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“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.
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USA roadtrip – Yosemite

Yosemite National Park in California (pronounced Yos-sem-it-tee). Boy oh boy. The closest thing to paradise I’ve seen and the highlight to date of my USA roadtrip.

Waterfalls galore, tremendous glacier carved granite cliff faces, greenery abounds and the snowy Sierra Nevada mountain range that’s only visible from the highest peaks.

At the summit of the famous rock climbing peak  El Capitan
At the summit of the famous rock climbing peak El Capitan with the snowy Sierra Nevada mountain range in the background

There’s one problem though – everyone knows it!

And isn’t that the problem with so many “must see” places? By the time they reach that “must see” status that once secluded paradise has turned into Highway 101.

Now that’s not to say Yosemite was over crowded  or even remotely unpleasant when I was there. Not at all. I hiked for five hours straight and only saw five people.

What I gathered from others was right now is one of the best times of year to visit too. The waterfalls are approaching their peak, the crowds are quite alright, and the weather is just about perfect. The summer crowds of July and August are apparently wild.

But even so the evidence is still there. Trails that are a four hour tough slog away from the nearest car are well and truly beaten in and over a metre wide. And this is at the start of the hiking season too, albeit after the snowmelt. What will the trails look like in four months time?

This is the trail just before reaching Eagle Peak
This is the trail just before reaching Eagle Peak, four hours from the trail head

But regardless of this I had a really really damn awesome and satisfying time. Just mind blowing surroundings.

Yosemite was the place I was most looking forward to visiting on this roadtrip and it didn’t disappoint.

The valley itself is really impressive. 1 mile wide, 7 miles long and surrounded by sheer walls of granite that loom 1000m above in all directions.

I knew I only had two days to make my Yosemite experience one to remember so it was go go go.

Day 1 I did a 9km return hike to the top of Vernal Falls and Nevada falls. The mist at the base of Vernal falls was so intense that a rainbow was visible.

Vernal Falls (the mist falls)
Vernal Falls (the mist falls)
The rainbow from Vernal Falls.
The rainbow from Vernal Falls mist
Liberty Cap looms over Nevada Falls
Liberty Cap looms over Nevada Falls

Then I caught the free shuttle bus to Lower Yosemite Falls. Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America and the fifth tallest in the world. 739 metres top to bottom over two waterfalls – Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.

I managed to squeeze in a drive up to Glacier Point stopping at the awesome and very popular Tunnel View lookout.

The weather turned wild that afternoon. Rain, fog, clouds, and even some hail.

The awesome view of El Capitan on the left and Bridleveil Falls on the right from Tunnel lookout
The awesome view of El Capitan on the left and Bridleveil Falls on the right from Tunnel View lookout
That's Yosemite Falls way down there looking from Glacier Point
That’s Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls way down there from the Glacier Point lookout

So so happy the weather played nice for Day 2. Thank-you weather gods. I did the longest hike I’ve ever done in a day. 31km over 10 hours and climbed about 1500m up and down. It was pretty tough but awesome to have accomplished. Eagle Peak was the highlight (and coincidentally the highest point) of the day.

Someday I’ll have to get back here to do the mother of all day hikes – Half Dome (the one in the picture below). Easy right? Only 26km.

Eagle peak. Still a few hundred metres below the top of Half Dome. It took me 8 attempts on timer to get this photo.
Eagle peak. Still a few hundred metres below the top of the majestic Half Dome. It took me 8 attempts on timer to get this photo.

USA roadtrip – Vancouver to San Francisco

At last I’ve hit the road for one awesome month long American roadtrip!

It was such a surreal feeling 6 days ago when I was driving to go pick up Kelly in Vancouver. After 4 months of planning out the whole trip by email I felt like is this really happening? After so long of talking we were finally about to start walking and make these plans a reality.

The weather has been perfect every day, so lucky given it’s supposed to rain a fair bit this time of year along the northern coast. The sensation of actually feeling warmth when the sun is out is amazing. 20 degree days feel like they are nearly 30, I’ve forgotten how hot that is.

First up was Seattle, supposedly the city everyone wants to move to in America. I found the first ever Starbucks, started back in 1971. Starbucks are everywhere around here, and free wifi too.

A big eye opener was the underground tour, the city was originally built on a flood plain and now there are so many passages and first floors of buildings that were once ground level but now completely underground.

Driving further south we passed through the wonderful and small town feel city of Portland, Oregon. It was refreshing walking through a city of low rises instead of sky scrapers for once. Everywhere was so clean and the people so friendly.

Portland from 30 stories up
Portland from 30 stories up

While these cities were fun, I was most looking forward to getting to the big trees. Heading towards the coast to go camping in a California redwood forest was exciting, and it was funny the campground was exactly like I had envisioned it. Right in amongst a dense, dark forest.

Just awesome camping around these goliaths
Just awesome camping around these goliaths
A climbable coast redwood in Jebediah Smith National Park, California
A climbable coast redwood in Jebediah Smith National Park, California

The park info centre guide said go to Klamath outlook to see whales. We thought OMG wouldn’t that be awesome, but we didn’t actually think we’d be that lucky. I mean who ever is that lucky to see whales from land right?

Fast forward an hour and we had soaked up the spectacular view and were about to call it…no whales lets go. Then a man beside us goes “Just to the left of that rock”. Wewewhaaaaat?

We later learned he had been watching these whales for the past 3 days…so lucky we had a trained eye on board or no chance. We ended up seeing 3 or 4 grey whales and a seal or two. They were just hanging out so close to the shore.

Spotting a grey whale spouting at Klamath Overlook, California
Spotting a grey whale spouting at Klamath Overlook, California. “To the left of that rock”

The next couple of days was redwood central. Walking and even driving through a tree!

Strolling among the tallest trees on the planet with no one else to disturb the peaceful serenity was awe inspiring. It gave me a greater appreciation of time knowing that these trees are up to 2000 years old. Growing inch by inch year by year into where they stand now. Every handrail seemed like it was too small given the scale of the surroundings.

The "big tree" in Redwood National Park, California
The “big tree” in Redwood National Park, California
Avenue of the Giants scenic drive, California
Avenue of the Giants scenic drive, California

The last stop we made before San Francisco was at the Napa Valley. It was a big day of driving so not much time but hey I made the time to climb a light post! Now I’m here in San Francisco for the next few days and wow I love it, but that’s for the next post.

A Napa vineyard from the top of an electrical pole
A Napa vineyard from the top of an light post

How to: Build a quinzhee

A couple of days ago I got the chance to learn how to build a quinzhee – like the one I slept in in a previous post. Great fun and satisfying when complete. Take a look.

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Compact the snow by foot. Tiring work when the snow is this deep and soft.
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Start shovelling snow into the centre and compact regularly.
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Keep shovelling and compacting until the cone is complete.
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Allow snow to harden for at least 2 hours. In this case we let it harden overnight.
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Hollow out the inside. By far the most fun part!
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Walah! A nice cosy quinzhee complete with two sleeping platforms. This took me two hours to dig out alone.

Just poke a couple of breathing holes through the roof and you’re all done.

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My first quinzhee!

So all up you’re looking at a six hour job. It’s not easy but I got to say digging out the inside of your own “snow cave” into any style you like is really fun and exciting. It’s like sculpting your own “home” right before your eyes.

Now I just hope it snowed enough so I can build another one on the lake. Then try and find good hard snow (so far very elusive this year) so I can try building an igloo!

Mount Barney Climbing Expedition

Have you ever heard of Mount Barney?

For most of us I think that’s a clear “No”. I know for me it was up until a few months ago, and I decided I have got to climb this big arse mountain. Standing at 1354 metres above sea level (5th highest in QLD) it’s not exactly your typical school camp hike – far from it in fact as I was about to find out.Image

So Saturday 8th September came round and I had four mates coming on the expedition. But how’s this for luck – four out of four either are sick or were sick within the past 24 hours. Not the ideal way to kick off a weekend requiring physical stamina.

But pushing on, Josh and I arrived at camp in awe of the sheer size of the mountain looming over the campsite. After finding a stackload of firewood, Josh lighting it flamethrower style, and jumping into a freezing cold waterhole that was “tinglingly refreshing” we met Paul – the climber (and 39 year old astrophysicist). We quickly discovered that if you want to know anything about climbing up big scary mountains ask Paul. He plans his holiday destinations around what big peaks are in the vicinity, and ascends them both with and without ropes…..yes roped climbs = scary stuff.

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Saturday night my other two “sick” mates Rory and Scottie arrived (Jay, the most experienced mountaineer of us all unfortunately couldn’t make it, classified as Too Sick To Climb – TSTC). So with the wind blowing an absolute gale and howling like a pack of wolves we all proceeded to have a dreadful night’s sleep.

At long last Sunday morning arrived and at 4:30am we were up and well…..ummm not quite raring to go for our 10 hour hike. Following more sausages it became apparent that we had lost two more adventurers to the dreaded TSTC disease.

And then there were two. Not to be disheartened Josh and I marched off spritely at 6am sharp pondering over whether we would be the two highest people in Queensland when we made the summit? An hour later we were off the beaten track and going very steeply skywards. As we were to find out the steepness did not relent and no matter how high we got Mt Barney’s peak always appeared soooo far away. The views began getting more and more spectacular and the phrase “Let’s have a breather” more and more common.

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At 9am we could just about see that the peak was within reach, but yet again Mt Barney attempted to throw us back to where we came from. With spikey shrubs, massive slabs of steep igneous rock, spine tingling drops and “What If?” moments the trail was all but gone and it was literally a matter of bush bashing and rock scrambling your way to the top.

The summit appeared before us unexpectedly and well what can I say? The views from East Peak were “mind bozzling” as Jay had rightly predicted. 360 degrees, 1100 metres up on a perfect cloudless Spring day. After spotting a deep blue dam and haze way out in the distance we snapped a few precarious photos on rocks near the edge and headed for home.

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The way back was faster but required more concentration, as Josh found out dodging snakes and goannas and I found out falling headfirst down a rock face (the bush was hiding the rock ok).

After eight and a half hours on the mountain we made it back, tired but content and conjuring up ideas for the next adventure.