Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mama Loves Glamping

When I wrote my last camping story on our camping style, I was torn between our real style and what I wish our style could be. We just took a tour around the Kootenay Rockies of British Columbia, through the Okanagan, and home through Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks.  We didn't stay in a tent once.  We did however glamp in a lakeside yurt in Nakusp and stayed in a camping cabin at Canyon Hotsprings.  The rest of the time I have to confess we stayed in lakeside motels since it was a vacation after all. 

Rock Island Resort's Yurt

Glamping is the term being used for luxurious camping that's very far from the traditional idea of "roughing it in the woods."  Fans of glamping might stay in yurts, tepees, raised tents that sit off the ground, tree houses, cabins, and even comfort RVs.  Alberta Parks are even jumping on board with comfort camping options available in a few of their provincial parks.  Search the Discover Camping website for British Columbia and you will also find yurts or cabins located in several of their campgrounds. 

We enjoyed true comfort in our yurt at Rock Island Resort, Nakusp.  We had a full kitchen along with a barbecue for our meals, we had a comfortable queen sized bed and a futon bed for our son, we had a fancy composting toilet, and best of all we had a fire pit with wood right on the lake.  We lit a fire and sat beside the lake watching the sun go down in complete privacy.  The resort has two other cabins but the yurt sits alone in a private little forest of trees.  Even at the lake you are well separated from the cabins.  (read, this would be an awesome place for a romantic retreat!)  On our second night we were treated to a meteor shower and got to see many stars shooting across the sky.  You don't get experiences like this every day!

The kitchen

Bedroom/kitchen - as you can see, it's a very open concept (great for a small family)

What it looks like when you open your eyes in the morning and look up

Evening on Upper Arrow Lake

The highlight of staying at the yurt was being able to take the resort's tandem kayak out on Upper Arrow Lake for morning and evening paddles with our son.  It was a brand new experience for all three of us.  We had been canoeing before but none of us had ever ridden in a kayak.  And it should be mentioned that kayaking has been on my to do list for pretty much every vacation we've ever taken!  This was the first time were the stars aligned and we got the opportunity to try the sport.  Our opinion?  Awesome!!  Our son didn't stop talking about kayaking the whole way home.  Every lake we passed, we'd hear "go kayak" from the backseat. 

Hard to get kayaking photos when there's nobody else with you so this is it.

Bringing the kayak in from our paddle

Now while we would love to buy a kayak we are realistic in the knowledge that we've had no lessons, we have no experience, and that taking a child with you on adventures when you are a beginner to the sport just might not be the smartest thing to do.  Therefore, after enjoying our backcountry canoe trip  this summer as well, we decided to buy a canoe.  It's a 16 foot lake canoe and will nicely fit the three of us on all our future paddling adventures.  We already took it out last weekend here in Calgary and it tracks beautifully.  It's also rock solid for stability and didn't fill tipsy at all when we encountered some rough water on the Glenmore Reservoir. 

Our new canoe on our first trip out at the Glenmore Reservoir - paddled all the way to the Weaselhead and back

From the comfort of our yurt, we were also able to explore the local area of Nakusp.  We explored the town beach, swam in the lake, played in the sand, and did a balance bike tour of the waterfront pathway.  We found an awesome playground right near the beach (the Rotary Club should be commended on their playgrounds!  They are always the best ones in any town!!).

Biking along the waterfront path

The Rotary Playground

Throwing rocks in the lake

Playing at the town beach

I also found my new favourite Hot Springs Resort while in Nakusp.  To know me is to know that I hate crowds.  I love hotsprings but I really don't like sharing them with tons of speedo wearing strangers.  Enter the Nakusp Hotsprings - isolated, quiet, and a local secret perhaps?  We got there early so that we were the first people in the pool.  After an hour there were still only a handful of people in the pools with us.  It was magical and I'll skip the popular resorts of Ainsworth and Halcyon in future trips.  We did visit Ainsworth but it wasn't very peaceful or restful.  They don't even provide chairs to lounge beside the pool in.  Nakusp however has beautiful loungers all along the pool for bathing in the mid-day sun.

Nakusp Hotsprings

Sunbathing at the hotsprings

A final thing I have to recommend if you're in the area is the Cedar Grove hiking trail.  We stopped for the short easy walk on our way to Nakusp from the village of Kaslo.   It's located just off Hwy 31A  at Retallack on the left hand side (approx. 30 minutes west of Kaslo).  We stopped in at the tourism info centre in Kaslo to get information and maps.  They were very helpful and provided plenty of suggestions for our next visit as well.

The Cedar  Grove Trail

Hiking through the Old Growth Cedar Forest

We only spent two nights in Nakusp but could have easily spent a week in the area.  I have a pile of tourism magazines here beside me with hiking trails and sites circled for next year.  We can't wait to return with our canoe and our new stand up paddle board (check back later for our Okanagan adventures story for more details on how this mountain mama is becoming a true paddling chick). 

A final photo from Kootenay Lake at the Kootenay Bay Ferry Crossing

I'd love to hear about your glamping experiences and suggestions on where we should go for our next glamping adventure.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mama Can Still Climb

How often do you talk to moms who used to climb?  Used to hike, used to have big mountain adventures, used to… You can fill in the blank.  It could be anything from paddling to backpacking, mountain biking, to skiing.  The point is, we women give up a lot when we have kids.  We sacrifice everything for the well-being of our children, our families, and for what we think our expected roll in life should be.

To read the rest of the story, please visit  Women's Adventure Magazine  to read my first story that was posted this week.

Below are some of my favourite photos from our annual summer climbing trip this July.  This year we climbed Mt. Gordon from our comfortable base camp at the Alpine Club of Canada's Bow Hut. 

Bow Lake at the beginning of the trip

The Bow Hut

Ascending Mt. Gordon
Approaching the Summit Ridge (Photo:  Cam Schaus)

On the summit of Mt. Gordon

My amazing husband who supports me in all my adventures

Stream crossing on the way out (Photo:  Cam Schaus)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Learning to love camping: It's all about style

This may come as a shock to readers who've been following all of my camping posts this summer, but I actually didn't like camping until this year.  I loved hiking, climbing, adventure, and travelling  but at the end of the day I've always wanted to be in my own bed after having a hot shower and a meal that did not consist of hot dogs.  If my own bed wasn't available I still wanted an actual bed - off the ground - with sheets.

So what changed?  How did I go from hating camping to absolutely loving it - to the point of wanting to go every weekend?  I discovered my camping style!  And I'm not talking about cute curtains on RV windows or designer outdoor fashion.  I'm talking about the method in which you camp.  Before having a child, our style was always extreme minimalist.  We slept in a tiny two person backpacking tent.  Sometimes we camped in an official campground but more often than not we pulled into trailhead parking lots late in the evening, crawled into the back of our truck to sleep, and woke early to start a hike or climb.  On road trips, we'd pull off onto gravel backcountry roads and do the same, sleeping in the truck so we could get on the road nice and early again in the morning.  We'd use gas station bathrooms, grab coffee in the nearest town, and cook breakfast on a picnic table at day-use area.  That was our camping style.

Our first tent

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Playing Tourist in Banff National Park

Being a local from Calgary, there are places I know NOT to visit in Banff National Park in the middle of summer.  I'm sure there are billboards across Asia and Europe telling people that they should visit the World Famous Johnston Canyon when they come to Canada!  And Explore Rockies does an amazing job at getting the word out that their tours across Lake Minnewanka, up Sulphur Mt. and on the Athabasca Glacier will blow your mind.  Hence, we tend to avoid many of these beautiful places in favour of finding quieter trails, less crowded summits, or lakes that we can paddle on our own steam.

The Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon

That being said, we were given the opportunity to play tourist for a day when I won a Brewster Travel Package last winter after entering a contest I discovered through Twitter. If you have a Twitter account and plan to visit the Canadian Rockies, I highly encourage you to follow @ExploreRockies for other great contests in the future and to find out about family-friendly deals on their tours.  Right now for example, you can get a child's ticket for free if you pledge to "Unplug and explore" this summer.  (Alberta residents only)

The tour I won involved a full day of travel on a bus across Banff National Park - which with a three year old in tow, didn't sound like much fun.  Brewster Staff were amazing though and offered me tickets for their top three attractions in exchange:  The Lake Minnewanka Boat Tour, The Columbia Icefields Snow Coach Tour, and the Gondola ride up Sulphur Mt.  It was a no-brainer for me and I was super excited!  I was given three adult tickets and since preschoolers are free, it meant I could always bring a couple friends or family members with me on the trips.  My mother was thrilled when I told her I'd be able to take her up the gondola and on the boat cruise - two things she'd never gotten to do before.  I was ecstatic that I'd be able to take my son on all these tours - tours that for a local are an absolute indulgence; Locals just don't typically splurge on this kind of sightseeing.  We have to climb mountains instead of riding gondolas up them.  We have to canoe across lakes rather than being whisked across on a comfortable boat cruise.  And if we want to walk on a glacier, we get out our crampons, rope, climbing equipment - and leave the kids with grandparents!

We plan to do our snow coach tour in late September when we are out that way but we've already done both the boat tour and the gondola ride.  And what fabulous experiences they were!!  I wish more locals could have the opportunity to partake in these luxury tours.  

Lake Minnewanka

I took my mom with me on the boat tour across Lake Minnewanka and my son was thrilled with the experience.  We aren't really water people so he hadn't been in a boat before.  I'd never been on the boat tour either and was happy to finally see the famous Devil's Gap at the far end of the lake.  I'd heard tales of this beautiful place and wanted to see it with my own eyes.  The ride was about an hour long and we got to ride in a covered boat that protected us from the sun.  Being more adventurous in nature, I would have enjoyed a ride in an open boat more, but it was perfect for my mother and son.

Devil's Gap, Lake Minnewanka

Noah standing out on the back of the boat

Looking out at Cascade Mt. from inside the boat

We finished the day off with some sightseeing along the Lake Minnewanka Loop Road.  We hiked the easy Lower Bankhead Trail to see the remains of an old Coal mining operation and we stopped for some water play at The Cascade Ponds.  My son loved the hike because of the old coal shuttle train that we found along the trail.  My mom loved the whole "history" aspect.  I thought it was a pretty place with lovely views across open meadows.  As for the Ponds, it was probably the highlight of the day for my three-year-old who loves water!!  The water wasn't warm but it was warm enough to splash and wade in.  (and I did see some people full on swimming.)  Fortunately, I had planned ahead and brought sand toys in the car as well.  For more great picnic areas, swimming holes, and day trip ideas check out my resource Guide on The Best Day Trips and Picnic Sites.

Investigating the Coal Shuttle Train on the Lower Bankhead Trail

Meadows on the Lower Bankhead Trail
Cascade Ponds


Sulphur Mountain Gondola Ride

Last week we headed out to Banff again for our Gondola Ride up Sulphur Mountain, located right in the town of Banff.  In addition to bringing my mom and son, I brought a girlfriend along this time with her two boys.  The six of us all managed to fit into one gondola car for the 15 minute ride up to the top station.  From there it was a 30 minute hike (at a preschooler's pace) to the very top of the mountain where we found an old observatory and many friendly squirrels - note to other visitors, don't leave your goldfish and cheerios unattended!  We had perfect weather and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves looking down on the beautiful town of Banff.  I hadn't been up the gondola in years and it was a very nice treat for me.  The boys will remember their first gondola ride for a long time!

The boys reaching the top of Sulphur Mt.

Noah and Grandma making their way down from the Observatory on top of Sulphur Mt.

The boys heading back towards the Upper Gondola Terminal

We rounded out our day with a trip to Quarry Lake in Canmore for some swimming - a recurring theme and popular way for us to finish day trips on hot days!  Quarry Lake has the best beach hands down in the Rockies and is awesome for small kids.  Small rock pools line the beach creating natural wading pools.  You'll also find nice mud pools along the edge of the lake which are always popular with the kids.  Just don't expect to have the beach to yourself!  It might be a bit of a local's secret but the locals come out in force on hot days.

Quarry Lake, Canmore


Johnston Canyon

This popular tourist attraction doesn't require a ticket and you won't have to win a contest to afford the trip.  That being said, I wish they did give out tickets for the day to get on the trail because my goodness, does it ever get busy in Summer!!  My girlfriend and I (with our preschoolers) decided to hike the canyon last week when rain chased us away from another objective.  I knew it would be busy but I had no idea that cars would be lined up and down Hwy 1A in both directions on either side of the over-filled parking lot.  There was so much bug spray in the canyon from the visiting tourists that at times I really couldn't breathe for inhaling it.

Highway 1A at the entrance to Johnston Canyon

Crowded trail and parking lot aside, it is a fabulous hike and if you complete the 5.4km return hike to the Upper Falls you'll be rewarded with a 30m high set of gorgeous waterfalls that are among the most beautiful in the Rockies.  Along the way you'll pass the Lower Falls that are also stunning and very powerful if you squeeze your way through the cave in front of them to get an up close and personal look.  Both of our kids hiked the full distance - so proud of them, and they absolutely loved  the trail!  Yes it has waterfalls and smaller cascades every kilometre or so but it also has these metal catwalks and bridges that you walk on for about 60% of the distance.  Traversing the narrow walls of a canyon on a metal catwalk is pretty exciting for a youngster.  Heck, I find it interesting and fun myself and I'm hardly young anymore.

A rare moment where Noah had one of the cat walks to himself
Traversing high above the canyon bottom on the catwalks
The Lower Falls with the cave you can go through to see them up close

One of the narrow spots in the canyon

Noah and his friend chasing each other along the catwalks

My general opinion of this hiking trail:  Stunningly beautiful, worth pushing your way through the crowds, super fun for kids and a great way to motivate them to like hiking - BUT, much better in shoulder season (early or late season.)

A big thank you to the friends who joined me on these trips and to Explore Rockies for making two of the trips possible.  Playing tourist close to home is fun and luxurious.  I can't wait for our Snow Coach Tour in September.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

How to fit 7 people in a canoe - Backcountry Adventures in Kananaskis

Last weekend we headed out on our annual family backpacking trip and this time we decided to shake things up a bit.  Rather than bringing Chariots to help ferry gear (and kids) we decided to bring canoes. 

We had two canoes to be exact.  Along with 7 adults, 1 teenager, 3 preschoolers, 1 toddler, a dog, and a backcountry cat. 

A classic Canadian moment, our family paddling on Upper Kananaskis Lake

The dads canoed in with the gear while moms and kids all hiked the 3.5 km to the Point Backcountry Campground on Upper Kananaskis Lake. The hike didn't take more than a couple hours and we stopped a couple times for snacks and water play beside the lake. 

It was a crazy hot weekend in the high 20s the whole time (that's hot for Kananaskis) so we cheated a bit on the way out - allowing all of the kids a ride back.  We were fortunate to have a motor on one of the boats and this made it easy to make multiple trips back and forth across the lake.

Canoeing in across Upper Kananaskis Lake
Rest break on the hike in

We made a few jokes about the motorized canoe at the beginning of the weekend but once we realized we could ferry 7 people plus a dog to a private island to go swimming, the idea grew quickly on us.  It was further appreciated when we didn't have to hike out on Monday. 

Packing gear, four people, and a dog into the motorized canoe for one of the trips out
7 people and a dog in a canoe (it's too bad you can't see the third child but she's in there)

The Point Backcountry Campground is located on scenic Upper Kananaskis Lake. It's accessed via an easy and relatively flat 3.5 km hike from the North Interlakes Day use area Alternatively you can use a canoe or motor boat to reach the campground - and then you can bring lawn chairs, a cooler of beer, a hammock - and whatever luxury items you might want.

Next time I'm bringing more wine and real food!  Oatmeal and dehydrated food is fine when you are on a serious backpacking adventure but a trip to the Point calls for pancakes, s'mores and hot dogs.

North Interlakes Day Use Area
Upper Kananaskis Lake

The campground has 20 sites, two giant bins of firewood, private tables and fire pits at each site, food lockers and two outhouse bathrooms. 

It's rather unique for a backcountry campground in that each site is very private.  In a typical campground, the tent sites would all be together in one section of the campground. Meanwhile picnic tables, lockers or bear hangers, outhouses, and maybe a fire pit would all be clustered in another section.  I have to admit that I feel safer knowing that eating and sleeping quarters are separated (bears and all) but it was nice to have your own picnic table per site.  I've camped in places where there's only 3 tables to share amongst 8 sites.  Not so fun.

Site #20 looking over the lake

I found this campground less than ideal for a group such as ours because of the campsite privacy. 
I was hoping we could all eat, play, and hang out together but this was kind of hard since our four sites were widely spaced apart from each other.  I believe some of the sites were closer together but they were already claimed when we arrived.  Because of this, we spent a LOT of time with our friends on the beach below site #20 - hands down the most beautiful site in the campground.

We had a lot of fun on the beach throwing rocks in the water, swimming (note to self - bring bathing suit next time), and just hanging out. 

Playing with the kids in the lake
Evenings on the beach

We also spent hours taking turns in the canoes paddling/riding around the lake.  As mentioned above, we fit 7 people plus a dog in the motorized canoe to go over to a private little island that had a good swimming beach.  The beach at the Point is very rocky and not as great for small kids.  While paddling on the lake we saw bald eagles, heard the call of loons, and discovered neat little places such as the small island near the Hidden Lake outlet that had a spring bubbling up into double waterfalls flowing in opposite directions.

Morning paddling to the little island at the Hidden Lake Outlet
The lake was like glass Sunday morning (note that it isn't always that calm and it can be quite windy)

Afternoon paddling

Twilight paddling

A final paddle on Monday morning

The island we went to for swimming
We also took a short hike from the Point to a lovely set of waterfalls located about 20 minutes further along the Upper Kananaskis Lake Circuit Trail.  The kids thought they were pretty and we even found a friendly marmot.

Having a snack at the waterfalls

My favourite wild Canadian animal - The Marmot

It was an awesome weekend with perfect weather, great friends, and memories built that we will treasure for years to come.

Our Junior Camper on his first Canoe Trip