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

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Camping Across British Columbia - Wasa Lake

We like to visit at least one new campground each year, and this year it was Wasa Lake that was at the top of the list. Located in the sunny Columbia Valley south of Invermere and Fairmont Hotsprings, Wasa Lake Provincial Park is a great spot for a long weekend camping trip. 

Wasa Lake Provincial Park, BC

The park can be reached in 4 hours from Calgary, making it much closer than the Okanagan or Vancouver Island for families with young children.  We also like the proximity of Wasa Lake to other vacation towns in the Columbia Valley.  One could easily spend a week in the valley and split a camping trip between Wasa Lake and Radium Hotsprings. 

Wasa Lake is shallow and great for families

Best Things to Do at Wasa Lake

I've already had friends asking me what we did while we were at Wasa Lake so below are my top picks for day trips, activities, and adventures to be had while at Wasa Lake.


Swimming and Playing at Wasa Lake

This should be the obvious thing that you will do while camping at Wasa Lake.  The lake is shallow with several day use areas and beaches.  The sand is great to play in as well and a paved trail connects all of the beaches.

From your campsite at Wasa Lake Provincial Park you will have to drive or bike/walk to the beach.  It is not right in the campground.   Fortunately, it is a short bike ride down to the beach and there is a playground at Campers Beach.

Dog owners will rejoice that there is also a separate beach for pets located right beside Campers Beach so you won't have to leave Fido tied to a tree up on the grass. 

One of the scenic beaches at Wasa Lake

Personal opinion of Wasa Lake:  While this lake is warm and shallow with great sand, we personally liked Surveyors Lake near Fernie better.  We enjoyed paddling and looking for turtles at Surveyors Lake, and we liked the solitude found without motor boats.  We also liked the dock at Surveyors Lake for jumping off of.  Wasa Lake on the other hand is a popular spot for water skiing and wake-boarding so it is noisier and not safe for families wanting to canoe or kayak.

Overall, enjoy Wasa Lake for swimming, but it isn't a spot for families to enjoy paddle sports, and you won't find any docks or jumping platforms at any of the beaches.

Using our kayak as a jumping dock at Wasa Lake

Biking at Wasa Lake

There is a beautiful bike trail called the Wasa Lion's Way Loop that we thoroughly enjoyed while camping at Wasa Lake.  It might have been the highlight of the trip in fact.  The short little 8km loop combined paved bike paths with quiet rural roads.  It was well signed, relatively flat and we enjoyed biking around the Village of Wasa. 

Biking the Wasa Lion's Way Loop
Family biking at Wasa Lake

In addition to the paved bike loop, there was also a bike park in the Wasa Lake Provincial Park Campground. We camped right beside the bike park and were very excited to spend hours each day playing in the park.

Biking at the Wasa Lake Bike Park

What Noah liked best about the Bike Park:   The Half Pipe!  He had never biked in a half pipe before and I appreciated that it was made of dirt rather than concrete!

Biking in the Half Pipe at Wasa Lake

What Noah did not like about the Bike Park:   It was sandy in spots and he fell quite a bit when his bike hit sandy patches.  It was also a challenging bike park and he was a bit intimidated by many of the jumps, features, and general terrain.  Personally, I think he was just really tired from our previous 6 nights at Surveyors Lake and wasn't up for pushing himself while at Wasa.

My boys biking in the Wasa Lake Bike Park

Day Trips from Wasa Lake

The closest day trip from Wasa Lake would be to the nearby Fort Steele Heritage Town but we chose to pursue free activities instead.  We drove to Premier Lake Provincial Park to go swimming one day (in search of a dock to jump off of) and it was a lovely drive.  The lake was stunning and it was a great place to cool off on a hot day.

Premier Lake Provincial Park Day Trip
We love lakes with docks for jumping!

The other day trip we took was to Kimberly so that we could bike the North Star Rails to Trails path from Kimberly to Cranbrook.  This 28km long trail connects the mountain town of Kimberly with the City of Cranbrook and is predominantly downhill if you start in Kimberly, riding one way.

Biking the North Star Rails to Trails path down from Kimberly

Noah and I rode to Cranbrook in the downhill direction while Dad drove to Cranbrook to park and bike back up to meet us.  He met us about half way and then biked back down to Cranbrook with us.

It was a scorcher of a day but we managed to complete the ride and it was a lovely trip.  To shorten the ride, bike one way from Kimberly to Marysville (all downhill) and have a second vehicle waiting at the bottom (or have an adult bike back up for the car.)

Kimberly to Wycliffe would also be a great ride and would enable you to ride 90% downhill without the climb back up from the St. Mary's River Bridge to Cranbrook. All trail maps can be seen here for plotting out your ride.  There are many options for jumping on and off the trail as it parallels roads much of the time.

North Star Rails to Trails Trailhead in Cranbrook

Wasa Lake Campground Review

Wasa Lake was one of those places we are glad that we visited once.  Our curiosity is now satisfied and we will most likely move on to try out other campgrounds.  We found that we were easily able to explore the area around Wasa in 3 nights of camping, and don't feel the need to go back for further exploring.

Noah didn't enjoy the bike park as much as I thought he would (which is strange given that he loves pump tracks and skills parks) and we weren't as fond of the lake as we are of other lakes we've camped at.

Go for a long weekend, but you likely won't need to camp at Wasa Lake longer than that.

Best time of the year to camp at Wasa Lake:  June or September would be a great time to camp here.  It was a bit too hot when we were there in July, and we found it hard to enjoy the biking in 30+ degree heat.   The campground is also very dry and exposed (read: sun baked and hot!!) This would be a great place to camp when temperatures are still chilly in the mountain parks.  Mountain bike season would also start earlier here too permitting a lovely April or May bike weekend.

In support of this campground and provincial park, these were the highlights for us:
  • The campground was exceptionally quiet!  There were no generators near us and quiet time was respected.  Maybe we just got lucky but it was a very pleasant camping experience when we were there.
  • The campground was family-friendly.  Kids ran around in packs everywhere and it would be fun to camp here in a group with other families.
  • The lake is shallow and great for families playing in the roped off swimming area.  (Just be careful with non-swimmers because it does drop off in spots and some beaches were more shallow than others.)
  • The Lion's Way bike loop was lovely and we enjoyed biking around the Village.

Biking in Wasa Lake Provincial Park

Additional Reading on the Columbia Valley and East Kootenays

Another Great Camping Trip to Surveyors Lake

Exploring the Columbia Valley Wetlands - by Boat, Bike, and Hike

Kids on Wheels - Biking the Columbia Valley 

The Best Family Bike Trails in Fernie

First Summits - Polar Peak, Fernie Alpine Resort 

Paradise in the Columbia Valley