Friday, 25 July 2014

Hiking with Kids in Kananaskis: The Vaults of Mt. McGillivray


A giant vault blasted into the side of a mountain, then abandoned and almost forgotten. What's not to get excited about if you're a kid (big or small)?

The Trans Canada Trail
Back in the 50s or 60s, somebody blasted a tunnel and side vaults into the side of Mt. McGillivray in Kananaskis (you can read one theory of who and why here). When I was a kid in the late 70s, getting to them was something of an ordeal. You had to bushwhack to them from the Trans-Canada highway, and if you didn't know where they were you could spend the entire day searching for the narrow entrance and never find it. But if you did know, the short hike through the brush to treeline brought you a place custom designed to trigger a kid's imagination.
One of the washouts

Click here for more kids hikes in Banff, Kananaskis, Kootenay and other areas of the Canadian Rockies. 

Today, you park at the Heart Creek day use area, head west and the Trans Canada Trail takes you most of the way there. Luckily, the floods of June 2013 washed out a couple big chunks of the trail, reintroducing a bit of adventure and effort to reach the vaults. After negotiating your way across the washouts, it's almost impossible to miss the well-beaten path that now leads up to the vaults in a couple gentle switchbacks.

Although the vaults now lack the
Wolf track on the trail
exclusivity of being able to say you went somewhere that 99.9% of even the most experienced hikers have never heard of, they haven't lost any of their ability to spark the imagination.  And, as the wolf tracks we followed down the path, well beaten mountain paths are still wild. Try this hike from spring through to fall when you're looking for a fun, easy way to spend a couple hours in the mountains.

Distance: 3 or 4 km return
Time on the trail: 1-2 hours
Elevation gain: About 100 m

Driving Directions: Trans-Canada west from Calgary to the Heart Creek day use area across from Lac des Arc. Look for the Trans-Canada Trail sign on the west side of the parking lot across from the outhouses.
Click here for a driving map.

The entrance

The "foyer"




Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Raising Outdoor Kids: 3 ways you know it's working


1. Being an outdoor teenager provides social status. My oldest son is in the 8th grade, and one of his friends is selling home made survival bracelets to help pay for his older brother's Scout trip to Japan. "You could tell who the hikers were," he said. "We could see all kinds of ways you could use it. Zane asked how it protects you." You're correct if you guessed that Zane doesn't hike.


2. They announce they're moving to the mountains. "When I move out, I'm moving to Banff," my 9-year-old son announced one day. "It's right in the mountains, and there are lots of trails everywhere." Later that day he also announced that when he was in high school he was going to live with me, sleep on the couch all day, and I'd have to feed him. Both of his announcements sound good to me!

3. The presents they give you are really for them...and they're for camping. That's what happened a couple birthdays ago when they gave me backpacking pots, plates, bowls and mugs. "We can take them when we go camping," one said. "Look how the mugs and stuff all fit together. It's pretty cool." Yes it is, but not as cool as the fact that he said that. And much cooler than the Skylanders his friend George gave his father.


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Raising Outdoor Kids: Scrapes, scratches, bruises and non-fatal cuts build character



I came across an article today titled Barrier to Active Play: Safety Concerns. The thesis of the article is that one of the biggest barriers to kids playing outside is their parents' fears of kids hurting themselves, being abducted by strangers, or struck by lightening a split second before a meteor falls on them.
If you're a parent, this is nothing new. Let your kids play unattended in your front yard and you run the risk of Social Services taking them away to live in the custody of the state where they'll be safe. Or worse, the neighbors will look at you with their eyes askance. Yet we all know that sheltering our kids from irrational dangers that we know exist only in our heads isn't healthy for them. It robs them of the experiences they need to learn how to identify risks, develop their sense of independence, gain the resilience to keep playing when they scrape a knee, get some exercise...In other words, it robs them of the experiences they need to become the independent, well-adjusted individuals we want them to become.

This isn't something that outdoor parents leave behind in the city when we take our outdoor kids into the wilds and reintroduce them to the food chain. I've seen parents, who themselves take risks with severe consequences in the mountains, berate their child for stepping in a creek or happily hopping across boulders...Be careful! Watch your step! You're going to fall and scrape your knee! See, you fell. I told you to watch your step. Why were you watching me?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not perfect when it comes to letting my boys do something I know has a greater than 50/50 chance of spilling blood. But I've learned the hard way in soooooo many areas of life that we all have to learn our own lessons. And one of the reasons I take my sons to the mountains is so they can learn their own lessons. Unless I think a bone is going to be broken or worse, I usually let things unfold as they were meant to. Just as I learned from every scraped knee, scratched shin, bruised buttock and cut finger from the Rocky Mountains to the West Coast Trail (seriously, I was 12 when I hiked that thing...what were my parents thinking?), my sons are learning how to identify risks and decide to either take them or avoid them.

Sometimes taking the risk works out, and sometimes they leave a little bit of themselves on the trail. Either way, they keep going. They don't let a little pain or a little scratch stop them. And at the end of every hike I can see the independence and confidence they've gained, and how they bring that back to their day-to-day lives in the relative safety of the city.




Saturday, 11 January 2014

Raising Outdoor Kids: Go on a techno-fast and let boredom works its wonders




"Go on a techno-fast. Research shows that multitasking can divide attention and hurt one’s ability to learn and create. Children and parents need a break, and nature is the best place to take it. Set aside times in the day and every week — or a whole week or more — to leave the electronics behind. Exit the virtual and enter the real. Spend a little time in the Cascades, your yard or even the English countryside. Your kids may complain at first, but they’ll come back from the break feeling better. They’ll notice it. So will you."

This was tucked away at the end of an article titled "Forward to Nature: Why a Walk in the Woods Could Calm ADHD, Make Your Family Happier and Deliver Your Kid to Harvard" by Richard Louv. In a nutshell, the article articulates the health and other benefits of getting children into nature: lower rates of depression and negative stress, reduced symptoms of ADHD, improved academic performance, the list goes on. If you're reading this, you're probably already aware of all this. (Us outdoor parents tend to spend a lot of time preaching to the choir about this stuff.) What really caught my attention was the section at the end of the article that listed easy ways to "Reclaim Nature." Go on a techno-fast was one of them.

As it happens, my teen-aged son is on day 6 of a school project in which he had to give up electronics for a week. After an initial increase the frequency and duration of fights with his little brother, he settled into a pattern of sustained boredom interspersed with shorter periods of fighting with his brother. So last night I handed him my old copy of Into Thin Air, and he actually read it. Reading on its own isn't new for him. He's always enjoyed books like Diary of Wimpy Kid or The Hunger Games. Age appropriate stuff. This was the first adult book I'd suggested he read. It was also the first non-fiction book, aside from kid classics like The Scoop on Poop (there are two; I recommend the newer one).

Then this morning he recommended that we go cardboard tobogganing again. This was new. Seldom does he suggest going out to do that kind of stuff any more. So we took the cardboard toboggans out and had a blast, even though the snow was wet and slow. And when the cardboard was too wet and bent to slide at all, we used them as forts and had a snowball fight. It was all fun, spontaneous and driven by the boys, not me.

And then, after we'd come in, dried off and warmed up, he went out and threw snowballs for the dog in the backyard for an hour. I don't know what suddenly got into him, but I know what didn't: two-dimensional digital stimulation. Or maybe I do know what got into him: boredom. Good clean old-fashioned boredom, and it was the best thing that's happened to all of us in a while.




Friday, 3 January 2014

Avalanche Awareness Days are Here! Check Out an Event at a Canadian Rockies Location Near You



It's winter and once again the Canadian Rockies are having a bad avalanche season that the Canadian Avalanche Centre thinks may get worse. As I write, the avalanche forecast for Kananaskis tomorrow is high above treeline, considerable at treeline and moderate below. I was going to lead a snowshoeing trip up Black Prince Outlier in Kananaskis, but decided to move the trip to the safer and relatively flatter Chester Lake.

You can never learn enough about avalanche safety, and it's never too earlier to teach your kids. Fortunately, Avalanche Awareness Days are coming to a number of Canadian Rockies locations. Each event has different activities, ranging from shovelling races and avalanche terrain talks to demonstrations of dog rescue teams doing their things.

For more information, go to the events section of the Canadian Avalanche Centre website.

Avalanche Awareness Days Dates

Banff--January 18-19, 2014
Kananaskis/Burstall Pass--January 19, 2014
Nakiska Ski Resort--January 18, 2014
Lake Louise Visitor Centre--January 16, 2014
Lake Louise Ski Resort--January 18-19, 2014

For more avalanche education information, read these posts:

Kids Outdoor Skills: Age-Appropriate Avalanche Safety Education
Kids Outdoor Skills: Avalanche Safety Video for Teens
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