River Song

A very short post this week – I’m being swamped by report cards. (To be honest, I do quite enjoy writing them, and exploring my ability to stretch the truth without falling into fiction…)

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“Shouldn’t that guy on the other bank be working?”
Instead of spending a Sunday working on report cards, and demonstrating my dedication to education, we decided to take a short drive out east. Tough decision, howls of protest, but in the end I went with it. Meaning to take a short hike up and down the river banks in Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park, our hike turned out to be very brief. The scene was so captivating, and the sun was so high! We ended up sitting by the flowing Bow, in a shady spot on a warm afternoon. The river was up after recent rainfall, and the sound of the rushing water was soothing to an old fellow dozing in his camp chair.DSCF4979

I didn’t fall asleep completely. The wind in the trees added an extra layer of sound that was very pleasant. The breeze was enough to take the edge off the heat in the valley bottom. The best sounds of all? Bird song! Tree swallows, warblers, red winged blackbirds, robins, cormorants, ducks and geese. Those were the ones I did recognize, although my lack of bird knowledge has left me with generic rather than precise recognition. Need to work on that! Pretty sure we saw a yellow warbler – it was pretty for sure. Far in the distance, a hawk wheeled and climbed until out of sight. Ducks splashed on take off and landing, and geese flapped by, honking along the river.

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“Why is he taking our picture? Shouldn’t he be working?”
Those swallows are acrobats! A few wing beats to get above the water, and then a steep or shallow dive to snag a bug, over and over, up and down. I swear one did a ninety degree left turn on a dime. What a display, all speed and grace, and an occasional flash of iridescent green. A joy to watch.IMG_20170528_140250Sometimes the best way to tackle report cards is to leave them at home and go take a nap. Rest your eyes, stare off into the distance, empty your head, or fill it with something else. Be lulled by the river song, rest and recharge, and then head back for an early evening beer. A beer? But what about those – never mind. I can’t write under the influence. Have to finish them another day.

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“You down there? Get back to work!”
A short post this week. Did I mention I seem to be swamped by report cards? It’s all about time management and priorities. Fortunately, I am a professional with focus. Hold on! What’s that sound? I think I hear the call of the river…

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Distraction…
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

PS I finished the report cards earlier today. I know you were wondering…

Blue and green

And many spring shades in between…

Oh, a more than welcome long weekend, and a chance to slip from the city and head for the hills. Or mountains, once past the foothills. Yoho was calling, a cabin was booked, and report cards will get written. Eventually.

The week before, the forecast was predicting a snow-rain mix and single digit temperatures, so we packed accordingly. Mountain weather is immune or exempt from the dark arts of weather forecasting. Snow-rain mix? That’ll be blue skies, fluffy clouds and temperatures into the teens. Haha, and ok, this made my weekend, already a long one, and now with better than expected outdoor weather. I know, a grown man, and still easily pleased or displeased by the weather…I do love the reliably unreliable mountains!

As we were about to set off towards the Kicking Horse and a short hike, we noticed a hummingbird had settled on a small bush outside the cabin. No way it’ll stay there while I reach for my camera in the backpack I thought to myself, reaching into the backpack for my camera. Well, it did, and the photograph posted is about the best I’ll ever get. What a colourful character! Made my morning even better, having been buzzed by several hummingbirds over morning coffee earlier. Caffeine buzz and hummingbird buzz, a pretty good start to the day.

To the Kicking Horse! Lots of cars, RVs, and a tour bus in the parking lot didn’t bode well. We did the usual, and went in the opposite direction, heading down the trail and wondering as we wandered about bear activity, thinking they’d be far from the noisy crowds. The trail grew quiet as we walked away, and the sun was pleasantly warm on our happy little faces. Fresh air, blue skies, dark evergreens, and bright deciduous spring greens all worked their soothing magic as we strolled along. A few steps off the main trail onto a side trail afforded us slightly precarious but lovely views of the Kicking Horse galloping and tumbling down the valley. Sounds, scents, and sights to delight.

Back on the main trail, we continued descending, still wondering about bear activity. I always find, when in bear country, the further you go the more every large boulder or dark shadow in the trees looks like a bear. It’s all in my head. As the trail snaked down and around a corner in front of us, I spotted another bear like shadow. Nope, it wasn’t moving, carry on. A few steps forward, and a little closer, and the shadow was moving, and so were the two smaller shadows my tired old eyes had missed. A mama bear and two cubs! They’d seen and heard us, likely way before I finally saw them, and as we stood still, they scampered across the trail and up the bank out of sight. What a thrill! What a grip Mrs PlaidCamper had on my arm. She didn’t see the bears – they were quick – but she dragged me away, quite rightly, before my curiosity outweighed my common sense, and we headed back the way we came.

We passed through the crowded parking lot at the trailhead and attempted to wander away from the throngs gathered at the natural land bridge. It is a pretty spot, but best enjoyed early or late, and we were neither. I took a few photographs of the rushing river as we stopped to enjoy the views, and it was all very pleasant, but too busy. We should have arrived far sooner. Never mind – there’s always another day!

We returned to the cabin happy enough, and enjoyed the chance to sit in the warm sun and reflect on our brief bear encounter and the blue green mountain spring.

Thanks for reading, I always appreciate you taking the time, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

I like this because it has a bit of everything – blue water, whitewater, sand, rocks, trees and a sense of depth.

Thin and persistent

Like an old PlaidCamper? No, like the snow that fell all day. A short piece this week about a short walk last week.

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Hug them, hug them all…

With temperatures hovering around -15C, and the snow being blown and thrown around by sharp gusts, we decided to wrap up and snowshoe in the shelter of trees. Swaddled and waddling, I really wasn’t too persistent or thin, especially when we tried to forge through deep snow. As an excuse for my lack of persistence, I’ll offer up the sore back I’ve been nursing the past few weeks. It has slowed me down, but the bonus has been the chance to take and make more frequent stops, and really absorb our natural surroundings.

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Thin hair? Clean air!

So I couldn’t make much headway along the trail, but when we stopped and sat in a snow bank to eat a snack, the quiet was delightful. Grains of snow rustled and pitter-pattered on our packs and jackets. The near silence was seductive, and only the cold seeping through snow pants got us up and moving once more.

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Close up

Distant views were obscured, with mountains being more of a suggestion than a reality in the murk. This made us focus in more of a close up way, prompting a readjustment and shrinking of vision, and that wasn’t a bad thing.

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The Kicking Horse

We followed a less difficult path, down to the Kicking Horse and towards the sounds of rushing and splashing water. Each riverbank was frozen, with deep snow covering ice layers. Here and there, and mostly in the middle, were stretches of flowing water. The exposed flow, tumbling and racing over blue-grey river rocks, made for some lovely sights and sounds.

dscf4331Maybe not the finest day weather wise to be out and about – no bright blue skies or fat falling flakes – chilly, windy and grey could be one way to describe the day, but there was plenty to see and savour in a more muted way.

dscf4349Thanks for reading, I always appreciate you taking the time, and have a wonderful weekend!dscf4333

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Time to head back

The Otterhead – fresh air and fresh tracks

Sounds lovely, and it was.

Our escape from the madness last weekend proved to be just that. (Little did we know how jawdroppingly awful the madness was. Nor did we think it would get worse this week. Depths are being plumbed at an astonishing rate. Walls of hate, barriers to common sense and human decency – and it has only been a week…)

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The Kicking Horse River
Back to last weekend and the sound of silence. We took a tour on the Otterhead trail, slipsiding away on an easy and freshly groomed cross country ski track. It wasn’t really silent, but it was serene. Skies were blue, mountains were majestic, and rivers were sparkling. That’ll be the Emerald, Amiskwi and Kicking Horse rivers. We crossed the first two partially frozen streams on bridges over untroubled tributaries, and then sped alongside the last, the lovely Kicking Horse.

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Speeding along? Um…no
Sped along? That’s not strictly true. Cautious skiers, we were quite happy to find the fresh tracks to be sticky and slow – that suited us on the downhill sections, and kept us heading on up the steeper sections. Overall, the Otterhead is a delightful trail for a skier wanting to focus on scenery rather than technique. (What technique?)

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Scenery
And such scenery! The Kicking Horse valley in Yoho is stunning. It has fewer visitors compared to the nearby and well known Banff National Park. Over the course of an afternoon, we saw nine other skiers or snowshoers on the trail (I really was keeping count – is that a bit sad?) As we descended the first part of the trail, a couple climbing back up on snowshoes smiled and said we were in for a treat at the bottom. They were so right! The track emerges from trees into a wide valley with beautiful views in all directions.

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The Amiskwi River
Being at the valley bottom might encourage an OldPlaidCamper to think he knows what he is doing on xc skis. Oh yes, I can kick and glide, kick and glide and really cover the ground. Look at me go! I might even catch up with Mrs. PlaidCamper.

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Waiting for OldPlaidCamper
I do enjoy the easy rhythm of skiing along on the flat parts. It’s preferable to my crabbed and hunched nervousness on the downhill sections, what with a helpful mantra of goingtofall, goingtofall, goingtofall playing in my head. Oddly enough, I often fall.

But on the flat parts you’d think I was a natural. My mind wanders, usually into a heady mix of appreciation for the surroundings and a strange conviction I might have a Nordic gene or two from way back, ‘cos look at me go. For whatever reason, last week little clips from Simon and Garfunkel kept popping up. Oh look, a clearing, is there a boxer? No. Then I fell over – there’s nothing like a face full of snow to bring you back.

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I’m catching up…
Homeward bound. The Otterhead is delightful, and I can’t wait to visit again. Maybe to ski, maybe to hike in spring and see the greens of summer, but we’ll be back. And no more escaping the madness, that can’t be done. Time to reframe and be positive – we’re going there (and other wild places) to embrace what is good and to feel good.

Imagine feeling the need to build a wall to keep people out. You’re in your own prison and you’ve already failed. You’re building a physical monument to your own feeble thinking and evident mental imprisonment. You’ve already lost. I won’t carry that with me everywhere I go. I don’t want to dwell on the awfulness all the time. I’m not ignoring it either, but there are times when bigger and better subjects should occupy our thoughts, if only for a while.

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Mental freedom and better things
Here’s hoping this weekend you find some peace and quiet, mental freedom, and you have a wonderful time!

Soaring…

…like a red-tailed hawk over river valley badlands.

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Red Deer River

We were sitting on the edge of a buffalo jump, overlooking the Red Deer River, when a hawk flew up from below, higher and higher, rising and wheeling in the sun. It seemed to hang for a perfect moment, just above our heads, the sun shining through the wing and tail feathers. The hawk’s silhouette glowed at the edges, brick red and orange fire against the blue. What a sight! It continued to climb, glide and ride the thermals, seemingly effortless as it soared away and across the badlands.

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From a buffalo jump

Can you imagine being the hawk? Surely some of the flight is sheer joy? I know, it was out and about the hawkish business of feeding and survival, but still…(I wish I had a photograph to share, but we were so taken by the sight, a photograph was very much an afterthought – and then there is my speedy reaction time with a camera. Pretty sure I’d have taken several pictures of sky!)

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Badlands view – not so bad…

We were happy to enjoy a sunny Sunday after the rather damp previous weekend. Sat in shirtsleeves at the top of Dry Island Buffalo Jump eating a picnic was very pleasant. Gophers scampered, butterflies tumbled and fluttered in the wind, and trees rustled and shimmered under a bright blue sky.  Throw in long golden grasses swaying in the breeze, the  gentle buzz and drone of insect life, the call of birds along the valley, and it all made for beautiful views with a lovely natural soundtrack.

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Beautifully bad

You approach this small provincial park by driving across rolling prairies. There is very little to indicate the presence of the Red Deer River ahead of you as you search for the buffalo jump. The paved road is straight for kilometres, until, without warning, it becomes a dirt road, and makes a sharpish left turn at a small stand of low trees. Suddenly, the badlands valley appears on your right, wide, vast, and too deep to see into the bottom from the car. Time to pull over and be amazed. The contrast with the grasslands before is simply astonishing, adding further impact to an already wonderful scene.

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Into the valley

After eating, we wandered down into the valley, following the steep dirt road to a small parking and picnic area in front of the river. (We didn’t drive down because we wanted to hike past the fragrant sagebrush, and because, if the road is wet, it is possible you will be stranded at the bottom. After rain, the dirt becomes mud so slick, most vehicles, 4WD or not, will be stuck. Tow trucks won’t come down and rescue you! We decided that recent rains may have made it too slippery, and by the time we’d eaten, large clouds were beginning to bubble up and over…and being stuck in the mud is perhaps not the best excuse for missing work on Monday?)

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Serene

The Red Deer flows slowly and serenely through the valley. We picked our way along the riverbank, enjoying the dart of a fish, the flapping and splashing of ducks on the far side, and following the blue damselflies seemingly scouting the way for us. A pair of birds skimmed across the surface of the water, no doubt enjoying the abundant bug life. All seems right with the world in such a peaceful setting. My only alarm was in almost stepping on a garter snake hidden in a patch of fallen dried brush. That set the heart hammering for a short while. I was far more attentive thereafter, and I hope the snake is now feeling fine too.

DSCF2524We had planned on exploring some of the trails at the foot of the jump, but it was really, really warm on the valley floor. We settled for sitting awhile by the river, enjoying what felt like a timeless place, thinking about the lives of those who’d been here before. Imagine, with buffalo, fish, birds, and berries, it must have been a Cree treasure trove…

DSCF2528It was difficult to stir ourselves, but the clouds were amassing. We didn’t rush, and besides, the track was steep, so it was a leisurely plod back to the top ahead of the approaching rain.

IMG_20160529_120243What a day for natural wonders and unexpected encounters – a day to send your spirits soaring!

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story or make a comment, and have a wonderful weekend!DSCF2518

A new Kananaskis campground (well, it was already there, just new to me)

Sometimes, undiscovered and new outdoor places can almost be in your own backyard! This was the case just last weekend for us. We stayed at a new – to me – campground, and it was a wonderful discovery.

Our short stay at the Tunnel Mountain campground just outside Banff a couple of weeks ago was enjoyable enough for the views and to try the new tent, but it maybe wasn’t the most peaceful of places. When I mentioned this to a colleague, she recommended Beaver Flat campground on the Elbow River in Kananaskis country. I’ll admit to being a bit doubtful, thinking that a site barely an hour from the city couldn’t possibly be tranquil. 

  The Elbow River – a little bit tranquil?

As is often the case with outdoor related items, I was wrong. Once again. The campground and surrounding area was absolutely delightful, and relatively uncrowded for a warm and sunny weekend. I got the impression that the folks we saw out and about – cyclists, campers, hikers, twitchers, photographers and all – were there for the quiet, and because there isn’t a Banff or a Canmore nearby. I love those mountain towns, but they can fill up fast…

  A quiet stretch of the Elbow

Our weekend patch of the Elbow valley was people quiet but teeming with wildlife – although we didn’t see anything much larger than this little guy: He was busy enough, so we backed away!

Being unfamiliar with the area, we didn’t wander too far, yet uncovered plenty of natural delights. A short ramble from the tent, we saw where beaver activity had created a series of small ponds with dams that provided lovely views:

  Industrious beavers nearby…

  A babbling brook

Several times, a pair of geese flew directly over our tent, heading for the pond pictured below – we saw this single goose bank in and land on the water, an impressive sight! The goose in this photo seemed quite despondent, calling frequently. We wondered, had it lost a mate, was it one of the pair we kept seeing?  A lonesome goose?

 Maybe…

There was plenty to indicate the presence of beavers:  

Didn’t see any beavers, but we did spy a small amphibian:  It was tiny!

Quite honestly, walking around and investigating the immediate surroundings, we didn’t get more than an hour from the tent yet really enjoyed our explorations. It was a welcome short break from the city, and a chance to recharge before the final few weeks of a busy school year.

  Come the evening, is there a better way to unwind?!

I’m so happy to have had the recommendation about where to camp out in Kananaskis, as it was such a pleasant place to spend a weekend. It’s early in the camping season here, and K-country does get busier as the weather warms up, so I’m passing on the recommendation: if you get the chance, head out to the Elbow valley and stay in one of the campgrounds sooner rather than later – you won’t regret it! You don’t have the enormously epic mountain scenery of the nearby national parks, instead it is gentler, yet still rugged, scenery.

 Old and plaid, and enjoying K-country!
I’m hoping the weather remains fine and we manage to return in the next week or two – there were some enticing trails to be explored…

Do you have a favourite camping spot, or a campground recommendation? Thanks for reading, please feel free to share or make a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

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!