Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Family Bikepacking - Guest Post

For those who've been following our family adventures over the last couple of months, you'll know that I've recently taken up cycling.  I still look like Bambi learning to stand with absolutely zero balance every time I start off but I am slowly improving and I love this new sport.  You'll also know from reading my past stories, that we love taking our Chariot into the backcountry.  We've been doing Chariot Backpacking since our son was just a baby.  Since I got my bike this spring, we've been towing the Chariot on our biking adventures now too. 

It was with great excitement therefore that I discovered Andy Amick's cycling website, Pale Spruce, with its large focus on Bikepacking.   Andy gives detailed information to newbies like me who might want to get out into the backcountry with their bikes - and children.  I asked Andy to please write something for me on bikepacking with small kids since our son is but three years old and not exactly going to peddle his own way into the backcountry.

Here is Andy's story.  Enjoy and please read through to the end of the post for more about Andy and how to follow his family's cool adventures.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park for Families

In my last post, Camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park I wrote about our adventures trying to find a campsite last weekend in this crazy-popular area of Kananaskis. I'm pretty sure we all would have been in tears had we been forced to drive back to the city without finding a campsite.

We'd always avoided camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (PLPP) before in the middle of summer because of its popularity but I was on a mission to find out why the park was so popular with families and why it was so hard to get a reservation in the park.  I wanted to know why people would have their calendars circled in red way back in April - Book Boulton Creek Campground TODAY!  And it goes beyond just having to count ahead 90 days to your planned camping date; you also have to call first thing in the morning when the park office opens.  Waiting a couple of hours could cost you the reservation - and no, not kidding.  Craziness!

We didn't have a reservation but we did manage to grab the last spot in the park I'm sure when we pulled in at 2pm Friday afternoon to the Lower Lake Campground.   From our beautiful campground right on the Lower Kananskis Lake, we were able to explore the park in its glory from bike trails to hiking trails and I definitely understand  more clearly now just why the park is such a popular weekend destination for families.


Children playing on the beach of Lower Kananaskis Lake

Camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis has always been a premier year-round destination for us.   It has some of the best cross country ski trails near Calgary and there are few trails in the park we haven't explored in summer.  We've backpacked across the park, climbed its mountains, paddled Upper Kananaskis Lake, and explored the most remote corners that few visitors to the park ever see.

Lower Kananaskis Lake

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Hike" is not a four letter word

I've heard that you should never use the word "hike" when you go out for an adventure with your children.  I've seen it suggested that you use words like "expedition," or "journey" - even "a big wild adventure," but never "hike."

Personally, I don't quite get that idea.  My three year old loves hiking and gets so excited when I say we are going for a hike that he drives me crazy jumping up and down and running in circles.  It's come to the point where I don't actually tell him what we are doing until I'm packing the last bag and about ready to load the car.  I wrote another story on How To Survive a Toddler Hike last month but thought I'd revisit the idea of enjoyable family hiking with some simple games and fun activities you can try on the trail. 

Hiking is fun!

One - Trail Snacking

Not sure this can be called a game but I try to feed my son constantly while hiking.  Every time he starts to whine, complain, or even whimper, I pull out another mini-muffin, another granola bar, a bag of crackers or even corn pops.  Yes, that's right, I said corn pops.  I don't buy into the idea that hiking food has to be healthy.  If the food is fun, the hike will be fun.  And you can quote me on that!  You can determine for your own family what would be considered "fun."  If your child thinks carrot sticks are fun I'm super jealous.  When I go on a big climbing trip I've been known to bring pop tarts, candy, chocolate and pringles in my pack and if you are doing a 3-5km hike with preschoolers, it's the equivalent of a big climbing trip for them.  Their feet are small and they need some motivation on those hills you might not exactly consider a mountain. 

Now, please don't get me wrong and think I allow my son to eat junk food on a daily basis.  I'm talking about treats here and I hope most people can see the difference.  As well, I would never suggest that if your child's feet are sore that you just stuff another cookie in his or her mouth and push them onward.  I'm assuming most families will be able to discern the difference between gentle persuasion to hike a little further Vs. cruelty when a child has clearly reached his or her limit. 

Not such a bad snack option

Two - Trail Football

We created this game today and it saved our butts on the way back out as we had to climb back up the hills we'd run down at the beginning.  My son wanted to bring his little football along that Grandma had bought him yesterday.  I couldn't see any reason not to allow this so along came the ball.  It was just a small toy and super soft so I wasn't worried that anybody would get hit in the head with it and start crying.  Every time we got to a big hill, my son would throw it up ahead of him and then run to catch it.  On the downhill sections, he'd throw it and watch it go tumbling down the hill.  He'd again run after it squealing with delight.  If you have older children you could play catch on the trail, passing the ball back and forth amongst your family members.

Catch me if you can

Three - Trail Singing

We've entertained the troops with endless verses of "The ants go marching" and "Old McDonald's farm" on more than one long hike.  Pick silly songs and let the kids think up verses to distract them from tedious moments on the hike (usually the return to the car).  "Down by the bay" is another good song where older children will have to use their creativity to think of another animal doing something silly - down by the bay. The Ultimate Camp Resource website has an amazing list of camp songs complete with lyrics if it's been a while since you've sung "Alice the Camel" or "Going on a Bear Hunt." 


Butterflies flying down the trail

Four - Trail Car Races

I got this idea from Helen Olsson in her new book "The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids."  Helen suggests bringing toy trucks and cars for each small child on the hike so that they can race their vehicles down the hills.  I thought this was a very creative idea and if you're like me, you probably have sand toys and miniature trucks, diggers, cars, etc. living in your car ready to pull out at a moment's notice.  If your child is carrying their own little backpack, they can even carry their own toy cars and trucks.  Brilliant!  Thanks Helen for that one.  If you haven't checked out her book yet, I can't recommend it enough.  She has a whole chapter on Outdoor Recreation with a section titled "Top Ten Ways to Keep Kids Trucking Down the Trail."  It's worth buying the book just to read that section.  I know it gave me some new ideas.  Helen blogs at Mad Dog Mom so check out her fabulous information for families there. 

Sand toys should come everywhere

Five - Trail Running

Now, I'm not talking about long distance running in spandex shorts here.  I'm just talking about trail games that will get your children running, playing, and interacting with their friends that hopefully you've brought along.  I've said before that if you bring a friend for your child, you've basically given him or her a superman cape.  Games like Hide and Seek, Tag and Follow the Leader are perfect diversions for the hiking trail.  I've watched older kids playing Hide and Seek  before and seen how much fun they were having when they'd run ahead, hide behind a tree, and then jump out at Mom and Dad coming up behind. 

One word of caution about these games is that you need to be pretty sure your children will be safe if they're running ahead or hiding in the bush.  It's always a good idea to enforce a buddy system where children have to hike with a partner at all times and if there is any threat of bears or cougars in the area, you'll want to hike in a tight group.  Follow the Leader and Tag will still work as long as the adults take turns running right behind and don't let the kids out of sight.  Hide and Seek though should be done at your discretion and might be a good game for urban hikes where you are fairly confident your child won't run into a wild animal on the trail.


Follow the Leader

Happy Hiking and please let me know what games you play with your children on the trails.  









Friday, July 13, 2012

Canadian Rockies Family Super Guide

I get a lot of e-mail requests from tourists, new Calgarians, and even local families looking for trail suggestions, hiking ideas for their family, Chariot-friendly trails, backpacking ideas, and general travel information for the Canadian Rockies.  I don't mind answering the e-mails I get and I love connecting with my readers but I thought, wouldn't it be cool if there was somewhere on my website where all of that information could be found in one easy spot?

Now there is.  I've created three separate pages on my blog that should help you make the most out of your summer in Calgary, Kananaskis and the surrounding National Parks. The pages are located at the top of my website and appear as tabs.  You can go to them anytime you want for quick information.  You can also click on the titles below that are linked to the pages.

The Best Day Trips and Picnic Sites

On this page you will find my top 20 favourite places to have a picnic in Kananaskis as well as information on Kananaskis Village, which in my opinion is the one of the best places to visit on a day trip from Calgary.  The Village has it all including a playground and ice cream for the kids, coffee for Mom and Dad (and Grandma), a central pond with toddler climbing wall, paved stroller-friendly walking trails, paved bike trails and multi-use natural trails for mountain biking, hiking or cross country skiing in winter.  In winter there's also a skating rink and toboggan hill. 

You'll also find my top three recommended spots to take a dip or at least pull out the sand toys.  Quarry Lake, Cascade Ponds, and Johnston Lake are all great destinations on hot days for a picnic and some beach time.  You'll find kids floating around in inflatable boats, toddlers with their sand toys playing beside the water, and locals sunbathing in bikinis.  (Something for everybody)

Cascade Ponds, Banff

The Best Toddler and Preschooler Hikes

It should be no surprise to those who follow our family adventures that we are passionate about baby, toddler and preschool adventures.  That's just where we are in life right now.  Most of the inquiries I get are also from families wanting information on hikes appropriate for small feet.  This new page on my blog will give you all the information you need to get the 5 and under crowd active, engaged, and exploring this summer.  Parents of school-aged kids will still find useful information on this page too.  Many of the hikes I've recommended for small children will be challenging and several of them will require parental assistance if you want to complete the full hike.  Older children will obviously find these trips enjoyable and much easier.  Many of the hikes are classics that every child, young or old, must have on their bucket list.  In fact, adults will want several of them on their list too even if they don't have kids.

You'll also find information on Chariot-Hiking and Backpacking, sports where I've often felt like I've been a pioneer here.  I've taken our Chariot places where I'm positive few other Chariots have ever been and it has been pushed to its limits.  When I started taking our Chariot out to the mountains, I had no book or reference guide.  I just forged my way on trails I figured would work.  Sometimes they did and other times they did not.  Rest assured, I've only mentioned hikes that have worked and that were fun.

Cat Creek Falls, Kananaskis

Calgary Urban Hikes

This third page lists many of our favourite hikes that you can do with your family without even leaving the city limits.  Many of them are so pristine, natural, and quiet that you would never know you were still in the city.  I'm still adding to the page so if I've missed your favourite urban hike, please let me know and I'll make sure to include it.

I included photos of each hike and tried to capture as many different seasons as I could for each one because it is quite feasible to hike year round in Calgary.  The hikes look so different in each season as well that you'll want to repeat them often. 

Twelve Mile Coulee Hike, Tuscany, NW Calgary

Camping

Not stand-alone pages, these posts I've written on camping are full of practical information for that first or twentieth camping trip with your family.  I'm especially proud of the story on backcountry adventures because it provides you with all the information necessary to get off the beaten path with your family in the Canadian Rockies.  I've given you ways to camp using a Chariot, bike, canoe or horse.  I've given suggestions for backcountry cabins, hostels, and my favourite campgrounds.  Every one of the backcountry campgrounds listed is one I plan to visit with my own son. 

Family Camping Made Easy - Warm Sleepers and Happy Sleepers 

 


Family Camping Made Easy - Baby Adventures 


 

Family Camping Made Easy - Preschool Adventures

 


Family Camping Made Easy - Bathing in the Woods

 


Family Camping Made Easy - Siestas for the Junior Camper

 


Family Camping Made Easy - Backcountry Adventures

 





Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Family Fun in Waterton Lakes National Park

We had the opportunity to visit Waterton Lakes National Park this summer when friends invited us to camp with them over the July long weekend.  It was our first visit to this amazing place as a family and I wasn't entirely sure what we would find to do that was child-friendly.  In the past we always visited Waterton to scramble the local mountains and hike spectacular trails that are way beyond the ability of most children.  Was I ever blown away when I started doing some research by how family-friendly Waterton Lakes National Park really is!  Below is the run down for those planning on visiting this summer or in the future.  If it isn't on your agenda, a visit to Waterton with your children should go on the bucket list for sure.

Basic Facts

Waterton Lakes National Park is located 271km South West of Calgary and 80km North of St. Mary, Montana.  That means it is accessible for Canadians and Americans alike.  Waterton was Canada's fourth National Park and is the smallest in the Canadian Rockies at only 505 square kilometres.  Waterton is also part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, created as a symbol of peace and good will between Canada and the United States. 

Upper Waterton Lake looking South to Glacier National Park, Montana

Thursday, July 05, 2012

When sickness enters the camp

Last weekend we headed to the mountains for another camping trip, third week in a row and on a roll!  The packing was easy, we almost had it down to an art, and we were all in good spirits.  That is, until the Friday night puke fest began.

Our sick camper

Our three year old decided to bathe our tent in vomit three times Friday night.  Blankets, pillows, pajamas - covered!  We got through the night as best we could by putting on new pjs (thank God we brought a couple pairs), tossing out anything that was truly beyond cleaning with wet wipes, and creating new pillows out of jackets and sweaters.  We brought a dish basin and garbage bags into the tent for the night and got used to jumping at the first cough.  Needless to say nobody got a lot of sleep. 

Saturday morning saw one more episode with vomit and two bouts of diarrhea (fortunately all outside the tent).  It was at this point that I seriously started to wonder if we'd have enough spare clothes for a long weekend.  In one morning, we'd already gone through two pairs of pants and were on to the third, and last, pair.  I tend to over-pack on clothing for my child but this was stretching it a bit.

It's at this point, where most families would pack up and go home.  Am I wrong?  We hesitated though because we hadn't visited Waterton National Park since before Noah was born.  We were excited about this trip and really wanted to stay.  Our son was also in remarkably good spirits.  We have seriously never seen him so well behaved, happy, and content when camping.  He wanted to hang out in the hammock for hours on end and even fared well on a small hike we did.  We also had no more issues from about 10:00am on.  It seemed like it had passed.

Does this look like a sick kid?


We had a fabulous day hiking, riding our bikes, touring the town of Waterton, and playing at the campsite.  You never would have known that Noah was sick.  We took precautions of course - My husband was not about to carry him in a child carrier where he could potentially end up with vomit in his hair.  We kept it simple with Chariot-friendly activities such as biking and walking, and packed spare clothes everywhere we went.

Riding around town


Saturday night however - more vomit.  And again, in the tent.  We were shocked.  We honestly thought it had passed.  We tossed out yet another blanket (we bring lots!) and had to bundle Noah in a fleece bunting suit since he had no more pajamas.  Thank goodness I had thought to pack that suit. We also pulled out the emergency blanket we carry in the truck.  Yay for being prepared!  I always pack an entire duffel bag full of warm coats, rain gear, winter clothing, hats, etc. - just in case.

The rest of the night passed uneventfully and Sunday was blissful.  We did more touring, went for another family hike, and again thanked our lucky stars that Noah showed no signs of being sick.  He wasn't hungry but that just made the camping even easier.  He was content to spend dinner time lounging in the hammock with some crackers.

Exploring Red Rock Canyon - and again, he looks pretty cheerful.

Sunday night we thought we might get a reprieve. At least we sure hoped we would as we were seriously running low on extra blankets and warm clothing.  It wasn't the case though as we arrived for bed to find the tent pee-soaked from a pull-up that had overflowed.  Puke, poo, and now pee!  We'd need serious garbage bags to get everything back to the city in!  Noah spent the night in fleece pants and his winter jacket, my husband had to put clothing down on top of his wet thermarest mattress, and we had to borrow pink princess pull-ups from our friends since we were now out, having anticipated one pull-up per night. 

Packing up the tent Monday morning I noticed all the vomit stains on everything and the wet patches that hadn't dried yet.  I can't believe we managed to sleep in this tent for three nights.  We get an award for that, right?

We brought garbage bags and pillow cases home filled with clothes and blankets I really just wanted to burn.  By Wednesday, everything was clean, dry, and restored to its pre-camping smell - ready for the next trip! 

A few things we learned from this trip:
  • Always bring more pull-ups, diapers, or pairs of underwear for the kids than you think you'll need. 
  • Always bring a pair of pajamas per night of your trip for the kids.
  • Bring a spare sleeping bag and at least a couple spare blankets with you on trips longer than a night.
  • Pack lots of spare clothing for the kids in the event they get sick or just decide to play in the mud.
  • Bring garbage bags to transport dirty laundry home.  
  • I don't like doing laundry at camp but it wouldn't hurt to bring some soap along, a rope to hang wet clothes, and a dozen clothes pins.
  • If you have a spare thermarest or even just foam mattress, bring it.
  • Spare pillow cases would have been nice this trip.
Kids get sick without warning, they have accidents in their sleep - even after they've been potty trained, they play in the mud and get dirty, they fall down, they get wet.  We will be over-packing for years to come.  This time, it saved the weekend.  

Why we toughed it out.

Have you gone camping and had a child get sick?  How did you deal with it?






Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Bears: Don’t Put Yourself and Your Loved Ones at Risk


Today I welcome Karen Ho Fatt with a cautionary tale on bear safety.  Karen is a native of Bragg Creek and I am always happy to discover other local writers.  

Bears: Don’t Put Yourself and Your Loved Ones at Risk


If a thousand pound bear is glaring over you with jaws bigger than your head, our instincts kick in and we immediately tell ourselves, “RUN!” If you ever see a bear, never panic or run. Remember, a bear is stronger and faster than you, and much like a dog seeing another dog run, their instincts are to chase.

I’ve never understood exactly why, but some people get a little too comfortable in the wild. I consider myself an outdoor enthusiast, but I never forget my surroundings. Even if you are camping in a designated campground, wild animals will and do roam around you.

About two years ago, my family and I traveled to a day campground in Kananaskis, Alberta. As we arrived, we noticed a group of young adults in an island cul-de-sac taking photos. Since I’m a photographer myself, I was curious what was drawing in so much attention. We parked our vehicle near the group and discovered they were taking photographs of a black bear off in the distance. 

The bear was far away and didn’t seem to notice the group of on-lookers. The spectacle seemed harmless enough until one young man decided to approach the bear. I can only assume he wanted to get a closer photograph of the bear, which was a dangerous choice. If you ever see a bear, keep your distance and never approach one for any reason.

The Government of Alberta, Alberta BearSmart Program advises that there are two main ways people can prevent bear encounters: “avoid surprising a bear; and take precautions so bears are not attracted to a camp or work area.”

If you ever encounter a bear, Alberta BearSmart Program recommends you: 

         Remain calm and slowly walk away from the bear. Talk calmly to the bear so he can identify you as a human. If possible, also walk up wind so the bear can easily identify your scent.
         Carry bear spray while camping.
         Never approach a bear. This can scare a bear and trigger an attack.
         Try to warn companions without shouting. Only use calm voices.
         If the bear is very close, never stare into the bear’s eyes. Directly staring may make a harmless bear become aggressive.
         If you cannot safely back away, you can climb a tree. If you do, climb high and as fast as possible. Note: Grizzly bears and black bears can climb trees, so this does not guarantee safety.

On this particular day, the young man crept slowly toward the bear, startling it. The bear immediately darted at the man and the man and everyone else began screaming hysterically, running and jumping into vehicles. My heart was racing and the young man didn’t make it to a vehicle in time. Luckily for him, the bear had bluff charged. This means the bear began to charge the man, but stopped in his tracks. This behavior is common among bears.

Instead of being grateful the bear stopped, the young man decided he should taunt the bear, as if a close bear encounter and near attack wasn’t enough. My family and I watched from within our vehicle. I was frozen with my eyes glued to the young man as he decided to call out to the bear and throw shish kebabs at him. As the bear came into the cul-de-sac to get the food, my husband drove our car into the middle of the scene to block the young man from the bear. 


To the young man, this was still fun and games and I don’t think he realized he could have been next on the bear’s list to devour. Now having had a taste for human food, the bear darted into a neighboring campsite where a family was preparing lunch on their gas campfire. The family quickly dispersed and the bear gobbled up everything in sight. 

Fish and Wildlife were called to the scene, but the bear had already vanished. Even through this ordeal my family and I still enjoyed our time at the campgrounds, but my heart sunk a few days later. We learned this same black bear became conditioned to associate food with humans and went from never approaching campgrounds to bombarding them and smashing in cars for food. Although the bear never attacked any humans, Fish and Wildlife determined the bear was now posing a threat to humans and captured and killed the bear.  

As Jim Fowler once said,
 “The continued existence of wildlife and wilderness is important to the quality of life of humans.” 
Please remember to never feed bears or any other wild animals. You aren’t doing them any favors; in fact, you are doing the opposite. You are endangering their lives and the lives of you and your loved ones. Be safe in the wild.

Bio
Karen is an avid camper and photographer. On all of Karen’s trips, she always brings a gas campfire. If she is not out in the woods, you can find her and the family sitting by a large fire ring since camping without a fire in the backwoods or at home just isn’t as enjoyable.  Karen is the author of the website, The Family Fire Pit.

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