Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Thanksgiving at Lake Lillian in the Columbia Valley

We welcomed in another season of paddling and mountain biking in the Columbia Valley this past Easter, and we returned this Thanksgiving to say goodbye to our bikes and boats for another six months.  Noah and I still use our bikes to commute to school and back but we don't have any more mountain bike trips planned until next spring, and the boats are definitely drying out until warmer weather returns.

Paddling on Lake Lillian, Invermere

We usually drive north to visit family for Canadian Thanksgiving in October but this year we thought it fitting to return to the Radium Hotsprings and Invermere area across the border in BC for one final "play-cation" this fall.  We had started the season here at Easter, and wanted to wrap up the "warm weather season" with some of the same friends we'd biked and paddled with in April.  

Thanksgiving in Invermere, Columbia Valley

We spent three fun-filled days biking, paddling, hiking, playing and soaking in the hot pools in Radium Hotsprings, and even doing some outdoor art.

Celebrating an Outdoor Thanksgiving in the Columbia Valley

Paddling, Biking and Outdoor Art on Lake Lillian

Lake Lillian is located just outside of Invermere on the Toby Creek Road that goes up to the Panorama Mountain Resort. We like to paddle here because the water is calm, sheltered, and safe for the kids. 

Learning to Kayak on Lake Lillian
Beginner Kayaking on the lake
Great Family Paddling on Lake Lillian
Flashback to Easter this year at  Lake Lillian
Easter at  Lake Lillian - and yes, that was ice!

The lake is a fun place to spend the day because there are fire pits and picnic tables with mountain bike trails across the road.  At Easter we had the children color Easter Eggs, and at Thanksgiving they painted pumpkins.  Both times, we did some mountain biking and had a fire while there as well.

Pumpkin and Gourd Painting for Thanksgiving
Bringing Art Outside
Coloring Eggs at Easter
Outdoor Art at Easter at  Lake Lillian

To read about our mountain biking adventures at Lake Lillian over the Thanksgiving weekend, read my previous story:  Autumn Mountain Biking in the Columbia Valley.  

Mountain Biking on the trails at Lake Lillian at Thanksgiving
Easter biking at Lake Lillian
Even the youngest in our group bikes at Lake Lillian

Returning to Ski on Lake Lillian

It won't be long before we're back out at Lake Lillian skiing and skating this winter.  The Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club maintains a ski loop on the lake for recreational x-country use over the cold months in the valley. We skied here with the kids last New Year's and hope to be back this year again.

Skiing on Lake Lillian last December
Family-friendly skiing on Lake Lillian
Skating on the lake

I'd love to hear if you have favourite places you always visit in the Invermere area.  Like most Calgarians, we love making the trek west to find warm sunny weather in the warm Columbia Valley, and we're always looking for new places to check out.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Autumn Mountain Biking in the Columbia Valley

We love the towns of Radium Hotsprings and Invermere in the Columbia Valley, west of the border in British Columbia.  It's a short 3 hour drive from Calgary to reach this warm sunny valley and so we often start off the summer season here in early spring.  We like to return again in fall because it feels like we get a second shot at summer with warmer weather and dry trails to ride or hike.

Biking the Old Coach Trail in the Columbia Valley this past Thanksgiving

Our Favourite Family-Friendly Bike Trails in the Columbia Valley

Autumn in the Columbia Valley on the Old Coach Trail

Biking the Old Coach Trail

I'm starting off with this trail because it has the best scenery in the valley for biking and is a great ride for families.  I biked the Old Coach Trail earlier this year at Easter with my girlfriend but Noah never got a chance to do the ride from Dry Gulch to Radium Hotsprings at that time.  It was therefore at the top of the list for Thanksgiving because we'd tried it with Noah in 2013 when he was very very new to his pedal bike, and it was a very challenging ride for him at that time.

This time - wow!  Noah and I were flying down hills together, side by side, in total sync, and I wasn't braking to match his speed.  It was awesome and we only had to walk up a couple of the especially big hills.  All the others were ridden.

High above the Columbia River on the Old Coach Trail

Friday, October 24, 2014

Another Season of Trying Stuff with Columbia

Earlier in the year, around spring in fact (which tells you how overdue this story is,) I received a very sweet email from Columbia asking if I'd like to try some new gear for the upcoming season.  I thought about it for less than a second before responding that of course I would!  After all, like most people, I have a list of outdoor items that I've grown tired of or that I'd like to replace with something of better quality.

First Hike of the Season in my NEW Columbia Rain Jacket

Of the spring and summer gear that I dreamed of replacing this year, my old rain jacket was at the top of my list.   And I'm not sure how Columbia knew I wanted a new rain jacket, but included in my box of new gear to try out was a pretty new rain jacket - in purple (one of my favourite colors!)

Climbing in my Columbia EvaPOURation Jacket

Top Reasons I'm in Love with the EvaPOURation Rain Jacket from Columbia

The shape.  Unlike my previous rain jacket, this Columbia jacket is actually flattering to the female figure.  It doesn't just hang on me like an oversized plastic bag, and it is fitted so that I appear more slender.  While this isn't crucial or anything, it's definitely appreciated and I'm glad that Columbia cares about keeping me warn AND feeling attractive at the same time.

My jacket also matches my favourite head band.  :)

This rain jacket can be worn in ALL weather while doing any outdoor activity!   You'll see that I have photos of me wearing the jacket while climbing, hiking, paddling and playing outside in all kinds of weather.  I layer it with a short sleeved shirt, long sleeved shirt, and sometimes a down vest underneath.  Then I remove layers as need be and I've found that I have seldom needed a warmer jacket over the past 5 months.  The jacket blocks wind, it keeps me dry, it keeps me warm, AND it never gets too hot because unlike my last rain jacket, this one has pit zips!! More technically known as underarm vents, the jacket features zippers under the arms so that if I start to overheat and don't want to stop and take off a layer, I simply go zip zip down my arms and voila, fresh air!

Safe, Protected and Dry in my Columbia Rain Jacket

What I Wore Under my EvaPOURation Jacket

Columbia also sent me a short sleeve shirt that is part of their Zero Rules collection.  Sweat Activated and designed to wick moisture away from the body to keep you cool, this shirt performed just as intended and quickly became my favourite base layer.  So much so, that I have few photos of me wearing the shirt.  It was always worn underneath at least one to two other layers and kept me dry, comfortable, and sweat-free. 

Zero Rules and Sweat-Free in my Columbia Hiking Shirt

I loved that the shirt was long enough to layer underneath other clothing and didn't ride up above my belly button (as my other hiking shirts tend to do.)  I loved that I could wear it back to back on multi-day hiking trips without it becoming super stinky (for real!) And, I loved that it was comfortable.  Most times I could hardly tell I had it on underneath my other layers.  It was kind of like second skin.  (and it was even peach colored like skin.)

My Peach Colored "Second Skin" worn all summer long as a base layer

Visit the following link to the Columbia website for more information on the EvaPOURation Jacket.

Summit shot this spring of me in my Zero Rules Columbia Shirt (peach, centre)

Visit the following link to the Columbia website for more information on the Columbia's Zero Rules and Omni-Freze Zero Clothing.  Unfortunately I couldn't find my exact shirt on the Columbia website but I would imagine any hiking shirt from their Zero Rules collection would be equally awesome. Next spring there should be more selection on the website as well in preparation for the 2015 hiking season.

And on to the next Season...

So far I haven't been approached by Columbia to "try stuff" for this winter season but last winter I received a couple amazing items that I am very excited to pull out for another season.  And actually, I've been wearing the shirt for the last month already!

Noah in his Columbia Fleece Jacket and Me in my Heavyweight Half Zip Base Layer Shirt
The Columbia Family

I've been wearing my purple Women's Heavyweight Half Zip Base Layer Shirt since September and continue to be very much in love with it!  I wear it under my down vest and it's perfect for fall hiking.  And then it's even stylish enough to wear out for dinner after.  (now I just need to replace my cheap Costco down vest with a Columbia one!)

To read my review on Columbia's base layers that I wrote last winter, click here to Fighting the Cold with Columbia Sportswear - Trying Stuff

And, while I haven't had to pull it out yet, I foresee the Fire Jacket making an appearance soon.  My "fire jacket" as it's been nicknamed kept me toasty warm all last winter snowshoeing, skiing, and hiking at the most insane of temperatures.

I'm happy to see that the Women's Whirlibird Interchange Jacket is still on the Columbia website because if you struggle with being cold, this is the jacket for you!  You can read all about it in my review, Fighting the Cold, above.

Warm and Toasty in my Whirlibird Columbia Jacket


Shopping Tips

The Whirlibird Jacket above is on sale right now on the Columbia website. Shop here. (You're welcome.)  There's also a short sleeve Total Zero hiking shirt on sale now in size small (in hot pink!!) that looks a lot like the one I have. I could continue with great sale items but you should likely just go to the website and check out the huge clearance section.  There's a ton of great deals - and Christmas is coming!!

The "Fire Jacket"


My Wish List

Turbodown Down Jacket

Want to see what's on the top of this mountain mom's Christmas list?  Check out the brand NEW Columbia Women's Platinum 860 Turbodown Down Jacket.  AND, can you guess the color I want?  (groovy pink, groovy pink, groovy pink...)  I have an old down jacket (probably ten years old) but it's grey and who wants to blend into the rocks when they're outside?  Not this girl. Hence, it's never worn.  Time for a new down jacket! 

I'm also coveting the new Women's Layer First Half Zip Knit Shirt - in groovy pink of course

And I'm kind of partial to the Women's Platinum 860 Turbodown Down Vest - in hyper purple of course.  (always bright colors with this girl!)

Turbodown Down Vest

Disclaimer:  While I have been given clothing to try out by Columbia, I was not paid for this review and as always, thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Small Feet, Big Land - Book Review AND a Giveaway!

Our summer adventures are winding down and I'm finally taking some time to slow down, to catch up, and to share some very overdue adventure stories.  Today's adventure is a little different from what you'll normally read on my blog because for a pleasant change,  I'm not writing about my family and we're going beyond the Canadian Rockies.  In fact, we're traveling to Alaska today.

Today, I'd like to introduce you to Erin McKittrick and her family who live in the tiny village of Seldovia in Southcentral Alaska.  I've long been intrigued by this family ever since discovering Erin's blog, Ground Truth Trekking, and her incredible photography showcasing the realities of raising small children outside in a very big (and wild) land.

Erin hiking across the Alaskan wilderness with daughter Lituya

Small Feet, A Yurt, and an Isolated Village


Erin working in her yurt
Imagine raising two small children in a one-room yurt.  If you don't know what a yurt is, it's a round cabin of sorts made out of wood and fabric, and there are no bedrooms unless you use curtains to partition off a private space.  They generally don't have bathrooms and Erin's yurt has no indoor plumbing which means no shower or bath tub.  If you're lucky, there is a wood stove in the center for heat but that's it.  Run out of wood for your stove and you run out of heat.  And Alaska is not exactly known for its warm or mild winters. 

We recently stayed in a simple tent-cabin while camping and it was a fun way to spend a weekend "roughing it."  At least for a weekend.  Everyday life in a small yurt however, would be a very different experience.  Just imagine the bathing process alone with a newborn baby, heating water on the wood stove and then cooling it down with water from the well outside (possibly after chipping the ice away from the well in winter.)

Erin has written a fascinating book about her family's day to day adventures in Seldovia blended together with their scientific explorations to document and research climate change in Alaska. Not being much of a scientist myself, I have to admit that the everyday stories in the book were the most interesting to me.

I loved reading about the daily challenges that made up the family's simple lifestyle in the yurt.  For example, Laundry and showers required trips into town, 3 miles away.  The trip to town would often be made on snowshoes in the middle of the cold Alaskan winter.  And just reaching the village of Seldovia requires multiple flights with the final leg done by ferry or a small Cessna plane.

Erin narrates an intriguing story of "pioneer" life that includes storing vegetables, fish, and fresh meat for the winter (vegetables grown from their own garden and fish often caught by their own hands.)  Wood must be chopped and stacked to last the winter and while supplies can be ordered or purchased in town, nothing comes easily like it would in my big city.  
Growing Veggies in Erin's Magical Garden

"There's something intensely satisfying about providing food for myself and my family - growing it, catching it, gathering it, seeing it appear from the very land around me.  When the pie is made from berries I've picked, when the salad comes from veggies I've grown, when the fillets come from fish I've caught...it's not just food.  It feels magical."
Erin's book is full of poignant lessons on simplicity.  I was captivated constantly by Erin's descritions of acting out stories told from imagination rather than from library books they didn't own, making toys out of drift wood, mud, and boulders instead of Lego or plastic blocks.  And I'm pretty sure her children still don't know what a video game is.  Blissful simplicity!

Awe and Gratitude in every-day life

"Small Feet, Big Land" is bursting with inspiration for those of us who would struggle with daily gratitude.  Choosing to live without showers and flush toilets, this amazing family chooses to embrace and be thankful for the basics from warmth to family, love, and a community where they can feel safe and embraced by like-minded people. 

"We live on the doorstep of wilderness, with a million-dollar view, space for a garden, a close-knit community, a cheap and debt-free lifestyle, and a schedule nearly entirely of our own making.  Could I have all that and all the conveniences and comforts of urban life?  Maybe, with enough money.  But what would I give up to earn it?
And with that quote, I stop to ask myself what I myself have given up so that I can live in "comfort" within my three bedroom house that possesses not one but four bathrooms.

Scientific Expeditions, Glaciers, and Toddlers  - Together

Erin's book is divided into four parts with the second and fourth parts focusing on their scientific expeditions and huge month-long journeys that the family would take to study climate change and its impact on remote Alaskan villages - while bringing their two children with them! I mentioned earlier that I'm not much of a scientist myself but I still found these parts of the book completely fascinating because I'm not sure I could embark on the kind of adventures Erin and her husband do for their research.  And certainly not with kids in tow! 

Life on Ice (And yes, they really are sleeping on ice.)

Life on Ice with Two Toddlers
Erin and her husband Hig first start off with an eight-day journey as a "test" of sorts to see how possible a month long trip would be with their first child Katmai, a toddler at the time.  Later in the book, they progress on to a much more epic journey where they plan to spend "two of the wettest months of the year in one of the wetter places on the planet on the vast icy lobe of Malaspina Glacier." - and I love how Erin explains the "craziness of the idea" below. 

"We'd planned for the middle of nowhere before.  But here, the middle of nowhere collided with harsh weather, unknowable terrain, and a stretch of time four times longer than we'd ever spent entirely in the wild.  And our expedition team included an eight-month-old baby who couldn't yet walk, and a two-and-a-half-year old toddler who walked only in wandering circles between streams and bugs and climbing rocks.  Despite our best efforts, neither were potty trained."

Personally, I found the family's two month expedition to be very inspirational and I received a powerful lesson in the importance of slowing down.  Erin talks about how they had done the same trip four years earlier but had missed seeing the same lakes, had failed to notice the detail, and had travelled the same distance in a morning that it was now taking a week to travel with the kids.  And while Erin admits that the pace was often glacial, she also says that "feats of observation took over from feats of athleticism." 

Where feats of observation take over from feats of athleticism

I could actually go on for another thousand words on how much I learned from Erin's book.  I have pages of notes I took on my reflections on comfort, thoughts on introducing children to the concept of wilderness at such a young age, and lessons I took away on family bonding through adventure. However, I'd rather give you the opportunity to read the book for yourself and then to let me know what you think.

The Giveaway!

Mountaineers Books would like to give away two copies of Erin's book to two lucky readers.  To enter, reply with a comment below telling me why you would like to read this book and what you hope to take away from it. 

A bonus entry will be counted if you follow Erin on Twitter at @Erin_McKittrick and or on Facebook at Ground Truth Trekking.  Please let me know where you follow Erin in a separate comment. 

The contest is open until midnight on the night of October 28th (mountain standard time) and winners will be drawn randomly and contacted on October 29th.  Please make sure you leave email contact information in your comment (or sign in via a social media account I can reach you through.) If I can't contact you,  I will choose another winner.

Disclaimer:  A review copy of this book was provided to me but as always, my opinions and thoughts are my own. All photos were used with permission from Erin's website and are her property.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Family Camping Made Easy - Always Bring Friends

I haven't written a whole lot about our camping adventures this summer because most of the time we spent our days biking or paddling rather than hanging out at camp.  Our campsites were often "basecamps" for these day trips away from camp and we'd play hard from morning to late afternoon, trying to do as many fun things as we could at each destination.

A typical day "camping"

While we didn't spend a ton of time at each campsite this summer, we still enjoyed camping with friends where our hours at camp were always a lot of fun.  The kids would run wild around the campground, the adults would enjoy afternoon "happy hour," and we'd often cook meals together or hold margarita parties with Mexican Fiesta dinners. We even had a disco dance party one afternoon before the evening meal.

Crazy Afternoons at Camp
Margarita Parties were always a hit!  (with juice for the kids)
Nothing like a camp disco dance party.  YMCA! 

We even celebrated one birthday while camping and had a very special pinata for the birthday girl (me) - who, is still working her way through all the bottles contained inside the pinata!

Celebrating Birthdays at Camp

Below are some of the other highlights from a summer of camping with a great group of friends:

Party Central in the Hammock

Apparently, you can fit 6 kids in a hammock
The hammock was always the best toy at camp

Great Memories on the Water

Evening Paddling on Lower Kananaskis Lake
Red Deer River Overnight Trip
Learning to kayak at Surveyor's Lake, BC

And More Great Memories IN the Water


Always the highlight of camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park
Playing in the creek at the Canyon Campground in Kananaskis

Teaching the Kids to Play Cards

Rainy Day Fun Playing Cards

Hiking with Friends

Hiking in Waterton in July
Wonder what they're talking about...

S'mores and Campfires

And Spending Time with Friends

Camp Friends are the Best Friends

Thanks to all who joined us for our camping trips this summer and we're looking forward to more great trips next year! Now, let it snow!

Great campgrounds always have a beach!

See you at the campground next summer!