look for an old PlaidCamper. The best part was when our guide asked for two volunteers to take the front positions in the raft – allegedly the high responsibility places on board. We were all glancing at each other, shuffling a bit and hoping someone else volunteered. What happened was our fellow passengers all shuffled back a pace, making it look like my friend and I had stepped up. My pulse might have quickened…

 Fun, fun, fun!

It was such fun! Being sat at the front was tremendous. The first hole we plunged into left me feeling exhilarated – no time for nerves, you had to paddle as directed by our guide. I’m smiling now as I recall the sheer excitement of those rapids. I really hadn’t anticipated how thrilling our trip down the river would be. I’d go again tomorrow if friends suggested it (or when the rivers are ready, which is the next week or two). Sign me up!

 Still fun!

The pictures of our little group you see on this post were supplied by the excellent outfitters who ran our expedition. I won’t advertise, but I have left a link to their site below if you are interested.

Anyway, there you have it. Something about how rivers have been on my mind recently, and a recollection of an exciting whitewater adventure from last July. Horseshoe Canyon on the Bow River isn’t the Tsango Po Gorge (thank goodness) but it did provide a great introduction to an exciting outdoor activity. I love being by rivers, and this was a new way to enjoy one. However, I’d have been equally as happy hiking, camping or sitting on the riverbank (and I did get as great a thrill the first time I tried fly fishing – but that’s for telling another day!) I’ll finish with a calming picture, soothing after the adrenaline rush:

 A peaceful stream, Sedona AZ

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

Click for more information about photographer Pete McBride!

Click to see Peter Heller’s Tsangpo expedition photos!

Click for information about rafting the Horseshoe Canyon!

A new camping season and a new tent challenge – or is it just me?

Don’t you just love the first camping trip of the new season? 

Especially when you are trying out a new tent! Ah, a new tent, carefully shopped for and chosen wisely. Right weight and size? Check. Within budget? Check. Positive reviews? Check. Easy to put up and pack away? Well…let’s just say for me, in the past, this last part has involved a certain amount of blood, sweat, toil and tears. Being a grown man of a particular age, I don’t need to read instructions because I can figure things out with my innate logical reasoning abilities. Just ask Mrs PlaidCamper. She’d tell you about that time in Scotland…  The new tent looks secure from a distance…

The Scotland story? OK. We arrived at a campground just as it was getting dark and starting to rain. PlaidCamper Jr. was not quite ten months old, a happy camper in the making, but not at that precise moment. It might have been Junior’s tears, or my tears (and rather choice language) as I wrestled with a new tent in the increasingly blustery gloom, but rain or no rain, we drew a sizeable Scottish crowd there. By the end I think the Highland bush telegraph was really buzzing, and they were pouring in from the hillsides to watch the hapless Englishman. It was a bit like a scene from Braveheart, but more grisly. They all wanted to help I’m sure, but I think they realized there are times when it is best to leave well alone. Probably not my finest moment. The trip did get better, and Scotland (in the dry) is a beautiful place to be a camper. He watched the tent antics last week, but didn’t help… 

Back to last weekend and our new tent. With many more years of experience – I’m an older and wiser PlaidCamper than I was on our Scottish adventure, and tents are much more user friendly these days – it was shaping up to be a fun first excursion of the new camping season. 

 This one kept a beady eye on us

It’s worth repeating, I’m a grown man of a certain age, I don’t need to read instructions because I can figure things out with my innate logical reasoning abilities. Hmm. Who needs instructions? Where did I put the instructions? Why didn’t I read the instructions? There are times when learning by doing is great. It’s time to admit it: there are also times when a set of instructions should be read carefully before doing. Don’t tell anyone I said that. In the end, the new tent went up beautifully (or more accurately, was beautiful once up), there was less of a crowd than on that Scottish trip – all done before nightfall, and it was neither windy or rainy.  Looks good close up – now get those guy ropes secured!

It was chilly once the sun dropped behind the mountains, but we were prepared and kept warm as follows: 

Blue Buck, Phillips Brewing, Victoria BC

  Kept warm (I did use one match, sorry Ray!)

Another one of my beer geek asides here: Blue Buck is one of my all time favourite beers (although that’s quite a long list), perfect as a campfire accompaniment, even to those who normally prefer lager beers, so go out and find some. And save one for me! I’ve never tried a Phillips beer and not enjoyed it. Wonderful brewery!

Back to the camping. The following morning was lovely, warming up quickly once the sun rose above the mountains. The view from the new tent made everything seem just right with our little corner of the world:

 Mount Rundle, AB

Overall it was a pleasant overnight excursion, with the new tent a great success. This old PlaidCamper is hoping the tent will be a long lasting one, that way I won’t have to worry for a while about following instructions or another public display of campground ineptitude.

Have you experienced new tent frustration? Or is it just me? Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

All time favourite wilderness movies (#1 in an occasional series)

This is can be a fun campfire discussion to have – what are your all time favourite movies? Top twenty? Top ten? So hard to decide. But it’s easier if you go for genres and sub-genres…like all time favourite wilderness movies!  Across Albertan foothills to the Rockies (you could film wilderness adventures here…)

A movie that has stuck with me forever is Jeremiah Johnson (dir.Sidney Pollack, Warner Bros.1972) with Robert Redford playing the title role. Set in the mid 1800s, Jeremiah is a war veteran heading away from his past, looking for a quiet life, to be self sufficient, alone, and in his own cabin. No spoilers, but this being a movie, what he wishes for and what happens are two different creatures…

My first viewing I was about 10 years old, and it knocked me out. I’m not sure I was quite mature enough to be watching, but my mother, Ma PlaidCamper, had a bit of a crush on Robert Redford, so I sat quietly when the movie started and hoped she wouldn’t notice I hadn’t gone to bed. She didn’t, and I hadn’t, which means I can thank Hollywood superstar Robert Redford for helping me become the PlaidCamper I am today. (If you’re reading this, thanks Robert). 

                 Pretty and wild – Jeremiah would have liked the Athabasca River, AB

Back to the movie. I’d never seen anything like it before. To my tender eyes, it was tough, bloody, full of action, and Jeremiah wore really great buckskins and had an epic beard. His adventures seemed realistic, and took place in landscapes I didn’t know and thought were impossibly beautiful – not that my 10 year old self would ever have admitted that last part. But the settings – the movie was shot in Utah – and trappings (no pun intended) did appeal to me all those years ago. I lived in a suburb of Reading, a medium sized town just to the west of London UK, so log cabins built beneath snow capped peaks that towered over mighty forests seemed unreachable, exciting, and exotic to that young man. To be fair, living where we did, a small hill, or a field with a few cows often seemed pretty wild.  

Snow capped peaks – Castle Mountain, Bow Valley AB

I was clearly impressionable and susceptible to the myth making wiles of Redford and Pollack, and that seems to me to be no bad thing for a young boy. By today’s standards, some might find the movie to be slow paced. I prefer to think that it unfolds comfortably, giving the story and characters room to breathe. There are wordless sequences like visual tone poems, and scenes full of natural beauty that establish the different moods of the movie.

On the surface, the movie plays as a simple adventure and revenge tale, but it is more complex than that. I appreciate that the depiction of culture clashes and the predominant perspective of the movie may seem outdated or questionable to today’s sensibilities. However, as I sit writing this and think about the movie and the impact it had on a prepubescent PlaidCamper, I can say it planted a few seeds about respecting environments, the value of natural resources, disappearing cultures, and how to better resolve conflict when competing for valuable shared resources. Not that 10 year old me was thinking about any of that as he watched the movie for the very first time. To be honest, I was waiting for the next cool fight. 

  Tall trees and fresh air…

I’m very happy to report that snow capped peaks, log cabins, and mighty forests are still exciting to my aging self many years later. I’ve not worn buckskin – PlaidCamper, remember – but I have grown a couple of decent beards when the mood has taken me, and my inner 10 year old never lets me forget Jeremiah and the sense of wonder his story sparked. Or is that a sense of wander?

Have you seen Jeremiah Johnson? Do you have a favourite wilderness movie recommendation? Please feel free to share! Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

The great state of Oregon – should we keep it a secret? 

If you’ve been reading even just a little of what I post, you’ll know I simply adore North America, particularly for all the enormous outdoor beauty. I’ve travelled through a lot of the continent – by no means all (I should have started those travels a few lifetimes ago. Never mind, I’ll do what I can in the time I have…) – and one state I really enjoy visiting is Oregon. 

  Oregon forests – lush and leafy!

You might be wondering, why write about Oregon now? Well, firstly, it’s because I was reading an excellent couple of posts on Leanne Cole’s WordPress blog. She takes amazing photos, and these recent articles featured coastline near Melbourne, Australia. (LeanneColePhotography). As I was looking at her photographs, in particular of waves crashing on rocks, they reminded me of our visits to the Oregon coast. Then pretty much in the same week Leanne posted her coastal pictures, Mrs PlaidCamper passed me a Globe and Mail article about Oregon. (Globe and Mail). So I dug out a few photos from our trips, and here we are. I know, a fascinatingly dreary look into the mind of a blogging PlaidCamper. Let’s move on!
  Cape Perpetua, Oregon – it is so alive!

Oregon is often overlooked by people who are on the road south to California. There’s nothing wrong with California, it has much to commend it, but really, don’t race through Oregon. Make that part of your journey more of a destination. To rush on to possibly warmer and sunnier climes without taking some time out would be a tremendous pity – as Oregon is beautiful!
  Siuslaw River, Florence, Oregon

There are long, (sometimes) windswept and rugged beaches, with hills and mountains swathed in lush rainforest greenery rising up behind. You’ll discover plenty of coastal towns and villages, full of indoorsy and outdoorsy people, from climbers and kayakers to painters and poets. The book stores, coffee shops, cafes, restaurants and sidewalks of these little towns are a delight to explore.
  The old town of Florence, Oregon

Now admittedly, even in summer, the sun doesn’t always shine on the shore, but when it does, my goodness! 
  Fog clearing, sun coming through…

And when it doesn’t, rolling banks of fog, and waves of rain add even more character to locations that are steeped in atmosphere. Wear something water and windproof and all will be well.
DSCF2914It doesn’t have to be sunny to be beautiful at the beach…

  …is the fog clearing or incoming?!

Maybe it’s because the average summer temperature doesn’t really encourage lounging around on the beach, but almost without exception, no matter the time of day, every Oregon beach we’ve visited has been empty of other people. You can hike great stretches and it’s you, the gulls, and (one lucky afternoon) whales breaching just offshore.

 Humid and healthy Cape Perpetua!

So, if you’re looking for space, peace, and a little time out in beautiful locations that are relatively uncrowded, the Oregon coast could be the place for you! (Interior Oregon also has many beautiful places – but that’s for another time, this post has focused on the coast. Don’t tell anyone though, let’s keep it our secret). Just looking at the photos of the humid forests has my Alberta-parched skin rehydrating…

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

Winter weather, spring weather (and beer)

Are we heading towards spring now? A few weeks ago I wrote a post asking where had winter gone? Of course, mere minutes after I posted, winter came back! Then it left again, and then it returned once more. When will I learn that spring in the Rockies here in Western Canada simply means don’t pack away your winter wardrobe just yet. Wait until late April, or May, or even June…(Never mind what to wear in these messy seasons, how about what to drink? Is it becoming apparent I might be a bit of a beer geek?)

I’m slowly (it’s taken years) arriving at the realization that there are only two real seasons here on the edge of the Rockies. Mostly, it is winter. There’s a brief glimmer of what might be spring, but it’s just a warmer winter day, then a bit more winter, and finally – suddenly – summer. Summer is lovely, and in August you think there will be a lengthy and mild fall season. No, it gets cold, there’s some snow, and then even more snow. Winter has returned! 

  Ready for spring, covered by winter (shirtsleeves back in Calgary…)

Right now, we are enjoying springter, with lots of warm sunshine in the city, and, for the past three weekends, plenty of snow in the mountains – possibly the most this past ski/snowboard season. Last weekend, we left Calgary in shirtsleeves, arrived near Lake Louise two hours later, and needed winter jackets. Winter holds on tenaciously. Cold enough to fire up the wood stove, and seasonal enough to drink a dark beer:
  A delicious stout, perfectly suited to the conditions

The bright southern feel of the beer label belies the near black colour, strength and heaviness of the drink. I’d been looking forward to drinking this for a while. If you enjoy porters and stouts, try this one. It is inspired by black bean chilli and guacamole. Yup! A great recipe for a heavy beer – sounds terrible, tastes great. Mikeller Mexas Ranger! (And it reminds me, I have a couple of favourite chilli recipes – outdoor food, surely? A future post…)

We crossed the railway tracks and took a little hike along Baker Creek down to the Bow River. It was the first time we’d taken this route without snowshoes – there was really no need for them – and it was a real discovery seeing the landscape without a winter coat of snow.
  Looking south, downstream Baker Creek

The ice covering the creek had broken up revealing just how wide the not so little stream is. We hiked, slipping and scrambling far further from the creek side edge than in deep midwinter. There were lots of birds darting from tree to tree, always a few feet ahead as we stumbled down to the Bow. When we emerged onto the river bank, we were treated to wonderful views east and west. The sky started out full of snow, but it began to lessen and finally stopped when we paused to take in the scene. 
  
 West, upstream on the Bow

In the hour or so we lingered at the waterside, the clouds cleared, blue skies returned, and the temperature rose quickly. Boulders and rocks shrugged off the light snow cover and dried out swiftly.

  The river is higher. Is winter over?
 The rocks emerging, and the sky brightening – looking downstream, east on the Bow

 West again, just a few minutes later, and it is bright and sunny!

We made our way back up Baker Creek, enjoying the warm sun and well lit landscapes. The change from earlier was quite dramatic.

  Looking north, upstream Baker Creek

I often feel I mourn the end of winter – as much as I enjoy summer, I honestly love winter more. I get that I am fortunate to be able to appreciate winter as a leisure season. I know if I were alive in past times, winter would be far less enjoyable, and much more dangerous than we find it today. I romanticize winter, with the beautiful mountains, forests, and frozen lakes and rivers. I get a kick out of participating in winter activities, however clumsily, and pretend to misunderstand those people who don’t enjoy winter or share my enthusiasms.

So as I write this, I think it may really be time to say farewell to winter for a while…so sad.

Hold on PlaidCamper! We can’t leave it on that sad note. End of winter means almost summer. So, how did we celebrate at the end of our little Baker Creek hike, where we’d set out in winter yet returned in warm spring? Well, the winter stout was gone, so we just had to try a new IPA:

 No need to be sad at winter’s end – switch to lighter beers, like Boulevard Brewery Single Wide IPA!

Goodbye winter, and welcome spring – however fleeting you may be – and there’s a whole summer to come! Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Yoho in colour, a Dickens of a fish – and who was Dolly Varden?

Dolly Varden – what a name! But who was she? Or, who is she? A mystery, or mysterious unknown person, at least to me. For a naturalist, it must be great to be qualified and knowledgeable enough to be able to identify and name a new species. How does that happen?

A sunny spring hike in Yoho National Park a couple of weeks ago had me pondering this as I came across a name I’d never heard before. Naming a new species? Maybe you have to be the first person there. Or the first person to tell someone else. How are the actual new names chosen? Do you name it for yourself, or for a nearest and dearest? (Best be careful here, a loved one might not appreciate their name being used for a new species of insect or mollusc – just saying). The place it resides? Or whatever comes to mind? I’m pretty sure there is a sound scientific method these days. Dolly Varden…

We’d intended to go snowshoeing as snow had fallen later in the day and overnight after we’d taken our monochrome Field pictures (A Field Day). Instead, the Rockies played their usual weather tricks, and freezing winter one day gave way to an almost summer like sunny day the next, with temperatures reaching double digits in the high teens.

On the way to Emerald Lake we stopped and took in the views up and down the Kicking Horse River as it kicked on in the early thaw.

  Beautiful looking upstream…

  …and beautiful looking downstream!

When we arrived at Emerald Lake, you could see the remaining snow on hiking paths was packed and easy to walk on without snowshoes. Of course, with spring temperature fluctuations, it was now avalanche season in Yoho, and this determined where we could hike safely. 

  Couldn’t miss – or ignore – the warning!

Jackets had to be removed, and no need for hat and gloves. It was so warm that butterflies were out! Best of all, you could breathe in pine fragranced air and hear almost total quiet – hushed enough to enjoy the occasional knocking of a woodpecker, the call of distant songbirds and the rush of wings as ravens flew overhead. Aah, spring. The path wound through trees and descended to the edge of the lake.

  Tantalizing views through the trees close to the lakeshore!

  Across Emerald Lake

It was actually pleasant to be in the cool of the shade from time to time, although really it was even more pleasant to feel warm sun on your face!

  Easy hiking on packed snow

Is it time to get back to the question at the heading of this piece? Yes it is, PlaidCamper! 

At intervals along the edge of the frozen lakeshore there were wooden signs providing information about the geology, flora and fauna around Emerald Lake. The rock flour or silt that is found in the water provides the beautiful summertime colour the lake is named for. Silt prevents much light penetrating the water and consequently there is relatively little aquatic life. However, according to the information, one of the larger fish species found is the (drum roll) Dolly Varden char. 

I was so intrigued by what seemed a strange name for a fish that I looked it up later. It comes from a Dickens character in Barnaby Rudge, who wore muslin over petticoats – a fashion in the late 1800s –  and the fish colouring and patterning is reminiscent of this. So, Dolly is a fashionable and literary fish! Probably better than naming it after a potential future ex…

It was such a delightful hike around the lake. We’d hoped for a blast of winter and were rewarded instead with a beautiful spring day. That, and making Dolly Varden’s acquaintance, made for a different mountain adventure. 

  Get it down, make it watertight, and go fish for a Dolly…

Now, I wouldn’t mind betting there’s a great recipe out there for Dolly – I’m thinking lemon, rosemary, and a hint of garlic. Any ideas?! Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Eating outdoors, a cabin story, and a recipe

What to eat in the wild and the great outdoors? Now that’s a formidable question! Should we forage? Hunt? Pack in prepared dried goods? Is this a front country campground, a backcountry trip, or a stay in a cabin? So many options… (and so many recipe blog posts…fear not, I’ll eke them out over time!) Does food taste better outdoors?

 Food tastes better – and looks better – outside! 

Strangely enough, I attribute at least part of my enthusiasm and pretence at being an almost outdoorsman to a cookbook. A number of years ago, Mrs PlaidCamper stopped for a break and gasoline. Browsing a stack of books, she found “The Outdoor Living Cookbook” published by Williams-Sonoma. We love cookbooks (over the years, I’ve worked in a few kitchens, faking it and earning a living), so Mrs PlaidCamper bought the book. As with plaid shirts, you can never have too many…

We drooled over lots of the recipes, but truthfully, the real draw was the photography – dozens of pictures of lakes, forests, rivers, and cabins taken in all four seasons in many North American locations. We couldn’t (OK, I couldn’t) get enough of the outdoorsy settings. 

A few months later, we visited Brother PlaidCamper, a sibling who’d moved to West Virginia some years earlier. For part of the trip, we stayed in a 1930s log cabin, and were so happy – our first cabin visit – and we brought The Outdoor Living Cookbook with us. We were in a cabin! In the wilderness! Just like the cookbook! And with the cookbook! I remember Brother PlaidCamper looking at us, the cabin, and the cookbook we’d brought with us all the way from England. He glanced at his wife – born in West Virginia, no stranger to cabins, in fact she can’t fathom our romantic views – and they shrugged and shook their heads, thinking, so sad…

  Idyllic West Virginian cabin (well, we thought so…)

Where’s the recipe PaidCamper? Right, I’m on it. Last summer, we had a lovely lunch at SoBo in Tofino BC. We’d heard great things about the restaurant and weren’t disappointed. We bought the cookbook by SoBo’s talented chef-owner, Lisa Ahier. It’s a beautiful book, full of wonderful recipes, stories and pictures, a delightful snapshot of Tofino and the surrounding area through all four seasons – if you enjoy Pacific NorthWest ingredients, cooking and scenery, I highly recommend the book. A recent favourite to cook out on a barbecue is cedar planked salmon, and our method was inspired by the recipe in the SoBo book (her recipe uses dry mustard, we prefer grainy):

  • Soak your cedar plank in water for four to six hours 
  • Heat your barbecue/grill to medium-high
  • For each fillet mix 2 tablespoons grainy mustard with 1 tablespoon brown sugar and a sprinkle of salt 
  • Rub a little olive oil on each side of the fillet 
  • Place skin down on the plank and spoon the mustard glaze on top
  • Put the plank on the grill, close the lid
  • Cook for 15-25 minutes depending on fillet thickness, preference and grill speed
  • Check every few minutes, keep a jug of water handy for flames!

 Cook it, might be good enough to eat…

We often serve this with rosemary potatoes – bite sized pieces of potato mixed with rosemary leaves, a crushed garlic clove, a little salt and olive oil, and all wrapped in a foil parcel to cook on the grill. Delicious! Most recently, to drink with the meal, we had a couple of bottles of Red Seal Ale from North Coast Brewing, Fort Bragg, CA – spicy, hoppy, but not too overpowering, and a perfect companion to the fish. Lovely outdoor eating and drinking (I’ll be truthful, we cooked outdoors but ate indoors, it being early spring in the Rockies!)

  Definitely good enough to drink!

I have to admit, for me, the favourite part about cooking this recipe is the soaking and handling of the cedar planks. It is a beautiful aroma – I’d probably be content with a damp piece of cedar, a bottle of beer, and forget the actual cooking. Is that strange? Although, when I think about it, the fragrantly heady smoke from the grill is pretty pleasant too…instantly transported to the West Coast!

Do you have a favourite outdoor recipe? Please feel free to share. Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.