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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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Why do we climb mountains?

In light of me crossing another two mountains off my list on the 9th and 10th of September it got me thinking about why people climb mountains…

9th September. Mt Hardisty 2716m.
9th September. Mt Hardisty 2716m.
10th September. Pyramid Mountain 2774m.
10th September. Pyramid Mountain 2774m.

Now I’m not going to try and put such a vast topic into my own words just yet, but I have found some excellent quotes that align with me.

These first three come from the book “Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies” by Kathy and Craig Copeland.

“Though unaware of it, human beings exist on the thin seam of extremes: earth, and atmosphere. Only on a mountaintop does this dawn on us. Only then does it exhilarate us. Our reality doesn’t shift when we climb a mountain, but our perspective does. So be it. If that’s what it takes to open our eyes, let’s climb. But for mere hikers to climb it can’t be just any mountain. The climbing must be merely ascending, not dangling from ropes. And the mountain should be close enough to much bigger mountains, so we can revel in the rewards of climbing without assuming it’s risks. (Pathetic, but true.)” p129

On top of Pyramid Mountain looking towards the Colin Range
On top of Pyramid Mountain looking east towards the Colin Range

“The desire to explore is bred in the bone. Hiking fulfills that desire for many of us.” p149

“To promote peace, to advance social justice, to foster more soulful living, we need new ideas. But we won’t find them by hunkering longer at the office, behind the newspaper, or in front of the TV. To change the world, we must join it. We must get outdoors where we can see, hear, feel what’s happening around us. The answer is to walk. It can shift your awareness to the here and now. It’s the optimal pace for allowing your senses to appreciate your surroundings. And, by emulating the rhythm of your beating heart, it balances and centers you, inducing clarity and focus. Walking, anywhere, will open you to what really matters.” p152

Two hours up Mt Hardisty overlooking Horseshoe Lake
Two hours up Mt Hardisty overlooking Horseshoe Lake

“One cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: what is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” Rene Daumal

“What is hard to endure is sweet to remember” Unknown

Nico soaking it in a top Pyramid.
Nico soaking it in a top Pyramid. Jasper town is middle right.

So with those deep thoughts I’d like to leave you with a bit of a photo diary of the last couple of days…

First up, Hardisty.

Hardisty is a steep sucker. 8.5 hours of bush bashing.
Hardisty was a steep sucker. 8.5 hours of bush bashing.
What a spot for a break on Hardisty.
What a spot for a break. Pyramid Mountain is the tall one in the distance on the right.
Enjoying summit views on Mt Hardisty.
Enjoying summit views on Mt Hardisty.
On the way down the lighting was awesome!
On the way down the lighting was awesome over Horseshoe Lake and back towards Pyramid Mountain.

And now from Pyramid.

Nearing the top.
Nearing the top from the back side. Still one hour to go from here.
Love this view back to Roche Miette mountain.
Love this view back to Roche Miette mountain.

Until next time.

Signal Mountain summit stories

Just a cruisy six hour return hike we thought. Ouch, how that didn’t turn out to be the case.

Take a look at the mountain. Looks kinda small right? Like a big hill, no real “mountain”.

But as we found out looks can be deceiving! The trail was covered in snow so with every step we sunk and slipped backwards ever so slightly. Over a few hours and with the steepness rising we felt the mountain trying to repel us backwards.

Signal Mountain - the target for the day
Signal Mountain – the target for the day
The going was tough through the snow
The going was tough through the snow

As we climbed through the tree lined trail I couldn’t help but think how lucky we were to have such brilliant sunny weather. Yesterday the prediction was overcast and a high of 3. Just our lucky day I guess.

The views in every direction are so worth the effort
The views in every direction are so worth the effort. Just a little further Gedas!

Once we finally got above the treeline we could see the summit for the first time. Life was good and we were within reach but we also glimpsed the challenging slopes that loomed in the distance. “We’re another hour away” was Gedas’ accurate guess.

At one stage it got steep enough that I and my Lithuanian climbing buddy had to monkey it up on all four hands and feet. The going was very slow and steady all the way to the top.

Gedas and I at the summit!
Gedas and I at the summit!

Now we well and truly realised that this “big hill” was definitely a real mountain. 2300m above sea level and views in every direction. What a fabulous feeling standing a top the snowy dome. For interests sake Pyramid Mountain (the tallest one on the right) is 2750m.

After three and a half hours up and just an hour and fifty back down we both settled for a soothing hot tub and a good feed. Awesome day!

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!

Crazy caves and crazy carpets

The last couple of days have been adventurous alright – first day spending hours trudging through knee deep snow and discovering three caves and more untouched frozen waterfalls, and the second day hiking 8km up a steep and exhausting trail, and crazy carpeting down. Pretty much just jumping on a small slippery piece of plastic and letting gravity do what it does best. So much fun!

Woo! Crazy carpets in their element
Woo! Tim shows us how crazy carpeting is done – with the face to match.

The ice canyon was pristine, untouched and even un-named. Very few people know about this place which makes it so much more exciting to explore. Donny and I actually didn’t even go there to find caves, but we certainly got lucky. After a couple of kilometres of tiring work hiking along the very much snow covered frozen river we arrived at the start of the canyon.

It was really awesome watching the canyon slowly form until we were surrounded by these marvelous  8 metre high chiseled walls and every now and then another waterfall frozen in time. No other human footprints were around, just the odd animal tracks – most likely Elk.

First glimpse of this cave
First glimpse of this awesome cave

It was then we came across our first and most impressive cave. Certainly was very exciting seeing this image come into view. The cave roof inside was at least ten metres tall and had two natural skylights. Very nice.

There's me in the entrance
There’s me in the entrance

The second cave was quite mystical, being located above a frozen waterfall and proved quite hard to access. However this one was ice plugged right at the start but just check out it’s location in the picture below!

See the second cave
See the second cave at the top right?

The third cave was cut into the face of the canyon wall and while easy to get to we didn’t really check it out. It was time to make the steep climb back out to the road and find the car.

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Just one of the splendid views encountered while trying to find a way across to the other side

In the words of Tim, the crazy carpeting day was “so amazing” even though we didn’t reach the Palisades viewpoint we set out for. After 8km and still 3.5km to go the snow became so deep that without snowshoes we had to turn back. But we came prepared and had a ball on the way home. I’d say we reached speeds of about 30km/h and made it back in half the time plus half the effort!

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Tim and I now loving these once leg burning slopes

Finding caves in Jasper

Between many hours of work for all of us in the house, there has been a rising fascination with caves, in particular the ones around Jasper.

Why are caves so fascinating? Maybe it’s their mysteriousness, their hidden entry points, or their link to the murky depths of hell? On second thoughts probably not the last one.

First and foremost they present an intriguing challenge to find by their generally vague location descriptions. It makes hiking the amazing countryside here have a definite goal and purpose and upon finding a cave, very rewarding. Like orienteering I guess.

We have discovered an in depth book titled “Caves of the Canadian Rockies and Columbia Mountains” by Jon Rollins. It presents so many caves that you are initially dumbstruck as to where to begin.

The book describes which caves are for experienced cavers so definitely no venturing into the depths of hell there. Perfect example being this cave we found – just a casual 30m drop down a vertical tube to begin with. Any takers? Apparently there are lots of animal bones down there too…and you wonder why!

Disaster Point caves
Disaster Point caves

We are well aware of the dangers of venturing into caves, and for now are sticking to just finding them. We have been lectured many times about the inherent dangers by one of our mad cave-enthusiast co workers Jon. There is no dedicated cave rescue team in the Canadian Rockies and being underground makes it a hundred times harder for someone to access you.

Also of interest is that most caves in the area require permits to enter and have cameras set up at there entrances to catch the intruders.

On our first caving exploration we had mixed results, finding the cave pictured above in 20 min but then spending hours searching for another one to no avail. But that’s part of the fun, knowing you are so close but having those elusive clues to it’s whereabouts slip through you fingers time after time.

The most mind blowing cave from the book is no doubt Castleguard Cave – it’s an enormous 20km long and 390m deep, making it the longest in Canada and the fourth deepest. Imagine discovering a cave that passes underneath a 3000m mountain and ends with a 200m thick glacier pushing through the roof.

Having said that the longest cave in the world, rightly named “Mammoth Cave” in Kentucky is 571km long!!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Disaster Point
Disaster Point

Jasper winter pentathlon – a soloist’s account

A ‘winter pentathlon’ you say with a big question mark?

Just think: Triathlon + two extra legs + snow and ice = the Jasper winter pentathlon.

Like the Polar Bear Dip this event was also part of the Jasper in January festival and the fourth annual pentathlon had a solid turnout of 22 teams. Of the 22 teams there were 6 of us who took the dive into the challenge of a solo conquest.

The weather was absolutely beautiful for some physical suffering. Blue skies galore and a pleasant (by Canadian standards) high of -1.

Angry birds team!
Angry birds team!

So first up for the day, what I thought would be the easiest of all legs – a 7km mountain bike. When the cap gun fired I started off strong but a decent hill combined with a severe lack of riding had me gasping for air like a fish out of water and fingers going numb like…arrr the polar bear dip…

Next up was the 5km cross country ski around the edge of the lake. For the second time ever on cross country skis I did pretty well. Passed a couple of people and had some others zoooommmm past me like they had an invisible jet pack strapped on. Clearly Canadians. Even though these zoooommmmers were just doing the one leg they were still flying at double my pace.

So sitting somewhere around the middle of the pack it was time to don some snowshoes and go for a 2.5km run around the lake again – this inevitably meant run – walk – run – walk – run – walk – run. I’d have to say this was the toughest leg. The big clumsy snowshoes (which you lock your boots into) are not made for running and everyone running this leg had their work cut out for them.

Snowshoeing
Snowshoeing fun

Back at transition it was time for ice skates! Little did I know the time I was about to lose on the ice…

So yeah I’ve skated a few times and thought I was decent until…de de derrr…meet Canadian ice skaters in a race! For starters we had to skate 7km! A mission in itself that took me 43 minutes – meanwhile the fastest did it in 21 minutes. Crazy stuff!

So leaving me in dead last after a mediocre skate I began the final leg with gusto. A 4km trail run through hardened snow. In a way like running through wet sand but with much greater risk for ankle injury. One section I walked – just too precarious.

With only a few hundred metres left I caught and passed the team in front and made it back to the finish to a roaring reception after 2 hours 42 min total race time. It really was fantastic hearing everyone’s support. Great team spirit Jasper and a great event! Thank you.

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Look its me about to be overlapped

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A happy finisher :)
A happy finisher 🙂

Cross country skiing in Jasper

So here I am in “outdoorsy” Jasper in the north of the Canadian Rockies. Before getting here I’d read all about how Jasper is “wildlife central” but nevertheless it still surprised me to see a herd of elk roaming the main street when I arrived. They sometimes come into town at night to use humans as protection from wolves, smart!

The drive up from Lake Louise sure was brilliant; it’s called the Icefields Parkway and is one of the most scenic drives in the world. 230km of snow-capped peaks, lakes and glaciers. I’ve posted some pictures into Canada Snaps!

It’s been almost a week and todays the first day that I haven’t been out and about either skiing or walking on water – well ice to be exact but water sounds better right?

Maligne Canyon icewalk is one of Jasper’s main attractions and it sure was a fun and slippery experience. These huge frozen waterfalls were majestic and our group even got to wriggle into a cave – as Andy from Australia rightly pointed out “we’ve now been in the Rockies too”.

15/12/12 - One of a few frozen 20+ metre waterfalls at Maligne Canyon
15/12/12 – One of a few frozen 20+ metre waterfalls at Maligne Canyon
Walking on water at Maligne Canyon
15/12/12 – Walking on water at Maligne Canyon

Then there was skiing…again. Last time I had skied was four long years ago so I had to recall all the muscle memory I could when I went skiing at Marmot Basin with Andy – bit of a stretch? No way!

Surprising myself even, I was back on some black runs by lunch – albeit not with the style or flair of some…

This skier shows me how it's done
This skier shows me how it’s done at Marmot Basin

One of the most memorable days in Jasper so far would have to be giving cross country skiing a go for the first time. No doubt it’s a tough sport. Think of it as a cross between speed walking, sliding on timber floors wearing socks and skiing. It’s all about the glideeeeee.

I just so happened to go with two Canadians who had been cross country skiing for nearly ten years so they were fast. They said I did really well so gotta be happy with that. Boy I was happy to get back to the car though, 19km and 5 hours later. We saw plenty of wolf and cougar tracks but no sightings of the wily beasts – maybe not a bad thing?

18/12/12 - Keeping up with the two speedsters.
18/12/12 – Keeping up with the two speedsters, Andes and Bree, on the ski to Moab Lake

Something I didn’t know beforehand (but realised straight away) was how dark the skies are here. In fact the dark skies have been officially recognised and Jasper National Park is the largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world. Great for star gazing but northern lights are still quite rare here. Come on northern lights!