Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Glacier Adventure & Glacier Skywalk

Trip Date: August 2017

To continue my reporting on Brewster's Ultimate Explorer Pass I present my recap of the Glacier Adventure and Glacier Skywalk tours. My first story was about the Minnewanka Lake Cruise and like that article this one can also be found on the Calgary Guardian website.

Welcome To The Icefield Centre in Jasper National Park
“The view that lay before us in the evening light was one that does not often fall to the lot of modern mountaineers. A new world was spread at our feet: to the westward stretched a vast ice-field probably never before seen by the human eye, and surrounded by entirely unknown, unnamed and unclimbed peaks.”
~J. Norman Collie - First European (with Herman Wooley) to discover the Columbia Icefield in 1898
The Icefield Discovery Centre with Nigel Peak in the background
Set foot on ancient glacial ice in the Canadian Rockies and check glacier exploration off your bucket list. The Columbia Icefield is nestled at the heart of the Icefields Parkway and straddles the border between Banff and Jasper National Parks. It is the largest icefield south of the Arctic Circle, encompassing some 325-square-kilometres. One of its main tongues, the Athabasca Glacier, is estimated to be 13,000 years old and holds the distinction of being the most visited glacier in all of North America due to its proximity to the highway. Glaciers are inherently dangerous places. Specialized training, technical mountaineering skills, and proper gear are all essential for safely traversing their icy surfaces. Thankfully with the help of Brewster Travel Canada you can now explore the Athabasca Glacier without the need for lengthy training sessions or expensive gear.

The Athabasca Glacier as viewed from the Icefield Discovery Centre
A panoramic shot from the Icefield Centre
This is the Ice Explorer that transported us to and from the glacier
Glaciers are the prolonged accumulation of snow that, over a number of years, is compressed into solid ice. In the case of the Columbia Icefield its depth ranges from 100 to 365 metres, making it exceptionally thick. Glaciers are unique in that they're constantly moving, but at a very slow rate. Think of the Columbia Icefield as a large frozen lake and its glaciers (it feeds eight major ones) are like large slow-moving rivers of ice. The rocky debris that you see surrounding glaciers are called moraines. Terminal moraines are located at the foot of the glacier and indicate its maximum advancement while lateral moraines accumulate along its edges.

Exploring the Athabasca Glacier within the designated area
Up close and personal with the glacier's ancient ice
Glacier Selfie!
Athabasca Glacier panoramic shot
I filled my water bottle with glacier melt-water
High up on the glacier with the Icefield Centre way in the background
To access the glacier reserve your seat on one of Brewster's massive Ice Explorers. These highly-specialized vehicles are designed for all-terrain travel, making them the perfect option for transporting visitors onto the surface of the glacier. Each Ice Explorer costs $1.3-million-dollars and there are only 23 in operation around the globe; 22 of which are used at the Columbia Icefield (the 23rd is at a research station in Antarctica). With a top speed of 18 kilometres-per-hour your pace will be glacial at best, but that gives you plenty of time to absorb the rugged mountain landscape that surrounds you. Upon your arrival you'll be given approximately 30 minutes to explore the glacier within the designated area. Please don't venture beyond the barriers as hidden dangers, such as crevasses, are present and falling into one could prove deadly. The surface of the glacier can be upwards of 15 degrees-Celcius cooler than the Icefield Discovery Centre so be prepared for chilly temperatures and inclement weather even during the warmest months. Don't forget an empty water bottle so you can fill it with glacial melt-water; it doesn't get much fresher than that! Bringing the entire experience together were the guides. They proved to be a wealth of information and were eager to share facts and stats about glaciers and the powerful impact they have on the surrounding environment.

The Glacier Skywalk 
The Discovery Trail runs along the top of the cliff with the Sunwapta Valley below
After departing the glacier you will leave terra firma and walk where eagles soar along the Glacier Skywalk. Brewster's newest attraction (it was built in spring 2014) is a glass-bottomed observation deck overlooking the magnificent Sunwapta Valley. The Skywalk is perched on the edge of a 280-metre cliff so your first steps into the abyss may be timid, but that feeling will soon pass as the breathtaking scenery unfolds before you. If the Skywalk is the grand finale, the lead-up is just as impressive. A one-kilometre self-guided interpretive walk along the Discovery Trail where you will observe fossils, wildlife, waterfalls, and more sets the tone for the entire experience. Here you are not limited by the hands of the clock, so take your time and immerse yourself in the beauty of the natural world that is all around you.

A panoramic shot of the Glacier Skywalk
Due to climate change the Athabasca Glacier is receding at an alarming pace, having lost half its volume over the past 125 years. Don't wait too long to visit as I fear its days as a tourist attraction are numbered. By venturing onto the Glacier Skywalk you'll have joined just a handful of people on the planet to have experienced this attraction. Since it was built only three years ago the number of people to peer through the glass floor is still quite minimal. If you're looking for a new adventure or just want to deepen your connection with the Rocky Mountains look no further than the Columbia Icefield and its captivating attractions. Keep in mind you can pair the Glacier Adventure with the Glacier Skywalk for a day filled with unforgettable experiences and memories to last a lifetime.

Wrapping-up a fantastic day in Jasper National Park
To learn more about the Glacier Adventure 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 Glacier Adventure photos using the hashtag #GlacierAdventure and/or #GlacierSkywalk.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Mountain Biking: Cypress Hills

Trip Date: August 2017

Rising from a sea of endless prairie the forest-covered Cypress Hills in the southeast corner of the province contain the best-kept mountain biking secret in Alberta’s cycling community. Mountain biking and the prairies go about as well together as lamb and tuna fish, but thankfully the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and Canada’s east coast is changing all that.

Welcome to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park
Prepping for an amazing ride
Starting off
View from the saddle
Climbing, Climbing, Climbing!
The 670 Collective, a local tight-knit mountain bike club so named for the elevation of downtown Medicine Hat, have been building trails in the hills above Elkwater since 2012 when the club was formed. I camped in Cypress Hills last summer and explored several of the trails, but left wanting more. Luckily I found myself there again in early August on assignment for Seekers Media. My task was to ride the trails and report my findings, which I’m happy to say are all positive. For this visit I linked up with Kurtis Peters, the president of 670 Collective, who agreed to show me around and be my official tour guide for the afternoon. Over the next 2.5 hours Kurtis guided me through the varied terrain that encompasses the region while we rode some amazing single-track. My must rides include the Mystery Trails, Cobble Miner, and Last Grizzly, so named for the last remaining Great Plains Grizzly that was shot and killed nearby back in 1890.

View through the trees
The boys out on the trail
Cruising down Last Grizzly
There's even a couple log jumps to keep you entertained!
The view from my Rock Shox!
After the ride, we found ourselves at the Camp Cookhouse, a phenomenal restaurant that serves local cuisine all made from scratch. Do yourself a favour and order the Camp Burger next time you’re there. And what mountain biking adventure would be complete without a few bevy’s? My favourties came from the two local breweries in Medicine Hat; Burnside Blood Orange Ale from Medicine Hat Brewing Company and Chinook Wind Session Ale from Hell’s Basement Brewery.

One of the Firerock Cabins; my home for the night
The cabins offer great views of Elkwater Lake
Panoramic shot of Reesor Lake
After dinner I enjoyed a scenic drive to Reesor Lake before calling it a day at one of Alberta Parks’ newest additions; the Firerock Cabins. In June of this year Alberta Parks added five lake-side cabins to the Firerock Campground. These stand-alone units can be rented by the night and offer guests an alternative to the more traditional style of camping. I would definitely recommend them to anyone looking to try something a little different and they’re perfect for families.

A mother Mule Deer and her twin fawns scamping up the hillside across the lake
A Red-Tailed Hawk perched on top of a tree
This White-Tailed Buck is still covered in velvet
The tall grass provides excellent camouflage for this mother and her fawn
Anyway, to check out the full story about my latest trip to Cypress Hills please visit the ZenSeekers website. You can also start planning your next biking adventure with Tourism Medicine Hat or connect with the 670 Collective on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Also don't forget to register for the Battle Creek Showdown, taking place later this month.

Sunset at Reesor Lake 
The sun setting on an incredible day in Cypress Hills
Don’t let mountain biking’s best-kept secret pass you by, starting arranging your next big two-wheeled adventure today!

Here's a little promo video I created about my mountain biking adventure in Cypress Hills

Monday, August 7, 2017

Fort Normandeau

Trip Date: August 2017

The Red Deer River is a prominent natural feature on the landscape of central Alberta. It was used for centuries by First Nation People who came to hunt the bountiful wildlife that were found along its banks. Plains Cree referred to the river as 'Waskasoo Seepee' or 'Elk River' due to the large herds that would gather there. Early European fur traders mistook the Elk as Scottish Red Deer and misinterpreted the name as 'Red Deer River'. Even though it was incorrect the name stuck to the growing community and that name still lives on today.

Welcome to Fort Normandeau
The front gates of Fort Normandeau
The easiest place to cross the Red Deer River was a natural shallow section a short distance west of modern-day Red Deer. Pre-contact First Nation groups used this shallow section of river for generations in order to move about the land hunting wild game. As the earliest Europeans began exploring the western frontier the same crossing point continued to be well-used. In 1882 the first permanent settlement was created and became known as Red Deer Crossing or simply The Crossing. The Calgary-Edmonton Trail passed through The Crossing and was a popular spot to stop during the long journey.

The grounds of Fort Normandeau
The Fort Normandeau Interpretive Centre
This sculpture is titled "Ghosts of the Prairies" and was created by Douglas Taylor in 2015. The informative plaque nearby reads: "The abstracted Plains Bison symbolizes why humans have come to this ford on the Red Deer River for eons. The bison's annual migrations brought First Nations peoples, followed by Metis and then the first European settlers to this site. The layered and textured steel slabs that form the front end of the animal transform into entwined textured steel rods representing leafy branches. The artist's intent is to recognize the bison for the integral role it played on the prairies and surrounding parkland that regrettably has all but disappeared in the wind today.
In 1884 a stopping house (also known as a hotel) was built at The Crossing by Robert McClellan. During the North-West Rebellion, in 1885, the hotel was commandeered by troops under the command of Lieutenant J.E. Bedard Normandeau in order to build a military stronghold. The original log building was renovated and reinforced to create Fort Normandeau. Lieutenant Normandeau and his men were tasked with protecting the surrounding community and the Calgary-Edmonton Trail in the event of an attack. Tensions were high as several bloody battles spilled over from the District of Saskatchewan into what is present-day Alberta.

Outside the reconstructed fort
A tower and a cannon
The main building inside the fort
"The detachment of the 65th Rifles took Robert McClellan's 'hotel', built in 1884, and fortified it. They cut loopholes in the walls, built a palisade of 10-foot logs set in a 2-foot trench, erected a protective wall of planks and clay outside the walls of the stopping house and lined the palisade with planks and clay."
                   -Raymond Gaetz, The Story of Fort Normandeau
Behind the main building is a garden and chickens
This stone cairn marks the site of the first trading post between Calgary and Edmonton and the old Red Deer River Crossing. Erected by the Old Timers Association in memory of the pioneers of the Red Deer District - 1951
Tensions at The Crossing were high. Rumors of looting and raids by unruly First Nation groups spread like wildfire and many settlers fled to Calgary to avoid the conflict. Relationships between First Nation, Metis, and white settlers were strained and due to the language barrier many were confused as to why their neighbours were suddenly afraid of them.

Inside the main building of Fort Normandeau
After the rebellion ended Fort Normandeau was used as a North West Mounted Police (NWMP) headquarters from 1886 to 1893 before eventually moving to Red Deer permanently. When the NWMP vacated, the fort was left abandoned and the main building was moved and used on a farm until 1937. In 1974 the Central Alberta Pioneers and the Old Timers Association moved the fort close to its original location where it was reconstructed and opened for visitors.

Across the river from Fort Normandeau was the site of the Red Deer Indian Industrial School built by the Dominion government in 1893. The school was operated by the Methodist Church until it closed in 1919. Although the school is long gone this exhibit on the grounds of Fort Normandeau pays tribute to those who were enrolled in the residential school system and brings to light the atrocities they faced.
The Red Deer River
Fort Normandeau's story may lack the drama of historic battles between First Nation groups and settlers, but the fear of attack was very real. It's hard to say, but maybe the presence of a fortified structure complete with armed troops was enough to discourage local uprisings.

To learn more about other Alberta historic forts please refer to these posts about Fort Whoop-Up and Fort Calgary.