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.

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