Recharging the batteries: An adult trip to Shadow Lake Lodge

The cabins at Shadow Lake Lodge. The first two are the eating cabin and then the reading cabin.

The cabins at Shadow Lake Lodge. The first two are the eating cabin and then the reading cabin.

This past July, I got to check off one of my bucket list items! I’ve always wanted to stay at a backcountry lodge and decided this was the summer we would visit Shadow Lake Lodge in Banff.  Usually we like to do backcountry camping trips with friends, though those trips were temporarily put on hold when Little Bear came around.  Since she’s now an independent little toddler, it seems like a good time to take an adult trip.  We had a few potential trips in mind but when I found out I was expecting a Baby Bear in the new year, it sealed the deal that we would celebrate with a fancy lodge experience!

I had done quite a bit of hiking when I was pregnant with Little Bear so I felt fairly confident that I could handle the hike in (14 km with 400 m elevation gain) as I’d be 3.5 months pregnant.  We decided to go for 3 days (2 nights), as it was LB’s first time away from us and I wasn’t sure how many days of hiking I’d be up for.  And it wasn’t exactly cheap!

The hike in on the fire road was very straightforward and rather nice as far as fire roads go.  It was cool for the first half of the hike and then rained/hailed for the second half.  Luckily we had our full goretex gear so no one got wet and it was great motivation to move quickly!  Unluckily for me, pregnancy #2 turned out to be much harder on my body than #1.  Even my small 15 lb pack turned out to be a bit much and by the time we got to the lodge I was limping and ready to sit.  With a good rest that night, I was recovered by the next day so it wasn’t too bad.  It took us about 4 hrs in total to walk up there and as a side note, the “steep” part at the end didn’t seem very steep or sustained in my opinion.

Checking out the clearing views after an afternoon of rain and hail.

Checking out the clearing views after an afternoon of rain and hail.

Same view but in the morning!

Same view but in the morning!

The next day we did a day hike to Gibbon Pass, followed by a post-lunch walk to check out Shadow Lake.  I had originally thought it would be fun to go off trail and explore Copper Mtn but my hips declined that option.  Gibbon Pass was beautiful though, and likely one of the prettiest passes I’ve seen which made the change in plans worthwhile.  We lucked out and had cool weather all day which was lovely to hike in.

The wildflowers on the way up to Gibbon Pass

The wildflowers on the way up to Gibbon Pass were some of the most vibrant I’ve ever seen!

Gibbon Pass

Gibbon Pass

The lodge was amazing! It will definitely be that much harder to go back to backcountry camping now that I know what I’m missing.  We got an individual wood cabin with a wash basin, heater and very comfy bed with a down duvet and wool blankets.  There was even our own porch for afternoon tea!  The communal bathrooms had hot water and showers.  I think the best part though was not having to worry about food. After our hikes we enjoyed afternoon tea, then settled in to the reading cabin to read and chat with everyone.  Dinner was in a separate cabin and was as good as any restaurant I’ve been to. They did a great job preparing high end meals in a off-grid setting.

Hubby and I both agreed that this was the perfect relaxing vacation for hikers and we’d love to do this again sometime after the next bear cub.

Shadow Lake and Mt Ball

Shadow Lake and Mt Ball

In case anyone is in my situation and thinking of heading in while pregnant, here are a few things I’d take note of:

  • The hike in.  My husband didn’t feel like he broke a sweat walking in but I really felt it due to this pregnancy.  I wore a hip stabilizing belt which helped a ton.  I wish I had packed lighter or opted to let hubby carry our stuff in and only carried my water and snack in my bag.
  • Day hikes. There are a lot of day hikes to do from the lodge but many are at least 6 km return with elevation gain.  And this would be after your hike in and before your hike out.  I was ok with the idea of hanging out around the lodge for a day if I didn’t feel good but thankfully felt fine the next day.
  • Food. Let’s just say, between breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, it was a pregnant lady’s dream come true!  Add in the extra calories burned hiking and I was very happy to stuff myself at every meal.  There was always more than enough food and it was delicious.

If anyone has been to any other lodges here or elsewhere, I’d love to hear how they were!

Eiffel Lake larch hike – Second Trimester

As I’m sitting enjoying a tea and watching the snow accumulate, it seems like a good time to catch up on a few posts that have been patiently waiting around since… September.  What can I say, I feel like I go through phrases when I’m either really into blogging or not really feeling it.  The last few months fell in the “not really feeling it” category, probably due to the fact that work was overwhelmingly busy.  Now that things have quieted down, it’s time to catch up!

September will ALWAYS be larch season for me.  Every year, I like to do a few larch hikes: usually one I haven’t done before and one repeat.  Eiffel Lake was a new one for me and it certainly did not disappoint!  This will for sure be added to the list of hikes I would happily repeat.  In case you aren’t a local, larches are these adorably scraggly trees that only thrive in the mountains at very specific elevations.  They are only found in areas that meet their stringent criteria and don’t really look like anything special in the summer (other than the fact their needs are feathery soft!).  In the fall though, there is a 2-3 week period when they turn fluorescent yellow and drop their needles.  We don’t tend to get the deciduous trees out here that you’d see in the east so larches provide that colour change that makes fall feel special.  It’s always hit or miss which weekends will be best for larches AND have the best weather.  The third week of September is generally speaking the best bet but depending on the weather, elevation, location and aspect of the larches, they can be brightest earlier or later.

When to go?

We hiked to Eiffel Lake the second weekend in September and found most of them had started turning this year.  We were also able to avoid the crazy crowds by going earlier in September.  This still meant that we needed to arrive at Moraine Lake early and at 9am we scored the last spot in their miniature parking lot.  A side note, this year Parks Canada started offering shuttle buses from Lake Louise to Moraine Lake on the third weekend in September to help avoid the usual larch hike overcrowding.

Where is it?

This hike leaves from Moraine Lake and follows the same trail as the hike to Larch Valley/Sentinel pass until the top of the switchbacks when it branches off.  We were happy to find that once we branched off to Eiffel Lake, we left 99% of the crowds behind and had the trail almost to ourselves the whole way despite the parking lot being full (and overflowing as we saw on the way out).

 

Canoes on the dock at Moraine Lake first thing in the morning.

Canoes on the dock at Moraine Lake first thing in the morning.  The mountains in the background are part of the Valley of the Ten Peaks that you can see all along the hike.

Difficulty?

The hike is around 12.5 km with a little under 500m of elevation gain.  We did this hike with my parents who are not regular hikers and they did really well and were able to hike the whole thing.  I was 22 weeks pregnant when I did the hike and no problems with the hike.  Until I hit my third trimester, the ~12km hike with <500m gain was the magic number of what I could comfortably tolerate.  If you wanted to take this hike further, there is the option to continue to Wenkchemna Pass which makes the hike around 18km with over 1000m elevation gain.  Several of the groups we met at Eiffel Lake were continuing on to the pass so I have a feeling it’s a well-used trail.  In fact, the whole trail to is very well defined and any intersections are clearly signed.  The only confusion we had was where the lake was.  With a name like Eiffel Lake, I was expected something very large and …. magnificent?  Perhaps in early summer the lake is larger because I thought it was rather small.  Luckily, the surrounding views MORE than make up for the lack of view the lake provides.

Almost at the lake! You can see Wenkchemna Pass on the left side and just over the pass is Lake O'Hara.

Almost at the lake! You can see Wenkchemna Pass on the left side and just over the pass is Lake O’Hara.

Tiiiny little Eiffel Lake.  I couldn't even be bothered to take out my fancy camera so this comes from hubby's cell phone.

Tiiiny little Eiffel Lake. I couldn’t even be bothered to take out my fancy camera so this comes from hubby’s cell phone.

Would I recommend it?

Yup! This will go down in my list of hikes I’d repeat, hopefully with the kidlet next summer!  The trail has a very mild grade, easy switchbacks and is well packed down with few roots and rocks so I think it would be easy with a backpack carrier.  The views though, are what really make this hike memorable.  Not only do you get to see larches for most of the hike, you are essentially skirting the edge of larch valley opposite the Valley of the Ten Peaks and have views of the peaks and glaciers the whole way.  Also, you can hear avalanches and rock fall come down (sometimes you can see it) as the day heats up.

From our lunch spot, this is the view looking back.  I even tried to frame scene with larches!

From our lunch spot, this is the view looking back. I even tried to frame scene with larches!

Stopping for a photo op.  Shorts and a tank top are NOT usual fall hiking clothes out here!

Stopping for a photo op. Shorts and a tank top are NOT usual fall hiking clothes out here!  I even got to test out my lighweight Columbia runners.  They were super breathable, comfortable and light and on the trail.

Pregnancy hiking tips?

For this hike I was really lucky in that the weather was outstanding.  It was bluebird and unusually hot.  Things that I found helpful for hiking in warm weather are as follows:

  • Water (and tons of it!).  Being pregnant has made me thirstier than usually and doubly so when it’s hot out.  I found the best setup was to put one 2L Platypus in hubby’s pack with a hose that I could drink out of quickly.  We would also pack another 1-2L in a second Platypus or water bottles depending on temperature and length of hike
  • Support belt.  My hips started to bother me as soon as my belly popped out and the support belt (or more technically, SI belt) helped a lot with the pain.
  • Layers.  I got hot very quickly so it was key to be able to transition from cold mountain mornings to hot afternoons by stripping layers off.
  • Snacks in excess.  I still remember this hike because I was charting my food intake to see how I was doing nutritionally.  I was pretty shocked at how much protein I (easily) consumed.  I probably had the same hunger level as I’d have going backpacking.

For a longer list of tips, check out my other post where I go into more detail :)

On a separate note, I got a lot of kudos from other hikers.  Comments ranged from “Way to go!”, to parents who pointed at their own kids and said “I did the same and look how far we’ve come!”.  I have to say, I really appreciated all the positivity and next time I’m out and see someone who is pregnant puffing along, I’ll share the good vibes!

Have you ever encouraged someone on the trail or been the recipient of kind words? I usually don’t make comments but I’m thinking I might change that.

Multi-pitchin’ on Professor Falls

Time for a long overdue blog post!  Seems the last few months have been unusually busy for me and the end doesn’t quite seem in sight yet.  My anthropology course, while interesting, has proven to be more work than I had anticipated and much of my spare time has been taken up with skiing or reading about hunter-gatherers in the Paleolithic and Mesolithic (I promise it *is* more interesting than it sounds)!

I did take 3 weeks off in February, from skiing and climbing at least, when I sprained my knee and ankle skiing.  It turns out that ankle injuries are quite limiting in what you can do so I got caught up on my coursework and had time to ruminate about my balance between outdoor activities and downtime.  I’m not a very happy person when I spend all my free time sitting around but I also need a fair amount of downtime each week to decompress from work and relax. To this point, Eliz’s recent blog post on feeling the need to do awesome things all the time echoed exactly what I’d been thinking.

On to the topic of this blog post, I finally got the chance to ice climb Professor Falls.  Every year my girlfriend and I spend the weekend in Canmore and pick something fun and adventurous to do.  This year we decided on Professor Falls which is 5 pitches long and has one hell of an approach!  It’s off Mt. Rundle in between Banff and Canmore but needs to be accessed from Banff.  You park in Banff in the Bow Falls parking lot by the barriers and from there it’s a long bike ride, followed by hike in.  From what I’ve read it’s about 7km in and that felt about right.  We were only able to bike to the end of the plowed Parks Canada road at which point we had to ditch the bikes as it was too hard to ride them in the snow.  Sarah Hueniken led us up in 5 pitches and it was so nice that each pitch we did coincided with a large flat area to stand around and belay.  The climbing was great!  It didn’t feel too hard and it was warm enough to make the ice soft without being too wet.  Reversing the approach turned out to be the hardest part! Nothing like a 7km slog back out but this time with wet and frozen ropes slowing you down!  I still had a great day and it’s pretty cool to drive by the icefall now and think: “yup, I climbed that!”

Here’s a few pics from the climb.  It was overcast that day instead of sunny which made the warm weather more comfortable though it didn’t do any wonders for my photography :)

Professor Falls from the base

Professor Falls from the base

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Waiting around while tucked behind the ice curtain

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Some of the ice had formed some really interesting features!

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Sarah H. leading

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Looking back down at the valley & the Trans-Can

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Last few pitches!

Fall larches on Fairview Mtn

September was not off to a great start.  After picking up some eastern bug while in Ottawa for a wedding, I spent a the first week of fall going to bed early and feeling generally miserable.  Come the weekend, I could not convince my other half to climb anything other than a mountain of kleenex and frankly I wasn’t doing much better.  I opted for a girls afternoon of climbing at Grassi Lakes and cleaned most of my friend’s routes as she sent some of the her hardest routes!

Not sure what these are called but they remind me of troll hair. Remember those little troll dolls that used to be popular?

Come this past weekend, I was just dying to get out and hike. Fall is one of my favourite times for hiking; the air is cool and crisp, the weather is more settled than in the summer and best of all the larches are changing colour.  Fairview has been on my list of “to-do hikes” for a while and I’ve been waiting for just the right time to do it.  I’d already done some of the other popular Lake Louise/Moraine Lake hikes (Plain of Six Glaciers, Sentinel Pass, Mt St Piran, Tower of Babel) so it seemed like a good time to do Fairview.

Larch

For those not familiar with the larches, we don’t have a huge variety of colour changing trees in the mountains.  Other than aspens at lower elevations, most trees at higher up are evergreens.  Enter the alpine larch aka larix lyallii.  Evolutionary advantage? Thrives at high altitudes.  Why do I love them? Their needles are soft as feathers and turn bright yellow before they fall.  When I walk through a grove I just can’t help but touch all the branches to feel the needles.  Sentinel Pass (which is accessed from Moraine Lake) seems to be the most popular hike to see the larches but there are many hikes in Banff and Kananaskis with larches.  On an average year, the larches are best seen in their finest shades of yellow during the third week in September.  They start turning a week before and will be done dropping their needles by the end of September.  We hiked Sentinel Pass to see them last year but it’s a real production as you have to be there by 8am to get a parking spot at Moraine Lake that’s not 1-2km down the road.

A rather scraggly and small larch with Lake Louise ski hill in the background

The hike up to Fairview Mountain starts off from either the Chateau or the west side of the upper parking lot.  The first 3ish km are on a wide dirt trail up to Saddleback (the saddle between Fairview and Saddle Mountains).  The trail is straightforward with only one turnoff on the way to Saddleback which is a steep shortcut.  Once Saddleback is in view, the larches start popping up.  At the top of Saddleback, in the middle of the larches, are the junctions to Saddle Mtn, Fairview Mtn & Sheol Valley.  We weren’t looking forward to the “scree slog” we had heard about to the top but it turned out to be a well cleared trail with very few sections of scree (yay!).  Soon we were at the top with views of Mt. Aberdeen, Mt Victoria and Lake Louise.  We both agreed this was one of the most well-maintained/easiest 1000m trails we’d been on (thanks Parks Canada!).  Being a numbers person, I always mentally file away how far/high each hike is and how long it took so I was impressed that after several weeks off from hiking I did it in 4.5hrs at a reasonable pace.

Heading towards the junction for Fairview Moutain.

Saddle Mountain in the background

From Saddleback you can see the path up to Fairview

Lake Louise from the top of Fairview (Chateau is out of sight to the right). You can see some of the hiking trails and climbing cliffs on the far shore.

Mt Victoria in the background with Mt Aberdeen & Lefroy just peeking out on the left

Mt Haddo (left) and Mt Aberdeen (right)

 

Banff Mountain Film Festival

Just got back from my weekend away for the Banff Mountain Film Festival.  I saw the film tour last year when it came to Calgary and was really impressed with the quality of films.  So this year I bought my tickets early and decided to see it in Banff.

The best evening show that I saw was an interview with Peter Croft and Alex Honnold.  Timmy O’Neill was interviewing, or more appropriately ‘joking’, with the two about free soloing.  One of the questions Timmy asked that I found really interesting was how both of them dealt with fear in relation to free soloing.  Both said that when they free soloed they weren’t scared.  Which begged the question, then what does scare you?  Alex’s response was probably the best:  spiders and the ocean.  Ah, a man after my own heart.   Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been known to enjoy a tropical beach or two but there’s something about sand and salty water together that can rub me the wrong way (pardon the pun!).  They’re ok for sitting on to read books and/or wading but I’ll pass on the swimming.  And spiders… don’t get me started there!

One of the other things that came up during the discussion was how Alex & Peter dealt with climbs that didn’t go according to plan.  Both admitted that there were numerous times they either backed out of climbs before starting or downclimbed if they weren’t feeling it.  I won’t lie – it was a relief to hear that even they have “off” days.  This summer I felt a lot of pressure to be on top of my game every time I went out.  Some days the climbing didn’t happen for me and I really beat myself up about it.  It’s reassuring to hear that this is something even experienced climbers deal with.  Or in other words, “misery loves company” (haha).

A few of the other highlights from the festival were the the films “The Asgard Project” (climbing a big wall in the Canadian arctic), “Point of No Return” (Johnny Copp & Micah Dash’s last climb) and of course “The Swiss Machine” featuring my favorite poster boy alpinist Ueli Steck.

Only downside of the weekend was being in this gorgeous mountain town and -ironically- spending the whole time sitting watching movies about other people enjoying themselves in the mountains.  Looks like I know where I’ll be heading this weekend …