Snowshoeing in Kananaskis

While I have not posted on here a lot over the holidays, it does not mean that I haven’t been super busy writing: I wrote this post last week for Kananaskis Outfitters, give it a read and check out their beautiful website if you are interested in seeing what all they do.

15781571_1248344911875257_3156321827171470706_n-300x300Snowshoeing is a method of transportation that has been around for about 4000 years, but in the last couple of years, it has definitely gained a lot of popularity! A lot of this popularity is probably because of how accessible snowshoeing is for the vast majority of people, and also how snowshoes have become easy to wear and use.

Originally designed by the necessities of living in a snow-covered world, nowadays, people mostly snowshoe for fun. Snowshoeing turns hiking into a year-round activity. Snowshoes no longer look like tennis racquets strapped to your feet; modern snowshoes are sleek and usually come equipped with ice cleats built in, making for incredible traction in even the most slippery of winter conditions.

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Kananaskis is a haven for snowshoers, offering a long snowshoeing season and a huge variety of trails. By the Kananaskis Village, there are a couple of great loops for newcomers to the sport; the Village Loops leave right from the Village Centre, and have a 2.5km option or a 1.5km option, or you can do them both for a great 4km loop. This loop has a little bit of elevation gain but remains very family friendly.

15621824_1337638826298250_6992831369302393830_n-240x300Troll Falls – An easy snowshoe for families

Another snowshoe trail close to the village that is family friendly, is the Troll Falls trail. Leaving from the Stoney trailhead, this is an easy 4km loop when done in conjunction with the Hay Meadows trail. This trail features a beautiful wintery waterfall and fantastic valley-bottom views of the surrounding peaks.

If you are willing to drive a little deeper into Kananaskis for snowshoeing, then you need to check out Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. This park offers kilometer after kilometer of snowshoe trails, with a wide range of views. On our recommended list to check out are:

The Elkwood loop starts at the Elkwood amphitheater and travels across the frozen edge of Marl lake. At 3.4km in length, and with little elevation gain, this is another great snowshoe loop for families.

 

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One of our snowshoe groups standing on Marl Lake

 


12417608_1033832390012230_6320220815210209063_n-289x300Hogarth Lakes
is another Kananaskis classic. Starting at the Burstall Pass trailhead, you share the trail with skiers for about 200m, before the snowshoe trail meanders off into the woods. This trail takes you through beautiful spruce and pine stands before taking you over Hogarth Lakes. There are always lots of tracks and signs of wildlife along this loop and one of our guides has even spotted a lynx along the trail (from a distance!).  Take a lunch or some hot chocolate along on this 4.1km trek to make the most of a beautiful winters day.
12832425_1011632558879828_5912986574658780623_n-240x300Looking for a bit more of a challenge? Then Chester Lake is for you. The cross country ski trail at Chester Lake follows the summer hiking trail, but the winter snowshoeing trail is a much steeper climb. The steep hike is definitely worth the reward! The trail deposits you on a frozen alpine lake, surrounded by fiercely beautiful peaks. Definitely take a lunch along: This 7km hike has 287 meters of elevation gain.

Snowshoe Safety

No matter how long you are planning on being outside while snowshoeing, be it a 2.5km loop or a 15km summit day, there are some very important things to keep in mind. In the winter, what may start as a simple backcountry emergency can get a lot worse very quickly. To make sure you are well prepared for any situation, there are some things that you should always carry:

  • Emergency blanket/bivy. Make sure to account for group size
  • Enough water and keep it thawed! Store it inside your pack or next to your body. It’s no good as ice
  • Snacks and food – enough to get you through an accidental night in the outdoors
  • First Aid kit
  • Hand warmers – these little packs can help if some ones gloves just aren’t cutting it
  • Spare toque, gloves and socks and an extra mid layer
  • Headlamp or flashlight – winter days are short!

Before you go:

  • Check the local avalanche reports. You can check it here. If you are in an Alberta Parks area, then the designated snowshoe trails are not located in avalanche terrain. If you are entering avalanche terrain, make sure you have the necessary training and gear.
  • Let someone know where you are going and when to expect you back.
  • Know the local emergency number: here in Kananaskis it is 403-591-7755, or 911 for life-threatening emergencies.
  • Check the local weather and dress for it. Remember to dress in layers!

 

Snowshoeing is a great activity to keep you outdoors all winter long! There is always somewhere new to explore and fresh powder to plow through! Looking for a twist on snowshoeing? Check out our Stargazing Snowshoe tours!

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Troll Falls at Night on a Stargazing Snowshoe Tour
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Say Hello to Snowshoe Season!

Right up until this morning, winter so far here in Kananaskis has been…well…non-existent. The lakes were still all open and snowshoeing wasn’t even a little possible. However, this morning, everyone in a mountain town woke up to a world of white!

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15338612_10211357219675943_6531228359490196435_nOnce you’ve lived here (or anywhere that gets snow) long enough, you know if its snowed over night the second you open your eyes. The quality of light filtering in through your bedroom window changes and there is a hush over the world. Its a delightful, sleepy, feeling that leaves you wanting to cuddle into a fleecy blanket with a cup of coffee just a little while longer, before venturing out into the snowy world.

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Everyone becomes a child again after a fresh snowfall; there are few things in life more fun than playing in fresh powder. As we grow older, we just change the way we play: some people ski or snowboard, and some people like to snowshoe. Now, while I love to ski, snowshoeing is just so easy to do! You can snowshoe literally anywhere, there are no lineups and you really get to enjoy the serenity of nature. So this mornings fresh snowfall found me outside, snowshoes strapped on for the first time this season! As of right now, there is about 4 inches of fresh powder at valley bottom here.

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I F@#king Did It

Excuse my language.

But I am seriously over the moon about what I did last night.

I am insanely claustrophobic. Like take-the-stairs-because-crowded-elevators-suck claustrophobic. My biggest challenge as a firefighter was getting comfortable wearing an SCBA mask. Which now is no big deal, but its different when I’m working.

If you had asked me a year ago if I would willingly go 10 stories underground, sliding through manhole sized rock chutes and crawling on my hands and knees through calcite covered underground passages, I would have given you a resounding ‘Hell no!’

But a lot can change in a year. In this last year, I have pushed through every fear and boundary holding me back, except for my claustrophobia. Until last night.

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At 5:51 last night, I pulled into the parking lot of Canmore Cave Tours. I reluctantly threw a jacket on and trudged up the stairs, into the waiting room with 15 other people, mostly strangers. We were all here for the same reason: To test out Canmore Cave Tours newest tour, Halloween in the Rockies. The plan? Gear up, hike up to Rats Nest Cave, descend into the cave and then watch a horror movie.

The movie of choice? The Descent. While the scariest part of this movie is actually the inaccuracies (seriously, an Ice Axe?!). watching it in a cave, deep underground definitely added a whole new element of horror to the evening.

If you think that I’m crazy for picking a horror movie night as my time to challenge my fear, you should know that I LOVE horror movies, so that was actually what convinced me to go into the cave. I have worked for Canmore Cave Tours as a social media manager since June, but I have blatantly refused to go into the cave. Until now.

14581389_10210937268777433_3733774201869201601_n-copyAfter gearing up in the Cave Tours office, we headed out for the cave. The trail head is about a 7 minute drive from the office, and as we all parked and dug out our head lamps, the light was fading fast.

The hike up to the cave is short and a little to the steep side, but the twinkling lights from Canmore looked beautiful in the distance. We hiked our way up to the mouth of the cave, and under a tented tarp, we all put on our harnesses, knee pads, overalls and helmets and got ready to enter the cave.

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Getting up to the cave is a little bit of a scramble, and then you duck through a freshly unlocked gate and you are in the cave. For me, the hardest part of the experience was actually the entrance: that first tightening of rock around me, the darkness below. But there is something incredibly reassuring about being in a climbing harness and clipping into the rope system that gets you into the cave; it gave me something familiar to focus on, a job to do with my hands and a distraction for my racing mind.

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Once in through the entrance, its a bit of a squeezy slide into the first cavern, where the14680538_10210937266377373_2805941129221877209_n-copy cave opens around you. We hung out in this cavern for a bit, watching about half an hour of the movie, before it was time to move on. The guides took down the screen, and in the floor of the cavern behind it was what appeared to be a tiny hole. When Max, one of the guides, announced that that was the route forward, my stomach clenched a bit.

In all honesty, the hole looked smaller from a distance, and when I got up close, I could see that it opened up below. The wooden ladder built into the rock was reassuring, and in I went.

For the next 2 hours, we worked our way down an impressive system of caves, stopping in different caverns to watch the movie, section by section, until we made it to the Grand Gallery for the ending. We even got to explore an area called The Grotto.

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The Grotto is a deep section of the main cave, with a pool of water in the bottom and calcite covering everything. This pool of water represents the future of cave explorations in Rats Nest Cave, one of our guides, Chantal, tells us as we stare into the water. Cave divers have gone into the water, searching for more passageways. A research team put green dye into the water, and it came out below the mountain 4 days later, so there is definitely a passage there. But who knows if it is passable by humans. That remains to be discovered

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Calcite build up

. To this date, adventurous cave divers have found 4 chambers beyond the Grotto; following narrow channels underwater in SCUBA gear. Each channel has led to another room, with another pool of water, leading deeper and deeper. The idea of exploring these unknown reaches of our world is incredible and I look forward to hearing what is found. It was pretty cool to see in person, all the things that I had only seen in photos up until last night.

Last night was an incredible experience. A genuinely life changing experience. I faced my last, greatest fear. Sure, there were some parts that I really did not like, but after getting through them, I felt incredible. Would I go back? Hell yes. I already have plans to go back. I look forward to continuing to work through this fear, until I’m no longer even the slightest bit afraid. A huge thanks to Chantal, Max and Lisa, our guides last night who were encouraging and patient and made the entire experience incredible.

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While Canmore Cave Tours’ Halloween in the Rockies event is sold out, they have some amazing plans for Christmas coming up, so stay tuned for more on that!

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Looking for Larches

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In the Rockies, fall is about much more than pumpkin spiced lattes; fall is for getting outside and enjoying the sunshine/snow combo of higher elevations, getting days off now that it is shoulder season and enjoying the gold that is to be found in the mountains.

Did I say gold? Why yes, yes I did.

The larches are at their peak for colour right now and the weekend weather has been awesome, which makes this a great time to get out for a hike at high altitude to bask in the golden colour of these beautiful trees.

Larches are the only coniferous tree (cone bearing, has needles instead of leaves) that we have here that drops its needles every fall; and it does do with a flourish of colour! These trees are prevalent around 7000 feet above sea level, which means to really take them in, you are looking at a solid hike.

Or are you…

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The Highwood Pass in Kananaskis, running through Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, is the highest paved road in Canada, with the road running at about 7000 feet above sea level. Do you see where I am getting with this? 😉

There are numerous fantastic hikes along this highway corridor, and all of them put the alpine zone in easy reach, even for families with small children. Some suggestions for hikes along the Highwood where you will get some great larch viewing are:

  • Pocaterra Ridge
  • Elbow Lake
  • Ptarmigan Cirque

Some other great larch hikes in KCountry are:

  • Rawson Lake
  • Chester Lake
  • Burstall Pass

All of these hikes offer spectacular views, but to take in the larches in all their glory, you have to hurry up and get hiking! The season for colour is a very brief one out here. You can also expect to encounter snow at higher elevations, so definitely bring an extra layer to throw on, and you will probably be thankful for light gloves and a buff or toque to cover your ears.

Here are some photos from my hike yesterday up Ptarmigan Cirque:

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Marble Canyon – Kootenay National Park

Just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from Banff National Park is its twin, Kootenay National Park. Last Sunday I found myself off work early, so I decided to take a drive out to Lake Louise for pictures, but found myself distracted by the possibility of going to BC. It was literally right there in front of me, so at the last minute I found myself on the off-ramp and headed to Kootenay.

Marble Canyon is only a few minutes over the BC border and is well worth the drive. Its like a shorter but more dramatic version of Johnston Canyon, with significantly less people. Any time that I have been there, there hasn’t been an overwhelming number of people. Sure, its busy. Anywhere out here is busy in the summer on the weekend, but compared to the tour buses that show up at Johnston Canyon, Marble Canyon was a relief from the masses.

Photographing Bears

This one is for all you people who don’t know what you’re doing when it comes to photographing bears and other wild animals. 

No, this is not a photography-how-to.

This is a wildlife etiquette issue.

Everyone wants that amazing and perfect close-up of a bear in the wild, but is that photo worth your life? Or a bears? A bear that becomes overly comfortable with humans, or with humans feeding it, is almost guaranteed to end up dead at the hands of humans, either having to be put down because it sees humans as a food source, or dead due to road mortality because it doesn’t see cars as a threat, or people are driving like jerks around it.

Over the years, working for Parks and now as a guide in the Rockies, I have seen some seriously crazy stuff. People genuinely do not seem to realize that wildlife is…wild. You can’t walk up a wild animal like its a neighborhood dog. And sure, maybe the person before you did it, and they were fine. Maybe you can do it too, this one time. But its always okay,  right until it isn’t. Then the next thing you know, there is a story on the news of a ‘bear attack’ and everyone calls it a tragic accident.

The truth is, most negative wildlife encounters are completely avoidable. Respecting an animals personal space and making noise so as not to surprise them
(and no! I do not mean bear bells) will help stop most negative encounters.

Most professional or seasoned wildlife photographers that I have met are incredibly ethical in how they photograph wildlife; they know the best practices and they stick to them. These people tend to love the wildlife that they are photographing and would not do anything to put it, or themselves at risk. They also understand the risks, so they are able to avoid them. So many people just have no idea what they are getting into when they approach wildlife, so I have created a list of common ‘Best Practices’ for photographing or viewing wildlife.

1. Stay in your vehicle.

If you are driving and you see an animal roadside, then its simple: Stay in your vehicle. Things start to go wrong when people start to view the wildlife as tame animals. Just because the bear is on the side of the road, and seems more interested in food than you, does not make it okay to get out and approach it.

2. Do not cause a bear jam.

Or a deer jam, or a squirrel jam or any sort of traffic jam for whatever it is that you see. If you see wildlife, and you are going to stop for a better look, then pull over on the shoulder of the road as far as you safely can. If you cannot safely pull over and get off the road, then you don’t stop. Its that simple.

3. Do not harass the wildlife.

Do not stay by an animal for more than a minute or two (refer to #2). The bears do not enjoy having vehicles stop by them and stay there for an extended period of time. If you are going to stop and can safely do so, then stop for a minute or two, snap your photos, admire the animal and be on your way. We do not want animals to become accustomed to humans, because in the long term, that is how they end up dead.

4. Do not bait the wildlife.

On this point, most people are probably thinking ‘Well obviously!’ But a lot of people are unintentionally ‘baiting’ wildlife through simple carelessness. Do you know how many common camping items are actually considered bear or wildlife attractants? Things like: toothpaste, shampoo, soap, cooking oil, canned goods, alcohol, freeze dried foods, pet foods, dirty dishes, the clothes you cooked/ate in, etc. By leaving these things out and unattended in day use areas or campsites, you are inviting wildlife into your site. If you intentionally bait wildlife, then you are an a$$hole. A fed bear is a dead bear. And no photo is worth a bears life.

5. Do not feed the wildlife.

Any of it. Not even that cute squirrel or bird. Have you ever fed a squirrel or chipmunk and noticed that they are taking a lot of food? Like more than their own body weight in food? They are not eating it all, they are caching it around your site, creating little hidden treasures of food that will attract other animals to the area.

6. Do not touch the wildlife.

By now, everyone has probably heard about the well-meaning tourist in Yellowstone who picked up the bison calf because he ‘thought it looked cold.’ Do not assume that baby animals who appear to be left alone, are abandoned. Mothers in nature know whats best for their young and it is not our job to interfere. Do not pick up wild animals, if you are concerned that something has been abandoned, or is injured, report it to your local conservation officers, park staff or fish and wildlife officers. You can find these numbers online for your local area.

7. Use a long lens.

Do not expect to get a great close up photo with your smart phone. Don’t even try to do it. Use a zoom lens, or take the photo and crop it down after. Approaching wildlife with a smart phone to get a close up photo is the dumbest thing you can do (other than Pokemon Go, but that’s a different story).

 

So what do you do if you come across a bear on the trail or on the roadside? You should call it in to your local wildlife hotline. Google to find your local wildlife authority or parks service. If you call in a report, you are going to be asked for some basic info. Here are some things that you will probably be asked:

  • Your name and contact number
  • Type of Bear (black or grizzly, remember not all black bears are black!)
  • Location – try to get as many landmarks as possible, signs, intersections, etc
  • What the bear was doing
  • How long ago you saw it
  • If the bear was eating, what it was eating.
  • How close you were to the bear
  • How it reacted (surprised, aggressive, indifferent, curious, etc)
  • Visible tags or collars (note numbers on tags and color of tag if possible)
  • If there were cubs, how many?
  • If it was roadside, were other people stopped/getting out of vehicles

This information is used for biologists to track bears and behavior and also used to dispatch conservation officers to help move bears along and stop human-bear conflicts. If you see a conservation officer or parks employee on scene, then do not report it. The person on scene is there because someone else has reported it/they are already aware of the situation so you do not need to create duplicate calls.

I love bears, and all wild animals. I have lived in bear country for the last 7 years. I hate seeing animals need to be put down because of human stupidity.  People visit the mountains because they want to enjoy the landscape and the wildlife, so if everybody would do their part to be here and respect nature, than we can ensure that these places are here and protected forever and that future generations will get to see these magnificent animals in their natural habitat.

Any other tips on wildlife etiquette?

Share in the comments below!

My New Favorite Jeans

When it comes to jeans, I am picky. I don’t want teeny-bopper jeans, and I don’t want mom jeans. I want pants that make my butt look good (isn’t that always the goal?), have some stretch to them and feel good on. I am pretty active/busy and I need all my gear, clothing included, to be versatile. I want pants that I can wear to wander downtown Canmore shopping, but I want to be able to stop and hike into somewhere to get the perfect photo. If these pants can also be worn out to a nice dinner or a bar for drinks, then even better! I have hiking pants for hiking, but I still want to not be held back on a spur of the moment decision because of my jeans.

When it comes to wearing jeans in the summer, usually, I would say ‘Gross!’ There is nothing worse then pulling up jeans on sweaty, sticky, humid days. But recently, I found a pair of jeans that have made my life better. That might sound a bit melodramatic, but in all seriousness, they are freaking amazing. These pants are comfy, stretchy, moisture wicking, cooling, and STAY UP.When I wear them, I’m not constantly pulling my pants up on days where I forget a belt.

So these magical pants, where do they come from? Well they can now be found at MEC, but I originally heard about DISH and Duermanufacturer of these amazing jeans, from my boss. He is a pretty fashion forward guy, but also an outdoors professional, so he has a high standard for pants. When I had the chance to try out a pair myself, I jumped at it (and into the pants!).

Capture

I have only worn mine a couple of times, but they feel incredible on and its as comfy as wearing a pair of full stretch hiking pants, but they look a heck of a lot better in the city. I wore mine kicking around Kananaskis, for a quick hike to a nearby waterfall and then out for beer, and they were fantastic. I personally own the ‘Straight and Narrow’ cut and I find them incredibly comfortable. The wash is a great classic indigo colour and the rear pockets are classic and flattering.

I will definitely be doing more adventuring in these pants and will be trying on other styles and washes to get another pair. Or two…

I didn’t snap any pictures of me wearing them; there is just something about trying to photograph your own butt/bottom half that just doesn’t work out well… But check out the companies website to see the different styles they offer! This is a Canadian based company (head office is in Vancouver!) that ethically manufactures their product. That, along with the fact they they are technical jeans, is definitely something I can get behind. Or into. You know, pants and all 😉

Our philosophy is the opposite of fast fashion. We believe that creating long lasting garments promotes sustainability by preventing the amount of waste that enters our landfills. We design and produce our garments with extra attention to quality and longevity, so you can take home better products and buy fewer things.

– Dish and Duer Website

Rock Glacier, Kananaskis

Not going to lie, I drove past this at least a half a dozen times before finally pulling over on the highway.  Rock Glacier, from the road, looks like a giant pile of rocks. Which is pretty much accurate, because it is in fact, a giant pile of rocks.

But beyond that, this giant pile of rock is actually a deteriorating face of Mount Rae; time, along with wind and water have eroded the rock face, causing pieces to break off and pile up. It is home to many beautiful alpine plants, flowers in miniature, along with lots of Picas. A Pica is a member of the rodent family, more closely related to a rabbit than a mouse, despite its mouse-like ears.

Rock Glacier is a neat spot to stop for a few minutes, wander the super short interpretive trail (seriously, it will take 10 minutes tops to walk) and to admire all the tiny wildflowers while feeling that picas are watching you from all around (their ‘eek’ is a very distinctive sound). I now stop in at this spot every couple of months (when the road is open) to check out the wildflowers and be taunted by Picas.13901381_10210278538269582_225001863872050541_nCHE_0008

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This Pica taunted me with its ‘eeks’ for a solid 5 minutes before I spotted it in the pile of scree.

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A dwarf-sized fireweed

Its Here!

I have been asked time and again to put together a calendar with some of my photos, and recently, my facebook fans voted on the photos that they wanted included in the calendar. I ordered a prototype to see how it would turn out and….

It is beautiful! (If I do say so myself 😉 )

The calendar is now available to order here, through my Etsy shop.

 

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