Monday, 30 December 2013

Old School Outdoors: Retro sliding with cardboard toboggans

Yesterday after tubing at Norquay, we went into the day lodge for hot chocolate. At some point, one of the boys pointed out a poster announcing an upcoming cardboard toboggan derby. I didn't think about it again until we got home and they announced that they wanted to make their own cardboard toboggans.

So I went into the basement and pulled up a couple big sheets of cardboard that their bedroom furniture had been delivered in. Then, being the over-thinking adult of the family, I went online to find photos of cardboard toboggans to see how to make them. By the time I looked up from the screen, the boys were already cutting and taping. So I closed Google Images, shut up, and let them create.

The results? The old school cardboard toboggans slid better than 90% of the fancy plastic store-bought sleds we've tried over the years. We spent at least an hour going up the little hill behind my house, sliding down on the toboggans and our butts, getting snow up sleeves and down necks. When we were finally too cold to continue, we reluctantly headed back home, upon which a certain teenager was heard to say, "I can't believe we had that much fun with just pieces of cardboard."

Basic but effective

A little less snow in the face thanks to the deflector in front (the uphill end)

Tubing with Kids in Banff: Norquay is Just as Good the Second Time

You know you're doing something right when you go to a tube park and your 9-year-old says he wants to walk up instead of taking the magic carpet.

Last year when we went tubing at Lake Louise, walking up wasn't as big a commitment. But Norquay is hands down the tube park with the most vertical in Banff National Park. It's also steeper. That adds up to a good workout, even for an outdoor dad who's used to hauling his butt up mountains.

The reward was worth it, though. Whether you hurtle down one of the seven runs solo or as three tubers holding onto each others' tubes for dear life, you get a pretty wild ride. At the end of each run at least one of us walked away with a face that felt frozen into place by the rush of winter air we'd just blasted through.

After a couple walks up the hill, the magic carpet proved to be a valuable addition to the tube park since the first time we went to Norquay in search of tubing fun a couple years ago. Exercise and active kids are good, and so is just focusing on the fun of an activity without feeling like you have to maximize its fitness value. This was one of those days, and when my 13-year-old asked if we could take the magic carpet I didn't complain. You'd be amazed at how sitting on a tube and letting gravity pull you to the bottom can leave you breathless.

Also in tubing's favor: it costs less than skiing and has zero learning curve. Even for a skiing family like us, sometimes it's nice to leave the skis and boots and poles at home (not the helmets, even though they aren't required) and hit the slopes sans all the stuff.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

3 Things to Rember When Your Kids' Sports Come Between Your Family and the Outdoors

There are many benefits to kids playing organized sports. They learn teamwork, discipline and how to operate within the defined framework of rules. They develop their fine and gross motor skills, get active, and build confidence and self-esteem. Organized sports can be a lot of fun, too.

There are also many benefits to taking your kids hiking, snowshoeing, skiing and an endless number of other outdoor activities. They learn self-reliance and reliance on the group. They learn through unstructured experience. They develop their fine and gross motor skills, get active, and build confidence and self-esteem. They also develop a relationship with the outdoors and the environment that connects them to the world around them, and that can ground them in hard times and good. It's fun. I could go on, but you get the idea.

As an outdoor dad and a soccer coach dad to my two amazing sons, I can personally attest to how hard it can be to balance the organized and the outdoors. Organized sports, exactly because they are organized and scheduled, all too easily take priority. Especially when you're the coach. And when one of your sons plays on Saturdays and the other plays on Sundays. A game at 1 p.m. on Saturday and another at 11 a.m. on Sunday makes it difficult to drive an hour or more to the mountains, get in enough hiking or snowshoeing to make it feel worthwhile, and drive home.

At my older son's last indoor soccer practice before Christmas, we had a parents vs kids game (the 12- and 13-year-olds let themselves get tied by a bunch of old men). Afterwards, a few of us dads got talking about how being a soccer parent changes your life. They know I take my boys out to the mountains a lot, and asked how I balance that with practices and games three days a week. I'm not sure I gave them a very good answer at the time, but it got me thinking. How do I balance the outdoors with organized sports? These are the three things I came up with and that I have to consciously remember to remember:

1. The drive is worthwhile

Even a couple hours in the mountains is worth the drive. Just like I can see the pride in my sons' faces after a good game, I can see how at ease and relaxed they are after a couple hours in the mountains. Just as importantly, I can feel how my own batteries are recharged.

2. You don't always have to drive far to get your kids out

I'm willing to drive a little further to get away from the more crowded and popular trails closer to the city. In Kananaskis and Banff, the further you drive, the more snow you find in the winter, as well. But if we've only got a few hours after a game, there are plenty of good trails 30 to 45 minutes away in West Bragg Creek, the Elbow Valley, the Bow Valley and the Kananaskis Valley. My boys and I have had as much fun snowshoeing down a snowless-but-frozen Canyon Creek in Elbow Valley as we have floating on a meter of fluffy powder another hour's drive west in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

3. Take what you can get, when you can get it

Some days, even that 45-minute drive to West Bragg Creek to snowshoe just isn't possible. But a quick and fun snowshoe or walk up Nose Hill, a five minute drive from my house, is. On those days, I have to remind myself to take what I can get. Calgary is fortunate to have a wealth of large urban nature parks to play in, as well as a river pathway system that provides lots of opportunities to play in nature. Even taking the dog to an off-leash park like Edworthy, with its trails through the aspens and ravines, provides a solid dose of Vitamin N when soccer makes a trip to the mountains impossible.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Happy NeighborWoods Month! Go Outside and Hug a Tree on Your Street

Didn't know October is National NeighborWoods Month? Neither did I until I stumbled across it online.

This fall I made three separate journeys into the Rockies in larch season and watched their progression from green to gold over the course of a month--Snow Peak via Burstall Pass, Chester Lake and the Elephant Rocks, and Little Arethusa--but barely noticed that the trees in my front yard are losing their leaves. Yet the mature trees that line my street are one of my favorite things in the neighorhood. They make the street feel comfortable, livable, like home. Even on the greyest winter day, their stark naked branches are reminders that spring and green leaves are on their way. And the boys are forever finding things to do with the branches that fall on the ground, many of which are new and innovative ways to get under their father's skin.

It's too late in the season to plant a tree in Calgary to celebrate NeighborWoods Month, but it's never too late to post my favorite urban tree photos and hug spruce trees in my backyard.

Little Arethusa and golden larches under a layer of snow.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Let's Make Getting Outdoors and Active Fun for Our Kids Again

"If a school day is six hours then at least two should be set aside for hiking, biking, skiing, skating, sports or whatever it is that kids like to do and can do. Because that’s the secret, and the antidote to all this gym-oriented, heart-rate-monitor-wearing unsuccessful “fitness” blathering. Teaching kids that activity is fun, that being able to do what you want physically is important, and that it matters both individually to long-term qualify of life and collectively as the cause of massive wastes of tax dollars."

When I read that, I was on a treadmill at the gym. I wasn't wearing a hear-rate monitor, but I may have been holding onto the heart rate sensors. And I was in the new Youth Wellness Center of the Westside Recreation Center in Calgary that's restricted to kids aged 13 to 18 from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. I was getting in shape, but I wasn't having fun.

As I looked around, I realized that I was surrounded by the spandex-clad specimens of the near perfect human forms that Gadd talks about in his article. I am not a near perfect human form, and I don't think I ever have been. I generally carry a few extra pounds around the waist. When I recently lost 20 pounds (although the Divorce Stress Diet is effective, I don't recommend it), I realized I was also carrying a few extra pounds all over my body: cheeks, pecs, legs, back, buttox, everywhere.

For me, working out at the gym isn't an end to itself, whether that's weight control or making sure I look good in a bathing suit. It gives me the basic level of fitness I need to enjoy myself hiking, snowshoeing, scrambling, and doing a bunch of other activities in the mountains. It helps me have fun outside of the gym.

Fun. In the end, that's what it's all about. When I coach my sons' soccer teams, I stress fun because I've seen what happens when soccer isn't fun: kids stop playing. When I take my sons hiking and snowshoeing and I lead kids hikes for my outdoor group, I stress fun because I've seen what happens when hiking isn't fun: the kids don't want to come out any more. Worse, they learn that hiking and active living in general aren't fun, which decreases the chances of them growing up into active adults.

As parents, our job is to help our kids grow up into adults that are healthy physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Yet, as Gadd points out, the focus all too often is on the intellectual, which we abdicate to teachers and schools to look after. Physically? That's up to our kids' phys-ed teachers and sports coaches and doctors. Emotionally? When was the last time you asked your kids how they're feeling and why they feel that way?

Getting kids outside on a regular basis, whether it's hiking in the mountains or running around an urban nature park, and just letting them have fun is one of the most powerful ways we can address their physical, emotional and intellectual health. It gets them active and teaches them that being active is fun. The emotional benefits of being in nature are well documented: stress levels decrease while things like self-confidence and self-awareness increase. And it instills in them an intellectual curiosity about the world around them that they don't get sitting in a classroom. 

If you're reading this, you know what I'm doing to get my two sons outside and active. Leave a comment below to let us know what you're doing, and we can share ideas.


Monday, 23 September 2013

Hiking with Kids in Kananaskis: Chester Lake, the Elephant Rocks & Almost Golden Larches

Last weekend I scrambled Snow Peak, and on the approach up Burstall Pass I noticed that the larches were starting to turn gold. So I figured this weekend the larches should be well on their way to turning the slopes gold directly across Highway 742 at Chester Lake. I also thought the boys would have fun climbing on the aptly name Elephant Rocks a short hike above the lake.

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

The start of the trail
As it turned out, we were a week or so early for the larches. A few were starting to turn gold, but then again too few to mention (apologies to the Chairman of the Board). As a group of three dads and six boys, we weren't too disappointed, though. The Elephant Rocks were definitely the main attraction and they didn't disappoint.

The trail to Chester Lake is straightforward, even with the first couple hundred meters having been washed out by the June 2013 flood. What was previously a nice old road is now a tangle of fallen
You're getting close when you reach the meadows
trees and boulders, although a path through has been cleared and marked with surveying tape. Once past that, you rejoin the old road and follow its gentle incline for a few kilometers until it narrows to a path. From that point, a half hour or so of walking takes you through a few meadows and to the lake. Although there's a well marked trail from the lake's north shore to the Elephant Rocks, we tried a different path and ended up doing a bit of fun bushwhacking.

At the Elephant Rocks, drop your packs and climb! There's something about scrambling up
Warm enough for shorts, but cold enough for a toque...teens...
big grey rocks that brings out the kid in everyone. I couldn't squeeze into some of the caves that are formed under the rocks, but the boys found passages over, around, under and through. We spent an hour there and could have spent more. All three dads agreed a hike up to the rocks on a sunny summer day was in order, bypassing the lake entirely to give all of us kids as much climbing time as possible.

Distance: 10 km return
Time on the trail: 4-6 hours
Elevation gain: About 300 m to the lake, a bit more to the Elephant Rocks
Chester Lake with Mount Chester behind

Driving Directions: Trans-Canada west to Highway 40. Follow the 40 south to Kananaskis Lakes Trail and turn right. In a couple of kilometers, turn right again on the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Trail. In 22 kilometers turn right into the Chester Lake parking area.
Click here to see a map.

A little bushwhacking

Friday, 20 September 2013

September 2013 Update: Kananaskis Flood Damage and Repairs

What used to be McGillivray Creek is now McGillivray Log Jam

The floods of June 2013 in the Canadian Rockies destroyed roads, trails, bridges, buildings, campsites, the golf course and just about anything else made by man in Alberta's Kananaskis Country. At the time, I'd written off Kananaskis for hiking and scrambling for at least the 2013 season, but I've been amazed at how much and how quickly the parks staff, the Friends of Kananaskis and volunteers have been able to repair and reopen.

At the Kananaskis Trails Advisory Group, on which I sit, we learned some details on when some of the remaining infrastructure is scheduled to reopen. It must be stressed that the dates below are only estimates, however. Anything can happen in the mountains! Click here for links to up-to-date road and other status reports for Kananaskis and other parks.

  • Peter Lougheed Provincial Park information center is expected to reopen in early December. It suffered damage to its foundations.
  • Highwood Junction store won't reopen until summer 2014.
  • Main bridge on Highway 66 won't be fixed until summer 2014, but the temporary bridge will stay in place until then.
  • Not all x-country ski trails will reopen this winter. Check trail status before heading out.
  • Forestry Trunk Road south of Highwood Junction should be open to Cataract Creek (but not across the creek to the parking areas) by early December.
  • Highway 40 south of Highwood Meadows to Highwood Junction won't reopen until the middle of summer 2014.
  • Powderface Road won't reopen until the middle of summer 2014.

Monday, 16 September 2013

2013's Top 3 Places to Watch the Larches Turn Gold in the Canadian Rockies

Ah, September in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. When the larches turn golden and the parking at Moraine Lake overflows for kilometers down the road, giving you and your kids the opportunity to get in a good hike before you even reach the trailhead for Larch Valley.

Personally, I'd rather poke my eye with a larch needle than fight the crowds that descend on Larch Valley this time of year. Luckily, there are other great places to see larches turn gold. Some are arguably better for experiencing larches, and all are less crowded. Here are my top 3 larch viewing hikes for families and kids this year.

1. It's all about the larches: Pocaterra Cirque and Ridge in Kananaskis

Although Pocaterra Cirque and Ridge in Kananaskis are gaining in popularity for larch viewing, the trail is nowhere near as crowded as Larch Valley. And because Highway 40 between the winter gates and Highwood Meadows only opened on September 9 after being closed all summer due to flood damage, a lot of people think it's still closed.

The real reason to go to Pocaterra Cirque this fall are the larches, though. In my opinion, they're at least as good as Larch Valley. If your kids are a little older (maybe 12 and up) and your family is fit, you can do the Pocaterra Ridge walk, where
you'll find larches on the north end that are decidedly better than Larch Valley.

Last September when we did Pocaterra Cirque, we even walked past a herd of big horn sheep on the way back to the cars.

For details and my full post about Pocaterra Cirque and how to get there, click here.

2. You want to see golden larches, but the setting is just as important: Tryst Lake

That yellow stuff on the edge of the lake is fallen larch needles.

Note: Since I wrote this post last week, the Tryst Lake area has been closed and reopened due to bear activity. Check it's status in the "Notes" section at the bottom of the Peter Lougheed and Spray Valley Provincial Parks trail report.

A week too late. All the larches have lost their needles.

Tryst Lake isn't known for its larches. It's known for being a beautiful alpine lake in a beautiful alpine setting. Its larches don't rival those of Larch Valley or Pocaterra Cirque, but its lack of people--you may have the trail and lake to yourself--and setting more than make up for any lack of golden needles. As with Pocaterra Cirque, many people think the Smith Dorrien/Spray Trail is still closed due to flood damage, so there may be even fewer people at Tryst Lake, if that's possible. An added bonus is the high likelihood that you'll see one of the area's resident moose at the parking lot or the old road that the trail starts out as.

For details and my full post about Tryst Lake and how to get there, click here.

3. You'd like to see a golden larch, but the rest of the scenery is the main attraction: Burstall Pass

Looking down at Burstall Pass, the unnamed glaciers, alpine meadows, Mt. Sir Douglas...

The landscape of Burstall Pass is amazing, fantastic, sublime. There are also some larch trees mixed in with the other trees.
Nearing the pass. The larches are the lighter green
trees, some starting to turn gold.

So if you're looking for a good September hike and like to see a few larches turning gold, but that's not the first priority, Burstall Pass is a good choice. That's not to say the larches aren't impressive, just not as impressive as Pocaterra Cirque or Tryst Lake. The emphasis of Burstall Pass is definitely on the views of unnamed glaciers, alpine meadows and the surrounding mountains, Snow Peak, Mt. Birdwood, Commonwealth Peak, Mt. Sir Douglas....We hiked up and over the pass on September 14, 2013, on the way to Snow Peak, and the larches were just starting to turn, so the next couple of weekends they should be prime larch viewing time at the pass.

Having said all that, this is a trail for older kids, maybe 10 or 12 and up. If you top short of the top of Burstall Pass, you can see the larches and the rest of the scenery, but it's still around 14 km (roundtrip) and a couple hundred meters of elevation gain.

A lone larch on top of the pass
Starting from the Burstall Pass day use area, follow the trail (it starts as on old logging road before narrowing to a true trail) for about 4 km. At that point you'll come out of the trees and find yourself in an alluvial plain covered with low bushes and braided creeks that you'll have to find your way across. Roughly follow the trail signs, which can be easily seen above the brush thanks to orange reflectors on top. Before re-entering the trees on the other side, make sure you look left to see the Robertson Glacier. Once in the trees, another 3 or so kilometers will take you to the pass. From the parking lot, the top of the pass is an elevation gain of about 450 m.

Distance: About 15 km return
Elevation gain: About 450 meters
Hiking/Exploring Time: 4 to 6 hours
Driving Directions: Trans-Canada west to Highway 40. Follow the 40 south to Kananaskis Lakes Trail and turn right. In a couple of kilometers, turn right again on the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Trail. In 22 kilometers turn left into the Burstall day use area.

Click here to see a driving map.

Larch needles in spring on the Wedge

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Helping Kids Understand the Risks that Outdoor Parents Take is an Ongoing Process

One of the smaller crevasses on Antisana

“Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.” 

― John Muir

“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.” 
― Edward Whymper

5707m on the summit of Antisana
The subject of outdoor parents and the risks we take has been coming up in a group of outdoor family bloggers of which I'm a member. I've written before about the risky stuff I do in the mountains and how that relates to being a parent. But as my sons get older and I expose them to more of the outdoor community and culture of which I'm a part, and they build their own bonds to that community, I've been realizing that I have to revisit the subject on a regular basis. 

Also, as I help them process the changes and feelings they're experiencing as a result of their mom and I beginning the divorce process, I'm strongly aware of their need for stability and security in their relationship with their parents. And by asking them how they feel about those changes and letting them know that there are no right or wrong feelings and they don't have to worry about hurting me, I'm finding that in some ways we're developing closer bonds as a family of three than we did as a family of four. It's taking time, but they're starting to open up to me about their feelings in general and I don't even have to prod them. They're even answering questions about school with full sentences instead of single word grunts.

It doesn't get much safer than top roping
Last Saturday night we went to the Best of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival. The film I most wanted to see was Shattered by climber Steve House. Besides the amazing cinematography and ice climbing, House reveals a vulnerable side that is rare in the ego-driven world of world-class mountaineering. He shares that his deepest fear is that he isn't worthy of love. That 19 climbers he's shared a rope with have died. That he's increasingly aware that each moment on a mountain could add him to that list. 

That night Mack, my oldest at 13, said it sounded like House didn't like climbing, so why did he keep doing it? That started a fantastic conversation about the difference between irrational fear and recognizing that you're in danger. About what drives people to do risky activities. About why I do risky activities. Then Michael, a wiser 9-year-old than he often gives himself credit for, noted that 19 of House's friends had died climbing. The message was clear: he was concerned that I could die climbing.

This is increasingly one of my concerns as well, especially as I plan another trip to Ecuador to climb 6,268m Chimborazo. The more I push myself to the edge, the farther out I find I have to push myself to get the same clarity of the moment and self realization. Nothing forces me into the present moment--hyper-awareness of all of my senses, each step and plant of my ice axe excruciatingly deliberate--like knowing that the consequences of a mistake would be severe. Last year I found this clarity on Ecuador's 5707m Antisana as I traversed beside a gaping crevasse the width of a house and so deep I couldn't see the bottom. Between my boot and the drop was no more than a couple inches of snow. If I fell, it was unlikely the picket that was sticking half out of the snow beside me would hold or that Estevan would be able to arrest my fall. We'd both disappear into the glacier. In the preceding 24 hours I'd only gotten two hours of sleep, I was exhausted from six hours of slogging up steep snow with some ice thrown in, and I hadn't acclimatized well to the noticeable lack of oxygen at that altitude. Yet I felt a clarity and presence in the moment unlike anything I'd felt before.

But that is not something you can explain to a 9-year-old or even a 13-year-old. It's not something that most of my middle-age hiking friends understand. So I showed the boys photos of the ice climbing I do, and compared it to what House was doing in Shattered. I showed them photos of people climbing Everest and K2, and photos of the stuff I do. I tried to put into perspective the level of climbing that House's 19 dead rope mates did, and the level of climbing and other mountain stuff I do, but without dismissing the risk or misleading the boys into thinking that nothing could happen to me.

Did Mack and Michael get it? I think so, but I'll revisit the subject in a couple weeks to give them time to process it all and come up with new questions. And if I can swing it maybe I'll take them to Colorado in January, do a little skiing in Teluride, and drop in on the Ouray Ice Festival on the day of the Kid's Climbing College so they can give ice climbing a try for themselves.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...