Friday, July 31, 2015

The Four Summit Day - Ha Ling Peak to Miner's Peak (and beyond)

Earlier this month my son and I joined another family for a challenging hike up Ha Ling Peak outside of Canmore.We had already summited this fun little mountain last summer so I wasn't overly worried about the hike and knew my 6 year old could easily make the top. And sure enough, it was pretty easy going up to the saddle where you reach the ridge overlooking the town of Canmore down below. We had hiked up about 600 to 650 metres by this point and only had 100 metres (at most) to climb before we'd be on the summit.

Resting at the Saddle with Ha Ling Peak in front of us

Everything looks very peaceful in the photo above and you'd have to look carefully to see anybody else on the mountain. Real time though sitting on that ridge, we could count over 50 people slowly snaking their way up to the summit. We knew it would be crowded, busy, and far from the serene summit experience I usually prefer to have.

The alternative to sharing a summit with 50 other hikers? We could go right. We could hike away from Ha Ling Peak and explore the other side of the ridge leading to Miner's Peak. And we'd have the summit all to ourselves!

To the right of the saddle, this is a view you won't get from the normal trail up Ha Ling Peak
Following the ridge away from Ha Ling Peak

Trail Description for Miner's Peak

You'll start at the regular trailhead for Ha Ling Peak and follow the exact same trail for 90% of your route. As you approach the low point on the ridge you'll see a faint trail through the scree heading right towards a smaller rounded peak. That's your path. And don't worry if you miss it.  Head to the saddle and follow the ridge going right. Keep following the ridge and you'll end up at Miner's Peak after a 10-15 minute walk.

There is only another 50 metres of height gain (if that) to reach the summit of Miner's Peak from the saddle and low point on the ridge.

Hiking along the ridge to Miner's Peak, seen at left (the three bumps at right we'd tackle next)

In the photo above you will see a small rounded bump at the left. That is Miner's Peak. Easy peasy to reach and guaranteed to be quiet as you leave the crowds behind at the saddle heading for Ha Ling.

The trail leading to the summit is a bit narrow but it only adds to the adventure. Our kids loved the hike and we were never worried about them falling off the ridge. Parents with young children will want to hold some hands though!

Before heading up to the summit, stop here and enjoy the lovely meadow
Hiking the final ridge to the top of Miner's Peak (with the three bumps we also climbed in the background)
Miner's Peak Summit - no crowds!!
We had the summit all to ourselves and the view was just as good as the one off of neighboring Ha Ling Peak.

Three very happy kids on the summit of Miner's Peak
Hiking back along the ridge off of Miner's Peak
You don't get views like this when hiking up to the more popular summit of Ha Ling Peak

Beyond to the Three Humps

From below Miner's Peak in the meadow, you will be staring across to another ridge with three small humps. They look big from down below but once you get up to the meadow you can see how short a hike it would be to tag all three peaks. And best of all, we saw a trail snaking its way through the scree towards the first hump. Giddy Up!

The Three Humps as seen from down below on the hiking trail
The kids standing on top of the first hump

The trail was easily visible to the col between the first and second humps. We quickly tagged the first hump (the easiest) and then climbed up to the second which was narrower and had a few moments where you'd want to make sure your kids are very steady on their feet.

Kids on top of the second hump

We hiked up and over the second hump, followed a very narrow ridge (many parents would be nervous here), climbed up and over some blocky rocks, and ended up beneath the final hump. One website I found mentions that the third hump (the first one the left) has some exposure if you go to the top. Cool!! We went to the top.  :)

The kids on top of the third hump which definitely had some exposure

This was the only summit of the day that made me a wee bit nervous. I definitely stood underneath my son as he down climbed off the summit and watched to make sure he chose good footholds. This was scrambling for sure with hands on moments of easy rock climbing.

The boys hiking back along the ridge, up and over the second hump again
You'll go over the second hump in both directions

We got  back down to the meadow and the kids were ecstatic! They had tagged four summits and had every reason to be very proud of themselves! Meanwhile, I was overjoyed that we had found such an incredible place to explore without crowds! We might never do Ha Ling Peak again.

Hiking back along the ridge to the saddle with Ha Ling Peak

We joked about continuing on to tackle Ha Ling Peak as well but one of the children put it best when she said "let's not!" I enjoyed a nice hike (run) back down the mountain in record time as I chased my son all the way to the parking lot. I swear he wasn't even the slightest bit tired on the hike down!

General Trip Review

We might never do Ha Ling Peak again. At the very least, I will never hike back up this trail without doing Miner's Peak and the Three Humps in addition to tagging Ha Ling.

The hike up Miner's Peak is actually easier than the hike up Ha Ling Peak with no scrambling and no loose scree or rocks. I'd recommend it for children 5+ who can hike up approximately 700m over about 6km return.

Beautiful hiking on the way to Miner's Peak

The hike over the Three Humps is more challenging and I wouldn't recommend it for children under the age of 6.  Even then, it is best suited for strong hikers who have previous experience with hands on scrambling and narrow ridge walking. If you feel at all nervous, tag the first two humps and turn back before the third.

This 6 year old LOVED every moment of the hike!

We now think this is our favourite hike in all of Kananaskis.
Two Thumbs Up!!

Additional Reading

Ha Ling!! My Baby Climbed His First Real Summit! (last year's trip report)

Miner's Peak and the Three Humps Trail Description via Trail Peak

Ha Ling Peak Trail Description via Trail Peak

Monday, July 27, 2015

Calgary By Bike! A Guide to Downtown Calgary's Cycle Tracks and Paths

I've always been intrigued by Calgary's downtown core and wished it were easier to navigate as a family.  Urban parks, sculptures and playgrounds all wait to be explored by those who can figure out how to reach them without fighting congested roads and crowded sidewalks.

I was therefore very excited when I heard about a new guidebook that would demystify the process of navigating the downtown core while offering straight forward ways of biking through the crowded streets and pathways.   

Calgary by Bike is a small guidebook written in the form of a map you can fold up and carry in your pocket while biking around downtown.  It is written by popular Calgary blogger, Mike Morrison of Mike's Bloggity Blog and the map costs slightly more than a cup of coffee at $5.

Last week, my 6 year old son and I grabbed the new map, loaded up our bikes, and headed down to Prince's Island to begin our first journey on Calgary's Cycle Tracks. 

Our first goal:  To bike from Eau Claire Market to 17th Ave. for lunch on a patio. 

Second goal:  I wanted to see the Chinook Arc sculpture that I'd never seen before. 

Third goal:  We wanted to do a loop of downtown and somehow connect the cycle tracks to the river pathway via the East Village. 

Doable?  Completely!!

Starting our ride at Prince's Island and the best playground in Calgary

Parking to begin our downtown ride

We parked at the Calgary Curling Club at 3rd Street NW and Memorial Drive with its easy access to the bridge leading to Prince's Island Park.  Parking was cheap and we paid less than $5 for the three hour period that we were downtown!  There was also ample parking and it was no challenge at all to find a spot.

From here, we biked across to the island, stopped at the playground for a bit while I studied our route on the map, and then headed across the island towards the Peace Bridge (a must see land mark downtown)

Biking across the Calgary Peace Bridge

Following the Cycle Tracks south to 17th Ave

From Prince's Island Park we made our way to the Cycle Tracks on 7th Street SW and followed the them to 8th avenue SW.  Once we reached 8th avenue, we followed the Cycle Tracks over to 5th Street SW and then biked all the way down to 17th avenue. 

The Cycle Tracks were easy to follow and completely safe for families riding with kids.  They were separated from traffic and I never worried about getting hit.  The only challenge with following the cycle tracks was that we had to stop at most intersections to wait for our light to turn green.  Vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians all share the intersections at each block so obviously you will be doing a fair bit of stop and go riding.  While not a problem, it just means that families really need to make sure all kids will stop at each intersection without riding straight out into traffic.

For more on Calgary's Cycle Tracks,visit this link to the City of Calgary's website.

Riding on the 12th Avenue Cycle Tracks

Lunch at the Ship and Anchor

The Ship and Anchor is a Calgary landmark with its sunny patio located right on 17th Ave and I love that they accept children at this pub.  The Ship and Anchor is visible from the corner of 17th Avenue as you reach it by bike.  Just turn left (east) from 5th Street and lock your bikes up at the bike racks located beside the patio.

While the pub doesn't have any kids' menu, we found the Mac. and Cheese to be delicious (hold the jalapenos) and next time I'm ordering it myself!  Meanwhile, I ordered a Vietnamese inspired noodle dish to go with my beer and we chatted with friendly locals while enjoying our lunch.
Studying the bike map while he waits for his mac. and cheese at the Ship and Anchor

The Kid Loves Maps!

Looking for Sculptures

I've seen most of the big sculptures downtown but had never even heard of the Chinook Arc until looking at the Calgary by Bike Map.  Located on 12th avenue SW, it was an easy ride via the Cycle Tracks and we stopped here on our way back to 8th Avenue. 

Other sculptures are easy to find on the map  as well with a picture showing their location in the downtown core.

Biking under the Chinook Arc on 12th Ave SW

8th Avenue to Olympic Plaza

Upon reaching 8th Avenue again,  we turned right (east) and rode towards Olympic Plaza and City Hall at Macleod Trail.  This may have been one of the more challenging parts of our ride because this entire stretch of 8th Ave, referred to as Stephen Ave, is closed to vehicles and lacks official cycle tracks or bike lanes. While we didn't have to worry about getting hit by a car,  distracted pedestrians looking down at their cell phones was our big problem here! (don't walk and text folks!!)

We had hoped to play in the fountain but alas, it was closed with the water drained from the pool.  :(

Olympic Plaza (photo:  Wikimedia commons)

Olympic Plaza to the East Village

From Olympic Plaza, the Cycle Tracks are located on a shared sidewalk as you proceed south towards 9th Avenue so care is required again, lest you hit some unsuspecting tourist.

We made our way down to 9th Ave SE and rode on a combination of sidewalks and shared road.  I was a bit nervous riding in traffic along 9th avenue on the shared car/bike roadway but the vehicles all respected the marked bike lane and we made it to the pathway across from Fort Calgary.  Once on the pathway, the East Village was in front of us and we would have an easy ride back on the Bow River Pathway.

Biking over the new bridge beside St. Patrick's Island in the East Village

East Village to Eau Claire Market

We had a pleasant ride on the paved Bow River pathway (also known here as the "River Walk") heading west back to Eau Claire Market.  Next time we'll stop at the newly renovated Simmons Building for coffee and pastries at the bakery, and as soon as my husband and I get a "date day" I want to go to the new Charbar Restaurant with its beautiful patio overlooking the Bow River and East Village area.

First time biking the "River Walk" through the East Village last summer

Next Time

This was a short 7km bike loop that could easily have been lengthened.  We hope to get back downtown again this summer to do a longer ride and check out some of the other attractions below:
  • We love going into Eau Claire Market for cinnamon buns at the Good Earth Bakery.   YUM!
  • There's so many other sculptures that would be fun to check out on our bikes.  Of note, "Wonderland" definitely needs to be visited next time.   The only challenge will be biking on sidewalks for a short stretch to reach it.
  • I'd like to actually play at Olympic Plaza next time and splash around in the pool.
  • We didn't get a chance to play at the Eau Claire Splash Park and Wading Pool this time.  
  • I want to bike to Central Memorial Park on our next ride to play in the water fountains there.  I'd also love to grab lunch at the Boxwood Restaurant located in the park.  This park is super easy to reach via the 12th Ave Cycle Tracks.
 And hopefully next time we go downtown, the newly renovated St. Patrick's Island will be open! Check out the project here

The "Wonderland" Sculpture just off Centre Street downtown Calgary (photo:  Lori Beattie of Calgary's Best Walks)

How to pick up a copy of Calgary by Bike

Visit the Calgary by Bike website or buy a copy at one of these stores.

Recommended Reading on Biking in Calgary 

Biking the Bow River Pathway with Kids - Family Fun Calgary

Riding around the Glenmore Reservoir with Kids - Family Fun Calgary

Biking the Bow River Pathway downtown Calgary

Thursday, July 23, 2015

An Inside Look at WinSport Mountain Bike Camps at Canada Olympic Park

Ever wonder what really goes on at summer camp after you drop your child off?  Wonder why your child looks so shattered and exhausted at the end of the day and wish you could have been a fly on the wall watching what they did all day?? Well, I had those same thoughts about my son's mountain bike camp at Canada Olympic Park (COP) after he came home in zombie mode for the third night in a row.  Seriously, the kid wouldn't eat dinner and he was an absolute wreck!  What were they doing to the kids??

Fortunately for me, being a writer who specializes in family outdoor adventure, I got the opportunity to spend a morning shadowing my son's mountain bike class at WinSport's Canada Olympic Park and I got a valuable look at what really goes on after the kids get dropped off for the day.

Biking down the hill on Strawberry Shortcake - the first downhill run all kids will do in camp

I followed my son's bike class all around Canada Olympic Park for a morning, took a trip to Narnia with them, rode up the chairlift with them, and attempted to bike down the hill with them.  I watched them attempt jumps, ride features in the skills park, and master the teeter totter in the Discover Park.  And I watched them learn a lot of important skills that would keep them safe on the trails long after bike camp had finished.  - and that was just the morning at camp!

Group Chat - Time to work on some skills!

A day in the life of a child in a youth mountain bike class at COP

Most days start off with a trip to the Discover Park to "Warm up" on the easy little bike track, try the teeter totter a time or two, and work on the banked corners going down the short run.

working on the teeter totter in the Discover Park
Spawn Biker Twins practicing at the Discover Park

Following the Discover Park, the kids took a tour around Canada Olympic Park to work on skills. They practiced riding with flat pedals, worked on hills (riding both up and down,) and tried to master getting their bums off their seats.  I enjoyed following the kids on the tour because I discovered some new places to explore in the park and I felt that the tour gave the kids a bit of practice with paved pathway riding (great for working on gears) as well as mountain biking.

Trying to work on bike skills (mine refused to raise his bum or stand during this lesson.)
Flat Pedals and Bums in the Air everybody!!

Next we took  a trip to Narnia!  Located near the bobsled track and kids adventure park, this little area in the trees features three separate tracks for kids to practice their banked corners, rollers, and even some tight turns around trees.  Now that I know where Narnia is, we like to come to COP in the evening for a round of mini-golf and some play time biking in the trees.

Riding in Narnia at Canada Olympic Park

After the tour of Canada Olympic Park, the kids headed in for a snack and I was told I'd have to get on the chair lift if I was going to continue following the class for their first run of the day down the ski hill.  Thank goodness they were just riding Strawberry Shortcake because this mom is a bit scared of downhill riding (hence why my kid is in bike camp learning from a professional!)

Following the kids down Strawberry Shortcake at Canada Olympic Park

I followed the kids and learned a few important things that ALL parents will want to know:
  1. No kid will  be left behind!! There was one boy in the class struggling on a smaller bike with coaster brakes but he was never abandoned and the Junior Helper in the class always stayed with him, pushing his bike when necessary,  and going as slowly as needed to get the kid safely down the hill.
  2. If you want to walk, you walk.  No pressure, no name calling by other students, no worries.  Ride when you can ride, walk if you need to walk.  (I confess that I walked a few sections with some of the more timid children.)
  3. The kids all stick together while riding down the hill.  The lead teacher stopped at every corner, waited for the slower kids to catch up, and then proceeded after seeing that everybody had made it.
  4. The kids are encouraged to support each other.  I even saw one boy helping another push his bike down a hill.   That melted my heart.
Helping a buddy - always encouraged
Riding down the easiest run at Canada Olympic Park to warm up
One teacher always rides at the back
working on  banked corners on Strawberry Shortcake
The kids stick together and ride in a group at all times

Following the ride down the mountain, the kids headed to the Skills Park to work on wooden features and jumps.  This took us to lunch time and by this point, I was already tired.  Meanwhile, the kids still had a full afternoon of camp left!!

Practicing in the Jump  Park
Learning to ride wooden features in the Skills Park

In the afternoon that day while I was a camp, the kids went up the chair lift again and rode down the second green run, Green Tea, which is harder than Strawberry Shortcake with more trees, banked corners, and proper single track trails. The trail goes through the east trees and winds it way down the ski hill. After that, the kids would have headed back to the Discover Park, Skills Park, and done more work on their technique.  They could have even taken a trip over to the neighboring Paskapoo Slopes for some cross country practice.

More practice in the Discover Park

Downhill and Cross country Practice at Camp

I'm relatively new to mountain biking but I have discovered how different downhill riding is from cross country riding. Riding down a ski hill with the banked corners, tight turns, and switch backs is quite different from what you'd get on a cross country trail where you'll have to practice gearing up and down, navigate rocks and roots, and build endurance for the times when you are not flying downhill.  

Kids at WinSport's Canada Olympic Park practice all forms of mountain biking and learn the skills required to handle all terrain, whether riding at COP or out biking in Bragg Creek on the cross country trails.

Biking on the Paskapoo Slopes one evening after camp

Cross country training is done at the neighboring Paskapoo Slopes (referred to as the East Lands) where the kids bike to the Big Rock and back on a very rooty rough trail, ride up Lemon Orchard to practice gearing down for hill climbs, and bike down to the Lower Slopes for some good downhill riding and solid hill climbing at the end.

Cross country training on the Paskapoo Slopes

I appreciated the fact that my son was doing both downhill and cross country riding and am glad he didn't just do chair-accessed riding all day. That's not "life" for most mountain bikers and you have to be able to do the work climbing hills and biking cross country if you want to enjoy the hills down after.

Mountain Biking on the Paskapoo Slopes beside Canada Olympic Park

Overall Opinion and Review of WinSport's Mountain Bike Camps

I can only comment on the youth camps that run all day having no experience with the half day preschool camps.  I can also only really assess the younger levels since my son was in level 2 at camp (in the 6-8 year old category)

Based on what I saw though, WinSport's Camps get two thumbs up from me and I would not hesitate for a second to register my son in camp again next summer!  I think kids would even benefit from two weeks of camp per year, one if July and then one in August after practicing what they learned in the first week of camp.

Practicing at the Discover Park after camp

How You Can Best Support Your Child at Camp

You'll get a packing list and a phone call from your child's teacher before camp.  Below are other items though that you may want to consider:
  • A platypus water backpack.  Kids get thirsty and most kids' bikes don't hold water bottles very easily.  Kids need easy access to water on the trails.
  • Bike gloves.  Anything that protects hands from connecting directly with dirt or pavement is worth having!
  • A full face helmet (only if your child is in youth level 4 or higher.) - we bought one and never needed it.  Nobody in my son's class, level 2, had one.  Most of the kids in level 3 did not have one either.  
  • Elbow and knee pads - if your child freaks out when they fall down and would do better to have more padding against pavement, dirt, rocks, etc. 
  • A bike with HAND BRAKES!!! This is a MUST.  Please don't send your child to camp with coaster brakes.  It is not safe for your child to be riding down the ski hill with coaster brakes.  It also impacts the other children in your child's class if group rides are cancelled or changed to easier trails out of necessity for one child who doesn't have the required equipment to keep him or her safe. 

A good bike goes a long ways towards success at camp

Other things to consider:

First, don't make serious plans for the evenings after your child finishes camp.   They will be tired and they won't feel like doing more biking or active activities.  This is the week to allow them to watch as many movies as they want in the evening.

Second, don't make serious weekend plans following a week at bike camp.  Chances are, your kid won't want to go biking, camping, hiking, or climb a mountain.  I could be wrong, but mine did not!

And finally if your child does not have a good mountain bike with hand brakes, consider visiting the rental shop at COP before you register your child for camp to make sure they have suitable bikes for your child's age and size.  You don't want to find out that your child requires a 16" bike on the first day of camp and discover that COP only has 20" bikes.  A bit of preparation goes a LOOOOONG way towards your child's safety and success at camp.

An evening ride through Narnia after camp

I want to give a big thank you to my son's teachers for doing a fabulous job.  My son was in a very diverse class with children who ranged in abilities from level 2 through level 3 or higher.  The teachers worked hard every day though to ensure the safety of all kids while creating a fun learning environment for each rider. I have seen my son practicing what he learned in camp in the weeks following the experience, and I now have skills I can work on with him.

As a side note, I feel like I also went to bike camp after shadowing the class for half a day and my riding has improved tremendously after just one morning! Maybe WinSport needs to look into a parent/child mixed class for those of us newbie bike parents.  What do you think?

Thank you to WinSport as well for allowing my son to participate in a week of camp for this review. As always, my opinion is my own and I wasn't paid to write this story.

For more information on Camps at WinSport's Canada Olympic Park, please visit their website.

My rad. biker at Canada Olympic Park