Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Revised Look at Summer 2013 in the Canadian Rockies

Readers and followers of my blog will know that we have had our entire summer planned out for months now.  We've had campground bookings made since February and have several adventure projects on the go for the 2013 summer season.  Then the rain came and didn't stop for three days.  In the mountain town of Canmore alone, more than 200mm fell in a 36 hour period leading to flooding such as the province has never seen before. As the rivers and creeks rose in the mountains, the water travelled east to Calgary causing a rise in flow of both the Bow River and Elbow River with up to 5 to 10 times the average rate for this time of year.  Approximately 75 000 people were placed under a mandatory evacuation order in Calgary spread across 26 neighborhoods and a total of 27 states of local emergency were declared across Southern Alberta.

A photo of the Bow River claiming one of my favourite walking paths in Calgary

The flooding washed away parts of Canmore and Banff as benign creeks became angry raging rivers and parts of the Trans-Canada Hwy were washed away leaving Bow Valley residents stranded in their communities.  Needless to say, the current state of affairs in our mountain parks isn't good and the latest MCR Report says that 80% of the bridges along the eastern slopes of the Banff backcountry are gone.  That's going to affect outdoor plans this summer for many folks!

We all rejoiced today when the Trans-Canada Hwy finally opened again to private and commercial traffic between Banff and Calgary and while a permanent fix has not yet been made, a temporary solution is in place with reduced speeds and single-lane travel in each direction for a 12km distance east of the park gate.  Beyond Banff though, Kananaskis is still closed to all vehicles along Hwy 40 with 250 people having to be rescued from the area's campgrounds and resorts.  The following highways are all currently closed making it pretty much impossible to access 90% of Kananaskis:
  • Hwy. 40 in Kananaskis Country
  • Hwy. 66 west of the Elbow River
  • Hwy. 541 west of the Kananaskis Country boundary
  • Hwy. 940 south of the Highwood River
  • Hwy. 742 (Smith Dorrien Spray Trail)
  • Hwy. 546 west of Sandy McNabb campground
  • Hwy. 532 west of Hwy. 22
  • Hwy. 68 between Hwy. 40 & Powderface Trail
  • McLean Creek Trail 
For a good look at why all of these highways are closed, check out the following map that Alberta Parks has provided on their website.  On the stretch of Hwy 40 from the Trans-Canada Hwy to Kananaskis Lakes alone there are currently 2 washouts, 4 slides to be cleared, and 3 bridges completely destroyed! The Spray Lakes Road has 7 washouts, 14 slides, and 2 damaged bridges.  That's a lot of work to clean up! 

Road work on Hwy 40 still continues in an effort to provide temporary vehicle access so that the people evacuated from the Kananaskis Village area down to Peter Lougheed Park can return to retrieve their personal belongings.  Beyond that though, there is absolutely no word on when we will be able to access Kananaskis again.  While slides and debris should be cleaned up soon, bridges could take the better part of the summer to rebuild.  I am hopeful that temporary fixes will be in place within a week or two but there is no guarantee.

For a full list of road closures, please consult the AMA Road Reports website.

A look at my beloved Bowness Park under water in Calgary

So, where do mountain lovers go from here?

If you are in the camp that believes we shouldn't go anywhere, that we should stay home and help rebuild the community, you may be disappointed in the following paragraph.  While I strongly believe that our communities and cities will only get rebuilt if we work together as a team, I also believe that we as families owe it to our children to carry on with life as normal for at least a weekend here and there.  You can't spend every waking moment for the rest of the summer cleaning out basements and looking down at mud.  And while it may look bleak right now, Banff National Park is OPEN for business.  And Kananaskis will open again too.  I actually heard a rumor today that Hwy 40 might be open within a week in fact.  In  times of disaster, the worst thing you can do is to give up, to let depression set in, and to stop living.  
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”  John Muir
We will continue to spend time in the mountains seeking their good tidings.  We will continue to go camping this summer.  We will climb mountains.  New trails will be hiked and biked, and new lakes will be paddled. This is how our family will find hope in the midst of the sadness around us. 

Playing in the mountains just a few days before the rain started

How will the flooding affect our plans and adventure projects?

The Camping Project

Our Camping Project will continue as planned with our goal still in place to camp 40+ nights this summer.  Safety of course will be a high concern and we will be modifying our campground choices as necessary throughout the summer.  Last weekend's backpacking trip to the Quaite Valley had to be cancelled since the entire park was closed with very limited highway access.  This weekend's plans however are going to proceed with no changes at all.  We are spending the long weekend in Waterton Lakes National Park and have even adopted two extra families because of the situation in Kananaskis.  While Waterton has seen damage due to the rain as well, the park is definitely accessible along with all of the trails that we would plan to do open.

Looking ahead to the rest of the summer, we will have to play things by ear week to week.  Trips in the National Parks should be good to go.  Trips in Kananaskis may need to be cancelled for the next few weeks.  One of the awesome things about living in Calgary though is that we have 6 different national parks located within a half day's drive.  We also have provincial parks in abundance spread out all over Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.  For the determined family, there will always be a place to go camping!!

Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park last month (I imagine that creek is a LOT higher now)


While we won't be heading out to Kananaskis to do any mountain biking in the near foreseeable future, we will be spending a lot of time in Calgary on our bikes.  Nose Hill Park is one of our favourite places to hike or bike in the city and as the name would imply, it's high up on a large hill, untouched from flooding as far as I know.  There is still a lot of beauty left to enjoy within the city limits and we will be getting outside daily for our regular dose of sunshine.  Noah starts bike camp in a little over a week with Pedalheads and we are excited to see what the summer has in store.  He's already doing loops through our community that I hadn't expected him to be doing until the end of summer - if that! 

Biking in Confederation Park (the park is in great shape right now)

First Summits

While I haven't talked much about this one yet, we started tackling Noah's first summits last year with an easy walk to the top of Sulphur Mt via the Banff gondola.  Noah had achieved many summits already as a baby and toddler but they don't technically count because he was carried up all of them.  We are focusing on self propelled summits now where Noah has to at least walk from the top of the gondola or tramway terminal to the top of a mountain.  This summer's first summit was the mighty Tunnel Mountain in Banff, which we climbed back in spring.  We will now be moving on to finish the rest of the summits covered in the story that I just wrote for Calgary's Child:  Go Climb a Mountain! Family-Friendly First Summits.  While it has been a concern to at least one reader that I would be sending families off into flood affected areas in the wild and dangerous backcountry, please know that every one of the summits featured in that article is doable right NOW.  Today.  Tunnel Mountain may need to dry out a bit, but you could still climb it today if you were desperate to get out and couldn't wait a week or two.  Also, none of them are located in the backcountry.  ;) At least two are accessible via gondola or tramway, and all of them are located inside or very near the actual town limits of Banff, Jasper, or Waterton. 

Old Fort Point Summit in Jasper


Fortunately, most of our paddling trips should be unaffected by the recent flooding.  We aren't planning any river trips until the August long weekend and I'm seriously hoping water levels will be down to normal by then.  The soonest paddling trip within Kananaskis falls at the end of July and we are fairly confident that Hwy 40 will be open by then.  Other than that, it is my goal to SUP my way from Waterton to Jasper this summer on every mountain lake I can find!  That goal has not changed!  Gosh no!  I have a new paddleboard to prove it along with the kayak we just got for my husband and son to assist me in my paddling project.

SUP'ing on the Columbia River - on the list again for this summer


For a family that has always been so hard core into hiking, we really didn't have any hiking goals made for this summer.  The focus has been on camping, biking, and paddling.  We will hike while we are camping and we will do pleasant family day hikes when we have a chance, but it just isn't a priority.  We've done a lot of spring hiking already as a family and are kind of happy with the distances that Noah has already logged so far this year with the aid of his balance bike.  As of the moment, he's up to 9km and we are over the moon proud of him.  We will be checking trail reports religiously this summer and will be sticking to easy front country trails.

Hiking in Sunshine Meadows last summer

And You?

Whatever your plans hold for this summer, I wish you blessings, joy, and peace.  Please check the National Parks or Alberta Parks Websites EVERY time you plan to go out.  Trail reports will be vital  this summer.  You won't be able to just head out on a whim this year assuming for good conditions.   Check your campground bookings before you go as well.  Many campgrounds are closed right now in places that I would never have thought would be affected by the flooding.

For more information:

And for a complete comprehensive list to all advisories, trail reports, and conditions - check out my buddy Ken's website:  Big Grey Rocks - Flooding in Banff and Kananaskis:  Where to find up-to-date information on road and trail conditions.


  1. I enjoyed reading this informative post, thank you for sharing it! I already have plans this weekend to visit a couple of the places you mention here. I put in some volunteer hours helping out with those affected by the flood and now I am balancing that out with sharing fun times with friends. I hope you have have an enjoyable time in Waterton.

    1. Thanks Alexandra. And thank you for the volunteer hours you put in too! We had a wonderful time in Waterton paddling and hiking.