canada general moosling snow trip reports

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.

bikes canada snow

Festive 500

Riding the Rapha Festive 500 in Canmore seemed like a pretty sketchy idea. To ride your bike 500km outdoors, between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve… well, it can be hard enough when you’ve got a roadbike and no snow. But when you decide to do it on a fatbike, riding on snow, and then add in all the other family obligations, the sub-zero temperatures, the incredibly short daylight hours, and on top of that the high likelihood of snowfall, -30oC days, and illness (because it’s just that time of year). Well, I was kind of dubious about whether the whole thing would ever pan out. But I figured I may as well try.

So this is me, heading out on a nice warm lunch ride a couple of days before the Festive 500 began. Of course, it was nice and warm then. But then it got cold. And snowed.

24th December (57km)
My Festive 500 began with an attempt to get in a morning ride before a day spent with family. I was tired though, and managed to get a flat tyre only 3.5km into the ride, just after hitting singletrack at the Nordic Centre. Who gets a flat tyre on a fat bike? Me apparently. Why? Because I was trying to let a little air out, and managed to mess it up entirely, then not realise what I’d done until it was too late. And of course, I hadn’t brought a pump, because I was riding so close to home, and who gets a flat tyre?

So, ride aborted, I called the return journey hike-a-bike, and jogged my poor bike home again.

I headed out again that evening, in the snow, and rode up and over the pass and south along the Spray Lakes road. It was to be my coldest night of riding, around-20oC. After passing the Nordic Centre there wasn’t another soul on the road. The sky was overcast, no stars, and the world was reduced to the snowy patch of road illuminated by my light.

I rationed my headlight, not sure how long it would last, not sure how long it would take me to ride my planned 50km out and back. Having a headlight is reassuring when you want to check the snowy trees at the side of the road to confirm there isn’t a lurking cougar that wants to eat you. But having a flat headlight is worse than having a headlight that’s turned off, so I kept mine off for much of the ride, turning it on when the trees closed in and the road narrowed.

I had just enough layers to keep warm, with toe warmers in my shoes, and hand warmers shoved in my crop top and my gloves. Despite that, I felt the creeping numbness in my fingers once or twice, and resorted to riding along swinging my arm, forcing blood back into a recalcitrant pinkie, and then dealing with the ensuing screaming barfies as sensation returned. (Screaming barfies is the ice climbing name for this – when the return of sensation is so painful you don’t know whether to scream, throw up, or perhaps both).

25th December (20km)
I wasn’t planning to ride today. I spent the day at home alone with the Moosling, before heading out for a Christmas potluck dinner (I made my first pavlova, woohoo!). But when we got home at 9.30pm, and there was a chance to go for a ride. Sure, why the hell not. So, stuffed full of Christmas dinner, I went for a 20km ride in the dark, fatbiking along snowy trails around town.

26th December (0km)
On solo parent duty all day today. I could have gotten out at 9.30pm again, but by then I was ready for bed, so I decided I’d make up for it by getting up super early tomorrow.

27th December (120.5km)
I completely failed to get up super early. By the time I hit the road it was after 8.30am and the sun was already up! But I had the whole day to try and get in as many kilometres as possible.

First – up and over the pass and away.

I was going to head along Goat Creek and into Banff, and then see what I felt like from there.

Goat Creek was softer than I was expecting! It was the kind of snow where you tend to sink in a little and have to work to keep traction and forward progress. A few times I punched through entirely and came close to spinning out… or did spin out. It was worst between the two main bridges, as I struggled to pick and hold a good line, fighting for every metre.

Progress was slow. There weren’t many other people out. I listened to podcasts with one ear, to the crunching churning of my bike tyre with the other.

In Banff I made a pitstop at the Wildflour Bakery, overwhelmed by all the people in town – so this is where everyone was! Bag stocked up with extra food, and body warmed, I headed out towards Sundance Canyon. An out and back along the Sundance Canyon road was punctuated with my down skirt getting stuck under my saddle, and me, trapped, falling into a flailing mess into a drift of deep snow. Dignified.

After that little episode, I tried heading further west and up to Sundance Lodge, but gave in on the idea as I worked hard through slow, soft snow. The struggle was too tedious, my kilometres too hard won. Instead, I returned to the bakery in Banff again (ahh, more chocolate zucchini loaf, don’t mind if I do!) and then hit the road out to Lake Minnewanka, and then onto the singletrack. The sun was getting low in the sky by now. Well, even lower. It barely scrapes the mountains at the best of times in the depths of winter.

The first few kilometres of Minnewanka singletrack were well packed, highly travelled. But as I rounded the corner and started to descend, things got looser. I then had my best crash of the day, flipping down the lake side of the trail with my bike bouncing after me. Thankfully I was completely fine, although I did startle two riders who had just started heading up the hill toward me.

Riding more carefully, I made it to LM8 (the 8km campground) and back unscathed, then, lights on, belted through town and back along Goat Creek once again.

In the dark, on slow snow, uphill, hungry, it was a long ride home.

28th December (54km)
Today I posted five separate rides to scrounge an additional 54km, and finally make it to the halfway point of the Festive500.

First up, 6km of towing the Moosling to his daycamp with the trail-a-bike mounted on the fatbike. Then another couple of kilometres as I commuted around town for work.

But then a solo lunch ride! Singletrack! Riding in daylight! And through the Christmas grotto up at the Nordic Centre.

Glorious riding, very tired legs. The climbs were much harder than I remember them ever usually being, but the snowy swoopy descents were wonderful.

Then, after work, a failed commute to pick up the Moosling as I snapped my poor neglected, poorly maintained fatbike chain. The walk home with a broken bike in the bitter cold was not fun.

I was still determined to reach the halfway point though – but I couldn’t get out until 9.30pm that night, and still didn’t have a functioning fatbike. So instead when the time came I disappeared into the dark on the studded 29er, heading out along the Spray Lakes road for some mindless kilometres.

29th December (53km)
Another lunch ride at the Nordic Centre, this time with actual company! Riding with Marcus, and a brand new chain on my fatbike! Joy!

That evening, with tired legs, my fatbike and I headed out into the dark yet again for 42km more of evening riding. I headed up the pass with big dreams, but gave in as I started slogging through drifts in the cold, snowy blowy weather, and descended back towards town. There I started picking off random road loops, trails, paths, and essentially doing whatever I could to gather some easier kilometres. But there are no easy kilometres riding on a snowy night on a studded fatbike.

30th December (82km)
Another lunch ride, more sunny kilometres! This time with Allan, my most usual riding buddy (and also my Strava certified training parnter of the year).

A long lunch break was enjoyed, weather and conditions were wonderful. And did I mention it was sunny?!

That evening I headed out after work for my penultimate Festive500 pedal, wandering out along Spray Lakes road again because it was in such great shape. I was thinking of heading straight back to my house once I got back into Canmore, but instead I was lured across town to enjoy some apple pie, along with a mug of hot chocolate and Baileys courtesy of Allan and his family (and the other red wine drinking folks who were at the dinner party I crashed!). That all meant quite a few extra bonus kilometres, as well as finishing off the ride feeling warm and rather pleased with myself!

31st December (114km)
A 7.30am departure from home, as I was hoping to be done early. The sunrise pinkened clouds as I rode up the pass.

One of the problems with starting in Canmore at sunrise on a clear day is the compulsion to stop and take photos of the damn scenic mountains everywhere.

Eventually the beautiful morning light faded and I was actually able to settle down and ride my bike for more than a few minutes at a time.

I headed off down the High Rockies Trail. I’d wanted to ride the Spray Lakes Road and jump on the HRT further south, but there was just too much traffic for comfort on the road, so instead I tried to ride the HRT directly from Goat Creek.

This was not a good idea. Sure, it initially seemed like a great idea. But gradually the trail was less and less well packed, and then I was struggling to stay upright in deep unconsolidated trail, and hike-a-biking. Damn. Should I turn back? No, it can’t be too much further.

And so in that way, I lost a lot of my morning to not many kilometres. Once I got to Goat Pond I jumped on Spray Lakes road and pedalled quickly back to the Goat Creek trailhead, and headed out along Goat Creek once again.

There was a lot more traffic today, although it wasn’t really in any better shape, or any warmer.

In Banff, I hit up Wildflour Bakery again, where I was heckled by the Australian cashier for the amount of chocolate items I was ordering – I say what’s wrong with chocolate zucchini loaf, hot chocolate and a chocolate spice cookie?

Then, out and onto the Tunnel Mountain singletrack. Fun, but my legs didn’t have a lot of go in them. By this point I really only had one speed, and it wasn’t very fast. I kept finding excuses to stop and rest – this was not conducive to finishing my kilometres quickly!

Finishing up my Tunnel loop, I returned along Goat Creek as the sun set. It didn’t seem so bad this time, I had skittles with me.

After some internal debate (should I ride the Highline? it would be fun, but oh, my legs were tired) I rode out along the powerline trail and along Loki’s (weee!), out to Three Sisters. It was cold, dark, but I churned through those final kilometres, finishing with a loop around town, and even ending with a bonus kilometre or so padded on just in case.

Done! 501km in 8 days. And the stats?

Ridden at night: 293/500km
Ridden alone: 449/500km
Ridden on my fat bike: 445/500km
Ridden on studded tyres in the snow at below-freezing temperatures: 501/500km


canada general hiking moosling snow

Mount St Piran: Yellow larches and snow

In larch season in the Rockies it’s pretty much obligatory to get out hiking. In general, September is hiking and trail running season. Tanya had invited us out to head out to hike the Devil’s Thumb, but once we all got to the Lake, the decision was made to go and do a proper summit – Mount St Piran it was. It was even in Kane’s Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies book!

First up is easy highway-style trails, the only challenge is traffic management as you hike in among so many other people.

But after we hiked past Mirror Lake at the foot of the Little Beehive, and past the turnoff to Lake Agnes, the crowds started to thin out.

As we started switch-backing up to the small saddle below the summit of Mount St Piran, it started to get snowy.  Well packed at first, but then increasingly slippery.

At the saddle, we finally met up with a group (from Rocky Mountain Adaptive?) who were helping get someone with a disability get to nearly the summit of Mount St Piran in one of their ‘TrailRider’ adapted one-wheel rugged weelchairs.

At the mini summit we paused for some photos and jumping, with the view down to Lake Louise below, looking resplendently turquoise.

Then it was onwards and upwards. Not far to the summit now!

The combination of cumulus clouds in the blue sky, snow-capped mountains, yellow larches, snowy terrain and Lake Louise were wonderfully beautiful. Also, hurrah for brightly coloured outdoor clothes – it makes for great photos.

The trail was much less well-packed to the summit, but it wasn’t far at all. It was a bit disconcerting though, as it was so poorly packed that you could still punch through the snow to a big talus hole.

Summit! And the wind had mostly died down enough that it was actually pretty pleasant. Amazing views, I can’t believe we’ve hiked so little here before (put off by the big crowds at the lakes below).

Then, to get down again, we’d decided to do a loop – back off the back of the mountain and down past Lake Agnes.

And because it was so beautiful, here are far too many photos from the descent.

As the terrain got steeper, it became more and more challenging.  Slippery. A lot of us slipped over at one time or another.  The boy decided he was better off with glissading the whole way, and thought the whole thing was amazingly fun, and way better than normal trails.

Glissading!  Thank goodness for waterproof pants!

We were hopeful that once we hit the saddle and left the snow, that it would be easier. But it was still tricky ground. Steep and loose, we switchbacked to and fro and I tried hard to convince the boy that he wasn’t allowed to just keep sliding down, as much as it might be really fun.

A few mountain goats hovered around on the slopes (not literally, although that would be awesome) – and watched us as we hiked by them.

Then finally, the terrain flattened out, and then we were at Lake Agnes, and back into the hiking crowds and larches.

The descent from there was fairly fast. And now the boy has two (the very easiest two I think) of the Kane scrambles under his belt.

And the added benefit of Lake Louise? There are plenty of pokestops and pokemon hanging out there if you’re hanging out waiting for people to arrive.

Distance: About 14.5km
Elevation gain: Around 900m
Time: About 6.5 hours
Figures in the map linked below are a little off, as we forgot to turn on the GPS straight away.

canada general moosling snow

The luge run

One particularly amazing edition to our Elizabeth Parker hut trip, aside from the maze and quinzee, was the luge run we built up behind the hut. Referring to something so epic as a mere toboggan track would be inadequate.

There was a lot of engineering that went into the design, and some epic berms were built. But it was still difficult to design a track to handle such a variety of sled weights, and so there were parents stationed at a few tree-well points along the way. Which was good, as kids on toboggans went flying over the berms a couple of times before we decided that two kids in a black sled was a bad combination (and banned that particular combination).

And so now I’ll just leave you with some of the photos, which should give you some idea how fun it was!

So fun that we went back again the next morning – but this time round, only launched from half way up, because it had set so fast and icy…

I may have had just as much, if not more fun, than the kids. Apparently growing up without snow meant a very neglected childhood, so I have to make up for it with extra tobogganing now.

canada general moosling snow trip reports

Easter at Elizabeth Parker hut

This was a trip that came about in a more unusual way than most. I met Tanya through Instagram, where she posts as @mountainmomyyc. And we started chatting, in an online kind of way, and she said “Hey, we should go on an adventure together some time” – and I agreed. So when one of the families had to drop out of the Elizabeth Parker hut trip she had planned for Easter, I was among the families she shouted out the invitation to. And as we’d just had a fantastic fun trip up there, we jumped at the chance.

And so, in one of those moments where the internet shines and demonstrates that it’s not just a cesspit of the awfulness of humanity, we set off for a trip to a hut with a bunch of other families we’d never met before. And hoped none of them were axe murderers (spoilers: they weren’t).

At the trailhead we parked next to Andrea and David and their three kids – introducing ourselves and starting the process of getting to know folks.

As we skied up the 11 kilometres to the hut we skied with different people, and chatted, and got to know each other, and I ended up losing my own family entirely and skied along having interesting conversations with other peoples kids.

One of the interesting things was the variety of towing mechanisms everyone was using. We were just working with an old inner tube with a couple of slings attached, based on the system I’d used a few times up at Jackrabbits. But there was one very nice carabiner/bungee/rope/tow bar setup that I think we’ll try and copy for next time.

One family was just hiking in with a sled, and towards the end of the trip quite a few of the kids had switched from skis to snowshoes or boots. It’s a long uphill slog when you’re only five years old.

And then we settled into the huts. There were nine adults, eight kids (aged five to nine), and another two people who’d booked into the hut before Tanya had been able to book it out entirely. We were a little worried they’d be horrified, but they were lovely, and played Settlers of Catan with the kids (and one of them played guitar! and the other was Australian! Lovely I tell you!)

The benefit of having older kids along, is that they can sit and read to the other kids. And so the bunks were covered first with wrestling kids, then with kids playing lego and reading to each other, and then it was time for dinner.

Bedtime went about as smoothly as could be expected with all that excitement, but I managed to sleep fairly well that night, and didn’t have to get out of my sleeping bag until 7.30am, so I shall declare it a success.

After breakfast and some inside play, we decided to play near the hut for the first part of the morning. Which meant it was snow maze time!

Alex and I started digging out the snow maze we’d created last time we were up here, and soon recruited lots of helpers, and expanded the maze even further. David began digging out a quinzee in the middle of the maze, and it turned into an amazing nest of amazingness.

The kids had a ball running about, climbing up and down and jumping from wall to wall.

But then it was time to leave the maze, and go for a wander out towards Mary Lake. There was a delightful mix of snowshoes and skis, and we all wandered along together.

Including the unicorn, who had great difficulty keeping on track for some reason.

After skiing out halfway across the lake, we turned about and had lunch/snacks on the lake shore. Well, nearly the lake shore. I was wandering around at one point and punched straight through into slush. I don’t recommend that, although it definitely woke me up.

Meanwhile the unicorn got smaller, more fluorescent and significantly more dejected.

From there we wandered around to Lake O’Hara proper. Some of the crew headed back to the hut, some kept going to the far side of the lake to check out the waterfall, and some of us just opted to laze about in the sun.

You can see below which of those three camps we fell into.

The kids built a kicker to ski off, and dug a hole; the dads napped in the sun; the mums chatted, and were there to witness brave and fearless launches off the not very big or structurally sound kicker.

The afternoon brought the completion of the quinzee, and more snow maze time. And then tobogganing – which I have so many photos of that it’s going to get its own post.

Cupcakes were baked, and the kids got to decorate them, Easter style. And thanks to an eyeliner pencil that someone had thoughtfully (?) left behind in the hut, a lot of the kids developed rabbit whiskers.

And so the day started to draw to a close, and we retreated to the hut for dinner. Meanwhile the Easter Bunnies laid plans about an Easter Egg hunt.

The kids were exhausted, and so were supposed to fall asleep easily. However, mine was so overexcited that I had to crawl into my sleeping bag next to him in an attempt to get him to lie down and actually fall asleep. I assume it must have been successful, because the next thing I remember is waking up close to a midnight to a hut that was dark and quiet.

The next morning was Easter Sunday, and the Easter Bunny had been! He had conveniently left eggs around in groups of eight, so each of the kids could find one at each location – in and out of the huts, in the trees, in the snow maze, and all about.

The kids retreated to the bunks to assess their stashes. Some opened everything, eating the ones they liked as they went, and then handing all the ones they didn’t like back to their parents (that would be Finn). Others opened everything and then categorised their spoils according to size, type and colour. Needless to say, there was much excitement.

But then it was time to start packing up, and a few of our party left and started the journey back down to the trailhead.

Those of us who were left…. went tobogganing again!

Our luge track had set up firm and icy overnight, and we decided that a half-way launch point was probably the best option if we wanted to escape the weekend without major injuries. There were many more laps, but then it was time to go…

A toboggan train was dragged back to the huts, final checks were made, and the crew set off along the long road home.

The initial twisty turny section proved as interesting as ever, but we made it through unscathed and grouped together to begin the assault on the epic ‘downhill’ back to the cars.

With the warm weather, the trail had set fast… maybe tooo fast. We were flying down the hills, and some of us were terrified on occasions. We regrouped and re-jellybeaned at every kilometre marker, then stopped for lunch at the half-way picnic table. There we ran into a huge crew from Banff who were skiing in to the hut – our kids intermingled, and there was snowy mayhem in the sun, and the whisky jacks swarmed around us with delight.

Then the final stretch – with less downhill, and small legs getting tired, this took a little longer. But we made it! (Thanks to a combination of food-based bribery, conversation and songs)

Two of the coolest five year olds around, posing with victory at the bottom of the trail… then we packed up our cars, said our goodbyes, and drove home. New friends, fun weekend, more family trips must happen soon!

Note – Tanya’s write up of the trip can be found here.

Distance: 11.5km one way
Elevation gain: About 470m on the way in
Time to ski in: 6 hours in (we’ve done this in less time previously, and I took longer than my menfolk)
Time to ski out: 3.5 hours