Thursday, July 19, 2018

Family Camping in Pembina River Provincial Park

We traveled north to Yellowhead County for the July long weekend and camped in Pembina River Provincial Park, west of Edmonton.

Riverside camping in Pembina River Provincial Park

Pembina River Provincial Park is located an hour west of Edmonton, just outside the towns of Entwistle and Evansburg. It is a fun park to explore in the summer months when the river is safe for family tubing and floating. We also discovered several fun bike parks in surrounding towns and took a day trip to the Town of Edson.

Floating down the gentle Pembina River 

Camping in Pembina River Provincial Park 

We had one of the riverside sites in the Pembina River Campground (Site E-89 to be specific.) We loved our site for the river views and for the relative privacy. And trust me, this is a campground where privacy is KEY.

Many of the sites are extremely open and you'll feel as if you're camped on top of your neighbors if you don't choose wisely. If you're camping with friends or with a group of other families though, you'll love the open feeling of this campground. 

Playground with campsites backing on to it

There were several sites that backed right on to the playground (sites in the F loop from 109 - 113 would be premier sites for this) and I could see this being prime real estate for families who want to sit back with a beer while supervising the kids from their campsite. 

Once you get further back from the river (loops A-C) the sites get a bit bigger (and more private) but you'll lose the riverside feeling. 

Of the 132 sites in the campground, 96 can be reserved. Loops B and C are first come first serve.

Riverside site in the E loop 

The only other caution I'd give is that this was not one of the quieter campgrounds we've stayed at. We didn't find much enforcing of quiet time hours and most campsites were playing music (often quite loudly.) If you cherish your peace and quiet when camping, you might want to consider a peaceful mountain campground instead. 

If however, you want to spend your days playing in the river, sending the kids off to the playground, and chilling at camp - and you're content to listen to a bit of good natured noise around you, this is a great campground. It is also a fabulous spot for groups of friends since many campsites are very close together. 

The river was a lot of fun to play in at the Pembina River Campground

Trails for Hiking and Biking in Pembina River Provincial Park 

My son loved the wide riverside trail that took you from the far end of the campground in the E loop to the other end where there's a public day use area, playground, and ice-cream truck. He found a dirt jump along the trail where he spent hours every day with other kids, all riding back and forth trying to get air on the small jump. It was great entertainment and made for easy supervision on our part.

Playing on the dirt jump located on the riverside pathway through the campground

We biked all the way to the day use area and also enjoyed this trail for evening walks. One evening we also took a short hike to a viewpoint over the river from nearby trails, taking the Peregrine Falcon Trail from a parking lot outside Entwistle.

Viewpoint from the Peregrine Falcon Trail in Pembina River Provincial Park 
Biking through the Pembina River Campground

Floating the Pembina River 

This is the main reason most people visit Pembina River Provincial Park and we were determined to get on the water - even though it was a very chilly weekend for spending hours in cold water.

We drove to the Pembina River Tubing parking area and started from there. We didn't need to rent anything but the company takes care of every need you could possibly have should you arrive without tubes or rafts. You can rent tubes, pay for a return shuttle from the Pembina River Provincial Park Campground, pay to get your own tubes inflated, or just pay for the shuttle if you have your own tubes.

Know that there is a $5 parking fee even if you have your own boats or tubes. (and I can't remember if they took credit cards for parking so best bring some cash.)

Chilling out along the Pembina River

Other important things to know about floating the Pembina River:

  • You'll end at the public day use area in the campground. We actually continued past the day use area right to our campsite. From camp, it's a short bike ride back to where you've parked your vehicle if you don't want to pay for a shuttle. My husband biked back and it took him 15 minutes to complete the ride (plus driving time.)

  • Bring bug spray!!! The path that you'll take down to the river is dreadful for mosquitoes and we ended up with several bites all over our arms and legs. Once you're on the river, it's fine. It's just the walk down (which takes about 10 minutes.)

  • It's best to take lightweight tubes or inflatable boats. I can't imagine carrying heavy kayaks, canoes, or even stand up paddleboards down to the river.10 minutes is a long walk when carrying boats.

  • There are a LOT of rocks, many sections with small waves and rapids, and sections where you will likely get stuck if the water is low. I can't recommend doing this on a stand up paddleboard (I contemplated it until I did it first in a tube.) You're also going to want to make sure you have a GOOD solid tube (not a $5 Walmart special.) 

My husband used an inflatable raft with a real kayak paddle to help  steer our family down the river

  • Make sure you have something to steer yourself with (even if tubing.) There are calm sections where you won't move without a bit of light paddling, and then there are rocky sections where you'll want to be able to steer around boulders. You'll also pass under one bridge that has giant pillars (and you don't want to run straight into a pillar!) If you rent a tube from the company there, you'll get frisbee paddles that are attached to the tube (so you can't drop them in the river and lose them.)

  • Even if you're tubing with the kids, I recommend at least one member of your party have an inflatable raft so that you can carry a dry bag, water bottles, snacks, and extra layers of clothes or towels.

  • Check the recommended age limit before planning a trip down the river. The Pembina River Tubing company lists what they recommend on their website. By July it's usually open for all ages. (Before that, it might be recommended for adults only or for youth 12+.)

  • Prepare to spend at least 3 hours on the river. Pack water bottles and snacks with you, and plan ahead for how you'll handle it if the children get cold. My son was freezing and in hindsight we should have packed him a towel to wrap around himself. It also started raining when we were on the water and I wish we would have had rain jackets with us.

    Know that this might also be too much for some kids. My son doesn't really have the attention span to sit in a tube for 3 hours. If your kids won't enjoy a long float consider just floating through the campground, bringing larger rafts with water guns and other toys, or try taking breaks along the banks to throw rocks in the water.

  • Passing under the large double bridges along the Pembina River

  • Tie boats together so that you don't get separated from each other. Just pay attention as you go under the final bridge and consider separating yourselves so that you don't clothesline yourselves around a pillar.

  • Pay attention to the weather report!! We started early because we knew there was a risk for thunderstorms later in the day. We saw many people out on the water later in the day and I'm positive some of them would have been caught in the storm that did eventually blow through.

  • Good water sandals or shoes are a must because the river is quite rocky in spots.(though my son had to eventually take his off because his feet were cold.)  Life jackets of course are also imperative and I don't recommend floating down the river in nothing but a bikini! The water is chilly and storms can blow through. 
Floating through the campground 

Exploring the Bike Parks and Concrete Pump Tracks of Yellowhead County 

Visiting the area bike parks will be a highlight of our entire 2018 summer season. 

There are 5 concrete pump tracks in Yellowhead County, with the closest one in the nearby Town of Evansburg right outside the campground.

Evansburg Pump Track near Pembina River Provincial Park

The parks are located in the small towns of Evansburg, Wildwood, Niton Junction, Peers, and Marlboro. There is also a concrete flow track at the Edson Skatepark for a total of 6 interesting parks you should visit. (we hit 5 of the 6 while camping at Pembina River Provincial Park.)

The pump tracks are fun for the entire family! 

While all of the parks are fairly similar, there are a few highlights to note:

Evansburg Park - the Biggest! 

Niton Junction - Has an AWESOME playground beside it! There's also an older school playground right next door along with an outdoor swimming pool.

Niton Junction Pump Track + Playground 

Peers - Has a fun little playground beside it as well.

Edson - Play on the concrete flow track and at the skatepark, both at the same location.

And you'll find directions for each park on Google Maps. Just search "name of town + pump track."

Edson SkatePark and Flow Track 

Road Trip Stops En Route To and From Pembina River Provincial Park 

Below are some of the suggested stops I have for you (based on experience from our previous road trips north from Calgary.)

Devon Bike Park en route to Pembina River Provincial Park 

Visit the Alberta Parks website for more information on camping and exploring in Pembina River Provincial Park

Disclaimer: I am an Alberta Parks Ambassador and received complimentary camping in this park. As always, all words and opinions are my own. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Number One Key to Successful Family Rock Climbing Days

Shoes. Good climbing shoes. End story.

Seriously though, we've had two successful climbing days this season, and two unsuccessful days (one a complete failure) - and my son's shoes were the number one contributing factor for success (or lack thereof) on all four days.

First overhanging climb on a 5.10- (Climbing Success Day)

Why Real Rock Shoes are Important 

Real rock shoes and a climbing helmet (Age 7)
When my son was younger he just used regular running shoes or his Keen hiking shoes when rock climbing (as many kids do.) This was definitely the cheaper option for us and meant we didn't have to buy a special pair of shoes every time his feet grew.

Wearing regular shoes worked at the 5.5 climbing stage and worked with moderate success at indoor climbing gyms. Progressing to 5.6 and 5.7 routes though was nearly impossible in regular shoes. We had to upgrade to real climbing shoes - and wow what a difference?

Check out the retro old school climbing photo below from 2014! 

My son is wearing a hockey helmet of all things!!

Both kids are wearing hiking shoes, and is that a Disney bike helmet on my son's friend?

All I can say is that we've come a loooooong way!

Retro shot from 2014 (Age 5)

The Only Rock Shoes my Son has Ever Known 

When my son was 7 we got him his first pair of climbing shoes, a pair of Mad Rock Mad Monkey Shoes from All Out Kids Gear in Red Deer. 

All Out Kids Gear is one of our go to sources for outdoor kids' gear and we love that we're supporting a local family business. They have a great shipping policy (orders over $40 have free shipping) and there are free returns within the first 30 days. Read the full returns and exchange policy here. 

Mad Rock Mad Monkey Shoes

Performance Review of the Mad Rock Mad Monkey Shoes 

My son is now in his second pair of Mad Rock Mad Monkey Shoes from All Out Kids Gear. We liked the first pair so much, we had no questions in our minds about which kind of shoes we'd upgrade to in a bigger size. After all, if it ain't broke... - and they are an awesome pair of shoes. We had no need to try different brands or styles.

There are 3 Big Things We LOVE about the Mad Monkey Shoes: 

1. They are super comfortable

Mad Monkey Shoes are super comfortable 

Owner Philip Lund of All Out Kids Gear says he's tried a wide variety of climbing shoes on his kids and believes the Mad Monkey shoes are the most comfortable - something I certainly can't dispute.

My son has never complained of sore feet (except when we tried to cram his feet in his old Mad Rock shoes at the beginning of this season - which was climbing disaster day one for this year.)

My son has also never had a blister in these shoes and can comfortably wear them while playing around at the crag between climbs (something I wish I could say about my own shoes!) 

I can't imagine trying to put uncomfortable tight shoes on a kid, and this year we're aiming to do at least one multi-pitch climb as a family - where comfort will be imperative.

2. They are easy to put on 

My son doesn't have the best fine motor skills and I don't want to be dealing with shoes that have laces to tie on top of everything else we have to do at the crag or climbing gym. The Mad Monkey shoes have an easy velcro vlap with great stickiness (this is GOOD velcro,) that makes them easy to put on (and stay on!)

The Velcro never comes undone and once the shoes are on, they stay on without becoming loose. You don't need to re-tighten laces during the day and the velcro doesn't ever lose its stickiness - something I can say with confidence as we're on our second pair of these shoes now. 

The shoes are so comfortable my son wears them even when he's not on the wall

3. They have GREAT grip on the rock 

My son maxed out at about 5.8 last year and has now just done his first 5.10- climb (overhanging at that!)

good climbing shoes make a big difference!
He never would have been able to do an overhanging 5.10- without good climbing shoes. He also tried a super challenging 5.9 route outside this year and killed it. (He took many many rest breaks going up, but it was a hard route and the shoes performed.)

On our second climbing disaster day of the season (the first being when we tried to cram size 3 feet into size 1 shoes) we had a shoe malfunction and accidentally brought one new climbing shoe, and one old climbing shoe. (I have since moved the old pair of identical looking climbing shoes somewhere else in the house until I can sell or give them away.) 

Since Noah refused to wear a shoe that was two sizes too small (on a multi-pitch climb at that) we decided he could just wear his Keen sandals. The route was only a 5.7, and an easy one at that, so we thought his sandals would be fine! 

We discovered very quickly that you can not climb in sandals! They were bulky, didn't flex, din't grip the rock in the same way as climbing shoes do, and Noah couldn't make it even halfway up the first pitch of our climb (a route he'd already climbed with easy success earlier this season in his real rock shoes.)

Lesson learned and we have learned first hand that good climbing shoes are probably the number one key to successful family climbing days. 

This route was easy in climbing shoes (impossible in sandals!)

If you want to get your kids a pair of good climbing shoes I'd suggest checking out the great selection of shoes from All Out Kids Gear. They also sell harnesses, including the Back Diamond Wiz Kids harness that my son wears, chalk bags, helmets (something we seriously need to upgrade for a bigger model,) climbing ropes, belay devices, and adult climbing gear. 

Good climbing shoes take you great places!

Disclaimer: We received a discount on our son's climbing shoes from All Out Kids Gear and I am an affiliate partner with the company. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

How to Survive (and Enjoy) Backpacking in the Rain

Have you ever planned an exciting backpacking trip - only to discover that the long range weather forecast looks less than stellar? Do you cancel or do you continue as planned, rain or shine, (hoping the forecast improves?) For us, it was more a matter of "what the heck are we going to bring for rain wear?"

How to Survive (and Enjoy) Backpacking in the Rain 

When Rain Threatens Your Weekend Adventures 

We recently hiked into the Elk Lakes backcountry cabin for a weekend, hiking in from Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis, and it rained 2 out of the 3 days we were gone. We contemplated cancelling the trip, easy since we hadn't booked it and the other families could still go without us, but in the end we decided to commit to the outing.

We decided to continue with our  backcountry trip for three key reasons.

  1. You can't really trust a weather forecast here in the Canadian Rockies - and we didn't want to cancel - only to find out that it was actually quite nice out in Elk Lakes Provincial Park.

  2. We didn't want to be "those people" afraid of a little rain, and too "soft" to get a bit wet.

  3. We knew we had a backcountry cabin to spend the weekend at. We just had to get to the cabin, and then we could dry out our wet clothes, we could warm up by the fire, and we could spend as much time inside as we wanted. - And it was only a short 9 km trip in (which wouldn't take more than 3 hours.) 

Rain didn't keep the smiles off my boys' faces on our hike in to our backcountry cabin

Outfitting Yourselves for Wet Conditions 

Committing to our trip was only step one. Next, we had to figure out how we'd stay dry and warm while hiking. We knew it was likely going to rain for the 3 hour hike in to the cabin, and we also suspected it would rain much of the second day, when we wanted to do a big day trip to see some nearby waterfalls.

My husband and I were easy. We already have good rain jackets, my husband has rain pants, and I borrowed a pair of rain pants from a girlfriend. My son however was the problem.

My son had long since outgrown his rain jacket and pants - and we were hoping we could get by with his winter shell jacket (and maybe some old winter ski pants.) Looking at the upcoming weather forecast though, I knew we needed a real rain suit for our son (something that would keep him dry in a torrential downpour if it came to that.)

And so I called on our good friends at All Out Kids Gear in Central Alberta with a plea for help. Owner, Philip Lund, was able to get us a Patagonia rain suit (pants + jacket) in the mail and on my doorstep in time for the trip. Rain gear secure, we knew we'd survive (and maybe even have fun!)

Patagonia Rain Pants + Jacket for dry hiking

Patagonia Boys Torrentshell Jacket and Pants - Review 

There are a few key things I knew we needed in a youth rain suit (and we found everything in the Patagonia Torrentshell jacket and Patagonia Torrentshell pants combo.)

Key Requirements we found in the Torrentshell Jacket + Pants set:

We got separate pants and a jacket rather than a one piece suit

2-piece rain suit, 100% waterproof
This worked very well for this trip because my son didn't need the pants for the hike in to our cabin as it wasn't raining very heavily. On our day hike though he did need the pants. 

On day hikes we'll be throwing the rain jacket in our son's pack on most trips (just in case) and again, likely wouldn't need the pants. Therefore, it's key for us that our son have separate pants and a jacket (unlike the one piece suit we swore by when he was younger.)

The Torrentshell set is lightweight

We'll be bringing this rain suit on all of our future backcountry trips as "emergency gear" in case of inclement weather. And as we all know, when it comes to carrying gear for the whole family, every ounce of weight matters. 

The Torrentshell jacket is thin (and not  bulky)

This one was really important for us because our son's day pack isn't that big. If we were to make him pack a huge bulky winter shell jacket, it would take up the entire inside of his backpack. The Torrentshell jacket compresses very well though and takes up a small amount of space in a pack.

We'll be bringing the jacket on all of our day hikes this summer and it will be an important part of our "safety gear" when we climb mountains because you never know when a storm is going to blow in.

Lightweight waterproof jacket for hiking

The Torrentshell set will fit for a couple of years

We chose size medium (10 years) knowing it would likely be a bit big on our 9-year old son. I'm very happy with the size we chose though because the jacket is very roomy, allowing for layering on cool days (always important!)
Layering under a shell is vital

The pants also fit in such a way that they don't drag on the ground, even if they're a bit long. They have elastic cuffs on the bottom, preventing them from just hanging on children. They are plenty roomy as well allowing for layering with a pair of fleece pants on a cool day. 

I appreciate as well with the pants that they don't have a slim fit. Our previous rain pants did, and I was always worried my son would split a hole in them when he bent over. The pants are nice and baggy (without looking like clown pants) so my son has great range of motion and comfort in them.

The Torrentshell set is 100% "bombproof" for waterproofing

It was raining heavily on our hike and you'd never have known to look at our son's jacket. It looked dry (and even felt dry.) The only thing that looked wet was his large hat. 

Our son was able to sit down on rest breaks (in wet grass and dirt) and stayed 100% dry. We hiked through long wet grass as well and his legs were always dry.

I'd trust this rain suit in all kinds of wet weather and we'll love the pants on muddy spring/fall hikes. They will also be great for late fall hikes when there's snow on the trails. (Something that's always a challenge when you don't quite need snow pants yet.)

Rain pants are essential if hiking in wet conditions

The Torrentshell set is breathable and works well for 3-season use

The weather was cool on our backcountry trip but our son would be able to wear the Torrentshell jacket on a warmer rainy day and wouldn't overheat. The material is very thin and breathable, perfect for a lightweight shell jacket on any day hike. 

Add a light fleece jacket underneath and the jacket becomes a 3-season jacket. 

The pants are also very thin and would be great with just a pair of shorts underneath on warmer days (or a pair of fleece pants on cool fall days.) Long underwear could even be worn under the pants for a late fall hike.

It was not a warm day! Many layers were worn under the rain suit

For more information on the Patagonia Torrentshell Rain Suit my son tested, please visit the All Out Kids Gear website

Disclaimer: We received the rain suit for review. As always, all words and opinions are my own. 

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

What to Look for in your Child's Next Bike (and what to skip!)

Kids' bikes come with a lot of features in the name of safety: coaster brakes, chain guards, reflectors, and training wheels - to name a few. What do you really need to look for though if you want your child to have a safe, high quality, easy-to-ride bike? And what should you honestly skip without a second look?

What to Look for in your Child's Next Bike (and what to skip!)

Two BIG Things You're Looking For in a Children's Bike

1. A Lightweight Bike that Fits Your Child

Jacob Rheuban, owner of Prevelo Bikes, believes "the single biggest safety feature that a bike can have is that it's light enough and low enough for the rider to easily control, and stop."

Jacob doesn't think a lot of parents focus on these two aspects of safety when choosing their child's bike. (And I'm inclined to believe him every time I see a child show up at school on a heavy framed, full suspension mountain bike that has to weigh well over 30 pounds.)

Jacob believes that "low weight, and appropriate height and fit, improve safety." He also says that "similarly, agility has safety implications - a bike that is maneuverable is safer."

My son is riding a 24" Prevelo Zulu Four bike, weighing in at a very light 25.7 pounds. He handles the bike well, is learning how to lift his tires for jumps (something he couldn't do as well on his last bike which was a bit heavier,) and maneuvers it safely around berms and banked corners without flinching.

A safe bike needs to be lightweight and maneuverable

Why our Prevelo Zulu Four is so light:

This bike is built light but tough
  • It has an aluminum frame (many of the bikes you'd find at department stores have a steel frame which is to be avoided at all cost!)

  • It skips the extra "bells and whistles" that all add a tiny bit of extra weight - adding up in the long run. No chain guard, no kickstand, no cute little padding on the handlebars (can you imagine what this would look like ripping down mountain bike trails, lol!)

  • It has a clean, simple, frame with a strong (but very thin) top tube - the crossbar that connects the front of the frame to the back. Look at my son's bike in the photos, and you will see that the frame is indeed very minimalistic. It is strong without extra bulk and weight.

  • It's not a heavy duty downhill bike. (Which my son doesn't need.) Yes, he enjoys downhill mountain biking but he isn't getting massive air on jumps and he weighs less than 60 pounds. How heavy and beefy does a bike need to be when a kid is that light? We're not talking about a 200 pound adult here. And while I know this is all "highly debatable," it's my personal opinion that "most" kids will do just fine on a lighter cross-country style bike. Unless you purely bike at a resort with lift accessed downhill trails, the kids have to climb hills in order to ride down them, and they'll appreciate a lighter bike for the climbing.

  • It has high quality lightweight components. This bike was designed for kids unlike some bikes that are manufactured by companies that just scale down an adult model to "fit" a child.

The Zulu Four is a high quality bike with a strong but lightweight frame 

Deciding if you've found the right fit and size:

  • Your child can easily touch the ground on his tippy toes (or with full flat feet for mountain biking if you lower the seat.) - And the easiest way to test this is to have your child ride up a steep hill and then try hopping off half way up the hill. This is an important skill I've certainly had to master when mountain biking with kids! You can also test the fit simply by seeing how easily your child can start riding and propel him/herself into motion (especially if on a hill.)

    Note that younger novice riders will always want to be touching the ground with full feet.

  • Your child easily clears the top bar or tube when standing over his bike. There should be an inch or two of clearance This helps prevent injuries when a child falls while biking. I love the design of the Zulu Four with its slanting top tube. My son easily clears it and is able to get on/off the bike easily with the low bar.

  • Look for a comfortable handlebar height. Low Rise flat handlebars are best for mountain biking and aggressive riding. On the flip side though, if they are too low, your child will feel some strain on his neck (and likely won't be very comfortable on long pathway rides.) I feel like the Zulu Four is the perfect compromise. In the photo above you'll see my son's very relaxed upright stance - perfect for cruising the bike paths. Switch to mountain biking though and he's easily able to lean forward for more aggressive turns and terrain.

Comfortable stance for mountain biking

2. Hand Brakes! Always Hand Brakes!

I didn't need anybody to give me quotes for this one because I've seen the dangers with coaster brakes first hand. Kids get to a steep hill, they become scared, they hit a bump that startles them, and their feet fly off the pedals. With hand brakes, it's not ideal to have you feet off the pedals, but you can still brake. With coaster brakes however, how can you brake if your feet are in the air and you can't pedal backwards?

I've seen kids fly out of control down hills, unable to stop, screaming and terrified. (Always with coaster brakes.)

Read more on the subject of hand brakes Vs. coaster brakes on the Prevelo blog: Kids' Bike Brakes: 9 Reasons a Kids' Bike Should have Hand Brakes. 

You can't go mountain biking if you don't have hand brakes 

Four Things Your Child's Bike Does NOT Need 

1. Say No to Training Wheels 

My son learned to ride a balance bike without pedals and easily transitioned to a 16" pedal bike without ever needing training wheels. This is the route I encourage all parents to follow.

I asked Jacob Rheuban with Prevelo Bikes to weigh in on this one as well and below are his concerns with kids learning to ride on training wheels.

Jacob says that  "training wheels cause a cascade of problems."

  1. They don't teach balance, which is the most difficult skill to learn, so they are a poor training device.

  2. They can cause scary crashes.

  3. They teach behavior that needs to be unlearned (like leaning to the inside of turns and putting feet on the pedals of a stationary bike).

  4. Once a child is exposed to training wheels, they are often difficult to wean from training wheels.

  5. They cause parents to buy ill fitting bikes for their children.  I see many children trying to learn to ride on bikes that are too tall and heavy.  Had the parent seen the child struggle with the size and weight (without training wheels) in the store, they probably would not have bought the bike in the first place.  Stated differently, when shopping for bikes, if the floor model has training wheels (which it almost always does) it's not apparent to parents how ungainly the bike will be when the training wheels are removed.

Training wheels don't teach balance. Pedaling is easy to learn by comparison

2. Bikes do not Need a Fancy Theme or Paint Job

Don't choose a bike by the color or Disney theme. Don't buy a bike because of the Lightning Mcqueen paint job. Make a deal with the kids and let them choose a fun helmet instead.

Themed bikes come with all the "bells and whistles" for "safety" but each extra element weighs the child down, thereby making the bike less safe in the end. Kids don't really need a chain guard as much as they need a lightweight bike they can control. These cute little bikes also come with training wheels - that your child will see, and will believe they "need" - because the bike came with them after all! (And you might be led to believe the same thing if the bike includes them, right?)

A good bike will not have Disney characters painted on it

3. The "Average Child" does not need Full Suspension 

I already talked about this a bit under the "why our Prevelo Zulu Four is so light" section, but it's my personal opinion that most kids do not need a huge beefy downhill bike with full suspension.

Kids barely weigh enough to justify having front shocks on their bikes let alone full suspension. Don't believe me? When was the last time your child complained about bumps, roots, or a rough ride? Mine never has. Me on the other hand, I complain if a trail has a single root and I prefer smooth machine built trails.

Full suspension bikes add extra weight that most kids just don't need. Unless your child spends all his time downhill riding (and is getting massive air on jumps) skip the full suspension and go with a lightweight cross-country bike. (And they definitely don't need a full suspension bike for pathway riding and commuting to school - no matter how cool it looks!!)

The Zulu Four performs well on both cross country and downhill terrain

4. Kids' Bikes only Need ONE Single Front Chainring

One of the biggest things (aside from weight) that we were looking for in our son's 24" bike was something that only had one single front chainring. We didn't want our son to have to fuss around with multiple chainrings, constantly switching rings for pathway riding Vs. mountain biking.

I remember when I got my first mountain bike, and how confusing it was for me to remember which of my three rings made it easier Vs. harder to ride my bike up hills. Now I just have two rings and it's pretty simple. I use one on pathways and one when mountain biking - and I never change mid-ride. For my son though, it want it to be really simple! He has 10 gears on his Prevelo bike, and they are all one one single front chainring.

The topic of one Vs. two or three chainrings is heavily debated in the mountain biking community but when we're talking about kids' bikes it comes down to having a bike that is lighter, simpler, and easier to ride. There are no transitions required between rings and there are less components to break. 

Again, this is based on the "average" rider. If you spend a lot of time climbing big hills as a family and have kids that are highly accomplished mountain bikers, you might want a second ring for performance and greater range from high to low gears. 

The Prevelo Zulu Four climbs well with one single front chainring 

More Information on Prevelo Bikes

Want to read more about the high quality components of the Prevelo bike that my son is riding? Check out the features and specs of the Zulu Four here. 

As of the moment, the Zulu Four is out of stock but there should be more available soon so keep an eye out on the Prevelo website. 

Prevelo bikes can be ordered directly from Prevelo in the US (with free shipping to Canada) or from All Out Kids Gear, a local Canadian company that also offers free shipping on all orders over $39.00 (before taxes.)

The Zulu Four performs well in skate parks too!

And for those looking for an affordable but high quality bike, check out the Prevelo Alpha Series. 

The Alpha Four is in stock right now (all the Alpha Bikes are) and retails for half the price of the Zulu Four. Main differences between the bikes include 8 gears (instead of 10 for the Zulu,) and v-brakes instead of disc brakes. 

The Alpha bikes are fabulous bikes for the more recreational rider who wants to enjoy pathway rides and easy single track riding rather than downhill riding and jump lines in the bike park.

The Alpha Bikes can be ordered online from either the Prevelo website or from All Out Kids Gear. 

A good bike gets the kids out on the trails with you for happy family rides 

Disclaimer: I am a Prevelo Brand Ambassador and we received our bike directly from the Prevelo company in exchange for promoting the brand. As always, all opinions are my own and I was not paid for a positive review.

It should also be noted that I came up with my own list of features to look for in a kids' bike (based on personal experience.) Other than direct quotes, opinions and thoughts are my own and might not reflect those of the company. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

First Summits - Mount Yamnuska Family Scramble (to the very top!)

I had to add "to the very top" to the title because I wrote another "first summits story" for Yamnuska back in 2015, a trip where we had to turn around at an exposed section with chains. This time we got past the chains, made it to the summit, and got to enjoy the awesome scree run down the front side.

Yamnuska Summit, Kananaskis Country, Alberta

Introduction to Mount Yamnuska 

The ridge of Yamnuska as seen from Bow Valley Provincial Park
Mount Yamnuska is a well known mountain near Calgary that most people will recognize by sight (if not by name.) Most hikers aspire to make it to the summit of Yamnuska, everybody wanting to see the famed "chains" and to test their bravery on the short exposed traverse required before the final climb to the top.

Yamnuska is located in Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, Kananaskis, and is easy to find off the TransCanada Highway near the hamlet of Exshaw.

Camping can be found in the nearby Bow Valley Campground or in the Willow Rock Campground, both located in Bow Valley Provincial Park 5 minutes away from the Yamnuska Day Use Area.

Reservations are required to camp in the Bow Valley Campground (and car be hard to come by in the summer,) but Willow Rock is first come first serve if you're looking for somewhere to stay before or after your hike.

Yamnuska as seen from the Bow Valley Campground 

Stats for Mount Yamnuska 

Height gain: 900 metres

Distance: Approximately 11 km for the full circuit 

Suggested Round Trip Time: Suggested time is anywhere from 4-6 hours according to guide book writer, Alan Kane. 

Our family's Trip Time: We did the scramble with two 9 year old boys. It took us 6 hours total (4 hours up, 2 hours down) with plenty of stops and rest breaks. We could have done it faster but why rush when there are gorgeous views to enjoy.

Resting on the initial hiking trail up Yamnuska (the mountain visible in the background)

The Initial Hike to Raven's End 

Turn right at the sign and follow the hiking trail
The trip starts out with a gentle hike to the base of the cliffs, a spot called Raven's End. The distance to this point is 3.5 km one way and you'll gain 520 metres.

I say "gentle" because you start on a good hiking trail. It's steep at the beginning but then the grade eases off and it becomes quite pleasant. There are good views and it's an enjoyable walk.

When my son was younger and we attempted Yamnuska the first time, he really struggled on this part because it wasn't exciting enough for him. A hiker he is not! He was only happy once we started the actual scrambling on the backside.

This time though he had a friend to chat with the whole time and it made for a much more pleasant hike. So follow our experience and bring friends for the kids. The hike will be much more enjoyable.

There are lots of gorgeous viewpoints like this on your way up to Raven's End 

Around the Backside of the Mountain and Up the Chimney 

So far, you've been hiking up the front slopes of Yamnuska below the cliff bands. You can see the cliff bands in the photo below. Once you reach the ridge top though (the treed ridge top that is, not the actual cliff ridge top) you have to make your way to the backside of the mountain.

From the end of the hiking trail you'll walk around the back of the mountain to your right and scramble up a short chimney. There are a few big steps but you'll always feel fairly protected with the walls around you.

And notice the painted blue square in the photo below? You'll be following these the entire way to the summit. (No idea who put them there but I guess they could be helpful.)

Scrambling up the chimney to the backside of Yamnuska 

Traversing to the Top of the Cliffs 

You'll be following a fairly good trail as you traverse across the backside of the mountain making your way for the ridge top. If you ever get lost (or wonder which of the many scree trails you should be on) just look for the painted blue squares. They are everywhere and always tell you if you're on the best path.

Traversing along the backside of Yamnuska on scree trails 

The hiking here is relatively flat with little height gain. Just flat traversing for the most part.

There is one short scrambly rock step where kids will need to use their hands a bit (and where you may need to spot younger kids.) It's short though and very blocky (lots of good hand and footholds.)

Rock step on the way up to the ridge top

And You've Reached the Top of the Ridge

Note this is not the high point of your day and you're not at the summit. You've reached the top of the ridge though and you can look down the cliffs that you were staring at from the highway.

Sitting on the ridge of Yamnuska, nothing but valley below! 

This is where my husband always gets nervous and you'll probably want to keep a careful eye on the kids (especially if you have a wife who's constantly trying to get photos as close to the edge as possible.)

This is a great spot to have lunch and to turn around if you don't think you can make the summit, you're short on time, you see a thunderstorm coming in, or you've had enough of the loose rock and scree.

When my son was 6 years old, this was his summit. We didn't reach the official summit on our first attempt.

How's this for a view?!! Yamnuska ridge top 

The Chains (Where you'll either turn around or continue on for the summit)

From the top of the ridge, continue to traverse across the mountain following the painted blue squares on the rock until you reach an exposed traverse with chains.

The photo below gives you a good idea of what you're traversing before you reach the chains.

A good look at what you're traversing on the backside of Yamnuska

We turned around at the chains on our first attempt of Yamnuska because we hadn't brought enough climbing gear with us to protect our son (and at age 6 we felt he should be protected with a rope.)

This time we were more prepared, still felt we needed to add our own extra protection, and were able to protect our son with some quick draws, a short length of rope, and his climbing harness. (A climber I am not so if you want more information on how we protected our son on this section please contact me and I can put you in touch with my husband to answer specific questions.)

Photos of the Chains: (Why you're reading the story after all!)

My husband leading the way across the exposed ledge with chains
Protected and not going anywhere if he falls
The kids thought the chains were awesome 
The ledge that you traverse with the chains 

And the question of the day - at what age can kids safely do this without bringing climbing gear along? 

That's your personal decision. The friends we went with decided their son could do it without a rope. And that was their personal choice. I know other friends who've done this without a rope as well, and others who've chosen to go the "cautious route" as we did.

You do whatever helps you sleep at night knowing you made the best decision for your children.

At age 9 we wouldn't let our son do this without a rope, but that was our decision to play it extra safe.

Whatever decision you make, know that there would be a significant fall here (possibly a fatal one) if something went wrong.

Very happy and in his element! 

Past the Chains and on to the Summit 

There's one tricky section after the chains (with one challenging step as shown in the photo below.) We thought about short roping our son across this section but my husband just held his hand and he was fine. (It's easier than it looks if you see people ahead of you on this section.)

The one tricky section following the chains 

Afterwards, there's one short downclimb (with some easy hands on scrambling) and then a final traverse to the summit.

Beginning the short downclimb before the final summit push 
Short downclimb before the final climb up to the summit
The end in sight! Final push up to the summit!

The Summit of Yamnuska 

It took us 4 hours, but we made it to the summit and knew that it would be a fast descent down the front scree slopes.

We stopped for snacks and photos before heading down.

Summit of Mount Yamnuska! 
My Boo and I on the Summit of Mount Yamnuska

Around the Shoulder back to the Front Side of Yamnuska

From the summit there's a super fun scree run down to the shoulder of Yam (the most amazing scree I've ever seen where each step plunges you gently down the mountain with no effort or stress to the knees.)

Descending scree from the summit down to the shoulder

And you can check out the video below if you don't really know what it looks like to run down good scree.

We expected the shoulder to be super loose (it used to be) but it wasn't so bad really, and before we knew it we were on the front side of Yam, ready to traverse under the big cliffs that you see from the highway.

The shoulder of Yamnuska - hiking around to the front side

BIG NOTE here - Do not run down the first scree slope you see at the shoulder!! Keep going and wait until you're halfway across the cliff face before you go down. Descend too soon and you'll get cliffed out.  A very well developed "false trail" has appeared at the shoulder that gets people in trouble. You must traverse under the cliffs before descending.

Traversing under cliffs to get to the good scree descent down the mountain

Running Down the Yamnuska Scree Slope (the fastest descent in the Rockies)

Traverse below the cliff bands until you get halfway across and start to see really long scree slopes. Pick one and descend. (best not to pick the first one you come to because it will be overused and the scree won't be as good.)

Running down the front side of Yamnuska

I'm not sure how much height you lose on the scree run, but it's a LOT. It took us 4 hours to hike up, and only 2 hours to hike down. Your knees will love this hike because you get to run down soft scree all the way to treeline far below.

Truly one of the fastest descents in the Rockies.

From the bottom of the scree run, there's a good trail leading left back towards the parking lot. You'll pass by a small waterfall and you'll be on a good hiking trail in no time.

And our boys were still running in the final 20 minutes before reaching the parking lot. Strong from start to finish.

The boys running down the front side of Yamnuska

Recommended Gear

Dressed for success! (Helmet, bike gloves, and gaiters)
  • Helmets - you're traversing under cliffs, you're scrambling up a chimney, and you're traversing an exposed ledge. All good signs that you should be wearing helmets - even if nobody else is

  • Gaiters! You'll want them for the scree descent to keep rocks out of your boots. We put ours on at the summit.

  • Good hiking boots or shoes. This isn't exactly the kind of trail you use trail runners in unless you want the scree to tear them to shreds. The boys were both wearing Keen Kids Oakridge Shoes which worked well.

  • Bike gloves for the descent. We swear by them when scrambling. Fall down and you won't gash your hands up. (We like the Zippy Rooz half finger gloves.)

You want your legs and hands protected before running down this slope

Recommended Prerequisite Trips and Suggested Reading 

Yamnuska is rated as an "easy" scramble but that's because there's only one exposed or difficult section (and it has chains.) Without the chains, this would be a difficult scramble (something you'd never do with kids.)

My personal opinion though, even with the chains, this is not an "easy" hike. It is a moderate scramble with hands on climbing involved, and you'll want to have reached some other solid summits first with the kids.

Yamnuska Summit Shot 

Try some of these trips below as you work your way up to Yamnuska (links go to the stories I've written:)

Climbing down from the chains on Yamnuska
Heart Mountain Family Scramble

East End of Mount Rundle Double Summit Day 

Nihahi Ridge to the South Summit 

Tent Ridge Horseshoe Hike 

5 Summit Day in Canmore (Ha Ling Peak to Miners Peak) 

Mount Lady Macdonald Hike, Canmore 

Little Lougheed, Spray Valley Provincial Park 

And for a complete list of scrambles, summits, and ridge walks my family has completed, read this story: First Summits for Families in the Canadian Rockies

Lower slopes on Yamnuska (a great hike!)

Buy a Guide Book! 

I encourage everybody to go buy a guide book and to study the route you want to tackle rather than just relying on blogs, trip reports, and photos from other people's climbs.

The best guide book for Yamnuska is this one by Alan Kane: Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. (Amazon affiliate link.)

Parting Shot from Yamnuska