Climbing in the Ghost

Climbing in the Ghost

There’s a little-known oasis of rock and forest only a short drive from the buzzing metropolis of Calgary. The name gives a hint as to its mysterious allure. This is The Ghost.

Ghostly morning mist
Ghostly morning mist

I’ve travelled to many places and experienced many landscapes but perhaps my favourite is the front-ranges of the Canadian Rockies. Gun-metal grey cliffs rise above green valley floors, piercing the sky with their unforgiving jagged towers. This is an abrupt landscape. In other places the flat grasslands of the prairie slowly give way to rolling foothills. Those foothills gradually become bigger and steeper, eventually revealing rocks and cliffs. Before you know it, you’re in the mountains. Here in the Ghost it’s different. Imagine peacefully strolling along a calm, flat field of verdant green when suddenly you run up against a massive vertical cliff.
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Climbing in BC’s Purcell Mountains

Climbing in BC’s Purcell Mountains

I attended my second Alpine Club of Canada General Mountaineering Camp last week. I loved my first time at the camp last year (despite snow and howling winds in July!) so I was excited to return again this year. I’m amazed at how the camp organizers manage to find such fantastic locations. This year our camp sat atop a small plateau, surrounded by tumbling glaciers and crashing waterfalls in the Purcell Mountains just north of Radium Hotsprings in BC.

The weather started off much as it did last year. Light rain turned into a downpour as we waited for the helicopter to arrive and fog threatened to close in. Very ominous. Fortunately, the flights got through without any trouble, taking us the long way around to avoid having to go up and over the glaciers in such weather. In camp the rain turned to hail, then snow.
Continue reading “Climbing in BC’s Purcell Mountains”

Alpine Club of Canada Mountaineering Camp

Alpine Club of Canada Mountaineering Camp

In a few days I’m heading to an annual event hosted by the Alpine Club of Canada. I first attended the General Mountaineering Camp (GMC) last year and I’ve been excited to return since.

It all starts with a fun helicopter ride
It all starts with a fun helicopter ride

Each year the ACC chooses a different location for the camp but it’s always spectacular, especially when you arrive by a thrilling alpine helicopter ride. We started the adventure on a foggy day and the helicopter got grounded in camp before it could make its return to pick up all the guests waiting down at the road. This just built the anticipation and excitement. When we finally made it to camp, flying low over rushing streams and cascading waterfalls, I could hardly wait. There were no trails into this pristine alpine area and getting there on foot would be exceptionally difficult, especially with a week’s worth of food and all our climbing gear. That’s one of the luxuries of the GMC.
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Top of the World

Top of the World

On a trip out to BC this week we had the opportunity to make a brief stop at Top of the World Provincial Park. (Thanks for the recommendation, Auntie Lin and Uncle Bruce!)

Just a short distance from the towns of Radium and Kimberley, I must have driven past Top of the World many times. About an hour’s drive further on gravel roads brings you to the park entrance. It’s an easy walk (or mountain bike ride) to Fish Lake where you’ll find a well-maintained cabin and campground popular with families. Just a little further up a steep trail is Sparkle Lake. When the sun hits the lake, it really does sparkle. We had exciting weather – a mix of rain, hail, mist, and brilliant sun. Continue reading “Top of the World”

Drought and Forest Fires on the West Coast Trail

Drought and Forest Fires on the West Coast Trail

When I decided to hike Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail again this year, I had no idea it would be the driest summer since 2003. The WCT is known for torrential rain and mud bogs so deep you sink in past your knees. Those are the kind of conditions I encountered when I first hiked the trail in May 2013. This year the conditions couldn’t be more different. Seven days of perfectly dry weather, bright sunny skies, and barely enough mud to dirty your pant legs. We had short hiking days with lots of time to swim in the warm creeks and relax around campfires in the evening.

Day 1 – Gordon River to Thrasher Bay (south to north)
6 km, 2 hours

It all starts with a boat ride
It all starts with a boat ride

Just before starting the WCT we also hiked the Juan de Fuca trail. The unusually dry conditions made the risk of a forest fire exceptionally high, so there was a fire ban in place. When we arrived at the WCT information center we were excited to learn that the ban excluded the entire WCT. We couldn’t have been happier. Now, if only we’d brought something tasty to cook over the fire. Continue reading “Drought and Forest Fires on the West Coast Trail”

Juan de Fuca + West Coast Trail thru-hike

Juan de Fuca + West Coast Trail thru-hike

Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail is one of Canada’s most popular hikes, and deservedly so. It passes along sandy beaches, stunning waterfalls, towering forests, sandstone sea caves, cliffs and tidal pools. You can see bald eagles, sea lions, seals and maybe even the odd black bear. I hiked the WCT two years ago over four rainy days in May. This year I wanted to come back and take a more leisurely pace, really soaking in the scenery, but also making it a bigger and longer hike by combining it with the Juan de Fuca trail. Together, the WCT and Juan de Fuca make a rugged 150-km coastal route.

Ready to rock at the Juan de Fuca trailhead
Ready to rock at the Juan de Fuca trailhead

You can hike both trails back-to-back, stopping for a night in Port Renfrew. Walking through Port Renfrew between trailheads adds about 10 km but there’s a good chance you can catch a ride. Continue reading “Juan de Fuca + West Coast Trail thru-hike”

Grizzly Research in the Rockies

Grizzly Research in the Rockies

Throughout the spring and early summer, I’ve been volunteering with Sarah Elmeligi, a PhD candidate researching the threatened Grizzly Bear population in the Canadian Rockies. It’s estimated that there are only 120 grizzlies in Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho National Parks, known for harsh weather and sparse food. Sarah’s research focuses on understanding how the presence of people on a trail affect bear behaviour. As humans, we think of trails as being just for us. But animals know that trails are often the easiest way to get from one place to another too. Just how long does that bear wait to come back onto the trail after you’ve walked by? She heard (and smelled!) you coming, but just how close did you get before she slipped into the woods? More importantly, how much more difficult are we making the lives of these bears by impacting their ability to move about their home in search of food and mates?
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Rock Climbing Road Trip

Rock Climbing Road Trip

There’s nothing quite like a road trip. You get to see so much more than when you travel by plane, or at least you see it at a much more relaxed pace. If that’s true, then a rock-climbing road trip must be one of the best kinds of road trips. You stop in a few select beautiful spots for a few days, you explore the broad landscape looking for shapes and contours that appeal to you, then you zoom right in on the smallest of details. Ah, that’s it, you exclaim! A tiny ridge of textured rock that you’d missed before. Now that you see it – now that you feel it – you’re able to get over the crux of the route you’ve been working your way up (and continually falling off) for the last half hour. Continue reading “Rock Climbing Road Trip”

Following the Fur Traders

Following the Fur Traders

In 1811, explorer David Thompson went in search of a new route across the high Canadian Rockies. Hostile Peigan natives blocked Howse Pass (which now connects Mistaya Canyon with Golden) and the North West Company, for which Thompson worked, desperately needed an alternate route to ship furs across the mountain range. In January of that year, braving -30 temperatures, five meter deep snow, and perilous river crossings, Thompson reached Athabasca Pass. This route, connecting the Athabasca River (which flows out to the Arctic Ocean) and the Columbia River (which reaches the Pacific), became the main artery for shipping furs across Canada until the 1850s. Continue reading “Following the Fur Traders”