My 3 Outdoor Activity Goals for This Winter

As the leaves are beginning to turn, and the mornings are getting darker, I am starting to think about how I can make this winter one to remember, even though it seems likely that we will still be practicing social distancing. Pushing myself to get outside despite the cold makes me appreciate the season a whole lot more, and also catch some of that elusive daylight. This will also be my first cold season with my dog Piper, who I adopted back in April, and I am looking forward to making her first winter as a retired sled dog a great one.

Here are three things I want to give a try this winter!

Skijoring With Piper

For the last two snowy seasons, cross-country skiing has been my favorite way to get outside in the cold. Now that I have Piper, I think that skiing could be the perfect activity for us to do together. As a retired sled dog, she is extremely familiar with wearing a harness and running on trails, so I’m hoping it will be an easy transition for her.

Piper at work

Even in their retirement, sled dogs require plenty of exercise, and Piper still loves to run. I need to purchase a pulling harness, a hip belt, and a tug line to get us started. Piper is not much of a puller (based on my experience with her on a dog sled), but she loves going running so I’m hoping that this can be a great way for us to get some exercise this winter.

Cross country skiing

(Finally) Learning How to Snowboard

This is something that I have been saying since I was 16, but I really truly do want to figure out how to snowboard without getting scared and stopping, or falling every few minutes. It is so frustrating to try over and over again to feel like I haven’t made a stitch of progress, but I’m also not quite ready to admit defeat.

I may even consider switching to downhill skis instead of a board if I continue to have no luck. I am thankful for my kind and patient boyfriend and friends who continue to convince me to go back and give it another try. And if all else fails there’s always a chalet nearby to sit by a warm fire and enjoy a caesar, right?

Winter Camping

Camping is one of my favorite things to do throughout the warmer seasons, and I would love to get out and experience the winter even more. About four years ago I spent an overnight in a Quinzhee with my Recreation and Tourism program and it was such a unique experience.

Successful night in the Quinzhee

A Quinzhee is created by building up a large pile of snow, letting it harden up, and then hollowing out the center to create a space to sleep. As soon as we get enough snow on the ground, my sister and I will be out there trying to craft the perfect snow shelter. We will need to trade in our ultra light backpacking gear for some heavier cold weather sleeping bags, but sleeping in a snow shelter can be very warm if it is set up right! There are so many amazing places in Saskatchewan that I want to revisit in the winter, and camping is a great way to do it.

Ready for a winter overnight

How are you going to get outside this winter?

Happy adventuring!

5 Different Ways to Eat While Hiking

On the West Coast Trail, I heard a story from another hiker around a fire one night about a man who did the entire week long hike with only a big jar of peanut butter and a spoon for his meals. While that certainly is one way to build a meal plan for a trip, there are plenty of other options to make sure that you still have food you like to eat for as many days as you need.

Each hiker is different, some people prefer to pack granola bars for lunch everyday day, while others need that delicious hot meal to get them to the next campsite. No matter your hiking and eating style, there is a food preparation method for you. Here are the different ways you can pack your meals next time you head out on an adventure.

1. Fresh Food

Best suited for a day hike or overnight trip.

Hiker picnic

For a day trip there no need to go out of your way to prepare hiker specific, nutrient dense meals. Usually I’ll just throw an apple, a granola bar, and a sandwich in my bag and head out the door. I don’t worry about carrying weight as much if its a day pack because there likely isn’t enough room in my smaller pack to fill it over weight anyways. For a quick adventure, I like to try and eat nutritious meals the day before, but I don’t have to focus so much on getting enough calories while I’m hiking like I would have to for a multi day trip.

This is also my favorite time to bring something special, or plan a picnic. The best adventure snack I have made was preparing brie grilled cheese sandwiches on french bread beforehand and wrapping them in tin foil. Then when we sat down for lunch, we cooked them over a campfire. Bring a packet of jam for dipping!

Fresh fruit and veggies! Yum!

Other meal ideas I’ve seen on the trail are bento boxes, hiker charcuterie boards, or thermoses of soup and chili. One determined couple even filled a spare water bladder with red wine for an overnight trip.

PROS: Fresh, delicious, less prep beforehand, familiar foods, you can carry the good stuff like cheese, meats, and fruit if you want to.

CONS: Fresh food tends to weigh more and have some extra bulk, there is also the possibility of it spoiling if you are out for a long day in hot weather, or freezing if its a winter day (frozen Cliff bars are like rocks).

2. Non Perishable/No Heat Required

A great option if you want quick meals that will not go bad on overnights or multi-day trips.

Sometimes, you don’t want the fuss or weight of fresh food, but you also don’t want to bother packing a camp stove. For some overnights, especially on warmer summer days when we knew we wouldn’t want tea or hot chocolate, we would pack non perishable snacks and meals. This can include crackers, beef jerky, trail mix, and dried fruit. I am a ‘treat yo self’ kind of hiker, and usually like to include chocolate bars for good measure.

Some perishable items can be brought along for a few days without worry. Common foods that I’ve seen multi-day hikers pack are tortillas, peanut butter, hard cheeses, and cured meats. You can also buy electrolyte tables and powdered drink packets for an energy boost.

The best perk to meals that don’t have to be heated is that you can eat on the go. You don’t have to take the time to set up your stove and boil water, you could even snack while you’re hiking. Keep trail mix in an accessible pocket so you can snack when you stop. I passed a woman on the West Coast Trail who insisted that her favorite way to enjoy her morning coffee was while hiking.

PROS: Easy to prepare, no heating required, you can eat on the go, will stay good for multiple days.

CONS: Could be heavy depending on what you pack (ex, canned tuna), you don’t get the satisfaction of a hot meal, and there are more limited options for fruit and veggies.

Nothing like a good treat after a long day!

3. Heated With Camp Stove/Over a Fire

A good option for an overnight or multi-day trip.

Something about cooking food over a campfire makes it taste so much better. If you know you’ll be going somewhere where fires are permitted, you could consider packing some campfire friendly meals, much like the brie grilled cheese I mentioned earlier. I like to make food ahead that doesn’t necessarily need to be heated, like sandwiches, and wrap them in tin foil so that if I have the opportunity to toast them over a fire I can.

While delicious, campfires can also be a little less reliable depending on restrictions or weather, so many hikers opt to bring a camp stove along. This opens up your food options greatly. Easy meals cook with a camp stove are macaroni and cheese, rice or quinoa, and oatmeal. There are even frying pan attachments that I think would be perfect for those dehydrated hash browns you can buy at Costco.

Jetboil Sumo

Keep in mind that cooking directly in your pot will take some extra work while you are out on the trail. You can buy biodegradable camp soap at most outdoor stores that will make cleaning up much easier. And you should take in to account that if anything needs to simmer to cook you may need to bring extra fuel for your stove. Lastly, you’ll need to hang your stove with the rest of your food items far away from your tent if there are no bear lockers at your camp. Check with your local parks or outdoor enthusiasts for the proper methods or regulations in your area.

PROS: Delicious hot meals, easy to plan and pack, often non-perishable items

CONS: Extra cleaning required, may use up more fuel if your food items need to simmer, smell of cooking food could be more of a bear attractant, you will have to hang your stove, not all camp sites allow fires and fire bans may be in effect.

4. Freezer Bag/Dehydrated Pre-Made

Great option for multi-day trips and thru hiking.

Quinoa Bowl

This is my preferred food preparation method for hiking. You can buy pre-made dehydrated backpacking meals, or choose to do the dehydrating part yourself. If you are pressed for time, the pre-made meals might be a good option for you. The only downside is that they can be pricey, but I definitely recommend trying a few out to see what you like. Some thru-hikers choose to buy these meals in bulk to save some money and some preparation time.

To prepare, all you need to do is boil water, then pour it into your freezer bag and let it sit for 10-15 minutes until the water is reabsorbed into your meal. I put my bag in an insulated mug with a lid on it to hold in the heat.

Dehydrated chilli

My dehydrator cost about $65 and I have found it to work perfectly with the few recipes I have tried so far. My sister and I dehydrated chilli, quinoa burrito bowls, and pasta for our last multi day trip. This is also a great method for cooking oatmeal in the morning. There are hundreds of wonderful recipes you can find online to make meals that you will enjoy.

PROS: Lightweight, can be more cost effective per meal if you make them yourself, minimizes fuel usage.

CONS: Requires planning and prep beforehand, you must own or borrow a dehydrator, store bought meals can be expensive, you may end up carrying more garbage out.

5. Cold Soaking

Good option for multi-day trips and thru hiking.

Cold soaking is a method commonly used by ultra light backpackers or thru-hikers who don’t want to worry about carrying a camp stove, or don’t want to sit and wait for water to boil. Water is added to a meal, typically a few hours before it is intended to be eaten, so that it can reabsorb in time for the next meal. This works well for food that reabsorbs relatively easily such as oatmeal, instant mashed potatoes, or stovetop stuffing mix, but you can find many other recipes online.

This method is not for everyone. Something that I have realized on overnight adventures is how important the temperature of water is for it to feel satisfying to me. In the mountains where we filtered from glacier fed streams, getting cold water was no problem, and it was refreshing. In the middle of Saskatchewan in the summer, however, you filter warm water from a warm lake and drink it as you hike on a sunny day. I think that this is why my first stop after finishing a trail is often to the nearest gas station for a Slurpee. I would be disappointed to have a cold meal after a chilly day of hiking.

PROS: No camp stove or fuel canisters required, minimal food prep on trail, a time saver.

CONS: No satisfaction of a hot meal, limited to foods that rehydrate well.

What is your go-to hiking meal?

Happy eating!

7 Days on the Great Divide Trail – Jasper National Park

Last January, my friend Megan mentioned that she was planning to thru-hike the Great Divide Trail in the summer of 2020, and was happy to have company for some of the sections. I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to catch up with a friend and challenge myself to a longer trip. She had been hiking the trail with her dog, but due to park restrictions, wouldn’t be able to bring her for Section E , Saskatchewan Crossing to the Town of Jasper, as that is a Woodland Caribou protected area; so I decided to join her. As soon as the campsite reservations opened, we were on the phone quickly booking our campsites. My sister decided to join in on the fun as well, so come August, our trio would set out together. Finally August arrived, and my sister and I set out to Alberta.

Day 1 – Saskatchewan Crossing to Michele Lakes

Our first day of hiking hit me like a brick wall. I began my day eager and excited, and soon found myself struggling to make it up the grueling 1150 metres of elevation gain with my full pack. We took a discouraging wrong turn about halfway into our day and ended up bushwacking back through the forest to correct our mistake. Regardless, we had plenty of laughs as we got hung up on branches and squished through the mossy forest.

Owen Creek
Owen Creek Campsite

After a pause at the Owen Creek Campground to make some dinner and regroup, we were refreshed enough to make it up to Michele Lakes. It was an incredible feeling to finally be above the tree-line, and we stopped to admire a spot where the two different colours of crumbling rock met between the mountains. We also had our first few glimpses of pikas watching us hike past their rocky homes.

Over the first pass of the trip

Michele Lakes was breathtaking. We set up our tent surrounded by cute little puffs of plants that swayed and danced in the wind, resembling a Dr. Seuss story. Because there were no trees in the area for a bear hang, we set up a rodent hang above some rocks. We heard plenty of small critters moving around the tent through the night.

Day 2 – Michele Lakes to Pinto Lake

The sunshine woke us up, and we packed up our beautiful campsite to set out for another morning of elevation gain. Oatmeal was our breakfast of choice for each day, Chantal had thoughtfully prepared them with different flavours so we wouldn’t get bored. Our rodent hang was nearly infiltrated by critters, made apparent by some scratches on the side of the Megans tortilla bag, but the goods inside seemed to be fine.

The weather was perfect and sunny, and we happily reached the highest point of the GDT at 2580 metres just as another friendly couple who was hiking the trail made it. We snapped some photos of each other and enjoyed the view, we couldn’t celebrate for long though, as the rain clouds were rolling in.

The highest point on the GDT

I enjoyed the meadows filled with hearty little flowers, ready to brave whatever weather would be thrown at them, and the little mountain goat prints that trailed through.

Sub alpine flowers

As we made our way down the rain finally started to fall. Just as we began a steep descent down a mountain side an outfitter came up behind us with his three horses. He kindly offered to carry down any garbage, which was greatly appreciated, but we didn’t have much because it was only our second day. The horses made their way around the more gradual grade as we went straight to the steep stuff because the rain was beginning to come down. You could feel the water beginning to make the mountainside muddy and slippery, and we were thankful to make it down just as the rain started to fall harder.

The best treat we could have asked for was a wolverine rushing out of the trees, pushed out of hiding by the man and three horses on the other side. It ran across the rocks as Megan and I both looked at each other, wide eyes, to confirm what we were seeing. At this point the rain was falling down hard, and we were all soaked. We continued on for a few more kilometres and decided to hunker down and wait for it to stop.

It just so happened that we waited out the weather right beside the outfitters camp, and listened to the soft jingle of the free range horses with bells around their necks as they grazed along. The rain cleared after an hour or two, and we packed up to make our final hike to the Pinto Lake campground. As we walked in to camp there was a woman who was seconds away from putting out her campfire when she asked us if we wanted it. Chilled from the rainy day, it was gladly accepted.

Day 3 – Pinto Lake to Random Camp Site

The warm sun finally made an appearance in the morning! We excitedly hung all of our wet gear in the trees and even jumped in the cold lake for a quick splash. This camp had about 4 other tents in it, so it was also a great morning to chat with other hikers. The hiking day ahead was lovely because there was not a lot of elevation gain, but that also meant that we would be crossing plenty of little rivers and streams. No escape from the wet boots and socks. My feet are blister prone, and they were beginning to get sore because the protective tape I put on each morning wouldn’t last much longer than the first creek crossing.

A beautiful feature of this stretch of the trail is a pictograph found behind a large boulder that overlooks a rocky Cline River bed. The age and cultural affiliation of the pictograph is undetermined as far as I am aware. This was a perfect spot to stop, for lunch, and enjoy the work.

We continued on the area that we planned on camping for the evening, a little spot with a fire ring from past campers along the river, but as soon as we sat down we found ourselves in a cloud of mosquitoes. After a quick and delicious supper, we continued on to find higher elevations and hopefully fewer bugs. Our first task was to cross the water again, and we were met by steep rocks with only inches of stepping room on the other side. It must have been a sight to see, three ladies in Crocs, grasping on to handfuls of vegetation and hoping that the loose rocks we were balancing on didn’t give way and send us back into the icy water. Luckily, we made it just fine, and the river bed leveled out enough for us to appreciate how beautiful it was.

Megan was determined to find a beautiful campsite, and she certainly outdid herself. We hiked up to the edge of the treeline and found the perfect spot overlooking a small glacier fed lake and with the perfect view of the mountains around us.

Day 4 – Random Camp to Four Point Campground

Snow dusted some of the mountains around us in the morning, and we sipped our coffees in the sun. We watched another GDT hiker pass and go up on to the rocky moraine beside our campsite, and decided to keep our elevation gain and do the same thing. It always looks easier before you’re doing it, and we soon found ourselves on a daunting boulder field.

This was actually one of my favourite sections though, I enjoyed hopping from rock to rock much more than sloshing through creeks. It can be a little nerve wracking moving across such unsteady terrain, and any wrong step could have easily been a sprained ankle, but we managed well.

We kept a close watch on the few grey clouds above us and continued on through the rock. Eventually, with some careful stepping, we were at the top of the next pass. There was a place to sign-in and take a quick look through the hiker log book, and it’s a great feeling to see the people who hiked the same trails days, months, and even years ago. We found a signature from an Olympian, a man who had hiked all of the way from Mexico, and the kind couple from the days earlier who were hiking the GDT as a 25th anniversary celebration. How incredible to see people from all walks of life, with different goals, walking the same trail.

This pass was also the border of the White Goat Wilderness area and Jasper National Park. It was an enjoyable stroll down the pass, a lazy marmot came out of hiding to watch us as we walked from harsh rocky terrain in to what looked like a tropical paradise.

The diversity of terrain that we hiked in this day was incredible. We scrambled over rocks, trudged through snow, strolled past glacier blue water, and then made our way through the trees and brush in a river valley. We passed a few day hikers and trail runners along the way, a clear sign that we were finally in a National Park.

This was also the first day we crossed a bridge. Three cheers for dry boots and maintained trails!

The pain of four days with a heavy back and wet boots was really setting in. My shoulder gave me a lot of grief for the last 5 kilometres of trail, which I have never experienced carrying a heavy pack before. I carefully peeled off my wet socks and put Polysporin and loose bandages on the raw spots between my toes, but at that point there was damage done and not much to do to save it. Thank goodness for Advil.

Day 5 – Four Point to Jonas Cutoff

A huge part of hiking is mind over matter. If you can’t get out of a negative head space, it will haunt you every step you take. I struggled on the morning of the fifth day. We started out with a delicious breakfast and high spirits. Soon, I became frustrated when my boots started to feel like tiny swimming pools. It had rained overnight and every branch that we brushed by sent a stream of water down on to us. I knew that every sloshing footstep I took was doing more damage to my torn up feet.

We eventually made our way out of the dense brush and I had time to sit and wring out my socks. My head was still stuck in a grouchy cloud, but the mood could always be lightened by Chantal and Megans jokes. I decided to tie my wet socks to the back of my pack and hope that the sun and air would dry them as I hiked. Dry feet were a huge mood booster, and we continued on on a much happier note.

Trying to dry out the tent

We stopped for a lunch break in a sunny meadow and spread out all of our wet gear in hopes of drying it out. The trail was gorgeous, with little to no elevation gain it was a lovely break from our rocky days earlier.

The next section of trail was up over Jonas Shoulder. Chantal was certain that a shoulder massage should be included with a hike up Jonas Shoulder, and I must say I agree. We stopped for some mountain view snacks before the last few kilometre push to camp.

The weather was so lovely when we arrived at the Jonas Cutoff campsite that we all quickly did some laundry and hung it to dry. I washed my hair, which felt amazing even though the water was freezing cold, and sat out in the sun to tend to my sore feet. After I was done cleaning and wrapping my toes, I looked up to Megan and Chantal giggling as they returned from the bathroom. Outdoor toilets and bear lockers are a huge perk of backcountry camping in a park.

At Pinto Lake we had the luxury of a ‘green throne’ open air toilet. and the other sites had no facilities along the way, so I was excited to see what was they were so giggly about. I made my way up the little trail away from camp and snorted when I saw the them. They were set up with three toilets in a row. A single open air toilet may be enough for a hiker to feel a little uncomfortable with the idea of using the facilities outside, but the thought of doing your business in the morning with a stranger sitting beside you was hilarious.

Day 6 – Jonas Cutoff to Avalanche

It was hard not to laugh in the morning as we woke up to frost covering our tent, and then quickly realized that the laundry that we carefully washed the night before was frozen in place on the line. We really couldn’t catch a break with drying out our gear. The day was lovely though and we hung as much as we could off of our packs to dry.

Our day was mostly covered by trees, and over plenty of bridges. While it was too bad to have the mountains views around us hidden, it was a relief to take another break from high elevation gain. We passed a warden’s cabin, and a few other campsites along the way. It felt different to see so many signs of human life as our first few days felt so remote.

The mud was a great way for us to see what was on the trail without actually seeing it. We passed over plenty of deer tracks, some huge moose tracks, and even some cougar tracks. After a trip of not seeing much for larger wildlife, it was exciting and a little nerve wracking to be reminded of the animals who were sharing their homes with us for a week. We were the only ones at the Avalanche campsite that night, and took all precautions to be bear safe.

Cougar track

We had dinner and chatted about the next few days. We were concerned about fording the Maligne River, especially because the forecast expected plenty of rain in the next few days. My feet were also in even worse shape, and I was nervous about how they would be for 60 more kilometres. Regardless, we enjoyed the evening and read our books beside a small fire to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

Day 7 – Avalanche to the Poboktan Trail Head

In the morning, I woke up around 5 am to the sound of rain. This continued on until around 10 am, with sleet being rained down on us at times. Everything was soaked, and we nervously talked about the state of the river we were due to cross. We poked our head out of the tents to the snow covered mountains around us and decided to make a call that none of us really wanted, but I think we needed.

Avalanche campsite

I sent a message from my Garmin Inreach to one of my friends in Jasper and he kindly agreed to come pick us up at the Poboktan Trail Head. The satellite signal was delayed and I didn’t receive a reply from him until 45 minutes after. We had already begun hiking our route as planned, but quickly turned around when we knew that someone was able to pick us up! We ended up hiking about 14 kilometres out, through plenty more mud, to be greeted by my amazing friend who had even brought us each a beer and poutine.

Enjoying a celebratory beer.

That evening in Jasper, we were determined to get back out on the trail again the next day. We ate as much pizza as we could, and I patched up my feet to the best of my ability. That night, even though I was snuggled up in a comfortable bed, I woke up around 2 am to my feet aching. I made the tough call in the morning to not continue on the trail with Chantal and Megan, and instead dropped them off at the trail head for three days on the Jasper Skyline.

While I was disappointed to have to end my trip early, I know that my feet needed it. I enjoyed a few nights in a cozy hotel room and some time to drink delicious coffees in Jasper. I am thankful to have enjoyed 120 kms with my sister and friend, and so glad that Megan let us join in for some of her Great Divide Trail thru hike!

Here’s hoping you have a warm sleeping bag and even warmer hot chocolate!

Technology on the Trail

One of the biggest perks of hiking is disconnecting from the hustle and bustle of everyday life for a few hours, or even a few days. Some people choose to unplug completely, but I like to bring a few things along for fun, and to feel safer while I’m out adventuring. There is no right or wrong list of what you should bring, and it’s perfectly okay if you want to kick back and take in nature for what it is, or if sometimes you just feel like watching an episode of your favourite tv show in your tent.

There are so many gadgets to choose from, such as Satellite messengers, GPS trackers, speakers, watches, even coffee makers. It’s easy to get carried away by the flashy features, but try to think about what will suit you best on the trail. Also, don’t feel pressured to run out and buy hundreds of dollars worth of gear, try an overnight trip or two without anything and make note of what you think you would like to carry with you.

Here is the tech that I brought with me on a week long hiking trip in the Rockies.

iPhone, 6.8 oz

Garmin Inreach Explorer 7.5 oz

Kindle Paperwhite 7.2 oz

PocketJuice Charger 10 oz

Earbuds

(My total tech weight is around 1.9lbs)

IPhone XR

My iPhone XR goes with me everywhere, even if I’m out of service area. While I’m hiking, I use it mainly as a camera. I have found that if I put it on airplane mode, shut it off at night, and only use it for taking photos (avoid to urge to look at them until your trip is over!), I can make my battery last about 7-8 days. I also keep my phone in a warm pocket all day and in my sleeping bag with me at night if it’s supposed to be chilly to preserve the battery.

iPhone photos, quick and lightweight!

Garmin Inreach Explorer+ ($600 CAD)

This is probably one of the most expensive pieces of gear that I own, but as I continue to plan more multi day and overnight trips, I feel like it’s important to have a satellite messaging device. I was lucky to buy my Inreach second hand off of Kijiji and save a couple hundred dollars off of the price tag.

This device has Emergency contact, GPS, tracking, weather, and two way messaging among many other features. It was a huge relief to be able to check in with my loved ones when I arrived at camp every night. These devices work on a subscription basis, and you can choose the plan that best works for you. I decided to subscribe to the ‘Freedom’ plan so I can decide which months I would like to use it. It’s about $22 CAD a month for the basic Safety messaging which allows for unlimited preset messages and ten custom messages per pay period. There are plenty of messaging devices in the market and it’s a great idea to look at a few different models to see which will work best for you.

Checking in with my Inreach while Megan checks in with her Zoleo.

Kindle Paperwhite ($130 CAD)

My kindle was a VERY last minute purchase before heading out on a week long trip and I am so thankful that I ended up buying one. I was lucky to find them on sale and with Amazon’s two day shipping I had it in my hands the day before we left on our adventure. It was wonderful to read and unwind in the tent each evening. A huge perk of the Kindle Paperwhite is that it’s waterproof. I didn’t have a case on mine for the week and it fared just fine, although I’ll likely buy one for it when I get the chance. I also kept it in my sleeping bag with me at night and by the end of the week I had finished a book with 83% battery to spare.

Reading my kindle with dinner.

PocketJuice Charger ($30 CAD)

I was only planning on charging my phone if it needed it (it didn’t), so one portable charger worked well for me. My friend Megan, on the other hand, used her phone for photos, satellite messaging with her Zoleo, and navigation. She brought three portable charger packs. This pack gives me about one and a half full iPhone charges. It’s good to have on hand even if you think your phone battery will last in case you forget it in the cold and the battery is drained.

Surprise snowy morning just above our tent site.

Earbuds/Headphones

This is one of those things that I often throw in my pack and rarely end up using, but they are light enough that I don’t mind carrying them along. I don’t usually like to hike with earbuds in, especially when I am alone and in bear country, but I have used them before if other people in the group are willing to be our ears. I find they’re best for down time such as when we took the West Coast Trail shuttle bus back to Port Renfrew after we finished the trail.

With the exception of the earbuds, I used and enjoyed the other gadgets I brought on the trail with me and will certainly be packing them the next time I’m heading out on a multi day trip.

And if you find your batteries drained, or if you have read every book your Kindle has to offer, it’s always fun to have a deck of cards handy! We enjoyed playing cards in the tent while escaping some of the rainy weather.

A good deck of cards will never lose its battery charge.

Which gadgets and technology do you bring on the trail with you? Is there anything I should try out on my next adventure?

Until then, happy hiking!

5 Ways to Feel Safer in the Backcountry

It is a strange feeling in this day and age to not be connected to world around you. As someone who keeps their phone no farther than an arms length away at all times, it is a huge adjustment to be completely disconnected, but also an incredibly freeing experience. Education is your power when you want to feel and be safe during your outdoor adventures. Here are a few ways to prepare yourself and hike with confidence.

  1. First Aid Training

Give yourself the tools to problem solve efficiently and confidently. It’s a wonderful idea to have First Aid Training in every day life, and incredible to have in the outdoors. Standard First Aid is great, and you can even expand your knowledge with Wilderness First Aid as there could be hazards in the outdoors that you may not see in day to day life.

It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with your first aid kid. I carried a first aid kit for years without ever opening it, and if I was ever faced with an emergency situation, I likely wouldn’t have known what was in it. Practice splinting and bandaging so you can help yourself and others in case of an accident. You’ll feel more confident and better equipped to adventure out of cell service range.

A mock first aid scenario in Wilderness First Aid

2. Build a Solid Trip Plan

I have mentioned before that the West Coast Trail felt like a breeze because I had researched it down to the kilometre so we would have no trouble with navigation or tide tables. I have also been on the flip side and found myself taking many wrong turns or not knowing what to expect due to lack of research. There is information available everywhere now, especially on Apps such as AllTrails, to learn exactly what you need to know about your adventure. If you know what you’re in for, you’ll know how to pack and be mentally prepared for your journey. It’s also important to create a trip plan and share it with someone who will know when to expect your return.

Write or type out your plan and send it to someone who will look out for your arrival and ensure that you have made it back safely. Let them know where you will be going, how long you expect to be there, and what to do if they do not hear back from you by the chosen time.

West Coast Trail information board

3. Research the Area and Local Wildlife

A question that I see often on hiking groups is concern about wildlife encounters. Whether it’s bears in the forest or rattlesnakes in the desert, there is always the potential for running into wildlife. Instead of hoping an encounter doesn’t happen, prepare yourself for what to do if one does. Research different species you’ll find in the area, what their behavior is, and what to do if you happen across them on the trail. Carry bear spray, wear closed toed shoes and long pants, or whatever else is recommended in the area and you might feel a little better about the rustling in the bushes.

It’s also a great idea to read up on current trail conditions and reviews from other hikers. You’ll often find out little bits of information that make your hike safer and more enjoyable, such as which direction to travel first, what to avoid, and which beautiful spots you must see. It’s good to know beforehand if the trail is under a lot of snow, if a bridge has been washed out, or if there has been a lot of wildlife active in the area.

A mama bear and her three cubs

4. Know Your Gear

You know what is ridiculous? The fact that I have had a compass in my pack since 2017 with not a clue how to use it. Fortunately I have been able to work on my skills, but it makes me wonder what else I throw in my bag because a hiking book told me to, and not because I actually know how to use it. In Search and Rescue training, the instructors are constantly reminding us to try out our gear before we find ourselves in the middle of nowhere with it with no idea how to properly set it up or make the most out of it.

Confidence in your gear and your pack means that you know which tools you have at your disposal in case of emergency. Try setting up your tent in your backyard for a night, cook dinner on your camp stove, or do some compass and navigation work in local parks. Make note of which gear you use often and what my sit in your pack untouched so you know what you want keep and what can be left behind.

5. Invest in a Satellite Messenger

I have hiked through areas of no cell service plenty of times without much worry. It can be either scary or nice to be fully cut off from contact from the outside world. That being said, if something was to go wrong, it’s comforting to know that you can still contact emergency services or loved ones if you needed to. I recently purchased a Garmin InReach and have just started bringing it on adventures with me. While the price may seem a bit steep, it could be an invaluable tool in an emergency, and may be a good idea if it is within your budget.

There are many different devices to choose from, from simpler emergency beacons all of the way to two way messengers with GPS and tracking capabilities. Research which device would be best for you, for me I wanted to two way messaging option to be able to send my family ‘I’m okay’ messages. I was also able to find a device second hand but in great condition on a buy and sell website and save myself a few hundred dollars.

My Garmin Inreach Explorer

More Quick Tips to Adventure Safely

  • Clap, shout, or sing as you make your way along the trail so that you don’t surprise wildlife
  • Ensure that you are drinking enough water and stopping for breaks. (Powdered Gatorade or electrolyte tablets are a great addition)
  • A Search and Rescue trainer of mine always says ‘two is one, and one is none’ in terms of gear. Think to yourself about what you would do if you were suddenly without a core piece of your gear and consider carrying a backup.
  • Brainstorm what multiple purposes a single item may have. For example, the mirror on your compass could also be used as a signalling device,or maybe even a fire starter.
  • Adapt your First Aid Kit to your adventure style, if you are often travelling in a group you may consider adding enough to care for multiple people or different medical conditions.

Is my list missing anything? What makes you feel safer in the back country?

Safe & happy exploring!

Jewell Pass via Prairie View Loop – Kananaskis, AB

With restrictions beginning to lift and new safety procedures being set in place, my cousin Anya and I decided to head to Banff for the weekend to get a few nights of camping and a few quick hikes in. We were careful to follow all of the safety protocols, and wore masks whenever necessary as well as packed most of our food to eat at our camp site instead of in restaurants all weekend.

Unfortunately I was sporting a few nasty blisters from a earlier trip and mentioned to Anya that I would be taking it easy hiking-wise. We decided on a trail in the Kananaskis area and set out in the morning. ‘Taking it easy’ turned in to a 22km adventure, which was a lot of fun but maybe not the best foot care I have ever practiced.

Barrier Lake, Kananaskis AB

We decided to hike Jewell Pass via the Prairie View Trail. This is a moderate 16km trail that turned out to be much longer than expected when we were turned away from the parking lot. The Barrier Lake parking lot fills up quickly, and we were waved on by the parking attendant immediately, so we decided to park a few kilometres up the road and hike to the trail head along the lake side. We found our way back to the parking lot rather easily, and counted nearly ten empty parking spots on our way (sigh!). We were glad to be there and get started though. The lake is lovely for day use, and has picnic tables and washrooms. You begin on a gravel road crossing the Barrier Lake Dam and travel up a small hill to a bench, then continue following until you see a posted trail sign at an intersection.

Heading up the Prairie View loop section

I packed my day pack with plenty of water and snacks, a light jacket because the clouds were looking a little grey and the wind was beginning to pick up, and most importantly my trekking poles. I found poles to be most helpful on the second half of the trail when we were heading down over loose rocks and uneven terrain. I also brought my regular day pack essentials such as my first aid kit and bear spray.

The first lookout point

As suggested on AllTrails, we decided to travel counter clockwise, which turned out to be the best route. The first half of the trail is a steady incline with switchbacks, but it’s also very wide and well maintained. We stopped for a few short breaks, but found it quite easy to make our way up to the lookout point. The first half of the hike was busy, but we only ran in to a few other hikers and mountain bikers for the Jewell pass section. The entire trail is well marked with plenty of signs posted along the way to help navigate the many trails that overlap.

Piper the mountain dog

The second half was a lot quieter and a little more technical, but still well maintained. We crossed a few beautiful little bridges and enjoyed walking through the trees. There was some evidence of bear activity as the berries are in season now, but we kept talking as we hiked and didn’t run in to any furry friends.

Bridges on the Jewell Pass portion
Jewell Pass section

Eventually the trail meets back up with the ‘Stony Trail’ portion that seems to also be used for horseback riding. My puddle loving dog pranced through all of the water on this trail and spent the rest of the weekend smelling like a barn (sorry we had to share a tent Anya 🙂 ). The last bit is out of the trees so be aware that you’ll be in the sun for a while if it’s a warm day.

The race back to the car with sore feet

We made it back to the car with a few more kms than expected, but happy as can be. I would absolutely recommend this hike to a beginner who is looking to try longer trails, and also suggest that hikers try to get to the parking lot earlier in the morning before it fills up.

Happy exploring!

Nut Point Trail, Lac La Ronge Provincial Park

The Nut Point Trail is a beautiful 30km out and back trail located in Lac La Ronge Provincial Park in Saskatchewan. It can be hiked in a day, but I recommend doing an overnight trip to give yourself time to enjoy the beautiful camp spot at the end of the peninsula. You do not need to book a backcountry camping site, but you do need a provincial park pass to get in.

Piper and butterflies

The area is well marked and it is easy to find the trailhead, you will hike just over 15kms in to the camp spot, although I have heard that people occasionally choose to camp at the portage at the 7.5km mark. My friend Lindsay, the two dogs, and I packed up and set out on a hot +25 degree celsius day.

I packed my bag the night before with my usual gear for an overnight hike. The camping area at the end does not have a cache or canisters to keep food away from wildlife so be sure to pack some rope to hang up your food. After speaking to a local I packed a swimsuit because he said that the camping area was also a perfect swimming spot. I’m also glad I brought bug spray, although they weren’t too bad so long as we kept moving. Most importantly, I brought my camp shoes so that my feet got a rest and my soggy hiking boots had some time to dry out.

My gear for the night

The trail is rated as difficult and I found it to be challenging terrain, it was good to have my trekking poles when manoeuvring over the rocks and roots. We passed lots of muddy areas that the dogs adored but left each of us with soggy boots. There are also plenty of open spots where the heat can get to you so make sure you have plenty of water and sunscreen. There is spotty cell service along the trail, and we noticed plenty of boats driving past the peninsula which made us feel more comfortable as we were the only tent set up that night.

June enjoying every mud puddle

After a very long 7.5kms in the sun, we made it to the portage at the halfway point. There are a few picnic tables and spot off to the left where a group of teenagers was jumping off the rocks into the lake. The dogs got a good opportunity to cool off and we had a moment to drink some water and eat a quick snack. I have read in other posts that people sometimes opt to camp here, but we didn’t see much room for a tent set up.

The half way point

The difference in terrain along the trail is breathtaking. We hiked over rock, through water, over roots and moss. We admired the blueberry plants along the trail, which was another reminder to be bear aware, but didn’t end up seeing much more than the odd squirrel. We saw quite a few hiking back from camping, and they said that there were about 5 tents set up there the night before, but we were the only ones heading out that day.

On the trail, hoping to find some squirrels

My absolute favourite spot on the trail is around the 11km mark. A small trail veers off to the perfect spot to dip your feet in the water and sit on a shelf of rock. I was excited to stop here both days.

Around km 11, the perfect spot for a break

At last, we arrived! We were thrilled to finally make it to the end of the peninsula. There is one camp fire spot that seems more permanent and plenty of smaller fire rings set up around from past campers. The local I talked to was right, the swimming area was perfect! We started the trail later in the day, but next time I would probably start first thing in the morning so we would have more day light to enjoy the beautiful spot.

Lindsay enjoying the water

We set up camp and settled in to eat some dinner. The dogs quickly ate the kibble that I had packed for them and then conned me out of part of my sandwich with their puppy dog eyes. How could I resist? I packed a pre-made s’more that may be my new favourite hiking treat in lieu of my usual chocolate bar.

Piper enjoying the campsite
Camp treats

We were exhausted from the long day of hiking, and ended up in bed pretty early. But I was told later that the northern lights were incredible, so they may be worth staying up for next time I find myself on this trail.

Lindsay setting up camp

I probably should have warned Lindsay that the two person tent we were sharing would also have two soggy dogs in it. She might not have had the best sleep, but hopefully she forgives us. In addition to the cramped tent, it was quite warm and windy through the night and we found ourselves up early and ready to head home. The trek back to the car was much nicer in the cool morning air, although the bugs did come out a bit more.

2 people and 2 dogs in a 2 person tent

Finally we arrived at the parking lot. I was exhausted, with sore feet, and a long 5 hour drive ahead, but so glad that we had tackled the trail. I am so thankful to have an adventure friend like Lindsay who is always in to try something new. We stopped for a well earned Slurpee and made our way back home.

Happy fam

Happy hiking!

Summer Walks at Cranberry Flats Conservation Area

Cranberry Flats Conservation Area is a short 10 minute drive outside of the city of Saskatoon that is family friendly, dog friendly (on-leash), and has an accessible lookout point with a boardwalk. While it is lovely in the winter for snowshoeing and walking, it is worth revisiting in warmer months to appreciate the large diversity of plant life.

The dogs at Cranberry Flats

I packed up my usual adventure sidekicks and we set off to explore. Although the area can get busy, there are plenty of smaller trails that branch off and I didn’t find myself crossing paths with many other people. I was in awe at the variety of wildflowers I came across, but couldn’t stop for long as the dogs pressed forward in hopes of coming up on one of the squirrels that chattered around us.

Along with the explosion of flowers, we were surrounded by berries of all colours. The Saskatoons have begun to ripen on the bushes, and the Juniper berries were so plentiful that they weighed down the little green shrubs.

Although there were a few grey clouds in the sky, it was a hot day, so we made our way down to the river for the dogs to have a swim and a drink. I watched some new little froglets hop back into the safety of the water as we cooled off and continued on our way.

June going for a swim

We continued along the river side for a while and then happened to pop up right below the boardwalk and lookout point where a man was playing the guitar with the company of two curious ground squirrels. After a lovely chat, we headed back to the vehicle for a drink of water and some air conditioning.

Wild Bergamot

My favourite part about Cranberry Flats Conservation Area is that you can make it your own adventure. You can spend 30 minutes to several hours exploring, no matter the season, and it is always breathtaking.

Happy exploring!

A Day in the Life of a Dog Sled Tour Guide

What goes in to being a musher? Getting paid to pet dogs all day? Here is a snap shot of an average day of a dog sled guide, working one of my favourite jobs but also by far the most difficult!

Every morning I would scramble and gather all of my gear and quickly eat before heading out the door. The funny thing about seeing dog food all day when you’re hungry is that it starts to look kind of… appetizing? I found myself buying chocolate cereal that looked suspiciously familiar to the kibble I was scooping out for the dogs. Every day I brought a 48 litre pack of gear and a smaller 20 litre pack to work with me, the smaller bag to sit on the sled with me with extra mitts/gear for guests, and then a larger bag for extra layers of clothing and another pair of boots. We would all arrive at the dog kennel and throw our bags in a pile on the deck to start the morning chores.

While it’s easy to see the fun part of the tours, a lot of work goes in behind the scenes to keep the dogs happy and the tours running smoothly. The first tasks of the day are regular chores before we load up the dogs and drive to the dog sledding trail. Morning chores included feeding, poop cleanup, giving medications to dogs who needed them, loading hot water canisters and other supplies into the trailers, and getting the trucks running and warmed up. Winter in the mountains also means that morning chores were done in the dark, so a good head lamp was a must! Each of the 150+ dogs received a portion of food specific to their dietary needs, and we followed a written food board to make sure this was correct. As guides, we were expected to learn each and every dogs name and which house they lived in (their names were not written on their houses or collars).

Indy and the food board

My favourite chore in the morning was preparing the feed. My least favourite was loading the trailers, because I wasn’t tall enough to lift the hot water canisters into the trailer and often spilled them all over myself in the process. It is rather uncomfortable to start a 12 hour day outside in the winter soaking wet. After those tasks were done, we were all given a list of what the teams would look like for the day. Then we would run to collect the dogs and put them in the appropriate boxes in the trailers so they could be unloaded according to team. This was a workout, because we would be running with two dogs at a time and lifting them into boxes. I often struggled to get the bigger dogs in the boxes up over my head, and was thankful when they would cooperate by putting their front paws up on the trailer. After everyone was packed up, we grabbed our radios and set off.

The driving time was our ‘quiet’ time for the day, as the trails we ran our teams on were about 30 minutes from the kennel. As soon as the trucks pulled up to site, we were on the ground running to get everything ready. A drop line was set up between posts to clip the dogs in to get their harnesses put on before the team was hooked up to their sled. Then we would take the sleds down from the trailers, set up the lines and sled bags, then get the dogs hooked up, and drive them to the starting chutes to park until guests arrived. We typically would bring 120 dogs up to site with us every day. Any pups that weren’t heading out on the first tour would then be taken out to pee and given some warm soup while they waited for their turn. In addition to the set teams, we would bring up spare dogs to put in place of older dogs half way through the day or if any dogs were too tired or feeling unwell.

As the guests arrived and the tours set off, some guides would stay back to prepare a campfire for the cold returning guests, look after the dogs staying at the trailers, and prepare any dogs who would be running the next tour. Another two guides would set off on a snowmobile behind the running tour to clean up dog poop along the trail. Guests were often surprised to hear that clean up is done after every single run, but it was important to keep things as pristine as possible.

It is truly a magical feeling to be driving a dog sled across a frozen lake, and I tried to pause often to appreciate exactly where I was in that moment. What a privilege to live and work in the mountains, and be a part of a an experience of a lifetime for so many people.

As a guide I was responsible for three sleds, mine in the lead, and two guest driven sleds behind me. I had to ensure that the guests were driving safely and confidently, and that the dogs were doing well. If one sled was moving slower than the others, I could stop and rearrange my teams to even out the speeds. Sled dogs have best friends who they prefer to run with, and dogs that they do not get along with. It’s important to learn their personalities and understand those relationships to keep your sled moving and your pups happy. Happy dogs also need encouragement, so we asked guests to try and remember the names of the dogs on their teams and cheer them on.

Between tours, the dogs get a well deserved rest and a warm soup filled with tasty treats. This was also when it was important to check in on all of the dogs on your teams and give them some love. On very cold days, shorter haired dogs would get jackets, and those with sensitive feet would have booties put on right before the tour went out. Any other down time was spent snuggling, petting, and brushing the dogs.

At the end of the day, after four tours, we would drive all of the teams back in to the chutes to park and take the dogs off of the lines. They would be attached directly to the drop line again where we could remove their harnesses and give them a final bowl of soup before returning for dinner at the kennel. We would them take apart the sleds and wrap up the lines, then begin loading the dogs back into the truck after their stomachs had some time to settle after eating. We became so familiar with the dogs that we could have one guide wait at the trailer and one at the drop line, and then release dogs to run to them and be lifted into the boxes. There were also dogs who thought it was a fun game to run circles around us instead of going to the trailer, so we had to choose wisely.

Marilyn lounging after tours

Once we returned back to the kennel in the evening, the work was still not over. The first thing we would do is change out our wet socks/boots and uniform to dry kennel clothes. Then our first priority was getting the dogs out of the trailers and back to their homes where their food and fresh water was waiting. We always took two dogs at a time, and tried to choose two that live in a similar area in the kennel. A piece of gear that we all used was a climbing quick draw that we attached to our belt loops. This made it easier for us to clip one dog to us while we used both hands to lift the next dog down. After that we completed nightly clean ups, meds, and then some dogs would get jackets or blanket put in their houses if they needed them. Finally after everyone was fed and cozy in their dog houses, our day was over.

Ducati snuggled up with her blanket

One night a week I would sleep at the kennel, as each staff member took turns spending the night in to make sure everything was okay with the dogs and the yard. Kennel nights had their perks, you could bring dogs in with you for sleepovers (I would often have 3-4 pups sleeping beside me), but it also meant that I would wake up whenever the kennel started barking or howling, or when the logs in the wood stove had burned down. It was a great feeling to snuggle up beside a fire with a cabin full of happy dogs.

Dragon enjoying the fire

The next morning I would be up early filling thermoses with hot water and ready to start the process all over again. I was often so exhausted from my week of work that I didn’t even think about doing anything on my weekends, it was a full time commitment for a season and I would even dream about dogs all night, but I loved my experience working as a sled dog tour guide and every challenge I faced along the way.

I am now lucky to have a little piece of the kennel close to my heart since adopting my retired sled dog Piper from the company.

Happy working!

A Quick Stop to Smell the Flowers at Pike Lake Provincial Park

Pike Lake Provincial Park is located a short 30 kilometres outside of the city of Saskatoon. It is one of the smallest provincial parks in Saskatchewan, but it is still the perfect getaway if you want to take a break from the city for a few hours. You’ll find a lovely little beach, an outdoor swimming pool, a mini golf course, plenty of day-use picnic tables, and a small nature trail.

Piper and I went for a quick swim in the lake and then decided to see what we could find on the nature trail. It is well maintained and family friendly, you’ll see diverse plant life from cattails to cacti along the way.

I joke that Piper is like Ferdinand the bull from the popular children’s book because she loves to stop and sniff flowers. Here are a few pictures of some of our favourite finds on the trail.

While it isn’t always possible to pack up and leave every weekend to adventure, it is always fun to explore closer to home and discover the beautiful things that our own back yard has to offer in Saskatoon.

Happy exploring!