Hiking the Tamarack Trail

Above: view of Lineham lakes

Having had poor weather last Fall down in Waterton Lakes National park which saw us abandon our hiking/camping plans, Meg and I were excited to make up for it and a couple of weekends ago set out to complete the Tamarack Trail. Located within Waterton in south west Alberta, the trail is touted as the longest (and best) the park has to offer, treating hikers to stunning views along the continental divide and a relatively secluded backcountry experience.

We drove down on a Thursday evening after Meg finished work and stayed just outside the park at Crooked Creek campground in our camperised Ford Escape before starting the trail early on Friday morning. The campground was busy, mainly with trailers and RV’s but the sites were nice and reasonably priced at $25 a night.

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Treated to a beautiful sunset on the drive to Waterton

Rising at around 6 am, we had a light breakfast of hard boiled eggs and bagels before driving into town for a much needed caffeine fix. Being just outside the park, it took us around 10 minutes to get into town and grab a coffee at which point we were glad that we hadn’t done the whole drive in the morning from Fernie. After that we popped in at the Visitors centre which opens at 7.30 just to check in and receive our backcountry permits before driving to the Rowe lakes trailhead off the Akamina Parkway. We had arranged for a shuttle to pick us up there and drop us to Red Rock Canyon to start the hike.

Before I go any further, I should say that technically we didn’t hike the normal Tamarack trail route. Instead of hiking the snowshoe trail to Twin lakes and then across to Lone Lake, we opted to hike the Blackiston valley trail. We did this mainly because we had heard and read that the Blackiston trail was a much more scenic and less trafficked route compared to the snowshoe trail which is a multi use trail/old fire service road for 8.5km to the first campground.  I haven’t hiked both before so couldn’t judge myself but we were not disappointed with our route and all in all it was only 4-5 km shorter so we didn’t lose too much credibility.

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Anyways after a nice chat with our shuttle driver we arrived at our start point and readied our packs to begin the 14.3 km hike to our campground at Lone Lake. The trail took us quickly to Blackiston falls which we stopped at briefly and were easily admired from the brand new platforms erected in the past year. We pressed on and were treated to views of a creek running through walls of red rock, every bit as nice as the canyon itself, and then for the next couple of hours we would hike through mainly wooded forest. The trail was overgrown and narrow in some sections with the odd fallen tree needing to be ducked or climbed over, features which I tend to like on a trail as they make the whole experience a bit more wild and therefore enjoyable.

The last 4-5kms to Lone Lake saw a bit of a steeper incline (previously very gradual gain in elevation) that opened out into beautiful meadows with bear grass in full bloom and many other mountain flowers on their way. We passed only 2 other groups the whole time we were hiking, a group of 4 that were on their way down to Red Rock canyon and an odd group of 2 consisting of a Canadian guy and a German girl who were going the same way as us. I say odd because when chatting to them we discovered that they a) had ran into a bear early on in the trail and did not have any bear spray/bear bangers b) the German girl did not even know what “pfeffer spray” was and that there were even bears in the park and c) they didn’t know where they were camping nor had they registered for a permit with the park. The Canadian dude seemed to be quite a seasoned backcountry expert but he lost some credibility when he thought that there were no grizzly bears in Waterton and that he and his German counterpart were just going to camp somewhere in the “alpine” region of the park. Funnily enough they hiked close behind us for half an hour or so before we stopped for lunch, I think because we were slightly better prepared. I know bear spray isn’t full proof by any means but it’s definitely better than nothing!

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We reached Lone lake by mid afternoon and lucky for us had first pick of the sites. There are only 4 tent pads at the lake which is nice as it keeps the numbers at a minimum. Soon after arriving we made quick time of pitching the tent and filtering some water from the lake. We used our recently bought Katadyn hiker water filter, which works really well and produces some amazing tasting water. Definitely recommend it for extended hikes. After some down time and a dunk in the lake, we had a nice chat to a group of 4 female school teachers all doing the hike together before tucking in to our hearty dinner of ramen, spam and broccoli. I believe we consumed 200% recommended daily intake of salt but I figured we were low in electrolytes anyway.

The night proved to be quite warm and I slept in my down sleeping bag without any layers and completely unzipped. We woke up around 5.30am to get an early start on the day but mainly because nature started chirping loudly. We chowed down on a can of beans and made some coffee using these nifty little filters by a Japanese company called Kantan. They are single use, one cup filters which sit on the rim of a cup and produce some good coffee.  We would have used them as kindling if we had made a fire to be more enviro friendly but unfortunately had to carry them out as trash.

The lake was beautiful and still as we took off just after 7am and were kicked right into gear as the trail climbs a good 200-300m of elevation for the first 30 minutes. After this the next couple of hours were quite enjoyable walking through dense forest with some gradual ups and downs until we reached an open meadow which would start the somewhat gruelling ascent up to lineham ridge. The plus side however was the amazing views and abundance of  flowers that got better with every step towards the top.

 

Once we reached the ridge we walked off trail right to the edge to get some great shots of Lineham lakes where we also caught a glimpse of some mountain goats grazing in the distance. We then continued on to where the trail starts to descend again and stopped for lunch with a view of upper Rowe lake in the distance. The next 9km of hiking would be all descent, approx 950m in total, in 35 degree weather and to be honest was quite a slog. There are still some beautiful views as you get closer to Rowe lakes and you get to ford some nice creeks which offer a great chance to cool off.

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Our pace slowed in the last few km’s as we started to tire (and we would later find out that Meg was sporting some insane blisters). Despite this we pushed on and made it back to the car by mid afternoon, deciding to bypass the short walk to lower Rowe lake. Never the less we were elated once we finished and after giving Meg’s feet some much needed tlc, we celebrated our first backcountry hike of the year with a beer and poutine back in town before heading back to Fernie.

 

Note: Just some extra info that might be handy for others planning to do the same hike.

  • We hiked the trail on the 7th and 8th of July. Temperatures were seasonally above average, high 20’s to low 30’s. It was pretty hot going hiking during the day but the plus was the night stayed warm too. We only encountered small patches of snow on the trail but nothing that was difficult to cross or that presented an overhead hazard. I imagine it would be a different story in early June.
  • We chose to hike from Red rock canyon to Rowe lakes instead of the traditional way which goes in the opposite direction. Personally I enjoyed this way as the elevation gain seemed more gradual during the first day so the legs were in good condition for the harder second day. It also saves the best views til the end so you have anticipation as an extra motivator. Going the traditional route would mean a very big first day ( a Swiss couple at Lone Lake hiked ~9 hrs and looked exhausted) with a somewhat less interesting second day. Either way you’ll have an awesome time!
  • We both had 3 litres of water each at the start of the hike which took us to Lone lake. There is accessible flowing water most of the way up Blackiston valley however we didn’t need to refill. We didn’t encounter any water sources between Lone lake and a few km’s beyond Lineham ridge (except for a stagnant looking lake that was off trail) so it’s a good idea to fully stock water in the morning when leaving.
  • Have some sort of insect repellant at Lone Lake. The flies/mozzies were fairly annoying but seemed deterred by some repellant spray. Also best time to use the outhouse is early in the morning, smell is minimal and you avoid the swarms whilst doing your business.
  • If you don’t have the convenience of having a car at each end of the trail, the Waterton shuttle is really worth it. We had friends who hitch hiked back to their car  some years ago but it took them over an hour to get a ride and they had already started walking closer to town. We were pretty beat by the end so loved having fresh clothes and some water waiting for us.

 

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Island!

Above: Halfmoon bay on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

Finally, a destination in BC that had long been on the list to visit was finally ticked off a few weeks ago. Meg and I were able to book a week off for the road trip in early June to avoid the peak of summer crowds and before we both got busy with work in Fernie.

We took off on a Friday morning driving west on highway 3 as far as Osoyoos before stopping for some impromptu put put golf and a bit of dinner. We would have loved to stay in this pretty town but unfortunately the campsite at Hayes point provincial park was fully booked so we continued on until dusk and made camp in the back of the car at Sidewinder Provincial park (one of the few pull out highway adjacent campgrounds that we would frequent on the trip). It was a very basic site with pit toilets and a running river to wash up at and was enough for our car camping needs.

The next morning we took off early and stopped for breakfast in Princeton before reaching Vancouver by early afternoon. We had less than 24 hrs in the big city but we were luck enough to stay with Megs friend Curtis right in the downtown area so we were able to walk around the city easily and enjoy some of the sights and local fare. Sushi, a porchetta sandwich from “Meat and Bread” and some beers from the Steamworks brewery went down a treat.  We spent the rest of the night chatting, drinking and catching up life as well as youtube fails and music videos.

As fun as it was to be back in a big city again, we were both keen to move on from the concrete jungle so after saying goodbye to our friends in the morning we drove to Tsawassen to take the ferry across to Schwartz bay and on to Victoria. It cost $90 for the both of us and our vehicle to board the ferry but although quite pricey, it was worth the money as the ride is quite enjoyable and the whole process of boarding/disembarking is run really smoothly. We reached Victoria by the early afternoon and checked into our air bnb before renting some bikes and cruising along the coast.

After building up a decent appetite we popped by the famous Red fish Blue fish for a seafood fix. As far as touristy food establishments go, this one definitely lived up to the hype and was super affordable. We went for a few fish tacos and a jerk fish poutine (amazing!) which cost us under $30. After chowing down on the provided seating on the dock and enjoying the view, we headed to the Bard and Banker pub (nice old fashioned interior) in the downtown area where we tasted some local beers and racked up a good tab whilst enjoying some live music.

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Taking a dip at the Sooke pot holes

The next few days were spent with some of Megs hometown friends Alyssa and Blake who live together in Mill Bay. The quaint little town made for a nice base for the next few days where we hiked in the Goldstream provincial park, took a day trip down to the Sooke pot holes and kayaked around Newcastle Island up near Nanaimo. We even got to squeeze in a round of frolf (frisbee golf) at a fun course in Bowen park.

To finish off our trip we all headed west to Tofino and Ucluelet for a couple of days of exploring. On the drive across we stopped at a kitschy farmers market with grazing goats on the roof where we indulged in some tasty home made pastries before checking out Cathedral grove. The giant trees are remarkable to see in person and would be a taste of the beautiful coastal rainforest we would see as we travelled closer to the west coast.

We met up with Alyssa and Blake at Surf Junction campground just outside of Ucluelet which would be home for the next 2 days. For the large amount of sites they have, you still feel relatively secluded as each one is separated by dense trees and bush. The amenities were as you could expect for a campground with the added bonus of a hot tub which we got to try out one evening.

Our stay on the West coast consisted mainly of doing little hikes along the coast which were gentle strolls on gravel pathways compared to the leg burners we’re used to in the mountains. Never the less they were enjoyable, taking in some scenic views of the ocean under grey skies whilst being weary of the multiple wolf warnings we came across at almost every stop. Apart from hikes, we also checked out the famous Tacofino food truck which again lived up to the hype (and for a cheap price) and had a couple of beers at the Tofino Brewing co where I got to catch up with our buddy Ryan who had lived in Fernie previously and I’d visited in February in Japan. (FYI the brewery is a great spot to hang out for an hour or two in the afternoon sun with an open plan warehouse floor which seems popular with tourists and locals alike).

We spent the last night at the campground sipping a few beers around the hot tub and later around the campfire, chatting about future plans for the summer and beyond. Unfortunately our time was short on the island but we got to see enough of it to know that we will visit again sometime in the future. The next morning we grabbed a coffee and breakfast pastry at Zoe’s in Ucluelet (highly recommended) and did the small hike to half-moon bay before starting the long journey back to Fernie. It was a bit sombre leaving the coast but as we neared the mountains we were glad to be heading home.

 

 

 

 

Wedge Mountain

Above: Views of Crowsnest mountain on the hike up the ridge.

A group of us decided to hike to the old plane crash wreckage in Coleman however found  that a disgruntled land owner had blocked the entrance to the road leading to the trail head with some hefty sized boulders. After a quick chat with some locals, we found out that random people had been using the road to access this mans property and use it as a dumping ground as well as a place to steal gravel/fill.

Saddened by this news we ruled out the hike as starting from where the road is cut off was not an option as it would add an extra hour or 2 in each direction. Instead we did a quick internet search and found the details to a trail only a few minutes away by drive and that afforded some nice views of the surrounding areas.

The hike for Wedge mountain is accessed off Highway 3 in West Coleman, Alberta. You turn onto 61st st and make a right hand turn onto 23rd Avenue which continues straight and merges into 63rd st. Follow this for several km’s and you will pass over a couple of cow grates. Keep going until you come into a large clearing/field. There will be signs of camping if there are not already other vehicles in the area. Park to the right almost immediately upon entering this clearing and you will see a small creek and bridge which is where to start the hike.

Above: (Left) Meg and Vinnie coming down what is the start of the hike, (Right): about 10-15 minutes in you hit some scree. We used a similar photo from another blog to make sure we were heading in the right direction by using landmarks in the background.

Walk over the creek on the dirt road (looks like a quad trail and/or logging road) and immediately after crossing bear left and start ascending. This is where we initially went wrong as we just followed the dirt road thinking there would be a noticeable trail. FYI there isn’t at the start and you just have to gain some elevation and then trails become more noticeable.

As you climb there is loose sharp scree as well as loose dirt/rock sections (good hiking boots recommended). Continue up the ridge of the mountain following the obvious trails you see which all intersect each other. After about an 1-1.5 hrs you should be at the top which is marked by a large wooden cross. Enjoy the views and be careful of the loose scree on the way down, there were some minor bum scrapes and near misses in our crew.

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Ev and Emil relaxing after the hike 

After the hike we drove back to West Coleman to find Star Falls, a small waterfall that was near the campground we would spend the night. Upon looking for them, we stumbled upon a campground near the trailhead which we decided to set up for the night instead. Quite, open and next to a running creek the site made for a decent nights camping and a few bevs after a hot day in the sun.

 

May long

Above: Meg enjoying the view of the lake. The levels are really low at the moment but it’s one of the few spots with enough flowing water where you can swim.

A couple of weekends ago we celebrated May Long which is notorious for cold and wet weather,  so with the bluebird sunny days that have been hitting Fernie, we decided to go camping out on Lake Koocanusa.

The first camping jaunt of the season started in town with a meet up of our crew for some coffee and to grab some last minute things at the supermarket. As the caffeine brought us to life we noticed too that town was buzzing with a palpable energy that can only be brought on by a long weekend, sun and the endless outdoor activities that Fernie has to offer. With this however brings the crowds, something we were looking to avoid so we hastily made our retreat to the road.

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I’d like to say that the trip started on a peaceful note, however I’d be lying a tad. Despite being only around an hours drive to the camp spot, the last half an hour took us through some questionable dirt roads with some decent sized water features. No worries for the rest of the group who were driving 4WD capable vehicles however a bit more concerning for my soccer mum van who despite being a formidable people mover with a hefty 3.8L V6, found it hard going. It made for an interesting drive, especially when water started appearing at my feet. I ended up having to park in an open meadow and then jumped in with Tyler for the remaining 5-10 minutes. Lucky we were camping in our tent and not the van otherwise we would’ve been lonely out in that meadow 🙂

Initial stress and anxiety over, we made camp at a secluded spot on the Kooc with only one other group in sight for the whole weekend. The rest of the afternoon was full of swims, frisbee, can-jam (a new and very exciting game) and May Long drinking. The fire started up in the early evening and raged into the morning accompanied by some good tunes and acoustic guitar by Jer and Kyle.

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The next day we were all a bit sunburnt but enjoyed the morning at the spot before heading back to town. Luckily my van made it out in one piece and I made sure to take it to the car wash the next day (the poor thing looked like it had been mud bogging, unfortunately I was not in the frame of mind to take pictures at the time).

Also in other news, Meg and I picked up a hummingbird feeder which has been popular. Simple syrup of 1 part sugar and 4 parts water seems to do the trick.

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Fernie Winter 16/17

Above: another year, another Hot Dog day 🙂

What a winter! My 4th  in Fernie and probably the most enjoyable for many reasons, but mainly the snow. Countless fun days skiing with friends and enjoying Meg’s first winter  in Fernie together added to an amazing season. Besides a cold dry period early on the white stuff kept falling, putting smiles on the faces of tourists and locals alike as cries of “best day ever” became the norm in the lift lines.

The snow banks built up to alarmingly high levels with clearing crews working over time to keep the roads safe and accessible. My own brush for clearing the car had to be replaced with the amount of times I had to sweep snow off, often multiple times a day. There were even storms that closed the highways in both directions, an avalanche path one way and asphalt turned ice rink in the other. A guy in town was even filmed ice skating down the highway with skis slung over his shoulder during the worst of it. Find it on youtube I kid you not.

Above: early season jaunt out to Silver springs for some hockey.

The precipitation continued through to Easter, bringing with it a mix of rain and snow at higher elevations which I personally would have swapped for a few more sunny spring days. Don’t get me wrong, I love the snow but at the end of a long season it’s nice to enjoy some slushy laps whilst getting a top up of much needed vitamin D. The powder days in April however were a good consolation.

Above: Digging the car out after a storm and the snow pile build up from the parking lot.

So after an epic season, the ski hill has finally shut up shop after seeing 10.77 m of snowfall, over 30 POW days and countless others with excellent riding conditions. Between working 5 days at the restaurant and getting in line for the first few chairs on the deep days, I managed close to 60 days of skiing including 8 touring days a couple of road trips to other resorts as well as a trip over to Japan for 2 weeks (for another post). All the makings of a whole lot of fun and the good kind of tired!

So with the sights now set on a great summer to come and all the biking, hiking and camping that goes along with it, enjoy a few photos looking back at the winter that was…

Skiing with Rob and Russ on Polar Peak and me coming down Cedar Bowl.

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A night spent up at Tunnel Creek Hut just outside of Fernie.

Marcus with some toe side powder in Tsugaike, Japan and Rob waist deep in Mongolia bowl, Fernie.

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Sam enjoying some Japow through the trees

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Another beautiful ride up the Polar Peak chair

 

Halloween

Back in October a great night was had for Halloween, the main difference being that I worked during the evening however I still managed to whip up a costume and have a stellar night. I worked at the pub, manning the beer and shot station but managed to roam and mingle throughout the night. Shout out to Meg for putting the man hours into sewing part of my costume, who looked awesome as Rey from Star Wars  🙂

Above left to right: Me as The Macho Man Randy Savage, two random rocketeers and Tim the sexy sax man 😀

Before the festivities of the night, our friend Eveliene had us over for some pumpkin carving earlier in the week. I settled for a fairly easy Pokemon inspired pattern whilst Meg killed it with Majoras mask from Zelda.

Back in action

Easter holiday has come and gone with Meg and I spending time up north with her family in Morinville. Apart from some great food and hangs, we were able to get some shopping done at the mall, the main purchase being a new MacBook Air laptop! I’m pretty stoked as now I can upload photos and continue with the old blog.

So the next few posts will be to catch you up on the end of Fall and what turned out to be an epic Winter…

Hiatus

Unfortunately I’m not currently able to upload any photos from my Iphone onto  my laptop, likely due to the latest software update and the fact that my 10 year old Macbook is probably less than a year away from being completely unusable as fewer and fewer applications and software are compatible with such an old system (constant pop ups and reminders inform me of this daily).

Until I find a way around this issue I won’t be able posting any new blog entries but hopefully it won’t be for long 🙂

Waterton Lakes

Last weekend Meg and I headed down south to Waterton Lake National Park for some hiking and camping action. Not wanting to drive too far to get our fix, Waterton was the perfect choice as it’s only 160km (just under a 2 hr drive) from Fernie.

We drove down on a Friday morning, stopping off in Crowsnest Pass at the Cinnamon Bear cafe for their famous cinnamon buns (have to get the cream cheese icing as well). Once in the park we headed straight for the town campsite to ensure we had a nice location and pitch our tent. It was almost 2 years since I’d visited the park at the same time of year and forgot how quiet it is. More than half of the towns businesses were closed for the season and the campsite reflected this. We were only one of 3 tents pitched and so could choose the more picturesque locations.

After a brief pitstop we headed straight for Red Rock Canyon, one of the most popular and touristy of the sites in the park but one neither of us had ever visited. We opted to go into and up the canyon rather than taking the short 10 minute walk from bridge to bridge above. With ninja like precision we managed to get up and back without getting our feet too wet (parkour!!!)

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Driving back towards town, we enjoyed the fall colours amongst the mountain landscape and decided on another short hike before nightfall. Located at the visitors centre, the Bears Hump is a short 2.8km hike (225m elevation gain) up to a vantage point that offers one of the best panoramic views of the park. We knocked it out in just over half an hour and enjoyed some sunny views from the top.

Pleased with a fairly active day we stopped in at one of the few restaurants/pubs open and treated ourselves to a pint and braised short rib poutine. Quite the extravagant appetizer for our can of mushroom soup that was had for dinner later. After some food we settled in to our tent for a relatively cold night, managing to somehow zip our very differently sized mummy sleeping bags together.

We had checked the weather forecast at the pub earlier and were warned of severe thunderstorms developing overnight and in the morning. At around 5am we were woken up to the sound of fast approaching thunder, which despite being a little terrifying, sounded pretty amazing being echoed through the mountains. After a few minutes deliberation, we  decided to spend the remainder of the morning sleeping int he car til sunrise.

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Unfortunately the rain that ensued didn’t let up and after a coffee and bagel in town, we decided to abandon our plan of hiking to Bertha lake (and scrambling to the peak) and head back home. On the plus side we were able to drive through the Bison paddock on the way out and spot them grazing for a few minutes.

 

Some of Fernie Fall

Above: Meg and I up Spineback trail.

Just a few pics of what I’ve been up to so far this Fall. The ski hill has been closed for a month now and I’ve been working part-time at the local Pub in town and doing some odd jobs, mainly to keep busy. A part from that, there has been plenty of time for hiking, biking and enjoying the outdoors before the first snow arrives.

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Above: Tim, Dre, Eric and Marcus taking in the view at the top of Big Money. A bit of a slog up but worth the view and the downhill, which was a step up for me. A few falls (one big over the bars) but got down in one piece.

Meg with her homemade caramel pecan cheesecake (made by yours truly) to celebrate her 23rd birthday. Earlier in the day we had hiked the Spineback trail up at Island Lake Lodge with Jake, Tristen and Brandon who had come down for the birthday weekend. The trail was officially closed due to an aggressive moose however with safety in numbers we hiked it and had no issues or encounters with said moose.

Me, Jake and Marcus enjoying some skate n shoot action at the local rink. I had my skates sharpened just beforehand (and for the first time) and it made such a difference. We are clearly the biggest rookies on the ice however our skating and puck handling are slowly improving (slowly!). The locals are super friendly with offering tips with shooting etc and being on the ice gives you a great appreciation for how skilled the pros are.

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A nice Fall hike which we’ve done before, but happy to do again, is the trail to the Ammonite fossil. It’s one of the biggest of its kind in the world and you can see why with Meg posed next to it!

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Jonno, Marcus and Rob on the final ascent to the top of Crows Nest mountain. We hiked this a few weeks ago and had some sections of snow up to 1 foot!