Thursday, December 20, 2007

Moose Mountain - November 22, 2007

Though it was late in the season, D and I thought we'd give Moose Mountain one last try. I didn't figure we'd get much beyond the switchbacks, but even that would provide a great hike and some stunning views.

But it wasn't meant to be. About 45 minutes into the hike we saw these prints along the trail:

They trailed along both sides of the trail. At first we thought it was bear, just due to the size of the imprint in the snow -- it was clearly a large furry foot. But when I got home and did a little research, the prints were more than likely from a feline paw. And at that size, likely cougar. There had been numerous fresh deer and elk prints across the trail that morning. That's usually a good enough sign a predator might follow.

We turned around (obviously) and headed back to the trailhead. It was a tough thing to do. It was a beautiful November day, full sunshine, not even the lightest breeze, no one else on the trail. And that last reason was a key point in turning around.

I took one last shot as we headed back. We'll make sure to get back to Moose Mountain as soon as the access road opens again.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Culling Coyotes in Canmore

Lately I've been paying more attention to the animal tracks I see in the snow. It likely has a lot to do with spotting cougar tracks on a recent hike (more on that in a future post), but it's been some valuable education. When spring comes around and there are tracks running every which way on the muddy trail, I like knowing what I'm looking at.

After learning the difference between canine and feline prints, I started to let my guard down when I could tell the tracks were likely from a four-legged hiking companion. In the unlikely event the tracks belonged to something a little less domestic such as a coyote or wolf, I still wasn't that concerned. We don't hike with our pets (the cats would really not go for it), and I couldn't imagine a coyote or wolf attacking humans.


The weekend before last one or more coyotes attacked a total of three children in Canmore, one in her front yard, two more at a city-sponsored "Skate with Santa" event. One girl was 13 years old -- this is far from a small child you would expect to be the target of a coyote.

Two coyotes have been killed by Fish and Wildlife officers. The coyotes will be tested for rabies and other diseases, though there's no way to know if these are the same coyotes that attacked the kids.

None of the kids were seriously hurt -- they were bitten, but the skin was not broken -- yet this should serve as a warning to all hikers. If a coyote will attack a human in a town setting like Canmore, that's good enough reason to pay attention to coyotes you might encounter on the trail -- especially around Canmore.

Nature's Best Photography: 2007 Award Winners [PICS]

Those into photography will love these shots. I can only dream of being able to capture such sights through a lens....

read more | digg story

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sulphur Springs -- November 18, 2007

Elbow Valley - Sulphur Springs loop: Trail Particulars - Take Highway 66 to the Station Flats parking lot/trailhead. Use the same trailhead as Diamond T, but turn left (south) at the fork at the beginning of the trail. Follow this trail until you reach a junction - this is the Sulphur Springs loop (part of the loop is shared with the Elbow Valley trail).

I was a little shocked to realize that even after extensive hiking all over the Elbow Valley, N and I had never actually done the Sulphur Springs loop. Even though the wind was roaring through the valley, and there were likely more trees down all over the place, we wanted to get this new trail hiked as soon as possible.

The nice thing about starting early is that we usually have the trails to ourselves. Lately, though, the other bonus has been seeing the sun rise as we drive to the trailhead. I swear, one of these days, we're going to get caught meeting at the trailhead with no sun! Anyway, I got to catch some early morning sun coming through the trees:

We also happened upon this little treat along the trail, obviously long abandoned, but still perfectly intact:

Sulphur Springs is described as a roller coaster and crosses the Moose Mountain access road twice, so we'd expected a lot of hills and a few vistas. This was shortly after our first crossing of the Moose Mountain access road, and only a fraction of the vista we were eventually able to see. Moose Mountain is just beyond the range in the foreground:

Taking a quick look behind us, again right after we'd crossed the Moose Mountain road. And yes, it was as cold as it looks, and it was ridiculously windy, but it was so worth it:

For a good portion of the hike, the path was clear, or only had minor obstructions, but once we started heading downhill towards the shared Elbow Valley part of the trail, things began to look a lot different. The evidence of multiple wind storm was all around us. At one point we walked through what we called a "tree graveyard", where it seemed there were more fallen trees than standing ones.

This particular part of the trail took some very careful navigation. This is all on the trail directly in front of us... the rest of the area looked pretty much exactly the same:

I can't imagine how long it's going to take to just clear the trail, let alone clean up what's fallen.... if they ever do.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ford Knoll -- November 11, 2007

Only 3 days after the Diamond T hike mentioned in the previous post, N and I drove out to Ford Knoll for a quick hike. By the time we got to the campground, the roads were pretty sketchy. This was the long weekend and the day of the crazy winds in Elbow Valley.

We literally seemed to have the place to ourselves since the campground was closed and the rock blocked. It was a peaceful, windy, fun hike -- finally getting to hike in the snow, but it was still wasn't too cold.

Ford Knoll has a number of different ways to complete the loop, the longest stretches close to the Nihani Ridge turnoff. We opted not to take that route though when we said the "Bear in Area" sign posted to a tree. It looked old, but one can never been too safe...

Otherwise, a beautiful day for hiking.

Diamond T -- November 8, 2007

Diamond T less that three weeks ago. Can you believe how green it looks?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Johnston's Canyon -- October 31, 2007

Johnston's Canyon's popularity and proximity to Banff makes it nearly impossible to get to during the summer. Even on weekdays, the large parking area overflows with every type of car and the highway is usually lined with parked vehicles for at least a kilometer. Summer weekends -- I don't even want to think about it. For the Ink Pots, there's always the option to drive a little further down the highway, park at the Moose Meadows trailhead and hike in from there, but you miss the views of the canyon itself.

With all of this is mind, N and I figured a late-fall trek to Johnston's Canyon and beyond to the Ink Pots would be a nice diversion, since we'd missed getting out there all summer long.

Directions to the Johnston's Canyon trailhead are here.

My previous hikes in Johnston Canyon this season had both been in the spring, once in April, and before that in February. Both times there had been plenty of snow deep in the canyon, most of the falls were still frozen over and we did not venture beyond the Lower falls due to icy catwalks.

Happily, the entrance to the canyon was free of snow:

And look, running water! These mini-falls are on the way to the Lower falls. You can see part of the catwalk along the canyon walls on the rockface in the background:

As always, the deeper you get into the canyon, the more ice and snow you see. These logs were resting in the pool at the bottom of the Lower falls:

We were able to venture beyond the Lower falls, and from here everything had just a touch of ice. We passed a small creek beside the paved trail, and found the creek water just in the process of starting the freeze:

Yet the cliffs above the canyon were still covered in damp green moss:

One of the smaller falls between the Upper and Lower falls. Check out how it's just beginning to form ice on the surface:

At the end of the official trail, the catwalk descends right into the canyon at the base of the Upper falls. It ends right beside a giant orange rockface that is actually covered with a type of algae. And yes, this was just freezing over as well. There's some sort of cave at the top:

The Upper falls from the bottom. It's not frozen over, but it looks pretty cold to me:


Another shot of the algae wall freezing over:

From here there is a view from the top of the Upper falls, and then the Johnston's Canyon part of the hike ends. The path turns to a typical dirt trail and it's about a 4k hike to the Ink Pots, natural, coloured pools of water that collect near the river.

I originally did the Ink Pots hike one summer day many years ago. It was crowded and the "pools" were a disappointment because if they had a natural colour, it was the colour of mud.

This hike was much better. We had the trail to ourselves until we got to the, and even then, only a couple of other hikers were there. And the pools? Wow:

The valley itself was beautiful:

From here the trail continues on for hours. It's another 2k or so to a backcountry campground, and from there the trail forks into many backcountry options including Mystic Pass or Luellen Lake.

But, it was Halloween and N and I had other things to do, so we headed back through Johnston's Canyon and back out to civilization.


It's the time of year when warnings are everywhere, so I thought I'd pass a couple along:

The Kananaskis Country website has posted a cougar warning for the Canmore/Bow Valley Provincial Park area, particularly the Peaks of Grassi and Quarry Lake areas.

It's also not a bad idea to check out the avalanche warnings before heading out on any trail.

Finally, the Banff National Park website has some excellent warnings about hiking, skiing or boarding in the backcountry this time of year.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Wind storm in Elbow Valley, take two

According to trail reports from the Kananaskis web site , high winds blasted through Elbow Valley on November 13 -- the second time this week.

N and her hubby were hiking Fullerton Loop today and found the third bridge was blocked by a fallen tree:

Crews are removing trees as quickly as they can, but be careful until they've had a chance to get to them all.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Adventure Hiking

This is an incredible article about preparing for adventure hikes -- hikes in different parts of the world that last for days and might require more skills than just hiking (such as climbing, kayaking, etc). Especially interesting was this part of the article with the hikers' training regimen:

8-Week Training Program

Weeks 1-2: Getting Started: 3x/week
• Cardio: 2x/week 20-30 minutes each, 60-70% MHR (maximum heart rate).
• Crosstrain: Walking, jogging, stairs, treadmill or hill hiking
• Activity Specific: Weekend hike w/10# pack

Weeks 3-4: Develop a Fitness Foundation: 3-4x/week
• Cardio: 2x/week, 30-45 minutes each, 65-70% MHR
• Strength: 2x/week, full-body, 20 minutes, 2 sets of 12-15 reps, 6-8 major muscle group; specific to kayaking/hiking/scrambling
• Activity Specific: Weekend hike with 10-15-pound pack, gaining 1000-1200 feet elevation.

Weeks 5-6: Build muscular strength: 4-5x/week
• Cardio: 3x/week, 45 minutes, 65-75% MHR; one-day city hill hike with 15-20-pound pack
• Strength: 2x/week, 20-30 min, 2-3x8-10 reps, full body strength, added weight
• Activity Specific: Weekend hike with15-20-pound pack, gaining 1200-1500 feet elevation or 2-3 miles kayaking

Weeks 7-8: Increase Muscular Endurance: 4-5x/week
• Cardio: 3x/week, 45-60 minutes, 60-75% MHR; 1 of 3: hill intervals or stairs with 20-pound pack
• Strength: 2x/week, 30-45 minutes, 3x12-15 reps; vary exercises from weeks 3-6
• Activity Specific: Weekend hike with 20-poun pack; 1500-2000’ elevation gain or 3-4 miles kayaking

*Note: Stretch for 15 minutes after every workout.

From: Competitor Magazine - Preparing for your Adventure. This is a must-read article.

The companies web site is here:, and they list a number of "adventure" hikes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Elbow Valley Winds

D and I were planning on doing Moose Mountain on Monday, but were turned back at the access road by a kind gentleman who let us know there were trees down across the road about 1 km up.. the winds were that bad. We'd planned on setting out earlier.. I guess for once sleeping in was a good thing!

N and her hubby had planned a hike near Canmore, but turned back and hiked Grotto instead. Smart move -- they avoided the winds by hanging out in the canyon.

The winds were bad all weekend, but N and I seemed to luck out on Sunday. We hiked Ford Knoll and while it was windier than usual, we seemed to be sheltered enough to not notice. That hike will be posted soon.

Some photos of the Elbow Valley wind storm are at Hike Alberta.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Kindergartener kicks my ass

This is unbelievable:

Isabelle ascended five 14,000-foot summits this past hiking season, a true accomplishment for any outdoor enthusiast in Colorado. What makes it all the more impressive is Isabelle Currat was only 5 years old.

From: Kindergartener Conquers Peaks -- Douglas County News Press

Moose Mountain is 7995 ft.... half points?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Nihani Ridge - October 28, 2007

Final ascent of the season. We met a lot of great people on this hike. Even in the last week of October, this has to be one of the most popular hikes in the area.

Little to no snow, surprisingly....

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Moose Mountain - October 21, 2007

Elbow Valley -Moose Mountain. Trail Details: Take Highway 66 west, go past Station Flats. Look for Paddy's Flat campground on the left side of the road, the road to Moose Mountain is the next right immediately after that. Take the dirt road up. Up. Up. Parking for the trailhead is well marked and access beyond that is limited. The trail begins off the old forestry road (blocked by a gate from the main road).

We were totally pumped for Moose Mountain, and we suspected this might be one of the last new hikes of the year. We had no idea how great Moose Mountain would be.

We started out ridiculously early, but it was the right thing to do, even in the third week of October, Moose Mountain was very popular. We didn't run into anyone on the way up, but plenty of people on the way down.

Surprisingly, we didn't see a lot of snow along the early part of the trail, this was about as deep as it got:

Eventually, the trail opens up a bit and you're given just a taste of the amazing scenery ahead. It's hard to believe this is only minutes from Bragg Creek:

After the clearing, the trail starts to lead uphill just a little bit, and that's when the snow really started to show up on the trail, but even this didn't last long:

The trail isn't really a sharp incline until you are close to Moose Mountain itself, but then it rises sharply -- there's no mistaking it. Amazingly, before you even start to tackle the steeper incline, you can see downtown Calgary from the trail:

Can't see it? Well, it's much more visible from the trail. For a much better look, check out this incredibly magnified shot (this is a very large file size!).

The approach to Moose Mountain was nice, but when you hit the base -- nothing but rock and snow. The trail is a series of switchbacks up the hill. We called this part of the trail "hiking in Afghanistan. Can you tell why?

But the view just kept getting more amazing:

The eastern edge of the Rockies:

After a long series of switchbacks, we made it to the top of the mountain... or more like a plateau. The real peak was on the next part of the mountain. You can see the lookout at the top:

We hiked until the trail was just too covered in snow (and too windy) to continue safely. We made it within spitting distance of the top:

Can't wait for spring....

Friday, November 2, 2007

Tunnel Mountain -- October 19, 2007

Snuck out of the city on a Friday to hike around Banff. I even got to call it work-related. Beautiful day on the trail.

(Click here for trail information)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Yamnuska Revisited -- October 14, 2007

Nearly a month after my first Yamnuska hike of the season, I found myself back on the trail, this time with N for a late-season hike. It had snowed between visits and this hike was worth the revisit. The fall colours were still lingering and there was a lot more of the picturesque snow covering the Rocky Mountains. This hike is nice because you work hard right away, but you get a payoff almost immediately:

We encountered much less snow that we expected, considering the snow that week (in fact when I drove by Yamnuska last weekend, the mountain was still relatively free of the white stuff). Most of the snow was around the approach to the rockface:

We made it up in nearly record time, but didn't summit due to the snow, and lack of planning on my part. Next spring for sure.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fullerton Loop - Sept 30, 2007

We'd taken a couple of weeks off from hiking -- vacations, birthdays, so many other things going on. When we returned to this old favorite, fall had hit and made this hike a whole new experience.

I think fall is my favorite time of year.

Soon enough, snow on the trail won't be such a novelty:

The viewpoint was spectacular:

After the hike I drove down the highway toward Elbow Falls. I wound up stopping on the hill just before Canyon Creek road to take this shot:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What will they think of next?

I can't get over how completely cool this is:

The stress and strain absorbed by your backpack could one day recharge your cell phone.

Researchers at Michigan Technological University have designed a strap that will capture the energy generated by the up-and-down movement of a hiker's pack and turn it into enough voltage to power small electrical devices.

Read the rest of the article at Hiking: A Backpack That Charges Your iPod?.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Trail Advisory -- Marsh Loop Trail

The Banff National Park Warden has shut Marsh Loop Trail due to a cougar in the area. The Banff National Park website has more information about the closure.

Marsh Loop is very close to the popular Cave & Basin attraction in Banff townsite, so use caution if you're hiking in that area.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Yamnuska - September 15, 2007

Yamnuska Mountain (also known as John Laurie Mountain) - Take the Trans-Canada west from Calgary until the 1X turnoff to the 1A (towards Exshaw). Look to the left of the road for a turnoff to the Yamnuska trailhead.

There are few hikes as exhilarating as Yamnuska. The mountain is visible from the Trans-Canada highway as you enter the Rockies from the east and is one of the most recognizable mountains in the area. It's a fantastic hike because as you climb to the rockface, you can look eastward onto the foothills and see for kilometers. It also gives an excellent view of the Bow Valley to the immediate south. As you climb higher, there are also dramatic views of the Rockies to the north and west.

The next time you drive down the TCH, you will never look at the mountain the same way.

Yamnuska is a popular hike for both hikers and climbers, so arrive early!

I had hiked Yamnuska once before -- October of 2004 -- and that day out we weren't so lucky. The hike up was great... but the higher we got, the faster the clouds moving in from the west closed on us. The hike down was completed in record time through the first snowstorm of the season. Not well planned, but fun. The beer afterward tastes that much better.

The weather forecast looked much more promising this time out:

Most of the hike is up the east side of Yamnuska and approaches the rockface from the side. There is also a more direct hike up for the climbers, but for us hikers, the hikers' route is more fun, though certainly not an easy hike.

And it doesn't take long to get to the first of many great views. From this angle, the lake even has a heart-shape:

Looking west. Mid-September the leaves were just starting to turn:

As you get closer to the top, you're rewarded with a great view of the north side of the mountain -- the side of Yamnuska you don't get to see from the highway:

Once you arrive at the rockface at the top, there are a number of different things to do. The trail leads both to the southside of the mountain along the rockface and to a scree slope, as well as north behind the mountain. With a little scrambling and climbing that trail can take you to the top of Yamnuska.

But first, D and I decided to have a snack and enjoy the view:

Then we worked around to the south side of the mountain (yes, there's a trail there. Really):

The view just gets better as you wind along the southside:

And finally, view from the trailhead (a very FULL parking lot), about 4 hours later as we finished our hike. Amazing mountain, amazing hike: