Voyageur Canoeing in Kananaskis

Last night I got to live like a Voyageur! Well, without the whole eating-the-same-thing-for-years-at-a-time, or the back-breaking-hard-work-of-carrying-canoes-and-animal-pelts things. But you know, exactly like a voyageur other than those small factors ūüėČ

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But in all seriousness, what I got to do was go on a Voyageur Canoe Tour with Kananaskis Outfitters. I very rarely get to be the guest on tours, especially with the company that I work for. But last night was a very special treat.

The Voyageur Canoe at Kananaskis Outfitters is 25 foot long canoe that seats 10 people (and a dog!). The guide steers from the back and all the guests need to do is paddle forward or backwards.

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The tour started out with a brief dry land session where Tiffany, our guide, showed everyone the proper way to hold the paddles and the basics of paddling. We then all climbed into the canoe and pushed off into Barrier Lake. Once on the lake, we practiced paddling forward and backwards, turning the boat in place (one side paddles forward, one side paddles backwards) and paddling as fast and hard as could (we got up to 7.5 km/h) all while the guide talked to us about the life of a voyageur. At about the halfway point across the lake, our guide broke into song (in french!) to demonstrate how the voyageurs would sing to keep the crew paddling in sync.

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We paddled from the Barrier Lake Day Use area across and up the lake to Jewel Bay. The sun was drifting down and the golden light on the mountains around us was absolutely breathtaking. After paddling across the lake, it felt like our group had known each other forever. We were laughing and joking as we relaxed on the beach at Jewel Bay and took in our surroundings. Jewel Bay is a great place to relax; there are no cars and few people, so you are surrounded by bird calls and the gentle sound of the breeze in the trembling aspen.

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We relaxed on the beach for about 20 mins and then it was time to head back. The paddle back was upbeat and relaxed, the water had almost no waves and was beautifully calm. Time flew on the trip, and before we knew we were landing on the sandy beach at Barrier Day Use Area again. The sun was setting and the clouds were spectacular shades of pink and gold. Mountain sunsets are definitely the best sunsets.

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Would I recommend this tour? Absolutely. Its a great way to get a larger group of people in a canoe (10 people vs the 3 you can fit in a regular canoe) and a nice, relaxing way to paddle. You will also learn a lot about the incredible explorers and adventurers who traveled on the original Canadian highway system: our lakes and rivers. The voyageur time period is a fascinating one, where the spirit of adventure was truly alive and well. If you enjoyed the movie The Revenant, this tour is a pretty incredible way to experience that time period in full modern day comfort. ***Bonus: The Revenant was filmed out in Kananaskis, so you might recognize some of the scenery!***

More information on this tour can be found at www.kananaskisoutfitters.com 

 

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Centennial Ridge – Kananaskis, AB

Yesterday I worked an early shift and got off¬†at 3pm, so I decided that I had enough time to hit one of my favourite trails:¬†Centennial Ridge. Centennial Ridge¬†is a beautiful trail that starts from the Ribbon Creek trailhead and takes you up Mt Allan, where you summit Olympic peak and then walk a ridge¬†line over to the summit Mt Allan. If you hike the whole trail, you end up in Dead Mans Flats, off of the trans-Canada highway.¬†It is closed from April 15th – June 21st every year to allow for Rocky Mountain Sheep lambing. So¬†since yesterday was the first day the trail was open, it was the perfect opportunity for me¬†to hike it. I had the trail almost to myself, only encountering three other groups along the trail, they were all headed down while I was headed up. I did however have some company in the form of a bear. On my way back down the trail (after summiting Olympic Peak) I ran into a grizzly bear on the trail. I yelled at the bear to see if I could get it to run off, since it was blocking the trail (yes, I had bear spray, but I didn’t want to use it since the bear was not being aggressive. He was just being a bear and I was in his territory, I respect that). The bear didn’t move and I was left to hike back up the mountain, and hike my butt back down one of Nakiska’s ski runs (Nakiska is the local ski hill here, it was built for the 1988 Olympics and is on one side of Mt Allan).

The ski run was pretty steep in some places and over grown with long, slippery crab grass, which left me to slide down on my butt in some sections. I was in shorts, so I ended up with paper-like cuts all down my backside. I finally made it down to the bottom, having added about 2 hours to my hike. I am happy I respected the bears space, and it was well worth hiking up the mountain twice, despite the grass cuts.

Even with the bear encounter, it was an amazing hike with incredible views. The wildflowers here are out in abundance and it was incredible to watch the species of flowers change as I hiked higher and higher. Below are some of my photos from the hike, I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed taking them.

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Remember! When travelling in bear country, carry bear spray and respect a bears space if you run into one! Do not be afraid of hiking because there ‘might’ be bears, just educate yourself, learn how to use bear spray and bear bangers and make noise while you hike so as to not surprise wildlife. I can’t say it enough, don’t give up on hiking because of wildlife, just be smart and give animals their space! Do follow wildlife restrictions and warnings, as well as other park rules. They are there to protect you and the animals.

Summer Solstice Hike On Wasootch Ridge

Wasootch Ridge is one of my favorite hikes in Kananaskis; you get most of the elevation gain over in the first kilometer and the views are spectacular. I wanted to take advantage of yesterday being the longest day of the year, so after work I threw on my hiking boots and hit the trail.

The ridge itself isn’t an official trail, so you won’t find it on a trail map; however the start of the trail is easy to find. The trail starts at the Wasootch Creek trail head (great rock climbing from here!). If you are in the parking lot, there are a number of picnic tables under the trees and the trail for the ridge starts just behind the picnic tables. It is super obvious once you are on it and it is easy to follow.

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Lets Talk About Hiking

Hiking, especially in the mountains, can be a little intimidating at first. I get asked frequently ‘How do I get into hiking’ or ‘what gear do I need to start hiking’, so I decided to address these questions and more in a blog post.

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As a hiking guide, I get asked all the time ‘How long have you been hiking?’ To me, that is kind of an odd question. Hiking, at its most basic, is really just walking outside. Since I grew up in the country, with lots of trails around my home, my answer is that I have been hiking for as long as I’ve been walking.

Basic hiking (i.e. walking outside) does not require any special gear or experience beyond good footwear and common sense. The more difficult the hike, the more gear or technical advice you will need, but hiking is very much something you can ease into. Any time spent being physically active outside is going to be amazing for both physical and mental health.

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Being a good hiker means being in relatively good shape, but hiking is also a great way to get in shape. If you have never hiked before, then you should start easy. You don’t need to summit a mountain on your first time out. But if you want to improve, then you do need to push yourself a little more every time you go out; try a harder trail, or try for a better time on a trail you have done before. Above all else, enjoy yourself! Hiking is, in my opinion, one of the best things in the world to get out and do. Its an incredible stress reliever, a great group activity and a great way to meet new people.

What is the one piece of advice I would give to a new hiker?

Be stubborn. Who cares how slow you are if you are enjoying yourself; if the hill seems to go on forever, don’t give up. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

So what basic gear do you need to get into hiking? Lets start at the bottom.

Good Footwear:

The type of footwear you need varies with the type of hiking you are planning on doing. The basics of good footwear come down to comfort and support; you want a hiking boot or shoe that fits the shape of your foot well and gives your toes lots of room. Buying shoes too small is a pretty common mistake that leads to serious discomfort, blisters and possibly lost toenails. When trying on hikers, don’t try them on first thing in the morning, try them on at the end of the day. Your feet swell a bit throughout the day, especially if you are being active, so trying them on at the end of the day will give you a more accurate idea of how the shoes will fit while hiking.

I personally prefer hiking boots over hiking shoes because I like the added ankle support and coverage. If you are going to be carrying a pack, then ankle support is definitely recommended.

Only buy as much boot as you need. If you are planning on doing only day hikes, then don’t buy a pair of super stiff, super expensive, multi-day backpacking boots.

Some good brands to check out are Keen and Salomon. Keens have always been my personal preference; they fit my foot perfectly and have no break-in period. They are good to go, right out of the box.

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So now that you have a good pair of hikers, don’t go and undo the work of picking a good pair of shoes by wearing bad socks. High quality socks will change your life. If you are only going to buy one good pair of socks in your life, let them be for hiking. I suggest buying merino wool socks, from either Darn Tough or Icebreaker. Both companies guarantee their socks for life and will replace them if they wear out. Why merino? ¬†Merino wool is a natural fibre from sheep that live in the mountains of New Zealand. It breathes and insulates, keeping your feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It is not itchy and it is naturally anti-microbial which makes it anti-stink. The wool fibre and construction of the socks also helps stop blisters from forming.

Hiking Clothing:

Now that we have covered footwear, lets talk about the rest.

So. Pants. While yes, you can technically hike in anything that covers your butt (or not, your preference ;), some pant choices are better than others.I typically hike in pants year round (as opposed to shorts) because  I like to avoid roughing up my legs any more than I have to (the whole firefighter/guide combo leads to a lot of unavoidable bruises and scrapes). Also, ticks. Enough said.

I can pretty much guarantee that you have a pair of pants in your wardrobe that will work well for hiking. Unless you only own Armani suits. Any sort of athletic pant will do, pants with stretch are great. Leggings? perfect! You know what’s not cool for hiking? Jeans. Or jeggings. Denim is just a terrible fabric to hike in. It doesn’t breathe well, it doesn’t insulate well, its gross when it gets wet and I’m not even going to go into chafing… In general, jeans just aren’t designed for athletic motion and wearing them hiking won’t make your hike enjoyable.

Now onto the top half. Gentlemen, look away for the next paragraph.

A lot of women like to hike in a sports bra. Hiking can be vigorous exercise and a little extra support goes a long way. Icebreaker makes a great Merino wool sports bra that will help eliminate boob sweat and will keep the girls feeling light, breezy and well supported through a long hike.

Okay guys, come on back. When it comes to tops, just be comfortable. Athletic and technical fabrics and styles will definitely be the most comfortable, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with hiking in your favorite old tshirt. Keep in mind that getting a little grungy on hikes is inevitable, so don’t wear your brand new white top out.

For the purpose of this post, I am not going to get into seasonal layering, I am just sticking to the basics. I will be working on a winter layering guide in the fall. However, there is one piece of outerwear that everyone should carry year round: a good waterproof shell.You can spend as much as your bank account will let you on a 12144692_10208804212612362_1078223986272357188_nshell, but you honestly do not need to spend a fortune. A good hardshell jacket will protect you from winds at high altitudes as well as surprise rain storms.If something goes wrong, and you end up in
a situation where you are stuck outside over night or through bad weather, a good shell can save your life.I am in love with my Patagona Torrentshell (yup, thats a pun). Its a great jacket for under $200 and packs up small in my backpack. Plus mine is lime green. Brighter colours are ideal for outdoors gear to make sure you are always visible.

 

And that brings me to my next point; every hiker should carry a daypack with some essential safety items in it.

Backpacks and Supplies: 

A good pack will fit comfortably on your back and have a waist strap to help support the weight. Some packs come with hydration packs built in, or rain covers and once again, you can spend as much as you like on your pack, the options are endless. You can also pick up a basic hiking pack for around $70 (check out the Osprey Daylite).

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In your day pack, you should carry some items for just-in-case scenarios. You should always have water, whether it is in a hydration pack or a water bottle is up to you. You should also have enough snacks to get you through a 24 hour period, a small first aid kit, an emergency blanket and a map of the area in which you will be hiking. If you are hiking in bear country, then you should also always carry bear spray. Always, no exceptions.

As you can see, you probably have most, if not all, of what you need to start hiking. All the rest can be purchased at your local outdoors store. Is there more gear you can buy? Definitely! There is always more gear to buy. But you do not need to buy it all at once. A good collection of gear is built over time.

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<The safety essentials.

One other vital component of hiking? Friends, or people to hike with. Hiking is something that is more fun and safer when done in a group. If you do hike alone, make sure to tell people where you are going, the route you are taking and when to expect you back. That way if something goes wrong, people will know where to find you.If your friends or family aren’t into the great outdoors, then this is a great way to meet new people! There are all sorts of outdoors groups and clubs that you can join for free to get outside and make new friends. Check on community events boards or Facebook for a group near you!

 

 

Things to Do: The Vancouver Aquarium

 Visiting the Vancouver Aquarium is a truly enchanting underwater experience. I have visited several times, and each time seems better than the last. On my last visit, I started to really notice how much other people were loving the aquarium. So on this trip, I got back to my photojournalism roots and started photographing the people and how they were interacting with the displays.

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^This statue of a stylized Haida orca is out front of the Aquarium in Stanley Park

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^The aquarium has an incredible new sting ray display where visitors get to reach out and touch the rays.

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The Jellyfish tank was mesmerizing; people of all ages stopped to gaze, hypnotized by the gently undulating jellies, but this kid really captured the vibe.

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While gazing at this tank, kids came rushing up talking about how they could see ‘Nemo’s’and ‘Dori’s’

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The Belugas put on an amazing show, visible from above ground and also from underground.

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The Frugal Gear Junkie

A good gear setup/collection is not the result of one trip to MEC (unless you have WAY more money than me…), its not even the result of one season. It is the result of years of ‘collecting’ or buying things as you need them. To any adventurer, their assortment of gear represents a huge investment.

Good quality gear, from boots to clothes to packs or tents, will have a bigger price tag than the poorly made comparison products, but splurging for the quality product is almost always worth it. The good stuff will last you for years, if not a lifetime, of adventuring.

But that being said, there are ways to get gear for less; you can cross your fingers and wait for sales, or you can learn the art of thrift-store shopping for gear. Good gear never dies, it just goes on to a new home.

Some of my best childhood memories are of perusing thrift shops and yard sales with my parents. My dad was always on the hunt for tools or bike and car parts. My mom loves antiques and a great deal. From my parents, I learned how to judge the quality of something. My mom can feel fabric and glance at stitching and tell you how well made something is. That skill is essential when it comes to buying gear second-hand.

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I have come across some pretty awesome stuff gear-wise in thriftshops or yardsales; my first ever hiking pack (an aluminum external frame/canvas pack for my first ever backcountry camping trip in grade 10) came from a thrift shop and my whitewater kayak was bought at a yardsale.

The ‘Frugal Gear Junkie’ is going to be a series of posts that highlights the do’s and don’ts of buying used gear and showing some of my (and your!) best gear finds. I want to see the gear finds that you have made! You can message me your photos or tell me about your experiences gear shopping for a chance to be featured.

I love new gear as much as the next person, but I also really enjoy the challenge and excitement of thrift shopping. You never know what you are going to find and there are some real treasures out there!

Be sure to message me your photos/gear stories! You can send them to thenorthernlife@outlook.com

Highwood Pass

On June 15th, at 12:01am, the gates to the Highwood Pass are opened. The Highwood Pass is the highest paved road in Canada; it is over 7000 feet in elevation at the top of the pass. The road can’t be maintained over the winter (you know, avalanches and all), so it is closed from December 1st to June 15th.

This road is known as a hotspot for wildlife activity and offers breathtaking views. There are amazing hikes, great fishing and unlimited adventure opportunity.

While I didn’t line up to drive the highway at midnight when the road opened, I did wake up early to drive ¬†it. 7am found me piling my camera gear into the truck and heading out. Because of where I live, the Highwoods pass is only a 20 minute drive from my house. I just drove up to the top of the pass and back, not going all the way to Longview since I had to work that day.

The drive definitely did not disappoint; there were bighorn sheep galore and alpine wild flowers out en masse. I highly recommend making a day-long road trip out of the Highwood Pass; if you do it right you, you can make a big loop that takes you to and from Calgary, passing through Kananaskis, Longview, High River and Okotoks, with the highlight obviously being the drive over the pass. There are lots of view points to take in the stunning panoramas and lots of great spots for picnics and hikes along the way.

The best part of my drive yesterday was actually on the way home. Spring and early summer is the Grizzly Bear mating season, and I got to witness two gorgeous bears going through their mating rituals. I was even luckier to be able to photograph the event.

Here are some of the highlights of my drive yesterday:

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Cathedral Grove

If you ever want to realize just how tiny you are, all it takes is a visit to Cathedral Grove.

Cathedral Grove is a truly magical place; this forest, in the heart of MacMillan Provincial Park is home to a grove of  giant Douglas Fir and Cedar trees. The ground is covered in beautiful, feathery ferns and everything is coated in a thick layer of moss and lichen.

When you enter the grove, a curtain of hushed silence seems to fall over the world. The noise from the nearby highway seems to fade away and you are able to wander in peace and awe beneath the towering trees. CHE_4415CHE_435313346808_10209740785266093_6813384011894432855_n13346940_10209740787146140_342546111576388269_n13427956_10209740786426122_7806810625020852878_n13428503_10209740786106114_6077147238127230446_nIMG_3829IMG_3851IMG_3867IMG_3873IMG_3877IMG_3885IMG_3887

Vancouver Island Vacation – Part 2

Last night was quite the night! I camped at Osbourne Bay Resort in Crofton and lucked out on an oceanside campsite. I was a little bit in awe as I set up my tent, I was no more than 40 feet from the water. The only downside to the campsite was the lack of trees or greenery, so there wasnt a whole lot of privacy. I am very much a backcountry camper and have never camped in an RV park before; it was also pretty obvious the RV campers weren’t used to seeing a tent in the park. Three older gentlemen lounging under the awning of their RV on the next site over saw me pull out my tent and promptly started laughing. They even called over and jokingly asked if I would mind if they watched me struggle. I think I disappointed them when I had the tent up in about a minute with zero struggle.

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After setting up camp, I walked the short distance to the beach. I love beachcombing and have ever since I was a kid on the shore of Lake Ontario. The ocean is obviously much better for beachcombing than freshwater lakes. The abundance of shells on this beautiful beach blew me away.

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As I wandered up the beach, I started to realize that there were things moving on the sand…

Upon closer inspection, I realized the beach was crawling with little crabs! They were pretty cute for crustaceans ūüėČ

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Off and on, as I walked the shoreline, I would hear a weird barking noise from somewhere out in the water. It took me a couple of minutes to realize it was a sea lion! Once I knew what I was hearing, I stopped looking at the shells and crabs and started scanning the water. There was nothing visible for the longest time, but then suddenly I saw a dark head pop up! It was up just for a second before it disappeared, but it came back! The sea lion swam a couple circles right by the shoreline, playfully bobbing in the water. I sat and watched the sea lion swim as the sun set. Once the sea lion disappeared from sight, I headed back to my campsite.

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That evening was spent sitting around a wonderful campfire with friends from the island. The stars were incredible: the milky way was visible, I saw a shooting star and the International Space Station slowly crossed the sky as we watched.

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When it was time to call it a night, I crawled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep to the gentle sound of the ocean lapping at the beach and the barking of sea lions in the distance.

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