Waterton: 4 seasons (and 8 bears) in one day

Above: the braided falls coming out of Crypt Lake are stunning

Meg and I just spent another weekend down at one of our favourite National parks, Waterton, this time to hike the infamous Crypt Lake trail. The weather forecast for the valley and surrounding areas was not promising, and after a lot of trepidation, we finally decided to commit and head down, after all what is a little rain a thunderstorm in the back country?

We arrived at the park gates around 4ish on Friday afternoon and decided to fork out the $130 for the annual national parks pass as I would soon be heading to Banff to meet my family. Immediately upon driving toward the townsite of Waterton, the full effects of last years wildfire were evident with the hillsides scattered with blackened skeletons of trees and the old visitors centre now being nothing but burnt ashes and soil. The grey skies and occasional light shower added to a somewhat sombre tone but we were still upbeat about having a good time, I mean we had never had a bad one here before.

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A quick visit to our campsite for the night and the new visitors centre, we could confirm that most of the park and ~80-90% of the hiking trails remained closed because of the fire, despite this however almost all campsites were full and town seemed to be bustling. We decided to spend rest of the afternoon and early evening on a small hike which could be accessed at the Red Rock parkway turnoff, the road itself however remained closed.

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Burnt forest with new green regrowth

The path led us on a nice mellow stroll along the river, parallel to the road and through some patches of forest which had clearly been effected by the fire. As we hiked further away from the main road, some of the trail became thickly grown and we decided to start making some more noise to deter encounters with furry custodians. Just as we got into a conversation about grizzly bears we were about to come to a bend in the river when we spotted one of them the other side, just a little guy maybe 1 or 2 years old. Initially panicked we stopped and looked at the bear grazing and I tried to get a little closer to get a photo without alerting it to our presence. A couple of steps forward and I saw the cubs big momma lingering behind! Only a couple of hundred meters away and with a small shallow river crossing at the bend, we decided to leave them to their grazing and high tail it out and back to the road.

Above: our poor quality iPhone photos of said bear encounters. I swear they were real 😀

A little high on adrenaline, the sun began to poke out as we made some distance quickly back to the car, both of us excited to have seen some wildlife so early in our visit. Not 5 minutes into our brisk walk, I broke our conversation abruptly again to point out another bear across the river, this time a large black one! Now with a larger stretch of river in front of us and the high ground, we spent a few minutes watching it forage through the trees and peeking a closer look with the binoculars. Finally we got back to the car however our evening safari was not to be done yet.

Driving back into town we slowed down to see another smaller black bear ambling on the side of the road and got to take some better snaps this time. The friendly conservation officer then told us another bear had been spotted further down the road in the direction we were heading so naturally we drove on in anticipation and were not disappointed. This time, another larger black bear mother with 3 cubs! We were a little awe-struck, living for years in bear country we have seen our share in the wild but never this many in a day and so many cubs. We watched on as the family of bears did their thing, moving on finally to set up camp and have some dinner before our big hike in the morning.

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Overnight and the next morning was dry despite the forecast and after a hearty breakfast we stopped in town for coffee before buying our tickets on the ferry to the trailhead for Crypt lake. Much to Megs delight, with it being one of the few hikes open in the park, the ferry was pretty packed  which meant we would have enough company throughout the day to scare off any further bear encounters. We ended up starting the actual hike around 10.30 and under overcast skies and occasional drizzle, we reached the lake just before 1pm.

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Above: Comparing the difference in hiking in mid September 2014 to 23rd June 2018.

Having done the hike a few years previously (and in much different Fall conditions) it was still a treat to see the wonderful views along the hike, especially the waterfall and valley that Crypt lake feeds into (I’d argue that the views here are greater than the actual lake itself). Meg conquered her fear of heights in the narrow and more challenging sections involving the ladder and natural rock tunnel and we both agreed that the unforgiving steep hikes around Fernie have prepared us well for this relatively more moderate trail. That being said, after close to 20km return and being slightly damp after the rain picked up a bit in the afternoon, we were feeling the days work and happy once the Ferry picked us up at 5:30pm to take us back to the town. Stoked with completing the “bucket list” hike for Meg and seeing so much wildlife the day before, we drove back home to Fernie and capped off another awesome adventure with some pizza and wine on the couch.

 

 

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Jenna (left) her mate Thea and Courtney at the viewpoint on the Tamarack trail up at Island lake resort in Fernie. A nice mellow hike we did last week on a sunny day followed by a few drinks and lunch on the patio. Under 2 hrs return, it’s my new favourite “value” hike in Fernie. Note: watch out for the aggressive grouse at the beginning of the trail, 8ft tree branches wouldn’t scare him away 😀

Some of spring so far…

Above: Me enjoying some paddling out on Northstar Lake, BC.

The end of the ski season and transition into spring was a busy time in our household. As well as doing some cleaning and purging of unnecessary things whilst waiting for the snow to melt,  I was able to fly back to Aus again for a friend’s wedding, have my 30th birthday celebrations down in Whitefish, Montana and drive back to Megs hometown to say goodbye to Tristen as she left on her own Aussie adventure.

 

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My friends getting wigged out before bowling in Whitefish

It was an amazing few days for the wedding for my mate Damon and his new bride Anna and definitely worth the short trip back. This time I only stayed for 6 days with 3 of them spent out in the small town of Wollombi, NSW for the event. Some great time spent with Damon and my other close high school friends and then it was time to say goodbye to 30 degree sunny days and back to spring snow. It was a whirlwind tour and the day after I flew back to Canada, it was time to have my own celebrations for my 30th birthday.

The weather so far has been very agreeable with hot sunny days in the 20’s making it ideal for some early season camping, hiking and lake time. Meg and I have had a great time exploring some new spots within a short drive from Fernie, namely Northstar and Suzanne lake, the latter where we spent May long weekend. It’s also been a treat enjoying a camp fire or two as last season the fire ban seemed to stretch the whole span of summer.

The time at the lake has also allowed me to try out the new inflatable paddle board my friends back in Aus got for my bday present. Along with my Dad, a bunch of my mates put some money together and I decided to put it towards the ISLE SUP that I picked up from the states a few weeks ago. So far it’s been amazing! The 11ft long 32 inch wide board when fully inflated is super rigid and feels very solid, so much that it fits both Meg and I on it without any issues. The board came with a pump, collapsible paddle and a great backpack to store it in which so far has proved very handy for carrying it to and from the car. Also, the bungee cords and each end make it easy to carry food/drinks and other random stuff for exploring out on the water for hours.

Other fun things during May included a boys bike trip to Rossland, BC. It was my first time to the town as I’ve never skied Red Mountain before and the biking didn’t disappoint. A group of 8 guys made the trip over a couple of days where we got to sample some of the great trails on offer as well as some tasty food and beer (fried chicken waffles from the cafe FUEL is a must!). In between all the fun I managed to cut my leg open after a foot slip off the pedals which had me hitchhiking to the nearest hospital in Trail. After some debate over my health insurance status, I ended up getting some stitches in my shin for the princely sum of $1000. After returning to Fernie however it seems that I was covered under BC health and have since been fully refunded. Crisis averted and wallet restored to good health, the trip was an overall success and hopefully it won’t be the last time out to that beautiful town.

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Above: Steve and Meg on the last parts of the ascent up Mt Fernie. We got to hike up this weekend on a gorgeous day.

 

Spring Touring

March continued to be a great month for some slack country and ski touring trips around Fernie. Earlier in the year, the conditions and snowpack made for some pretty sketchy conditions so it was nice to capitalise on some great snow which continued to fall in the valley all the way til mid April.

I managed to tag along with some friends to explore some new terrain off the ski hill into Fish bowl and Liverwurst. We covered some decent vertical for the day, around 1300m for 2 downhill runs on some nice pow with a bit of a crust on top. Again, I definitely felt the advantage of a lighter touring set up and was able to enjoy the uphill skin whilst saving some juice for the way down. The skiing was super fun with the snowpack providing enough confidence that we could all ski some fall line runs top to bottom without stopping.

Normally when the skiing is so good I never stop for photos but this time I managed to snap a couple of photos coming down into fish bowl at the end. A great day of slack country touring!

With some foresight back in October I had arranged to book the cabin at Tunnel creek for a night and it just so happened to be Easter weekend which also coincided with Robs birthday. We assembled a small crew and spent the day exploring some new terrain from the hut, again lucking out with the weather getting to skin up under sunny skies which provided some amazing views.

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View from the top of our first skin track with Rob, Ryan, Zach and Jay

The skiing conditions were stable but a bit crusty, however we managed to get some pow turns in for our second and last run of the day. We spent the rest of the night playing cards and having a few drinks before passing out. The next day we decided to skin back up to the same area, conditions were snowy and we had a nice run back down to the cabin with 5cm of fresh before taking the fast road back down to the car.

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From the same viewpoint, a cool perspective of Silver Springs above 2000m elevation

Exploring with the boys

There are countless ways to explore the vast wilderness here in Fernie and the surrounding valley, with ski touring being one of the most fun choices even if it does kick your ass a bit. Creating the opportunities to get out and do so is however quite challenging due to a variety of factors; finding the right crew, getting said crew to commit to a time, conditions being safe… and the list goes on. So I count myself lucky with the adventure myself and mates had on the weekend, staying out at Thunder meadows once again for the long-awaited celebration of Tim’s 29th birthday.

Years in the making, Tim was finally able to secure a booking of the legendary Fernie hut for a couple of nights of birthday/St Patty’s day shenanigans. After some unforeseen circumstances, the initial group of 10+ ended up just being myself, Tim and Rob. A small but mighty group, we would not be deterred and decided to head up anyway on a sunny Friday for just one night. Having done the trip a couple of years back, we were treated this time to much better weather and being able to approach the cabin off the back side of the ski hill would cut our uphill skin by a couple of hours much to our delight!

After waiting for Rob to finish up work in the morning, we got going shortly after midday, taking the chairlift up to Polar Peak and then dropping into Polaris bowl for our first run of the day. To our surprise the conditions were great, some nice playful spring turns got us down to the bottom where we pushed through a flattish section of trees to the next downhill pitch. Again, we enjoyed a nice party lap in the sun down towards the bottom of a drainage where we would transition for the uphill.

Lucky for us, a group earlier in the morning had set the skin track up “Easy Street” so we were able to navigate easily up to the cabin. The going was relatively tough, the sun making it very hot and sweaty however I felt good with my pace and for the first time really felt the advantage of my lighter touring setup (G3 synapse and Marker Kingpin). We stopped a couple of times in the shade  for a breather and to view a couple small loose slides happening in the distance. With the warmer temps and sunny days we have had recently, there was definitely evidence of loose avalanches and our skin track even passed a decent size 2-3.

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Above: Rob and Tim at the start of easy street, looking back at Polar peak in the far distance and the second downhill pitch, Large slide at the top of the skin track.

Rob and I pressed on and made it to the cabin around 3:30pm, reassured Tim wasn’t far behind with our ‘ca-caw’ and ‘hootie hoo’ method of communication. After chilling out for a bit, we made the most of the fading sun by skinning up the ridge for one final downhill lap under the watchful eyes of some giant Turkey vultures. To our disappointment, the conditions were pretty cruddy but nothing a few beers, dinner and fireworks wouldn’t fix.

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The next day we woke up well rested and took our time getting ready. We were greeted with another fantastic blue bird day and after consulting some maps and photos, made our way up the ridge again to descend in Orca bowl, having been denied the chance to do so a couple of years earlier due to horrible white out conditions. We scoped out some different aspects and chose some mellow terrain which provided some nice turns in the North facing spring pow. We stopped halfway down to watch some other group ski some amazing lines down chutes on the other side of the bowl.

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The run out of the bottom of the bowl down Orca road was a fast, slick and narrow pump track through the forest providing some fun and terrifying moments on weary legs. We all made it down in one piece, bringing us out by one of the cross-country ski trails near Island Lake lodge from which we had to skate a further 10-15 minutes along the road to get to the car park where we had dropped my car the day before. It was sweaty work and  it felt amazing finally taking our bags off after a few hours.

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Looking back up at the top of Orca bowl from the bottom of Orca road

The tour was wrapped up in the best way with a hot tub and beer back at Robs place before a few more drinks out in town later in the evening for St Patrick’s day. A great way to spend the weekend and get a taste of the spring sun, which has already gone back into hiding. Hopefully we get as good conditions in a couple of weeks for Tunnel creek…

 

 

March Pow Madness

Last weekend saw the annual “Griz Days” festival in Fernie, a celebration of community, mountains and the mythical Griz; a fabled man creature who was born in the mountains and shoots snow from his musket across the Elk Valley in which Fernie lies. It seems as though he was pleased with the festivities as the Fernie factor produced over 50cm of fresh powder from Friday to Saturday.

I managed to sneak in some morning laps on the ski hill before heading to a busy shift at the Pub. The hill was crazy busy and made even more so by the fact much of the terrain was closed due to avalanche danger. They even issued warnings at the lifts to keep an eye on children because the snow was so deep haha.

The following Monday, a few buddies and I decided to do some slack country ski touring into Mongolia bowl. What we experienced was one of the deepest and fun skiing conditions I’ve ever encountered. There’s not too many opportunities to ski in waist/chest deep powder! Luckily enough one of my buds Matt who was in the crew is a great photographer for the local cat-skiing operation Fernie Wilderness Association (FWA). I normally don’t stop for photos when skiing, especially in good conditions because it’s too much fun. On this day we were all happy to oblige! Full photo credit to Matt Lewis, if you ski with FWA make sure to get him taking photos for you.

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Matt taking a break from camera duties to shred the deep 

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Ryan hitting a tree feature

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Ryan

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Rob getting the goods

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Rob could’ve used a snorkel

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Me 🙂

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Me again

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Rob all smiles at the bottom

Trip to Aus

February came and went in a flash with Meg and I spending the first 2 weeks of it in Australia for a trip back home. It was our first visit back since 2016 for a friend’s wedding and much like last time we were super busy jumping between catch ups with friends and family.

This time around my brothers wedding took main stage at the Gunners Barracks in Mosman, Sydney. A small international posse of friends and family gathered on a stunning summer day where we got to see my brother James tie the knot with Sophie. It was an amazing day and a great chance to catch up with the family and old friends James and I have known since childhood. I didn’t bother taking too many photos as the photographer was sure to do much better, despite mild harassment from our mate George.

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Freshwater Beach, Sydney

Apart from the wedding, we spent the rest of our time in Sydney catching up with my high school and uni friends over some amazing meals, 30th birthday parties and beach sessions. We did manage to sneak away for 4 days up north to Noosa for a mini getaway and to have some time to ourselves. I hadn’t been to the small beach town for many years and it was nice to show Meg another part of the country that we used to vacation to as kids. We definitely enjoyed the 30+ degree days, amazing restaurants and the beach at our front door.

This time around we didn’t have to spend too much time doing many touristy things as we covered that in the last trip. Instead we got to hang out with the fam a bit more, including celebrating Chinese New Year with my Dad, George and his mum Veronique. It was the first time in many years that we got to celebrate it together and in a proper Chinese banquet style restaurant. Dad treated us to an amazing dinner of lobster, xo scallops and barramundi.

 

 

 

Winter life

Above: Rob enjoying some rare winter sun above the inversion. With the White Pass chair down for repairs, we both slapped on some skins and hiked up to higher elevations in the resort to find some fresh snow.

It’s been some time since I’ve posted something so I thought I’d update anyone who reads this thing on how winter in Fernie is going so far. Where to begin…

First off, snow. It has been coming down hard and fast with the official ski hill figure creeping past 6 meters for the season and considering it is still only January, this is very promising. Initially before the ski hill opened we had quite a snowy November, bringing the base up to 1 meter before opening however the month unfortunately ended in a whole lot of rain which put a delayed start on much of the resort terrain opening. In true Fernie style though, like a Christmas miracle on cue, the snow came heavy just before the holidays so Meg and I got to enjoy some great pow days before the huge tourist rush came to town.

The snow has not only been plentiful but coupled with very mild temperatures which is making skiing extremely enjoyable however causing some havoc with the snow pack and danger of avalanches on the resort and in the back country. Regardless, ski patrol on the hill have been doing a great job of trying to open as much terrain as possible and if you head up enough days you’re lucky to get first tracks through some terrain that has been closed for days/weeks.

Back to Christmas, Meg and I ended up driving back to her hometown to spend it with her family. Enduring some horrible winter road conditions, we made the most of our time up there enjoying 4 separate Christmas dinners with all parts of the family and mainly staying indoors as temps dipped to -30 for most of our visit. It was a nice way to spend our first Christmas together and likely our last one in the Northern Hemisphere before our plans to move to Aus in 2018, so we definitely made the most of it!

New Years was rung in with our Fernie friends around a bonfire in similar frigid conditions to the week before. Pallets and old Christmas trees provided the fuel to keep the raging fire going with countless bottles being passed around the circle. A great way to sign off 2017 and with feeling only mildly worse for wear the next day, we spent the first day of the new year cross-country skiing with some friends.

Just after New Years the town saw its usual lull as school was back in session and most people returned to their usual routines. During this time, as mentioned before, the snow has been amazing and I managed to go cat-skiing for the first time. A last-minute decision, I tagged along with some friends who had signed up and it turned out to be a very good day.

We went with Fernie Wilderness Adventures and I couldn’t say enough great things about them. Their super cosy lodge, heated cat and the guides were all top notch and combined with 8 runs through thigh deep fresh pow, open trees and drops made for an amazing ski experience. It was one of those unique experiences that made me extra thankful to live in a mountain town like Fernie and I was riding a high even though I had to rush straight from the lodge to work. I didn’t end up finishing at the pub until 1 am but  still had a smile on my face because as most people who love and make the most of this town know, you work and play hard!

It’s not long now until Meg and I head to Australia for my brothers wedding, something we are both really looking forward to. As I’m enjoying skiing so much at the moment, trading the snow for the sandy beaches and hot weather is somewhat bitter sweet but I’m extremely excited by thought of spending time with family and friends, some who I haven’t seen in many years, as well as seeing my brother tie the knot! Only a week and a half til we leave so til next post enjoy some photos of the daily goings on of a ski bum in Fernie…

 

Halloween 2017

Last week marked my 4th Halloween spent on Canadian soil. Again, it didn’t disappoint and our household definitely put in the extra effort for our costumes. Luckily enough it paid off as I won the prize for best costume at the Northern bar in Fernie. It was up to the crowd to judge so I bounced my jerry-curl wig and executed some prince like hip thrusts to gain some extra applause and it was enough to make the $500 cash prize mine. It was oh so sweet and the cherry on top of a great night out. Thanks to Meg for helping me pick out some of the costume and perfecting the make up for my purple rain look. Hope you enjoy some photos of the night 🙂

 

Above: piecing together my prince “symbol” guitar with cardboard. I used a wire coat hanger in between two layers of cardboard to strengthen the guitar and it seemed to do the trick, the guitar made it through a whole night in the bar without falling apart! Meg starting the hair spray for her David Bowie look and Brandon painting his nails for the Freddy Mercury look.

 

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Above: Meg with her own spin on a classic David Bowie look.

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Above: Brandon transformed into Freddy Mercury’s housewife from “I want to break free”.

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Above: Me as the one and only Prince Rogers Nelson. I bought the wig and puffy shirt but the rest of the clothes were found at Value Village in St Albert. I added the sparkly shoulder patch from a discarded dress and the guitar and shoulder strap were made from arts and crafts scraps. Together we oddly all fit into a theme of dead androgynous/gay superstars, I guess you could say it was an homage to some absolute legends of music!

Above: Tim as the pet monkey who got lost at Ikea haha, Sarah as a lovely cinderella and Meg’s Bowie pumpkin carving.

Above: Sammy as a Glow wrestler chick with Mitch the nerd, below are the finalists from the Pub Halloween competition (Kate the glow-worm and Madli & Matt as a Mexican and a wall), My lovely co-workers for the evening Justine and Jenna as scary dolls and Jake AkA Dr Seuss.

Fall in the Kootenays

Above: Rob on the ridge leading up to the top of Mt Hosmer. Amazing views!

After a seriously hot summer and record-breaking forest fires, the temps have taken a sudden turn in the valley bringing with it some amazing colours and the first snow on the peaks. It is coming up on 4 years since I moved to Fernie and I’d have to say that it is the most spectacular I’ve seen it. The low temps have made for some great hiking weather with less crowds on the trails, an ideal time to go exploring. Below are a few photos of some new and some familiar sights…

Above: Earlier in September saw some nicer weather, Meg and I rented a paddle board and had a picnic out on Norbury lake. The next day our friend Jenna celebrated her birthday with some sprinkler/water bomb action.

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Above: our first visit out to Silver Springs this year as it has become quite the hot spot. We were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves as we hiked to the third lake. My buddy Jordy’s puppy, Ziggy, enjoyed some swimming lessons along the way.

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Above: panoramic view on the hike up Mt Hosmer, (Rob) steep scrambling on the way up in a foot of snow and some nice fall foliage. It was my first time hiking Mt Hosmer and I was not disappointed with the views. Rob and I had some snowy conditions on the way up which is a decent slog without too many flat sections but the trail is intuitive, even with snow covering. The conditions were more slippery on the way down with compacted snow/mud but it was fun sliding down and getting the skiing muscles working again 🙂