These Are a Few of My Favourite Things…

Ptarmigan Lake

I often read articles titled, “Top Ten Hikes.”  These may be hikes in Canada, the Rockies or Banff depending on the newsletter or magazine.  They tend to be areas that are easy to access and appeal to the general population.  Do I always agree with these lists?  Yes and no.  Yes, they are beautiful but I am spoiled living in the Rockies and am thankfully physically capable of hiking more arduous, longer trails.

What makes it on my list of top places to hike?  Over the next few posts, I will run through my “Top Three”.  On my list (this one might appear on a standard list for fall hikes) is Larch Valley in September, when these unique deciduous conifers turn a golden yellow.  Lake O’Hara makes it on my list as well, a stunning jewel with alpine lakes surrounded by towering mountains.  This one doesn’t normally make it on a “top” list because it is highly restricted, requiring an elusive bus reservation or failing that, an eleven kilometre hike on a gravel road just to get to the starting point.  Finally, Skoki Lakes in Lake Louise is another favourite, which I elaborate on in this post.

Wildflowers

What is it about Skoki Lakes that brings us back every hiking season?  My attachment to this place is highly emotional, so maybe my “Top Three” is not the most objective but few lists truly are.  How else is beauty defined?  There is no scientific formula, though I suppose “Lakes + Mountains + Wildlife + Wildflowers = Wow”, is pretty close!  What Skoki brings to me is all these elements plus a sense of inner peace, of amazement and contentment.

To get to paradise, one must start the journey on a rather un-scenic four kilometre fire road.  I promise the rewards are worth it.  Sometimes, however, the road is not so boring.  We did run into a grizzly once (not an uncommon occurrence), which Gabor scared off with his booming voice.

Halfway Hut

Halfway Hut

The actual trailhead starts right before the ski area and winds through forest, eventually opening up to a generous vista of mountains and springtime wildflowers flourishing in the valley.  Here, sits “Halfway Hut”, a good place to snack and rest up before continuing onward.  The first lake is Ptarmigan Lake and if you only make it here, it would make that initial four kilometre stretch already worth it.  With a little extra time and effort, hike along the lake and over Packer’s Pass.  Skoki Lakes (which consists of Zigadenus Lake and Myosotis Lake) are within reach.

Zigadenus Lake

Although there are probably bluer, more spectacular lakes, Zigadenus and Myosotis Lake are breathtaking.  Is it because it was a heart pounding, oxygen consuming journey to get to it?  Perhaps.  It is perhaps the sense of awe as mountains provide a backdrop to these peaceful lakes, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, with few, if any, people in sight.  There is this sense of serenity, this absolute feeling that in that moment, time stops for me to appreciate everything in my life.  Skoki Lakes charms- so much so, that my sister decided to include it in her book, ” My Great Canadian Adventures.”  For more details, visit http://www.canadianadventurebooksbymonica.com.

There is an option to continue to Merlin Lake, which we did pursue one summer.  At thirty-four kilometres, it was a long day indeed, and although we were happy we hiked it, Merlin Lake was not the magical a place we had hoped it would be.  After hiking seventeen kilometres one way, I honestly pictured we would stumble upon Shangi-La from “Lost Horizon”.  Unless you are planning to stay at Skoki Lodge or do a backpacking trip, Skoki Lakes is sufficient for a day hike, with a high reward to effort quotient.  There were some highlights hiking past Skoki Lakes though, which included crawling through a hole in collapsed rock.

One of the trip highlights

 

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Where is My Mountain Goat?

It’s been a strange month without my Mountain Goat, aka Gabor.  This month, he went to climb Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest peak outside of Asia.  At seven thousands metres, even Gabor will not call that a hill!

It’s been a busy month for me, thankfully I suppose.  I went to visit my family and friends in Montreal and Toronto the first week Gabor was gone.  Upon my return to Calgary, I headed out snowshoeing with my previous boss, his son and son’s girlfriend.  Then came all the birthdays, cake baking and because I love dark chocolate, some chocolate making too.  I mean, I may as well right?  I have to clean the kitchen anyway.

On Thursday, I was debating whether to do a good distance run or head out to the mountains by myself.  I had ran the previous day and the call of the mountains was beckoning me.  The Chinook was creating variable conditions unfortunately but I decided to chance it.  I normally take such care preparing our hiking/snowshoeing lunch but on my own, I slapped together a peanut butter sandwich, washed some fruit and jetted out of town.

I really wanted to get some distance in but for safety, had to avoid avalanches and needed a popular enough trail.  I opted to snowshoe Moraine Lake Road.  It was not my first choice but between road closures for avalanche control and the rain that started before Lake Louise, Moraine Lake Road chose me.  It was snowing there.  I didn’t really want to go all the way up to Lake Louise; the road conditions on the way up left much to be desired.

Before I met Gabor, I would often hike and snowshoe alone.  I became accustomed to it.  On Thursday, I had intended to head out for longer but was no longer used to being out on my own.  I came to appreciate the good company and by myself, I was… well, bored and unmotivated.  So I turned back sooner than I had planned.  Plus, the snow conditions were not great.  The snow on the trail was wet and heavy and the pretty snowflakes became rain by the afternoon.

Wandering off on snowshoe, I thought of Gabor on his trek.  I also thought about his constant optimism.  His friends like to tease him playfully about it.  Terribly cold and windy- it was a fantastic hike!  Amid cloudy sky and/or pouring rain- the sky is starting to look brighter!  So I had to take this picture.  The sun did peek out, albeit briefly.

Moraine Lake Road

This next picture is for you Gabor.

Thermos

Cheers!  I’m sure you could have used a Bailey’s hot chocolate on top of Aconcagua!

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2016- Year in Review, Part Two

August

Bow Hut- The Onion

Although we have hiked to Bow Hut on numerous occasions, the trail always maintains a sense of discovery.  The landscape is varied and the ice formation changes from year to year.  The trail starts out following the shoreline of Bow Lake, then continues upwards on a set of rock steps.  My favourite feature is the natural bridge: a massive boulder wedged across the entire canyon.  The trail meanders through forest yet provides views of the canyon below and the mountains above.  Eventually, it disappears completely and we’re surrounded by rock and scree.  Bow Hut sits on top of the slope and provides a base camp for further exploration.  That day, at Wapta Icefield, people were practising crevasse rescue.

Bow Hut- The Onion

We continue onwards up the Onion, a protruding peak that, like an onion, is layered.  The view from above is quite a treat.

On top of the Onion

 

September

Golden, BC

Golden is a mountain biker’s paradise.  They also have a Via Ferrata (iron road in Italian)- a system of cables, ladders and harness hook ups, that allow a non-climber a taste of climbing.  We took the gondola 7700 feet, up the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.  From there, there are hiking and mountain biking trails everywhere.  Pictured below is Gabor in front of the Eagle’s Eye Restaurant, the highest restaurant in Canada.

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On our gondola ride, we even had the opportunity to get a glimpse of Boo, the resident Grizzly Bear that lives in the mountain sanctuary.

 

 

Mt. Edith Cavell

I always enjoy going to Jasper.  It never ceases to fascinate me how different the mountains look in this area compared to Lake Louise or Banff.  I really can’t describe what is different in the rock formation yet I’m sure Mother Nature has an explanation.  The drive out there is beautiful.

Gabor had been talking about going to Mt. Edith Cavell for some time.  The trip has never coincided with the Banff-Jasper Relay in June, as the road is not yet accessible to vehicles.  This year, we decided to head out to Jasper again in September.

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The road takes you right in the valley.  Here, a short walk from the parking lot, is a glacier fed lake, speckled with icebergs.  The lake itself is not particularly interesting; the colour is not emerald and yet there is something striking about seeing chunks of ice scattered everywhere.  Perhaps it is because glacier calving is a manifestation of the fragility of life.  What was solid, crumbles into pieces, eventually melting back into the earth.  Or maybe it’s just fun to pick up the ice!

The mass of ice clinging to the mountain face is quite remarkable.  By going above Cavell Meadows, we were awarded with views of Angel Glacier, named this way because of the wing-like formation.  To me, it looks more like the back side of  a bird, soaring through the mountains.

Gabor managed to catch some excellent shots of a pika on the way back.  They love rocky terrain but tend to dart in between the rocks.  This little guy was enjoying posing for the camera!

 

 

Floe Lake

There was nothing that really stood out about Floe Lake.  The weather was not great and the fog obscured the views.  I decided it was worth adding it to the blog anyway just for the cool looking picture.


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October

Hamilton Lake

It is not unusual to have October snow in Calgary and the mountains.  In fact, once in August, we began hiking in rain, only to encounter snow part way on the trail.  This year, by mid-October, we did receive a couple of snowfalls.  Gabor checked the trail report in Yoho and the status of Hamilton Lake trail was classified as “good”.  At Emerald Lake, the ground had some snow on it but nothing to write home about (more like emailing my Torontonian sisters to show them our wonky weather).  Hikers on our feet, we proceeded to hike to Hamilton Lake.

The funny thing is, the centimetre of snow on the ground by the parking lot gradually turned into two centimetres, then to three… then to four… then…  Eventually this is the scenery we had by the lake.  I guess Parks Canada hadn’t updated their trail report properly.  It should have been classified as “snowshoe recommended”!

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November

Saddle Pass

I was so excited about the snow at Hamilton Lake, that I begged Gabor to go snowshoeing on our next outing.  We ended up heading to Kananaskis the following week and there was hardly any snow.  It was a bit of a disappointment but the week after made up for it, when we headed to Saddle Pass.  Although there was not quite as much snow as Hamilton Lake, the weather was perfect and the views did not disappoint.

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December

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Fernie

Fernie is a popular place to ski.  It is well known for ample snowfall and fresh powder.  Christmas Day certainly proved that reputation.  A couple of days before, Gabor checked the webcam for snow conditions and confirmed, yes indeed there was lots of snow.  In fact, 50 cm had just fallen.  In fact, there was more snow to follow.  Sure enough, Christmas Eve, as we headed to Fernie after work, the white stuff was seriously falling.  It was a bit surreal.  Snow blowing, illuminated by the headlights, it was like we were going high speed through space.  Usual driving time to Fernie is 2 hours, 50 minutes.  Gabor driving in a snow storm- 3 hours!

In the morning, we headed out snowshoeing to Island Lake Lodge.  In the wintertime, the road is closed to general traffic.  Those staying overnight, interested in spa day or dining at the restaurant are invited to take the shuttle: not a bus but a snowcat!  We snowshoed up the road, taking various detours along the way through the forest.

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We checked out the lake.  Here, we discovered some birds enjoying a bath in the open water.  Spending Christmas Day outside together, surrounded by the splendor of nature- what more could we ask for?

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Thank you for joining us on our adventures.  May 2017 bring you new journeys, explorations and discoveries!

 

 

 

 

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2016- Year in Review, Part One

Seeing as to how poorly I keep this blog up to date, I am going to blitz through 2016 with some hiking/snowshoeing highlights.  I decided to split the blog into two parts to keep them at a reasonable length.  It will also grant me some time to work on Part Two.  In the meantime, Part One, here we go…

January

Jasper

This year, we lucked out with the weather in Jasper.  It was Goldilocks perfect- not too cold (like in 2014, at -28 degrees Celsius), not too warm (like in 2015, snowshoeing in the rain).

There were some trail closures due to caribou migration, so we ended up snowshoeing Opal Hills.  We also came across an impressive but relaxed looking elk.

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 —

Helen-Katherine Ridge

We were with another couple on this snowshoe excursion and we all loved it.  So do all the backcountry skiers, as it became obvious from all the ski tracks.  As we reached our destination, the snow and scenery were incredible.  Like the distinct towers of Dolomite Peak (pictured behind Gabor), this was a snowshoe trip that stood out.
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February

Bow Falls

Always a great place for snowshoeing, the Bow area offers deep powder and inspires unparalleled mountain awe.  Although a longer drive, it never disappoints.

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 —

Lake O’Hara

Another favourite is to winter hike the road up to Lake O’Hara.  The road is groomed and track set for cross country skiers.  Eleven kilometres one way, with a 400 metre elevation gain, it is a relatively easy jaunt to the lake.  From there, strap on snowshoes and explore the area.  The hut is pictured below.  It is fully booked in the winter time too.

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One year, we had this crazy idea to ski into Lake O’Hara after work, with the idea of snowshoeing at the lake, then skiing back.  So Gabor strapped all our snowshoe gear to his backpack (including boots) and developed a lump on his shoulder from the load.  Being a novice cross country skier, I managed to make it to Lake O’Hara on skis but was uncomfortable (to say the least) to go downhill.  I ended up walking back in ski boots.  It was dark by then.  What a stupid idea.  It was a beautiful stupid idea though, as the stars lit the sky and an eerie calm filled the air.

 

June

Banff-Jasper Relay

I re-rjune-2016-banff-jasper-p1060105an the same leg as I did in 2015, Mt. Kerkeslin, hoping to beat my previous time but didn’t.  The heat was getting the better of me, and I had to remind myself to get a grip- I was going to be fine.  Was I ever glad at the finish line!

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Berg Lake

Mt. Robson is a short drive from Jasper.  It is considered a “must-do” hike, a “Top 10”, particularly because of the aptly named Berg Lake.   Mt. Robson is also the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.  At 40 km, most people prefer to take their time and backpack the trail over three days.  A one day trip can be an excessively long day.  Also, backpacking allows for ample opportunity to go beyond and explore the area.

When I signed up for the Banff-Jasper Relay in 2016, I had this half-formed, half-brained idea (kind of like skiing into Lake O’Hara in the late afternoon).  I shared it with Gabor- join me in Jasper for the relay, then the day after I run my 19 km leg, hike in and out of Berg Lake in one day.  He, of course, loved the idea.  In fact, he had to one-up me and suggest we go further.  So, the idea came to fruition and we made it to the lake and then up the Hargreaves trail.  On our way back, we saw some guy with a Banff-Jasper t-shirt.  Turns out he was going to Berg Lake for the day as well, the day after the race.  Not such a crazy idea after all!

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Utah

We took one week holiday in June, so after Jasper and Mt. Robson, we headed south to Utah, mainly to visit Arches National Park.

It was important to sight see early in the morning for two reasons- to get a parking spot and also because it was unbearably hot mid-day.  We spent our mornings checking out the sights, then would have lunch in an air conditioned restaurant or hang out by a grocery store eating ice cream during peak heat hours.  Late afternoon, we could venture out again.

The red rock and arches are endless here.  It completely felt like we were on another planet.

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Looking out towards the vast landscape, mountains in the background, sun setting against clouded sky, it felt like we were at the edge of the earth.

 —

Skoki Lakes

Skoki Lakes is another favourite hike and snowshoe that we have done several times.  Although we have to walk 4 km on a gravel road to get to the trail head, it is well worth it.  It is hard to describe why I love this area so much.  Somehow the way the lakes and mountains surround me, takes my breath away and it’s not from physical exertion.

This year, up june-2016-skoki-lakes-p1070092the gravel road, we had the privilege of seeing a Grizzly bear.  We were behind another couple with their dog, who were in the midst of deep conversation, when Gabor called out to them, “bear!”.  Gabor decided to proceed, shouting out to the bear.  He stood up on his hind legs, looked at us and then ran into the bush.

 

July

Twin Falls

Yoho National Park is a highly sought after campers’ paradise.  In the middle of summer, people were enjoying the rushing river in the background, fresh mountain air and wondrous surroundings.  We started our journey at Takakkaw Falls, ventured towards Laughing Falls, up the Whaleback, then to Twin Falls, our final destination.

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Stay tuned for Part Two… It is in the works.

 

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At -25 Degrees Celsius, Where Would You Be?

Here’s an informal poll- At -25 degrees Celsius, where would you be?

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outdoors

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Yesterday, Wednesday, December 7, 2016, we chose option C.

The forecast this winter is for a “typical Canadian winter” and yes, the weather forecasters are indeed correct.  Almost without fail, one week in December, we have a cold snap of sub zero temperatures, 20 and below.  So, when we saw the forecast of -25 degrees Celsius, what did we do?  Curl up by the fireplace in our pjs, hot cocoa in hand?  Heck no!  Hot cocoa in a Thermos on a mountain ridge, here we go!

We were actually excited to get out there.  Out on the 93 North, we get some of the best snow around.  Gabor had the opportunity to test out his hikers in extreme cold.  This would be a test for his trek in Aconcagua in February, where -25 degrees C would be the norm, with bitter cold winds.  Well, we didn’t have any wind (thankfully) but we had the cold temps for sure.  It was otherwise a most beautiful day.  Blue, blue skies- a February sky, I told Gabor.  So rarely do we get such clear skies in December and perfect sunshine.

It was chilly but in the sunshine, dare we say… it felt warm?!  I only had a base layer and a heavier coat on and I was sweating like crazy, even in the forested area.  Out in the open, the scenery was fantastic- snow capped mountains, frosted pine trees and a panoramic view.

The best part of all?  Rewarding ourselves with a Bailey’s infused hot chocolate.  Oh, and homemade chocolate truffles too!

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Moments

Earlier this year, I was driving to work in the morning, with a lot on my mind.  I was overwhelmed.  It was still dark outside and I was the only one on the road.  There I was, deep in thought, music blasting, when I saw a deer in my peripheral vision.  I turned my head.  It was standing still, on the median, looking straight at me with its big eyes.  At that moment, all my worries melted away.  I felt totally at peace, refreshed and ready for a new day.

Which brings me to the question, exactly what is spirituality?  Is it religion?  Is it God?  Can you be spiritual but not religious?  And vice versa?

About ten years ago, I took a time Lake Oesamanagement class.  The instructor spent some time discussing work-life balance and the importance of feeding our spiritual selves.  He focused on how we need religion to achieve balance in our lives.  Being unreligious, I could not relate to this.  Fast forward a few years, at a management workshop, we were discussing work-life balance again.  The notion of spirituality came up again.  This time, however, the instructor spoke of spirituality in terms of doing something that helps you achieve a sense of peace, be it gardening or church.  Then, at an Avalanche training course, the instructor talked about his church- the mountains.  He needs to be outdoors to be, to function.  This struck a chord.  It all made sense.  We all need something in our lives that both grounds us and elevates us, that gives us purpose, happiness, fulfillment and a greater appreciation of life.  And what those things are, can be so subjective.

There are these moments in my life that pull me back, that make me pause and see the grandeur of my environment.  I feel this often when I am running, when no one is around, the light is just coming up over the horizon or going behind it.  I feel this hiking.  Abbott Pass was one such hike.  I was slipping on the rocks during this scramAbbott Hutble.  I was frustrated as I felt my boots and feet were failing me.  Then, I come up over the ledge, and the view takes my breath away.  There is this little hut, sitting precariously on the edge of a windy mountain top, with two glaciers in plain view.  On the drive home, reflecting on the day’s events, I told Gabor what a wonderful life we have.  We make decent money, have a beautiful home, have our health, have each other and have the time to enjoy this spectacular world.

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Banff-Jasper Relay 2015

Banff-Jasper Relay 2015Why do I run?  This is something I ask myself frequently as I’m nearing the last kilometre of a 20K run or as I battle a grueling uphill climb.  As my body begins to fatigue and mind begins to waiver, I can’t help but doubt my intentions.

I run for so many reasons.  It’s hard to explain in a single sentence what motivates me.  I initially took up running because I love to eat and ergo must exercise.  I run because it gives me an excuse to eat candy (easy, immediate energy, I tell myself).  Last year, I finally learned to love running.  In running, I found freedom and inner peace.  I retired my iPod.  During my runs, I appreciated the sound of my feet on the pavement, the heavy intake of breath.  It gave me the opportunity to mull over life.  I run because I can.  I run for my father, who can no longer run.  I run for me, because it feels good (after) and I don’t want to be like my parents.  I want to be proactive about my health and enjoy my senior years.

The Banff-Jasper Relay is a special run for me.  2015 was my third year running this relay.  I love running in the mountains.  It changes everything.  What a feeling!  It is energizing, exhilarating, life changing.  I also love my team, the Bikini Bootcamp Babes; they are all amazing ladies.  This year, I had a special treat.  Gabor came to cheer me on.  I was elated!  I breathed in and smelled fFinish Line Banff-Jasper 2015lowers, not gasoline!  I took in the beauty of creeks and mountain peaks.  All the self-doubt (did I train enough, can I handle the heat, etc., etc.) dissipated.  I decided against using my GPS as I wanted to enjoy my run, not worry about my pace, just trust my body and take in the moment.  As I struggled up the last major hill, I remembered all the reasons I run.  The reasons fuel my legs, fill my lungs, power my heart and nourish my life.

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