Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 in Review and Top Ten Highlights

2016 was another busy year filled with awesome adventures and travel around our beloved Canadian Rockies. As I look back at my highlights from the year, what really stands out to me are the moments where we took time out to "play" as a family, the days where we embraced child-like wonder and fun, and the trips where we slowed down enough to do silly things, be it playing a game of tag on skates on a beautiful mountain lake or stopping to make snow angels in the backcountry when we really should have been hurrying to get back before dark.

2016 in Review and Top Ten Highlights (photo: Asulkan Pass, BC)

2016 in Review


Backcountry and Wilderness Trips

Between each member of the family (including a few solo trips my husband and I each took) we completed 14 wilderness and backcountry trips, staying in cabins, huts, hostels, and backcountry campgrounds. We hiked into a new backcountry cabin in Cypress Hills Provincial Park that we'd never been to before and we visited two Alpine Club of Canada backcountry huts for the first time as a family.

Asulkan Cabin, Rogers Pass

I also got the opportunity of a lifetime to stay at the Lake O'Hara Lodge for a night while writing a story for Snowshoe Magazine and we got to try winter yurt-camping for the fist time at Mount Engadine Lodge in Kananaskis.

Winter Yurt Camping at Mount Engadine Lodge

Read More:

Winter Fun in Cypress Hills Provincial Park

Yurt Camping in Kananaskis at Mount Engadine Lodge 

Winter at the Lake O'Hara Lodge

Easter at the Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara

Backcountry Cabin Camping with Kids (Elk Lakes Cabin, BC)

Ribbon Lake Backpacking Adventure with Kids (chains and all!!)

Summer Backpacking Trip to the Asulkan Cabin, Rogers Pass

Backpacking in the Bugaboos (and our first family glacier traverse)

Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara


We "relaxed" a little with "car camping" this year and only spent 21 nights in our trailer (one year we reached 40!) We focused more on backcountry trips this summer along with "comfy" trips where we stayed in wilderness hostels, condos, and vacation rentals.

When we were camping in the front country, we tried to focus on camping in Alberta Provincial Park Campgrounds because I was chosen as an Alberta Parks Ambassador for this past season. I'm hoping the relationship continues in the coming year as we enjoyed visiting some new parks this past summer.

Read more on the new campgrounds we visited this past summer here:  Three New Alberta Parks Campgrounds to Visit 

Camping in William A. Switzer Provincial Park

Scrambling and Climbing Mountains  

Climbing mountains was a huge focus this past year, and by the end of October we had tackled (and successfully reached) 11 summits as a family. Noah is proud that he finally made it up to the platform on Lady Macdonald in Canmore, something he'd been wanting to do all summer, and I'm proud that he accomplished several multi-summit days including an epic 5-summit day where we traversed between Ha Ling Peak to Miner's Peak and the connecting three humps.

Lady Macdonald Platform in Canmore

Overall, this is the area where I feel my son truly shines in the mountains. He was reaching height gains of 1100 metres by the end of the summer and never seemed to get tired, even after reaching the third summit on the long Tent Ridge traverse. By the end of the hikes I'd be exhausted and ready for bed whereas I'm sure Noah could have kept going for another hour or two. The kid is a machine when it comes to hiking and is definitely faster than me on the way down now. By next summer he'll be about as fast as me on the way up too.

East End of Mount Rundle Summit, Canmore

Noah also has zero fear of heights and tackled some pretty impressive ridge walks and summits for a 7 year old. For those trips we always brought Dad along and made sure there was a rope!

Read more on our summer scrambles here: First Summits: Mount Lady Macdonald Hike, Canmore. (The story has links at the bottom to all of our other scrambles and summits this season.)

Mount Fairview Summit, Lake Louise


The big accomplishment of the summer here was our 40 km ride on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail in BC from Chute Lake down to Penticton (in a day!) It helps that it was mostly downhill but it was still bumpy and loose in sections, and definitely not paved. We got to ride through the beautiful Little Tunnel and enjoyed much beach time after.

Riding through the Little Tunnel above Penticton

All in all, mountain biking was one of our favourite things to do together as a family this year and Noah definitely out-bikes me. On our last ride over Thanksgiving I had to bail onto the "baby trail" and take an escape route back to the highway while my boys kept riding on the intermediate terrain that I was too scared to continue on. Next year will be truly scary!

We also really enjoyed big bike tours this past summer. Two of them are mentioned below where we'd bike 20 km loops combining several fun trails around the Banff area.

Bike Touring in Banff

Read more:

Biking to Cat Creek Falls, Kananaskis

Tour de Banff - The Ultimate Family Bike Tour

Tour de Banff - The Ultimate Family Mountain Bike Loop

Biking the Kettle Valley Railway from Kelowna to Osoyoos (updated for 2016)

Fall Biking! 5 Places to Explore with your Family

Mountain Biking in the Columbia Valley, BC

Paddling and Water Sports

We did an overnight paddling trip on the Red Deer River in July and as per normal for Central Alberta in summer, severe thunderstorms were predicted over the weekend we planned to do the trip. (The previous time we paddled the Red Deer River a tornado was following us down river.) We decided we really didn't want to be camped on a river bank during an epic thunder storm and chose to set up a base camp at the half way mark instead (complete with our trailer.) In the end, it was a very wise decision and one heck of a nasty storm blew in that evening.

Red Deer River Overnight Paddling Trip

I enjoyed my stand up paddleboard for another season and Noah continues to become quite the proficient paddler in his own kayak. The goal for next year: to get him a real kayak and possibly some lessons.

Read More:

Family Paddling on the Kananaskis River

Paddling the Alberta Badlands

Paddling on the Kananaskis River

Rock Climbing

This category is newly added for 2016 because I have a child who can now climb a 5.7 or 5.8 route outside and who truly loves rock climbing (just like his dad!) I still show up to belay but at least I'm out with the family and everybody gets more climbs in with me happy to stay on the ground.

We are very fortunate to have a great group of friends to climb with as well and so we spent a couple of family days at the crag rather than just driving out for short evening climbing nights. And of note, fall was warm enough that we were climbing outdoors in November this year instead of skiing!

Read more about our climbing adventures here: Gym to Crag - How to Transition to Outdoor Rock Climbing

Rock Climbing at Wasootch Creek, Kananaskis

Snowshoeing and Skiing

We did a few snowshoe-specific adventures this past year but we've really transitioned to being a ski-family much of the time, and enjoy both cross country along with downhill skiing.

Last winter we took our first family ski trip to Fernie and I was thrilled to get Noah skiing with me on my favourite run in the entire Canadian Rockies. We also took our first family trip to Kimberley Alpine Resort, a ski hill that has always been my favourite, and it was an amazing weekend!

Kids Tree Skiing at Kimberley Alpine Resort

Noah has really taken to cross country skiing as well and by the end of the 2016 winter season in March, he had skied over 140 km. (The goal was 100.) We celebrated a successful ski season by skiing in to the Elizabeth Parker Hut at Lake O'Hara over Easter where Noah skied the full 12 km in on his own steam.

Cross Country Skiing at Lake Louise

We also attempted our first family backcountry ski trip and it was awesome!! We had Noah hike up to Chester Lake in Kananaskis, while we carried his downhill skis and boots, and then he got to ski down. We towed him across the flats and I tried to survive on my skinny skis with metal edges and climbing skins. Lucky Dad had backcountry skis. I have a huge list of other backcountry trips we hope to do this coming year.

Getting a tow across the flats before the ski down from Chester Lake

Read More:

Winter at Lake Louise

Family Guide to Fernie Alpine Resort

100 Kilometres on Skis so far this Winter

Introduction to Family Backcountry Ski Touring

Family Guide to Kimberley Alpine Resort

Easter at the Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara

Backcountry Ski Trip into Lake O'Hara

Top Ten Highlights of 2016 

One - First Family Ski Trip to Fernie Alpine Resort last January

Many people don't realize that I had to have a hip replaced after my son was born and that technically I'm not supposed to do a lot of the stuff I do in the mountains, including downhill skiing. Add the fact that I've always found Fernie Alpine Resort to be a challenging resort, and that I hadn't done any skiing at a big ski hill since becoming a mom (7 years ago,) and I was terrified in the days leading up to our Fernie trip last January.

The trip was empowering for me because I realized I could still ski intermediate groomed terrain, that I could ski solo with my son, and that my days on Falling Star were not over forever. It's always been my favourite ski run and I was thrilled to be flying down it with Noah at my side.

Read More: Family Guide to Fernie Alpine Resort

Fernie Alpine Resort at the top of the Timber Chair

Two - Girls Ski Days in January at Lake Louise

I have two favourite cross country ski trails in the Lake Louise area that I like to do annually with my girlfriends. The first is Paradise Valley and the second is Boom Lake. I got to do both this year and we got to ski up the creek in Paradise Valley for the first time in many years because it was frozen enough. It's one of the most beautiful ski tours in the Lake Louise area and I was thrilled to introduce two of my girlfriends to this classic tour. I also enjoyed my annual ski across Boom Lake to the waterfalls at the far end of the lake.

I'm hoping to do both tours as a family soon.

Magical Ski  Touring in Paradise Valley at Lake Louise

Three - Family Ski Weekend at Kimberley Alpine Resort in February

This was one of those magical weekends where the skiing was incredible, family time was amazing, and the food magical. Noah truly came alive on his skis this weekend and he loved skiing through the trees in the special kids' area. I loved that I could comfortably ski runs off every chair lift and that I felt safe at this resort with all the lovely groomed corduroy. Finally, I'm still dreaming of the great food at the Pedal and Tap Restaurant that I hope to visit soon this coming winter.

Read more: Family Guide to Kimberley Alpine Resort

Kids Tree Skiing Runs at Kimberley Alpine Resort

Four -  Family Backcountry Trip to Cypress Hills Provincial Park in February

This is one of those trips that didn't start out well. We were supposed to ski into a backcountry cabin  in this Southern Alberta provincial park, but there was no snow. We ended up hiking into the cabin on bare roads that we could have almost been biking. And then there was a controlled burn we had to hike through. (not ideal!) Our friends then had to leave a night early when one of their kids became sick.

Our backcountry Cabin in Cypress Hills Provincial Park

The redemption for this trip though came on the final day when we got to hike back to civilization on beautiful trails (as opposed to the roads we hiked in on) down to the Town of Elkwater, where our friends had parked our vehicle for us. We walked out of the bush and right into the town restaurant where I ate the biggest and best plate of chili cheese fires ever. We then got to try the town skating loop (a flooded campground loop) and the luge track (wicked fast and fun.) It was an awesome day full of simple pleasures that still stands out in my mind as a great day this past year.

Read more: Winter Fun in Cypress Hills Provincial Park

Skating in Elkwater, Cypress Hills Provincial Park

Five -  Easter at Lake O'Hara in April

This was a notable trip because of the great friends that joined us at the Elizabeth Parker backcountry hut. We snowshoed and skied around the area, built the craziest luge track for sleds, built a giant snow fortress complete with tunnels and caves, and hunted for Easter eggs in the snow. It was a fun trip and we had a fabulous group of kids.

Read more: Easter at the Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara 

Exploring around Lake O'Hara last Easter

Six -  Reaching the South Summit on Nihahi Ridge in June

Delayed gratification makes everything better and this was our second attempt to reach the south summit via an extremely narrow ridge walk. We short roped Noah to keep him alive should he fall and he was a champ with the hands on scrambling pitches. It was a super fun scramble and showed us he truly was ready for bigger challenges in the upcoming summer.

Read more: Family Hiking at the Next Level - Scrambles and Summits

Just a "little bit" narrow on Nihahi Ridge

Seven - August Summer Vacation in BC

There are actually several highlights from this vacation which means it was a pretty awesome two-week trip.

Swim Bay in Peachland

Main highlights (with links to read about the adventures):

Hiking to Asulkan Pass, Rogers Pass 

WildPlay Kelowna

  • Water play at the beaches in the Okanagan, playing at the Penticton and Kelowna Wibit Aqua Parks, jumping off of the trestle bridge in Okanagan Falls, playing at Swim Bay in Peachland, and daily jumping off of docks and swim platforms. (Read more about all of our fun adventures here.)

Jumping off the Trestle Bridge in Okanagan Falls

Seriously, awesome fun!!!
First Family Glacier Traverse in the Bugaboos

Eight - August Family Scrambles and Summits

We had the most amazing friends visiting us from Utah in August so we did a lot of super cool adventures together. First, we hiked into the Conrad Kain Hut in the Bugaboos (above,) and then we spent a day climbing and traversing Tent Ridge in Kananaskis together with two other families. Tent Ridge has three summits and is a very long day hike for most adults. The kids were rock stars on this one! You can read about that trip here: First Summits: Tent Ridge Horseshoe

Rock Star Hiking Crew on Tent Ridge

We also climbed Mount Fairview at Lake Louise with our visiting friends and added Saddle Mountain on for a two-summit day with 1100 metres of height gain. We had a third family joining us and it was another amazing day in the mountains.You can read about that trip here: First Summits: Mount Fairview and Saddle Mountain, Lake Louise.

Mighty Kid Crew on Mt. Fairview

Nine - The First September Snow Storm in Banff

Yes, go figure, the first snow fall of the season would be a highlight, but we love snow! We were on our way home from a weekend at Lake Louise and decided to take a ride up the Banff Gondola to check out the recent renovations. The higher we got, the more snow there was until we got to the top and found ourselves in a winter wonderland. There was next to no snow on the ground so we were in awe that we could be on top of a mountain making snow angels in September.

September in Banff at the top of Sulphur Mountain

Ten - November Skating Season in Banff and the Bow Valley

Normally we are lucky if Johnson Lake freezes and we get one skate in before snow covers the ice. This year, we not only got to skate on Johnson Lake but we also got to skate on Vermillion Lake and Lac Des Arcs for the first time. Both of those were on my life-skating list. Add Elbow Lake in Kananaskis (where I carried my skates up to - just in case it was snow free,) along with Gap Lake and Grotto Pond in the Bow Valley, and it's been an amazing skating season!

Skating on Vermillion Lake, Banff

A couple of the special moments were playing skate-tag as a family on Johnson Lake (on a day that was absolutely perfect in every way,) and skating around the little island on Lac Des Arcs on ice that was as smooth as glass.

Lac Des Arcs - Smooth as glass!

So far we've skated on 8 different lakes or ponds this season (if you count the pond at Kananaskis Village and Bowness Pond in Calgary) and Noah is absolutely in love with skating! We've reached that magic stage where he's doing fairly well at skating, can move across the ice pretty quickly, and truly enjoys it. Thank God!!

Playing tag on Johnson Lake, Banff

2017 is going to be another awesome year and I hope you'll continue following our crazy family adventures. Happy New Year and expect Gotta do THIS January to be published in the first week of January.

Happy New Year and we'll see you on the trails in 2017!

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