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.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Confessions of a far from perfect mountain mama

You're out in the mountains hiking along when you come across another group on the hiking trail with a gaggle of happy tots and children.  Each of the kids is wearing their own little backpack and they are walking along picking up stones, bending to look at flowers, with at least one of the kids carrying a stick that they pulled out of the forest.  

It looks so perfect, so effort-less, so stress-free.  The kids are happy, the parents are happy, and there's usually at least a couple families that have joined together for the venture so the kids each have a playmate to chase along the trail.  I used to admire these families even before I had a child of my own and dreamed of the day when we'd be just like them.  And some days, to the passer-by on the trail, we probably are one of those families.  We've had great trips enshrouded in bliss and we've been that group with multiple Chariots and toddlers taking over the trail on our way to our back-country campsite.  Other times however, it is very evident (especially to us) that we have so much to learn and so far to go. 

Confession one - forgetful Mama:

I am extremely organized and don't usually forget much.  I do have to confess however to forgetting our son's sippy cup on at least one occasion in the mountains and to having left almost all of his juice boxes back in the car on a backpacking trip we did this last summer.  I've also forgotten diapers, wipes, and a bag for soiled diapers on at least a couple occasions.  The worst forgetful day was when I forgot our lunch by the back door at home.  We got to the parking lot and I realized that other than a few snacks in the diaper bag, I had nothing.

Perfect day in the mountains with my son - even without lunch

Confession two - the baby launch:

Last winter we took our son cross-country skiing with us in his Chariot (back-country stroller) that was fitted with skis.  (see photos below)  All good and he was always well bundled against the cold.  Our error however was not always buckling him into the Chariot.  

On at least a few trips, my husband fell while navigating a steep down-hill section and I'm sure you can figure out where the title "baby launch" comes from.  To our credit, I'm not sure buckling our son in would have  been much better.  The one time he was buckled in and the Chariot tipped, he was trapped in it with his face in the cold snow and there was nothing he could do until my husband got the Chariot turned over again. 

If you've never tried skiing with a Chariot, what you need to understand is that they are great on groomed terrain but very tippy in soft backcountry conditions.  Even the greatest and most experienced skier can tip a Chariot if there is too much snow and the trail is uneven.  It is also very hard to get the Chariot turned over again once it's fallen over.  The skier pulling it is attached by a waste belt and then there's the matter of maneuvering through deep snow in skis.   

We've bought a pulk for this season and are hoping it gives us more freedom on backcountry trails.  And we do plan to buckle our son in.

Pulling our son in his Chariot

 Confession three - the less than helpful wife:

As implied by the title, I am at times less than helpful on the trail. I've stood by and watched as my son's child carrier has fallen over (yes, really), and I wasn't always right behind when the Chariot tipped while skiing.  At least once I was myself also fallen somewhere further back on the same hill, but there were times when I was further ahead down the trail oblivious to any drama behind me.

Usually he's upright.

Confession four - summit fever:

Yes, I have a toddler and still need to get to the summit.  I've left friends and their babies behind and I've left my own son behind either with my husband or other friends on our hike who had no such passion to reach the cold windy summit. The worst thing I've done is continue on further when cross-country skiing to get views of a lake that we couldn't get the Chariot to due to the deep snow. My son screamed the whole time I was gone and my husband had to wait for me to get back to turn around for the car.

Yay for the friends who had lunch with my son while Mommy AND Daddy tagged the summit of Moose Mountain last spring

Me on top of Moose Mountain after leaving our son with friends behind

Confession five - mountain princess:

That would be me - the princess.  I don't really like camping and my husband knows he's going to be doing a lot of the work himself.  What I love is hiking!  But then I want to come home for a shower, a nice meal, and a warm comfortable bed.  I will spend a whole day packing for a big camping trip and I'll clean everything up when we get home.  I just don't want to do most of the work when we are at the campsite.  I've never actually set a tent up by myself and I'm kind of scared of back-country stoves.  I have a couple girlfriends who could go camping with the kids by themselves and they would rock it!  They are my heroes.  I have much to learn from strong women like that.

Mighty Mountain Women

Now that I've shared some of my dirty secrets with you and let you into the not so perfect world of my family's adventures I'd love to hear your comments.  What are your confessions?  We all have them.