Sunday, March 04, 2012

Wild Mountain Girls - Our Lake O'Hara Winter Adventure

One of the things on my winter bucket list was to make the ski trek into Lake O'Hara for the day to have lunch at the backcountry Lake O'Hara Lodge with my girlfriends.  The lodge is only open for a very limited time each winter and serves a light but decadent lunch on weekends that consists of fresh bread, salad, soup, dessert and coffee or tea.  I found a group of three friends and we set out this past Saturday hoping to reach the lodge in time for lunch; no small feat when it requires a two and a half hour drive plus an 11km ski in that's mostly uphill.  We had to leave Calgary around 7am in order to accomplish our goal and for one of my friends in the far South of Calgary, that meant being on the road from her house at 6am. 

Our mighty group of wild mountain girls

I've been into the Lake before in winter and it's always a nice adventure but I enjoyed this trip more than any of the previous ones.  This was my first all girl's expedition into Lake O'Hara.  As a mom, I know it's important to get time away by myself with my friends and I place a high value on pursuing the kinds of adventures I used to do before I became a mom.  Usually however, girl time consists of a night out to watch a movie, an evening at a local restaurant, a scrap-booking day or on occasion an actual weekend away.  When we go away for the weekend, the focus is usually on relaxing.  We might go for a small hike but there are no epic adventures, no challenging ski trips, and few exciting stories to tell when we get home beyond who drank too much or who had the best stories to share.

This trip into Lake O'Hara showed me why it's so important to get away with your girlfriends for at least a day and why it's even more fun when you include memory creating adventure and excitement.  I can't remember the last time I laughed so much; how can you help it when you reach the bottom of a hill and find two of your friends wiped out in front of you with skis and poles everywhere?  How can you not laugh when your friend goes flying past you with fresh  glide wax screaming that she'll see you at the parking lot.  We laughed at the wipe-outs, we laughed as we slogged up yet another hill I had promised was all behind us, and we laughed at each other trying to strip out of wet clothes in the parking lot (not easy or fun when it's below zero C and you have exposed skin open to the blowing snow and wind).

Finally within a kilometre of the Lodge
Enjoying our Red Velvet Cake at the Lodge
Girl down
Skiing out through glorious fresh powder
True backcountry skiing at its finest

On many of my past girl's trips I've chosen to invite other moms with babies and toddlers who already knew each other.  Our group for O'Hara was more of a mixed bag though.  Patricia is my backcountry mountain friend who joins me for most of my child-free trips.  She doesn't have children and is pleasantly young and carefree by comparison to myself.  Raechel and Greta had met a few times in the past but were still acquaintances to each other more than friends.  The three of us have kids very close in age and though we promised ourselves we wouldn't talk about them all day, we had to apologize to Patricia on occasion for slipping up.  It's hard not to talk about the kids that monopolize most of your waking and often sleeping hours.

 I was very proud of Raechel for coming because this was the first time she had been away from her kids for a full day; her oldest soon to turn three.  It's hard to let go and believe that your kids will be ok without you for a day (or even worse - weekend) but it's vital that you learn to trust Dad, Grandma, or whoever is watching them.  We need to make time for ourselves as moms and women.  I saw a side of Raechel, carefree and fun-loving, that I'd honestly never seen before.  We spend a lot of time together in the city but we're always chasing kids, soothing tantrums, and trying to pacify our emotional toddlers.  We'd never had the opportunity until this trip to just be friends together, to be girls, to be wild women in the mountains; free and unencumbered.

Raechel and I enjoying our hot coffee at the Lodge
Raechel and Patricia on our way out

I also commend my friends for having the courage to come on this trip with me.  A 22km ski trip isn't something to be taken lightly and I confess that I have been known to push my friends to their limits in the mountains.  Greta had only been out on skis once so far this winter and Raechel hadn't done any skiing this winter until she did a couple short days with us last weekend when we stayed overnight with our families in Kananaskis.  I knew they'd both be fine and I trusted their natural strength to complete the trip.  I'm glad they also trusted in their abilities and endurance because the trip wouldn't have been the same without them.

Greta having a blast!

I just want to finish here by encouraging all of you moms to take some time for yourself, to get away from the craziness and the pressure, and to escape with a few friends for at least a day off every few months.  You don't have to go backcountry skiing, but choose something that will challenge you, create memories, and make you feel alive, strong and beautiful. 

Information on Lake O'Hara
Lake O'Hara is located in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, just beyond Lake Louise as you head towards Golden.  It's an 11km backcountry ski into the Lake and mostly uphill.  The trail is often track-set by the Lodge staff but you should expect backcountry conditions.  We were skiing through fresh powder for the first 3km in the tracks of one lone skier who had gone ahead of us.  After that we were able to pick up the old tracks but they were covered by fresh snow.  The trail is never so steep that you need technical ski abilities but it is helpful if you can snowplow.  Most people doing a day trip into the Lake use standard cross country skis though many people appreciate light touring skis equipped with metal edges.  You are skiing up a summer road so the trail is very wide and easy to navigate.  There is never a concern that you will get lost.  Most people don't snowshoe into the Lake because it isn't very exciting to walk up a road.  Skiers enjoy it because of the scenery at the lake and the quick descent back to the parking lot.

There is little to no avalanche danger if you stay on the road en route to the Lake.  If you want to go beyond the lake, you should have avalanche training and carry the proper equipment.  If you are at all concerned about conditions, call the Parks Canada Office.  

The Lodge is open from late January through late March.  It closes March 25th this year.  If you want to have lunch at the lodge, you will want to arrive between noon and 1:45 for the last sitting.  The cost for lunch is $20.

If you don't want to pay for lunch at the lodge, you can make use of Le Relais Day Use Shelter.  It's open while the Lodge is open and day guests are welcome to go in, light a fire, and eat their lunch.

Photo from our 2006 trip into Lake O'Hara

Another photo showing a typical winter scene at Lake O'Hara
Le Relais Day Shelter on a previous trip