Squaw’s Tit Scramble

Squaw’s Tit

Summit elevation: 8175 feet
Distance: 3800 feet of climbing over 10km
Duration: 2 hrs 40 up, 1 hr 40 down.

I’d planned to have a go at Big Sister on the way through Canmore but it turns out the trailhead is 15km down a grotty dirt road, which doesn’t work so well in a 3 ton RV. It would have been nice if that was mentioned in the guide book. So instead I switched objective to a sub-peak of Mount Lady MacDonald known locally as Squaw’s Tit. It doesn’t have an official name, but it’s unofficial name describes it pretty well. The rocky “nipple” caught my eye from Canmore and a bit of research made it sound pretty do-able in a morning. I was up about 6:15am, on my bike 10mins later, and at the trailhead by 7. The guide book warned that a bit of bushwhacking was necessary but I managed to string together a pretty good route by linking up a marked hiking trail, a dry river bed and an unmarked trail. Once I got above tree line there was the usual scree slog to negotiate, but then the terrain improved massively. You basically get to follow a ridgeline right the way to the summit. There’s enough spice to the scrambling to make it fun, but the exposed bits are easily bypassed if gets too much (which it didn’t). The ascent up the final summit nipple is awesome fun, just about sketchy enough that you’d want a rope if it was wet but in good conditions it’s just plain fun. Because I climbed on a weekday I didn’t see anyone else on the whole route and had the summit to myself. For a bit of fun while I ate breakfast on the summit, I got out a mirror and managed to signal to Krista who was eating breakfast at Tim Horton’s, down in the valley. I often wondered if a signal mirror would actually get you noticed if you were in trouble, and now I know it would.

Scrambling on Rundle Mountain

While we were in the Banff area I got the chance to scramble up three mountains, all of them different.

First up, a definition. Scrambling means different things to different people. To some it’s the English version of Moto-X. To others it’s a way to make eggs. To mountain folk, it’s hiking on rugged but non-technical terrain. In the Rockies that usually means a few miles of getting lost on intermittent trails, followed by a couple of thousand vertical feet of “alpine grovelling” on loose rock, culminating in 4 or 5 moves of fun but slightly sketchy rock climbing. Hopefully at the top there’ll be somewhere nice to sit, enjoy the views and munch on a sandwich.

The appeal of scrambling, to me at least, is the opportunity to cover lots of ground in a fairly short period of time, get away from the crowds, in the mountains, all with the minimum of equipment.

The first of my alpine triplet was Rundle Mountain (or Mount Rundle, depending on who you talk to).

Rundle Mountain

Summit elevation: 9672 feet
Distance: 5150 feet of climbing over 11 km.
Duration: 3 hrs 30 up, 2 hrs 30 down.

Rundle towers over the town of Banff like the worlds biggest, dustiest wedge of cheese, and the trailhead is easily accessible from our campground at Tunnel Mountain campground, so trotting up it seemed like a good way to spend a spare day. In hindsight, just cos it’s convenient and popular doesn’t mean it’s actually fun. Several miles of switchbacks, 45 mins of grovelling through a forest, then skating on loose rock for a couple of thousand feet to share the summit with 20+ people may be excellent training for Spartan Races, but scores low on the “epic alpine wilderness” scale. I may have felt more positive about the experience if I hadn’t taken a mouldy Camelbak with me, and subsequently barfed up most of my lunch on the way down.

Note: Parks Canada publish a useful Scramblers Guide to Mount Rundle.

Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper

We’ve just got back from a trip along the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper and back. It’s a popular drive, and for good reasons. Dozens of massive glaciated mountains line the route, and it’s common to see caribou, moose, deer and bears along the way.

First stop was a call-in at Bow Lake to see off three of our friends who were heading up onto the Wapta icefield for 6 days of mountaineering training. Our very first mountaineering adventure started here three years ago, so it was cool to be back again. Hopefully Neel, Kitty and Amy will get the mountaineering bug too, so we’ll have more people to go on trips with in the future.

Nostalgia trip completed, onwards… The Columbia Icefield is a popular halfway stopping point on the parkway and was our first overnight stop. There’s a “sno-coach” tour that actually drives up onto the Athabasca Glacier for a couple of kilometres to give people a view of the icefall where the glacier runs away from the Columbia Icefield. Instead of taking the bus ride, Krista and I joined a walking tour instead. We’ve both hiked on glaciers before, but usually as a means to get to a mountain, rather than for the sheer pleasure of enjoying the icy landscape. Our guide, a French climber/guide called Bernard, kept us safe whilst letting us get as close as possible to some pretty enormous millholes in the glacier.

We also got some awesome views of the north side of Mount Athabasca from the glacier. Athabasca is a popular mountaineering peak and has a bunch of good routes ranging from “first timer” to “moderately scary”. Having had a good look at it from a number of angles, I quite fancy having a go at the North Face route in the future.

At Jasper we did our usual tourist stuff; bum around the stores in town, sample the local brews, try to avoid buying any new climbing gear. I also got in a trail run along the river from our campground to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. I love trail running in bear country. Every once in a while you come up behind a hiker from behind and they freak out, thinking you’re a bear about to molest them. I wonder if I should start wearing goggles when I run, as protection from the face-full of bear spray I’m inevitably going to get one day.

On the way back to Lake Louise we came across no less than three bears along the roadside. The bears are a on a mission to get as fat as possible at this time of year, before the snow comes and they go into hibernation. Hence they’re cruising the edges of the forests where the best berries and shrubs are, which often coincides with where the roads are.

The only slight letdown was not being able to find a Jasper National Park sticker to go on the back of the RV. We’ve got one for every park we’ve visited in the US but for some reason nobody seems to sell them for the Canadian parks.

Hurricane Heat & Spartan Sprint – Calgary AB

After some serious butt kissing via e-mail to Western Canada Spartan organizers we managed to get two spots in the sold out race for the Calgary Sprint.  What is a Spartan Race? Quick summary, its a race with obstacles. Distances vary and obstacles as well. I encourage a check out http://www.spartanrace.com/

We were slotted to run and then Matt noticed the night before they were offering the ever first Hurricane Heat in Canada. Hurricane Heat is a run in the evening or early morning. They take you in groups and you run the course together as a team. You leave no one behind. Bonus – they were offering it for $25.00. Count me in.. Matt said I was slightly mad but encouraging. Registration done, time to suit up.

We ran the Hurricane Heat with Eric from the States. As soon as he said they were brought in from the U.S. I knew we were in trouble. The courses in the States are much harder from what I heard and sure enough it was. It provided some proper ass kicking. Plenty of steep hills, dirt, 4 mud pits, high walls, traverse wall (which is a U.S specialty), cinder blocks to drag, 45lb sandbag to carry down and up a very steep hill .. you get the idea. Eric would stop us at each station, discuss the obstacle.. and then we would throw down into burpees and then proceed. It took 2 hours. I loved it.

Quick shower, pizza and crashing in a Walmart parking lot…  up and at em’ at 7:00am! Matt ran the elite heat at 9am which meant we needed to get there early as possible due to parking. I have to utterly praise Western Canada Spartan organizers.. They got their shit together. Registration, parking (thank you for helping us), setting us up with time slots to run etc… I cannot thank these guys enough.

Matt hit the race at 9am and hit it hard. Nothing is official yet but we believe he crossed the line in 32 minutes. NOT bad! I ran at 10:30.. gave us time to switch up the camera! I enjoyed my second time around but it was slow. Some people were not so happy on the steep hills which caused a backlog.

Muddy and happy with a free beer I have to say it was a great way to spend our morning. Best part is having your own shower in an RV to clean up afterwards.

One thing we learnt.. burpees suck. Which means much practice is needed with our spear throwing.

Three Days in Glacier National Park

After we finished up in Yellowstone, we decided to head North, back into Canada, towards the Banff/Lake Louise/Jasper area. To break up the journey I suggested we stop off at Glacier National Park on the way (the US one in Montana, not the Canadian one in British Columbia). I’ve never been and didn’t even know much about it but I’d seen a few photos and it seemed worth a stopover. Turns out I was right.

After settling in at the local KOA campground, we took our usual approach.

Day 1 – Reconnaissance
Day 2 – Do something classic but touristy
Day 3 – Get off the beaten track

Our reconnaissance day took the form of cycling the mile or so to the visitor centre, and figuring out how the awesome shuttle bus system works. More National Parks should do this, it cuts down on congestion and parking hassles, and is generally a better, safer, cleaner way for people to enjoy the park. We rode the bus to the end of the line, checked out the Logan Pass visitor centre, then took a stroll up a random trail towards Hidden Lake. I think every National Park has something called Hidden Lake, Hidden Falls or Hidden Canyon so the name doesn’t give much away. Turns out we got some stunning views, a nice little workout, and saw a bunch of mountain goats, bajillions of over-fed marmots and [shock] a wolverine. Having never seen a wolverine before I was too busy staring to point the camera at it so I’ve got nothing to show for it. We also got a *classic* example of tourists not knowing what’s good for them and ignoring a “do not go down this path cos there’s a fucking huge grisly bear” sign. See pic below.

Day 2 we took a guided tour in a renovated 1930s open-top bus. We were by far the youngest (and most mobile!) of the group, but it was nice to cruise around at a slower-than-usual pace. The benefit of taking a guided tour is that you get to learn from someone who spends their whole summer in the park, and our guide Ray was a wealth of knowledge about the geology, history and wildlife of the park. For example, I now know how to spot a mountain hemlock tree by its bent-over tip. Lunch at the McDonald Lake Lodge was a treat too.

Day 3, we got up early, biked to the visitor centre and got the first bus up to Logan Pass. We took the advice of our guide Ray, and did a one-way hike along the Highline Trail. The route goes for 20km along the side of an enormous glaciated valley. Hikes don’t really get any better than this. Wild flowers. Massive, MASSIVE panoramic views. Waterfalls. Sharing the trail with goats. Lunch at an alpine chalet built in 1915 (and still in use as a lodge today). And all of this with almost no uphill hiking, as you can get the shuttle bus back uphill to where you started.

So our little stopover turned into a delightful 3 days. Glacier is definitely more wild than other parks I’ve been to, and I really like that. No cafes. No shops. Few roads. Just lots of scenery, animals and plants, mostly untouched and as-they-should-be.

Jellystone Park

We said goodbye to what I considered nearly a second home in Jackson, Wyoming and the beautiful Tetons and headed towards yogi bear and Yellowstone Park MT/WY.

I guess growing up as a kid I expected a lush, green park with cartoon characters. I was seriously wrong. First thing was about hiking.. apparently its suggested you hike with 3 or more people due to the extensive wild life.  Guess we can’t count the cats?

Next… was the volcanic atmosphere. Yep. call me clueless. I knew old faithful was there but had no idea a lot of the place was full of thermal grounds that if you didn’t stay on the right track you would fall through and scold yourself. Lots of sulphur smells, bubbly mud pots, geysers everywhere! I felt like I was on another planet.  Old faithful is not to be missed. It didn’t disappoint and was pretty flipping cool, although I will state there are many other amazing geysers to check out. The Yellowstone grand canyon – right up there. It didn’t look real it was that stunning. It is a must see when/if ya go there.

For me personally, the highlight of the area would be the wildlife.  Buffalo a plenty and just as many dumb ass tourists who think they are tame. You tube buffalo gore in Yellowstone and watch people get flipped around like rag dolls. The park rangers are fairly serious when they state how far to stay away and yet appreciate the wildlife. Unfortunately naive/dumb ass tourists outnumber the smart park rangers.. sigh.

Historical tid bit – we drove through the north entrance which was erected by in the late 1800’s with the help of a famous Mr. Teddy Roosevelt. He summed the National Park system up perfectly that is etched into the stone wall and is still visible present day: ” For the benefit and enjoyment of the people”. I couldnt agree more.