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!

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!

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!

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!

Driving an Ice Explorer on a Glacier

One of my proudest moments was the day I got my class 2 drivers license, it was also one of the most nerve wracking days of my life. I had been hired by a tour company in Jasper to be a driver/guide for their excursions on the Athabasca Glacier, so failing was not an option.

Earlier in the day, four other newly hired staff members and I stood in our hotel room in Edmonton, taking turns walking around an odd stack of furniture, pretending to do our bus pre-trips. We had already written our air brake exams, and now was time for the driving test. Although we would be driving coach busses and Ice Explorers at work, our road tests were done in school busses.

We went for our tests one at a time, and I anxiously waited for each person to walk back with a smile on their face to announce that they had passed. I was up last, and to be honest I couldn’t even tell you how it went because I was so nervous that I hardly remember. All I know is that I passed, and we drove back out to the mountains that night, proud as punch and ready to learn how to drive the big busses.

A perfect day at work with the Athabasca Glacier in the background

Before you are allowed to drive an Ice Explorer, you have to be extremely comfortable with the coach busses.We went through a fair bit of training on just driving, and then added a talking tour on top of it after to entertain guests as we shuttled them from attraction to attraction.

The tour part was my favourite, and I loved spitting out facts about the wildlife and the landscape to anyone who would listen. And the coach busses were quite fun to drive, especially when guests were shocked that their bus driver was a short blonde woman in her early twenties. But I was ready to move on to the Ice Explorers. I spent a week training one on one with a few of the managers, and had to do one final tour while driving and talking before I could start taking groups out.

Ice Explorer on the Athabasca Glacier , I was the last tour driver on the glacier that day and my guests had the ice to themselves.

Driving an Ice Explorer is quite different from driving a coach bus. There are only 24 of them in existence, each weighing in at about 55,000lbs, and able to carry 56 passengers. They are HUGE, and it was a climb to get into the driver seat. Although they are built specifically for travel on ice, we had to be confident and cautious drivers, while giving a full tour and telling jokes at the same time.

Looking up at my explorer during my morning pre-trip inspection

Drivers are equipped with radios, and constantly communication among each other and with dispatch to make sure things are running smoothly. All of the staff lives together at the Icefield, so your coworkers are also your roommates, and everyone looks out for each other.

Ice Explorer driver controls

My Ice Explorer slipped on the ice road one day as I was bringing a full bus back to the transfer bays. My driving style can certainly be described as ‘slow and steady’, but even if you are going slow, you can still slip up on the ice road after it has been warming up in the sun all day. There are always oncoming Ice Explorers sharing the same road, and especially as the summer warms up and the ice road thaws out, you wouldn’t want to get hung up in one of the deep ditches or piles of ice.

I started to feel the back end of my bus sway out and I immediately shifted into neutral as I continued to slide. Our driver trainers were great at explaining to us what to do in these situations, but it is always nerve wracking when it’s actually happening to you. I was still mid tour, explaining what makes glacial ice look so blue when I saw my coworker approaching up the hill in another Ice Explorer. I knew at that point that I was still not stopping and she was moving quickly up the roads towards me. Fortunately she looked up and saw me sliding, then stopped her bus even before I could ask her to slow down over the radio. Another coworker, who was behind me, saw what was going on and called over the radio with some words of encouragement, which helped to ease my nerves a little as my machine continued to slowly slide down the road. I took a deep breath and controlled the slide until I felt the tires finally gaining a little traction.

With a sigh of relief, we were fine. I quickly resumed my tour and make it back safe and sound with my guests. Good training and guidance meant I was prepared for the situation, but as a driver your passenger safety is a top priority and there is nothing quite as nerve wracking. I radioed my manager and and the road was graded so that no one else would slip in the same spot.

View from the front seat of an Ice Explorer looking down the lateral moraine

One of the things about living and working in the mountains is that you never know what weather you will be driving in. It could snow any month of the year, even through the summer, and especially as we neared the fall we had plenty of snow days. And although the fleets of busses and Ice Explorers look the same, they all have their different quirks. I still smile when I think about unlocking my bus for the day one morning and reading the comments from the previous days driver, “wasp nest somewhere in bus, live wasps may blow out when you turn the air on”.

A glacier rainbow with an Ice Explorer at the end

Working as a professional driver and tour guide has helped me build on so many personal skills. My driving improved of course by trading in a little car for a big bus for a few months, and I developed my public speaking and presentation skills by building and presenting my own tours to guests. I appreciated that the company gave us talking points we were expected to touch on, but we were free to build our own tour in whatever order and with whichever stories we preferred.

I also took great delight in working a job that is stereotypically male-dominated. Nearly every day I would get comments like, ‘are you sure you even know how to drive this bus?’, or ‘wait, YOU are driving?’. On the flip side, I also received overwhelming support from plenty of guests who were happy to see so many young female bus drivers.

I am so grateful for my experience working as a driver/guide and being able to live in such an amazing part of the world.

Until next time, happy exploring!

Tick Talk with Tia

As we are a few weeks strong into tick season, and I have a newly adopted dog that has been bringing plenty of them into my house, I figured it would be a good idea to do some research and learn a little more about how to avoid and remove these nasty little creatures.

I often see people sharing ‘life hacks’ on Facebook about how to quickly get rid of a tick with vaseline or a lighter, and I know that this method could potentially do more harm than good, so I believe it is important to share a little about what they actually are and how to remove them.

Healthlink BC has an excellent step by step process on how to properly remove a tick and some removal methods to avoid. https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/tp23585spec

It is also a great idea to research the types of ticks that are found in your area and which tick borne illnesses you may need to be aware of. In Saskatchewan, I have only found Wood Ticks (or American Dog Ticks), but I know that the Lyme disease carrying Deer Tick is here as well.

The thing is that I want to be educated and cautious, because they can potentially be quite harmful, but I also do not want to let them stop me from going outside or keeping me stuck to the sidewalk. There are a few steps I take to kick the ticks…

For myself, it’s important to wear bug spray with DEET if I know i’ll be going off of a path. If I think that the area may be especially tick-y, I’ll tuck my pant legs into my socks (what a nerd) so that they can’t crawl up into my pant legs. It’s also nice to ask your hiking/walking buddies to quickly scan each other during and after your hike. When I get home, I will remove all of my clothing and throw it into the dryer for 10-20 minutes (your washing machine will not kill them, but the dryer will). Then I’ll check places that a tick would like to bite like behind my ears, armpits, etc. to make sure I don’t have any unwelcome hitchhikers.

For Piper, I also want to be careful because dogs can also be susceptible to tick borne illnesses. I give her a tick treatment once per month which will kill ticks about 12-24 hrs after she is bitten (talk to your vet about the best tick treatment option for your pet as there are plenty!). I also try to avoid walking her through very grassy areas, although being a dog she is drawn to them. After our walks I will quickly check her over for anything I can immediately see, but it is difficult to spot ticks on her as she is dark coloured so I often don’t find them until they’re crawling across my couch a few hours later.

My family and I save every tick we find in a glass jar. Firstly, its a good idea to keep the ticks in case you are bitten and do begin to feel ill, then they can be tested for tick borne illnesses. And secondly, they are so damn hard to kill that I never feel quite confident that I have squished them (and remember that water doesn’t seem the phase them so flushing is probably not a good idea either).

Here are a few resources to help learn how to identify ticks and ways to avoid them.

Tick Identification: https://tickencounter.org/tick_identification/tick_species

Preventing tick bites: https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_people.html

Tick bites and what to do if you are bitten: https://www.healthline.com/health/tick-bites#symptoms

Keep safe and continue to enjoy the outdoors!

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!