Spirited away

I gave myself a little homework to do this week, researching our destination from last week, Lake Minnewanka. A quick visit to ParksCanada uncovered a few interesting facts about this beautiful lake.

The Stoney Nakoda called it “Minn-Waki” which translates as “lake of the spirits” and our brief time there convinced me this is a pretty apt name. Early Europeans named it “Devil’s Lake” and again, if you can imagine arriving the hard way, or catching a tough spring season, perhaps also a reasonable name. Place names are often given for good reasons…Easy to forget you are in wild territory when the modern conveniences of Banff are mere minutes away by car.

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Wild, challenging, chilly

Archaeological evidence uncovered at Minnewanka suggests human activity here as far back as 10 000 years. It is easy to see why. Mountain environments are challenging, but at Minnewanka, in milder seasons, there would be the everyday means to survive. Timber, fish, animals to hunt, and berries and roots to gather would have enabled earlier, knowledgeable, and hardy people to maintain their existence.

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Minn-Waki

Lake of the spirits. I love that! I’m somewhat ignorant when it comes to beliefs held by First Nations peoples, but have some understanding and no end of respect for the spiritual connection many have with the natural world. Given the unpredictable nature of mountain weather, and the size of the lake – it is over 25km long and 2km wide – sudden changes in the weather, particularly if you’re on the water, would have you considering spirits. Is it really so hard to believe that the natural world is teaching us something, whether in fury or on more benign days? We treat the planet as we do, and perhaps the planet responds in kind. Is that simply my imagination?

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The last of the blue skies that day

The day we visited was a cold one, the wind rushing across the ice and freeze-burning exposed faces. The morning had started fine, with blue skies and sunshine, but soon enough clouds were scudding over and amassing, and it was clear a change was coming. Undeterred (but well wrapped up), we opted to follow the shoreline trail at least as far as Stewart Canyon, where the Cascade River feeds the lake. We set off in high spirits that only soared further as the trailside trees afforded some protection from the wind, and the views delighted with each turn in the trail.

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The path itself was extremely icy, and we slipped and slid along, hugging trees because we like to, and because they helped us prevent a fall over the edge. Even with ice cleats, the going was interesting.

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An interesting trail…(this section above the lake was quite forgiving!)

Blinking away tears – must have been the keen wind – it was wonderful to see witch’s hair (or beard?) hanging in abundance from branches. A positive indicator of clean air,  and I can only hope nature’s witches continue to display spirited green defiance and resilience.

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I’m planning a return to Lake Minnewanka when the weather warms up and the ice has melted. There are a number of backcountry campgrounds reachable by canoe, and I would love to paddle up the lake and share a night or two with the spirits. Parts of the trail and campground locations are closed in high summer because this is the prime time for mama grizzlies and cubs to feed on buffalo berries. (Even though I’ve been living out this way for close to a decade, I can’t describe how much of a kick I get from writing phrases along the lines of mama grizzlies and cubs feeding on buffalo berries – isn’t the world great?!) I don’t need to see the bears, and certainly wouldn’t want to disturb their habitat – knowing they are out and about is enough – but a camping and canoe trip before they move into the area is high on my hope list…

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Downstream Cascade, Stewart Canyon

We only hiked a few minutes more past Stewart Canyon, enough to get partial views of the lake below. By then the day really had shifted from benign to more malign, with the increasingly gusty wind throwing sharp crystals in our chapped but happy faces. We listened, took the hint, retraced our steps and were warmed on the inside by our delightful introduction to this spirited lake.

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Upstream Cascade, Stewart Canyon

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share a story or leave a comment – it is always appreciated. Have a great weekend! I’m having one of these:

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Yesterday!

End of the line – all change!

When I was a young boy, a thrilling day trip out was riding on a red double decker London bus. The big city! The excitement at seeing the sights! When the bus reached the final stop on a route, the bus conductor would call out:

“End of the line – all change please!”

All change please! I adore that call, and it has stayed with me over the years, echoing in my head whenever we’ve opted to move somewhere new. (I’m less keen on end of the line, hoping not to be there quite yet…)

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River banks revealed
Well – and I’ve been on about this for a while now – I think that winter is fast approaching the end of the line for this year. What a disappointment…but then I realized I had to undergo something of an attitude change to this incoming, and sooner than anticipated, seasonal shift. Time to stop writing as the environmental pessimist, and get en route to destination glass half full. Time to be enthusiastic about the arrival of spring, and regain some anticipation and excitement. Be more like the bespectacled little boy pressing his nose against the window, soaking up the incredible wide world from the top deck.

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Incredible wide world
How and why did this mental makeover come about? I was sat on a cabin deck last weekend, feeling faintly down about the morning spent snowboarding through poor snow due to the warm conditions, when I had to give myself a richly deserved kick in the pants. Talk about personal invisible Western problems. A morning at Louise, then afternoon sunshine on a deck looking out at the Rockies, and being unable to appreciate how fortunate I was? Not on, old boy. Reality check and attitude change please.

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Coniferous green
Instead of whining and wailing about the lack of snow, I got off my butt and we took a little wander along the creek and down to the river. So much to enjoy! Coniferous green in full sunshine, with the trees shaking off winter whiteout. The gurgling of the creek rising up through gaps in the thinning ice.

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Sparkle
The shining, bright, almost painful sparkle of reflected sun on the river.

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Gurgling creek
It was an absolute pleasure to be out in the early spring sunshine, inhaling the resin aromas from warming tree trunks. A highlight? Hoping to catch sight of the American dipper once again, and there he was, on the far bank. What a pleasant short hike, and easily as thrilling as a boyhood bus ride in the big city. Of course there is much to be concerned about, but it’s equally important to enjoy soaking up the incredible wide world, show some appreciation, changes and all.

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Warm and resiny – spring time
We finished the day by sharing a bottle of stout from a craft brewery here in Calgary. The Wild Rose is producing a series of limited releases, and this Flemish stout was a pretty good way to sign off on old winter and welcome new spring. It was deep and dark, as a winter beer should be, but brewed with cherries and wild raspberries that gave a suitably sharp and tart note – allowing us to anticipate the warmer months ahead? Maybe…glass half full, PlaidCamper, half full!

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Deep, dark, and slightly tart (so was the beer)
All change please! Thanks for reading, I always appreciate you taking the time to visit here. As ever, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment.

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Highlight!

Rocky Mountain Small Fall (and a little Canadian Thanksgiving…)

This won’t be the most thematically coherent post I’ve written (why change things now, PlaidCamper?), it’s more an attempt to link what can be overlooked with being thankful (be warned – it might get a little saccharine, or even maple syrupy…)

The small things...
The small things…
There’s always so much to be thankful for, and it isn’t always the big things. Maybe it is about being thankful and grateful for the small things, and realizing that the truth is these little items are what really matter. They are the big things!

The big things...
The big things…
Before we went off on our lengthy Taylor Lake hike last time out, we had a shortish hike along the Bow River, a few steps from our tent, and walking downstream away from the busy Lake Louise townsite. I enjoy Louise, but as I’ve mentioned before, it is worth getting to certain places early and enjoying them before the crowds arrive. So we didn’t bother heading up to the famed lake, choosing instead to take a wander along the riverbank. I’m so happy we did! We got to enjoy the season in small ways, uncovering little delights instead of the usual – always appreciated – large scale grandeur.

Little delights!
Little delights!
The views were up and downstream, and to be fair, still rate as pretty spectacular, even on a grey and overcast day.

Bow River
Bow River
The autumnal delights were fine in their own more modest way, splashes of muted colour made brighter by the dark background and low light.

Splashes of colour
Splashes of colour
Finding patches of beauty, items to marvel at in their own right, instead of being distracted by the epic and sometimes overwhelming landscape, was really quite delightful, and rather restful. Being outdoors in mountain regions is always good for recharging and recalibration, never unwelcome, but the afternoon ramble wasn’t about the monumental, and was restorative for being lower key. We were more than thankful for that.

Low key beauty
Low key beauty
The second Monday in October is when Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated, and it’s a special time for us – this was when we arrived in Canada! We were excited to arrive, bemusing friends we left behind in sunny SW France, having chosen to switch long summers for long winters. We stayed in a pleasant downtown hotel amid the towering skyscrapers, thrilling to how different it was from the tiny hamlet we’d left behind. Difference is often exciting. We wandered out to explore, and were mystified by how quiet it was – nothing like a big city at all! Where were all the people? Quieter than a French village on a Sunday?! We didn’t know it was Thanksgiving weekend, and that many people had gone away to be with family, or were at home with family.

Peaceful
Peaceful
We’ll be away ourselves this Canadian Thanksgiving, staying in a little cabin in Yoho. Quiet places, shared with special people, hidden retreats that are reachable from the city, well, these can be added to a long and wonderful list of what we can be thankful for. Family, friends, the students we teach, and colleagues we learn from. A warm and welcoming country, where diversity and multiculturalism is generally celebrated, a mostly successful mosaic spread across a rugged land and in a challenging climate. The little/big things that can all too easily be taken for granted when you have them.

Muted colours along the Bow
Muted colours along the Bow
So, if you’re in Canada, from Canada, wishing you could be in Canada (if for only a little while), or have Canadian friends, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend! And if none of the previous applies, no worries, have a wonderful weekend anyway (and maybe add a little maple syrup!)

Enjoy your weekend!
Enjoy your weekend!
Thanks for reading! As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story (another small thing to be thankful for – the warm, witty and creative people to be found here), and keep your guy ropes secure.

Rocky Mountain Fall (a fast season)

Fall is a fast season in the Canadian Rockies. We were out at Lake Louise in mid September, and there were tiny traces hinting at the end of summer. Last weekend, we were there again, and what a difference a couple of weeks makes!

Distinctly autumnal...
Distinctly autumnal…

There isn’t the largest variety of leaf colour here compared to the vibrant displays of the Eastern woodlands, but a golden larch or brilliant aspen can look quite delightful set against the dark greens of conifers. We set off on a moderate rated hike up to Taylor Lake, hopeful to see the larches that grow along the shores and above the slopes of the lake.

No larches yet, but great views!
No larches yet, but great views!

Now, a moderate rated hike is probably just that to a seasoned hiker, but to an old PlaidCamper who only has easy miles in his legs these days…well, I did make it. I’m moderately fit, can walk all day, but clearly I’m currently conditioned for long flat bits with occasional steeps. Fortunately, this hike starts on the flat (as many do) and then, less fortunately, begins a deceptive climb with inclines that are inclined to be steeper than I’d anticipated. Long steep bits with occasional flats! Honestly, what was I expecting? I’d read the trail notes, knew the elevation, but somehow mentally glossed over the going up part. Must be getting old(er!)

Green!
Green!

The going was better once I’d readjusted, accepting that a hike up to a lake is just that – up. The morning was chilly, particularly down in the low woods, with the sun barely breaking through. The forest floor was mossy and very damp, thanks to heavy overnight rain. Mushrooms had sprouted everywhere, a range of interesting shapes and sizes. The air had that weighty and intoxicating earthy autumnal tang. Wonderful!

Mushrooms everywhere...
Mushrooms everywhere…

We paused to admire the view and munch on energy giving snacks, and to remove layers as the day warmed up. There were quite a number of fellow hikers, but not so many with all the ascending turns that it ever felt crowded. Often, you’d see nobody behind or ahead thanks to the switchbacks. Folks were happy to be out, enjoying the sun, the scenery and their company. A group would sometimes pass at quite a pace, make me feel slow, and then we’d pass them a little later as they paused for a rest and drink break. (I always walked a little faster, and smiled like my legs weren’t feeling it. Childish, me?)

The perfect soundtrack
The perfect soundtrack

For long stretches, the trail was very muddy, which added an extra dimension (who doesn’t love extra heavy boots and the chance to slip in the mud?), and in other places, treacherously slippery logs formed the path, yet it all added to the charming challenge. There are a couple of wooden bridges crossing the stream that the trail follows for large parts of the hike. The splashing and bubbling of the stream is loud, a perfect musical accompaniment to your thoughts, and far preferable to the loudspeakers that some feel the need to carry when out hiking. (I’m not kidding – this year we’ve encountered two groups of hikers playing loud music to deter bears. Is this something new out on the trail? Be safe, carry spray, travel in a group where so advised, make noise, but please, please, please don’t bring your music. I understand the nervousness, and you don’t want a close bear encounter, but loud music isn’t the answer – the forest is the soundtrack!) Alright, calm down PlaidCamper.

Almost there...
Almost there…

We emerged from the forest into a meadow/wetland that signalled our imminent arrival at Taylor Lake. We started to glimpse the golden larches, and splurched (new word?) our way across the wetland toward the lake. It was beautiful! A pristine blue-green lake in the shadow of grey-brown mountains, and golden larches along the shore and up the slopes as hoped for. A fine reward! And there’s a small campground there. Hmm, planning already…

Stay awhile
Stay awhile

We stayed awhile, long enough to eat lunch and enjoy the sun appearing from behind clouds, lighting up the landscape. We scrambled and clambered along the shore a short distance, and found a quiet spot away from the small gathering of happy hikers. There we sat on lichen spotted rocks, reflecting on and taking in all that was around us.

Can't leave yet
Can’t leave yet

It was a reluctant departure, although the thought of an easier downhill return helped. We wandered back down to the trailhead, tired yet content on aching legs, and smiling encouragement at the hikers still on their way up. Not one slip or trip, and dry feet all the way, after a real test for our boots, with all the mud and the wetland at the top.

One last look back
One last look back

I know I pretend to grouch and make heavy weather about the uphill parts, but truthfully, what a great day, with the good fortune to enjoy a splendid trail and become moderately fitter! A chance to catch the fall before the season escapes and we are into winter.

Fleeting fall...
Fleeting fall…

Do you have an enjoyable – moderate – hike for the fall season? Thanks for reading, feel free to comment or share, and keep your guy ropes secure.

What should a perfect community include? (This is an excuse to show more pictures from Tofino – I’ll admit it!)

What should a perfect community include? This was a question students were attempting to answer this week at school. Discussions and sharing about where they had or hadn’t spent their summer vacation prompted the question. It turned out that a couple of families had visited Tofino over the break. Well, that got the talk moving on…and they couldn’t get me to be quiet. (Let the students get a word in edgeways, OldPlaidcamper!) Anyway, one student shared that her family would love to move to Tofino. Other students asked what was so special about the place? What ought to be special about anywhere they might choose to live? Essentially, I was prompted to write this post after a lesson at school – don’t worry, there won’t be any homework, and I’ll never write a post inspired by a math lesson – I like math, but that’s not for here!

What makes a place special?
What makes a place special?
Students decided they’d love to live somewhere that had beautiful scenery. After a little research online, they agreed that Tofino has a wonderful location. In fact, a field trip to Vancouver Island was suggested. All that enthusiasm. I didn’t have the heart to talk about school budgets…

A beautiful location
A beautiful location
Students felt it was important to be able to connect with nature – see wildlife for real, not just on TV or in books. They were thrilled at the thought of seeing a bear in the wild. Many of the students in this class are new to Canada, with seventeen different home countries represented. Even though they live an hour from the Rockies, not all yet have the material resources to visit and spend time out there. Part of my work is to encourage them to embrace the outdoors in their adopted home.

A West Coast bear
A West Coast bear, healthy and happy near Tofino
The opportunity to be active was considered important. They felt that they would want to live somewhere where being active was part of where they were. Hiking wasn’t a popular notion, but going fishing, paddle boarding, kayaking, cycling and surfing definitely caught their interest.

Sea kayaking appealed
Sea kayaking appealed
Taking a boat out to fish caught their imagination
Taking a fishing trip caught their imagination
Some map work soon taught the students where Tofino and Vancouver Island can be found. The thought of driving from Calgary wasn’t very welcome, but a flight, especially if the last leg was by floatplane? Well…

An exciting way to travel!
An exciting way to travel!
Becoming more thoughtful, students talked about what work they might be able to find, and the skills they’d need to learn. Some wanted to fish, and take others fishing for a living. Several thought that being a pilot would be great. Training to become a chef was suggested, as was owning a hotel. One wanted to work for the Parks Service, and look after the bears. Not one wanted to work in an office, or behind a desk. Fingers crossed they are lucky in life with that.

Maybe they will fish for a living?
Maybe they will fish for a living?
I’m not suggesting for one moment that Tofino offers everything that a person might require. Yet it was interesting to see through the eyes of our next generation, consider what they think is important in and around a community. They did talk about the need for friendly people, schools, a hospital, dentists, and shops and stores. Emergency services got a mention, but nothing about lawyers. You can find some or most of these almost anywhere.

This isn't any old place, too special for that
This isn’t any old place, too special for that
To my mind, it was the outdoors and location that really fired up this group of young people. The need to be in a positive and healthy environment, and connected to nature. Here’s hoping they grow up that way. These were fun discussions, and they had me thinking about the West Coast – plus it provided a gratuitous excuse to trot out some more photos of Tofino from earlier in the summer here. That’s never a bad thing!

Better than a desk?
Better than a desk?
The perfect community? I’m not sure such a place exists, but I’m confident Tofino is pretty close to it, especially for the young, and young at heart!

Someone has to do this work...
Someone has to do this work…
There were two essentials that were missed, so I’ll add them here:

You have to have coffee shops with great coffee...
You have to have coffee shops with great coffee…
…and a microbrewery with great beer!
…and a microbrewery with great beer!
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share a story or make a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

The Long Beach challenge!

Less of a challenge when you approach it using the PlaidCamper method – although we did double the distance and likely set a new record time… 

 

This beautiful stretch of Pacific coastline is located midway between Ucluelet and Tofino, on the Pacific Rim Highway of Vancouver Island. It’s worth the trek to make the trek.

Worth the trek

From either the Long Beach parking lot, or the Kwisitis visitor centre near Florencia Bay, a willing hiker can walk almost 10km uninterrupted along the Pacific coast. The views up and down the shore are wonderful, and once you have gone further than 20 minutes, you are likely to have the beach almost entirely to yourself. For non human company, there’ll be bald eagles, gulls, ravens, and numerous other shorebirds.

 Keeping an eye on those hikers

Wolves, cougars and black bears are a possibility, as well as potential sightings of whales out in the ocean. We saw the birds, but no mammals. Not too sorry to avoid those encounters, better for all concerned.

Long views
Shore birds! (Marbled Godwits? Not sure…)

On one side you have tussocks of grass and low sand dunes fronting the fringe of rainforest. Huge logs washed up and tossed far onto the shore by the powerful storms that pound the coast later in the year are scattered everywhere. The views change constantly as you walk; the perspective of each bay, in front or behind, the mists and fog drifting in changing the light, concealing then revealing, and then concealing again. In the two days we hiked, the weather was sunny, then misty, then rainy, then sunny again, and often all in the same hour. 

Storm tossed logs

 Misty long views

Underfoot, depending how close you want to walk to the waves crashing ashore, the sand is hard packed and easy to walk on. There are thousands of tiny shells, middling shells and larger shells, all colourful. Pretty rocks and pebbles, shiny and speckled, mottled or plain, and many like little stone eggs, are uncovered as the ocean retreats. Huge lengths of bull kelp glisten in the light, and the occasional jelly fish is strewn across the sand, causing one to jump over and around at the last second as you catch sight of them. 

 Easy walking!

The Long Beach challenge is set up as a time trial for those who wish to try. If we were being timed, we definitely set some kind of record. The number of times we stopped to breathe in all that was surrounding us, the water breaks, the lunch stop perched on a log – yup, certainly a new time record! I can’t imagine wanting to complete the journey as quickly as possible, but that’s because I am OldPlaidCamper, not young PlaidCamper. As far as jogging goes, if you made me, I’d rather jog on Long Beach than do repeated circuits in a city park. 

More shore birds (the most cute least sandpipers? Maybe…)

From our campground near the beach, we were situated about a third of the distance from the Long Beach starting point. So we set off one day heading north to do a there and back again section, and the following day we turned south to go there and back for that section. The Long Beach challenge twice in two days, including lunch picnic stops – not so much of a challenge, it was more like two really delightful days of easy hiking in a wonderful setting. That’s a challenge I’m always up for! (The real challenge was having to leave).

I’m ready for this…

Do you have a favourite hike – or favourite beach? Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, 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.