Berg Lake, June 2019

June 2019 – Mt. Robson National Park, just inside the border of British Columbia

Directions:  Drive to the Mt. Robson Visitor Centre and follow signs to the trailhead (approx. 2 km away).

Time: Approximately 8 hours there if you keep a good pace and stop for a couple rests, 6 back if you book it downhill quickly.
Elevation: 1640 m
Elevation Gain: ~800 m

Sunday June 16th

We drove to Valemount, BC, just inside the border. It was approx. a 5-hour drive from Edmonton and we needed to be there before the Mt. Robson Visitor Centre closed at 5 pm to obtain our permits. We saw moose and black bears along the drive. People were getting out of their cars – as per usual. We were so fuelled with excitement when we saw Mt. Robson looming ahead of us, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, and smelled the lavender that was growing all around it. Shanty wanted to nap in the car and when we got into the visitor centre the woman told us we ALL had to be there to watch an orientation video. The orientation video was 13 minutes long and it was filmed in the 90’s, complete with 90’s hiking apparel and a man carrying a giant boom box on his shoulder while hiking (it was asking to be respectful of other hikers with your music). It was SO hard not to laugh especially when the boom box came out and when the old video flickered and buzzed lmao. We didn’t dare laugh because of the sternness of the park rangers and I totally get why they are so protective of this place. We then obtained our permits (which you HAVE to have, or you could literally get kicked off the trail) and then headed into the town of Valemount.
We knew our hotel (Valemount Hotel) was 80 dollars a night so we weren’t expecting much. But when we arrived, there was literally two cars there and it seemed like one of them belonged to the owner of the pizza parlour attached to the hotel. There was also a liquor store attached, and inside was a pub (empty, with a karaoke stage). The owner was older, also the bartender it seemed, but we were happy to see that our rooms were at least clean and had fans in them (it was hot). We now had hours to kill so after stuffing our faces at A&W and searching for a rain poncho for Shanty (we found a garbage bag in the end) we googled some hikes in the area. We ended up walking just two minutes out of town along a rushing creek and then up a path for a couple of kilometers. It was called Swift Creek Lookout. It was so dang beautiful! We didn’t expect it at all. We drank beer and watched the sun go down on a log and talked and laughed and Shanty opened my beer bottle USING A LOG. Then we wandered even further up around the lookout, coming to what seemed like bike and quad and even car trails as well as serene fields full of wildflowers. We practiced our noises to scare bears (just go yee-yuh, exactly the way Lil Jon does, that’s what I do). The mountains glowed a dark blue and that’s when we decided to head back down, having not seen a soul in sight (minus one dude on a bicycle, “Oh I’m staying in town with Adam”, “Lol, we don’t know him…”).
Back at the hotel/pub we tracked down the older owner/bartender/whatever else he was and questioned if he could make us a caesar which he DID and it was delicious and then we talked with him for a good hour or two and ended up having any of our previous reservations washed away. He was a kind soul, he’d come from Denmark years ago, opened this hotel and now all he wanted was to retire on his hobby farm in Armstrong with his wife. He’d had a full life, and acknowledged that, meeting his wife at a carnival, unfortunately having a son pass away, and, before he retired once and for all he planned to take his loyal employees including the liquor store owner and the housekeepers on a surprise trip to Mexico. I hope no matter what my life is filled with I find it fulfilling, too. It’s definitely an honor to grow old. We just listened and I’m positive we all walked away with a renewed believe that a place or a person can’t be judged within the first few minutes. He also guessed all our ages and of course I was guessed to be the youngest even though I’m older than all of my friends. Then began sleeping through a hot night smelling exhaust from the pizza parlour and hearing the train whistle right next to us every 20 minutes lol. But, the hotel gets a good review in my books.

Monday June 17th

More fast food for breakfast at Subway, because, we’re about to do a 21 kilometer hike right? Sarah was the smartest and ordered a foot long and saved the other half for later. We drove back to the visitor centre for around 10 am and loaded our carefully arranged packs on our back. None of us had done backcountry camping before but we’d been planning and preparing for close to a year. The packs were heavy, especially Sarah’s and her backpack was also a bit older and didn’t have as good of support. Luckily she can handle that kind of thing lol. The two of them split up the four-person tent (rented from MEC) which was incredibly light but still led to me having the lightest pack in the end. That didn’t prevent me from feeling like my legs were like lead within the first kilometer as we walked along the Robson River. It’s insane how additional weight can slow you down from your normal fitness levels. It wasn’t an overly hot day but I started dripping sweat almost immediately, too. I used Jordy’s backpack which was good quality so a lot of the weight was distributed around my hips which was good but they, too, felt like lead and started getting sore quickly. When we saw the 1 kilometer marker we cheered for joy LOL. Little did we know, that pleasant slight incline along the river was the easiest part. Eventually, though, your body either gets used to the repetitiveness or else your mind takes over and things become easier. We walked another few kilometers through the dense, thick forest below Mt. Robson that was full of humongous trees, moss, and ferns galore. We then got to campsite #1: Kinney Lake (kilometer 7). A huge blue, blue, blue mysterious and quiet lake with tent pads scattered around it. But we didn’t stop. Passing Kinney Lake we soon ended up in a clearing that felt like something out of Jurassic Park. Huge mossy mountains with teeny waterfalls dripping down from their cliffs, every direction you looked. We just stood there staring for awhile before we continued maneuvering across streams and across single-person bridges. We rested just as we entered the forest again, stretched, finished off a few more energy bars from the ones that we had already powered through (BRING. SNACKS). There was slight elevation for the next few km’s as we entered campground #2: Whitehorn Campground (kilometer 11). This was a nice campground with a shelter that had a roof on it; a few people were under it cooking their meals. We filled our water bottles and popped filter pills into them and OMG, if you’ve never tasted glacier water, you’re missing out on something in life. It was delicious and the rangers had reminded us to fill up extra good here because for the next 5 kilometers you’d hear lots of rushing water, but there’d be nowhere to fill, and while you gained the most elevation. And oh, that elevation. They weren’t kidding. Over the total 21 kilometers we did we gained close to 1 kilometer elevation but, between Whitehorn Campground and Emperor Falls campground, you gain about half of that in around 5 kilometers. And you do hear rushing waterfalls the entire time as they spilled out of the mountains everywhere. Valley of a Thousand Falls. Here the trail gets steep, and crumbly, and you’ll come to at least 3 waterfalls, hoping without avail, that it is Emperor Falls, which it will not be yet. Until finally… you see a tiny path leading down to Emperor Falls itself. A sign asks you not to leave your packs because of wildlife so you now take your packs and yourselves down a gentle 500m, hearing this massive roaring ahead until you see the closest, biggest waterfall we’ve ever seen in our lives. You can go right up to it. You can go INSIDE of it. The power of it overwhelmed us. One step further and you could get swept away, killed from the force. Unfortunately the mountain weather changed to wind and drizzle at this exact moment and the waterfall decided to drench us further even as we ran away from it.
I won’t lie that the next several kilometers weren’t a little bit miserable. It was now evening and we got a bit confused, thinking that campground #3: Emperor Falls (kilometer 16, and came after the falls themselves) was actually campground #4: Marmot (kilometer 19). Thus, thinking we only had a couple more to go, we trudged and trudged and trudged on what was thankfully fairly flat ground although the little inclines here and there were just rubbing salt in the literal wounds. Eventually we came into a huge clearing again and entered on a rock path along the side of a mountain. Still, you could not see Berg Lake yet, despite still seeing glimpses of Mt. Robson, luckily always showing it’s peak through the clouds despite having it’s own weather pattern. Exiting the rock path we came to a giant field with more streams to cross, more rocks, more single-person bridges. We were aware that we had gotten pretty high up because the mountains now boasted glaciers directly in front of our faces. I think at this point Shanty and I became a little delusional, laying down on the ground every so often, my feet pulsating with blisters, her having actual hallucinations about naps. Eventually we entered a forest again, passed campground #4: Marmot (kilometer 19), did a final brutal 2 kilometers of up, down, up, down, until we finally emerged at Berg Lake Campground (kilometer 21). I remember collapsing at the shelter (which is the only covered AND four-walled shelter, built in 1921), while Sarah seeked out a tent pad. I couldn’t even talk to any of the other campers who were hanging out there, and I feel bad about that, but I was too physcially drained to use my mind for anything. “Which campground did you guys come from today?” …”Uhmm, we came from the parking lot today lol”. The beauty though, even though it was grey and dreary now, was something to behold. Partially feeding Berg Lake (it is mainly fed from the Robson River), Berg hung down precariously off Mount Robson, waiting to spill off it’s occasional car-sized ice chunks into the most turquoise-blue waters I’ve ever seen in my life. Mt. Robson seemed within physical touch. And there was silence. There was no cellphone service, no fires, almost as if the mountain and the glacier commanded a certain kind of silence. We set up our tent, sleeping pads, and soon drifted off. We woke up all at the same time around midnight and Sarah and Shanty took their headlamps to go use the outhouse, rushing back in terror because there was some “wild animal” scratching at wood aggressively nearby. I wasn’t sure what to make of it until I listened to the video that they took on their phones and in the PITCH BLACK, darker than anything, having no idea what it was, it truly was the most terrifying sound. Somehow we slept just fine anyways.

Tuesday June 18th

We awoke to sunshine. It wasn’t hot by any means, but it was off and on sunny despite the nights rain and the lake was glistening a surreal shade of gatorade blue. Somehow, I felt rested. Making our way into the shelter we soon discovered via the guestbook that a resident “Mr. Porcupine” lives on site, and sure enough, we saw him in broad daylight, making those (not-so-terrifying now) scratching sounds. Not quite sure what he was doing, but he seemed quite content. We opted to eat our breakfast on a table near the lake, it was during the week and there didn’t seem to be a lot of people around unless they had all ventured onto dayhikes. Of all the campgrounds, I knew Berg was the most popular. But there was likely lots of people who stayed at other ones and then just trekked out to see Berg. Sarah got out her mini propane stove (best purchase ever) and we cooked oatmeal and ate it with our sporks. What did we eat exactly? Sarah and Shanty’s own mix of oatmeal: oats, chia seeds, pb powder, white choco and cranberry mix with nuts, cinnamon… it was super hearty and good. We also drank Alpine Start “Instant Coffee that Actually Tastes Good” which had coconut milk in it and was absolutely delicious. So we had sporks, bowls, and a coffee mug each. One thing I do wish I had was a mini dishsoap and scrubbed, although Sarah had a mini all-purpose soap. It was hard to scrub your dishes off with cold water, taking care not to get any oatmeal chunks anywhere but down the drain and into the greywater pit that the campground had. We had the option of putting our food in bear cabinets but we had purchased Odour-Proof bags from MEC and they did their job. We used one for our garbage to pack out and you literally could smell nothing until you opened it up and then the smell ovewhelmed you. Sarah mentioned she wanted to do a chunk of Snowbird Pass that day so I said yes while Shanty stayed behind to relax by the lake. What’s Snowbird Pass? Well, if you leave campground #5: Berg Lake, you actually hit two more campgrounds (#6: Reargaurd and #7: Robson Pass) and then you continue on towards Moose River route, a 10-day hike that would eventually take you to highway 16 within Jasper National Park. Along this way you veer onto a trail to Snowbird Pass which is supposed to be one of the most stunning hikes in the Rockies. Snowbird is a giant glacier that is spilling off the other side of Mt. Robson like a giant bird. It is receding at a rate of about 50 feet per year and the Alpine Club of Canada marked it’s location in 1911 so you can see how drastic it is. Unfortunately for us…. the full, 24 kilometer round-trip hike to Snowbird Pass was closed due to Caribou Calving… so you could only go to the toe of the glacier, which was still a worthy hike. Hobbling along, I stopped every few minutes to marvel at this glacier. Spilling itself into a minty green lake. Towards the toe it got pretty rocky and so I think this is probably quite a tough hike. We didn’t see any Caribou though 😦 We headed back and basically just hung out which was nice. We signed the guestbook, we lay by the lake, we talked a lot. Even though I had a really good book with me, I’m glad I used this time to talk to good and loving friends, especially Shanty, who lives in Ottawa. While laying by the lake an older gentleman rolled into the campground, began eating his food and was friendly to us. Basically his name was Ali, he had biked to Kinney Lake that morning (as far as you’re allowed to bike), jaunted to Berg Lake just to see it, and was planning to jaunt out and back onto his bicycle in a few minutes which is what he promptly did after chatting with us for awhile. Oh,. and he was in his 60’s. He was from Iran and was retired and was biking all over Canada, starting in Vancouver, with 4 bags. He had heard that Berg Lake was “must-see”. “Crazy? Why crazy?!” He questioned when we expressed our bafflement/admiration at him. I think there was a slight language barrier and he was concerned we actually thought he was crazy LOL. He then took some photos of us (which were accidentally videos), then a selfie with us, and then trotted off on his way. Needless to say we all felt a little bit like wuss’s for complaining after that.
For dinner, we cooked dehydrated meals with boiling water on the propane stove (Backpackers Pantry and Alpine Aire – which were both SO GOOD. The cheesey ones were the best, the ranchero enchilada one with crushed tortillas in it was to die for. The vegan ones were also delicious though, the thai peanut curry and the 3 sisters stew. Sarah Shanty and I always end up with something to do with the 3 sisters – we stayed at a cabin once that was called that, named after 3 sister mountains near Canmore). The first night we cooked the Chana Masala one and added veggie ground round for extra protein. It was sooo good, and made the bag more than it’s normal 2 serving; all 3 of us usually ended up sharing one or two bags which worked out well. We ended up just crawling into our tent after dinner, talking and having a drink (kept cold just by the mountain air), as it began to spatter rain again….

Wednesday June 19th

We did not sleep well the second night. It had begun sleeting, and word around the shelter was that there was a call for snow. Shanty and I spent the night shivering and although I feel like a n00b saying it, we misunderestimated how high up we’d be and how drastically different the weather could be. Our sleeping bags were rated for 7C whereas Sarah’s was good down to -10C. Lesson learned. Having some warm oatmeal for breakfast we weighed our options. We figured we could try to make it halfway down today and take our chances on finding a tent pad at Whitehorn or Kinney even though that’s probably frowned upon. It was clear that the 3rd night would be even colder. At this point, though, it made some sense to just book it down as fast as we could and spend the night in the car driving rather than setting up all over again. Which is precisely what we did. First, Sarah took off on one more dayhike. She did Hargreaves Lake lookout. The full loop, Toboggan Falls, and Mumm Basin routes were all closed due to a landslide so her options were unfortunately limited but DANG, I wish I went on this one, her views were incredible and it was only a few km round loop; I’ll include a photo or two she took. Shants and I stayed back, grateful for the covered shelter as we read and munched and organized our backpacks so they were packed with maximum efficiency. We took off at 2:50 pm. We trotted at a rate of about 4 km/hr on flat, and 5 km/hr downhill, knowing we just had to get to the parking lot before dark. And yes, I was super nerdy, calculating our rate of speed…. “According to my calculations, we should arrive at the car by 9 pm.” This time there was sun so we stopped at Emperor Falls again and I actually felt brave enough to get RIGHT up to it, letting it’s spray overwhelm me on the slippery rocks and taking a billion white-girl photos (no apologies). We then smartly changed clothes again and continued speeding downhill, feeling a different kind of pain in our knees (but to me it was much better than the uphill pain). We stopped at Whitehorn Campground to make 2 bags of Alpine Aire’s Forever Young Mac and Cheese, enjoying our last meal together, downing our flasks for warmth (I had the new Peach Crown Royale in mine) and loading up more glacier water. When we passed Kinney Lake Sarah had noticed a trail on the way there that seemed to connect at low level on these flats with streams near the lake rather than go up into the forest, so we took that. She was right, and it may or may not have shaved off a bit of time but I’m thinking it was around the same because my calculations kilometers-wise were still working out, lol. Still, it was a nice change and the streams were easy to cross. Kinney Lake was silent and mysterious as could be, it was around 8 pm now with a slight drizzle and being in the mountains it seemed to be getting darker quicker than normal. The last 5 kilometers through the forest were also kind of brutal. It was not quite yet almost dark, quiet, and just so, so, so repetitive. We’d see a marker and think it was 3 km, it was actually 4 km, so on and so forth. We saw only one other soul, who scared the bejeebus out of Shanty, thinking he was a bear lol. Sarah decides, of course, to jog the last kilometer just because. Shanty and I are literally barely alive when we finally get to the trailhead as she hangs out there waiting for us, we ignore anything but beelining towards the car. My beautiful little red car! We piled in, knowing it was a long night ahead but being grateful for sitting and warmth. We did get to the trailhead right at 9 pm like my calculations said, with several photo stops too, and were on our way by 930 pm which was of course 1030 pm in Alberta! No wonder we were losing light quicker than anticipated. Thus began a rainy, foggy, pitch black drive through the mountains, with abrupt changes from 90 km/hr to 70 km/hr limits, and the prospect of a moose crossing the road the whole time. We listened to podcasts and snacked and made it into Edmonton around 4 am, the first thing Sarah and Shanty did was shower, the first thing I did was sleep. We were all really craving some orange juice and some fresh fruit.

Reflecting back,

Best things we had:
– Tiny propane stove (fits in a bag with the pot) and fuel, matches
– Dehydrated food (AlpineAire and Backpackers Pantry), instant coffee (Alpine Start), homemade oatmeal, snacks such as granola bars, nuts, and jerkey
– Mugs, bowls, and sporks each
– Water bottles (camel packs for them) and filter tablets (take 30 mins to work)
– Headlamps and extra batteries
– Phone rechargers
– Good backpacks, hiking boots, layered clothing including hats, regular shoes, etc.
– 4-person tent rental from MEC
– Tiny inflatable sleeping pads, tiny inflatable pillows
– Blister packs, first aid packs
– Rope, knife,
– All purpose mini cleaner

Wish I had:
– Warm sleeping bags, gloves, etc.
– Fresh fruit there
– Dish soap and scrubber
– Hand sanitizer

Overall, this was probably a close second to the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done (after Abbott Hut) but it was well-worth the beauty. Berg lake is definitely one of the more “boujee” backcountry sites that exists, with a ranger station nearby in case of emergencies. I now need new hiking boots, these ones are 5-years old and honestly they never truly fit me properly and that’s why my blisters are so bad. As always I encourage you to research, to find trail closures, to buy quality equipment, to prep yourself for bears, cold, and the unforeseeable (always bring extra food), and to research the hike itself. It’s your responsibility to determine the level you are ready for and not only that, but discovering the history, how a trail came to be, and why it’s so loved, can make the whole experience even more magical. I know this was a long read, hopefully you at least enjoy the photos if you don’t wanna read this all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Knordic Spa, Kananaskis, AB

For an entire 3.5 hours, our only decisions were which pool to sit in next. I think that was probably the coolest part. Let me explain: a Nordic Spa is a form of treatment that focuses on hydrotherapy, originating in the Scandinavian countries. The concept is a circuit of pools, beginning in the hottest or in a steam room/sauna, moving to a warm one, and then a cold plunge. Then, rest. The cycle is to be repeated a few times and is said to improve skin elasticity, stimulate the immune system, soothe muscles and bones, and relax you. The process should leave you feeling similar to a workout, but much more relaxed.

So let’s take it back to the beginning and I’ll explain my honest opinion on the pros and cons of the new(ish) Nordic spa in Kananaskis, Alberta, aka, Knordic Spa 🤗. These types of spas seem to be pretty popular in places like Ontario, but Western Canada, particularly Alberta, hasn’t seen anything like it. As such, getting in is a challenge itself. There are three ways to get in:

1) Book a massage. Massages are booked on weekends months in advance, but weekdays may be a little easier. With a booking you get automatic, free entrance into the spa itself and all the pools. Basically, you can jump to the front of the line.

2) Book a hotel and spa package with the Pomeroy Hotel. This can be pretty pricey but it also lets you jump to the front of the line. But if you are staying at the hotel in general, your entrance fee is $50 instead of $70.

3) Get there early. They open at 9 am, and on a sunny yet perfectly chilly and Nordic-like Saturday in January, 9 am was not early enough. We opted for this route as we stayed in Calgary the night before and by 9 am there was already a long lineup. If you end up on the waitlist, there’s no promises for that day because people already in could stay all day if they wanted.

Now, the thing about this is that they give plenty of warning on their official Twitter and Instagram page. So the fact that you can’t just waltz in and be soaking by 9:15 shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Lots of people were surprised though, and disappointed when they let the first 40 or so people come in and then began a call-list for the rest of us with a wait time of 3-5 hours. I personally was not shocked, and I wanted the intimacy of not having a crowded space so I knew I’d have to be prepared to wait. HOWEVER, the system of letting people in was tedious and in my opinion one of the cons as it took way too long without letting people know exactly where they stood. We ended up going for a nice brunch and then reading in lobby of the Pomeroy Hotel and got the call after only 2.5 hours, so it wasn’t bad at all. Once they call, you have about 20 minutes to get there so you can’t really go too far. Let’s move to my honest pros and cons list:

Pros:

– For the $70 entrance fee, you get the luxury of staying as long as you choose, in an uncrowded setting. Worth the money for me alone. You also get a beautiful robe to wear, a locker with a bracelet that has a scanner on it, flip-flops, unlimited towels, and salt for the exfoliation cabin.

– There was a nice variety of things to try, so a very full afternoon could be accomplished. There are two steam barrel saunas, two infrared saunas, two steam rooms, an exfoliation cabin, 2 hot pools, 2 warm pools, and a cold pool. There are also heated hammocks and fire pits to sit by, nap, or read by during your rest period. I may be missing something but I think that’s it.

– The women’s locker rooms were fully stocked so all you really needed to bring was your bathing suit. There was hair dryers, straighteners, razors, and products. Just a really nice touch.

– Basically, the day we had was just a pro in itself. It was a blissful afternoon, and staff encourages you to listen to your body in regards to how long to stay in each pool. Staff was courteous, available, and helpful in general. The backdrop of the Canadian Rockies made the whole experience aesthetically stunning in my opinion. The whole place was very aesthetic. I particularly loved the adorable little barrel saunas which also were very pleasant to be in. While I don’t plan to attempt to go back on a regular basis, I definitely think it’s a must-try. I think it would be amazing in the evening as well especially after a long day of hiking.

Cons:

I’m going to be nit-picky here only because there is no place that is perfect and Knordic Spa seems very open to constructive criticism.

1) The method of letting people in. We did not know if we were getting in or being waitlisted and only found out after we inched to the front of the line after over an hour. Since the line extended outside, had it been an actual cold January day (which it wasn’t) we would have been very uncomfortable. It took several minutes to enter guests and explain their visit to them individually, and also took several minutes to individually tell each guest who was being waitlisted, soothe some disappointment, and suggest nearby activities. I think a staff member came and talked to a few people in line, but not us. Some people were irritated. Again, we expected this but, I do think there’s a more efficient solution. Maybe reserving your stay at the spa in general? There were people still showing up throughout the afternoon spontaneously, the disappointment in their faces when they realized it could be a 5 hour wait, if at all by then, was palpable. Some had driven quite a ways. And not everyone checks Twitter. This all being said I know they are trying to do their best at the spa.

2) I disliked the hot pool with the fountain in the center, all it did was spray bits of water into your face and if the tiniest wind came by it was even worse. Just not pleasant.

3) The temperatures of some hot pools were the same or even cooler than the warm pools?

4) The Eucalyptus steam room was so hot that it burnt our face to the point of pain and you couldn’t see your way around. I guess maybe this is some people’s cup of tea, but. The Alchemist one was much more pleasant and smelled like peppermint.

5) I think the water cups should have been reusable bottles and handed back in our lockers at the end, or people encouraged to bring their own. There were so many little plastic disposable cups and it was hard not to lose yours, thus you’d end up taking a new one each time you were thirsty which was often.

6) This is being extra picky but, I think they should have had signs explaining not just the circuit, but the health benefits as well, and maybe even the history. I got the impression that some people just viewed it as a giant hot springs and were just following the temperature circuit because they’d been told to. It would have been nice for them to understand exactly what hydrotherapy was.

7) Someone else pointed this out, being able to start a tab at the Bistro would be nice so you don’t have to go back to your locker to get your wallet when you’re hungry. To me this wasn’t a huge deal. The Bistro was a beautiful space of couches and tables and the service was excellent, with a view of the mountains out of the window. It’s a great place to get a nice drink, but there are plenty of other food options at the Pomeroy Hotel right beside.

I hope if Knordic Spa were to read this (yeah, right!) they wouldn’t be too insulted because even though my Pro’s section seems smaller, the Pro’s were huge. Initially I thought the no-cellphone rule was silly but now I understand it, not just for the privacy of others but because disconnecting and not having material possessions on you other than your robe was very freeing and made the whole atmosphere enjoyable. It truly was an amazing afternoon and we both felt soo relaxed after. I believe there are also plans for expansion, maybe even an area to do yoga in.

Well done, Knordic Spa! It’s about time Kananaskis gets its time in the lime light, it is definitely my favourite area of the Rockies.

Only photos we could take were in the Bistro, this is us feeling relaxed on the couch after a few hours of spa. These robes were so cozy, and they sell them as well (for 250!)

View from the Bistro!

Bistro

Beautiful morning! This is when we finally got the call back. This is where the line originally was early that morning.

NOT my photo, not from the day we were there. This is just so people know what I mean when I say barrel sauna. I want oneee!!!

West Wind Pass – Kananaskis, Sept. 2018

September 2018 – Kananaskis 

Directions: From the Canmore Nordic Centre, continue west on the Smith-Dorrien (Hwy 742) as it winds up into the Spray Valley for 18.5km. You’ll notice cars parked on both sides of the highway, with a pull-out to your right, adjacent to Spray Lake Reservoir. There is no signage for this parking. You will be at the far end of Spray Lake Reservoir.

Time: Approximately 2-3 hours total
Elevation: –
Elevation Gain: 390 m

It might be difficult to find the trail head to this hike but there likely are a few cars parked in the area. You’ll know when you get into the trees and see a sign where someone scribbled in sharpie, “west wind pass” one way and the other way “rimwall”. West wind pass is also the route to take you to Windtower, which is a mountain that seems un-summitable via a hike but you can go up the backside. This was our original objective, however it was too windy and the pass ended up being stunning enough on it’s own.

We got lucky with fairly blue skies. We had a ton of smoke this year as well as early snow so it made the day particularly nice feeling the sun. We stopped to take photos almost the whole way because the scenery was consistently beautiful. Definitely one of the more scenic hikes I’ve done. Once we got to the pass we scrambled a bit of the ways up Windtower before just settling down into the pass for awhile. There was also old pieces of wood a ways up where someone had made a makeshift hut that we huddled in. Not sure if this was at one point a heli-pad?! It was definitely a lovely afternoon but you need to be prepared, in all seasons, for the wind that goes through this pass. I mean how else did it get it’s name?! It should only take you an hour and a bit up and less than an hour down.

I would recommend this hike for older children, and dogs are a maybe if they are used to hiking. The only reason I say this is because the trail, although moderate, had some drop-offs and also braided quite a few times. A few of the braids take you up fairly high and you have to navigate some flat rocks. If it is even a bit moist then these rocks could be slippery. The path was also covered with roots that were slightly slippery as well if you weren’t watching your footing. That being said, if you stick to the right you should be on the easiest path but it’s definitely easy to get braided onto other ones. We actually downloaded the gps track for this because of our initial intention to do Windtower (alltrails pro) and even still it can get confusing. Just pay attention as you would with any trail really! This trail is so nice because it has it all, scenery nearly the whole way, and some elevation but also some nice flat parts. And it is not a huge endeavor time or effort wise but the payoff is still rewarding. I would definitely highly, highly recommend this hike.

Okay so every hike needs a good story. On the way down I complained that I felt a bit unbalanced today, probably due to drinking the night before, so I was a little slower. Within a few minutes of heading down the path in the trees I noticed that my 3 friends were suddenly not visible ahead! At this time I didn’t think twice and assumed they would stop ahead to close the gap. After about 15 minutes I became mildly stressed and tried to speed up. Despite speeding up I didn’t see them on the trail again. I believe what happened is they ended up on a slightly different trail. I called out for them a few times, and they me, as apparently they also realized I was gone and became confused. The wind must have prevented anyone from hearing each other though. So they ended up stopping and when I didn’t pass them within a few minutes they became worried and split up, going up and down the path numerous times and apparently beginning to assume that, due to me saying I felt unbalanced, they would find me as a highlighter-pink splatter off the edge somewhere ahah (or as Mack calls me “plum”, a splat plum). I eventually got back to the car and was shocked when I didn’t see them. Part of me figured they had gone down to Spray Lake to take photos so after waiting for 15 minutes at the car, I headed down to the lake where I had a nice peaceful zen 15 minutes until some guy yelled to me that my friends were desperately looking for me. Soon I saw Sarah, Mack and Michael come down from the trail and they all ran and embraced me. Sarah was like, “my baby!” and Michael was all “I’m sorry!” and Mack just seemed shocked to see me alive. That’s when I realized how worried I made them even though it was no ones fault. I couldn’t stop laughing though as they described their adrenaline running up and down and tripping over their own feet on the trail, meanwhile I was having this nice zen moment down at the lake. They didn’t feel like laughing until a few minutes later though ahah. Definitely a good lesson in how quickly you can become disentangled from a group and there is definitely no cellphone reception anywhere in that area. On a more somber note, a woman my age who was an experienced hiker died on East End of Rundle this summer, she slipped the wrong way and the visibility due to the smoke may or may not have been a factor. So I really don’t blame my friends for getting worried. The mountains are beautiful but they are not forgiving and do not care about you. So please, research your hikes and go prepared!

And definitely, definitely go up to West Wind Pass if you’re in the Canmore area! I plan to try to tackle Windtower next summer.

Vision Quest Ridge – Nordegg (2 Parts)

May/June 2018 – Nordegg, AB near David Thompson Area

Directions: Park at the waste transfer site just east of the David Thompson Resort near Abraham Lake on the David Thompson Highway (#11). Follow the path that says “not a designated trail” and heads to the right, gaining elevation immediately.
Time: Approximately 3-4 hours total
Elevation: –
Elevation Gain: 780 m

It’s been such a long time since I wrote about hiking!  It felt amazing to have the sun on my shoulders again and yes I sunscreened up this time. I wasn’t sure what to pick as a season opener but I figured Vision Quest Ridge often melts all it’s snow very quickly. I was right, but it sure wasn’t the easiest season opener for my legs.

Immediately to the right of the waste transfer site is a path that says “do not use as trail” … you need to go past this and start heading up to your right immediately. If you are walking through a flat forest, past White Goat Falls, you are going the wrong way! If you are in fact on the right path you will immediately be gaining a LOT of elevation very quickly. In fact within 20-30 mins the treeline will be gone and trail will split off into a few alternatives and the rocks will be very crumbly. But the route is obviously up and it would be hard to get too far off track, just keep looking for the easiest footing. Without the treeline it gets very hot. Seriously I needed so many breaks. Which was perfect, because every time I turned around we saw the shimmery, minty blue of Abraham Lake.

After about an hour you’ll reach a plateau that many think was the site of aboriginal ceremonies, from aboriginals on their own “vision quest”. People have tied fabric to the trees – it may or not be completely representative, likely not. Now you’ll see the “summit” from here and it’s probably almost another hour of extremely steep hiking. What we did was just beeline straight up. There are many “trails” so we just followed where we could keep our footing. We ended up about 50m from the “summit” because the rocks were getting kind of scrambly, we didn’t have helmets, and we also had an older dog who was getting very, very tired (lol and me).

After a couple ciders and feeling the wind on our shoulders as we soaked in Abe’s glory, I wanted to see if I could “scramble” up a bit more and it was just too unstable. I know we didn’t make it to the hikers “summit” and I think we should of gone along a curve to hikers left. Apparently there is a summit book and cairn up there – can anyone confirm this? Can anyone confirm there is an easier route if you curve to hikers left?

Let me explain why I put “summit” in quotations. We tried to reach hikers summit, which is where most hikers would stop. After that you can scramble on to what seems like a higher and higher summit each time. After all, you’re on your vision quest so has anyone ever really found the true summit? It’s pretty hard to tell. It becomes fairly technical eventually from what I’ve heard, and definitely out of our expertise to continue.

Heading down takes awhile and is hard on the knees just due to the steepness and the loose rock. I honestly am surprised people do this hike in the winter but I believe they do! Truly fiending for a good hike after/during these long winters, Albertans will hike just about anything.

Anyways. What a season opener. The wind wasn’t too bad, and I still can’t believe that only 3 hours from Stony Plain gives me these kind of views. I would highly, highly recommend the full hike to fit hikers, kids who are maybe 8+, and young and fit dogs. You also can just go part way if you’d like some pretty decent views regardless! I’d also recommend poles and the best boots.

PART II:

I know it sounds lame but I hate not bagging a peak, so I got my boyfriend to come attempt this with me again less than a month later. It was HOT. We both got burned because it is just so exposed to the sun. I had extra socks on to prevent blisters but my hands got blisters instead because I relied on my poles so heavily. I’d really like to find hiking gloves!

Anyway, my boyfriend has amazing route finding skills, we pushed fast up to the aboriginal ceremony site in 0.5 hours, and from there, he used some kind of spidey senses to keep locating the best route to the left up to the “summit”. Now, a few things. You will not end up perched on the edge to your right like my friends and I were, you will go quite a bit left but it will still be very steep. In fact, you will be so left that you may only be able to see Abe Lake behind you, not to your right. The last 15 minutes were the steepest. It wasn’t quite a scramble, but definitely the steepest hike I’ve experienced besides Abbot. As he located the best route, pausing every few minutes, we eventually noticed orange flags tied to trees. There is one every 20 meters or so, this means you’re on track! As for the “route” itself, it may split off here and there but just keep left and the best path is the most defined one and it will have more dirt than rocks.

What a feeling when we got to the top! He was up 10 mins ahead of me and waited with open arms. I love him so much! Then I proceeded to pick a large rock off of another large rock and sit on that large rock, asking him if he saw a summit cairn.
“…Uhmm.. you just lifted the head off of it and are sitting on it.”

So yeah, I dismantled the Inukshuk at the top but I put it back together! There is no summit book but the views are incredible, and the same chunky chipmunk was up there hoping for a snack and hanging out with us the whole time. Interestingly enough Abe lake was a deep and stunning turquoise that day, whereas with my friends it was an equally stunning minty green. I could of stayed up there for hours. Total time to the top for us was 2 hours, and 1 to get down because it is so steep. Poles are extremely helpful, there is a bit of screeing you can do if you enjoy that but most of it is just tedious foot placement the whole way down.

I wish we had more time. It was a day trip so on our way back we stopped at Crescent Falls. Take the turnoff from highway 11, follow a rocky road for about 6 km, and then you’ll come to the falls lookout. You’ll be able to see a path taking you down to the base of the first set of falls. Someone has tied sturdy rope to the trees to help guide you down which helps soo much, especially if it is at all muddy or wet. Sitting at the base of these falls, drinking a beer and feeling the spray is unforgettable, especially after a day of hiking.

The best advice overall I can give someone for going on a hike that is not an official “maintained route” is to just research, research, research. It isn’t only for your safety but for the overall enjoyment of your time. The mountains are the most rugged and unforgiving of scenery but if you are prepared for bears, wind, and heat, have the proper equipment/food/water, and do your research, you will continue to fall in love with them again and again.

Now I can let this one go, I may or may not come back to do it again. There are so many other views to be seen!

Today’s Thoughts

In light of the Humboldt bus crash that claimed 14 young hockey players lives last night, I wanted to write a small piece to get my thoughts out. Maybe it isn’t my place, because I didn’t know any of them, but it really makes you look at life when it hits so close to home. And as a Canadian I understand the deep love of hockey; it’s a part of all of our childhood and identity and I think it’s got us all a little shook. Today NHL players had Bronco’s logos on their jerseys. I don’t have the answers to why this kind of thing happens but I endlessly try to understand. It gets me feeling low, like how can you wake up and face the possibility of the kind of phone call like the one all those families just received.

One of the young men was 21 and was a videographer, he made beautiful videos of his life at the lake waterskiing in the summer, of his travels, of companies that he was helping promote. He was 21. God when I was 21 I was just starting to figure out how Instagram works. I was just about to embark on my first real big travel and all I could worry about was whether or not I’d come back. Airplanes are scary, being alone is scary, it’s just a big scary world out there but we still go. You can be hanging out at the lake with your friends all summer waterskiing and the risk of drowning is ever-present but we don’t think about that, do we? We step on the airplanes and the waterskis and we try to live a jam-packed life that we can look back on without regrets but no one ever thinks that it all ends on a snowy highway, on a bus, on a Friday evening in April.

He packed so much in. And he left a beautiful life to look back on. And that’s all anyone wants really. We all know the risks and we all know it can end. We wonder how can you plan anything knowing it can all come to a screeching halt? We wonder what’s the point in loving so deeply when the deeper you love the more shattered those lives would be if you exited suddenly? I guess the point is because it’s better to try to leave behind a life where you aren’t complacent, bitter or complaining. One where you’re always looking for the next best thing or waiting for things to be perfect. One where you’re scared to jump. Scared to love deeply.

He won’t get to make a career out of videography, fall in love, travel more, have a family and know what it’s like to grow old. And that makes me angry. I worry all the time about my boyfriend being on the highways even though I know it’s part of life and even though he promises me of all the amazing things we will get to do in our life together. But we all know he can’t promise those things. Maybe, just maybe these things happen so that other people can appreciate the one wild and precious life they’ve been given. The world would be a much better place if everyone did. These boys, or at least one of them did. And it will be a darker place without them for awhile but I truly believe that the sun will shine again for those families.

#humboldtstrong

“What do you want?”

I want more rainy awakenings, stretching slowly. I want coffee with cream and kisses and for the rain to keep coming down steadily, with no place for me to be. I want a cold beer on a hot day, and again at the end of that day, around a campfire with laughter echoing into the woods. I want more hot baths with the feeling of putting sweatpants on after and the sound of a furnace starting up. I want salty ocean, log cabin, pine, and French press smells all at once. I want to read on the deck in a cozy sweater in the fall, feeling the last rays. I want to tell people how much they mean to me and I want to tell them way too often and give them way too many things and take way too many photos of them. I want to play my favourite song over and over again until it’s tucked away in my memory. I want to love myself more at 30 than I ever did at 20, and more at 40 than I did at 30 and so on and so forth. I want to plan games nights and eat all the appetizers and drink cheap champagne on New Years, reflecting on how far I’ve come rather than how far I still need to go. I want to be someone that someone calls when they need to talk. I want some ordinary, “boring” days. I want some days with white wine in Greece and some with wind grazing my shoulders in Ireland. I want the searing feeling on my legs as I summit every mountain I dream of and I want to dream about jumping out of a plane even if I never, ever do it, but to still know that I could. I want contentment and I want to look at people and feel nothing but affection. Feel myself in their shoes. I want to acknowledge my mistakes yet still be gentle with myself. I really just want to pack it all in and slow down time.

Coliseum Mountain, Nordegg

October 2017 – Nordegg, AB near David Thompson Area

Directions: Going west from Rocky Mountain House down Hwy. 11, take the turn off just across from the Nordegg town access (Shunda Road).
Time: Approximately 4-5 hours total
Elevation: 2,035 m
Elevation Gain: 915 m

I haven’t really spent any time in the David Thompson area but it’s only 3 hours from Stony Plain. It’s a quieter, almost more mysterious area than the National Parks. Sarah and I took the day off work and drove there. She wanted to leave at 5 am as always, but I convinced her that since I hadn’t picked a super long hike, she should let me sleep in until 7 😪 it ended up being a really full day so she was right.

We drove on the back roads through a reserve and she stopped to pet a few wild horses. We eventually got to a truck stop on the reserve where a woman told us that the owner just let his horses run free 😡 the vibe was eerie, there wasn’t any farmed fields, just forests and hardly another car in sight except for those going to work in the backroad power plants. Eventually we found range road 152a but as usual, thanks to google, it went the opposite way. You could tell where Coliseum Mountain was, it’s super unique in that it literally looks like a coliseum shape on the top. So we took 152b, also labelled as Shunda I believe? Forgive me if I’m wrong because I forget. There was then amazing signs the whole way down the road that said “Coliseum Trail”. We were the only ones in the parking lot which was right next to what looked like a couple cabins. Again, not a soul in sight.

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Being in love with someone who loves you back reminds me of taking off on an airplane. There’s this rush of excitement for what’s to come, mingled with nerves in the depths of your stomach. You agreed to be on this plane because you have a sense of trust for the pilot; as much as you can trust your life in someone else’s hands anyway. You know there’s always a risk of it crashing but it doesn’t seem likely enough to worry about. You know there may be some turbulence to come along the way but again, this could not keep you off the plane. And as the rest of the world twinkles down below you, you float along in ignorant bliss knowing you don’t have to come down just yet.

-J

Waterton, AB

Edit: beautiful Waterton was touched this summer after I left by the wildfires, within feet. A sobering reminder to enjoy opportunities while you can. I’m so lucky to have seen this gorgeous place.

As far as hiking goes, I didn’t really get to touch this little gem of a place. There are plenty of summits around, but the dream for me is the Triple Crown of Waterton. There is a world hiking Triple Crown (the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail), but Waterton has it’s own 3 that can earn you a little pin, a spot on a wall, and mostly the satisfaction of these world-class treks. They are Crypt Lake Trail (recommended by National Geographic as one of the top ten hikes in the world), the Carthew-Alderson Trail, and the Akamina Ridge. All are day trips, and we only had a couple days. In retrospective I would hands-down choose to camp here (preferably in a trailer, as bears have been an issue lately with an RCMP officer chasing a black bear from the campground recently) and stay longer without the restriction of our expensive hotel, as with the six hour drive to the National Park, 2 nights just didn’t seem enough… 😦
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Abbot Pass/Hut – July 2017

July 2017 – On the border of Yoho National Park, BC and Banff National Park, AB

Directions: From Lake Louise, drive to the Lake O’Hara parking lot, approx. 10 minutes away. Here you will meet your reserved bus to take you to Lake O’Hara.

Time: Approximately 4-5 hours up to the hut, same down, unknown km’s

Elevation: 2,925 m

Elevation Gain: 915 m

Nestled between Mt. Lefroy and Mt. Victoria is a tiny hut, built in 1922 from the stones of the surrounding mountains. It is named Abbot Hut, after Philip Stanley Abbot, who became the first mountaineering fatality in North America in 1896 while trying the first summit of Lefroy. His death prompted the push for guides, and guides from Switzerland came over and brought materials up from the Alberta side. This route was taken via Lake Louise and what is now known as the “death trap” (melting has made the glaciers too unpredictable, and a fall into a crevasse is too likely). The other side, from British Columbia, became known as Abbot Pass, and is the most popular and safe route up to and down from the hut. Water flowing down from each side will empty into two different oceans. And, when you are in the outhouse behind the hut, you are sitting exactly on the border. The hut sits at 2925m elevation, making it the second highest permanent structure in Canada (second to the Neil Colgan hut, a tin hut that requires glacier travel and rock climb to reach). Abbot Hut serves as a place to summit Lefroy and Victoria in the early morning hours if you’re a climber, or if not, to sit and enjoy a game of cards amongst the peaks.

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