The Chief. With two crazy dogs

The Chief. With two crazy dogs

Charles and I headed up to Squamish for some hiking and mountain biking. We picked up Jo’s two hyper border collies for a steep walk up Squamish’s most famous landmark, The Chief.

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The Chief is a rock climbers’ mecca and one of Canada’s top climbing destinations. We followed a trail that meanders up the much more gradual backside through lush old growth forest.

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We scrambled over big moss-covered tree roots and slippery pboulders. While the weather was clear, everything was wet. Water streamed down the path and the dogs splashed through mucky puddles.

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After some good steep climbing the trail leveled out and suddenly we had panoramic views of the ocean glittering below and even bigger mountains all around.

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The Chief has three peaks. We ascended the third then traversed back to the second. As soon as we got to the edge we realized why this is such a hot spot for climbers. The cliff face plummets straight down all the way to the ground thousands of feet below.

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Descending from the second peak toward the first we got to a long slippery ladder. Dusty nervously let me carry him down but Ruby didn’t want any part of it. She backed off in a hurry. A little funny seeing as she was walking along the edge of the abyss completely unperturbed just a few minutes before. So I headed down with Dusty while Charles backtracked with Ruby. At the intersection of the two trails we stopped to wait. Even though it had been a pretty full hike Dusty couldn’t help but grab a stick and start a game of fetch. When Ruby caught up all kinds of sticks went flying. You were playing fetch without me?!?

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Spring Snowshoeing

Spring Snowshoeing

When the grass is turning green and the trees are starting to bud out, it’s hard to think of snow and snowshoeing. But this is one of the best times of the year to grab a pair and get high up in the mountains. The scenery is amazing. It’s still a winter wonder land. And the weather is gorgeous. It feels like summer. When else can you tramp through snow wearing shorts and a t-shirt?

Lake Bourgeau trail
Lake Bourgeau trail

We hiked up to three alpine lakes – Lake Bourgeau, Rockbound Lake, Taylor Lake – and at Stanley Glacier we enjoyed a sweltering afternoon watching avalanches thunder down high cliffs.

Who would guess it's May?
Who would guess it’s May?

You see strange things in spring. Like the marmot who snuck up on Michael and stole his hat, then disappeared silently across the snow. As soon as I pointed it out, the marmot froze and Michael swore it was just a rock.

Warming snow rolls into cinnamon buns
Warming snow rolls into cinnamon buns

Then you see things like snow sluffing off a slope and somehow rolling itself into the shape of a cinnamon bun. Actually, as crazy as it sounds, it’s almost impossible to make a snowball and roll down a hill when the snow is this sticky. With visions of Indiana Jones in our heads, we’ve tried to push massive snowballs down steep slopes in hopes that they would crash through the forest and crush all the cars in the parking lot below. But they just roll up into fat, long cinnamon buns. Then – plump! – they splat heavily into the snow. Nothing can move them then.

Avalanches thunder down the cliffs
Avalanches thunder down the cliffs

Nature does a much better job of hurtling snow over cliffs. As we got up into the alpine we thought we heard thunder. Only it was the intense sound of massive snow & ice chunks crashing down from the cliffs. This goes on all afternoon. It’s one of nature’s greatest shows. And it’s all free.

Shadow
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Taylor Lake
Taylor Lake
Sun and Shadow
Sun and Shadow

The best part of snowshoeing in spring is seeing nature come back alive. All shades of green start to return, adding colour to the deep blue sky and bright white ground. Birds sing and squirrels dart from tree to tree.

Pussy willows
Pussy willows

Winter and summer mix together. Minute by minute snow melts away letting even more life and colour appear. As nature transitions, so will we. Soon, we’ll be packing away the skis and snowshoes and digging out the hiking boots. And as we wander through fields of freshly bloomed wildflowers we’ll be dreaming of the return of snow.

Colour reappears
Colour reappears

New Skis!

New Skis!

It feels like summer now but just a few short weeks ago it was still snowing and I was still hitting the slopes. Just in time to catch the final long days on the hill I picked up some new skis that I’m super excited about!

Sunny days in Fernie
Sunny days in Fernie

I’d read lots about alpine touring (AT) racing skis and how they are amazingly light weight, but I had a really hard time finding anywhere to buy them in North America. I was actually starting to plan a trip to Switzerland to pick up a pair in person when I came across ShowInn.com. Strangely, this site is based out of baking hot Spain but has high-end skis that you’ll have a hard time finding even at the most ski die-hard resorts in Canada or the US.

Dynafit racing ski boots
Dynafit racing ski boots

I debated for ages about which line of skis to get – the very top end used by the fastest ski mountaineering racers in the world or one step down. In the end I decided to go with Dynafit PDGs, an amazingly light ski but one that won’t have you winning gold running up and skiing down challenging slopes. And these skis are tough too. Since I tend to really beat up anything I put on my feet, that’s important.

A comparison - fat skiboards, my new dynafits, nordic skis
A comparison – fat skiboards, my new dynafits, nordic skis
A comparison - beefy AT boots, my new dynafits, cross country boots
A comparison – beefy AT boots, my new dynafits, cross country boots

As soon as my new toys arrived I brought them into MEC for a hotwax. Everyone was amazed at the feathery lightness. Three different people asked me how my racing season went. That’s funny – when I take my fat skiboard to the hill teenagers ask what kind of tricks I do at the terrain park. Suddenly, everyone thinks I’m a skimo racer. But I bought these more as an efficient tool to get into the backcountry. They really shine at climbing big slopes but they’re also great when you want to explore a bubbling creek that winds its way up into the mountains.

Teetering over Baker Creek
Teetering over Baker Creek

But they’re fun when it comes to charging down steep slopes too. I headed out to Fernie for the final week of the ski season to put in turns on some of my favorite runs and to discover some new ones. Ski patrol let me skin up to the wind-swept summit for an exhilarating run down through ice and fallen boulders.

At the summit
At the summit

I only got about 10 days on these new skis before the lifts stopped running but I’m really excited to take them out into the backcountry next season!

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First backpacking trip of the year

First backpacking trip of the year

I’m really happy that it’s warming up and spring is on its way. The best thing about spring is that the low-elevation trails in the Rockies are mostly free of snow and the forests are starting to turn a vibrant green. At the end of April I backpacked along Lake Minnewanka, a long reservoir that stretches out to wild Devil’s Gap. All together a journey of 60 km.

Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka

The first thing that struck me when I arrived at the lake is that it was still completely frozen. Even though the air was warm, walking beside a big frozen lake can get chilly. When the wind came up I really felt the cold air.

Still frozen solid
Still frozen solid

I’ve decided to hike as much as I can in Vibram FiveFingers this year. I really like how you can feel the texture of everything you walk over. It’s a real pleasure when you go from walking on solid rock to soft dirt – something that wouldn’t stand out much in shoes or boots.

Since it's "spring", I'll hike in FiveFingers
Since it’s “spring”, I’ll hike in FiveFingers

It might have been a bit early to put on such minimalist footwear. The trail was quite icy and wet. I found the FiveFingers gripped very well but my feet got cold quickly. As long as I kept moving fast enough, though, they were alright. After a few miles the ice disappeared and the trail was remarkably dry.

Nice dry trail
Nice dry trail

As soon as I left the lakeside and gained elevation, though, snow appeared and just got deeper and deeper. 500m higher at Aylmer Lookout I was punching through snow up to my waist and struggling to follow the trail. But worth all the effort for amazing views.

View from somewhere near Aylmer Lookout
View from somewhere near Aylmer Lookout

I made my first camp at the Mount Inglismaldie campground, although I could have camped anywhere along the lake shore. There was no one else around. It’s nice to be alone in nature, especially in an area that gets busy in summer.

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Getting drinking water was an unexpected challenge. In summer there are a number of creeks flowing into the lake but these were all either frozen solid or completely dry. I had to resort to collecting lake water. But even that was a challenge. Only a few places along the shore had thawn out and those usually were separated from the forest by steep slopes of ice. When I did get to the water it was cold!

Ice crystals clink in the water
Ice crystals clink in the water

I woke up to rain on the second day. A light rain that couldn’t decide if it might actually prefer to be snow. Secretly, I love hiking when the weather is nasty – cold, wind blowing rain in your face, feet wet. As long as you have enough chocolate it’s great.

A rainy day
A rainy day

As I came to the end of Lake Minnewanka and continued toward Devil’s Gap the trail got much rougher and the scenery more wild. It’s ironic. You’re walking toward the prairie yet you feel as though you’re moving deeper and deeper into wild mountains.

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The trail became less and less distinct, crossing old creek beds, tenderly tiptoeing through moss-covered forest, and eventually disappearing altogether.

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I’d like to come back and push all the way through Devil’s Gap to the other side. A summer project, perhaps.

The crocus is my favorite flower
The crocus is my favorite flower

On my way back I encountered this cute little guy, sheepishly standing on a cliff ledge looking up at the trail. Some other hikers told me a large dog had chased him there. Poor guy. And to make it even worse, on the other side of the canyon was another mountain sheep waiting for him – probably his girlfriend!

This poor guy got chased by a dog
This poor guy got chased by a dog