Friday, July 28, 2017

Minnewanka Lake Cruise

Trip Date: July 2017

During a recent camping trip to Bow Valley Provincial Park Christine and I took part in the Minnewanka Lake Cruise. The following is a recap of that adventure, which can also be found on the Calgary Guardian website.

Welcome to Lake Minnewanka
Although not as famous as its westerly cousins, Louise and Moraine, Lake Minnewanka might be the most captivating lake in all of Banff National Park. Maybe it’s because it lays in the valley that acted as the original gateway to the prairies or maybe its proximity to the Banff town site is the reason for its infamy, but whatever the reason Minnewanka has long been an enchanting destination for visitors from all walks of life.

The Alberta Explorer would be our trusty boat for the afternoon cruise
Leaving the dock
There are records of human occupation along Minnewanka’s shoreline as far back as 10,000 years. First Nation People actively used the lake and surrounding area for centuries before the first Europeans arrived. The Stoney referred to the lake as ‘Minn-waki’ or ‘Lake of the Spirits’, which was in reference to the belief that everything contained its own spirit. As early European explorers reached the untamed west they mistook the name and assumed a more sinister meaning behind the moniker.

The view from the rear deck
Sheep's Point is poorly named as there aren't many sheep, but there can be eagles!
Our boat was lucky to see this Bald Eagle perched in a dead tree overlooking its favourite fishing grounds
As the wild west slowly became more subdued Lake Minnewanka underwent drastic changes. The lake was damned on three separate occasions making it the largest lake in the entire park. There were also several name changes before settling on the Anglicized version of the Stoney’s original name. Modern tourism began to take shape in the early 1900’s and a resort community known as Minnewanka Landing was established by 1912. Rising water levels were a natural consequence of damming the lake making scuba divers the only visitors to Minnewanka Landing today. Rumour has it that an original porcelain toilet can still be found in the lake’s murky depths and is a popular photo opp for local divers.

The Canadian Rockies have a way of making everything else seem small!
A smokey day out on the water
One hundred years ago there were boat tours on the lake. These excursions, lasting upwards of six hours, would take visitors on site-seeing adventures around the lake’s rugged shoreline and offer glimpses of Banff’s raw natural beauty. The tradition of boat tours still continues today with Brewster Travel Canada’s Minnewanka Lake Cruises. These one-hour jaunts still offer visitors the chance to get a new perspective on one of Banff’s most storied water bodies. The tours are guided by an interpreter who offers deep insight into the lake’s illustrious past and will share more than a few captivating stories about the lake’s early years.

Christine enjoying the afternoon
The Canadian Rockies are raw and rugged
Recently I had the opportunity to partake in one of the cruises and was quite happy with the wealth of knowledge the guide possessed. As someone who is familiar with the lake I was surprised to hear a few stories and facts that were previously unknown to me. Not only does being aboard the boat offer exclusive photo opportunities of some of Banff’s most striking landscapes, but there are also chances to spot elusive wildlife along the shoreline. Our tour was fortunate to see a Bald Eagle perched high in a decaying tree overlooking its preferred fishing grounds. Even with the ever-present smokey haze courtesy of the Verdant Creek Wildfire burning along the border of Banff and Kootenay National Parks the scenery was remarkable. If you’re hoping for a new way to experience Lake Minnewanka the Lake Cruise might be just the adventure you’re looking for, but remember to reserve early to ensure your seat.

Mount Girouard shrouded in smoke
Even with all the smoke in the air the boat cruise was a nice way to spend an afternoon
To learn more about the Minnewanka Lake Cruise or any of the other Rockies Attractions please visit the Brewster Travel Canada website or you can purchase the Ultimate Explorer Pass that provides admission to four of Brewster’s top attractions. You can also connect with Brewster on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, and Vimeo) and don’t forget to share all your Lake Cruise photos using the hashtag #BanffLakeCruise. To discover more of Minnewanka’s supernatural history please read, The Spirit of Minnewanka. Also Stewart Canyon is a fantastic short hike along the Minnewanka shoreline if you want to stretch your legs after the boat cruise.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bow Valley Provincial Park

Trip Date: July 2017

In mid July we made plans for a camping trip. This would be Cooper's first time camping and we were really looking forward to it. We settled on Bow Valley Provincial Park for its proximity to the city (less than 100km west of Calgary) in case we had to go home early. We reserved a site in the Bow Valley Campground, which would mark the second time we'd stayed there. The first time was over 10 years ago and I'd forgotten just how nice the campground is. Its riverside location and mix of big mature trees with quiet private sites make it an ideal spot. It honestly feels like you're a lot deeper in the mountains instead of just on the outskirts.

Bow Valley Provincial Park is the gateway to the mountains
We would be sharing Christine's parent's trailer as tenting wasn't a practical option with a two-month old. The Verdant Creek Wildfire was also burning out of control on the Banff and Kootenay National Park's border so there was a complete fire ban across the entire Bow Valley and raining ash was a constant issue throughout our trip. It did make for some awful beautiful sunsets though!

Family camping trip...the first of many!
Wildfire smoke as viewed from our campsite
Unfortunately a Grizzly Bear was struck on the highway and scampered off into the forest. This resulted in all of the trails in the park being closed while Conservation Officers monitored the bear's health. No word yet on the condition of the bear. Due to these unfortunate circumstances we explored the trails in the campground and along the river instead, which offer some fantastic views of the nearby peaks.

The Bow River Trails runs parallel to the river
The Bow River with Mount Yamnuska in the background
Wildflowers blooming along the river's edge
With Grandparents along Christine and I were able to get out for a couple of paddleboard sessions on nearby lakes. Our first paddle of the season was on Lac des Arcs. I'd always wanted to paddle over to the small island so we finally made that happen. It'll likely be the first and last time we paddle on that lake as we were both covered in small leeches afterwards!

This small island was our destination
Christine and Rome with Heart Mountain in the background
Island Selfie
Island Sunset
My GoPro paddlecam was back in action!
A smokey sunset over Lac des Arcs
As luck would have it Christine and I were able to sneak away for another afternoon paddle, but this time we went to Two Jack Lake along the Minnewanka Road in Banff National Park. We'd heard good reviews about paddling there and the scenery is incredible, even with all the smoke in the air. If you're looking for a great place to paddle with water that is warmer than other mountain lakes you'll definitely want to keep Two Jack in mind.

Paddling Two Jack Lake
Smile for the paddlecam!
Enjoying the mountain scenery
Sharing this end of the lake with a Loon
A few of the locals stopped by to say hi as we were leaving
To cap off the trip Christine and I took part in a Minnewanka Lake Cruise that's offered by Brewster Travel Canada. The one-hour tour guides visitors down the length of the lake and provides insight into the legendary lake's colourful history. It also offers guests the chance to get a new perspective on an old favourite, while also giving them an opportunity to spot elusive wildlife along the shoreline. To read the full recap of our boat cruise experience please visit my Minnewanka Lake Cruise post or read The Mighty Minnewanka.

I really enjoyed this camping trip and we will be returning to Bow Valley Provincial Park in the future. It's a wonderful spot for families and you can't beat the location. Until next time...

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Lake Louise Summer Gondola

Trip Date: July 2017

The day started out very familiar. The scenic drive west from Calgary. The bustling parking lot. The aroma of bacon wafting from the lodge. The hum of spinning chairlifts. But that's where the similarities ended. The powdery white snow had melted giving way to leafy green foliage and colourful wildflowers. Shorts and t-shirts supplanted parkas, toques, and boots. And skis and snowboards were replaced by cameras and binoculars. Yes Lake Louise Mountain Resort has long been a staple for my winter adventures, yet standing there at the base of Mount Whitehorn on a warm summer morning everything felt brand new.

Bear's Den Smokehouse and the Grizzly Chair as viewed from Whiskey Jack Lodge
Christine and Cooper getting ready for the gondola ride
You're probably quite familiar with the Lake's legendary winter rep, but have you experienced all that the warmest months have to offer? Although I feel like a veteran of the winter scene I am truly a novice when it comes to summer. I've done several hikes in the vicinity of Lake Louise and have paddled on its famous turquoise water, but had yet to visit the resort during the summer. Thankfully that all changed with a recent trip to the mountains.

Chairlift selfie!
Lake Louise as viewed from the Observation Deck
Ski and snowboard resorts are constantly trying to create new ways to stay relevant outside of their primary season. Think Norquay's Via Ferrata, alpine hiking at Sunshine Meadows, Revelstoke's Pipe Mountain Coaster, the Grizzly Bear Refuge at Kicking Horse, or Fernie's Bike Park. Lake Louise is no different, although they might be more restricted than others due to their location within a national park. Lucky for them they're able to offer some of the best wildlife viewing in the entire park using their existing infrastructure.

Looking down from the top of the gondola
The wildflowers were in full bloom when we were there
The bulk of the resort faces south, meaning it absorbs more sunlight than north-facing slopes. This abundance of solar radiation is bad for the snowpack, but extends the growing season, which is already very short in alpine environments. The resort's treeless runs are perfect for early season shrubs and wildflowers. The snow-free slopes ultimately attract mega-fauna like bears and deer (among others) for an easy meal and the wide-open spaces allow for superb viewing of some of the park's elusive residents. Combine those facts with an elevated position, such as a chairlift, and you have a recipe for spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities. Since guests are enclosed in a gondola or are high above the ground on a chairlift, the safety of both human and animal are ensured.

A panoramic shot of Lake Louise and surrounding peaks
After arriving I started my day with a leisurely breakfast buffet in the Whiskey Jack Lodge. Freshly prepared bacon and eggs combined with a piping hot cup of coffee are sure to provide the fuel needed for the day's adventures. After breakfast I made my way down to the Grizzly Chair, known as the Glacier Express the other half of the year. Winter vets will notice the lift has been modified to incorporate both gondola cabins and quad-chairs. This gives guests the option of either an open or closed experience while traveling up the mountainside. You'll also note the lift is spinning slower than in the winter. In fact it takes twice as long (about 15 minutes) to complete the journey, allowing for ample time to search for wildlife.

A Black and Grizzly Bear on display in the Wildlife Centre
The lift drops guests mid-mountain where there's plenty to keep you busy. I opted for the short walk down to the Viewing Platform and was rewarded with uninterrupted views of Lake Louise and its surrounding snow-capped peaks. From there I headed over to Whitehorn Bistro where you can dine on alpine-inspired items or just enjoy the sweeping mountain panorama from 2,042 metres (6,700 feet). Below the bistro is the Wildlife Interpretive Centre where you'll discover why life in the Canadian Rockies is equally unique and spectacular. The centre also hosts interactive programs for all ages and guided walks/hikes are available with professional interpreters. For those with more energetic ambitions there are hiking trails available above the gondola. The trails range in length and difficulty and anyone entering the area needs to be prepared for changing alpine conditions and the possibility of encountering wildlife. Just because you're hiking at a resort doesn't mean assistance is readily available; it is still an untamed mountain environment. Just remember the area below the chairlift is an active wildlife corridor and is closed to the public.

This Cougar still looks menacing even as a taxidermy specimen!
The ride back down offers some pretty spectacular views!
The ride back to the base gave me another opportunity to spot more wildlife and provided incredible views of Lake Louise, the famous Chateau, towering Mount Temple, ancient glaciers, and more. From there I wrapped-up my day with the summer version of apr├Ęs-ski on the Bear's Den Smokehouse's sprawling patio (that's the Kokanee Kabin for all you skiers and boarders) while soaking in the last vestiges of the fading sunshine. With the sun sitting low in the sky casting long shadows I began my journey back to Calgary fulfilled with the day's adventure and already looking forward to the next one.

Christine and Cooper on the way back down
Lodge of the Ten Peaks
On our drive back to Calgary we spotted a small herd of Rocky Mountain Sheep along the Bow Valley Parkway. Due to their large horns I had to stop for a few photos!

Rocky Mountain Sheep
Almost a full curl!
You can discover the history of Lake Louise by reading the story, Lake of the Little Fishes.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

One Wild Year

In light of a video that recently surfaced on Facebook featuring a single tree being recorded for an entire year, I thought I would bring back a similar video I created using the trail cameras at Enviros Wilderness School's Base Camp, a program I used to work at. Up until now the video has lived on the Wild About Base Camp blog that I created, but that site does not see much traffic, so I thought I would transfer it to my personal blog with the hope of sharing it with more people.

Back in 2013 my co-teacher and I placed a Bushnell  trail camera on a single tree and left it there for an entire year. We were surprised at the variety of wildlife we captured throughout that year and have shown the video to countless students that came through our program. You'll quickly notice that it's not only wildlife that are actively using our forests and the level of coexistence between animal and man is quite impressive in the Base Camp area. Truth be told, after all the success we had with that camera it is still on that same tree today!

I would just like to thank Parks Canada for the inspiration behind this video. In 2011 they published Banff National Park's Wild Year and I liked it so much that I decided to put my own spin on things.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Wascana Trails

Trip Date: July 2017

During a recent trip to Regina my brother Kyle and I headed out to the Wascana Valley Natural Area, known locally as Wascana Trails, to do some biking. The area boasts over 15km of multi-use trails that are suitable for all ability levels. With its close proximity to the city (it's less than a 30 minute drive) it is popular for all types of outdoor recreation such as hiking, trail running, and mountain biking in the summer or snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and tobogganing in the winter. It also provides another option for wildlife viewing and photography than the Condie Nature Refuge, which is located close by.

Welcome to Wascana Valley Natural Area Recreation Site aka Wascana Trails
A map of the trail system at Wascana Trails
The trails are in excellent shape and are meticulously maintained by local mountain biking clubs, such as Offroad Syndicate and the South Sask MTB Club, as well as other enthusiasts. In 2011 the local clubs collaborated with Sask Environment to create a map and signage for the trail system. This has gone a long way to improving navigation throughout the complex network of trails in the area.

Crossing Wascana Creek to access the rest of the trail system
Kyle cruising down one of the trails
Overlooking the valley from one of the high points
The trail system is divided by Wascana Creek, a tributary of the Qu'Appelle River. The only way to access the trails on the eastern side of the creek is to cross the main bridge, which is visible from the parking lot above the valley on the west side of the site. It is also worth noting that the only washroom facilities are in the parking lot and there are no other amenities throughout the trail system, so come prepared.

Mountain biking prairie style!
If you look closely (to the right of my helmet) you can see the vehicles at the trailhead on the opposite side of the valley
View from the saddle
Although it is very different than what I am used to riding in the Canadian Rockies the trails feature a variety of challenges such as gradual hills, sharp and winding descents, steep climbs, technical sections, and incredible views of the valley and surrounding prairie landscape. I was pleasantly surprised with the variety of terrain available and hope to return next time I'm in Regina!

Riding some of the trails in the valley bottom
Slowly working our way back up to the trailhead
Panoramic shot of the Wascana Trail System
This Brown-Headed Cowbird was perched on a sign as we were leaving