Bicycle chains and bear spray

Now that spring has sprung, bear spray is always a must carry item when out hiking. Safety first! It’s important to be prepared, because once you are in wild country, anything could happen. (But why bicycle chains, PC? Have you joined a ’50s motorcycle gang, switching plaid for leather? Read on if you are interested, but no, this isn’t a tale of ruckus and rumbles…)

Good place for a short hike

Last weekend, we enjoyed a short hike with friends and family around the outskirts of Canmore. The hike was short for a number of reasons. The biggest reason was the way certain members in the party celebrated our reunion after quite some time being apart. Mrs PC’s twin brother, and his best buddy, hadn’t been out to Alberta before, so they made up for lost time by trying as many local craft beers in one Friday evening as is (in)humanly possible. We didn’t even try to keep up. If you were unable to get hold of a pint of Last Best IPA last week, well, now you know why.

Plenty of trees

So, a few sore heads slowed down our small band of happy hikers. Other reasons for dallying? The pre-teen, M, was on his bike because “walking with old people is boring” and his mother, S, was on her bike because a season of snowboarding had worn out her knees. M. kept disappearing onto side trails, and his mother would head off, find him, and shepherd him back to the main group. Her other son, teenager A, is an avid photographer, enthusiastic to the point where he has to take a picture of everything. Not necessarily a problem, but there are a lot of trees out there. This might have slowed our progress just a little. A’s father, Mr. S, enjoyed exhorting him to “come on A, keep up, there’s another tree over here!” Didn’t work.

Like me, Mr. S is bear aware, and he carries a canister of bear spray on his belt. You never know…although the chances of an encounter were greatly reduced that day by the heartfelt and voluble pleas of the youngest child wanting to know if we could go home now. No.

Why go home?

Mr and Mrs S live with their two boys quite close to Canmore Nordic Centre, so hiking and biking trails are almost right outside their door, and just above the town. We wandered along forgiving trails, admiring the views across the Bow Valley, the fresh new leaf growth, and feeling apologetic toward the single elk we did encounter. To be honest, I think the elk was ok, had probably seen and heard worse, and in fact looked rather unimpressed. It allowed A to take a photograph or two, and then sauntered off into deeper woods.

Unimpressed – and grainy

All was well with the world, the fresh air working its soothing magic on those that needed soothing, the younger boy was beginning to understand no means no, and enjoy being out on his bike in beautiful country. Not that he’d ever admit it. The weather was rather cool, skies were overcast, with more than a hint of rain in the air, but not enough to dampen spirits. Then, near disaster struck! The chain on Mrs S’s bike came off! That wasn’t the disaster though. It was the fact she didn’t want to get her brand new gloves greasy putting the chain back on. Truthfully, they were lovely gloves, and perhaps the grease would not have washed off.


Never afraid to help in an emergency, and because my gloves are a filthy disgrace at the best of times, I turned the bike over, reset the chain, and was about to guide it back on, but it seemed we all had to inspect the work. Fair enough. Mrs PC’s twin bent over the back wheel, his buddy along for the weekend bent over the back wheel, I bent over the back wheel, Mrs PC bent over the back wheel, S bent over the back wheel – it was her bicycle after all – and Mr. S bent over the back wheel. Quite a crowd! A didn’t bend over the back wheel – he was taking photos of all the adults bending over the back wheel. I hope he had a wide lens, and I hope he isn’t on FaceBook.

IMG_20160430_154940Anyway, happy that the work was sound, S bent down slightly further and reached across to turn the pedal. PSSSSHT! Huh? What was that? Too many beers the night before? We looked up at each other, a slight frown on faces as we searched for the guilty party.  Then we all staggered back as we inhaled. Yes, it was that bad. No, not that. S had set off his can of bear spray! Fortunately, the cloud avoided a direct hit on all who were gathered, and apart from some of us feeling a touch asthmatic, the only damage was to the back of S’s jacket and jeans. I’ve never seen people leap like gazelles before, but the explosive jump away was quite something.

It was one of those situations where you had to be there to really see the funny side of such a narrow escape, but can you imagine the headlines? Tourists shoot themselves with bear spray just outside of town. No bears were present.

IMG_20160430_140854We laughed until we cried, mostly with relief, and that’s when the closest to real damage happened – S rubbed away a tear or two and discovered he had bear spray on his hands…

I’m very happy to report S is fine now, after much eye irrigation, and there were no lasting side effects. He does still carry bear spray when hiking, no longer on his belt but in a side pocket of his hiking pants. Mrs S wears old gloves when out cycling.

IMG_20160430_155306 - Version 2So there you have it. No rumbles, perhaps a bit of a ruckus, and we’re all a little more careful about where we hang our bear spray canister. Thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment or share a story, and have a wonderful weekend!

Twin springs rushing in…

…to two cities. Nothing Dickensian, though. Our trip to San Francisco a few weeks ago was a delight for many reasons. A particular joy was the chance to experience spring a good month earlier than it arrives up here in Alberta. In fact, it feels like we’ve had two springs, or at least an extended new growth season. San Francisco, combined with our recent prairie and foothills jaunts, has us bursting with energy and optimism.

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Extravagant Calgary blossom

Along the river, over the hills, in the ground, in the sky, spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm, new life, new beauty, unfolding, unrolling in glorious exuberant extravagance, new birds in their nests, new winged creatures in the air, and new leaves, new flowers, spreading, shining, rejoicing everywhere.

From John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra, and it seems to me Muir expressed the vitality of spring better than most! Oh yes, how lucky we were to experience this season in two places.

DSCN6548The late March warmth in California was wonderful. To be able to stroll (clamber and climb?) through the SF city neighbourhoods bathed in bright sunshine, to bask in the light and inhale the early flowers, blossoms and fresh green on the trees was enough to tempt one to think “Oh, we could live here…” Who wouldn’t give it at least a little thought, even if only as a passing fancy? It’s part of the fun in travel and exploring less familiar places.

Clamber and climb

The old buildings are quite distinctive in many of the longer established areas up on the hills. The look and feel is very particular, and far removed from the relative modernity of Calgary. There are smallish pockets of early twentieth architecture to be found in Calgary, mostly charming saltbox bungalows, but nothing like the tall buildings we saw in SF. San Francisco and Calgary are young, both in terms of average age of population, and compared to the old, long established European cities familiar to us from our previous travels and time before moving west. Great though the grand European cities are, I enjoy the energy to be found in each of these younger cities, especially in springtime!

Lovely building

Well, we couldn’t live in San Francisco, mainly for financial reasons, the time and distance to the nearest ski hills, and the fact that my little old legs might wear out with the urban hiking. However, being a visitor allows for enchantment and imaginings, the fun of pondering the possibilities and enjoying a different city through the eyes of an outsider. It’s harder to take somewhere for granted when you visit infrequently, and fond memories are renewed, and new ones made each time.

DSCN6578A San Francisco spring is quite beautiful, especially if you’ve come from the semi arid Canadian foothills, where you know the arrival of spring on the calendar is one thing, and the actual arrival something much later! That said, winter was short this year, and temperatures in southern Alberta oddly mild, with many high teen and even mid 20s centigrade values recorded from February onwards. This has given us an earlyish spring bloom in Calgary (and farming fears for the coming months, but maybe this is the new normal) with leaves, blossoms, birds and bugs springing forth with great vigour. Perhaps the right rains will come, this summer won’t be the hottest on record, and we will all enjoy seasons behaving like seasons? Spring, our two springs this year, can only have us hoping…

Calgary blossom

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and have a great weekend! (The close up Calgary blossom pictures were taken with my phone on my walk home from work earlier this week – if you live in Calgary, and were concerned about a plaid clad gentleman stopping and not so surreptitiously taking photos of your trees, apologies, it was me, and I felt too foolish to knock and ask for permission…)

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Two springs, two places, both lovely, so no complaints…

Porcupine sunshine

Or sunshine porcupine! Doesn’t make much immediate sense, but I like the rhyme.

DSCF2303Buoyed by our prairie explorations last week, this week we took another little trip, out to the Porcupine Hills. A great name – supposedly the trees atop the hills are said to resemble a line along the spine of a porcupine. OK, no more rhymes. (You’d never be able to guess what some of our recent language work in school has been about…)

Roll the windows down

The weather was warm, approaching midsummer temperatures, and that was a pleasant, if unexpected, April surprise. Driving range roads with windows rolled down, inhaling lungfuls of clean air, and encountering barely a handful of fellow travellers was delightful.


So we didn’t have much human company, but the foothills were teeming with wildlife and domesticated animals. Not a porcupine in sight, but numerous red tailed hawks, ducks, geese, horses, cattle, butterflies, bugs, and a beaver or two.

I was too quick…

The photographs taken are a testament to my camera skills, particularly when capturing fast-moving creatures. Yup, no photos of hawks, the geese were out of range, horses almost so, and I’d swear the beavers were laughing – I could see their bubble trails of mirth. Undeterred, I was resolute when photographing cows, and managed to get one or two in the frame, mostly by assuring them I’m vegetarian. Almost worked…

Almost in range, on the range
Yes, you may take my picture

As we toured the backcountry roads of the Porcupine, we let our imaginations wander. Imagine living out here! Ranching is hard work, and brutally so in winter, but the landscape rewards might help. The long views across to the Rockies are astonishing, and too big for me to capture adequately, but the fun was in seeing and trying to frame them. At least they kept still.

Long views

The Porcupine Hills stretch for mile after mile, a foothills delight, where each turn in the road, each cresting of a rise, reveals beautiful country. Creeks wind through the landscape, lined with hardy trees and shrubs, and cattle grazing close by. It is not wild land, in fact the evidence of human corralling is all about, from the orderly ranch houses and outbuildings, to the snaking roads lined with barbed wire fencing. As with the prairie agriculture, this foothill ranching speaks to determination and toughness, and a way of life I can only admire.

A small ruin, but orderly

If you ever have the chance to drive along Highway 22 in southern Alberta, don’t blast south to the border, and don’t shoot north just to get to Calgary ASAP. Instead, get off the Cowboy Trail (a lovely road in itself, but too fast), take a turn into the Porcupine Hills, follow the eastbound cloud shadows racing up the dusty tracks, and stop anywhere along the top. Turn off the engine, get out of the car, slowly spin, spin, spin, and stretch, stretch, stretch. Breathe in, breathe out. Then set your ass down in the grass. Lay back, look up, smile, and stay awhile. You’ll be glad you did!

In the grass

Thanks for reading, apologies for the rhymes, and please feel free to share a story or leave a comment. (It doesn’t have to rhyme…) Have a great weekend!DSCF2267

Valiant – a prairie tale

We were feeling a little despondent after saying good bye to our UK bound friends last weekend, so decided to take a road trip. Inspired after reading “Great Plains” by Ian Frazier, we opted for a short road trip, and to go in a different direction. Usually, we head west, or southwest, but instead pointed east, on the prowl for prairie possibilities…

East, for a change

What a delightful trip it was! We saw so much, and really appreciated the change, but I won’t cover it all here. I have been stretched for time this week, so this post will be brief, and focus on an automotive encounter we had in a ghost town. As Frazier notes:

“You can find all kinds of ruins on the Great Plains; in dry regions, things last a long time. When an enterprise fails on the plains, people usually just walk away and leave it.”

Prairie possibilities

We rolled into the tiny ghost town of Dorothy, located along the banks of the Red Deer River, brightly lit in the spring sunshine, and under huge prairie skies. We wandered between the ramshackle buildings, admiring the gravity defying lean of walls and buckling roof lines. My inner child was almost overwhelmed with excitement when we turned a corner and saw an old Plymouth (Chrysler in Canada) Valiant lurking in the grass.

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When I was a little boy, a favourite car was the Plymouth Duster. I also quite liked Dodge Chargers, wanted Steve McQueen’s Ford Mustang in Bullitt, and thought I’d be Steve McQueen when I grew up.

DSCF2233It turned out I wasn’t going to be Steve McQueen, I’ve never owned a muscle car (or had that many muscles), but finding the Valiant transported me back to those childhood days. So it wasn’t a Duster, but seeing it there, it was still pretty cool, I think.

Pretty cool

Valiant! Brave and determined! Enduring decades of high summer sun and bitter winter cold and snow. Still there, perhaps a little diminished, but still there, year after year. How could the owner walk away and leave it? Is that what happened?

Not so diminished, PlaidCamper!

I was excited and sad all in one go. Should anything be done? One view might be that the car is a large piece of metal trash, a discarded item of rusting garbage in need of recycling. No special favours just because it is old. (Not a huge fan of that view, given I’m about the same vintage…) Another view is that it is full of character, photogenically mouldering away beside an equally decrepit farm building – and maybe it is providing a home for a family of nesting creatures? Or should it be rescued and restored by an enthusiastic car nerd? So many possibilities!

DSCF2234This car must have a fine history, a backstory of reckless adventure and high times on dusty prairie range roads, at least to the inner PlaidCamper child. To end up abandoned and unloved (not any more – I’ll love it, even if I can’t keep it) surely speaks to a sad story? Maybe the story that has the car abandoned and forgotten ends something like:

“They left the car where he last parked it, in the shade of the small barn, and continued to work the farm. Waiting for him to return, to take up his inheritance and take on his responsibilities. To see his familiar routine one more time; slide behind the wheel, fire up the Valiant, and gun the engine twice before heading out in a cloud of dust. Passing seasons turned into passing years – they never stopped hoping with all their hearts – but they never saw their boy again.”

DSCF2228To borrow from and paraphrase Frazier, it is wonderful how large prairie spaces have plenty of room for the past. I’ll return to our prairie explorations in future posts, but will stop now, happy to have seen the Valiant, visited with ghosts, and shared it with you. Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment, share a story – or help to improve the above ending! – and have a great weekend!DSCF2230

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.

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.


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?

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.


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.

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.


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…

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.

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:


Somewhere new…

…although it was always there! Sometimes you arrive at a place and it surpasses expectations. But is that really important? Maybe it is simply enough to enjoy it?

Lake Minnewanka is just such a place. I’d heard of it, but always dismissed it as being too close to Banff, therefore likely to be overrun with coach parties and best avoided – this might well be true into the warmer spring and summer months. We’ve driven past the signposts dozens of times on our way out to Lake Louise and beyond, but recently decided we would take the turn. I’m so glad we did!

A promise of snow?

The parking lot was less than a quarter full. This was likely due to the threat (promise?) of snow later in the day, and relatively chilly temperatures compared to recently. Whatever the reason for few hikers and trippers, being a sociable sort, I was quite happy that only a few hardy souls were out and about.

Never taken for granted

It might sound strange, spoiled even, but I do have to guard against complacency. It isn’t that you get to take the mountains for granted, because for me, that’s not true. It’s more a sense of “oh yeah, another lake, another mountain, not as good as Lake X or Mountain Y, but not bad, quite nice…” Not bad, quite nice!!? Come on!

Away from the mountains, I’m guilty of having mountain or lake preferences, as if that mattered or was important. I’m fairly sure the mountains don’t much care for my opinions, or even that I have them. Actually out in the mountains, the idea that I have a mental list of preferences becomes quite absurd. Simply be there and enjoy it (and perhaps ponder human insignificance?)

Significant? Insignificant? Both! Can you see the tiny couple?

I mean really, “the Oscar for best mountain goes to…” Quite ridiculous, this need we have to compare apples with oranges, and find a winner. Or in the case of the Oscars, compare grapes and raisins. (With all the time spent outside, I’m less grape and more raisin these days…)

Simply enjoy!

Anyway, a brief post this week at being delighted to visit a new place near to home, and have it surpass unimportant expectations! I’ll write a little more another time about the short yet icy trail we hiked out at Minnewanka. Rein in those expectations…

DSCN6438Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share a story or leave a comment.


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…)

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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!

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.


On thin ice

Aren’t we all? A little risk-taking sharpens the senses. Still, there are senses, and then there is common sense. Where is this leading?

To Emerald Lake!

Yes, to Emerald Lake and another snowshoe trip! Only this time, it’s rife with danger…Stop reading now if you believe that, because it’s not true. I’m an old PlaidCamper, and I didn’t get this close to my half century by taking insane risks. Certainly not! Only the sane risks for me. Almost outdoorsmen are just that – almost. As in, I almost went over the edge there but didn’t because snowboarding slower than many walk is a safe way to navigate black runs. Common sense with an element of near danger; the perfect recipe for outdoor success and coming back another day? My younger self would have laughed at that. But I’m here and he isn’t, so who’s right now? (Am I really arguing with old young me?)

A natural snowshoe stadium

Back to Emerald Lake. On a monochrome Yoho afternoon, we went in search of a safely frozen lake offering big mountain views under leaden skies. Given the right conditions, Emerald Lake can be a natural snowshoe stadium. There had been plenty of recent snow, but sadly, due to ongoing unseasonable warmth, it didn’t quite work out.

For me, it is about trusting how deep down the lake is frozen. I evidently have trust issues. When your snowshoes sink slightly into deep snow, it’s all good. Crump, crump, crump, wonderful, let’s go! Away from the shoreline, when they continue to sink past the snow into a layer of melting ice, and the slush covers your boots, it’s less good. Call me cautious, but no thanks (don’t tell young me!) Ice should be frozen, weight bearing, and, let me think, solid.

Big mountain, small skiers

Out on the ice, you must listen to the voices, PlaidCamper. Especially the worst case scenario voice. At first thought, an undermining little creature, spinning annoying common sense words. He’ll whisper and weave an underwater nightmare where the mountain views aren’t as good from beneath the ice. Crack, splash, scrabble, scratch and tap. Yikes! Thank you, voices, and that’s enough of that. About turn and the shortest snowshoe trip ever, even if the cross country skiers are splush-gliding by with ease. (Splush?) Perhaps they were off season water skiers.

Avalanche chute

Needing to settle my jangled nerves and overactive imagination, we took a little turn along the shore, snapping big mountain views from a firmer footing, and wondering at the number of skiers blithely ignoring the avalanche warning signs posted across the front of an evident chute. I guess to each their own level of acceptable risk. Some must lead charmed lives, or possess conveniently underdeveloped fear centres.

Calming big mountain view

Virtually everything in life is a risk one way or another, and getting outdoors is no exception. There’s fun to be had in exploring your boundaries, and testing yourself in less forgiving environments. The best fun though, is in coming back, sharing your adventures, and telling trail tales to friends and family. Who knows, maybe they’ll want to join you next time? This post is like a message from the government of PlaidCamper:

Be safe, manage your risk, and be sure there is a next time!

Be safe, and come back!

Thanks for reading, and, as ever, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment – always appreciated!

Downhill Racer!

Downhill racer! Like Robert Redford in that movie. Oh, if only. More like an uphill plodder when it comes to cross country skiing.

Slightly slushy – and well provisioned

We were out in Yoho last week, enjoying all the snow on the BC side of the mountains. Although still unseasonably warm, the greater relative snowfall meant there was plenty to fall over in. Sporadic flurries fell from overcast skies, with lengthy breaks in between to admire big valley views. I spent plenty of time enjoying those views from all kinds of angles down in the soft, soft snow.

Enjoyable view

We decided to risk a little xc skiing on slightly slushy track set trails in the Yoho Valley (Isn’t that great? Yoho is derived from a Cree word meaning awe and wonder. In the Yoho Valley – I could say that over and over…) There were very few fellow skiers or hikers about – in fact we saw only four other people after setting off. Wonderful really, but given it was a long weekend, shouldn’t more families have been out embracing the park, simply being in the Yoho Valley? Maybe they’d heard about me blowing the cobwebs off my skis.

Long straight bits – wonderful

Not kidding about the uphill plodder. Being a contrary old so and so, I like to claim great enjoyment of uphill skiing. Taking on gravity, and winning. The gradual climb, and the aerobic workout. Yup, the going up is for me. Huh? Really? Well, no, the truth is I am terrified of going too fast and losing control coming back down. Who isn’t? Not so much on long straight descents, that’s fine. It’s when the long straight bits have a turn at the bottom. I don’t seem to have mastered the art of going around corners – unless I’m traveling really, really slowly. Like when I am going up.

Oh no! Is that a turn after the bridge?

The trail we took at the weekend was a there and back again we’d not visited before. The initial ascent was long and gentle, and I was congratulating myself on this good fortune, and on how well I was fighting gravity. Foolish boy! Of course, there were then turns and steeper parts as the uphill trail followed the down flow run of the Yoho River. To a seasoned – or ordinarily brave – skier, the track was probably as easy as can be. My inner voice however, was repeating “we’re coming back down this way, looks fast, and how about that right turn? Will you make it or hop out of the tracks and over the edge? Bet that water is cold…”

Cold waters of the Yoho River

Clearly, we made it back down in one piece, or at least enough working pieces for me to be able to write this. Suffice to say my usual, if not preferred, method of slowing down worked as well as ever. Gravity is my friend. I fell over, or threw myself down. Quite a lot. Far too often. Wonderful really, that so few families were out embracing the park.

Still a little too warm?

Anyway, bruised dignity aside, it was a fun afternoon of (early spring?) uphill plodding and downhill skiing in a beautiful place. It has us looking forward to having another go, and maybe getting a bit further along next time out. Then, if they ever decide to make a belated sequel to Downhill Racer, one set many years after the original, I’ll be available (I do all my own stunts) – provided the new movie is called Uphill Plodder.

Potential Uphill Plodder location

For the record, these really were some of the thoughts in my head as I enjoyed the long uphill aerobic workout in the Yoho Valley. Probably some sort of altitude sickness.

Looking down at the Yoho from flat on face

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

Fractionally further out (on the edge)

Something of an odd title, but bear with me, it might make sense. The last week or two has definitely seen a change in the weather, moving from surefire winter to a more uncertain season. There is still plenty of snow on the ground, at least out in the mountains, but everything has warmed up, and I don’t like it! But let’s try to be glass half full…

Loves winter

I know, here he goes again, loves winter, blah, blah, blah… It feels wrong to be this warm, with temperatures above freezing and even up into the mid-teens centigrade, with chinook after chinook blowing through. Mid March, alright, but to be this warm from the beginning of February? It’s not all chinooks, but honestly, what a meteorological maelstrom. El Nino and climate change, warm winters and extreme weather, doom mongers and deniers. We’ve just had the warmest year on record, so let’s get fracking. No! Let’s not.

It should be cold

We have to show a fraction more sense. It should be cold(er) in winter! Global warming isn’t a leftist anti-oil and big business fabrication, but a common concern for all thoughtful (and thoughtless) human beings. Non-renewable resources are dwindling, and they will run out. We have to shift to renewable sources, and put our mental energy, education, and training into facing this reality. I understand the concerns about employment. Jobs won’t have to disappear, but different ones will need to replace current ones. New energy requires engineers, technicians, scientists, maintenance, infrastructure, retail and associated skills. This is an opportunity! Blocking clean air initiatives is fiddling while Rome burns. It’s fracking silly, and we can do better. Goodness, I am irritable this week.


A classroom, many, many years into the future:

“Excuse me, teacher? Are you sure this information is correct? It says that our ancestors continued to pollute the air, water, and ground, even when they had an opportunity to do things differently. Really? And they did it for profit?! They prioritized money over the health of the planet? Huh? But weren’t they educated? Couldn’t they see what was happening? Who was Willow?”

We’ll be long gone, and of course, I’m simply being fanciful…

Maybe I should step outside, calm down. Our last little snowshoe adventure saw us along the river once more, and the river was fractionally higher, with ice shelves collapsing into the water. Don’t get too close to the edge, and a precarious situation… Lovely to look at, but in February? Too soon! I tottered along (as mentioned last week, was still feeling under the weather, hence the tottering) and realized we were past the midpoint of winter, over halfway and racing towards spring. To be honest, I wasn’t racing, or even tottering, not in snowshoes, but isn’t tottering a great word? I do look forward to spring, but please, not yet.

This is not Willow

So, Groundhog Day came and went, with the sad news that Winnipeg Willow died a day before having the chance to pronounce an end to (or continuation of) winter. Was this natural causes, or a shadowy groundhog grassy knoll conspiracy to suppress the truth? Who would want to silence poor Willow? The naysayers, or the doom mongers?

Under grey skies

All these thoughts – too strong a word? – were swirling around as we enjoyed the snow, the streams, and the relative silence under grey skies. Oh, my mental maelstrom. Suppose the planet keeps on heating up? What of winter then? How thin is the ice? Hmm. Enjoy winter while you can, and if a snowstorm hits, embrace it because, who knows, suppose you don’t experience another? What an awful thought…

DSCF1907Fortunately, and on a more positive note, we did encounter the American Dipper once again. Knowing that they only frequent unpolluted rivers and streams made everything seem a little less precarious.

I think I’d best keep this brief, and aim to top up my optimism glass. Here’s hoping winter hangs on a little longer around here, and I’ll seek to enjoy it – it’s what Willow would have wanted. For all my doom and gloom, there’s usually a way to fractionally brighten the spirits:

Glass (more than) half full! A fine fractional IPA from Lagunitas – recommended.

As always, thanks for reading! Please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.