Sunday, August 28, 2011

Summer in the Rockies - Heading Home

Our summer trip has come to an end. We've been very lucky with the weather and only had a couple of days of rain during the month of August. We've climbed lots, hiked lots and enjoyed spending time in a different and dramatic area. During our last week, we did two more hikes of note: the first was Ha-Ling and the second was to Lake Agnus above Lake Louise. Elise is developing good endurance for longer hikes, although there can still be a fair amount of whining to manage. In this area, Pam and I still need practice.

The first of the two hikes was Ha-Ling, a major peak above Canmore. Nothing in this area is small, and even the "smallish" peaks are still significantly huge. This hike was somewhat equivalent to hiking the Squamish Chief, although the trail was much more difficult to manage, even in the forest. The surface was loose pebbles, and this caused difficulty with footing. As you can see in this photo, the upper portion of the peak is entirely exposed with no vegetation. One side of the mountain is dramatically steep, while the other is slabby and very loose - not good terrain for walking!

It was a hot day, and we had to really coax Elise to continue upward. This is a view of the summit ridge. We'd been hiking for close to two hours at this point.

View looking away from the summit. We got a beautiful day. Normally there could be high winds on an exposed ridge like this, or even lightning during summer thunderstorms, but we got neither.

Many climbers scale the steeper side of the mountain. This warning is for the hundreds of hikers that lounge around the summit, which could create a great hazard to the climbers below if they weren't careful with the loose rubble underfoot.

On the summit, looking east.

The Bow Valley, looking eastward toward Calgary.

Coming down. We agreed that the descent was almost as arduous as the ascent due to the looseness of the trail surface. I ended up holding Elise's hand most of the way, which - let me tell you - is not that easy. It really adds to your personal fatigue having a 5-year-old constantly tugging at your arm.

Pam uses ski poles because of her knees. Many hikers around here do the same, which is probably very smart from both a balance and knee longevity standpoint.

The second hike was to Lake Agnus, a small glacially-fed lake about Lake Louise. It was a much more pleasant walk on a good surface, although there was still a reasonable amount of elevation gain - 400 m! We took our time and were rewarded with another perfect day and great scenery at the tea house. We enjoyed wading in the lake, taking in the scenery, and feasting on treats we'd purchased at the bakery in town before we left!

The tea house on the north end of the lake. The water was cold...

Once again, wildflowers were everywhere. This is Indian Paintbrush.

The views back down toward Lake Louise were dramatic.

Near the tea house, we interacted with numerous small critters, keen for some of our snacks. These are small ground squirrels, that have markings much like a chipmunk. It all started with them eating out of our hands...

Next, I lay down and let them eat off my chest. Elise thought this was hilarious, and decided she wanted to try! The decision...

The dive for the peanut...

Success! Elise was simply screeching with laughter.

If they'll eat off your chest, why not try your head? I got them warmed up and Elise decided she'd try this one too, and it worked! Greedy little buggers...

We have one or two more days of climbing before we start the drive home. We plan to go to Vancouver Island for the Labour Day weekend and then ease back into a fall routine of work and weekends off. Watch for a post of our activities in Tofino!


Saturday, August 20, 2011


We enjoyed a nice afternoon canoeing on Vermillion Lakes, which lie just to the west of Banff. The lake was shallow and relatively warm, and Elise didn't seem too intimidated. In fact, she kept exclaiming "I'm not scared of this lake. I can see the bottom!" The weather was beautiful and Elise enjoyed netting small trout fry afterward.

A few days later we made a major drive to Drumheller to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum, an activity Elise had been asking about. It was about 2.5 hours from Canmore, so we got up at 6:00 am and made the journey. Although the forecast was for rain, we got very lucky and threaded our activities between the showers.

Elise getting ready for our first activity - the fossil hunting expedition!

This was Owen, our guide. Elise and he are sharing a laugh over something.

Hiking out into the Badlands. It was a beautiful landscape that reminded me of parts of the BC Interior.

Prickly Pear!

Once at the site, Owen told us how to identify the fossils from the various rocks, and we all set to work. The kids were given a screen into which they could gather their finds and show them to Owen for identification.

Elise found a piece of dinosaur bone! Owen said it was from the toe knuckle of a duckbill dinosaur, which are very common in the area.

After the fossil hunt, we moved locations and Owen showed us a spot where they had uncovered a dinosaur skeleton. It's barely visible as shards of white rock poking out of the dirt, but it was clearly a skeleton and it had not been disturbed.

After we got back from the hike, I took Elise to a fossil casting workshop where she made a plaster impression of a raptor claw. She had lots of fun.

Finally, we toured the museum. We spent about three hours inside and it was INCREDIBLE. Words can't describe the enormity of the skeletons and the elaborate displays. Suffice to say it was well worth the drive and we all left tired but impressed.

Elise posing by a leg for scale.


Elise hamming it up beside a Tyrannosaurus skull.

The T-Rex skeleton. It was huge!

The museum also contained many other kinds of fossils and displays, including this series of skulls showing the evolution of man.

Black Beauty. This incredible T-Rex skeleton was discovered by a couple of high school students canoeing in Alberta. It's black because of the minerals in the ground, which stained the bones as they hardened to stone. This was our favourite skeleton.

We have just over one more week left then we head back to Squamish. Pam works for two days then we are going to Vancouver Island for the Labour Day weekend to climb and beach comb. The next weekend we are going back to the Olympic National Park in Washington to do the Sandpoint Trail hike at Lake Ozette. We have a reservation to camp at the beach and hope the weather cooperates.

Finally, we've made bookings to fly to Finale Ligure on the Mediterranean coast in Italy for Christmas. It's a beautiful area and will hopefully be warm enough at this time of year to hike, explore and climb (of course)!

Marc, Pam and Elise...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Summer Vacation

We are midway through our summer trip to the Canadian Rockies. We've had a nice time so far and are enjoying the beautiful surroundings. We started the trip with a visit to the Kootenays to see my family. The drive was pleasant and we stopped at Manning Park for a lunch break. The ground squirrels were very hungry and VERY tame. They literally swarmed us and Elise got absolutely hysterical when one "pooped" on my lap. I guess I squeezed it out of him...

Later we stopped at Christina Lake, about one hour from Salmo, to have a refreshing dip after the long drive. It was busy.

Elise was very excited to visit Salmo again and enjoyed hunting for butterflies in the fields around the farm. Here she is going for a walk with Noel's daughter, Jennifer.

The next morning, we went fishing on the lake near the farm. It was HOT. I managed to catch a pretty large squaw-fish, and we caught a few sun-fish. Elise seemed rather nervous in the canoe for some reason, and was happy to return to shore. That's me swimming in the lake beyond the boat launch.

Gelato with Grandma.

The next day was Pam's birthday, and we visited a new climbing area called Waterline in Castlegar. We went very early to beat the summer heat and had a surprisingly nice time. The cliffs reminded me a lot of Skaha in Penticton.

While we were climbing, a small bird literally dropped out of the sky and died right in front of us. This had never happened to me before and it felt like some kind of bad omen.

The road alongside the cliff area. The approach was short and pleasant.

The next day, we visited my father in Trail. It was warm, so we walked down to the Sunningdale park on the Columbia River and all enjoyed wading and swimming in the late afternoon sun. The water was COLD. Afterwards, we went back to his house and had a nice birthday dinner (and desert) for Pam.

The next day we left for the Rockies. Jewel did not want us to leave!

Ha Ling above Canmore in the Canadian Rockies.

Our first three nights were spent camping in the Bow River Campground, a few kilometres east of Canmore. The bugs were a little bad, and this made the campfire less than relaxing.

We had come to climb, and did just that during our first week. This is Elise and Pam hanging out at the Upper Wall at Acephale. Elise hiked all the way to the crag a few times - an uphill walk of about one hour.

The Upper Wall at Acephale.

Derek Galloway. He's the author of our latest book, Bow Valley Sport, which has been well received.

Petroglyphs at the Grassi lakes climbing area, just above Canmore. We visited this crag with our friend from Vancouver, Jeff Thomson, and has son Hamish. It was a nice afternoon.

Elise cranking up the walls at Grassi Lakes. She did four top-rope climbs up to 5.7, all without the help of the rope.

Upper Wall at Acephale. This is Kat, a friend we'd climbed with in Turkey. It was a surprise to see her there!


Tony on "Sweet Thing", 5.13c. I managed to redpoint this route after a few days of work, which was a big step forward in regards to my shoulder injury. The injury has been temperamental on this trip, but I keep doing more and more, which is encouraging I guess. We'll see what happens...

We bought some special glasses for belaying. These allow the climber on the ground to watch the climber on the cliff above without looking up. This takes A LOT of pressure off your neck, which is a good thing. They weren't cheap, though. Elise thinks they are crazy...

Elise with our friend Todd Guyn at Acephale. Todd is a guide who works for Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) whom I've known for many years. I did my first climbing trips to Europe with Todd and we've stayed in touch and climbed together often. Elise had fun with him.

The guidebook author, Derek, and his partner, Michelle, organized a pancake breakfast. Here we are relaxing with them and their friend Joel (and his kids). It was a nice morning.

We did the hike up to Sulphur Mountain again. I carried Elise most of the way, but she hiked the last quarter.

View of the Banff Springs hotel from the summit of Sulphur Mountain.

The gondola ride back down was the highlight.

Next ,we moved into our accommodation. Our friends, Dale and Nancy Robothan, hooked us up with their neighbours, who were going away on vacation. We are house sitting in a Canmore MANSION. This is far and away the nicest accommodation we've ever had on a trip. And it's FREE! The house has everything, including bikes, canoes, a trampoline and a playhouse. Elise is in heaven... She likes to go across the street and play with Isaac, Dale and Nancy's five-year-old son.

They have a cat named Pine Cone. He's super friendly. Here he is helping me work on my latest book project in the office.

Elise sliding down the park's embankment on a sheet of cardboard. She had great fun doing this with Isaac one afternoon.

We did a hike to Consolation Lake near Moraine Lake (Lake Louise area). It was a perfect hike for a low-key day.

Because of grizzly bears, you are not allowed to hike in the Moraine Lake area without being in a group of four and carrying bear spray. We sat at the trailhead for 15 minutes until a couple from New York came be. We joined forces for the hike and enjoyed their company.

The wildflowers were beautiful. This is Indian Paintbrush, which we saw in many different colours, including pink and white.

Elise relaxing on a petrified beach (really!) beside the trail.

Consolation Lake.

Elise and I waded in the river that flowed out of the lake. It was COLD! Can you tell?

Fossils beside the trail.

Morain Lake with the Valley of the Ten Peaks in behind. This is a beautiful spot.

Elise and I "log walking" across the creek that flows out of Moraine Lake. She likes to live dangerously sometimes!

The Tower of Babel near the end of Morain Lake. This tower is adjacent to Mt. Bable, both of which are popular climbing objectives.

A few days ago, we went to the Calgary Zoo before visiting Derek and Michelle for dinner at their condo in Cochrane. We saw mountain sheep on the morning drive out of Canmore.

Elise had a wonderful time at the zoo. She told us over and over what a nice day she had, so I guess it was money well spent. We saw many beautiful animals, the most impressive of which (for me) was the cougar. The habitat had both a female and a male, and the size of the male cougar astounded me. It looked like a small lion. I cannot believe these things live in the forest in western B.C.

Comparing her hand to that of a gibbon.

Plans for the next few days are to climb, do some canoeing on the Vermillion Lakes and drive to the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller so Elise can hunt for fossils and see dinosaur skeletons. I hope you are all enjoying your summer!

Marc, Pam and Elise...