My first northern lights sights

At long last I’ve finally seen the northern lights!

Not just a dim green glow on the horizon (which I don’t count), but the no holds barred version – the full blown overhead real deal. Amazing! The green and red-ish lights flashed across the sky in an unpremeditated manner of madness. There was no pattern to them.

Now the challenge is to try and describe them accurately in words to someone who has never seen them. And that’s a challenge!

Even seeing a photo doesn’t portray them in their right light (excuse the pun). Generally an aurora photo is captured with a 20 to 40 second exposure, and so the colours come across as bold, bright and vibrant.

Seeing all those photos tricked my mind to expect that same level of vibrance, but they just weren’t (at least not this time). If they weren’t moving they would have honestly just looked like wispy, unassuming grey clouds with the faintest touch of green.

And that’s exactly what they did look like when I first spotted the faintest green “clouds” on the horizon.

A glow on the horizon.
A dim glow on the horizon

But boy oh boy when they move they move!

Appearing in the east sky, beams of faded green and red light proceeded to shoot across the sky from random places like a round of bullets. Each shot of light just a little different to the last. Each one swaying and wiggling just a little different to the last.

My camera's limited 5 second exposure didn't help capture the moment
My camera’s limited 5 second exposure wasn’t the best tool for the job

At one point a battle ensued between red and green – the battlefield encircled by a ring of clouds. It was Harry vs Voldemort. The lights began shooting into each other. It was surreal. Unbelievable how perfect that scene appeared and so quickly disappeared. Sorry to say I can’t tell you who won.

All in all we watched active lights for at least a couple of hours, it was an incredible experience and I’m so grateful I did get to see them at last. Now I can go home satisfied.

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Goodbye to summer in the Rockies

It’s now the start of October and a fluffy blanket of snow has tucked the mountain peaks to bed for the looming long and cold winter. The summer crowds are long gone and daily highs are now hovering around 10 degrees.

It’s the perfect time to sit back with a cuppa tea and reflect on what was one busy, adventurous and fulfilling couple of months. Join me in a recollection of events.

When I arrived back in Jasper in late July I wrote down a list of ten trips I wanted to do before summer was out, and blow me down I did them all!

With all my trips, and other trips going on in the meantime, there was always more to plan, organise or just jump aboard and go.

Given I was simultaneously working full time at the hostel there was no time to rest on a day off. My housemate and I pushed each other to do more and more, and on the rare occasion we found ourselves inside on a nice day we certainly heard about it from the other! It was great motivation and I can look back proud at everything I got done.

My Summer To Do List (in order of completion)

  1. Beat Donny’s time of 1:39 up Whistlers Mountain.     Check Aug 1 with 1:35.
  2. Get to Edith Cavell Meadows.                                        Check Aug 2.
  3. Berg Lake camping trip.                                                  Check Aug 6,7,8.
  4. Go whitewater rafting.                                                     Check Aug 19.
  5. Climb Mt Temple.                                                             Check Aug 25,26.
  6. Hike the Skyline trail in one day 44km.                         Check Sep 3.
  7. Climb Mt Hardisty.                                                            Check Sep 9.
  8. Climb Pyramid Mountain.                                                Check Sep 10,
  9. Tonquin Valley camping trip.                                          Check Sep 16,17,18.
  10. Maligne Lake canoe/camp trip.                                    Check Sep 30, Oct 1.

More trips not on my “list”:

  1. Grouse Grind, Vancouver.                                                Check July 25.
  2. Bald Hills trail.                                                                    Check Aug 13.
  3. Maligne Canyon.                                                                Check Aug 15.
  4. Sulphur Skyline trail.                                                         Check Aug 21.
  5. Sunrise kayak on Pyramid Lake.                                     Check Aug 24.
  6. Plain of Six Glaciers trail.                                                  Check Aug 25.
  7. Palisades Lookout.                                                            Check Aug 30.
  8. Slept on top of a mountain.                                             Check Aug 31.
  9. Climbed Mt Tekarra.                                                         Check Sep 3.
  10. Photographed a wedding.                                               Check Sep 28.
  11. Horseback riding                                                               Check Oct 6

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Palisades Lookout – WOW! The two hour uphill slog on a bike was worth it.
That's me taking cover front left
Rafting! That’s me taking cover front left
sleep
Waking up on top of a mountain was both strange and very awesome.
Sulphur Skyline
Sulphur Skyline hike.
Photographing a wedding was a new experience for me
Photographing my first wedding was a great experience for me.
And horse riding today - end of summer staff event.
And horse riding today – our end of summer staff event.

To try and pick my favourite trips is hard as every one is so different and they are all great but nonetheless I devised a system that works. Are you ready for it?

To pick my top four I simply asked myself, “if I could only take home the memories from four trips, and all the rest would be forgotten, which ones would I choose?”

And that brought me to my top four…in no particular order.

Berg Lake, Mt Robson Provincial Park

An awesome three days and an exhausting 80km of backpacking with Ben around the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, Mt Robson.

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Berg Lake was freezing!

Mt Temple, Banff National Park

A quick two day run down to Lake Louise with Donny, Arne, and Jakub to summit the giant Mt Temple.

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Descending Mt Temple
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Peyto Lake

The Skyline Trail, Jasper National Park

One monster of a day hike with Grayden, Laura, and Joel. 50km along the premier Skyline trail including two mountain summits along the way.

Up into alpine heights. Snow covered for most of the year, in summer a desert like landscape is unveiled.
The Skyline trail was captivating!

Maligne Lake canoe trip, Jasper National Park

The most recent big adventure, a two day canoe and camping trip with Jackie and Joel to the far end of the breathtaking Maligne Lake.

We're here already! Burning time in paradise.
A well earned break at Spirit Island, Maligne Lake.

Thanks so much to everyone who shared this memorable summer with me – the corner stones of a great trip are great people.

“Hello winter” Maligne Lake canoe trip

This trip was just awesome! Great people, great scenery, and so many laughs. We had “paradise to ourselves” for two straight days. Top three trip of summer for sure along with Berg Lake and Mt Temple.

"Paradise to ourselves" at one of the most photographed locations in the world. An icon of the Canadian Rockies, Spirit Island.
“Paradise to ourselves” at one of the most photographed locations in the world. An icon of the Canadian Rockies, Spirit Island.

It sounds like everything went as planned right? Don’t be fooled though, it didn’t start out as well as it finished. There were problems. Like waking up…

A big night out for birthday celebrations the night before didn’t help our cause. We could forget “let’s be paddling by 10am”. Just pretend that was never said – we only began paddling at 12:20pm. We didn’t know if we were going to make it! We still had 22 long kilometres ahead of us to get to Coronet campground.

The first couple of hours didn’t get much better either even though our spirits were sky high. We had our first break only a few hundred metres from the start, we were battling into a headwind, and at our first change over break Joel discovered his only jacket was dripping wet. Of course he left his other jacket at home and only had packed a sleeping bag and some food into his huge backpack.

Joel discovers his jacket mishap.
Joel discovers his jacket mishap.

Despite the less than perfect situation we were all as happy as kids in a candy store. Joking about how crazy we were going on a canoe trip while it’s snowing and daily highs of just 5 to 7 degrees. We wanted to check where we were on the map but of course we didn’t know where the map was (when I got home I found it in my pocket).

We knew we had to do two things though. Keep paddling and most importantly keep this canoe the right way up. Capsizing here is no joke. So we did our best to keep near the shoreline out of the way of the tour boats’ wake. Jackie was the expert on this front, us Aussies need serious practice at keeping a canoe straight!

Thankfully the headwind disappeared after the first break and paddling became a soothing and relaxing motion. The sun even came out for a while and everything was just perfect. The mountains were beckoning in the distance, and the blue waters extended as far as the eye could see.

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The mountains got bigger and more dramatic the further we paddled.

There were a few moments where it looked like the lake just ended, even though we knew it didn’t. It reminded me of how your eyes play tricks with your mind when climbing a mountain. It looks like the summit is just ahead until you get there and find it was just a false one.

Because of the “ahem” map issue, we only found out where we were when we stumbled upon Spirit Island. Somehow we completely missed our bail out option of Fishermans Bay campground, but it was all good. We were going to make it!

We knew the world famous Spirit Island was 15km in so with another two hours of paddling to go we had time to burn baby. A break on the island was in order.

We're here already! Burning time in paradise.
We’re here already! Going to make our goal.

On a side note the reason Spirit Island is famous is because an amateur photographer entered the image into a photo contest, and won first prize, upon which the photo was enlarged to billboard size and displayed in Grand Central Station, New York for a number of years.

Another interesting note is that the island is only an actual “island” for a few weeks of the year when the glacial waters melt and fill the lake. The rest of the time it’s still connected to the land, as you can see above.

From Spirit Island to the end of the lake the mountains loomed all around us. It was a sight to behold and Joel and I both agreed that these landscapes rival the Berg Lake region for sheer dramatic scenery.

We headed that way!
Not too much further…

We made camp just before dark and enjoyed a fire and warm pasta, which never ceases to do the trick after a long day. Once again, there was no one else around and upon signing the book we proposed the idea “will we be the last ones to camp here in 2013?” Joel volunteered to come back next year to confirm or deny our hopeful suspicions…

The next day we unfortunately had to leave this place and head for home. The weather was cloudier, colder, and snowier today, but not to worry. The “Earlybirds” as we ironically called ourselves can handle any deadline.

Needless to say we got underway later than planned and pulled away at 11am. This time only 2 hours behind schedule – we’re improving!

Beautiful surroundings.
Beautiful surroundings.

A few hours of paddling and the weather took a bit of turn. The waves picked up beyond what’s comfortable in a canoe, which lets face it isn’t much, so we pulled ashore and waited it out. Jackie amazingly found comfort sleeping on a tree trunk! We really connected with nature on this trip that’s for sure.

Waiting out the worst of it was a smart move.
Waiting out the worst of it was a smart move.

Strangely after this point the waters were almost as flat as a pancake. Brilliant paddling even if the temperature plummeted from a balmy 5 degrees down to a biting 2.8 degrees. Then it started snowing even more. All layers of clothing on!

Team Earlybirds in full flight.
Team Earlybirds in full flight.

With one last break and the end in sight we jumped in the canoe for the last time. Within an hour and a half we were back at the dock. Mission complete. Against all odds we had made it.

For all of us it was our first canoe trip. 44km in 15 hours of paddling in less than perfect conditions.

What a brilliant trip team. Thanks for the memories. And remember even if everyone says “you know there’s snow at Maligne Lake don’t you?” it doesn’t mean it’s not worth it!

This is going straight to the pool room.
This is going straight to the pool room.