bikes canada general snow trip reports

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 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!

bikes canada general trip reports

When Minnewanka rides get out of hand

The one problem with riding Lake Minnewanka is that it’s an out and back. And it’s a busy and out back, popular with hikers and bikers alike.

And so when we rode out, and reached the cabin, I was happy to keep going, and put off the return journey. I’d never ridden past the cabin before (it’s at 15km, and makes for a nice 30km round trip) and Minnewanka was in great late season condition.

And so we got up towards the end of the lake. The terrain becomes more technical, and it’s much harder to ride everything. There was almost no deadfall though.

A couple of big wash outs from the 2013 floods were slow going, but as we drew closer to the end of the lake, I realised that I really wanted to keep riding. I only had one bottle of water with me though, nearly empty, and just one bar left.

Thankfully I have friends who come oversupplied, and I stocked up on both water and food, and even managed to convince Danika to come along with me. Meanwhile, I passed on Alex’s phone number, so he would get the heads up that I might phone begging for a lift when we emerged into cell service at the other side of the ride.

And so the two of us set off into the semi-unknown.

There were two creek crossings ahead of us. The first was at the end of the lake, where you cross onto the south side of the river. It ended up being the deepest, at mid thigh, and bracingly cold.

From there, we were onto well-travelled horse trails, much more well defined than the eastern Lake Minnewanka trail, but also much muddier, much more rutted, and much more inclined to have snow due to the aspect.

But it didn’t really take long at all to get through that section, then we were out onto double track, then crossing out of the Banff National Park and into the Ghost Wilderness Area – where civilization quickly caught up with us, with 4WDs wandering about, and groups camping everywhere.

The second river crossing was a breeze, and soon we were pedalling up the big hill, onto fairly well-travelled gravel roads.

Well-travelled gravel roads that were covered with snow and ice for kilometres on end! But still fun to be exploring new terrain, and a thoroughly worthwhile adventure, although I’d still like to ride the full loop from home.

And for reference – there’s cell service on and off for most of the ride, definitely far more than we were expecting anyway. And we were picked up about 10km shy of reaching the 1A, to make for a 66km ride an an unexpectedly long day.

bikes canada general moosling trip reports

Fall bikepacking to Lake Minnewanka

Getting out on a family bikepacking trip is one of those things that we kept meaning to do, but somehow we had nearly run out of summer weekends and it still hadn’t happened.

We’d initially been thinking of riding the Elbow Loop. Or maybe just going out and back on the north-west side. But our attempts to book a campground failed. Curse you, Alberta Parks with your “oh, sure, we have sites available” website, but then when they get back to you 48 hours after you tried to book online it turns out that there are indeed no sites.

Contemplating alternatives, we realised I was supposed to be back in town by 3 or 4pm on Sunday afternoon, so it would be better to stay close to home. And so Lake Minnewanka it was. Especially as there was a whole lot of camping availability out there – for some reason K-Country was packed, but the lovely LM8 campground on the shores of Minnewanka was fully available on Friday. We ended up sharing it with one other couple. It was amazingly deserted out there.

We convinced our friends Kat and Mike that they should come along on their first bikepacking trip too, which meant a lot of borrowing gear and working out how on earth to fit everything into such a small space when you’re used to panniers or hiking packs. It took a little while, but they sorted it!

A lazy start meant that we decided to head out on the Legacy Trail rather than Goat Creek. The downside was that we had no justifiable reason to stop at the Wildflour Bakery in Banff. But at least it was fast and easy going, and plenty of chances to work on fine tuning gear setup.

With a three and a six year old along, we made regular stops along the way for them to get out and play. And for snacks.

We made it onto the Lake Minnewanka trail in the mid-afternoon. This was our family setup above – pretty similar to our Scotland trip last summer.

Getting up The Hill before you start heading north along the lakeshore always warms you up. And sometimes, just sometimes, loaded bikes and towing kids means you just can’t ride everything.

But while Alex kicked the boy off the trail-a-bike, the boy discovered the joys of poking puff balls with a stick.

Then it was just scenic lakeside singletrack, through golden aspens and alongside the turquoise lake.

It’s only an eight kilometre ride in to the LM8 campground (unsurprisingly, if you think about it). As we hit the bridge just before the campground, the kids hopped out and ran the rest of the way to camp.

There were so many deers hanging around! Fairly oblivious to us, they wandered around and did their thing, and had me jump out of my skin a couple of times when one wandered up unexpectedly close.

Collecting water from the lake was more challenging than usual. The camping pads were quite sheltered, but the cooking area was further south and thoroughly exposed to the wind. A nice series of waves was rolling onto the stony shore, and a few of us received an accidental foot soaking.

Cooking dinner in the trees, thankfully we had a shelter at our cooking spot.

We all curled up in bed pretty early. I was testing out how the boy would go in a full-sized sleeping bag for the first time, after realising his kid bag was just no longer big enough (or warm enough for shoulder season adventures). The end result was – he was super snug and warm in my 15 year old down bag, and I might see if I can adjust it a little so it’s a bit shorter/lighter/smaller, and he’ll probably be able to get at least five more years of use out of it (depending how fast he grows).

Morning light is gorgeous on the aspens. We slept in until 8 or so, and then eventually gave in and got up for breakfast.

There’s been so much going on before the trip that food had been thoroughly disorganised. Breakfast was mostly pastries that we’d picked up the day before from Le Fournil Bakery in Canmore. Delicious tasty pastries.

The boys enjoyed hanging out some more, and playing in the forest.

And then we got things packed up again, ready to hit the trail before it became too busy.

It was a beautiful ride out, and it felt much easier than the day before – even the hill climb!

Although – sometimes it’s just so steep you have to push. But the trail has recently had some work done on it, and the section on the hill that used to be loose and rocky and pretty interesting to ride… well now it’s flat and hardpacked soil, and far easier.

Just after we got the group shot below, some tourists came up to get their photos taken with the crazy group of bike people (and were thoroughly startled when they realised that the trailer had a child inside it).

After this, it was a tail-wind home on the Legacy Trail.

Bikepacking trips sometimes seem to require a lot of effort, but are thoroughly worth it, and so much fun once you’re out there pedalling and camping!

Route: From Canmore, along the Legacy Trail, via Cascade Ponds, on the road to Lake Minnewanka, then along singletrack to LM8 campground
Distance: 35km one-way
Elevation gain: ~400m on the way there, ~200m on the way back

bikes canada general hiking moosling

Saturday adventures

I went out to ride with Kat along the Lake Minnewanka trail, which was in great shape. Clear all the way to the warden’s cabin, with just one fallen tree.

A lazy start meant that we were out on the trail along with quite a few hikers and other bikes, although mostly on our return. We ran into some bird watchers too, and slowed down to spend some time trying to spot a bird that I cannot recall the name of.

Meanwhile the menfolk stomp up Ha Ling, which was also in great condition apart from the band of snow at the treeline.

This year brings another warm and early spring.

bikes canada general

Frozen lakes and Friday adventures

Alex and I had a day off together, so went riding on the Lake Minnewanka ice (as well as doing more renovations, but that’s neither picturesque nor interesting).

The lake was snow-covered for the first kilometre or so, before the snow began to give way to larger and larger sections of clear ice.

The forecast was for the wind to pick up later in the day, and as we rode further, the wind at our backs grew stronger.

Eventually we decided to be sensible, and made our way across to the shore, where we could pick up the snowy trail to get back home. Cycling across the wind was challenging even with studded tyres. The wind would lull and then gust, and try and sweep your bike out from underneath you.

As we neared the shore, we found methane bubbles frozen in the ice. I’d been hoping to find some, and so we entertained ourselves admiring them, and sliding around on the ice near the shore, where the ferocious wind was slightly less ferocious.

When I got back home, I found photos of people breaking the ice to let the methane escape, and then setting fire to the gas. It looks like the dangerous kind of fun.

After cycling homewards along the snowy trail for a few kilometres, we decided the wind had died down a little, and braved the ice for the final stretch of cycling home.

The sun came out for a moment, and the wind wasn’t too fierce, and we watched skaters playing hockey, and optimistic girls heading out with skates in hand, starting their trudge through the snow to find the clear ice.

Frozen lakes are beautiful and fascinating, although terrifying (what? there could be lake monsters). I’d love to go back and explore some more, but might wait until the temperatures have settled down to something a little less ice-melting.