The next morning everyone enjoyed a wakeup call of coffee. Before heading back to our car the ladies took me over to O’Brien Lake. I have hiked up here a couple times this summer and the beauty never ceases to amaze me. WOW, is really all I have to say!
What an amazing weekend! I put in a big request with Mother Nature and we were rewarded with a spectacular trip! This weekend was the women's introduction to backpacking course and I hiked up to Taylor Lake with three lovely ladies. Let me tell you, they were absolute troopers!!! Two of them had never backpacked before, and they still showed up with potential snow in the forecast! Well done ladies.
Friday night we met in Canmore, went over what to pack and how to pack it, chatted about different weather sites, and even touched on map orientation! Phew...it was a busy night but we got it all covered! Afterwards the ladies were able to sit back and relax in their room at Solara Resort and Spa.
Getting to the trailhead packs were adjusted and hiking boots were put on. Hiking ~7km and 600m of elevation we arrived at the perfect time…Lunch! What a place to sit and watch the world go by! Flat and durable spots were found and tents were pitched. After laying out our sleeping bags and thermarests the map was poured over and a route was chosen to a tarn at the base of Panorama Ridge. With the completion of a group discussion the ladies headed off in the right direction and soon we were upon the tarn. Well done ladies! Watch out world, these ladies are map pros!
That evening everyone took a turn at making supper. We were treated to testing out two different types of stoves and no eyebrows were singed with lighting them! Appetites were smaller than anticipated, allowing me to live up my trail name and devouring the remaining pad thai. Jackie, however, would fight me for the remaining desert. Did you know that she only has a sense of smell for chocolate?
After lessons on layering and sleeping bags everyone enjoyed a toasty warm night sleep. We couldn’t have planned it any better and just as we retired for the evening we were lulled to sleep by the pitter-patter of rain. I love sleeping in my tent! It is like an old friend!
The next morning everyone enjoyed a wakeup call of coffee. Before heading back to our car the ladies took me over to O’Brien Lake. I have hiked up here a couple times this summer and the beauty never ceases to amaze me. WOW, is really all I have to say!
What a fantastic trip! These ladies were truly amazing! Thank you so much for joining me on such a great adventure!
Date: August 7 - August 14, 2016
Permit Info: All campgrounds, except for Og Lake and Lake Magog, can be booked through Parks Canada. Lake Og and Magog are can be booked through BC parks
Start: Vista Lake Trailhead
Finish: Mount Shark
7 days and ~110km later, our group was successful at seeing some of the most beautiful scenery the Canadian Rockies have to offer. Starting off at Vista Lake on HWY 93s and finishing at Mount Shark on Spray Lakes Road we experienced rain, random water-dwelling red bugs, grizzles, laughter and even some tears. Each morning, this group continued to impress me as they worked together to accomplish such an amazing trek.
Day 1: Vista Lake Trailhead to Shadow Lake
~15km, 1100m elevation gain, 830m elevation loss
8am all 9 of us piled into the van. Conversations were plentiful as everyone buzzed with anticipation. The weather forecast was not looking promising; however, everyone had smiles beaming across their face. Today was a bit of a grind, following the first half of 'the tour of the four lakes', we gained 1100m in elevation, crossing Arnica Ridge and Gibbons Pass. The wildflowers were in full bloom and the low lying clouds gave a intimate feel. Around 5pm we strolled into Shadow lake campground with tired legs, but with a sense of accomplishment! We pitched our spacious tents, and the guests explored the area, while myself and Natalie started on supper. The cooking area is quite a distance from the campground and equipped with a bear hang. The water source is a 'tap' and can be found behind the tent platform closest to Shadow Lake Lodge.
Day 2: Shadow Lake to Egypt Lake
~15km, 500m elevation gain, 300m elevation loss
Waking early, the clock read 5:55am. Getting an early start to the day would be the theme for this trek. Everyone was an early riser...well...as long as they had their 6L of coffee in the morning!
One of my favourite parts of getting up early is the stillness of the world. Everything is quiet and calm, waiting for the day to come. Such a great time to sit and be present!
After enjoying a bowl full of mueslix we set off on our way. Soon we arrived at Shadow Lake. The reflection on the water was breath taking. Fish could be seen swimming through the water while the surface created the perfect reflection. Group photos were taken to help keep this memory fresh.
Gaining more elevation we reached yet another lake, Haiduk Lake. We sat in the sun and ate our lunch while others braved the cool waters and went for a heart pumping dip.
Reaching Whistling Pass, our high point for the day, we were treated to views of Storm Mountain (where we started the day before) and Healy Pass (where we were headed tomorrow). Finally, our legs could relax knowing we only had to go down!
Lots of campsites were found at Egypt Lake, allowing us to keep our group together, and a beautiful flowing stream served as our water source. Some ventured off to explore the lake, resulting in a sprinting session to try and beat the rain to set up tents before everything became soaked. I believe a new world record was set for the fastest km ran in sandals!
Dinner was ate under the comfort of a tarp and fetching water was negotiated for dish duty. Isn't it amazing how it always decides to hail when one goes to fetch water?!
Day 3: Egypt Lake to Howard Douglas Lake
~19km, 630m elevation gain, 350m elevation loss
Today was a bit of a push! 19km to hike and a food drop to collect. Yamnuska, the organizing company for this trip, provided two food drops along the trail. One at Sunshine Village Ski Hill and the other at Assiniboine Lodge. We were quite grateful as it kept our packs light with only 2.5 days of food in our pack at one time.
Lots of bear evidence was seen along the trail as we hiked through vast alpine meadows. Finding ourselves tip toeing along the Alberta - British Columbia border we travelled through Simpson Pass before climbing to the top of Wawa ridge overlooking Sunshine Ski Hill. Lunch was ate, whisky was drank, and packs were reloaded with our new food...don't worry the cucumber came along too!
The newly coffee (and alcohol) fuelled hikers resulted in a sprint away from Sunshine onwards to Howard Douglas. Arriving we found a campground in need of a little TLC; tent platforms were replaced with puddles, creating a scavenger hunt for flat dry land. Again, we found ourselves cooking beneath a tarp and luck would have it that someone had left their tarp there already set up!!
Day 4: Howard Douglas Lake to Og Lake
~17km, 400m elevation gain, 600m elevation loss
Today we hiked through a bear's living room. More meadows lead us to Citadel Pass and what a surprise we had! Our group was not quiet, usually singing at the top of our lungs. This morning I was grateful for the noise! As we approached Citadel Pass a giant grizzly dashed across the meadow and out of sight. Three birds continued to give it chase and eventually we were treated to another glimpse of this beautiful animal as it crested a ridge. Needless to say the singing continued for the rest of the day!
Not long after seeing the bear we started the long descent into the Golden Valley and the unique 'Valley of the Rocks'. What a spectacular part of the trail. Huge vistas were seen as we side hilled along the trail. It was my favourite section of the trip. Finally as the day came to a close we gently ascended towards Og Lake campground. Arriving we found that all the tent platforms were taken. Finding flat space wherever we could our group set up tents and supper was made. Some decided to jump into the lake...this however, created some issues. It appeared that little red critters were living in the silt at the bottom of the lake. With swimming the silt was disturbed and little red critters were EVERYWHERE!! Given that we only had drops to treat our water, we no longer had a suitable water source!!
That night Enough water for drinking was boiled and we decided to get up the next morning WITHOUT coffee and hike the 7km to Magog Lake. Once there we would sit back and enjoy a hot breakfast and yes...over 6L of coffee :)
Day 5: Og Lake to Magog Lake
~7km, 120m elevation gain
The group got up without coffee, however, a competitive nature and adrenaline fuelled them! The RACE WAS ON!!!
With Og Lake campground well over capacity and the number of available campsites at Magog Lake unknown, people were chompin' at the bit! I stayed at the back and Natalie took off with the faster group to claim campsites. It turned out that we were not the only group to decide to get an early start and try to beat the masses. Soon another group of four were hot on our heels, in pursuit of the best tent platforms. Stepping off to the side they quickly passed us gaining on the faster part of our group. From this moment all I was told was that the faster hikers in our group took off like a bullet and basically ran the entire way to the campground. It was like a Tour De France sprint for the finish!!
The rest of the day everyone recovered from the race, lazing around in their tents, and exploring along the waters edge. To restore our glycogen we treated ourselves to cake and tea and Assiniboine Lodge. Did I mention they had cake??? Man, it was GOOD!!!
Day 6: Day Trip Around Magog Lake
Today we were spoiled! Not needing to pack up our tents we were able to sleep in and enjoy the morning. People were starting to feel the accumulative effect of our big days so we decided to break into two different groups. Nathalie took one group and toured around the different lakes in the area, while I took another group to the Nublet. After taking only 1.5hours to reach our high point we decided that we wanted more of a challenge and headed over to check out the views on Chucks Ridge.
The day started with clear blue skies but as we descended from Chucks Ridge clouds started rolling in. We decided to stick to our plan of checking out the cliff jumping along the shores of Lake Magog, but by the time we reached the rocks only two of us still had the courage. It is amazing how a cliff doesn't seem that high until you stand peering over the edge!!!
Day 7: Magog Lake to Mount Shark
~26km, 280m elevation gain, 690m elevation loss
The Milky Way and meteor showers were todays highlights. Waking at 4am we were treated to a full show. Shooting stars streaked across the dark sky and some of us were able to see the Milk Way for the first time...impressive! Hiking through the darkness we were able to reach Wonder Pass to watch the sun rise, highlighting the mountain peaks in hues of pink and red. What a majestic sight!
Finally around 9am we were rewarded for our early start as we sat down and rested our bodies eating a warm breakfast and yet again...COFFEE!!! I have never had a group that enjoyed their coffee as much as these guys!
This new found energy carried them through the wide forested trail as we continued past Bryant Creek and onwards to Mount Shark. Some other hikers were not thrilled to hear Christmas carols being sung at the top of our lungs, but it kept us entertained on the seemingly never ending trail.
Luck would have it and the motivation of hot showers (SOME of us hadn't showered for 7days) and clean clothes kept us moving at a lightning pace, meeting our van a full hour ahead of schedule.
It was a wonderful trip! Beautiful scenery coupled with an amazing group. Physical endurance was pushed but everyone held their own and thoroughly impressed me. I can't wait to guide this trek again! Thanks Yamnuska for organizing the trip and thank you to: Elizabeth, Jo, Brooke, Cintia, John, Rachel, and Yukako for signing up for this adventure! And last but not least, thank you Nathalie for your amazing help on this trek! I'd guide with you again any day!!!
This trail lives up to all of the hype! Located atop mountain ridges in Jasper National Park, AB it belongs on everyone's to do list! A client from Kelowna, Ian, and I hiked the trail from south to north, pushing our physical limits along the way.
459km from Calgary (38km between the two parking lots)
45km point to point
We were lucky to start our trip on a Sunday. Two days of rain preceded us, leaving grumpy hikers and a lot of mud in its wake. We however, had glorious sunshine and smiles plastered across our faces. We were off to a good start!
Leaving the trailhead by Maligne Lake at 9am Ian impressed me. In preparation for this trip he had gone on a number of day hikes with a 40lb pack. His training was quite evident as we easily cruised along the mud laden trail. In no time, we reached the second campground, little shovel. This campground can't be missed as the trail passes right through it. Mosquitos had claimed this area as their territory so we quickly refilled our water bottles, ate a handful of trail mix, and continued on our way before the mosquitoes carried us away!
By this point we had already climbed 410m in elevation, along 8.5km, and still had 140m of elevation left to go before reaching little shovel pass. As we gained elevation the trail dried out and the views continued to amaze us. White ptarmigan birds, hoary marmots, and pikas were seen and heard along the way.
Reaching snowbowl campground around 1pm with lots of energy to spare, Ian requested that we continue on to curator. Having no objection, we finished our lunch, packed our bags and headed onwards. Climbing another 220m, in elevation, we found ourselves hiking through beautiful alpine meadows. Waterfalls spilled over cliff bands, pockets of snow laid in our path, and expansive views tantalized our senses. You couldn't help but feel connected to this grand landscape.
Spending the night at Curator Campground we woke early to tackle the infamous 'Notch.' The Notch is a snow covered pass where you climb 300m in 2km. Many fear inducing stories have been told about this pass. Ian, however, was not phased and tackled it like a champ!
Blue bird skies were seen all around as we hiked along the maligne ridge. This is truly why the skyline is a 360deg view of the world. Snow capped mountains were seen in all directions! (From an emergency perspective; along this ridge is one of the only locations on the skyline trail that you can get cell reception). Descending off the ridge we hiked towards Tekarra campground. I would recommend not staying at this campground. It left us wanting. Now at a lower elevation the mosquitos and mud returned in full force! A lot of the tent platforms were full of mud and rounded; not the ideal place for a restful sleep!
18km into our day we finally reached Signal campground. This is a great campground to stay your last night on the trail. It allows you to take advantage of the lookout just south of the campground, but be prepared for the mosquitos. The temptation of a hot shower and a bed to sleep in proved too great of a temptation. We decided to push on and finish off the last 8km. In total it was a 25km day! WOW! What an undertaking!
Although we finished the trail sooner than we anticipated, it was a great trip with lots of time to pause and enjoy our surroundings. It truly was a beautiful trail. Ian and I both were left with the desire to hike the trail again! Until the next trip!
Back in 2013 I took the plunge; I quit my job, packed up my belongings, and bought a flight to Atlanta, Georgia. Why Atlanta, you ask? It is the closest international airport to Springer Mountain...the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail (AT).
After a rough day at work I decided that I would embark on a solo journey and hike the AT. Throughout the months of planning I found myself with so many questions...where will I stop each night? Is it easy to access food on the Appalachian Trail? What hostels are hiker friendly? Is it better to make my own food and ship it?
I scoured the internet for information, read blogs, and wrote to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. In the end I did make my own food. In fact I dehydrated 6 months of food and packaged it into individual portion sizes. Now 3 years later, I receive random e-mails from people who are willing to take the risk, quit their job, pack up their stuff, and hike the trail.
To give back to this amazingly supportive community I wanted to post some advice and information.
Water sources: The year I hiked, water was not an issue. I started off using pristine drops and later switched to bleach. I would however, recommend the sawyer squeeze. It is lightweight and didn't require a large amount of time waiting for chemical reactions to occur. And no...I have not noticed any long term consequences of drinking straight bleach :)
Food: I did in fact ship my own food, 12 drop boxes in total. I wanted the experience of preparing for such a long trip. In retrospect, I don't feel this was necessary. On average, one is able to access a town with a good grocery store every four days. With regards to shipping the food across the border I did not have any issues. I stated that the contents of my boxes were dehydrated food. Only two of my boxes were opened and inspected, but none of the items were removed.
Recipes: If you are keen on making your own meals here is the spreadsheet I used to plan out the 14 different meals I made. The recipes were taken from Lip Smackin' Backpackin'
Schedule: My only advice, is try not to have a schedule. It is true what they say..."Hike your own hike." This is an opportunity that most people won't have the chance to experience again (and by the end of the trail, I didn't think I would even consider hiking this length again!). However, that being said, planning is second nature for humans. So, here is the spreadsheet I used to plan out where to ship my drop boxes and I modified it to show what my actual mileage was in the end.
Guide book: I bought both the AT conservancies books and AWOLs book. I HIGHLY recommend the latter of the two options. Luckily, I was able to purchase mine at the Hiker Hostel.
Where to stay: Having the first night planned was key for me. Originally, I had arranged to have someone pick me up at the Atlanta airport and drive me to Springer Mountain. The night before I left Calgary the Hiker Hostel called saying they had a cancellation (I was on their waitlist). This was the best thing that could have happened. The hostel has an amazing service. They pick you up at the end of the MARTA rail line, drive you to Walmart so that you can pick up supplies, feed you this amazingly delicious breakfast, and then drop you off at the trailhead. I really can't say enough positive things about this establishment. They truly were wonderful! They even mailed one of my drop boxes for me!!!!
Shoes: By the end of the trail I went through 3 pairs of trail runners. I preferred the trail runners instead of proper hiking boots because of the weight and comfort.
Gear: Here is a list of the majority of the items I carried in my pack. With one liter of water and two weeks of food my pack weighed 30lbs! Keeping my bag light was a priority for me so I invested in newer gear. To help me decide what items to replace I looked at the cost to oz saved ratio.
Camping vs. Shelters: My view on this topic was simply to avoid shelters at all costs. A lot of people got sick the year I hiked the AT. Poor hygiene was a leading cause of this. The shelters get a lot of use and are not very clean (this improves the further north you go) therefore, I tired my best to camp in the surrounding area or 'stealth camp' a km out from the shelters, or close to a water source. I believe this helped me stay healthy for the entire trip.
Are you a Thru hiker? Do you have any other advice? Feel free to post advice in the comments!
Increasing their navigation knowledge and also satiating their desire to explore I took the Fitness Series group from University of Calgary into Banff National Park, guiding them on a point to point hike past four spectacular mountain lakes.
Vista Lake to Twin Lake
157km from Calgary (8.1km between the two parking lots)
16km point to point
The weather had us holding our breath; rain was in the forecast! Armed with gortex we met as a group at the Smith Lake and Twin Lake parking lot, 100m west of the Castle Junction and HWY 1 interchange. Leaving one car here, we piled into the remaining cars, drove 8.1km on HWY 93S to the Vista Lake trailhead.
Tying up our hiking boots, luck was on our side, the rain clouds remained behind Boom mountain. Right away the trail descends, taking us past our first lake of the day, Vista Lake. The group was full of energy and eager to get moving. We briefly paused to soak in the beauty before the uphill push began. The trail climbs 750m, in elevation, along a dry, west exposed slope just north of Storm Mountain. Waterfalls were seen across the valley and birds were heard chirping in the trees, what a great experience!
Soon the elevation levelled off and we were treated to views of Arnica Lake. The trail disappeared back into the trees, popping out again at the southern end of the Lake. WOW, each view provided a unique experience in its own right. The group must have been sneaking red-bull when I wasn't looking as we reached the lake at a lightening pace of 1hr 40min! Impressive! Well done everyone!
From Arnica Lake there is a short climb up to a pass. Once here we were able relax, the climbing was over! It's all downhill from here! Stopping at Twin Lakes campground we enjoyed the luxury of having a picnic table to sit on and savoured our lunch. Before hitting the trail we challenged our brains and map reading skills with some navigation exercises. Laughs were had, group photos where taken, and everyone was able to determine where we were.
The junction for trail that would take us back to our car, Twin Lakes Trail, came before the lower twin lake. After polling the group it was decided to check out the lake and double back to the trail. This was the tour of the FOUR lakes, not THREE! The extra distance was well worth it! The fourth lake was framed by snow capped mountains that turned into flowing waterfalls. All I can say is, BEAUTIFUL!
Feeling calmed and reconnected to the world around us we returned to the Twin Lakes Trail to find....MUD! MUD, MUD, and more MUD. This trail is unmaintained and I can understand why. The first 15min of hiking took us through marsh like land. Most of us discovered that our boots are no longer waterproof. Moving away from the stream the trail dried out and became easier to follow. You always know when the hiking becomes easier when conversations pick up again. After 6hrs and 10min we found ourselves back at the car. We completed our shuttle and everyone headed home. Thanks for a great day everyone! I look forward to getting out with you again!
Wanting to continue to improve their new found legs the Fitness Series group from the University of Calgary asked for more of a challenge. Judging by the tired looks at the end of the day I think we were successful at giving them just that!
Taylor Lake and O'Brien Lake
164km from Calgary (7.9km west of Castle Junction)
16.8km round trip
Beautiful blue skies and warm temperatures greeted us as we arrived at the Taylor parking lot along HWY 1. Having driven 1hr and 40min from Calgary the group buzzed with energy. I was able to hold everyone's attention just long enough to review some map reading skills, followed by a dynamic warm up, before they ran off for the trailhead!
Passing through the animal gate, ensuring the last person shut it, our feet skipped along the cart wide trail. The trail was quite easy going with limited roots and rocks to step over, allowing us to travel side by side. Conversations were plenty as we past by rushing creeks and small patches of snow. Soon our legs started to feel the elevation as we climbed 615m. Close to Taylor Lake, flowers began to surrounded us, treating our noses with calming scents.
The group did amazingly well, taking only 1hr and 53min to reach the lake. As a huge reward for their speedy progress we spread out on the picnic tables and enjoyed a feast. An hour passed as we breathed in the beauty, talked about ways to orientate the map, and how to determine where north is without a compass.
After airing out our feet it was time to get moving again. Feeling refreshed the group felt up to hiking over to O'Brien Lake. It was WELL WORTH the extra 4.2km (round trip). Only one word could describe it...BEAUTIFUL! It was quiet and serene, reminding me why I love guiding. The roar of a waterfall could be heard off in the distance, birds chirped in the nearby trees, fish jumped in the calm water. Can you believe it...we had the place to ourselves! Sitting down at the lakes edge we took the time to sit and appreciate all that this place had to offer. Truly amazing!
Reconnected to the world around us we headed back. The terrain by O'Brien Lake is most likely the reason why no one else was there. It was like playing hopscotch as we bounded from one dry lump of ground to the next, trying to see who could keep their feet dry. I was less than successful and therefore treated to the sensation of water squishing up through my toes!
Back to the cars we shared high fives and our amazement with how wonderful of a day we had. Spectacular! In total, including and hour lunch and a 20min break at O'Brien Lake, it took us 6hours and 15min car to car. I was throughly impressed with the group this week. They have progressed by leaps and bounds. Well done everyone!
I can't wait until next week!
Wow have we been lucky! Two weeks ago 6 people signed on with me and the University of Calgary to start a quest for better fitness. Spread over eight weeks we find ourselves exploring valley bottoms and mountain passes, challenging our bursting lungs and burning thighs. Amazingly, the weather has been BEAUTIFUL each week.
Last week we found ourselves wondering through the slopes of Mt. Lawrence Grassi following the Highline Trail. The trail travels from Quarry Lake Park to Three Sisters Village. There are actually four trailheads - Riders of Rohan entrance, West Connector, East Connector and Three Sisters Entrance. We hiked from the East Connector across and down the West Connector, travelling for 2hrs 50min and covering 9.2km with 350m of elevation gain. The trail is well marked with blue trail markers, the hardest part is finding the trailheads off of the power line. The climb up is worth it and you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the valley.
This week we had even better luck. Three days earlier the mountains were slammed with 20cm of snow. We however, enjoyed 16deg temperatures and skin burning sunshine while we hiked along the sun baked trails of Mount Yamnuska. To the lookout we go! My group rocked this trail covering the 7.5km in 3hrs 30min with 510m of elevation gain. All I can say is...IMPRESSIVE! I am quite excited to see how the group progresses as they have already made huge gains! Well done everyone!!
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