GDT – Snowstorm

GDT – Snowstorm

Cache Creek to Kananaskis Lakes – 117km

June 4 – Crossing the River

After a few days off waiting for the deep snow to melt a bit, I headed back to the trail. I’d crossed the Old Man River to get to the road and now I needed to cross back. Only that melting snow now swelled the river and made me anxious about being able to cross back over. This is what awaited me immediately downstream if I got swept off my feet…

Old Man River Falls

Luckily, I made it across without any trouble. The Cache Creek trail is actually pretty confusing and crosses back & forth over the creek a number of times. Even though the creek is smaller than the river, it was really flowing fast and very cold. After just 10km, I found a nice place to sleep, surrounded by snow and craggy peaks.

June 5 – The Big Day

The forecast looked great for two days but then it was calling for heavy rain, maybe even snow. I didn’t make it far yesterday due to my late start and just feeling tired so I knew I had to make some big miles today. I wanted to get over Fording River Pass. Once I was on the other side, I knew the weather could do whatever it wanted and I’d be alright. I could probably even hitch a ride out if I needed to.

The scenery was fantastic. The trail curved in and out of alpine bowls sweeping down from peaks right on the continental divide. More postholing and snowshoeing! But it’s melting fast. I should enjoy it while it lasts.

Melting fast

If I worried about crossing Old Man River yesterday, I should really have been thinking about Lost Creek. This aggressive little torrent has wiped out a chunk of trail and all the bridges that once made it no big deal. When I sunk my pole in and it didn’t touch the bottom I had a moment of “I’m not sure if I can do this – I might be stuck here”. Ten minutes of searching brought me to a spot that I thought might just be fordable. It was still crotch-deep and flowing fast! Brrr. That’s what I get for starting this hike so early in the season. But I made it.

Lost Creek has taken over the trail

After 14 hours of walking, I made it to Cataract Creek where I ate dinner and quickly fell asleep.

June 6 – Fording River Pass

I pushed hard yesterday so that today would be more manageable but I still needed to make a fairly big day of it to get over the pass.

The trail runs along open exposed ridges with great views of the continental divide just one short valley over. A cold morning wind cut through me as I walked quickly along these ridges, stealing views when the wind let me. The Kananaskis peaks appeared in the distance, giving me a feeling of familiarity and reassurance.

I had three climbs to get over today. When I made it to Baril Creek, I took a nice break. I knew I could always hike out to the road from here if things turned bad early. Plus there’s a trail register, the first I’ve encountered so far. I enjoyed reading from hikers who have walked these same footsteps in years past. That gave me a sense of being part of a community of sorts, even if I’ve seen no one else on the trail on account of my unusually early start.

I’m in luck! Fording River Pass turned out to have just some patches of snow – nothing like Tornado Saddle a few days ago. It did get deep enough that I would have needed snowshoes but I decided to leave the trail and make my own way, avoiding the deep stuff.

Views from Fording River Pass

Across the pass and down to Elk Valley, I felt very happy to have beaten the weather. Just as I set up my tent it started to rain.

June 7 – Snowstorm

I awoke to a foggy, wet day. The walk through Elk Valley just follows a gravel road that I imagine would be terribly hot and boring (and probably busy) in the summer. I actually enjoyed the views, especially when I came upon a group of very friendly horses and mules.

Horses!

Soon the storm hit and the peaks all disappeared. Cold rain turned to sleet then big fluffy snowflakes. It was actually quite lovely, like Christmas.

Snowstorm

Mostly, it was lovely because I made it to a forest service cabin that’s free for anyone to use.

Home for the night

Inside I was warm and dry. I cooked an early dinner, had a nice afternoon nap, then woke up for dinner #2 before falling into a long deep sleep, dreaming of the winter wonderland outside.

Comfy

June 8 – Kananaskis Lakes

I really enjoyed waking up to a freshly dusted world outside. It hasn’t actually gotten cold enough for much of the snow to stick. Just wet.

That is, until I got past Elk Lakes and started climbing upward.

Wow! What a sight. The bright white of fresh snow contrasted against the rich green of spring, making the landscape jump out. Everything felt fresh and new.

I enjoyed the snowy walk down to Kananaskis Lakes, soaking up both the bright sun and occasional gusts of rain. I feel very lucky to he here.

Great Divide Trail – Too Early?

Great Divide Trail – Too Early?

West Castle to Coleman – 48km

May 23 – Postholing Through Deep Snow

For hiking, May is early season in the Canadian Rockies. Really early. July is a pretty normal time to begin walking the 1100-km long Great Divide Trail, June adventurous, but May? Well, it’s been such a low-snow winter, I thought why not start as soon as avalanche conditions permit? Shouldn’t be too much deep stuff left, should there?
Continue reading “Great Divide Trail – Too Early?”

Skoki Loop in Late October

Skoki Loop in Late October

Skoki is one of the most popular backpacking areas in all of Banff National Park and usually you have to book months in advance if you want a chance at grabbing a spot in one of the crowded campgrounds. Unless you go in October, that is. After the warm days of summer have turned crisp & cold and before the ski lodge opens in December, you might just have this famous trek all to yourself. That’s what Sil and I found on our 4-day hike & snowshoe last weekend. Continue reading “Skoki Loop in Late October”

Backpacking from Exshaw to Cougar Creek

Backpacking from Exshaw to Cougar Creek

I was looking for a challenging, largely off-trail backpacking trip to do just before the arrival of summer. The mountains sandwiched between Canmore, an increasingly busy and overgrown former mining town, and Lake Minnewanka, the longest lake in the mountain parks of the Canadian Rockies, are surprisingly untraveled despite being so close to so many people. With three days to spare, I decided to hike a (nearly complete) loop from the industrial town of Exshaw to Canmore’s Cougar Creek. At 60-km long and choked with flood debris, this proved to give me just the right amount of challenge. Continue reading “Backpacking from Exshaw to Cougar Creek”

Spectacular Maligne Lake – a canoeist’s dream

Spectacular Maligne Lake – a canoeist’s dream

After a wonderfully relaxing time paddling Alberta’s only canoe circuit in Lakeland Provincial Park, Sil and I decided to head to Jasper’s Maligne Lake for yet more canoeing. The two couldn’t be more different! Maligne Lake is a striking turquoise colour and it’s surrounded by spectacular snowy mountains. You paddle beneath lush avalanche slopes (where you might spot a bear if you’re lucky!) and relax around campfires as you watch the sunset illuminate glaciers high above.

Coronet Creek campground
Coronet Creek campground parking

Continue reading “Spectacular Maligne Lake – a canoeist’s dream”

Lakeland Canoe Circuit

Lakeland Canoe Circuit

A year and a half ago I met travel writer Leigh McAdam at the rustic Shadow Lake Lodge near Banff. It was a cold and snowy February evening and we’d each chosen the lodge for a relaxing cross-country ski get-away. Leigh and I got to talking and it turned out we’d done a lot of the same adventures. It was great sharing stories of places we’d both been and I was excited about the book she was working on. Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures has now been released and it’s a treasure trove of fun ways to enjoy nature in Canada. One such trip that she’s recently featured on her blog is Alberta’s only canoe circuit. Last week Sil, Jim, Susan, and I made the drive up to Lakeland Provincial Park to paddle the 38-km route and we couldn’t have been happier with Leigh’s recommendation.

We picked up a canoe from Jamie at Lakeland Expeditions. Jamie was very helpful, meeting us in Lac La Biche the evening before we planned to start paddling with a canoe and all the gear. We spent the night car-camping at Touchwood Lake. It looks like the kind of campground that can get pretty busy at the height of summer but it was peaceful and offered great views on a late-August weekday.

Touchwood Lake
Touchwood Lake – storm clouds and forest fire smoke

The canoe circuit starts with a 3-km portage along a wide and gentle trail to Jackson Lake. Continue reading “Lakeland Canoe Circuit”