Saturday, April 28, 2007

Lazy hiking weekend

Elbow Valley - Beaver Flats - The Particulars: Trailhead is located within the Beaver Flats campground. Drive west on Highway 66 until just past Elbow Falls and the highway gate. Turn left into the campground; the traillhead is on the East side of the campground. Alternately, there is a small turnout lot just off the highway. Look for the Beaver Lodge sign.

Despite our best efforts, we didn't make it out for a Saturday hike. Too many late nights and playoff hockey led to some serious sleeping in on Saturday. But since D had a brand spanking new Rav 4 to try out, we did make it out to Banff to resample the Mexican food. Yummy! We'd planned to walk around - at least make it out to Bow Falls and take the foot path back into town... but that Mexican food was way too filling. We hit the bookstore and left. Yes, lazy. ;-)

It was packed in Banff -- I'm sure it will only get worse as spring gets warmer. Even this late, we were only able to grab one of the last parking spots near the park in downtown Banff. Even from a parking lot, there are incredible views in Banff. This is right beside the parking lot, looking West, just before sunset.

So Sunday was the only hiking day, and I think it was pretty clear both N and I were tired of Fullerton Loop and Diamond T. As in really tired. Highway 66 is closed at the Elbow Falls area until May 15 (that's 19 days from now for anyone who is counting), but there's still plenty to do. This week N and I thought we'd explore.

I know there's some options just beyond the gate. Prairie Mountain Trail is one. Sadly, I think it's a little beyond us at this point. 3 km and over 500 ft ascent in that time. Oh hell no. Not yet. Prairie Creek Trail is a lot more our speed, but it's only one way, and.... well I have no good reason for not picking that one. It was just wasn't right for the day.

We parked at the gate and started up the highway, taking the left shoulder. After only a few minutes there was a small parking lot and a sign that pointed down to the "Beaver Lodge". I'd known there was a quick interpretive walk around the area, but I hadn't been prepared enough to figure out it was there.

Beaver Flats Interpretive is the official name, though I've seen it called Beaver Lodge as well. We actually started on the "wrong" side... the trailhead sits in the campground a couple of kilometers up the road. It doesn't really seem to matter though, and in the busier parts of summer, it's probably best to park in the little lot off the road than try to find space in the campground.

It's a short walk, no real exertion and very cool. We didn't see many signs of life, but the evidence of beavers there is everywhere. If nothing else, it's very quiet and very pretty.

We returned back to the highway via the campground road and continued uphill. We could have walked along Elbow trail I suppose.... maybe next time. We made it past the viewpoint (and paused to read a touching makeshift memorial to a cycler who had died in the area), and beyond. Since the highway just keeps on going, so did we. After about an hour of mostly uphill, we turned around (we really didn't make it that far). It was fun, and now we know what is reachable beyond the gates..... lots! 19 days til the gates open, I think we'll have plenty to fill the time.

And Maclean Creek opens in 4 days! Even better.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Diamond T Redux

Diamond T - See Diamond T for Trail Particulars

If it seems like we're repeating ourselves... well, we kinda are. Highway 66 is closed at Elbow Falls until May 15. I suppose we could park and hike in -- and it just might come to that -- but for now we'll stick to the ever changing conditions of these two hikes.

Can't wait to try something new.

I honestly thought it was going to be warmer today. I'd heard 13 C. I dunno, it didn't feel that way. It was really brown on the drive in, but once you hit the trail, it looked a lot more like this footbridge. It looks frozen, but the snow was really all just thick slush. Not exactly the easiest to walk through, but N. and I slogged through it.

When we do the same hike 2 or 3 weeks in a row, I tend to see the same things over and over, but N. catches stuff. This time it was these trees (I think I was fixated on Cardio Hill off in the distance). All the trees in this area leaned toward the path. These trees are leaning eastward... I thought it was the wind, but behind us there are trees leaning southward. I'm not sure what causes this. I'd like to think we would have noticed it before...

Cardio Hill weas brutal. It was that slush. It was so thick I could barely get my footing. What a challenge.

N. was feeling under the weather, so we turned around and went back the way we came. It was nice to get another view. I'd never noticed before how brown the north facing side of this hike was. I took a shot purely to compare with the summer. I think this was the only part of the hike not covered in snow. This shot is taken from the spot in the trail where the trail veers eastward after traveling west for some time.

Hopefully D. and I will hike a little tomorrow....

Crazy Easter Weekend!

Diamond T - see Diamond T for Trail Particulars.
Johnston's Canyon Interpretive Trail - Trail Particulars - Trailhead is off Highway 1A (accessed from turn off from the Trans-Canada, just a few kilometers West of the Westernmost Banff exit. Look for the Johnston's Canyon parking lot. Lower Falls is less than 1 km from trailhead, Upper Falls is about 2.5 km from trailhead. An unmaintained trail from the Upper Falls continues to the Inkpots (about 3 km)

The week before the long weekend sucked. And that's all I'm going to say about that. I needed this hike, I needed my mountain therapy this weekend, and on Easter Sunday I got plenty of it.

N. and I started out on a quick (very quick) Diamond T hike. Neither of us had worked out much this week, so we were feeling slow and tired. Excellent time to visit the Cardio Hills!

The snow had finally stopped by this point. It had actually been snowing so much that when we set out on Diamond T, there were fresh cross-country skiing tracks. Ok, despite the fog and snow of previous week's hikes, there hadn't been enough actually collecting on the ground for cross-country skiing... but now enough had fallen in the foothills that the skiers were out again. I'm happy and all for the skiers, but it's April already!

Back at Bragg Creek, I said good bye to N., and headed out to Banff. Friends from Winnipeg (L&D) were in town for the long weekend and we'd arranged to meet for Mexican food in Banff (yes, Winnipeg to Banff is a long way to travel for good Mexican food, but I concur with my friends -- it was worth it).

Besides, I'm a sucker for the drive to Banff National Park. There's something about driving into the Rockies that will never get old. I've lived here all my life and the longer I'm here, the more I love the mountains. I can't believe I'm lucky enough to have this amazing part of the world on my doorstep. I pulled over in Canmore to take this incredibly generic photo.

It was actually warmer in Banff than the Calgary on Sunday. Even though I got my usual early 8 am start with N., by the time we'd hiked and I'd driven the rest of the way to Banff, so had most of Southern Alberta. Holy crap! All my usual secret parking places were gone. I wound up driving to the Cave and Basin parking lot and taking the foot path into town. It's only about a 15 minute walk and on a day like Sunday where it's a beautiful 15 C outside -- how can you not?

I got some great shots on this pleasant walk into town. This is one of my favorites. This was almost as soon as I got into the trees by the Cave and Basin. You wouldn't even know you were within a 2 minute drive of the complete nuthouse that was Banff that weekend.

The snow was melting so quickly there were several "lagoons" within the trees. The path itself was ok, but if you wandered off the path away from the road by more than 10 feet or so, you ran the risk of stepping into swampland, or encountering a pseudo-creek. I thought the shadowy lagoons looked the most interesting.

Post-Mexican food L&D decided to head to Johnston's Canyon. Knowing I had a 15 minute walk ahead I took my time, looking for photos. As picturesque as Banff is though, I've seen it all before. Once I got to my car, I figured I'd head out to Johnston's Canyon, see if I could catch them. I got there just as they'd finished the hike to the Lower Falls and had decided to start the trek home. I thought I'd quickly hike out to the Lower Falls myself, compare it to the ice hike D. and I did a month ago here.

The sun was fading fast, but needless to say, some of the differences are striking:

Notice how much cleaner the water was in March. The further I went into the canyon, the less the difference between the shots. The last shot is the Lower Falls -- hard to believe there's still water flowing under all that.

Fullerton Loop - again - March 31, 2007

See: Fullerton Loop for Trail Details.

N. and I found ourselves back at Fullerton Loop about 6 days later. The weather mayhem continued. This was the trailhead as we parked. I'd like to point out that Calgary saw barely a flake that morning. Whatever. Like the previous weekend's hike, the snow meant we had the trail to ourselves, and everything was going to be frozen and misty. Cool.

The fog was even worse this time around and I wasn't really feeling the camera love that day, but after the amazing spider web experience the previous trip out, I remembered the close up feature on my camera. This was my first attempt out on the trail and I have to say I was pretty happy with the results.

We kept the hike short that day -- too much going on in our respective households -- but it was nice to get out and away and have the whole place to ourselves (in our minds anyway).

Fullerton Loop - March 25, 2007

Elbow Valley - Fullerton Loop - The Particulars: Trailhead is located at the East side of the Allen Bill Pond parking lot (off Highway 66). Take the path under the overpass along the river to the gate. Loop is about 6.1km including the hike back to the trailhead (loop actually starts a good 1km into the hike). Trailhead elevation is about 1430m. High point is about 1585m. Loop takes about 1.5-2 hrs depending on conditions.

Yeah, so I was kind of a dolt and forgot my camera for the next few hikes, so sadly the next interesting one is Fullerton Loop. Despite the lovely spring-like conditions seen in Calgary and area for the first half of the month, late March seemed to be the neverending snowfall, especially in the foothills. Meanwhile, in between snow, it would warm up enough to start the mass melting. The crazy weather led to some interesting trail conditions.

Fullerton Loop is a great hike to see lots of forest life (N. usually spots it before I do), and to work your legs a little. It feels cold as you start out along the river, but warms up as the trail twists deeper into the forest. It's a great trail to walk year round, as long as you have proper footwear and accessories (Yaktraks or cleats for the bottom of your boots, even then some parts are too icy and may not be safely passable). I cannot stress that enough. It merges with a cross-country trail, so it's worth keeping an eye out for skiers until the trails split.

After passing through the gate, the trail runs alongside the river for a short walk before turning into the forest. At the top of the first real incline, there is a fork in the path. Hikers want to go left.. to the right is the cross country trail.

After the split, the trail meanders along a creek that is crossed many times via bridges such as this one. At this point in late March the water had melted and frozen so much it was actually overtaking the bridge! It's tough to the tell, but the little bit of the stream that is actually flowing, is flowing across the footpath in front of the bridge.

Soon after there is a fork in the path -- this is where the loop starts. The best bet is to go counter-clockwise and take the right fork (the bridge as opposed to the stairs), as it saves the best payoff for the end of the hike.

The trail continues in this fashion for sometimes -- steady incline, lodgepole pines, bridge crossings. The trail dips once in a while, but you can expect a bigger incline almost right away.

Keep your eyes open! It's quiet enough in early spring (the trail gets much more popular in the summer) to hear anything that might be burrowing nearby, such as the little guy we ran into here:

Can't see him? Look closer:

This little guy turned toward us just as I snapped the photo. I think we need to make him our mascot. Check out those whiskers.. and that little mouth! (Click the photo for a better look)

It was snowing by this point... but that doesn't matter. It made everthing on the trail seem that much newer and fresher. It did unfortunately mute the lookout a tad though.

The cutline view is actually much nicer live, even on a snowy foggy day like this one.

The nice bonus on this hike is that the viewpoint payoff is not just one spot. The trail leads to a high point and then turns South so it covers most of the Western view from the view point. The above shots are looking North-West and West.

The trail was absolutely deserted this day. The fog sort of muffled the sound and keep it closed in, so it was tough to gauge what we were hearing and how far away it was. We saw deer, but they ran away before we even got close. Everything had that post-snow frozen sheen to it. When you're hiking it's easy to miss the little things, and without thinking N. and I nearly walked right through this:

It was tough to see and nearly impossible to photograph, but it was a perfect snow covered spider's thread, stretching from one side of the path to the other. There was the gentlest wind blowing at the time and the string was beaded with snow drops. No sign of Ms. Spider (or Mr. I suppose). I'm sure it was only there for a moment in time and we felt lucky to have been able to see it (and not walk through it!).

The southern part of the view is by far the best, and I won't ruin it by posting the foggy picture here. From here one can see a huge section of Elbow Valley, not to mention the Allen Bill Pond parking lot and maybe even your car. It's somewhat satisfying to see how far you've come. If you've done the Diamond T hike, you can see that lookout from this lookout as well.

From here it's a steep downhill along the ledge of the hill. There's plenty to see, but pay special attention to the fallen trees to the left of you as you start downhill. It's tough to imagine the wind that must have felled these beasts.... you can tell from the stumps that remain these were strong healthy trees blown over. Intimidating.

Diamond T - March 10, 2007

Elbow Valley - Diamond T - The particulars: Trailhead is located at the west end of the Station Flats parking area (off Highway 66, just West of the Allen Bill Pond area). Loop is about 3.7 km total. Trailhead elevation is about 1400m, high point is about 1525m. Loop takes between 1-1.5 hours depending on conditions.

The day after the Johnston's Canyon hike where the idea for this blog was born (more photos from that later), N. and I stuck to nearby Elbow Valley and a quick little loop called Diamond T. It's a nice quick hike with lots to look at, and a couple of well placed hills I call the "Cardio Hills".

After all the ice surrounding Johnston's Canyon, it was a nice change to get back to the foothills where the snow wasn't as... shall we say intense. It had been unseasonably warm, and we hoped the trails were going to clear of ice. We were lucky.

Diamond T is a nice little stroll for the first 40 minutes or so. At the start of the hike, there is a fork, take the right fork for the best hike. The trail travels through the forest, through a gate, and then encounters some gentle slopes. After the first bridge, there is a sharp uphill, then another fork. Take the left fork -- look for the bright orange diamond-shaped signs, they often have the trail name printed right on them. The right fork is the Tom Snow Trail -- one-way back to Bragg Creek! After the fork, the trail leads through a bit of a clearing along a hill. Down below is the edge of the forest, immediately above is a meadow. In the summer, lots of colourful wildflowers grow here. This is where the above photo was taken. This is where the sun is usually the strongest.

Eventually the trail will start to double-back with a sharp turn from West to South-East. It will look like there's another fork here, but there is not. Stick to the level trail.

Soon after you will come around the corner and encounter the Cardio Hills (my name for it). This is the first of them, and not the biggest. It's a great challenge to get your heart rate going. In fact, if your heart is really going, you might want to take a break at the top, since the rest of the trail to the lookout is a fairly steady incline. The lookout? Well, it's not the best, but there's a bench (something N. really likes!) and a certain amount of satisfaction at having made it. When you get near the top, keep an eye out for the sign pointing to the lookout -- it's easy to continue along the loop and walk right by it.

The lookout to the West. Kinda meh really.

It's all downhill from there. Still lots to see, and the decline is fairly steep and rocky. This is where the direction of the loop makes sense -- I'd rather go downhill on this part than uphill. Your mileage may vary.

The hike is definitely worth it for getting some fresh air, getting your heart pumping and a nice hike the family can do. There's not a ton of wildlife, but it was pretty early in the season. Plenty of tracks in the snow though.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Actually posting

Ok, so the purpose of this blog is to track and photograph the hiking trails around Southern Alberta (mostly near Calgary).... which is great and stuff, but I've been absolute crap at actually posting about the hikes we've been doing every weekend. So, we'll fix that, starting this weekend. Until then (I think my next hike is Sunday), I'll just post some of the more interesting stuff from the past month of hiking.....