Learning New Things Off-Road in Hinton, Alberta

For me, hitting the trails is usually done on my own two feet, or maybe on a pair of skis if we have enough snow. My boyfriend, on the other hand, prefers to explore the trails on his dirt bike, and he invited me along for a weekend of off-roading at the Brule Lake Sand Dunes just out of Hinton, Alberta with some of his friends. I was nervous, but excited to join in for a new adventure.

Now, my ATV driving experience is minimal, having gone with him once before and then a handful of other times throughout my life, but I hoped that if I took it slow I would be just fine. The guys loaded up all of the units on the trailer and we set out on the around 8 hour drive to Hinton. I was lucky to be able to borrow an ATV from one of his family members to use for the weekend.

The Big Bear Cabin at Entrance Ranch

After a long day of driving, we arrived at the Big Bear Cabin at Entrance Ranch, which is an awesome cabin with a full kitchen, bathroom, and enough room for about 9 people to sleep. We enjoyed a warm fire and then headed off to bed early.

The next morning we made a delicious breakfast and then piled into the trucks to head to our destination. I was still feeling excited, but now even more nervous because we had been warned the night before that the trail in was quite treacherous.

A cozy fireplace after a long day.

As it turned out, the trail was exactly as they had warned us. We arrived and unloaded, then set off in to the trees to get down to the sand dunes. I found myself going down a steep, narrow hill, with a large rut in the centre where water must have drained at some point. With my lack of experience, and the sketchy terrain, my tire caught the rut and flipped the quad over on to its side. I fell off the other direction, and knew immediately that I was fine, but watched in horror as the machine I was borrowing toppled over.

Fortunately, my boyfriends brother was driving behind me on his quad and he hopped off quickly to make sure I was okay. I was so thankful that he was there, even though my fear was quickly replaced with embarrassment as he had watched the whole thing unfold. Together, we flipped my quad back upright and nothing was damaged. Except for my confidence of course, which was shattered for the rest of the day.

We eventually made it out of the trees and down to the waters edge where I breathed a sigh of relief. The rest of the crew enjoyed the hills and trails and I tried to stay on the flatter sections as much as I could.

There were plenty of other people out enjoying the dunes, from families out for a cruise, to very experienced riders making the steep uphill’s and winding trails look effortless. I was in awe at the control and skill that the riders had.

As the day went on, my confidence built up a little, but I was still nervous at every steep section. It was frustrating, but I just didn’t have enough experience driving an ATV to feel comfortable. I instead chose the flatter paths, and enjoyed the other parts of the sand dunes. It was still a breathtaking place to be with mountains peeking through the cloudy day.

We stopped for breaks along the waters edge both days to have some lunch and warm up by a cozy fire. At the end of the day we found a different path out to the trucks that took a little longer but was much easier to navigate, I was so relieved.

Lunch time

The second day we came back in on a less treacherous path, and with some encouragement from the others, I rode in just fine. One of the people in our group let me drive his side by side for a few hours while he took the quad for a spin. It was like a switch was flipped for me, from feeling nervous and unsure at every hill to suddenly being way more comfortable and enjoying a bit of a challenge. The steering and stability of a side by side, plus the familiar car-like set up were a world of difference.

I was so thankful for that last few hours of driving to end off the weekend on a high note. I may have left feeling a little discouraged otherwise, but now I am looking forward to giving it another try one day.

An abandoned truck

We stopped to enjoy some views, and eventually made our way back to the trucks, ending off our weekend at the Brule Lake Sand Dunes. I was happy to have a weekend of new experiences with a great group of people.

Done for the day.

Even though it can be tough, and sometimes things don’t go as planned, there are so many things in my life that I am thankful that I did despite being scared to do so. Getting out of your comfort zone (safely) is such a great way to build confidence for the future, and also to understand that you are capable of so much more than you even think.

I remember taking a scuba diving course in cold lake with very poor visibility. The instructor told us that it was a great place to learn how to dive, because if you can manage the cold and low visibility, then any other dive trip after will seem like a breeze. His comment has stuck with me for years, and I try to remember it whenever I am frustrated with learning something new. It might be a good idea to learn in less than ideal conditions, or put yourself out of your comfort zone, in order to give yourself a solid foundation of knowledge. Then, you will have those skills at your finger tips in the future whenever you may need them.

What outdoor activity made you nervous the first time you tried it?

Happy trails!

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ ). The last bit is out of the trees so be aware that you’ll be in the sun for a while if itโ€™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!

My Top 3 Full Day Hikes in Alberta

There is no better feeling than standing at the top of a mountain, cracking a summit beer, and looking down at the landscape around you.

The thing about hiking is that once you catch that first amazing view that makes you fall in love, you can’t stop. The search is always on for the next adventure, the coolest trail, and the hiker’s high after a long day of trekking.

Alberta is home to many breathtaking hikes and adventures, here are my favorites.

Tent Ridge Horseshoe (Hard,10 km)

I set out with a group of friends one morning and made the 40 or so minute drive up the Spray Lakes road from Canmore to find Tent Ridge. The first section of the hike is in the forest, so be sure to make some noise and carry bear spray. Once we hiked in closer to the ridge, we began scrambling up the left side and moved clockwise (as suggested by AllTrails, this was the best route).

Tent Ridge

We then followed the ridge around, amazed by the incredible views as we stood above the clouds. We stopped for two breaks as it was pretty exhausting moving along, but became less tiring for the second half as the ridge flattens out.

Tent Ridge

This hike is absolutely worth the drive out of Canmore. Be aware and check the trail conditions before you go, because there is often quite a bit of snow in spring and early summer, so you can pack accordingly.

Wilcox Pass (Moderate, 9.3 km)

Wilcox Pass is a all about the views without the strenuous trek up a mountain. It is located on the Icefield Parkway very close to the Athabasca Glacier and the Icefield Discovery Centre. You’ll find the most difficult parts of this trail are at the beginning and end as you gain and lose most of your elevation, but it flattens out nicely in between.

I recommend going as a group with two vehicles if possible. Leave a vehicle at Tangle Falls and drive over to the Wilcox Campground to begin, or you could try to hitchhike your way to the campground (not uncommon practice on the Icefield Parkway but certainly not the safest).

Wilcox Pass and Bighorn Sheep

This is a great trail to bring your dog along with you, but make sure you keep them on leash as you are likely to see bighorn sheep and maybe even some mountain goats.

Wilcox Pass, a quick cool down nearing Tangle Falls

I enjoyed admiring the glaciers, and trying to identify all of the different types of fungi we passed along the way. Pack a delicious lunch and enjoy the day!

Cirque Peak via. Helen Lake Trail (Hard, 16.1 km)

Cirque Peak is an out and back trail that also begins on the Icefield Parkway, however it is closer to Lake Louise and begins on the Helen Lake Trail. The hard work pays off as the views at the top are among the best I’ve ever seen.

You will likely see plenty of marmots. Much to my delight, they ‘yelled’ at us most of the way. The adventure is moderately difficult until you reach Helen Lake and begin to move up past the tree line. As you move up the mountain, take plenty of breaks and continue on, the summit is worth it.

Expect to do a little scree skiing on the way down and be sure you have a windbreaker, and of course a beer for the summit, if you plan on hanging out up there for a while.

Every bit of that trail amazed me. It was such an incredible experience and I am eager to get back out there and hike again as soon as we are able to travel.

Some Quick Day Hiking Tips

** It’s a good idea to check AllTrails or other hiking apps for trail conditions. Especially in the Rockies, you could be hiking through snow even in the middle of summer. It’s also important to make sure there aren’t any trail closures or restrictions due to maintenance or wildlife.

**Pack layers, you may be warm when you start but things will cool off fast when you stop for a break half way up a mountain

**Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back

Happy hiking!

Diesel Ran Out of Gas – Carrying an 80lb Dog Down a Mountain

Living in the mountains in Alberta is what grew my interest in hiking, and as any new thing you learn, mistakes are bound to happen. I had started with a few smaller hikes around the Columbia Icefield, and my friend Jared mentioned that we try a more difficult hike when I visited Canmore.

One sunny, hot weekend, I was in Canmore for a few days and Jared suggested we hike EEOR (East End of Rundle). I was eager to do something, and I had never tried hiking up a mountain before, so I was game. As we packed up our bags to leave the apartment, Jared’s roommate mentioned that we should bring his dog Diesel along with us, to which we shrugged and agreed. We packed the dog up with us in the vehicle and drove about fifteen minutes to the trail head and set off on our journey. EEOR is not quite as well travelled as the mountain beside it, Ha Ling, and the trail wasn’t quite as obvious. We weaved our way up through the rocks and trees, the dog happily bounding ahead of us. The heat and exhaustion were beginning to get to me and I stopped a few times to sit in the shade and drink some water. I was so tired that I considered turning around, but with words of encouragement from my friend and a happier than hell dog running ahead of us we continued on.

As we got above the tree line there were almost no opportunities for shade, and I was really feeling the heat. In hindsight, I could have packed far better than I did, maybe a hat and much more water, but at that time I had no idea. The day was beautiful. We didn’t see another soul on the trail, but we heard some voices further up the mountain, so we weren’t quite alone. After making our way up to a lookout point we took some awesome pictures, then decided to turn around. This is when everything started to go downhill.

Diesel was still excited and leading the pack, but I noticed a spot of blood on one of the rocks he ran over. I immediately stopped him and inspected his feet. The EEOR hike is noted on the AllTrails App to be safe for dogs, so I hadn’t thought much about him coming along. However, mixing the grit of the mountain rock with soft paws that didn’t get walked very often, proved to be a disaster. His sensitive paw pads were worn raw. Horrified, because I felt terrible that we had allowed him to get hurt, and also that we were still 3/4 of the way up the mountain, I dug through my first aid kid to find some bandages.

After trying unsuccessfully to wrap his feet without him promptly biting the bandages off, we decided our only option was to try to convince him to walk slowly down the mountain. We cheered and coaxed him on, but at this point the pain had set in and he was becoming unwilling to walk. At this point I also stopped taking photos because I was panicking about what we would do. Jared finally decided that our best bet would be to carry him down. I took the bags, and he began to fireman-carry and 80 lb dog down a treacherous mountain. We made it about 3/4 of the way down when Jared couldn’t fight the exhaustion any more.

We sat down with the sun beginning to set, and pondered our options. We tried calling friends with the bit of cell service we had on our phones, but to no avail. Do we leave the dog and come back with more help in the dark? We worried he would likely wander and become even more lost, and we couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him behind. Do we spend the night on the mountain, ill-prepared with no more than a spare granola bar and some sunscreen on our packs? Also, not a great idea. We sat feeling hopeless and drained.

Then, as if on cue, we heard rustling and talking through the trees. I suddenly remembered the voices we had heard on the mountain earlier. Two men on the tail-end of their hike emerged from the trees and greeted us with an Aussie hello. We explained our situation to them and they enthusiastically agreed to help us carry the dog the rest of the way down the mountain.

We thanked them profusely the rest of the way down the trail. “No worries, any day you get to hang out with a dog is a great day” they laughed back.

Eventually we made it back to the car, exhausted and grateful. We returned back to the house and I carefully cleaned the pup’s feet after calling a veterinarian for advice. He was healed and happy within the week.

I use this adventure as a reminder to pack smart, be prepared, and be thankful for other people I meet on the trail. There is always something to be learned!