Friday, May 31, 2013

Camping in Kananaskis: The Elbow Valley

Up until this spring we had camped throughout Kananaskis Country but had always passed over the Elbow Valley for some reason.  With its close proximity to Calgary I guess we always figured we could just head out for day trips and that there was no strong reason to say overnight.  Having kids changes things though and you start looking for campgrounds that you can use as a base camp for weekend adventures.  You could just go out for a cute little 2km hike on Saturday - OR, you can go out for the whole weekend and do a couple of short hikes, add a bike ride, have a picnic, play in the Elbow River, and just chill a bit.

The Beautiful Elbow Valley

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Up - A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure - Book Review

Camping season is upon us and I find that there's nothing like having a good book to curl up in the hammock with or kick back in a lawn chair with after the kids have gone to bed. Many of our car trips also tend to get a tad long and I've been blessed with the ability to read while travelling.  In fact, I read 6 books on our last road trip!  And then there's always the backcountry trips we plan every summer.  When dinner's done, everything's quiet, and I'm not ready for bed yet, I find there's nothing more enjoyable than reading a chapter or two out of a new book.

I know I'm not alone so my question to all you vacation  and camping readers out there is this:  What kind of book do you like to read when you are at camp, in the middle of the backcountry, or en route to a grand adventure?  Me, I look for adventure themed books, bucket-list travel books, and anything that is going to inspire me on that next adventure I'll plan.  

The book that really got me dreaming last summer is called Up.  A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure, by Patricia Ellis Herr.   Not to be confused with the Pixar movie with the same name, there are no balloons used in this book to reach the summits that Patricia and her daughter Alex climbed.  The Mother daughter duo climbed all 48 of the highest mountains over 4,000 feet in their native New Hampshire on their own steam.  And if you think it's not a big deal to climb a bunch of 4,000ers, I should mention early on here that Alex was only 5 years old when they began the quest to summit each of these peaks.  That's only a year older than my son is right now!  Knowing the average preschooler and their endurance, skill with climbing, and tolerance for hiking in wind, rain, snow, thunder and lightning, I can say without a doubt that Alex is no ordinary kid - and this is definitely no ordinary book!

The book begins with an introductory chapter titled, "Are you out of your mind?" and it's a fair question that many would have asked of Patricia.  Consider this:
  • Alex would be climbing grown-up sized mountains that the average child would never be carried up let alone walk up.
  • In Alex's mission to become one of the youngest people ever to climb all of the 4,000ers in New Hampshire she would have to summit and descend each mountain 100% on her own effort.  This meant that if there was a high stream crossing for example, she could not be piggy-backed across.  She had to walk across like everybody else - with the height of a 5 year old!
  • It would take just over a year for Alex to summit all 48 peaks!  A year!  And did I mention that she wasn't even 7 years old when she finished?
  • Several of the peaks would require an overnight stay en route to the summit.  Add backpacking to the list of incredible things this child was now doing.  And not cross-country backpacking but backpacking up a mountain.
  • Alex did not generally hike with other children.  She was always in the presence of other adults.  As such, she was generally expected to act appropriately with no fits of screaming, crying, or tantruming over being too tired, hungry, thirsty, hot... - the list, as you know if you've hiked with young children, goes on.
  • In order to tackle all of the 4,000ers, Alex would have to climb Mt. Washington as well which is 6,288 feet tall.  And while there is a road to the top of Mt. Washington, Alex would have to hike the full distance over two days.  

If Alex's tenacity still hasn't impressed you, check out this quote I found on a website that talks about climbing Mt. Washington.
Mount Washington has the reputation of being "Home of the world's worst weather". Severe storms, including snow, can happen at any time of the year. The combination of severe winds, cold and wetness can exhaust the strongest hiker. Never continue upwards in deteriorating weather, as it gets worse at higher elevations.
Also note that it is a strenuous climb for those who are not in good shape. The distance by most routes is around four miles each way; that may not sound like much. But in those four miles you gain roughly 4,000 feet of elevation, which is a lot for those not used to strenuous exercise. To quote the White Mountain Guide:
To a person unused to mountain trails or in less than excellent physical condition, this unrelenting uphill grind can be grueling and intensely discouraging. If you are not an experienced hiker or a trained athlete, you will almost certainly enjoy the ascent of Mount Washington a great deal more if you build up to it with easier climbs in areas with less exposure to potentially severe weather.

As I said, Alex was climbing Grown-Up Mountains!  Alex had to gain over 1000 metres to ascend Mt. Washington.   I can barely do that these days!  And guaranteed my son can't.  By next year he still wouldn't be able to.  

I'm not going to make this long because I'm hoping I've already given you enough of a teaser and intrigued you to go grab a copy of the book and read it this summer on one of your adventures.  It reads very easily like a fiction book and I was able to read a chapter at a time as free moments permitted.  It wasn't something I had to sit down and read all at one go.

I also found the book easy to digest in small pieces because of the unique themes in each chapter.  While each chapter described a summit or two, there was also a lesson included that I often needed to digest for a while before I was ready to move on to the next chapter.  Some of my favourites were "I think I can" Works and Ignore the Naysayers.  Always wise lessons!


I can definitely tell you that by the last chapter I was bawling as I read the account of Alex summiting her final peak and felt like I knew her.  I became so engrossed in the story that I felt a huge sense of sadness when I finished the book.  Fortunately for me, Alex's adventures are far from over and her younger sister Sage is now following in her sister's footsteps.  

You can buy a copy of this book at your local book store or buy it online at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

To follow more of Patrica, Alex, and Sage's adventures as a family visit Patricia's website at Trish, Alex, and Sage.

And a side note for Patricia, please bring the girls to Canada because I want to hike with your family and introduce you to some of our majestic peaks.  You have a tour guide when you get here.


Disclaimer:  I was given a copy of this book to review but as always, all opinions and thoughts are my own.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Kids in the Backcountry - Escape to Banff's Sundance Lodge

I'll be writing a lot about car camping this summer and many will think we've "sold out" with the purchase of our new trailer but I promise not to neglect our original first love - getting kids into the backcountry!  We have some exciting backcountry trips lined up this summer that will see us travelling into beautiful Banff and Kananaskis with our son and friends. I mentioned two of the trips in my recent Camping Project story and described how we plan to bike and canoe into a couple of great backcountry campgrounds in Kananaskis this summer.  What I didn't write about however is our first trip into the backcountry planned for next month - an awesome journey into the wilderness of Banff National Park, and a journey that any family could tackle! 

Sundance Lodge in Banff National Park  (photo:  Holiday on Horseback)

We will be taking our son on his first bikepacking trip next month to the remote Sundance Lodge run by Holiday on Horseback.  This is not the Sundance Lodges in K.Country where you can sleep in tipis or trapper's tents  This is the decadent backcountry lodge in the front ranges of Banff National Park accessed by the Brewster Creek Trail off the road to Sunshine Village.  It's a gentle 10km hike or ride on a wide well used horse trail.  My local source for riding, the Bike Pirate website, warns that the trail can be extremely muddy in spring and rates the trail as intermediate which scares me a little, I won't lie.  However, our son will be on his trusty balance bike which means in the worst case scenario, we all hike and carry the little 6lb bike.  We are also contemplating bringing the Chariot carrier with us because 10km could be a long distance for a 4 year old and the trail does go slowly uphill most of the way to Sundance Lodge.  Either way, we will make it to the lodge and it will be a family trip to remember forever!

Hopefully the Brewster Creek Trail will be nice and dry for our hike/ride in.


  What can families expect at Sundance Lodge?

  • Down home country cooking that any child will eat!  I'm talking about fried chicken, lasagne, pancakes, and sausages.  There's nothing too fancy or gourmet at this lodge so you don't need to pack your stash of peanut butter with you for junior.
  • Every effort made to give families a private bedroom with a double bed for mom and dad, and bunk beds for the kids
  • A huge living room area with fireplace, stocked with games, couches, and plenty of room to relax after your long hike in
  • Unparalleled service and hospitality!  I dare you to find better at a backcountry lodge.
  • All inclusive benefits from your arrival until your departure.  This includes afternoon tea, dinner, breakfast and a lunch for your trip out that you will pack with you
  • Trails from the lodge should you wish to explore further
  • Backcountry bliss - without sleeping in a tent (important to many people!)
  • Indoor plumbing, running water and electricity (Glamping at its finest!) 


Who can stay at Sundance Lodge?

Families with children between the ages of 4-6 are welcome to stay at the lodge in the months of May and June as well as in late September through October.   While this may seem restrictive, these are the months when you most want to be sleeping inside and not in a tent.  These are the months with possible rain, frost, snow, and early/late season cold spells.  There's no place I'd rather be than in a warm cozy backcountry lodge!

Special youth hiking rates would apply to small children staying at the lodge.

Families with children over the age of 6 are welcome at the lodge any time.


Kids belong in the backcountry


 
Ways to access Sundance Lodge:
  • You can bike or hike to the lodge as we are doing
  • You can ride to the lodge on horseback - after all, it is run by Holiday on Horseback!

If you want to ride to the lodge, here is the information you will need to know:

The youngest horseback riders we can accommodate on the overnight trips is 9 years old.  If they have riding experience, we could accommodate 8 years old.  For the hourly rides, we can accommodate as young as 6 years old.


Riding with Holiday on Horseback (photo:  Holiday on Horseback)


For more information on the lodge including prices, dates, and availability, please visit the Holiday on Horseback website.    

 I will write up a complete trip report after we've finished our journey to Sundance Lodge but in the meantime, check out some of my previous stories that I've written on the Lodge.

Holiday on Horseback also offers a variety of backcountry horseback trips, trail rides, and carriage rides.  Visit their website to see how maybe you could treat your family to something special this summer.


Backcountry Trips with Holiday on Horseback (photo:  Holiday on Horseback)

Disclaimer:  Our trip to Sundance Lodge has graciously been sponsored by Holiday on Horseback.  As always though, all thoughts and opinions are my own and I was not compensated beyond lodging for this story. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Kids on Wheels - An Introduction to Bike-Hiking - AND a Giveaway from Alberta Balance Bikes!

Continuing with my Kids on Wheels series, I wanted to write about a great multi-sport activity that you can do as a family this summer. I also have a great giveaway from Alberta Balance Bikes (a bike in fact) at the bottom of this post so make sure you scroll all the way to the bottom for details on how to enter!

We've been doing a LOT of Bike-Hiking this spring and it's fast becoming a favourite family activity.  There's less whining on the trail, less frustration, less boredom, and much less overall complaining.

Bike-Hiking to Troll Falls, Kananaskis Village

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Kids on Wheels - 10 Tips to Make Bike Riding FUN - AND a Great Giveaway!!

 Last week I started a Kids on Wheels Series with the first story - How to Create your own Junior Biker Gang.  This was the follow-up piece to my popular story on our recently formed Bow Valley Biker GangToday I expand on the topic of group bike rides to offer other fun suggestions for making bike riding fun.  You can get out with friends all you want but some kids will still be less than motivated.  Try some of the tips below though and I guarantee most kids will quickly warm up to the idea of riding.  I mean, who doesn't like to have wheels under them so that they can go faster and further?

And please make sure you read all the way to the bottom for a sweet giveaway from our friends at Specialized Bicycle Components.  

Bike Riding is FUN

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Kids on Wheels - How to Create Your Own Junior Biker Gang

Following on the success of my last biking story on our newly formed biker gang, I wanted to write a second piece with encouragement on how to form your own "gang."

Members of our Junior Biker Gang take to the Elbow Valley

I don't profess to be a cycling expert and truth be told I only bought my first adult bike last summer,  but our son LOVES his bike!  The confidence he's built riding his little Strider balance bike has spread into all other areas of his life and we are now able to go for longer walks, faster hikes, and have more enjoyable outings.

First Mountain Bike Trails

It really doesn't have to be that complicated.  Start with your child's classmates from school, Sunday School class at church, soccer team, gymnastics class...etc.  Send out some emails to the other parents, and plan a date, location, and time.  Even if only one family comes out the first time, you will still have friends to ride with.

Group bike ride with our Outdoor Playgroup
Another Outdoor Playgroup Bike Ride

Take lots of photos, share them with the other families and guaranteed you'll have more families next time!  I've had a lot of requests to join my "gang" since writing the story on our ride through Bow Valley.

The Bow Valley Biker Gang

A few notes on why the "gang" approach works:

Peer Pressure, Peer Pressure, Peer Pressure


If you want your child to learn how to ride a bike, how to balance on a run bike without pedals, and eventually how to pedal on his first big boy or girl bike there is nothing like peer pressure as a teacher.  Last year my son tried in vain to ride his balance bike and couldn't figure out the whole - sit on your bum, lean forward, and paddle your legs out to the sides - concept.  He would walk his bike up hills, down hills, and on the flats.  There was no gliding and his feet never left the ground.  One weekend camping with his friend Brody however was all it took to show him some proper technique - and he was off.  One weekend!  I had tried for months!!

Balance and Confidence

I heard the same thing on our Bow Valley bike ride too.  "My son picked his legs up and glided for the first time after watching the other kids doing it."

The girl in the photo below told her mom that she didn't like mountain biking.  One day with my son and she's a convert!  Kids just need to see other kids having fun.

Gentle Trail Riding in the Elbow Valley

But remember - Patience - and lots of patience as well!


It takes time so don't rush it.  If your son or daughter doesn't want to ride, let him or her hike along with the other kids.  Most preschoolers can ride and run at roughly the same speed so mixed outings of biking and hiking work quite well.

They may start off walking but they'll eventually want to ride
Bike and Run together

We do a lot of group walks and we see kids show up on foot, on pedal bikes with or without training wheels, on balance bikes, and even on tricycles.   As long as you are all outside together, it's all good.  Some kids may just need more time before they want to ride a bike.

Group ride with our Outdoor Playgroup
Another Group ride with our playgroup - Strollers, Training wheels, scooters...

To read the next two stories in this series, follow the links to:

Ten Tips to Make Bike Riding FUN

An Introduction to Bike Hiking







Monday, May 13, 2013

Camping Your Way Across North America

A couple years ago we planned a camping trip across the border into Washington and I discovered how hard it was to choose campgrounds without any local knowledge on a given area.  I spent hours with my head buried in library books as I quickly tried to become familiar with Mount Rainer National Park and the Olympic Peninsula outside Seattle.  I scoured the internet for the "best campgrounds," the "secret spots" that everybody should visit, and the "top 5 hiking trails" in each area.  By the time we headed to Washington I knew as much about the area as most local outdoor enthusiasts and I had booked us into some pretty sweet campgrounds!  I also had a detailed itinerary planned out of the hikes we'd do, sights we had to see, and places we absolutely had to go while in Northern Washington.  But, it was a LOT of work.  And not everybody thrives on research and trip planning like I do.

Ohanapacosh Campground, Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Camping Project - 40+ Nights Baby!

Yes, you read that title correctly.  We are going to be camping over 40 nights this season between tonight and the end of September.  40 nights!!  That's a LOT of camping.  Thankfully, we bought a small trailer this winter and will transition to becoming a trailer-camping family starting this weekend.  I am not saying we will be doing RV camping because the word RV makes me think of a motor-home/tour bus large enough for Bon Jovi, his band, and their family members.  I guess I just don't like the word.

What I want my summer to look like

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Bow Valley Biker Gang

Last weekend we met up in Bow Valley Provincial Park with 9 other families for a preschool bike-hike. With the Bow Valley Campground still closed for winter, we knew we'd see nothing but pedestrian traffic past Middle Lake and would be able to fully enjoy the wide open roads.  There were no cars, no campers, no RVs - just us, and our junior bike gang.

5 Members of the Bow Valley Biker Gang

We turned off Hwy 1 just past the Hwy 40 turnoff for Kananaskis and headed for the Bow Valley Provincial Park Information Centre and Headquarters for the park.  We then parked at the winter gate closure by the Middle Lake Day Use Area and gathered the troops. 

Some of the younger ones showed up in diapers or training pants and some showed up with a stroller or bicycle seat mounted on the  back of mom or dad's bike, but every child above the age of 2 showed up with their own bicycle.  The majority of kids were between the ages of 3 and 4 and not one of them had pedals or training wheels on their bike.  We had 10 preschoolers on balance bikes and they were ready to hit the open pavement and take over the park!

Middle Lake - the start of our journey
Many people take this opportunity in spring to bike the closed highways around Highwood Pass or down in the Sheep River area of Kananaskis but we've never considered this as a family because of the steep hills involved that would be much too challenging for a novice cyclist such as our son.  Even parents pulling children in bike trailers would struggle on some of the hills. 

Bow Valley Provincial Park on the other hand is the perfect place for a beginner rider to get out and even those on little run bikes will excel here.  While there are a few hills as you make your way to the Many Springs Trailhead and the Whitefish Day Use Area, our children never had to get off their bikes and just had to exercise a bit of caution.  (It helped to have a few parents on bikes who could keep up with the ring leaders and encourage a slower pace on the steeper hills.)

Even a 2 year old can ride a bike in Bow Valley with Daddy at his side

As you can see from the photos, the kids had a rare opportunity to ride on a wide paved road, side by side, and on whichever side of the yellow line they chose.  (So far this hasn't been a problem now that we are back in the city.)  Us adults loved the fact that we didn't have to worry about the kids getting hit or run over.  The only concern we really had was over wildlife but we stayed as a fairly tight group in the front so I'm sure every bear in Bow valley was LONG gone after hearing us coming! 

Gliding down one of the gentle hills in Bow Valley

We reached the Elk Flats Playground and met to regroup.  It was a great destination for the kids at maybe 1.5km one way from Middle Lake and snacks were definitely appreciated at this point.  A couple families decided to turn back but the rest of us continued on towards the Many Springs Trailhead for a short 1km loop hike.  The total bike and hike distance for the day was about 5km which was ambitious, but we knew the older children would be able to make it.  The younger kids would jump into their Chariots or hop on the back of a parent's bike when they tired out.

The trail started to get much wetter past this point
The Many Springs hike is always a spring favourite for us and it's become an annual family tradition.  This was the first year we slightly "cheated" and allowed the kids to take their balance bikes on the trail if they wanted.  While there is a "no bikes" sign at the trailhead, we knew nobody would object to a family pushing small children in a stroller or Chariot.  Therefore, it wasn't much of a stretch to assume that hopefully a kid without pedals could take a very small pre-bike on the trail as well.  (They do have one less wheel after all and a smaller footprint than a Chariot).

The kids had a blast, the hike was very bike-friendly for little riders, and we definitely didn't have to worry about knocking out any pedestrians on the trail.  We met one other hiking group on the trail but our children were moving slowly enough that nobody was at risk of a collision. We left all adult bikes at the trailhead and many of the children continued on foot as well.

Riding on the Many Springs Trail
The biggest challenge of the hike was navigating the boardwalk section over the small pond that the trail circles.  The water level was higher than I've ever seen it, causing the boardwalk to sink as we walked across it.  We learned rather quickly that we had to spread out and take turns getting across.  The first group I was in was bunched up tightly together and I was walking through ankle deep water.  We also learned that if you are carrying rubber boots in your backpack - just in case - that this would be an excellent place to put them on!  Before crossing the pond and not after!

Trying to get to the boardwalk - in sandals
Crossing the boardwalk - again in sandals
Taking a Chariot across the boardwalk that is normally well above the water level!

We got separated out a bit on the hike and had planned to meet up again at the viewing platform on the far end of the pond.  As you can see from the next photo however, there wasn't much of a platform to stand on at this time of year.  Wow!

Unsafe Parenting Since 2009 (my husband's joke)

Fortunately the rest of the hike was uneventful and drier.  Much drier!  The kids were able to enjoy some easy riding or hiking and we all reconvened back at the trailhead for the ride back up to the parking lot at Middle Lake. 

My son having the time of his life on the Best.Trail.Ever!

Most of the families made their way back up the paved road to Middle Lake.  We couldn't resist trying out one more hiking trail though that paralleled the road en route to our final destination.  Worst case scenario, we'd end up carrying our son's light weight Strider bike and just hiking the trail.   (Have I mentioned that these amazing bikes weigh so little you can easily carry them for miles?) Fun scenario, we'd introduce our son and a couple of his preschool friends to single track mountain biking.  No breaks, no pedals - how hard could it be?

Navigating a flat easy section of the Elk Flats Trail

The trail soon became quite rocky, rooty, and steep in sections (by 4 year old standards) as we made our way from the Elk Flats Group Campground to Middle Lake on the Elk Flats Hiking Trail.  Bikes were carried, pushed, lifted over a fallen tree - and ridden!  The kids really did want to ride them as much as possible and thanks to the no-pedal concept, walking their bikes up the hills while straddled over them, was relatively easy.  Getting down steep twisty sections was also do-able with some feet-dragging action to slow down.  Convincing Noah's friend that she should slow down was another issue however!

Noah tackling one of the bigger hills
This truly shows how light a Strider bike is!
No Fear!
It was a fabulous day and I was left on a huge high after watching the kids come down the final hill - in one piece, and with no blood.  We watched one minor fall but overall it was a very successful first attempt at single track riding.  We can't wait to continue with our bike-hikes over the next few months and you can expect many stories to follow on the best local trails and our adventures trying them all out.

Noah making his way down the final hill on the Elk  Flats Trail
An excellent photo that demonstrates the balance learned on a Strider bike



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