Friday, March 31, 2017

Fat Biking in Canmore (and other activities)

Back in March, Kyle and I got to spend 2 amazing weeks in Canmore with Andrew, who generously offered us a place to stay. The avalanche danger was high, and I was pretty busy with school, so ski touring and ice climbing were not particularly enticing. But, it was my birthday and I wanted to do something active. As an alternative to our usual sports, we rented fat bikes from the Canmore Nordic Centre and took them out for a couple of hours on the trails nearby. It was a blast! Being able to ride in the snow is pretty amazing. 

We were directed to go check out the Highline Trail by the guys at the rental shop. The ride around the reservoir and up the connector trail was fun and well packed down. The bikes gripped the hardpack and ice like crazy on the climb. When we turned onto Highline however, we were the first ones through. Breaking trail was not easy and we wallowed in the deep snow.
Trying to stay in Kyle's tracks to avoid coming to a complete stop
Fresh tracks of a different sort
Most appropriate fat biking attire: track pants
We were getting tired and frustrated with the challenging conditions. Was this what fat biking was supposed to be like or were we doing it wrong? Then, the trail started crossing large avi paths. After making our way across two, we came to the debris from a large slide. It was then that our backcountry brains which had been dormant until this time clicked back on. Despite being on mountain bike trails, we were still in avalanche terrain and were riding in an area with a lot of overhead hazard. 
One of the slide paths we came across
I couldn't believe that neither of us had recognized this until now. When we rented the bikes, the guys at the shop had suggested the trail but had failed to mention anything about slide paths or the high avalanche conditions. But that's no excuse. When you are out in the mountains, no matter what the activity, you need to be responsible for yourself.
The view of the large slide paths that cross the Highline Trail down from Miners Peak (photo from Google Images)
So, we turned back. It was tricky staying in our tracks along the Highline trail and we had a few misadventures blowing off the trail. We passed a few other groups of hikers that were heading out towards the avalanche slopes. We informed them of the avalanche hazard, and they thanked us but carried on. Its hard to know what to do in that sort of situation. On one hand you want to trust that people can make good decisions for themselves, on the other, you want to just yell at them "don't you understand that this is a really big deal?!" We let them go and saw them later so I guess they were fine.
Kyle rips it up
As soon as we got back on the main trail, the riding got fun again. I can see why people go biking all winter in Bragg Creek, it is such a blast! We were slipping and sliding everywhere but the tires would eventually hook up and you could rail corners. Yahoo!
Snow bikes are made for hardpack!
Failed attempt at an off-camber steep line

During our time in Canmore, we also had a chance to get out to Sunshine Village and ski the resort. We had perfect weather and did lots of laps on Delirium Dive. Such fun!
Kyle soaks up the sunshine at Sunshine
Ripping groomers like a boss
Fresh tracks in Delirium Dive
Happy Kyle

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Elizabeth Parker Hut

Last year, Emily invited me to go ski at the Elizabeth Parker Hut. It sounded amazing but I had to bail because I was going to be in the NWT. When Kyle came back from EPH with stories of amazing new friends, crazy shenanigans and great skiing I knew I had to make it a priority this year. When the email for the trip arrived, I booked the weekend off immediately, many months in advance. This hugely successful weekend was orchestrated by Emily, but wouldn't have been nearly as fun if it hadn't been for all the enthusiastic participants (all connected to Emily and Trevor in some way) who traveled from far and wide to attend. 

Emily had booked the entire hut for our group of 20. Prior to departure, I thought I only knew 5 of the people on the trip but upon arriving in the parking lot, I was greeted by an old classmate from Handsworth who I hadn't seen in 9 years! The coincidences kept coming as I met Emily's other friends and realized that the trip was full of North Van folk, UBC grads and friends of friends. It was an amazing group of super nice people.
Shaun powers ahead with the keg
 The ski into the hut is a mellow 11 km up a groomed and track set road. Everyone was arriving at different times, but we managed to meet up with Shaun, Julia and Ryan for the ski in and chatting helped the kilometers fly by. After passing the Lake O'Hara campground, we turned into the forest at the warming shelter by the Lodge, and followed a narrow trail through the trees for the final 800 m to the hut. Shaun had heroically towed a keg of beer the entire way. Kyle provided some assistance on the off camber trail to prevent the loss of his precious cargo. It took us just over 3 hours to ski up to the hut. We were on our touring gear, but some of the others came in on snow shoes and cross country skis. The final hill to the hut was a bit steep for the xc skiers, but it was easy for them to throw on skins or walk the final few hundred metres to the hut.
Keg struggles in the last few hundred metres before the hut
The Elizabeth Parker Hut is very well equipped. It has multiple gas stove tops as well as propane lamps. The best part was an oven that actually worked! We had taken a chance and brought up chicken cordon blue for dinner and were able to cook it to perfection. As is typical on large group trips, there was a bit of competition on who could have the most extravagant meals. I would say the most impressive dinners included pesto pasta with shrimp, kale and olives followed by pizza with homemade dough cooked in the oven. For appies, people had smoked salmon, delicious mango curry dip and fresh baked blueberry scones. Finally, the drink menu was impressive; boozy blueberry tea, pina coladas, margaritas, daiquiris and of course the keg of Electric Avenue from Wild Rose Brewery.

In the evenings, shenanigans ensued. There was a hilarious round of cards against humanity, followed by some of the more flexible people showing off their skills with the "box game". Kyle and I introduced the crew to some of the VOC climbing games including the penny game, tabling and human bouldering which were a hit for both spectators and participants! 
Gourmet hut dinner
The hut hog always makes an appearance when the wine comes out
Just hanging out
The box game - modified with a Roots Bag. How low can you go?
 Saturday was ski day. It was a slow start after a late night, but everyone broke into groups based on what they wanted to do that day. The bulk of the group followed Trevor and Emily's lead and went for a tour up to MacArthur Lake. The avalanche conditions were touchy and there had been a big temperature fluctuation overnight so nobody was too eager to get up high. Instead we stayed in the valley and followed the summer trail up to the lake, with hopes of good views and perhaps some safe turns if we were lucky.
High overcast makes everything look black and white
Elizabeth Parker hut looks so small surrounded by the huge mountains
The Saturday ski touring crew - photo by Trevor
We didn't see a single other party all day... but there were a few of us out there! (Alan's worst nightmare) - Photo by Trevor
Emily enjoys the view on the way to MacArthur Lake
Views from the pass - photo by Trevor
We arrived at the lake and took a break for some photos and lunch. We had passed a short gully that we chose to ski on the way back to the hut. It ended up being so good that we stayed and lapped the line (and the pillows beside it) until there was no fresh snow left to be found. As we were skiing, the conditions were changing fast. The temperature shot up and the snow was getting heavier and heavier. It made it difficult for some of the beginner skiers in the group, but everyone had a blast and it was all smiles as we made our way home.
Mike and Emily take it all in at MacArthur Lake
Dropping in - photo by Trevor
Is there such a thing as too much snow?
Where's Tyler in the pillows? Can you spot him? (Winner - line of the weekend)
 Sunday was a lazy day for us. While Mike and Emily went for an early morning ski tour (made even earlier by daylight savings), we lounged around making breakfast and socializing. It seemed like most people were packing up and starting to head home so we followed suite. Before starting down the road however, we dropped our packs at the day hut and went for a ski around Lake O'Hara with Chris and Elizabeth. It was beautiful. 
Morning ski around Lake O'Hara with Chris and Elizabeth
Big mountains, tiny skiers
Most of the crew - photo by Trevor
Taking the keg home -Trevor photo
The ski out down the road took about 1.5 hrs. Although there was much more downhill than I remembered from the ski in, it was difficult to maintain any speed and we spent a lot of time skating along the flats. The road was busy with skiers out for the day or heading into the hut and I am not surprised. It is a beautiful area, easily accessible by cross country skis, snowshoes or touring skis. You can even ski to the lodge for lunch, which sounds amazing! 
Skating out on the road
Grassi Mountain with Sad and Beautiful World (WI 3/4) in the centre