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  • Writer's picturevanlafaxine

week 36: the rockies


Amy: After our adventures in Glacier National Park, we blasted east to Calgary to visit Bill’s longtime friend Brendan and his wife Nicole, and to pick up James (!!) from the airport. For the next 10 days, we’d be exploring Kananaskis county and the grand Rocky Mountains! We had equally grand hiking and rock climbing plans - none of which factored in 10 days straight of rain. Womp womp. The bright side: lots of time to catch up with friends! Along with Brendan and Nicole, we spent time with James, Graham, and my old Ottawa gal pal Lauren, her partner Jesse, and pup Ernie.

bill: i have been out to the rockies every summer for 7 years in a row now, so this is fairly familiar territory for me, but it seems that this time we have been cursed with a whole week of bad weather - thunderstorms, lightning, rain everyday, wildfire smoke, etc. so our options are fairly limited. when we were planning this trip, i figured we could use our freshly honed mountaineering skills to get up some cool mountains i have never climbed before, but when it rains every single day that’s not so much of a possibility.

we started with a few lower level day hikes to avoid getting caught in the alpine in a lightning storm. we started with the ink pots hike, a 12km 500m hike that starts through the tourist disaster that is johnston canyon; thousands of tourists who have never been outside before in their lives crammed into a single sidewalk wide path, stopping for selfies every 2 seconds, children laying down on the path and screaming, traffic jams, constant dodging of selfie sticks, a real lovely time. the hike itself leads to a few pools of glacial drainage that take on different colours based on the amount of sediment. medium cool, probably not worth the time spent in johnston canyon, but better than being struck by lightning.

the next day we did c-level cirque, which is not at sea level and is in fact a 12km 800m hike up which goes to a small ledge with a view of minnewanka lake, but is thankfully treed a lot of the way, protecting us from lightning strikes. the trail was very muddy and steep, poles mandatory and i think everyone fell at least once on the way down. high effort, medium-low reward. here are some pictures of the peaks of cascade mountain trying to peek out from the clouds.

Amy: I was super excited to hike some mountains with James during his first visit to Banff. But the threat of rain and thunderstorms forced us to lay low - literally (low elevation)! We opted to hang around Johnston Canyon our first day. As Bill described: a less than desirable introduction to Banff. But we made the most of it, taking an extended path away from the crowds to the Ink Pots - a picturesque valley with burbling aquamarine pools, fed via underground water sources. The next day’s hike up c-level cirque took us above the tree line to a rocky viewpoint overlooking this gorgeous turquoise lake. The clouds finally cleared for us at the top!

lake minnewanka

kananaskis country

Amy: For the Labour Day long weekend, we are camping in Kananaskis with Lauren and Jesse, who all drove down from Edmonton to hang with us. We have three days of delicious meals and drinks planned. Thanks to Lauren, we are eating WELL. Our camp menu is gourmet. I love friends who love food.

Despite having a million beans and seemingly endless energy, Ernie inexplicably hates hiking. He does, however, love swimming, so the next day we dove down to Kananaskis Lake and hiked up to Rawson Lake - an easy uphill trail to a crystal clear alpine lake surrounded by a mountainous ridge. Ernie enjoyed a swim while we had a picnic lunch and a few beers. It's my first time in Kananaskis and it is so picturesque - massive peaks around every corner, blue lakes, waterfalls, endless hiking trails. And none of the Banff crowds! There's so much more to explore - we will be back to this area for sure.

pocaterra ridge

bill: on saturday am, graham and i met up with brendan and nicole to hike up pocaterra ridge, a 12km 900m route that follows a beautiful ridge with amazing views. it is a very steep trail near the beginning and renjo (brendan's aussie shepherd/border collie mix with the most beans the good lord ever put into a dog) borked at us every time we took a break to catch our breath and wouldn't stop until we kept hiking. i had forgot how cool kananaskis is. banff is a disaster these days, post-covid the volume of tourists is ridiculous, every backcountry route is booked within seconds of being released, the hikes are full of people who have never been outside before, all the campgrounds are booked solid, it is just not that fun anymore. kananaskis country however is mostly local albertans and just as scenic as banff or jasper, equally high peaks, equally good hikes, lots of cool lakes, just way less idiots.

canoe meadows

we car camped at canoe meadows for the weekend, a whitewater hotspot on the river. there is a dam at the headwater that controls the flow through the river, so they have built a whole whitewater playground in the river including a standing wave for surfing. who would have thought we would find surfing in alberta? it turns out that river surfing is very hard and very dangerous. the river is shallow and fast, and so you can’t wear a tether or it could get caught underwater and drown you, so as soon as you wipe out you end up flying down the whitewater with no floatation device as your board runs away, you can’t slow yourself down by touching the bottom or your foot could get stuck and drown you, and the combo of the fast water and shallow rocks creates enough force to break bones.

once you fall off your board, you are immediately being ragdolled in the whitewater, you have to stay perfectly flat to avoid hitting the rocks below, but also find your board and start paddling for your life towards the shore before you get thrown down any further rapids. my first time i managed to sprain two of my fingers and smash my knee on a rock, which is more injuries than i have had from half a year of rock climbing or surfing combined. it also turns out that an 8 foot board doesn’t fit in a 6 foot wave, i buried the nose and went flying right away, even the instructor took a turn on my board and immediately buried the nose and went flying. overall, not for me, it’s basically like the worst part of surfing when the wave crashes down on your head and you get held down in the whitewash for a few seconds, but it happens every single time you fall and you can’t just wait it out like you would in the ocean.

Amy: I experienced severe secondhand stress watching Bill river surf from the shore, so there was absolutely no way I was getting in the water. Normally, in stressful situations, Bill is (frustratingly) cool as a cucumber. Very few things ruffle this guy's feathers. Turns out river surfing is one of those things, though. The fear in his eyes was visible 10 metres away as he glanced nervously up at me, then back at the river wave, his deep breathing obviously doing nothing to settle the nerves. After a few tries, both of us were relieved when the river flow was cut off by the upstream dam. Well - at least Bill (unlike me) was brave enough to try something new!

Back at camp, we roasted about 30 veggie skewers over the open fire, made with Lauren's homegrown GIANT zuchinni and fresh end-of-season tomatoes. A fresh cherry tomato popping in your mouth has got to be one of life's greatest pleasures. Along with watching a fire sunset with old friends. And petting a sleepy dog while they lick their lips, and stare trustingly back at you. And sharing a few bottles of wine over a delicious meal. Many great things occurred this weekend ❤️. And we enjoyed every minute despite the rain, because as it turns out, Jesse is the best when it comes to stringing up a tarp. He totally re-did our hack job while we were surfing (see below: perfectly erected, taut, level tarp).

Overall, an excellent chill weekend spent with many friends. Very grateful we have folks to visit on this side of the country. Until next time!

kootenay national park

bill: we spent a few days waiting out the rain, it is getting quite cold here at night (just above freezing) and the idea of doing any backcountry camping in the pouring rain and freezing cold seemed miserable, so we mostly just hung around canmore and car camped. we got a brief window to go hiking so we did the stanley glacier trail in kootenay, but by the time we got to the top, we were completely in a cloud and couldn’t see anything at all. there werent't any thunderstorms in the forecast, but once we got up in the alpine and into the inside of a cloud, the thunder started. as i am sure is obvious, the inside of a cloud is not the best place to be in a thunderstorm, nor is being the tallest thing around in the alpine, so we booked it down the trail quite fast.

the stanley headwall - marc andré free soloed this like 4 times in one day - in the winter

look at this fat chipmunk

the stanley glacier

Amy: We left Kananaskis in the rain, so we headed into Canmore where we grabbed a few pints and dinner at the local pub. Our server mentioned that her favourite hike in the area is to the Stanley Headwall/Glacier. The next day, we drove to Kooteney National Park to see for ourselves! On the way up, we got caught in a bunch of rain, then fog, then very close thunder and lightning. In my haste to eat a quick lunch so we could keep hiking, I dropped my bagel in a pile of deer poop. Nooo. Not what you need when you're feeling hangry in a thunderstorm at high altitude. Bill shared some of his lunch, then we beelined down the mountain, literally running down the scree slopes. Somehow, on the way down I dropped one of our good ($$) hiking poles out of my backpack!! Double nooooo. We were drenched and tired, but I was adamant about going back to get it. Thankfully, we found it halfway up (rather than at the top). On our way back down the second time, the clouds finally parted and we got a spectacular view of all the mountains we missed in the fog.

We ran down this scree slope

the found lost pole!

when the rain stopped and clouds parted

the icefields

bill: for another rainy day activity, we spent a day showing james all the touristy stuff around banff - the icefields, petyo lake, lake louise, etc.

Amy: The popular sights in Banff are popular for a reason: they are stunning. So while they're swarmed with people, they are still worth seeing (in my opinion). You can usually find a quiet corner to admire the view away from the crowds. Peyto lake is one of my favourites - who doesn't love a lake shaped like a dog?! Thankfully the rain stopped for a few hours while we drove along the Icefields Parkway so James could see Banff's greatest hits.

peyto lake

this is what peyto lake actually looks like

it has always been a bucket list item of mine to ride a motorcyle down the icefields parkway, and thankfully there was a brief weather window that opened up that allowed me a few hours of amazing riding through the mountains

lake louise

we went also went to my personal favourite:

moraine lake

bill: i have a complicated relationship with moraine lake. on one hand it is one of the most beautiful places in canada, but on the other hand, all you have to do is turn 180 degrees and you are facing the biggest pile of poorly behaved idiot tourists imaginable. on one side - pure natural beauty, on the other - the absolute dregs of humanity. the contrast between the two makes it a truly absurd place.

it is also probably the most photographed place in canada, and i have always found the irony palpable; it is presented as this image of the pristine natural canadian landscape, but just out of frame are a million idiots waving selfie sticks and crawling all over each other to get the exact same photo.

over the years my friends and i have played a game of trying to find the most absurd placements of photos of moraine lake (or “rare moraines”) possible; on an atm, a dentists office, on the wall of the mental health ward at cheo, on the twenty dollar bill, etc. here are some of my favourite rare moraines from over the years:

Amy: We did have to book a bus/time slot online to visit Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. You'd think this would have moderated some of the crowds, but nope. It really was a bummer that we had to book a time slot because some really great hikes start from these lakes, but unless you get a morning slot (which we did not), it's essentially impossible to have enough time to bus out there, hike, and be back in time to catch the last shuttle. Oh well. We took it easy and meandered around both lakes. We saw Moraine Lake totally engulfed in clouds, then clear (yay!) and then we watched the clouds roll in again. Very cool.

grassi lakes

Bill: on our last day, we finally got some sunshine, so we waited for the rock to dry off and headed to grassi lakes to do some sport climbing. because the rockies are basically a pile of loose gravel, trad climbing isn’t a big thing here unless you are a choss boss climbing in the alpine, but in the few locations there is decent rock they have added bolts. grassi lakes reminds me a lot of the red river gorge; something like an outdoor climbing gym. the ancient corral reef has been lifted out of the earth exposing a pockmarked face full of holes; some amazing holds, a lot of others; less so. very fun climbing but very hard for our crack climbing accustomed muscles (or lack thereof). still, a nice day out in a beautiful place.

Amy: James had lugged his climbing gear across the country, so we jumped at the chance to go rock climbing for our first sunny day in a week! The routes were very fun, and had the most spectacular view of the green/blue ombré lakes below. I was feeling more bold than Bill and James, and led a few tricky 5.9s. We ended our day with a bowl of KD at the base of Ha Ling Peak. Gorgeous day.

The insane waters at Grassi Lakes

James ascending!

Ha Ling Peak - view from the resevoir at the top of Grassi Lakes

bill: and that’s about it for the rockies, we were bummed to get such bad weather, but we honestly haven’t had to deal with rain at all since january so we have been pretty lucky and it was bound to run out at some point. oh well. no peaks were climbed, no mountains mountaineered, but we still had a nice time catching up with all our friends who came to visit!

here is this week's video:




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