Monday, September 17, 2018

Etherington Creek Provincial Recreation Area

Trip Date: September 2018

In early September, despite the unseasonably chilly weather, we packed up the camper and headed southwest to the Highwood Region of Kananaskis Country for our last camping trip of the season. Good friends of ours joined us for the outing and neither family had stayed at Etherington Creek Campground before, so we were all looking forward to seeing someplace new. Due to a couple of unforeseen mishaps while trying to leave the city, we didn't roll in until well after sunset, which provided a new challenge for us; setting up the tent trailer in the dark. We manged to get things setup relatively quickly considering the darkness and had a roaring fire to help take a bit of the chill off. Our friends pulled in shortly after us and were also setup in no time.

Welcome to Etherington Creek Provincial Recreation Area. Someone added a little something of their own to this sign!
This campground has spacious campsites and some, like the photo above, are close enough to share with friends
Our campsite for the weekend
After a long week of work, sleep came quickly that first night. The next morning was quite chilly and I suspected that the weather played a role in how empty the campground was. We didn't exactly have the entire place to ourselves, but it sure felt that way. This PRA is also a staging area for snowmobilers in the winter time and for hunters in the autumn. I noticed two different pair of hunters hiking into the bush, shotguns in hand, searching for birds while I was out for my morning stroll with Cooper.

I was greeted by a moody sky Saturday morning
The fall colours had already started making an appearance
After a hearty breakfast and a leisurely morning hanging around the campsite we decided to get out and go for a short hike with the kids. We settled on Cat Creek Trail in Cat Creek Provincial Recreation Area, which was a short 15-minute drive north from the campground. Cat Creek Trail is an easy 2.6km return trail with a gorgeous little waterfall squeezing through a canyon at the end. 

Cat Creek Trailhead. You can tell the woodpeckers have been busy on this sign.
Chris and Coop enjoying a fantastic view
With views like this it's easy to see why this trail is so popular
The weather changed for the better as we continued along the trail. The clouds cleared out making way for the warm sunshine. We all had to get rid of our warm outer layers as it was way too hot. The entire area is rife with history. The trail passes the long-abandoned site of the Ford Mine and crosses the Lineham Company Road, which predates Highway 40 (Kananaskis Trail) and used to run between Longview and Kananaskis Country. All that remains of the Ford Mine is the footing of the bridge that used to link Ford Camp with its coal mine.

Cat Creek Falls
Cooper and I playing along Cat Creek
Hiking back to the parking lot
We couldn't believe our luck with the weather, so we spent some time exploring the day-use area, which provided some great views of the Highwood River and the peaks of the Continental Divide.

The Highwood River as viewed from the day-use area
A tree scarred from bear claw marks
After a delicious meal and some more campground relaxation we all headed out for a post-dinner stroll. Despite all their exercise already, the kids were ready for even more! 

Etherington Creek as it flows through the campground
Evening stroll with the family
We were greeted to a stunning sunset Saturday evening. Unfortunately this didn't last very long, but we enjoyed it none the less.
Sunday morning was again quite chilly, but that didn't stop Cooper, Rome, and I from getting out and having a long walk before breakfast. We walked throughout the campground and then explored Etherington Creek downstream from the PRA. It's a picturesque spot with small waterfalls and deep pools that would be extremely refreshing to swim in on a hot summer's day.

Etherington Creek
Crystal clear, clean, and cold!
I guess this is the 'Beer Bridge' that was mentioned in the first photo of this post!
Poor guy couldn't stay awake for our entire walk
Back in the campsite, ready to play!
The kids found this impressively large spider on a piece of firewood
On the drive back home Sunday afternoon I just had to stop and get a closer look at this abandoned caboose that rests in a field along Highway 541
Unfortunately I haven't been able to uncover any details or information about this little piece of history
We really had an awesome final weekend of camping and lucked out overall with the weather. We talked at length on this trip about all the camping adventures we hope to go on starting next spring. Stay tuned for all of our fall/winter escapes happening soon!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Burstall Pass

Trip Date: July 2018

Christine and I decided to have a kid-free hiking adventure on a late Friday in July. We chose Burstall Pass in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park as our destination for the day and we weren't disappointed in the least. The trail to the pass is 7.4km one-way with an elevation gain of 470m. The first 2.7km follow an old logging road and this section of trail is open to bikes, so we opted for a multi-sport day that included both biking and hiking.

Mud Lake
The trailhead for this hike is the Burstall Pass Day-Use Area along the Smith Dorrien/Spray Trail, directly across from the Chester Lake Trailhead, which happened to be closed due to bear activity. Christine quickly commented, "so the bears don't cross the road or what?" After leaving the parking lot the trail immediately passes Mud Lake, before entering the forest. Although not visible from the trail, we also passed Hogarth Lakes, a popular snowshoeing loop.

Biking along the old logging road
Even in the trees the views are still pretty good
As previously mentioned the first section follows an old logging road for 2.7km before reaching a concrete bike rack and sign indicating bicycles are not permitted past that point. We locked our bikes to the rack and hit the trail on foot. After passing the shallow Burstall Lakes we hit Willow Flats, which is the outflow from the Robertson Glacier. This section can be a bit confusing as the trail disappears into the vegetation as you cross several shallow creeks. There are signs indicating the correct route, but they can be tricky to spot as they aren't very close together. Basic route-finding skills are necessary here, but don't let it deter you from tackling this trail.

Shortly after leaving the bikes you're rewarded with this view of Commonwealth Peak
Entering Willow Flats. Make sure you're wearing waterproof shoes as this is the only bridge available and your feet might get wet depending on the water levels.
Whistling Rock Ridge as viewed from Willow Flats
Selfie with Commonwealth Peak
Robertson Glacier
Navigating Willow Flats with Snow Peak in the background
Once across Willow Flats the trail climbs steeply to an open meadow with magnificent views of Mount Birdwood, Snow Peak, and Whistling Rock Ridge. The meadow is relatively flat and is a nice reprieve from the ascent we just completed, but just as you catch your breath the trail, once again, resumes its climb towards Burstall Pass.

Entering the first meadow with Snow Peak above us
Christine posing with a very prominent Mount Birdwood
Panoramic shot of Mount Birdwood (left), Commonwealth Peak (centre), and the other side of Whistling Rock Ridge (right)
We were surprised at the number of wildflowers still in bloom
Mount Sir Douglas (far right) and Whistling Rock Ridge, which must be named for the abundance of marmots that we heard whistling throughout our hike. Those whistles really echo off the rock walls.
As you crest that final push to the pass you'll notice a small yellow sign welcoming you to Banff National Park. You might think this is odd, but Burstall Pass actually butts up against the eastern border of the famous national park. The trail continues on into the park before reaching Leman Lake (4.9km), Palliser Pass (10.9km), and eventually the junction with Bryant Creek (18.0km). As Burstall Pass was our goal for the day we opted to stop for lunch while enjoying the spectacular view that spread out in front of us.

The final push to Burstall Pass
Welcome to Banff National Park
My girls enjoying the view and their respective lunches
Looking west into Banff National Park. I believe the mountains have the following names, from left to right Leval, Vavsour, Warre, and Currie and way in the background (far right) with a bit of snow on the summit is the Matterhorn of the Rockies, Mount Assiniboine.
A quick selfie from Burstall Pass
We didn't stick around too long as there was rain in the forecast. The wind was starting to pick up and with it came much darker clouds. After snapping a few photos we packed up and began our descent. We were really hoping to beat the weather or at least get as low as possible before the skies opened up.

Back in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park after enjoying our lunch in Banff
One last look at Mount Birdwood as the wet weather makes its way towards us
Starting our descent
Christine and Rome making their way back down
I'm happy to report that it rained just enough for us to say it rained, but we did experience some intense thunder. Much like the marmot's whistles I am assuming the booming thunder echoes off the mountains making it seem much louder and more extreme than it really is. We were safely back in the truck and pulling out of the parking lot when the rain really started to fall.

After completing this trek for the first time it's easy to see why it's considered a classic hike in Kananaskis. We both thoroughly enjoyed the varied terrain and incredible scenery. Christine even mentioned that it's easily in her top three hikes of all time now. We both said it would be a great option in autumn as the larches are turning from green to their famous golden colour, so we might see you there in the fall!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Oldman Dam Provincial Recreation Area

Trip Date: July 2018

Our third camping trip of the summer took us down to the Oldman Dam Provincial Recreation Area near the Crowsnest Pass area of southern Alberta. The park is only 15 minutes from the town of Pincher Creek. We reserved three sites in the Cottonwood Campground, just one of four campgrounds located within the park. Cottonwood is tucked away in a valley below the Oldman River Reservoir, but still along the banks of the Oldman River. There are numerous Cottonwood Trees that provide shade and some relief from the constant wind that plagues this part of the province.

Welcome to Oldman Dam Provincial Recreation Area
None of us had ever camped here before, so we were looking forward to seeing a new park and a new part of the province. Sometimes it's easy to get stuck going back to familiar places, so trying new things once in awhile can be fun.

Oldman River Brewing in Lundbreck
Christine and I left Friday morning and headed south. We stopped in Lundbreck for lunch at Oldman River Brewing. This small micro-brewery was absolutely perfect. They had a kid and dog friendly patio, good food, delicious beers, and their customer service was above and beyond. They took small-town hospitality to a whole new level. In fact we liked them so much that we stopped there again on Saturday afternoon with all of our friends because we couldn't quit raving about them. So if you're ever down in southern Alberta make sure you stop in and enjoy a flight; you won't be disappointed!

A flight of five beers
Their patio accommodates the entire family!
We pulled into the campground mid-afternoon and set-up our campsite. We were the first ones to arrive, but the rest of the crew slowly trickled in as the day wore on. Waiting on everyone else gave us some time to explore the campground and take Rome for a walk.

Cottonwood Campground
Our home for the weekend
There aren't too many campgrounds where you look up and see wind turbines sticking up above the hills
The banks of the Oldman River
Looking northeast from the campground
A gorgeous prairie sunset
Saturday was a day for adventure. Ryan and I scrambled up the hillside next to the campground just to see what the view was like. Needless to say we weren't disappointed. 

Panoramic view from the top of the hill overlooking Cottonwood Campground
When we returned to the campground we were treated to a rare wildlife encounter. A Long-Tailed Weasel had been chasing a ground squirrel and when its prey eluded him, he climbed a nearby tree and perched on a low-hanging branch. This weasel sat on the branch for a long time without moving much and seemingly without a care in the world. We snapped several photos of the elusive critter before leaving him to his own devices.

Long-Tailed Weasel
Just lounging in a tree
Shortly after seeing the weasel this Mule Deer trotted through the campground
After our brief hike and wildlife viewing we headed out to Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area as none of us had ever seen the waterfalls in person. It was less than a 25 minute drive from our campground to the Lundbreck Falls Campground, which is where we parked. Hindsight being 20/20 we should have drove past the campground and parked at Lundbreck Falls Day Use Area as there was more parking available, but we thoroughly enjoyed the short walk anyway.

The clean and clear Crowsnest River
Lundbreck Falls is located on the Crowsnest River near the hamlet of Lundbreck. The falls tumble approximately 12 metres over the edge of a cliff and are quite popular due to their picturesque nature and ease of access. As mentioned we parked in the Lundbreck Falls Campground, which meant a leisurely stroll along a trail next to the Crowsnest River to reach the falls.

Our first view of the falls
Lundbreck Falls
View from above the falls
Looking at the falls from water level
The wildflowers were still blooming while we were there
After our wonderful experience at the falls we stopped at Oldman River Brewing for a quick pint where Cooper continued to add more dirt to his already messy self! 

This is how kids are supposed to look while camping! And no those are not bruises...that's dirt!
Our last stop before dinner was at Boulder Run Day-Use Area for a quick cool-down. It was a hot and dusty day, so we were feeling pretty grimy. The best way to remedy those problems is a brisk dip in the Oldman River. Boulder Run provided the perfect location for this as there's a slow-moving section of river, which is ideal for swimming, plus there's change rooms onsite.

Boulder Run Day Use Area
A refreshing dip in the Oldman River
Wildflowers blooming along the shoreline
The whole recreation area is named for the Oldman Dam that was completed in 1991. The reservoir that was created when the dam was built is a popular spot for water-based recreation and the prevalent breeze make this a wind-sport hotspot.

Oldman River Dam
Spillway Viewpoint
Panoramic shot of the Oldman Reservoir on an unusually calm morning
We had a fantastic weekend filled with new adventures and lots of laughs. We were all pleasantly surprised with the recreational opportunities available in this park and also close-by. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking to branch-out from their usual camping spots and try something new. I think it's safe to say that we'll be back at some point. Until then...