Tuesday, June 30, 2020

McGillivray Canyon Hike

McGillivray slot canyon (Ryan Yee Photo)
This is a really unique hike that follows the creek up through the McGillivray slot canyon between Pigeon Mountain and Mt. McGillivray. It can be done as an out and back to a big chockstone, or once you reach the chockstone, you can retreat back down the canyon about 15 mins and gain the climbers approach trail on the bench above the canyon to descend. The area above the chockstone has had some recent development as a climbing crag and we met the route developers up there who have been bolting some hard sport routes! 
The chockstone is the usual destination on this hike (Ryan Yee Photo)
This is not your standard hike and be prepared to get wet. We spent alot of time walking through the creek and water levels will dictate the difficulty. There are a number of ladders, ropes and chains to help you along the way. With lots of photos and stops, it took us about 2 hours to reach the chockstone which is about 5km up the canyon.
Can't go around it, need to go through it! (Connor Young Photo)
Trailhead and Approach
The parking for the hike is accessed from Highway 1 in the eastbound direction, between the Deadman's Flats and Lac Des Arc highway exits. There is a small dirt road off the highway shortly after you pass a rubbly creekbed. If you get to McGillivray Pond you have gone too far. The road opens into a parking lot with room for lots of cars. 

Take the obvious trail opposite the highway for a few hundred metres until you hit the TransCanada Trail. Turn right and follow the TCT for another few hundred metres until you get to a trail just after the Wildlife Provincial Park Boundary. Take a left here and follow the well worn trail into the forest. When you reach the edge of the canyon, a less obvious trail takes you down into the riverbed. It is easy to miss and you can easily end up on the climbers access trail that takes you up along the edge of the canyon, a much fast and more direct route to the chockstone, and likely a good way to return to your car to avoid retracing your steps.
Trail leading out from the parking lot
Take a right at the TransCanada Trail
Turn left off the TransCanada Trail at the Wildlife Provincial Park Boundary sign
An easy to miss trail will take you down to the canyon. If you miss it, you will start gaining elevation quickly!
 Once you are in the canyon, you can't get lost. Just start following the river upstream. Look for small trails up on the banks to bypass steep or sketchy sections! The ladders, chains and ropes came in handy for getting up short steps or moving across slippery rocks.
Early season means that shady canyons still have snow
Rock on in McGillivray Canyon
Ladders and ropes
A bit of exposure on a slippery ledge. Glad there was a rope! (Connor Young Photo)
The path of least resistance
Some pools were deeper than others
Short section of deep water soloing
Onward and upward (Connor Young Photo)
More wading through the creek
Follow the footprints
Springtime in the Rockies (Ryan Yee Photo)
Made it to the chockstone
Great success (Ryan Yee Photo)
We ended up hiking up past the chockstone and exiting the canyon up a steep slope on the Mt. McGillivray side of the valley. What appeared to be a distinct trail faded to vague animal trails and we bushwhacked our way back down the 500m of elevation to the TCT through the moss.
Scrambling up a boulder field above the canyon
Mossy descent back to the car

Ghost Wilderness Exploring

Spring 2020 was not what anyone had expected. The COVID-19 pandemic brought out lives to a grinding halt, with new restrictions and updates daily. For a few weeks, we were glued to social media and watching the numbers climb. Terms like and social distancing, self-isolation and flatten the curve became part of our vocabulary and we all got acquainted with virtual chat platforms like zoom and whatsapp to stay connected with friends and family. It has been a stressful time for everyone as the stock markets crashed, people lost their jobs and businesses had to change how they operated overnight with people suddenly working from home. Our usual outlets for stress relief were also out of the picture. To ensure that hospitals were prepared for the possibility of an overwhelming number of sick people, and to avoid backcountry rescue where SAR teams may be exposed to infected individuals, the backcountry essentially shut down. Trail heads were closed, high risk activities were condemned and a province-wide fire ban was in place, because a forest fire was the last thing anyone wanted during a pandemic. 

While the pandemic is far from over, Canada's response so far has been promising. The numbers are decreasing, we have not hit capacity in our ICU's and restrictions are starting to lift. As the weather warms and spring rolls towards summer, we are getting more comfortable with our new normal. Small gatherings, social distancing and "chilling the shred" will be the routine this summer. All that time at home has motivated us to do some exploring in our Alberta backyard, and the bike trainer that served as an outlet during the darkest days of spring has kicked my butt into shape for riding season.
The view from the ridge into the Ghost River Valley
Our first time leaving town after restrictions started to lift was like a breath of fresh air. We didn't go far, just out to the Ghost Wilderness Area to do some camping and dust the cobwebs off the bikes, but it felt like we had left reality behind for a few days and the trip gave us a much needed boost. Kyle and I spent our first day exploring the river valley with our bikes, following 4x4 tracks in a 24 km loop from camp. It was a very different way to see the valley compared to our usual method of transportation (Kyle's Truckasaurus) and I am pretty sure we were able to travel almost as fast on bikes.
First ride of the year on the new steed
A new way to explore the river valley
Convenient lazyboy
Glad to be out of the city
Saturday's objective was an ambitious ride from Devil's Gap in the Ghost to Lake Minnewanka. We were hoping to make it all the way to the far end of Minnewanka along the lakeside trail, about 40km return. It was soon apparent that we were some of the first people through this year and getting to the end of Minnewanka was going to be unrealistic. We lost the trail almost immediately, and crossed a swampy marsh before riding through rocky creek bed and a choose your own adventure through the underbrush.
Just out of Devil's Gap
Pushing through the marsh
We did join up with a trail for a short while, but it was so overgrown that we abandoned that quickly. I was regretting my decision to wear shorts as my lower legs became criss-crossed with tiny scrapes and scratches from the junipers.
Looking back at Devil's Gap
We arrived at a smaller lake (one of the many Ghost Lakes) and chose to follow the south-facing bank in hopes of less snow, but it turned out that riding on the snow was actually the easiest thing to do. The compact ice had been pushed up on the bank over the winter and was very supportive and quite grippy. The bank got steeper and we pushed up a steep slope to join a trail that hadn't seen any maintenance in a while. Short periods of pedaling were frequently interrupted by a tree across the trail.
Lake # 3 - still not at Minnewanka
We found the trail! It was worse than following the shoreline
Path of least resistance
By the time we reached the shore of Lake Minnewanka, we had been going for 3 hours and only covered about 11 km. Although the riding may have got easier from there, we decided it was time to turn around and head back. It was unlikely that any winter deadfall had been cleared on the trail this far from the usual trailhead at the other end of the lake and we knew it was going to be a long slog back to the truck. We stopped for lunch in the sunshine and Connor went for his first swim of the year. Brrr!
Minnewanka ice bath
After learning from our experience, we chose to return on the north facing side of the lakes so we could ride on more snow. Eventually we linked up with quite a good trail and enjoyed some single track before it disappeared into the snow again. The sun had warmed the snow and we ended up bushwhacking and post-holing quite a bit. My scratched legs were burning as I punched through the sharp ice crystals. Despite only covering about 1/2 the distance we had hoped, it was a very fun adventure. Connor surprised us with his abilities on his Canadian Tire bike, and somehow this experience made him want to do more biking rather than never go biking with us again!
Uh-oh, something doesn't look right
I would like to say that the trip finished there, with high spirits after a big bike adventure, but it didn't. On the drive out from the Ghost, we slowed to cross a cattle guard and the trailer made a very loud noise. When Kyle jumped out to check, the frame was resting on the ground. It had snapped perfectly in half, leaving the trailer disconnected from the truck. With some help from some off-roaders, we were able to push the trailer off the road but there was no way to get it back to Calgary. This was exactly the opposite of what we wanted to happen out in the bush during COVID.
Broke the frame in half
We left the trailer in the ditch and Kyle worked some magic as I drove home. By the time we reached Calgary, he had arranged to borrow a small welder and recruited help from our small COVID bubble. We picked up the welder, a generator and filled the truck with tools before returning to the Ghost to fix the trailer.
Friends to the rescue
Trail-side welding
Grinder man
It was cold and windy, but somehow we didn't get rained on (we had driven through a huge rainstorm on the way back out). Working quickly, the boys were able to put the pieces back together so we could limp the trailer back to Calgary, 11 hours after the frame broke.
Finishing up in the dark
Sometimes things don't work out the way you expect, even when you think you are playing it safe. I am very glad that we were able to be relatively self-sufficient and do a self-rescue and that we have friends that are willing to drop anything to help us out. Hopefully our little trailer will be back on the road soon.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Powder Cowboy - Family Day

 The first annual Powder Cowboy family day weekend extravaganza was a huge success. We used 2 sleds to shuttle our gear and friends up to the hut for the weekend and spent the weekend enjoying the amazing ski terrain around the hut (both sled and tour accessed). It was awesome to have such a big group of friends together in the mountains and we had plenty of space in the well equipped hut. The weekend highlights included giant bonfires, ridiculous games, overcooked pasta, backflips, sunset laps, alien lights in the forest, stargazing and some skiing too!
Powder Cowboy
Cuba wants to go skiing
The faffing began on Friday when we realized we weren't going to be able to fit Jordan's sled in Andrew's truck. A quick adjustment to the plan had Kyle and Andrew driving out with Kyle's dads trailer which ended up working fine. We met in the staging area on Saturday morning after most of the crew spent the night in Fernie. Chaos ensued as we tried to plan shuttles up the road to the hut for all the people and gear with the 2 sleds and one little toboggan. Jordan and Heather rolled in a bit later than anticipated after their new truck went into limp mode on the drive from Castlegar. Nonetheless, we all made it to the hut.
Collecting firewood
Another group was on their way out as we arrived but we had to wait for the owner to roll up in his snow cat to do some cleaning and restocking before we could move in. We spent the afternoon collecting firewood with the sleds and catching up with friends we hadn't seen in ages. We had a massive bonfire to celebrate the start to the weekend.
Sunday morning dawned and we geared up to ski. With 2 sleds, it didn't make sense to do sled laps so we set out on foot up to the ridge above the hut. We dropped down the back side to ski Deep Throat Ridge. The snow was good but touchy and we triggered some small avalanches on the convex slopes. Playing it safe, we stuck to the trees on Sunnyside for the afternoon. After a few laps, the keeners kept skiing with some sled assistance, while others chilled at the hut in the sun. 
At the ridgetop
Looking for lines
The "powder cowboy"
Going up
Magical snow ghosts
The clouds lift
Very cool terrain
The backflip booter
Brap brap
Sled life
Sunset laps
Epic alpine glow
Ready to drop in
For our second night at the hut, we ran out of firewood early so played games and watched the stars, talking late into the night. The next morning we went for a lap on Cabin Side before shuttling our gear back down the road to the trucks.
Touring laps
It was an ambitious weekend with 2 sleds for the 9 of us, especially with Kyle and I being very jet-lagged after returning from Japan only days before. Nonetheless it was great to get out in the backcountry with our friends.