Lake Minnewanka bikepack overnighter

Last October I attended (and presented at) the Canmore Bikepack Summit – which I still need to write about, but that’s another story. But that led to meeting a lot of very awesome folks who were keen to get out bikepacking, and to me volunteering to host a couple of local Bikepack.ca overnighters, throwing the invite open to whoever wanted to come.

And that is how I came to be preparing to go bikepacking when there was a snowfall warning, threats of 20cm or more of snow, and a likely overnight temperature in the vicinity of -20oC.  Despite the weather forecast, it looked like the five others who’d registered an interest were still keen. We kicked around the idea of shortening the ride, camping somewhere else, but in the end, decided to just go ahead with it.

On Saturday morning Kat and I accepted the very kind offer from Guy for a lift up to the Goat Creek trailhead. Lazy? Yes. Cheating? Sure. But we’d both been feeling a bit like we were coming down with colds, it was very snowy, and the road up the pass can be very busy on a Saturday morning. That’s our story and we’re sticking with it.

This was Kat’s second time on a fatbike – but what better way to learn how to ride one?

And so Team Canmore set off at around 10.15am from the Goat Creek trailhead.  We’d meet the Banff guys up ahead, and Dean was going to be chasing after us from downtown Canmore (after finishing his second breakfast).

There was quite a bit of snow, and it just kept coming down! It was pretty light and fluffy though, and although riding conditions weren’t fast, they were still pretty good.

At one point, miracle of miracles, it even stopped snowing! And there was blue sky! This wasn’t to last though.

Likewise, the freshly groomed perfect corduroy also only lasted a few kilometres. We definitely enjoyed it while it lasted though!

We found Neil while out pedalling the fresh corduroy, and headed on together on the east side of the Spray River.

And then we were five! Rounding up Jeff not too long before getting to Banff Springs Hotel. Well, not that we actually went up there. We cut across below, past Bow Falls and then over the new(ish) pedestrian bridge and into town.

And to Wild Flour Bakery! I swear I need to get a sponsorship from this place. It’s amazing. We refuelled, warmed up, and waited for Dean. Then wandered down to the bike store, browsed, then returned to Wild Flour for our second visit, this time with Dean. There were six of us then, and we were ready to roll!

Biking out of Banff towards Lake Minnewanka, the stretch with all the traffic isn’t the most fun, especially when the shoulders are coated in slushy snow. But before long we were onto the Minnewanka road, the traffic died down, and riding conditions improved.

I was even feeling pretty good about the speed we were moving along at, until a runner starting overtaking us. It was just on the uphills though. Mostly.

But finally, we’d made it! We were at Lake Minnewanka, with over two hours until sunset up our sleeves. (And I clambered up a snowy bank to take the below photo, post-holing through snow up to my thighs, and narrowly avoiding slipping to my doom).

The good thing about being overtaken by a runner, is that you can then accost him and demand request politely that he take a group photo of the bunch of mad fatbikepackers.

Thanks to some very lovely snowshoers (we didn’t actually meet them, but they could have done their own grandmother in for the life insurance and I’d still think they were lovely, snowshoers do such a wonderful job of packing down trails)… but as I was saying, thanks to some very lovely snowshoers, we had nicely packed trail to ride for the first few kilometres.

Although things got a little wobbly on the descent down to the lake. Well, I wasn’t paying attention, pedal struck on a rock and fell down the hill a bit. Snow is wonderfully soft though. Although whatever banged my knee? Not so soft.

Still, it was mostly lovely riding through the forest after that, getting gradually less travelled the further along we rode. The last few kilometres to camp required a lot more concentration to stay balanced on that thin white line, and we were leaving bootprints in the loose snow beneath the bottom of our pedal stroke as the pedals spun around.

Only a couple of deadfall trees to lift the bikes over, and then, the bridge of peril.

After watching Jeff walk his bike across, Dean was considering it dubiously. The bridge never feels terribly solid at the best of times. But in the meantime, Kat happily wandered across the frozen creek below the bridge, and we all followed her lead instead of risking it.

After a final push through deep snow to get down close to the shore, we were clearing tent pads in the forest at the LM8 campground. There was not much more than a few inches of unconsolidated snow there, which was easy to clear. However it was not so easy to drive tent pegs into the frozen ground. And if you could get them in, it was in some cases damn near impossible to pull them out again afterwards!

My little Macpac tent finally got it’s first proper outing in snow in Canada, after being accustomed to lots of ridiculous Australian snow adventures. And our little bikepacking village in the snow was finally set up.

We then spent what seemed like hours melting snow to rehydrate dinners, make tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and prep water for the following day. There was talk of creating a fire, but we were lazy/perspicacious cavepeople and decided the warmest course of action would be to retreat to our tents.

At which point I realised that the patchy cell reception I’d been using entirely disappeared at ground level. After giving up on futile attempts to gain reception by holding my phone to the roof of the tent, I set my phone into airplane mode and settled in for the night.

I was in an old Kathmandu Rumdoodle sleeping bag. I’ve no idea what temperature it was supposed to be rated to. I think Kathmandu was always cagey on that kind of thing, and just called it a snow bag. Well it’s enormous, and very warm if not necessarily very light, and it’s stood me in good stead on a lot of snow camping trips. This one was no exception. I had my Thermarest Ridgerest, and Thermarest Neoair, then the Rumdoodle, and a whole pile of layers of clothes on, and one handwarmer clutched in my hands, and I was cozy and warm sharing the tent with Kat. A small window of skin was exposed to the tent air, and I could feel the cold biting at my nose, but the rest of me was snug and warm. And so I laid and read, and then daydreamed, then slept, then listened to a podcast or two, and somehow it was morning, and I’d had a lovely night’s sleep.

Hearing the others starting to get up, I reluctantly emerged from my sleeping bag, and started the morning routine and the packing up of camp… after first eating the two bars I’d shoved in my sleeping bag so they’d be nice and warm for breakfast (they were).

Eventually we’d all had hot drinks, packed up, and somehow convinced frozen tents to reattach themselves to our bikes. It definitely wasn’t a warm morning, around -22oC according to group thermometers. I was glad there was no wind. Even gladder we managed to avoid having any mechanical issues. There are few things less fun than having to fix a bike at those temperatures.

After the initial push up from camp at LM8 to the main trail, we found it was basically rideable most of the way out. Six idiots had ridden their bikes along the trail yesterday and packed it all down for us.

It was a beautiful still morning, and I was actually feeling nice and warm, without even using any hand/toe warmers. Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of layering for fatbiking?

The one part of the ride that of course wasn’t rideable – that final climb up towards the end of the lake.

It was very definitely not rideable. Not for us, not that morning.

But it wasn’t a very long push, then we were back on our bikes and cruising downhill, flying along and maybe giggling just a little.

The ride out was pretty uneventful (thankfully?) – things went smoothly, no wolves, no mechanicals, no freezing to death. And then we were all back in Banff! And it was time to eat lots of food, and then have a lovely warm shower.

Thanks crew – it was a great weekend!

Elizabeth Parker hut trip (Day 3)

Day Three of the hut trip was mostly about the toboggan run. Ok, some of it was about eating, and there was the small matter of skiing out somehow, but other than that, it was a toboggan run day.

Small children – they really do come in handy for hauling even smaller children around.

By this stage, the run was well worn in, and so aside from a few small adjustments, it was mostly just about trekking up the hill, and then sliding back down it.

And so we slid down…

And down…

And down…

And sometimes the whole family went at once…

And other times the kids just paired up…

But then, sadly, it was time to start thinking about heading home.

Thankfully a few responsible adults had been back at the hut doing most of the cleaning and tidying while the rest of us were off playing, and so it didn’t take long to do the final pack up and hit the road.

The Moosling was very motivated by a desire to catch up with his friends who had already left to start walking and sliding out down to the road. It didn’t take long though, and then he lost all interest in skiing, and was busy running and jumping onto a toboggan most of the rest of the way down.

Until it got too flat for that to really work, and I ended up tying one of the toboggans to my pack and towing him along on that. Whatever works.

We all met up together one last time at the lunch spot for a group photo. Thanks Team Awesome! It was a great weekend. Booking out the whole hut and filling it with families you know really is pretty fun, and a great way to spend a few days – and the kids have an absolute blast.

We definitely didn’t make record time on the way out, but I got to experience the thrill of having a 6-year old sliding down a hill beside me on a toboggan, screaming with joy (as I tried to not ski into him). Great fun.

Elizabeth Parker hut trip (Day 2)

And so the second day dawned beautifully.

After breakfast, and the requisite sitting about, we decided to get out and build the Epic Toboggan Run. (The Moosling thinks everything is epic these days)

After a fair bit of digging and compaction, we started sending down some sleds. And then a whale, in a short-lived return of alpine whaling.

It turns out whales don’t handle cold temperatures very well, they’re better suited for spring conditions. The toboggan run was a hit otherwise, with constant laps up and down the hill.

Back in the hut, it was time for snacks, lunch, and hanging out with cute babies.

The kids spent some time playing games and reading.

And then a few of us set out for a wee ski tour.

Up behind the hut, and out across the meadows to McArthur Pass.

Hurrah, it’s fluffy snow!

Conditions weren’t actually all that enticing, but the guys found a rock to climb on top of.

And to ski off again.

And the run back down to the hut was actually quite fun. Lovely snow!

A few of us went out to offer a hand to some of the crew who were skiing in. Then the kids were back at the games, playing Settlers of Catan like fiends.

And the grown ups? We sat around and ate even more food. Of course.

And then, after dinner, it was time for the devouring of the birthday cake! Rainbow style.

Elizabeth Parker hut family trip again! (Day 1)

The family hut trips last winter were so fun, we decided then to book out Elizabeth Parker hut and do it all over again this winter. And my resulting blog posts are apparently so photo-laden that I’m going to split up the trip day by day.

Filling up an entire hut with friends is wonderful fun, but definitely a little involved – especially thanks to the National Parks need to buy wilderness passes on top of paying the hut fee… and then depending where you get the wilderness pass, you need to pay an additional booking fee, and argh! But once that’s all done, you just get to enjoy the trip, hurrah! Although the actual logistics of getting yourself plus kid/s up to the hut for a couple of nights can sometimes feel overwhelming too…

But then, finally, you’ve locked the car one last time (“Did I definitely press the beeper?” “I think so.” “I’m sure you did.” “I didn’t see the lights flash though.” “Maybe I’ll just go back and check it one more time.”) and you’re skiing.

We had pretty nice conditions for our ski in. A bit cloudy, but not too cold, and lovely snow. Definitely not too cold compared to all this -25oC and -30oC weather that’s been kicking around this winter. We’d already cancelled one hut trip thanks to unpleasant cold levels.

Our ski-in group consisted of two 3-year olds, a 5-year old, a 6-year old, and eight adults. Some of the crew had motored on ahead of us, and some were going to be making it in later that day.

And so we skied in slowly, and practised the art of patience and coaxing small children to cover long distances.

Lunch breaks that involve stopping and playing in the snow definitely help! The picnic table at the 5km marker of the Lake O’Hara road makes for a great lunch stop, and has a couple of hills for keeping tobogganing kids happy.

And then we continued, and the Moosling sometimes skied under his own steam, although mostly I was towing him. Not pictured, as I’m the photographer, and so was mostly taking photos when I wasn’t towing a slightly grumpy 6-year old (some ski trips just involve higher grumpiness levels than others, it’s just a thing, 6-year olds are people too).

But then finally, on to the final twisty narrow trail through the trees. And disaster, as the Chariot overturned and Kat’s coffee cup fell down a snowy cliff, and she had to climb down and retrieve it. Successfully, I might add.

The final stretch, where you can see the smoke wisping up from the huts, and then finally, through the trees, the huts appear in view.

And then a few of us headed back out to help the others after dumping bags at the hut. Hurrah, light-weight skiing!

And then, hut life. The two really small kids hang out in the main cabin, discussing the sweet lines they’ll be skiing tomorrow. Well, maybe give them another decade at least.

Group meals tend to lead to a hedonistic smorgasbord of deliciousness. There was as much eating on this trip as there was anything else. The cheese! The dips! The bready goodness! And that was only the appetisers.

And so friends, and friends of friends, and new friends, all create an enormous racket, as everyone chats and socialises, eats delicious food, and drinks delicious port.

And outside? The night is brilliant, calm and quiet, filled with stars and the beautiful Milky Way.

S24O

S24O stands for sub 24-hour overnight bike camping trip, for those of you out there who aren’t into all the cool acronyms the kids use these days.

After getting the Moosling to bed on Saturday night, I loaded up my bike, and headed out for a solo overnight adventure in the snow – just for fun!

Packing took a while – I’d never packed for an overnight snow camping bike trip before, so it took a little organising to get everything onto the bike. It did fairly simplify things to not really need any food or water (I did bring a thermos of tea though).

I took a fairly direct route, but it was still about 45 minutes of biking to get to my campsite, and then 15 minutes or so to get myself sorted and set up in my bivy in the snow.

But then I was glorious and snug in my warm bivy, and fell asleep to the sound of crackling ice and the distant noise of the highway.

In the morning I was rudely awoken by my alarm at 7.40, with the beginnings of dawn light beginning to show in the sky, but otherwise no difference to falling asleep nine hours earlier.

Twenty minutes to pack up, then I was on the road, and cycling away from a beautiful sunrise.

Successfully back home at 8.50am to be ready to head out skiing for the day at 9am. Brilliant! Must do this again.