Saturday, April 12, 2014

Raising Tough Kids - Hilda Creek Wilderness Trip

When you think of spring, do you associate it with flowers, planting your garden, or rain showers and rubber boots splashing in puddles?  I wish I could link all of the above to the spring season in the Canadian Rockies but alas, we're still getting weekly (daily) snow storms.  For us, spring means that the weather has finally warmed up enough that we can take the kids into the backcountry again after a long winter of staying in resorts, hotels, and front country hostels.  And while we LOVE resorts (don't get me wrong,) we also really love wilderness and backcountry trips where we have to travel sans automobile to get to our sleep destination for the night. 

Spring in the Canadian Rockies

A week ago, you hopefully read about our trip into the Elk Lakes Cabin in British Columbia in my first story on Raising Tough Kids.  Elk Lakes was the ultimate in difficult winter (spring?) family journeys with a grueling 11km ski/snowshoe required to reach the cabin.  Last weekend we did our second wilderness trip of the spring season and it was just a tad easier.  We only had to snowshoe about 500 metres to reach our two cabins.  And yeah, maybe we should have done this trip first as prep for the harder one.

Hilda Creek - Snowshoes Access Required

Last weekend, we travelled the famed Icefields Parkway that connects Banff and Jasper National Parks to reach the Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel, located a short distance away from the Columbia Icefields Centre.  In summer, the Icefields Centre is the place to be if you want to board a giant snow bus for a tour on the Athabasca Glacier and the whole area is crawling with tourists!  You wouldn't need to worry about running out of gas, having engine trouble or experiencing an emergency of any kind.  (Somebody would be around to find you.)  Winter and early spring however is a completely different story.  There is nobody hanging out around the Icefields Centre at this time of year.  The large building is boarded up and drivers on the highway move along between Jasper and Banff without stopping.  Other than the occasional backcountry skiers visiting the area, you are completely on your own!

The sign that tells you there's a cabin somewhere off in the woods (far out of sight)

The first time we wanted to stay at the Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel, we received quite the "warning" on the phone when I made the booking.  We were told that we absolutely HAD to pack out all garbage, that there would be no hostel manager on site, that we might have to melt snow for drinking water if the creek was frozen solid, that there were no services or amenities for at least 100 kilometres, and that we would need solid backcountry experience!  We immediately responded with, "sign us up!"

Shoveling out the front door of the main cabin for "light"
Avalanche off the sleeping cabin during our stay
The climb up to the highway from the hostel

We LOVE the Hilda Creek Hostel and make it a priority to travel here at least once (or twice, maybe three times) a year for a few reasons:

Our Own Private Paradise!

The hostel only sleeps 6 so that means we can take one other family with us and reserve the whole hostel for ourselves!  I like sharing as much as the next person, but if you don't have to share, why would you?  Hilda is the only hostel that can so easily be reserved for a private booking; No other hostel I know of sleeps but 6 people!

Hanging out in the main cabin


Scenery Extraordinaire!

The Hilda Creek Hostel may be situated in the middle of nowhere, but the scenery is unparalleled!  Last year we took the kids on a hike to see the Athabasca Glacier and this year we took them up the moraines below the Hilda Glacier.  Getting to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier is easy - follow the summer road and hiking trail from the Icefields Centre.  Reaching the toe of the Hilda Glacier however requires significant backcountry experience in winter .  Fortunately, we had no aspirations of touching the Hilda Glacier; We just wanted to do a snowshoe tour out the door of our cabin.  Mission accomplished. 

Hiking out the door of the Hilda Creek Hostel
Hiking up the moraines below the Hilda Glacier
Raising  Tough Kids - AND Training Tough Parents
Climbing Moraines with the kids (aka, winter mountaineering)
Again, Training Tough Parents
The Fastest Way Down - Slide of course!
You could just hike along Hilda Creek for an "easier" trip


FUN in the SNOW!

The main reason we go to Hilda Creek in the winter - to have FUN in the snow.  April is still full on winter on the Icefields Parkway but the weather is a bit warmer and so it's our choice time of year to visit.

He does not care that it's April and it's still snowing.

Playing in the snow - kid paradise!
Sledding down the hill below the hostel - FUN every year!
Even the adults had fun with the snow!
Perhaps the adults had a little TOO much fun with the snow
Flips off the deck - what else do you do after dinner? 
Even the kids had fun jumping off the deck into the waist deep snow!

Honestly, for folks comfortable in the backcountry, Hilda Creek is absolute paradise!  We haul our gear to the cabins in sleds and it's close enough to the highway that we can bring everything from coolers of food to six packs of beer, jugs of water (if we were smart,) toys, skis for adults wanting to do turns off Hilda Ridge behind the hostel, and comfort items (you name it - your fav. pillow, the kids' fav. stuffies...)  Yes, there is no running water and it's pretty rustic, but it's also an incredible experience to spend the weekend living off the grid completely self sufficient. 

Our Rustic Home at Hilda Creek
Packing everything out of the hostel

We are teaching our kids to appreciate things like clean drinking water that flows from a tap, indoor plumbing, lights that turn on with the flick of a switch and all the modern technology we have so handy at our fingertips from television to refrigerators and microwaves.  We had none of that at Hilda Creek and we survived just fine.  I'd say we did more than just survive.  We had fun.

Playing in the snow outside the hostel
To read last year's story on Hilda Creek and see our photos hiking to see the Athabasca Glacier, visit this link to my story in Snowshoe Magazine, Spring Adventures on Alberta's Icefields Parkway

Athabasca Glacier Hike in Winter

Want to book your own trip to Hilda Creek?  Visit the Hostelling International Website for all the information you need.  The hostel is a great place to visit in summer as well and you can hike fabulous trails such as Parker Ridge and the Hilda Glacier Trail without ever getting in your car.  Within a 5 minute drive, you can reach the Columbia Icefields Centre to see the Athabasca Glacier or you can reach the Wilcox Pass trailhead.  These are all STELLAR hikes and absolutely unparalleled in the Rockies.  Photos below.

Hiking Parker Ridge in Summer right above the hostel
Hiking on the Athabasca Glacier with the Snow Coach Tour
Hiking Parker Ridge in Autumn
Wilcox Pass Hike with Mount Athabasca in the Background


Are you planning your trip yet?

Thanks as always to Hostelling International for assisting with our stay.  All opinions and thoughts are my own.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Where to Spend Easter in Kananaskis and Banff

Ever dream of skiing with the Easter Bunny?  Want to hunt for Easter eggs on a ski hill?  Or think it would be cool to have Easter Brunch on top of a mountain?  These are just some of the many things you can do in Kananaskis and Banff this Easter from a base camp in Calgary, Canmore, or the town of Banff itself.

Here is my Easter Activity Round up for 2014:

Go to Mount Norquay for their Annual Easter Brunch and Easter Egg Hunt

This is a fun one!  Celebrate on Easter Sunday with brunch and an Easter egg hunt for the kids at  Banff's Mount Norquay Ski Resort.  The brunch is only $17 for adults and teens over 14, with children under 6 free. The Easter egg hunt is free for all kids.  For more information visit Mount Norquay's website.  While at Norquay, make sure you check out their awesome Tube Park.  It can't be beat for super family fun!

Mount Norquay Tube Park

Spend Easter Weekend at Sunshine Village

Sunshine Village Ski Resort is celebrating Easter on both Saturday and Sunday, April 19-20th with church services, an Easter Bunny on site, and Easter egg hunts.  For more information, visit the Sunshine Village website.  While you're planning your trip to Sunshine Village, consider participating in one of their new Historical Snowshoe and Fondue Tours.  There may still be room in some of the Easter Learn to Ski/Ride Camps as well for children 6+ years of age.  And, there's a special Steeps Camp for teens 13+ .

Sunshine Village Gondola Ride

Find the Easter Bunny at Calgary's Closest Mountain, Nakiska Mountain Resort

The Easter Bunny will be at Nakiska all weekend from Good Friday through Easter Sunday, hopping around and hiding eggs for the children to find.  Balloon artists and live music will also be featured on Saturday and Sunday.  For more information, visit the Nakiska website.  Want to spend the weekend at Kananaskis Village?  Check the Delta Kananaskis Lodge for availabilities.  They always have a LOT of fun activities planned over Easter for their Easter Egg-Stravaganza!  This year there will be a giant Easter egg hunt, petting zoo, and a special visit from the Easter Bunny.

Skiing at Nakiska Mountain Resort

Spend the weekend in Banff with the Easter Bunny

Yes, the Easter Bunny is visiting Banff this year so don't worry about leaving home for the weekend.  The Bunny will find your kids.  Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts have room specials at the Buffalo Mountain Lodge in Banff, and the Deer Lodge at Lake Louise.  For a bit more per night, you can even cross into Yoho National Park and stay at the fabulous Emerald Lake Lodge for Easter.  Each resort will feature different activities along with decadent breakfast buffets, visits from the Easter Bunny and Easter egg hunts.

Beautiful Emerald Lake Lodge

Have Easter Brunch on top of Sulphur Mountain

The Banff Gondola will be doing a special Easter Brunch on April 20th.  Gondola tickets are included in the brunch package and you'll be dining at the upper gondola terminal overlooking beautiful downtown Banff. From there, you can do a short hike to the top of Sulphur Mountain.  To read my recent gondola story, visit  Playing Tourist in Banff Without the Crowds

Banff Gondola Visit

Celebrate Easter in Luxury at the Fairmont Banff Springs

You know you've always dreamed of staying at the Fairmont Banff Springs, our "castle" in the Rockies.  So, here's your chance!  The Resort has a bunch of super fun activities planned for Easter from Easter basket making to Easter egg decorating, scavenger hunts, family movie nights, and more.  And you know the Sunday Easter Brunch is going to be amazing!  I've only ever had brunch once at a Fairmont Resort, but the memory lives vibrant and yummy in my brain!  For special vacation offers, visit the Fairmont Banff Springs website. 

High above the Fairmont Banff Springs on Tunnel Mountain

Visit the Easter Bunny at Lake Louise

My, the Easter Bunny will be busy hopping around Banff!  He will make appearances at the Lake Louise Ski Resort all weekend from April 18th through the 20th passing out chocolate eggs.  If you're really lucky, you might even get the opportunity to take a run down the Tube Park with the Bunny himself! For more information, visit the Lake Louise website.

Scenic Lake Louise

Happy Easter (in advance!)   Did I miss anything?  Leave a comment with your favourite place to spend Easter in the Canadian Rockies.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Raising Tough Kids - Our Annual Winter Backpacking Trip

This story is titled "Raising Tough Kids" because that's certainly what it feels like we're doing!  We (and friends) took six kids between the ages of 2 and 6 into the backcountry for two nights, in winter, with temperatures dropping down below -15C (5F), and made the kids travel 11km to the Elk Lakes Cabin where we'd stay in Elk Lakes Provincial Park.  That's almost 7 miles and it was a long distance for a four year old to ski!  Yet, that's exactly what happened.  We had one four year old girl ski the whole distance in and out by herself, on her own skis, with no towing or other assistance.  The other four year old girl required a bit of towing but she also made it in by herself on her own skis.  The six year old boy in our group skied in by himself as well and my five year old son rode his ski bike to the cabin and out, mixed with a bit of snowshoeing.  Tough Kids Indeed!

Final Race to the Cabin on Skis and Snowshoes

We did let the 2 and 3 year olds ride in sleds to reach the cabin but once we got to the cabin, everybody had to do the day tour to the closest lake on their own.  No sleds were used to complete the tour and the kids skied or snowshoed 2-3km round trip to the Lower Elk Lake (including the 2 year old!)  Tough Kids - yep!

Day Touring from the Cabin

So, why are we trying to raise tough kids?  I don't know if that's the goal, but mostly, we want to raise kids that can keep up.  In our group of friends, we all believe in taking our kids with us as much of the time as possible on our adventures and there are only so many ways to get a kid into the backcountry in winter.  And most of the four and five year olds are honestly just getting too heavy to pull anymore!  Add the fact that most of our kids WANT to be active.  They don't want to be carried, they don't want to ride in sleds... They want to participate on their own little legs.  So we let them.

Skiing in Elk Lakes Provincial Park
Snowshoeing on the Lower Elk Lake

The important thing for me when it come to difficult trips like this is to focus on my child's abilities and interests rather than trying to push my own agenda as a parent.  On this particular trip, our family was the only one in the group to choose snowshoeing as our means of transportation.  And, it would have been very easy to have forced Noah to ski  - because everybody else was.  It would have been easy to feel stupid for snowshoeing when it was actually "suggested" that snowshoeing was slow, boring, and not the best way to travel.  And I'm pretty sure the bike was mocked at the trailhead.  BUT, Noah got the last word there!   He kicked our butts (and everybody else's butts) to the parking lot at the end of the trip.

Noah showing some skiers how it's done on the descent from Elk Pass heading out
Elk Pass on a Strider Ski Bike
Daddy towing the bike on the flats

I "try" to follow these principals when planning BIG family trips:

One - Forget the others, where is MY child at?  Will he be able to hike/ski/bike.... that distance?   And if not, how should we proceed.  On this trip, we knew our son could not ski or even hike the whole distance to the cabin on his own.  So, we brought his bike with a tow rope and got to the cabin in our own creative way.  It was certainly unorthodox to be riding a bike on the official cross country ski trails of Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, but it worked. And as soon as we crossed Elk Pass into British Columbia, we were very happy to be on snowshoes as we entered backcountry terrain. 

Trying to get over the first big hill on the way in
Noah riding his bike down a hill on the Peter Lougheed Ski Trails

Two - Forget how I want to travel, how would my CHILD want to travel.  Honestly I would have preferred to ski on our backpacking trip.  But, I know my son is better on snowshoes.   This was especially evident on the long slog out over Elk Pass - I knew we'd want snowshoes then for the whole family!  And honestly, while it was hard on this trip to be the only family on snowshoes when everybody else was skiing, you do what you have to do for YOUR family.  Competition is just silly in the backcountry.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race - Snowshoeing worked just fine!
Snowshoeing to the Lower Elk Lake from the cabin

Three - I will NOT push my child past his abilities.  I believe in encouraging my child to live up to his potential.  I set big goals for him, and many could even accuse me of riding him pretty hard on trips to reach the potential I see in him.  BUT, choosing a trip where you'll have to scream at your child the vast majority of the time because it's just too hard for him is not cool!   I've learned that the hard way.  On this particular trip we tried to figure out what would be the most fun way to get to the cabin.  For Noah, bike = fun.  So it was a no-brainer. 

Playing on his bike at the cabin
Skiing down Elk Pass to the cabin

Four - Adventure has to be FUN for kids in the moment.  At least most of the time.  I don't believe kids have the same ability that we do to spend hours slogging, toiling, and suffering - knowing that they'll be happy afterwards for what they achieved.  Gratification has to be much more instant for kids!  There were definitely moments on our trip that were not fun (climbing the pass on the way out was NOT fun.)  BUT, there were fun moments spread out over the whole trip in and out.  Every hill that Noah  got to fly down on his bike was fun, and made the challenging moments worth it.

Noah flew down this hill so fast, it took, me a good 5 minutes to catch up to him - running!
Getting ready to ski down the power line to the cabin

Five - Be realistic and have back up plans.  What will you do if your child can't make it the whole way to the campground, cabin, lake, etc.?  What will you do if your child needs help on a trip?  It's all well and good to say "my child should be able to do this" but what if he or she is having an off day and can't?  For us on this trip, we pulled a sled with us.  We brought snowshoes.  And, we had the bike.  We had a lot of options.  We even had a tow rope for the bike.  We knew Noah would reach the cabin one way or another.  And in the challenging moments, we played games such as Eye Spy, counted to 100 (which takes a while for a 5 year old) or played simple mind games such as listing off food or animals that start with each letter of the alphabet.  That got us over the pass!

Sled, Snowshoes, Bike - lotsa options!

We had a great trip and while it was challenging at times, we were prepared, we followed the motto of "slow and steady," and we tried our hardest to not make it a race.  We did what worked for our child, for his pace, and for his abilities.

Making our way to the cabin

Some of the Fun Moments at the Cabin


Teaching the Kids to play Cards
Playing in the Snow outside the Cabin
Day Touring to the Lower Lake
Making Snow Angels and Doing Snow Yoga at the Lower Lake
Playing Tag on the Lower Lake
Snowshoeing around the area
Sledding outside the Cabin
AND, playing on the bike

For more information on the Alpine Club of Canada's Elk Lakes Cabin, visit the link to the ACC website.

The Elk Lakes Cabin
Looking down at our wet clothes drying from the loft
Reading stories in the loft

Read about our previous adventures here:

Spring Adventures in Elk Lakes Provincial Park

Winter Glamping - Not or the Faint of Heart

More Card Games in the Cabin
A Real Mountain Papa

For information on Noah's ski bike, go to the Strider website or the Alberta Balance Bikes website. Below, is Noah's best descent on the way down.



What is your secret when planning BIG trips with kids?