Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking back on a year of adventure (2011)

2011 was an adventurous year for our family filled with cross country skiing, hiking, scrambling, mountaineering, camping, backpacking and traveling. We made many new friends throughout the year and tried to spend lots of time on the trails with existing friends as well.  September was a big month where I not only formed my Calgary Family Adventure Community on Face Book but created this blog. I hope you'll enjoy looking back on 2011 with me.


The year started off with a bang when I got the opportunity to ski into Skoki Lodge with my husband for a night.  I love Skoki and I really didn't know if I'd ever get to visit the lodge again, having had my right hip replaced in 2009 due to a complication when my son was born.   It is on my top five list of favorite places in Banff National Park and in winter is accessible only by a fairly difficult ski tour.  I'm pretty sure that ski touring isn't on my list of approved activities I am allowed to pursue with my new hip but the smile on my face in this photo below says, I really don't care.

Skiing to Skoki Lodge, Banff National Park

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The family that plays together, stays happy together

With Christmas just around the corner, the importance of spending time together as a family weighs heavy on my mind.  With the new year coming and resolutions around the corner to be made, I'd like to share a few of our top family values with you.

Value One:  Saturday is devoted to play

We are very religious about observing our Saturday play day.  I will never take a job where I have to work on Saturday and my husband is serious about not putting in over-time hours on this day.  We go to church Sunday morning but Saturday is our Sabbath day; the day where we don't do anything we have to do.  Chores, cleaning, shopping and errands wait until Sunday afternoon whenever possible or else we try to accomplish these tasks during the week.

Mountain kisses

Value Two:  We make family time a priority on the weekend

I love taking a weekend away with my girlfriends or joining a group of friends for a day of ski touring.  My husband anticipates his next mountaineering trip or back-country ski day.  We also try to get away as a couple at least once or twice a year.  

Those trips aside, weekends are reserved for us to spend time together as a family. We hike together with our toddler, we ski together and pull him in a pulk, we do back-packing trips, and we go camping. 

I can't wait for the day when we are doing glacier traverses, all three of us tied into the same rope and working as a family team to summit a mountain.  It seriously puts goosebumps on my arms and tears in my eyes to think of the fun that awaits us when Noah is old enough to carry a back-pack and join us for some hard-core adventure.

Genuine happiness

Value Three:  We play together

Closely connected to value number two is that we play together and enjoy many of the same sports, hobbies and passions.  I don't want to be a family where mom drops little Jimmy off to play soccer Saturday morning and then runs off to her yoga class while little Jennie is at her dance class and Dad is at home working in the yard.  

We are very blessed as a family that we share the same interests and can bond in our free time doing what we are passionate about.  I deeply hope that my son will grow up loving the mountains too.  So far he loves going skiing and hiking with us as it's all he's ever known.  I don't think he realizes yet that there are different things he could be doing on a Saturday afternoon.

Happy together

Value Four:  We preserve our own unique personalities in the family

My husband is much more hard-core than I am when it comes to mountaineering, skiing or climbing.  I'm a hiker through and through.  Therefore it's important that I encourage him to take a day or weekend away to pursue what he is most passionate about.  

I myself love Zumba and yoga so my husband watches Noah while I take classes in the evening.  I'm sure that Noah will have unique interests and passions as well and it will be important to nurture his talents without forcing him to conform to a family mold. 

Memories to treasure
Just another day in paradise

What are your family values?
What do you enjoy doing together as a family?

Rain, snow, sun, we're always together

Lotsa love

Father and son

Mommy love

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The makings of a polar bear kid

If you read my last post you know that we are having a hard time introducing the fun side of winter to our two year old toddler.  You can read that story here: Help, my toddler hates winter! 

We decided to devote this whole weekend to as many different kinds of outdoor fun as we could fit in.  There were some "interesting" moments, a few melt-downs, and plenty of things to still figure out.  However, there were also lots of smiles, giggles and I actually heard the phrase I most love to hear come out of my son's mouth, "Mommy fun!"  

I do believe we have a polar bear kid in the making.

toasty warm and happy

Smiling polar bear kid

X-country skiing

The first thing we tried this weekend was cross country skiing (again).  We tried it a couple weekends ago and our son Noah wasn't a fan despite enjoying it last winter.  I should clarify that Noah doesn't ski himself yet but he's always loved being outdoors either in his Chariot or his child carrier.  

We've gotten a new ski sled for this winter that will hopefully allow us to get into the backcountry more. Getting him into the pulk and comfortable was actually a lot easier this time around.  We brought a couple pillows to prop him up with and we didn't fully strap him in due to the easy terrain we were skiing on.  

Noah was quite happy and content for a good hour and a half as we made our way slowly up to the half-way point on the Cascade Fire Road. The only difficult part of the first half of our ski trip was getting Noah dressed in the parking lot.  We learned that it's best to change into ski pants before leaving the city.  (Although, it would make for a more difficult diaper change at the trail head.)  Dilemma dilemma.  

We also decided that in following with the saying, "if it aint broke, don't fix it," we'd let Noah wear what he wanted; his baby mittens and monkey hat.  They might not have been as warm as other choices but he was much happier and that counts for a lot!  I did manage to get a balaclava on under the monkey hat and a scarf on over-top.

When we got to the half-way point of the ski trip we let Noah out of his pulk and he happily explored the packed trail, had a snack and drank a bit of juice.  We got tons of super cute photos and Noah was beyond content!  Taking the mittens off for the snack resulted in cold hands though and we had a nasty twenty minutes or so while Noah got used to skiing again with the cover over his pulk this time.  

I also put my over-mitts on top of his little baby mittens and that wasn't on Noah's top ten list of acceptable clothing options.  It didn't take long before Noah must have realized that he was really toasty warm and therefore quite happy.  The crying stopped and he promptly fell asleep.  Bliss!

Rest stop

Pulling the pulk back to the car

Outdoor Christmas festivities

After skiing we went to Banff for their  Winterstart FestivalNoah got to take his first horse drawn wagon ride up and down the streets of Banff.  The smile on his face was worth the 45 min. wait.  Then we got to watch the Santa Claus Parade.  Noah sat high up on top of Daddy's shoulders as he waited for Santa to appear and he enjoyed the parade for the most part.  He was a little scared by the truck horns though and so we eventually had to leave and brave our way back to Calgary (and the snow storm that hadn't hit Banff yet.)

Waiting for Santa


Today we thought we'd give sledding a shot since Calgary got over 25cm of fresh snow overnight.  Our neighborhood was transformed into a magical winter wonderland.  It actually took a lot of effort to pull Noah in his sled to the local playground.  

Unfortunately Noah wasn't a big fan of riding in the sled and didn't like the sensation of tipping sideways or falling backwards as the sled jerked and twisted around.  We did get him to try riding in the sled down the little bunny hill in the school yard and he proclaimed that it was fun.  Yay!  

After two rides though he decided it was more fun to watch Mommy slide down the hill while he walked up and down the snowy hill.  Maybe mountaineering is in his future and not becoming a bobsled or luge athlete. 

Going to the park on a snowy Sunday afternoon


Playing in the snow

After sledding we walked through the big field to the playground and discovered that Noah likes walking through snow.  Deep snow.  He wouldn't get on the sled because he wanted to wade through all the snow "by self."  

We taught him to hold his shovel with his mittens on - victory!! and he enjoyed playing in the snow for a bit as he filled his sand bucket with snow.  As I discovered last summer, a toddler only needs a bucket, a shovel and a small truck or car to play with.  They can be used with sand, water, snow, dirt, pine needles, or mud.  No other toys needed.

Playing in the snow

Tonight my husband plans to take Noah into the hot tub while I'm out with girl friends.  That is another classic winter activity that I know he'll love!

Nice and warm

I realized how incredibly blessed we are as a family this weekend.  We have a very gentle and calm child who allowed us to ski for almost three hours.  Not many parents of toddlers can claim that.  Noah is also great at just going with the flow and can be gone from the house all day with no set schedule. 

We were gone Saturday from morning until almost bed time and Noah never truly lost it.  He napped in the car en route to the mountains and then again in his pulk.  I know many families that have to plan their day around their child's nap schedule or make sure they spend enough time at home but Noah loves being out exploring the world.  We are very lucky.

I'm also really enjoying this Christmas season and the beginning of winter as a family.  I can't remember the last time I rode down a toboggan hill, made a snow angel, tried to make a snow man, or just played in the snow.  Having kids lets you experience the joys of being a kid again and I love it!

The joys of childhood

Friday, December 02, 2011

Help, my toddler hates winter

My husband and I passionately love winter!!  We want to be out playing in the snow every weekend.  As soon as I put my x-country skis on for the first time of the season I'm practically shaking to get out every day.  We are nothing if not enthusiastic about it and are trying our hardest to set an example for our son that winter is something to be enjoyed and embraced with excitement. 

Safe, happy and warm in the chariot last winter.  Sound asleep and blissfully content.

My son was ok with winter last year too.  He happily rode along in his chariot on our ski trips, got back into the chariot after it tipped over and trusted us to continue pulling him.  He loved riding around the skating rink and though we only tried it once, he was ok with sledding.  He liked to walk in the snow and he rarely complained about the clothing he had to wear in order to stay warm.  We have photos of him sound asleep in his chariot while skiing, not concerned with the cold temperatures in the slightest.  We thought we had a happy snow baby on our hands. 

Things started out well this year with our first winter hike back in October.  Our son was enthusiastic about walking through Sundance Canyon in the new snow.  We did some other hikes too and he didn't complain about the wind, cooler temperatures, or his clothing for the most part.  Mittens were a bit of a battle but otherwise, it was clear sailing.  I wasn't even sure our son would remember his first skate of the season because he was blissfully sleeping for most of it.

True winter hit us in November with temperatures down to -20 C in the mountains and our last two outings have shown us that although our son liked the shoulder season from October to November, he might not be as terribly fond of winter itself.

In particular, there are several things our son hates about winter:

The beloved monkey hat

Bulky Clothing

Our son Noah likes his fleece bunting suit that amazingly enough still fits him, his light puffy North Face jacket, his red baby mittens that barely fit him anymore and his monkey toque.

Noah does not like his one piece insulated snow suit, any other hats or mittens (and we've tried many!!),  his balaclava, his scarf, and his winter boots. He will however wear his hiking boots that are so small and tight on him I can't imagine them being comfortable.  It's all about habit though with our son and he does not like new things.

The scarf wasn't so bad last winter nor was the Toaster suit

Walking in snow

Noah was delighted with the snow we had on earlier hikes this season and enjoyed walking through it.   Last weekend we went snowshoeing and we thought Noah would have a great time playing at the lake when we stopped for lunch.  It was a very short hike to the lake and Noah still loves to be carried in his backpack so it seemed like a no-brainer for a fun day.  

Noah had no interest though in playing in the snow.  He wouldn't walk or stand in it, and all he wanted was to get back in his carrier and in the car again as fast as possible.  We are fairly hardcore with our sports and if Noah doesn't want to play but would rather just come along for a ride while we ski or snowshoe, I won't complain.  I do think it's important though that Noah learn to like snow.  We want to get him his own x-country skis for Christmas and we want to go sledding.  We even thought about getting him toddler snow shoes.

Cross-country skiing last winter with Daddy

Walking on ice or slippery surfaces

Getting Noah to walk across a parking lot that may have slippery sections means guaranteed whining and crying.  I'm not sure if he's terrified of falling or if he just doesn't like the sensation of sliding.  We hope he learns that controlled ice is fun though because I love skating and already have skates wrapped up for him for Christmas along with two books about winter.  I am looking forward to holding his hand and pulling him around the lagoon near our house.  If I were a kid I know I'd love to be pulled around a frozen lake while holding onto Mommy and Daddy's hands.

Last winter's introduction to sledding

Wind and Snow in general

Every time I open the garage door after a fresh dump of snow Noah starts crying.  His favorite saying these days is "all done!"  He especially dislikes wind and blowing snow.  Most kids are at least happy in their ski sled or chariot with the cover over them on windy days (of which Calgary gets a lot!) but not Noah.  He hasn't let us cover him in his chariot since he was a baby.  He wants to sit up and look around which causes the cover to rest on his face.  If he's sleeping we can sneak the cover over him but that would be the only time.  We hope that he'll like his new ski sled better and let us cover him in it because the cover is more transparent. 

Sleigh ride on Christmas Day last year

Doing anything with mittens on

Noah seems to think his hands are broken when he is wearing mittens.  He won't hold a snack, a juice bottle, a shovel, a toy, or even play at the playground.  He will ask for his mittens when his hands get cold so we have slight victory there but he won't do anything with them on.  This is problematic when we are outside hiking, skiing or skating.  

The five minutes our son was happy snowshoeing last weekend (notice the absence of his mittens)

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how to deal with some of the frustrations we are having.  We can't be faulted with not trying to set a good example for our son or of not being enthusiastic enough about winter in front of him.  I all but sing and dance when I'm out getting groceries to cheer him up about the snow.  Actually, I do sing.  The only thing I don't do is dance.  Maybe that's what's missing.  A Zumba routine to the tune of Frosty the Snowman?

Want to read about our success teaching our son to embrace winter?

Monday, November 14, 2011

November in Banff (Toddle in tow)

I don't know about you but November has never been my favorite time of year to go to the mountains.  Everything is gray, the flowers are gone, the grass is brown, it's getting cold, and the days are short.  This year however, we have discovered a whole new appreciation for the month of November normally referred to as shoulder season.  We aren't using it as down-time and we actually renewed our park pass so we could use it all month.  

Our son out for a hike with Dad and Grandma on the Fenland Trail

Relaxed November Days in Banff

We are enjoying the quiet streets in Banff, the empty trails, and the over-all solitude.  We've gone to Banff the last two weekends and had very pleasant days with our toddler in tow.  The early snow has made for lovely hiking and we got to participate in a November ritual for many Bow Valley residents, wild skating, that was unknown to us until just a week ago.

Two weeks ago we went out to Banff after church on Sunday for a half day fresh-air break.  As is becoming the routine, Our son had his nap en route to Banff and we stopped at Tim Hortons for lunch. 
Cookie Monster looking up at a squirrel - the highlight of the day

Hiking the Fenland Trail 

After lunch we took an enjoyable walk along the Fenland Trail right in the town of Banff.    It's a beautiful trail through a quiet forest that follows along 40 Mile Creek and crosses a couple bridges.  It's short and makes for the perfect toddler hike.  We even got our Halloween photos of our son finally because his costume was really warm and we figured it made for a nice snow suit.

Taking a rest along the creek

Sightseeing on the Minnewanka Loop Road

After our hike along the Fenland Trail, we took a drive around the Minnewanka Loop Road.  The full loop closes sometime soon but it was still open for us.  We stopped first at Cascade Ponds which I am horrified to admit I'd never visited before.  

What an amazing spot if you wanted to have a picnic!  Write that down everybody for next summer. Much nicer than the famous Elbow Falls everybody seems to go to.  

There is a nice path that circles around the pond area with cute little bridges for the kiddies.  I've heard that you can swim there in the summer though I'd prepare for a very chilly dip.  It also looks as if people have started sledding there so bring your sled if you take a trip over the next months.

Snowy Visit to Cascade Ponds

Walking around Cascade Ponds 

After the Cascade Ponds visit we continued around the loop towards Lake Minnewanka.  What a surprise to see this heavily visited tourist area extremely peaceful and almost deserted. Our son had a great time throwing rocks in the lake with his dad.  I've heard that you can skate on this lake in winter but it certainly wasn't frozen yet when we were there.

Throwing rocks with Daddy

Lake Minnewanka in November 

Remembrance Day in Banff

This past weekend we returned to Banff again on Remembrance Day.  This time our agenda was to hike and skate with a slight break in routine.  We ate lunch between the two activities.  And our son napped en route to the skating lake.  We started with a hike up Tunnel Mountain.  Grandma stayed home this time so it was just the three of us for the cold windy venture.  

A snow storm was coming in and there was little to no visibility.  Never the less, it was still good to get out and just be in the mountains.  It's a short hike up Tunnel Mountain right in the town of Banff and from the top you can look down over the whole valley.  On a clear day there's no place I'd rather be.

On top of Tunnel Mountain 

Wild Skating in Banff

After the ascent of Mighty Tunnel Mountain and lunch we headed out to meet friends on Johnston Lake.  

To quote the Parks Canada website:
It doesn’t take much to find solitude in Banff National Park. Just a ten minute drive from the townsite, you can find natural gems like Quiet Pond. And if you time it just right, you can bring your skates and explore this magical November scene for yourself. “Skating Season”, as the locals refer to it, happens when cold temperatures arrive before the snowfall. It doesn’t happen every year, but when it does, be sure to get out to one of the lakes and ponds in the Bow Valley. It’s an activity steeped in Canadiana, a surreal experience you will never forget. 

Johnson Lake  was absolutely perfect for our November skate and apparently the whole Bow Valley knew it was "skating season."  Johnston Lake is on the Minnewanka Loop Road just outside Banff and is very easy to find.  We've hiked around the lake in summer before but have never skated on it.  To hike around the lake takes a good hour and a half with young children.

To skate across the lake takes maybe 15 minutes. It was such an amazing experience to be able to skate clear across a mountain lake and share in a local's paradise.  I had never heard about November skating before until a couple friends who live in the Bow Valley started talking about it.  Yay for inside information!  

To skate on Johnston Lake felt like I was gliding across an old coke bottle.  It was perfectly smooth and green.  Very very green!  You could look down in some spots and see logs or air bubbles  below you.  It was a little freaky to be able to see clear to the bottom of the lake in spots but I always figure there's safety in numbers.  Given the number of people on the lake, I felt pretty confident it was well frozen.

Skating on Johnston Lake
Pushing a very sleepy child
Our family

Hopefully this has inspired you to get out to the mountains and enjoy shoulder season wherever you live too.  Ski season is upon us already so we are hoping that our next outing will be at Lake Louise trying out the new ski pulk with our son.

I become very addicted to cross country skiing each year so you can expect many ski stories over the next several months. 

Question for my readers:  What is your favorite way to spend the shoulder season months between summer and winter?

Saturday, November 05, 2011

More confessions of a far from perfect mountain mama

Ever since writing  my Confessions story I keep thinking of more funny stories and reasons why I feel I'm a very average parent who enjoys taking her child to the mountains.  I'm certainly not Super Mom and I'm no triathlete.  I thought I'd share five more confessions with you in hopes of encouraging more parents that it takes passion above all else to pursue family adventure. 

My one time carrying our son into the Elizabeth Parker Hut at Lake O'Hara

And now...

Confession six – Not that strong:

I confess to being jealous of any mom out there that is able to carry her child hiking.  I’ve carried our son in his child carrier a grand total of 20 minutes en route to a back-country hut because it meant one trip to the hut instead of two with all our gear.  My situation is unique in that due to complications following my son’s birth I am not allowed to carry more than about 20 lbs for an extended period of time and our son currently weighs 39 lbs.  

That challenge aside though, I’m still not sure I’d be strong enough to carry my son.  I’m happiest when I’m hiking with nothing but a water bladder and a granola bar on my back.  

I also struggle to pull the Chariot when skiing.  I’ve seen my friend pull her son in a pulk and I’m hoping maybe it’s lighter than the Chariot brand ski sled we have.  To date though I pulled my son once in his Chariot, on a flat easy trail, and I felt like I was climbing a mountain!  

I have found however that I excel at pushing the Chariot in summer up the craziest of hills and love that extra challenge.  I have grown to really love my Chariot because it allows me to contribute more in our trips and gives me options for hiking even when my husband can’t come along to carry our son.

Back-country freedom with my Chariot

Confession seven – One child:

Yes, we have one child and it’s worth mentioning because I know it’s a lot easier for us to get to the mountains with our one toddler than it is for our friends with multiple kids.  I can’t even imagine the effort required to get two kids ready at the trail head in the middle of winter.  Add the challenge of requiring one parent to carry each child if they are both small and then still needing to find a way to get your gear to the back-country campsite if you choose that adventure.  

Often when we do group family trips, we will make them Chariot-friendly so that parents are able to carry packs and push the kids at the same time.  This is how we have managed to still go backpacking with a toddler and a mom (me) who can’t carry a heavy pack.  

Our small but mighty family

Confession eight – Danger, danger:

Our family doesn’t really stick to the “family friendly” trails.  We find them too busy, often less scenic, more maintained, and less wild.  Usually it isn’t a problem and we have a lot of experience on back-country trails to keep our son safe.  

We love scrambling and have taken our son up a few mountains now but have always chosen scrambles that resemble a difficult hike and require little to no hands on rock.  All this being said though, there have been a few trips where we shake our heads and admit that maybe that wasn’t the brightest choice for the day.  

The trip that comes to mind first is one we did in Washington this past summer.  The snow hadn’t melted from the winter yet despite the fact it was August and we came to this steep snow slope that we had to traverse.  There was a sign recommending not crossing the slope without an ice axe.  Normally that would have been the end of the hike for us since we didn’t have ice axes on us and were carrying our son.  However we were doing a loop and this was well past the middle point of the loop so we decided to keep going.  There were good footsteps in the snow and we are experienced on this terrain so it was fine but I do admit it was dangerous and risky.  

There have been many interesting days in the mountains though with our son.  My husband has fallen while carrying him after slipping on snow (again in Washington when we lost the trail in the heavy snow), we’ve done mild bush whacking with Noah in his child carrier after getting off trail in the Bugaboos of British Columbia, and we’ve taken him into crazy mosquito infested meadows (again in the  Bugaboos).  

We also had the misfortune this past summer of taking a hiking trail up a ridge called Old Baldy in Kananaskis that we’d done several years before and had remembered as being a pleasant hike.  Not so pleasant really with a toddler.  There were slippery narrow sections of eroded trail we had to traverse and it was about twice as long as the guide book led us to believe.  We finally had to leave our son with Grandma in order to reach the ridge top.  Incidentally, Grandma fell on the way down and walked out with many bruises and gashes up and down her arms and legs.  Oops.

Off trail hiking in the Bugaboos

Sketchy snow traverse

One of our son's first summits

On the summit ridge of Old Baldy after leaving our son behind with Grandma

Confession nine - We skip naps:

I know many families who plan their trips to the mountains around their children’s naps.  I think that’s great.  For them.  Our mountain adventures though take the front burner on Saturdays and naps have to fit around our hike, ski day or camping trip.  

If I waited until my son no longer needed naps we’d never get to the mountains.  We are blessed with a flexible child I must admit and I know that skipping naps doesn’t work for all families.  Our son will often cat nap on the way to the mountains, sleep in his carrier or Chariot, and then nap on the way home again in the car.  He’s also generally happy when he’s outside in the mountains and so gets less fussy than if we were in the city.  

All in all, we figure it’s once a week that we are putting our needs first and he will survive.  Hopefully when he’s older he’ll even thank us for taking him to the mountains instead of making him nap.

Our son won't remember this summit
Tired little toddler

If he's really tired, he'll sleep anywhere
Confession ten – Adult trips:

Last confession – We still like to get out without our son and do our mountaineering trips, backcountry ski trips, scrambles and long day hikes.  Sometimes we take turns and join meet-up groups with one parent on child-duty at home.  Most of the time however, we take advantage of Grandma and her willingness to babysit.  She’s been great at giving us a day off at least every month or two and even giving us a weekend a couple times a year.  

We believe it’s important to our marriage to get away together, even if we are with other friends, to do the things we were passionate about before we had our son. I love toddler hikes but at least once a month I need to get out and do something that physically and mentally challenges me.  I also love connecting with my husband in an adult environment on a difficult mountain adventure.  

When we can’t take time away, we take our son with us on our adult adventures and soften them a bit.  It’s not always easy to find other families to join us in the mountains so a lot of our hikes are adult hikes that our son gets to join.  We try to stop and let him out on occasion and there was a trip recently where our son was faster than the slowest adult, but we know he would have more fun if there were more kids joining us on hikes.  (That was my plug for please come hiking with us.)

Child along for the ride

Our ski trip to Skoki Lodge last January (our son stayed with Grandma)

July Mountaineering trip while Grandma once again babysits

Once again, I'd love to hear your funny stories and confessions.