Friday, October 26, 2012

Enjoying Shoulder Season in the Rockies - Think Outside the Box

Shoulder season - that brief period between summer and winter when you can't ski yet but it's too cold to go camping anymore, not really pleasant out for hiking, way too cold for paddling (trust me, we tried Thanksgiving weekend in early October), and it's even pretty chilly for biking (not to mention icy).  So what's a person to do until the snow has accumulated enough to turn grass covered hills into fantastic ski or toboggan slopes?

Start thinking outside the box!  It's time to get creative and embrace those unique activities that can only be done at this time of year.  Really, they exist.  November is a fun month and there are cool opportunities out there for the person that can think outside the box.

November hiking - make it fun!

Playing around in Jura Canyon mid November

Winter Paddling - aka Ice Skating

Paddling could be defined as human-powered movement across moving or flat water in a water tight vessel.  Take away the vessel (you are the vessel here), freeze the water, and add skates.  You are now moving across water again.   Every town or city has a local skating pond or outdoor rink.  For those of us in Calgary we can also head out to the mountains for a more natural skating experience.

The ultimate skating experience in Banff happens once a year when the waters freeze before they can become snow covered.  It's called Skating Season by locals and Parks Canada has great information about it on their website.  Skating Season doesn't happen every year and I'm not entirely sure if it will this year given all the early snow we've had.  We've pretty much skipped shoulder season this year and launched straight into winter with cross country ski trails already in shape.  When it happens though, it's magical and you can skate clear across some of the prettiest mountain lakes that have not been cleared or professionally transformed into a skating rink.  We went out to Johnston Lake last year on Remembrance Day and there were at least 50 people on the lake, if not more, enjoying a special family moment in the Rockies.  I can't promise it will happen this year but I'm praying hard and I'll keep you posted if you are following my Facebook page.  I will definitely let you know when/if Skating Season has arrived.  Last year was a bit of an anomaly and we still found a snow free lake to skate on in January.  I'm not counting on that one this year.

In the case we don't get our Skating Season this year, here are the other recommended places to skate in the Kananaskis/Banff area that will see snow removal and ice care throughout the winter.

  • The Pond at Kananaskis Village (Cleared by Delta Resort Staff and open to all visitors.  Skate rentals on site)

  • The Pond in Canmore (located on 7th Avenue at Mallard Alley two blocks from Main Street, cleared by the Town of Canmore.  Note – no hockey sticks allowed on this pond)

  • The Pond behind the Banff Springs Hotel (Open December to March)

  •  Lake Louise (Cleared area on the lake in front of the Chateau Lake Louise, open from November  to April)

Johnston Lake last November

Lake Windermere, BC this past January
Skating at Kananaskis Village last winter

Master the Half Day Trip and Art of Slowing Down

Summer is busy and I even find September to be crazy.  We're gone every weekend, we plan big epic trips that require tons of planning, and no sooner am I finished unpacking from one trip than I'm packing for the next one.  October arrives though and I finally slow down! At least for a couple months.  Last October we discovered the secret to slowing down in the mountain and it's all about the relaxed start, half day trip.  You can read all about our adventures in the two stories I wrote called A Stress Free Day in the Mountains and November in Banff

On top of Tunnel Mountain last November
Lake Minnewanka last November (as you can see, this lake was not frozen)
Sundance Canyon last year in October with my little Cookie Monster (we did a few costume hikes)

Fall Tripping, Camping, and Wilderness Adventures

This section is thanks to our friends at Backcountry With the Kids who wanted to share a couple of stories with you about Fall Canoe Trips, Wilderness Adventures, and Camping in the Off Season.  Now for some of us out here in the Rockies, it's a bit too cold to go canoeing right now, but I know not all of my readers live here so I really wanted to include this section.  Jen has some really good reasons why you should plan your next camping trip for the off season and why you should take up cool-weather paddling.  Follow the links to read her stories, Have I told you lately that I love you, and Falling - a story she wrote for Mountain Equipment Coop's Blog.

If you live here in the Rockies there are still ways to get out into the backcountry or have wilderness experiences without having to buy a winterized RV (though that would be cool). We love to stay at backcountry huts and wilderness hostels in the off season or winter.  They are toasty warm, allow you to sleep inside, and provide a warm base camp for your cool-weather adventures.  Please read the recent story I wrote after staying at the Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel in late September.  Follow the link to the story here, Autumn Camping at Mosquito Creek

Fall paddling
What November camping would look like in the Rockies

Winter Hiking - aka Snowshoeing

Most people don't start snowshoeing here until December or later but there are a few trails that you have to do now in November  if you want to do them at all.  One of these gems of a hike is Elbow Lake.  It's an easy family hike with only 120 metres of height gain spread out over 1.5 km.  Most people visit the beautiful lake in summer due to it's awesome family-friendly backcountry campground.  Very few people see it in winter though because Highway 40 is closed past the turn-off for Peter Lougheed Park at the beginning of December each year.  Go at the end of November though and it's a winter paradise up there with more than enough powder to snowshoe in.  Last year there was actually too much snow to even pull a sled up there!  Thankfully we had our son in a child carrier.  Not sure what we'll find this year but we're definitely heading out there again to try. 

For more information on November hikes at Highwood Pass visit the Kananaskis website and scroll down the hike index to the Elbow Lake or Ptarmigan Cirque Trails.  Note that there is potential for avalanche risk at Ptarmigan Cirque so call a local visitor centre for conditions before you head out. Elbow Lake is a safer option as the trail does not go above tree line.  Ptarmigan Cirque will get you higher up into the alpine for prettier scenery but also windier conditions with that dreaded avalanche risk too off nearby peaks. 

Other great snowshoe hikes can be found in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park as well where snow falls early each year.  Rawson Lake and the Upper Kananaskis Lake Circuit would be my two top picks.  It's a beautiful hike along Upper Kananaskis Lake to either Rawson Lake from the Upper Lake Day Use Area or to the Point Campground (and waterfalls just beyond) from the North Interlakes Day Use Area.

Elbow Lake last November
November snowshoeing at Highwood Pass
Upper Kananaskis Lake in October

Play Tourist in your nearest Park - Without the Tourists!

 Last October I wrote two stories on Life after Summer in the Mountains.  The second piece in the series (with a very creative title), Life After Summer in the Mountains, part two, covers the topic of Why you should get out hiking in the off season.  This includes, but is not limited to:
  • Solitude
  • Tourist free trails
  • You can hike the best and most popular trails such as Johnston Canyon or Lake Agnes - with no other people around!
  • Enjoy early snow on the surrounding peaks - Beautiful!!
  • Frozen water for those pesky stream crossings or canyon hikes
  • Uncrowded highways
  • You can actually drive around downtown Banff or Canmore!
  • The sidewalks of Banff and Canmore don't resemble those of NYC
  • You can get into the popular cafes, restaurants and pubs
  • Find a snowy spot and get your Christmas card photos done early
  • Visit tourist attractions such as the Banff Gondola and Hotsprings - Uncrowded!!!
 Please read the story above for information on trails I recommend hiking, more reasons why you should get out hiking next month, and why I love November hiking. And don't forget the yak trax, ice cleats, or some kind of Traction Device for extra grip on your feet.

Jura Canyon in November - You can hike right through the canyon when the water is frozen!

Lake Agnes in October with only a third of the crowds
Early season hiking in Kananaskis Country
Taking a walk in the town of Banff early season
Lake Louise is a lot quieter in winter!

 The most important thing - just get outside and have fun! 

Cold weather is awesome if you embrace it!
Dress for the weather and get out there.

What is your favourite cool-weather thing to do?

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