Saturday and Sunday, August 5-6, 2017
Icefields Parkway – Alberta, Canada
Warning: Long blog post coming!
We left Lake Louise and drove what is considered one of the most beautiful drives on the planet. Luckily the smoke stayed away again and we had spectacular views. We had an app that I found before the trip that followed us using GPS and would tell us interesting facts and history about where we were on the drive and what points of interest were coming up, so we made many stops.
First, we headed down to Johnston Canyon, which was actually back towards Banff, but not too far away.
After Johnston Canyon, we loaded back up and headed north again, with the big objective of the day being the Columbia Icefield. Along the way we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls (Why are so many falls named this? Be more creative people!) and got an unexpected surprise – see video.
We got to the Icefield around 2:30 and it was PACKED. Luckily, we already had reservations to go up onto the Athabasca glacier in a “snowcoach” and didn’t have to wait in line to buy tickets. Icefields feed glaciers. They are likened to a huge lake of ice and glaciers are like rivers coming off them.
We had a quick lunch on the patio of the visitor center and then caught a bus up to the snowcoaches on the glacier. We then took the coach up to the glacier and were able to walk around on part of it. It felt like standing in a giant freezer and we drank melt water directly off the glacier. The experience was pretty incredible.
After this we got back to the car and drove to the Skywalk that hangs over a 1000 foot cliff. I am working on my fear of heights, but that thing moves when you walk on it and is packed with tourists who are oblivious to others. It was not my favorite.
Our lodge for the night was a little place called Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge. It was a bit kitschy and not the greatest rooms, but the food was fantastic. I feel like if I were a kid in the 70s this place would have been awesome. Reminded us of a Jellystone lodge or something, if you know what that is.
The next morning we woke up and made a quick walk to Sunwapta Falls, just down the road from the lodge.
We loaded back up and continued up the Icefield Parkway towards Jasper. After a quick stop at Honeymoon Lake, we stopped at an overlook and saw some elk crossing the Athabasca River.
Then we hit the impressive Athabasca Falls.
Wow. From there we headed into Jasper where we would stay at the Fairmont Jasper Lodge, which may have been our favorite of the Fairmonts.
Friday, August 4, 2017
Eiffel Lake Trail – Moraine Lake, Alberta, Canada
7.2 miles (11.6 km)
This may be the most beautiful place I have been in the world, up to this point. I had seen photos before, but it is just jaw dropping in real life. Moraine Lake is located in the so-called Valley of the Ten Peaks.
Court, Doc, and I woke up at 6am in order to get a parking spot, as the lot fills up in August by 7 or 8 am and then they shut the road down. We arrived a little after 6:30am and the lot was about half full. The color of the lake is more vibrant in full sun, but it was still beautiful before the sun had fully risen and the canoes weren’t out yet.
I knew this trail started out steep, but I underestimated it. There were 10 switchbacks going up over 1000 feet in roughly half a mile, which was tough. We took our time though and once we got to the top, the rest of the trail was fairly flat along the contour of the mountain going towards Eiffel Lake. The wildflowers were in full bloom and the views of the lake through the trees were spectacular.
About halfway through we came along a marmot literally about 3 feet off the trail. I froze and stopped Court and Doc, thinking he would frighten easily, but he just kept munching away at the grass next to the trail. We said hello and went on our way without him missing a beat.
Toward the end, the trail came out of the woods and wound through a scree field as we got close to Eiffel Lake. The silence was amazing. We could hear the glaciers and ice across the valley cracking as the morning sun’s rays hit the mountains. The only other sound was the whistling of the marmots hidden among the rocks. It was incredible.
We turned and made the trek back down to the lake the way we had come. The lake was even more brilliant than when we had climbed up and we stopped at the bottom to take our shoes off and dunk our tired feet in the frigid glacial water.
At the foot of the lake and start of the trail is a huge rock pile that is actually a glacial moraine (it’s not just a clever name) that formed the lake. The photos from the top of this rock pile are where the iconic shots are taken that are ubiquitous among Canadian tourism brochures, and with good reason. I climbed to the top of this pile, clambering up and over precarious boulders with other brave (foolhardy?) tourists instead of taking the easier trail around the back side.
We got back to the hotel in the early afternoon and decided bring Suz back to Moraine Lake for the sunset. We couldn’t let her miss this amazing place.
As I said, the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I hope to eclipse this one day, but it will be difficult.
Thursday, August 3 – Saturday, August 5, 2017
Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
We arrived at the world famous Chateau Lake Louise and were immediately awestruck. What a view. Little did we know it would get even better.
There were a ton of wildfires in BC and one big one just south of Banff. The wind had shifted overnight and the drive to Lake Louise was pretty smoky, obscuring some of the fantastic scenery. Luckily, the wind would shift the next day for our big hike at Moraine Lake, which is getting its own blog post. The first day at Lake Louise, we decided to walk the trail on the water’s edge. This trail is flat and is actually the beginning of the Plain of Six Glaciers trail, but we only took it to the end of the lake and the delta.
After that short hike (only about 2 miles on flat ground), we drove up to Yoho National Park and saw Emerald Lake, which we WILL be going back to, a beautiful Natural Bridge, and Takakkaw Falls, a 254 meter (833 foot) waterfall. We got the falls in just before the sun set and we headed back to the magnificent Chateau.
On the morning we left Lake Louise (the day after the Moraine Lake hike), we woke up at 5am to get to the boat dock on Lake Louise by 5:30 for a sunrise canoe trip. Court, Doc, and I took a canoe out on the still water and watched the sky get light (it was a bit cloudy) over the Chateau. It was silent, cold, and beautiful.
Up next: Icefields Parkway up to Sunwapta and Jasper.
August 1-3, 2017
Banff, Alberta, Canada
It’s been a long time since I last blogged. Due to the horrid Texas heat and some other life events, the hiking was basically non-existent this summer, but we ended the summer season with a bang.
Courtney and I, along with her parents, went on a 12 day venture to the Canadian Rockies and British Columbia. This year is Canada’s 150th birthday as a nation and all of the National Parks are free. What better time to do them all!
Canada is simply incredible and there are more photos and sights than I could ever reasonably put into blog form, so I am going to attempt to pare down the highlights and hikes into a manageable form. I will include almost all my videos too.
The first stop on our journey was at the southern end of the Canadian Rockies in Banff. We flew into Calgary, rented a car, and began our journey that would ultimately cover over 1,300 miles (2092 km). I got pretty fond of the metric system and wouldn’t actually mind it if the US made the switch. Probably not gonna happen though.
We stayed at the Fairmont Banff Springs and it was beautiful. We rode the Banff Gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain for some incredible views and lunch.
We also saw the Cave and Basin Park (the inspiration for Canada’s National Park system) and took a raft down the Bow River.
On the last morning we woke up early and hiked along the Spray River and made a loop back to the hotel, skirting the Banff Springs golf course, and then hitting the famous Bow Falls on the way back. About 4.5 miles total.
Banff was great, but probably the most crowded of any place we went. On August 3rd, we headed up the highway to Lake Louise, just about a 45 minute drive. Continued on next post.
Thursday, June 1, 2017
Pacific Crest Trail Southern Terminus – Campo, CA
Mile 0 – Mile 3.0 (6 miles round trip)
Clear, sunny, mid 70s
Today was a big day and I’m betting this blog entry will be pretty long. Courtney had a conference in San Diego and I tagged along, as neither of us had been to San Diego before. I rented a car one morning while she was at the conference and drove the hour or so down to Campo and the Southern Terminus of the PCT.
One day I hope to thru-hike this entire trail. For today, I had to be content with the first three miles. I have been looking forward to this for several years now and the experience, as short as it was, did not disappoint.
I got out to the monument at about 10am. It wasn’t hot, which was nice, considering it’s the desert in June. There’s not much to Campo, as you would expect, and it was strange driving through town to the border. At first I drove up to the border wall and to the back of the monument, but there is now a chicken wire fence between the wall and the monument, so you have to approach on foot from down the hill. There’s no real parking area, just a bunch of intersecting dirt roads, so I improvised and it turned out fine.
There was a man parked right next to the monument when I got there and I thought at first he was part of the Border Patrol, but it turns out his name was Dave and he had driven down just to see the monument. He is in his mid-60s and lives somewhere about 400 miles north of the border in California and just loves the trail. He said he plans to do some trail angel-ing later on in the season up around Walker Pass, Seiad Valley, and several other places. Trail angels are people who go out of their way to help out hikers on the trail, whether that means stocking water caches, leaving coolers full of food and drinks at strategic places, or sometimes so much more. Some take hikers into their homes, provide meals, showers, laundry, and rest. Trail angels are amazing people.
I signed the trail register and Dave took my picture at the monument. I was pretty starstruck at the beginning and the whole situation was pretty surreal for a while. According to the register, there was actually one other person who had started the trail that morning, who I believe was a thru-hiker. June 1st is generally a pretty late start date for a North-bound thru hike, but there is record snow this year in the Sierra, so I think some people may be trying to let it thaw out a bit, hence the later start. The first hikers in the register were from April 16th, which is usually right at the peak of when the majority of hikers start. Usually there are a lot that start during the first two weeks of April as well, but not this year.
I also got to use the demo version of Guthook’s PCT app, which worked fantastically. It is super easy and essentially shows where you are in relation to the trail as well as elevation profiles and also has tons of points of interest (water sources, road crossings, campsites, etc) that are very helpful when hiking a 2,655 mile long trail.
The trail starts a bit ambiguously. Many hikers apparently start out going the wrong direction (more on that later), but I had researched the path and knew where to go. Another thing I was not expecting was that the monument actually is at the top of a big hill at the border and the first quarter mile of the trail is going down that hill. I had always assumed it was just kinda flat, but that’s not the case.
There are two orange cones about 100 yards in that serve as the first official trail markers, kind of like a starting line. The trail was sandy and dry with multitudes of rabbits, ground squirrels, and lizards constantly darting hither and thither.
As you enter Campo, the trail goes right alongside the road and actually joins the road for a stretch, so you are immediately hiking through town next to people’s houses. It then turns off and starts to go up into the desert hills.
The Mile 1 sign is a PCT hiker tradition as well and is strategically placed just on the other side of a boulder at a turn in the trail, so it catches you by surprise.
Again, I expected the beginning of the trail to be a lot flatter than it turned out to be and it actually is somewhat tough right off the bat. There are some decent elevation changes and you get into the wilderness pretty quickly. The first road crossing is at Highway 94, about 2.3 miles in.
After the road crossing the first water source is at a wooden bridge in a slightly wooded section. It’s not great, but I suppose if you somehow have gone through a ton of water in the first couple of miles, it would be useful.
The trail winds up through the hills where it reaches a railroad and this marked the farthest I would go today. I hung out for a couple of minutes contemplating what it would be like to just keep going to the end. One day.
I turned around and headed back the way I came. I averaged about 3 mph, which is a relatively quick pace, so I was actually somewhat tired when I got back to the monument. On the way back I ran into the only other hiker I would see. I asked where he was headed and when his reply came “Canada” I wished him good luck. He seemed a bit green, but there’s a steep learning curve out there. I hope he does well and reaches the border.
Back at the monument, Dave was still there, hanging out in his truck just enjoying the day. He told me that the hiker had initially started off in the wrong direction (walking parallel to the border wall) and when he got to the top of a hill, a Border Patrolman picked him up, explained his error, and drove the hiker back down to the monument to try again. This apparently happens a lot. We both had a bit of a chuckle at this, but to be fair, the monument is oriented in a way that it gives the impression that’s the way the trail goes.
I talked with Dave a bit more and then walked back down the hill to where I had parked my car and ate a sandwich I packed in for lunch. This was quite the experience for me, despite being so short in length, and I can’t wait to do other sections of the trail and eventually, hopefully, the entire length, border to border.
A couple of different map angles:
Saturday, May 13, 2017
Lost Maples State Natural Area
warm, sunny, mid 80s
This was actually going to be an overnight, but I finished the hike much faster than anticipated and didn’t want to sit in the woods by myself for 7 hours until the sun set, so I bailed and drove home. The hike was still very pretty and well worth the 6 hour round trip drive.
I had a full pack, including the Marmot Limelight 3 person tent and Enlightened Equipment double quilt, despite being a solo trip. I had no choice, as I haven’t bought my solo shelter or quilt yet. All that said, my pack weight, including food and water was just under 25 pounds, so not too shabby.
I intended to hike the remainder of the trail that we hadn’t finished on our first overnight back in 2015. This meant doing a counter-clockwise loop on the west side of the park. There was a steep climb that got me to some good views. Unfortunately, they don’t believe in switchbacks in this park, so it’s basically just a straight up climb for a quarter mile on scree. I was winded, but the breeze up top was nice and I took a short break.
After a short walk through Mystic Canyon (which I will say is neither mystic, nor a real canyon), I got to the junction where I was to do another steep climb. There were three hikers at the junction who had just come from where I was headed. They told me horror stories of not only steep trail, but spiders everywhere as big as your hand. I was already thinking of skipping this section and their warnings made it an easy decision. Instead I headed to my intended campsite and passed some nice springs on the way.
When I arrived at Camping Area C it was just barely 2pm. There were several groups camped already and I wasn’t sure if they were still waiting to pack up from the night before or if they had gotten out earlier than me and set up. Either way, I didn’t feel like hanging around by myself all afternoon, especially when I was just about a mile from the trail head. So I continued on and headed back to the car.
However on the way I found a nice waterfall that I had to scramble down a small cliff to really see, but it was well worth it.
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Hike: Cub Lake Loop – Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Weather: cool, mid 60s, overcast
Hikers: Ian, Court
Length: 6.2 miles
This was my first time to Rocky Mountain National Park, though Court had gone when she was a kid. I obviously expected mountains and beauty, but the amount of wildlife far exceeded expectations. We were there early in the season, so the higher elevation trails were still snowed in, but that also means the animals are still at lower elevations.
I also spent a lot more time than normal on this entry, playing with photo editors and map tools a lot more, as I’m trying to up the quality of the blog a bit. It will be a work in progress, but it has actually been a lot of fun. I’ve tried to edit the length and number of photos, but it’s tough on beautiful hikes like this. I had over 100 photos to start.
We only had one day (really a half day because of incoming weather), so we did a relatively short loop around Cub Lake and linked up with the Fern Lake trail to head back to the car at the end. This was a great choice because of the multitude of different terrain which included meadows, forests, creekside trails, waterfalls, and sandy washes. Not to mention the ever-present Aspen trees.
Starting at the Cub Lake trail head, we followed the edge of a huge meadow called Moraine Park. There were a couple of fly fisherman angling for trout in the small creeks near the beginning of the trail. We saw lot of elk lounging in the meadow as we followed the path and eventually turned and started to climb towards Cub Lake. A quick rabbit as well.
Courtney spotted some geese and some tiny fuzzy goslings just off the trail near the Beaver Ponds. The mother goose watched us closely, but we kept moving.
As we continued we started to get into the burn zone from the 2012 Fern Lake fire, which lasted 2 months and consumed nearly 3,500 acres.
Just before Cub Lake we came upon a group of four elk that were within 50 yards of the trail. We were very quiet and they definitely saw and smelled us, but didn’t seem to mind. There were several other hikers around as well and the elk seemed like they were used to seeing people on the trail. It was windy and I had to talk quietly, so audio is not the best.
Cub Lake was beautiful and stark. Snow was still present on the upper hillside and in small patches of shade on the ground, but none on the trail. There was a moose on the other side of the lake wallowing in the water and I tried to get a good photo, but it was far away and still. Luckily, when we got to the other end of the lake it decided to get up and wander back into the woods, giving me a better shot. I’ve always thought the plural should be meese, by the way.
Just past Cub Lake at the junction with the Mill Creek Trail was the high point of the hike, around 8700 feet. From here we descended down with great views to The Pool.
We headed back towards the car on the Fern Lake trail which followed the Big Thompson River all the way. We saw plenty of chipmunks and birds (several Rocky Mountain Magpies), along with one little snake that Court spotted alongside the trail.
We ended at the Fern Lake trail head, which meant we had about a one mile road walk back to the car, but it was more dirt than road. We also saw a few more elk grazing near the road.
We got in the car and drove over to Bear Lake, but it was pretty crowded and we decided just to enjoy the views from the car. On the way out of the park the weather started to turn and when we got to Estes Park it started to hail on us. Luckily we were in the car and it was kind of a slushy hail, but it just showed how quick the mountain weather can turn.
I wish we had more time to explore, but we knew this was going to be a really short trip. Next time we will stay in Boulder, Estes Park, or Grand Lake, but we wanted to check out Denver on this trip as well. This was a very enjoyable day and we hope to catch a quick flight up to Colorado again sometime in the near future. Click the maps to enlarge.
Sunday, April 30, 2017
Reimer’s Ranch – Lower River Trail and Turkey Loop
Sunny, breezy, mid 70s
Ian, Court, Biff
A cool front came through on Saturday night and dropped temperatures back down to more hiker-friendly levels, so we headed out to Reimer’s Ranch again to check out some new trails. Court was also testing out another pair of shoes (La Sportiva Bushido’s) before we head to Colorado next week.
First, we made our way down to the Pedernales River and the beach. The water was extremely warm and we made a note to come back when it’s 100+ degrees and go swimming.
Then we followed the Lower River primitive trail, which was much more well maintained than the last trail we did here near the main rock climbing area. The trail went along the river for a mile or so and we watched the vultures and hawks float along on the thermals above the trail.
There were also several lizards out basking in the sun and one of them allowed me to get quite close for some photos.
The trail then climbed back up to the plateau and we transitioned onto the multi-use trails that cater to bikes as well as horses, though we saw neither. The Texas Firewheels and several other flowers (Brown Bitterweed?) are still in full bloom.
About halfway through the Turkey Loop section, we realized that our shoes were full of spear grass and Biff was starting to get poked as well, so I picked him up and carried him a little way until the trail cleared out again.
After a short rest and water we took the interpretive trail back to the parking lot. This trail paralleled the Lower River Trail, but was higher above it on the plateau and had markers every quarter mile or so detailing different plants and wildlife of the area. The county has done very well with this park since taking it over several years ago and we still have some more trails left to explore.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Hike: Bauerle Ranch Trail System
Weather: nice, sunny, mid 70s
Hikers: Ian, Court, Biff
Length: 3.3 miles
Court had never been out to Bauerle Ranch and we were looking for a hike semi-close to town, so we loaded up and hit the trail on a beautiful Sunday morning while the weather is still cooperating. Any day now we should start into summer temperatures.
The trail system is surrounded by a neighborhood and Slaughter Creek and Bauerle Creek flow through it, though I am yet to see water in Slaughter Creek. We started off on the Slaughter Creek portion of the trail, but it quickly became overgrown, so we crossed over the dry bed and continued on a more well worn path.
We wound up through the neighborhood to the other side of the park and went by the turtle pond.
Both times I have been out here it has been really green and lush. We didn’t do all the trails, so our distance ended up being just over 3 miles. This is a nice little easy hike that is often overlooked.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
Hike: Westcave Preserve Uplands and Violet Crown Trail
Weather: sunny, pleasant, mid 70s
Hikers: Ian, Court, and Sara
Length: about 3 miles combined
We had planned to go out to Westcave Preserve, near Hamilton Pool and Reimer’s Ranch, to take the guided tour to see the grotto. Guided tours are required because of the fragility of the area. However, on beautiful days like this, apparently you have to show up more than 10 minutes early for the 10am tour, as we just missed the cut off (30 people). It would have to wait for another day.
However, since we were already out there, we did a quick 1 mile loop in the “Uplands” area of Westcave, which is a nice, flat prairie loop. It starts out with a short boardwalk, but quickly transitions to gravel, dirt, and grass. We are at the end of wildflower season, quickly approaching hellish broiler season, so there are only a select few flowers left, but it was still very pretty.
The trail was only a mile and we all wanted to hike more so we came back into town and hit the Violet Crown Trail down to the Greenbelt and back. We hiked down the switchbacks and crossed dry creek beds several times before we got down to Barton Creek, which was flowing well.
We lingered shortly before turning around and making the trek back up to the trail head at 290 and Brodie Lane. There wasn’t much length for the hikes today, but it was good to get out on the trails nonetheless.
Tragic. Please help if you can.
Aftermath of the fire outside – photo by Chris Bondante
The bird room after the fire – Photo by Chris Bondante
Our bird room and adjacent outdoor habitats were completely destroyed, along with food, equipment, and other items. The good news is that 86-year old owner Janet Miller is OK and most animals survived and are receiving continued care. Some of the birds lost had been educational animals for over a decade, they will all be missed.
Both of our educational Elf Owls perished in the fire. Elfie and Cleo brought joy and wonder to all who met them.
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Saturday, April 1, 2017
Hike: Reimer’s Ranch – Canyon Trail
Weather: windy, cloudy, cool, mid 60s
Hikers: Ian, Court, Biff
Length: 1.4 miles
Milton Reimer’s Ranch is a park that is about 1 mile from Hamilton Pool and we had never hiked it. This was a pretty short (but hard) hike and we have plenty of trails left to explore out there, with over 2400 acres in the park.
From the Travis County Parks website:
This pristine parkland, open space and reserve land in western Travis County with almost 3 miles of continuous frontage along the Pedernales River is the largest parkland acquisition in the history of Travis County.
The rain was supposed to start up in the afternoon so we woke up relatively early and made the 45 minute drive to the park, hitting the trail by about 9:30am. I also used this hike to test out my new day pack that I bought for use this summer in Colorado and Canada, the Osprey Stratos 24. I could have saved a pound of weight going with the Talon 22, but the sturdier frame of the Stratos ultimately sold me. It will take a couple of hikes to dial it in, but I was happy with the fit and feel of it on today’s hike. However, the hole in the pack for the water bladder hose was engineered poorly, being very difficult to thread the hose through and I can see that getting old. I may have to cut part of it to make it not as maddening.
The ranch is apparently a rock climbers heaven and there were plenty of climbers down in the canyon. The trail was not well marked and we had to feel our way and do a bit of scrambling and bushwhacking, carrying Biff quite a bit.
We trekked down into the canyon and there were several people doing a photo shoot under one of the big rock overhangs with a tent set up and various gear combinations. We continued down into the canyon, following the small stream that was cut into the rock. It soon became several beautiful waterfalls surrounded by ferns and tall trees.
From here the trail became much more difficult to ascertain and was pretty overgrown. We came across several different rock climbing groups and stopped briefly to watch them. We struggled on through the trail for a bit, bushwhacking and climbing up and over huge boulders, but ultimately decided it was time to head back in the other direction where there seemed to be slightly clearer trails. The day was very muggy and carrying Biff along with a full pack takes its toll.
We came back to the waterfall from earlier and Court ate the rest of her breakfast next to it. We then followed the trail to a river overlook and saw where the stream emptied into the Pedernales River, again with several beautiful waterfalls.
We could hear more and more people entering the canyon and decided to head back. There were lots of kids and they did not seem to care about enjoying the sounds of nature as much as the sounds of their own voices. Get off my lawn.
We climbed out of the canyon, past a field of wildflowers, and back to the car. This hike was really short in distance, but big on nature. We’ll be back.