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!!!

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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