Trip Guiding

For the first part of this summer, I put my outdoor experience to work guiding groups of students in our beautiful Rocky Mountains. I loved the opportunity to share the challenges and beauty of the outdoors with these students. The people I was working with are amazing and made the whole experience a lot of fun! But guiding is busy and constant work and helping others enjoy nature is not conducive to finding peaceful moments myself. As guides we are always the last to bed and the first to wake up, and these are the times when we’re most likely to be able to take a little bit of time to just enjoy being.

This is one moment, early in the morning beside the North Saskatchewan River between Nordegg and Rocky Mountain House. It may look like a peaceful moment, but really I was sprinting around with my camera because the light was so amazing and I had to start making breakfast and pack up before the students woke up.

25mm, f6.3, 1/400 of a second

Backpacking

Hiking Up Towards Allstones LakeEnjoying the View of Abraham LakeHaving Supper at Allstones Lake

An eight day backpacking trip concluded our epic August adventure. After learning to do a bit of map and compass work, we set off all together on a sunny hike up to Allstones Lake. Our packs were heavy with food for our 8 day trip. The first part of the hike is well known and the trail well-travelled, so while we could learn how to navigate with map and compass, we didn’t need to. We got to Allstones with time to set up our tarps, filter some water, and make some supper before dark. Our bearhangs (rope systems to hang all our food between trees so bears can’t get at them) took a little longer and we finished them off in the dark with headlamps.

Allstones Lake at Night

Then we all crawled into our sleeping bags under our tarps for what would turn out to be a miserable night. It was clear when we went to sleep, but a storm rolled in overnight and it started raining and blowing really hard. Our tarp was open at both ends and I was sleeping on the outside. My sleeping bag got pretty wet and I got pretty cold. This set the tone for the rest of the trip. The morning dawned, cold, dark, and rainy. We made breakfast, ate, and packed up as quickly as we could.

Cold Wet Morning at Allstones

This was the first day our small group was alone. We were meeting up with everyone else at a pre-determined location on the map. There were no more trails and the trees were thick, making landmarking difficult. To add to this, the clouds were low, and often we couldn’t see any mountains, even when the trees thinned out. The rain was cold and constant, finding a way through all our waterproof layers. We quickly switched from navigating by landmarks to dead reckoning (going a specific compass direction). We tried to gauge our distance by the number of drainages we passed through, but we didn’t know our exact elevation and the number of drainages on the map varied depending on the elevation.

Trying to Navigate

We debated where we were quite a bit, pointing out hills in the distance, and the direction of creeks we crossed. Eventually we got to an open mountainside where we could see more than one landmark at once. We debated, ended up with two possibilities of where we could be, with most of us being pretty sure of one. But on a day when we were all cold, wet, and miserable, with darkness starting to loom, we thought we better be sure. We took out the GPS and confirmed our guess. We were where we thought we were, but we still had a ways to go. We eventually found the right drainage to walk down, followed the swampy, willowy valley, and ended up close to our campsite. We were all soaked, although hiking had kept us warm up to this point.

River Crossing Near Camp

As we got into camp though, the cold started creeping in and we started slowing down. As we tried to set up the tarp with shaking, numb fingers, others in our group searched for less-damp wood with which to start a fire. Nothing was dry. Through chattering teeth, we made sure everyone had their tasks, and we set about doing the chores of the evening. Somehow we managed to get the tarp set up, a fire made, and supper cooked. We changed into drier clothes and tried to warm up.

Trying to Warm Up

By then it was dark, and we needed sleep. We crawled into our sleeping bags and slept extra close that night. Morning came. It was still drizzling, on and off. Most of our gear was wet, but there was nothing to be done about it, so we packed up and headed out. Our route for the day was pretty clear – we would follow a valley through a low pass, and then once the ground leveled out we would head straight north. The day was a little less wet than the day before, our route a little clearer, and our group’s spirits were high. We even saw blue sky for a few minutes before it clouded over again.

Dead Reckoning Through Mossy ForestThe Littlehorn RiverOld Man's Beard

This time we were one of the first groups to camp, and we had a little bit of time to relax in addition to all the evening chores. We got our tarp set up early with drying lines underneath. There was a good gravel bar for a kitchen beside the Bighorn River. The sun came out a bit that evening, and we found out we would have a layover day to dry out our gear. We went to bed happy, if not especially warm.

Cooking Supper

The next day was full of drying gear, learning to identify plants, journaling, and talking with other groups we had barely seen in a few days.

Cooking SupperMorning LightCampfireGroup PortraitTarp ShelterDrying Gear

Then it was time for our small group to head off on our own for a couple days. We picked our route and our campsite for the next night, said goodbye to our home for the last day and a half, and headed out.

Littlehorn and Bighorn Confluence

Despite regular intervals of rain, the fact that there was any sun at all made us pretty happy and the day started out great! We had a long hike ahead of us, but there was a lake at the end of it, and hiking together as a group was a silly and fun affair. At lunch we took off our boots, dried out our feet, and basked in a half hour of sun. It was glorious. After lunch we skipped through meadows, making up songs accompanied by harmonica.

Hiking Through Meadows

However, the meadows turned into swamp. The songs turned to blues. The skipping turned to slogging. The rest of the day was pushing through mossy swamps up to our knees, briefly climbing steep hills only to find we had to go back down into the swamp. We were soooo happy to finally see the lake.

Chad Admiring the Lake

We had a relaxing evening at the lake and slept in the next morning. We woke up to sun for the first time (actually the only time) that trip and water quietly lapping at the shore. We had a leisurely breakfast, packed up, and headed out, changing our route slightly to not lose as much elevation. Crossing the valley above the lake was less swampy than we were worried about. We headed up a south-facing slope of thin pines to gain the ridge and head to our next camp to see everyone again. The hiking was quick and fun, but fallen trees soon slowed us down. It took us longer than expected to get to the next camp, with a steep, mossy decent on the north side of the ridge. After a steeper-than-hoped-for slide down to the river, we crossed and found camp.

Crossing the River

It was really good to see the group again. There were hugs, high fives, and stories all around. For the rest of the trip, we would all hike together. We had a good supper with burnt pudding for desert, which kind of tasted horrible but because it was chocolate and we were camping, it was good.

Pudding Desert!

The next morning we all packed up as a large group and started climbing.

Packing Up

We quickly gained the ridge and had great views. We even got a spot of sun during lunch. But lunch got cut short as clouds started rolling in.

View from the RidgeFog in the Valley

We hiked to another small peak in the rain and fog, and then sat down for an appropriately cold reflection on our trip.

Hiking Through the Fog

After climbing down in a cold, cutting rain, we found another soggy campsite and had a great evening with the group. We had a potluck and skits or songs from each group, and then climbed under our tarps for the last time. The next morning we packed up and bushwhacked out the last few kilometers to the road where a few people hitchhiked back to get a vehicle.

Annoying WillowsCrossing Again

And that’s how it ended, as all trips do, with a “Oh, I guess it’s done. What now?”

Absence of a Crowd

Tropical Beach at Night

It’s strange to me how much the presence or absence of people changes my experience of a place. In the daytime this beach is bustling with activity, which many people seem to enjoy so much. For me, it’s too much going on. I feel like I have to keep track of it all and I can’t, and that gets stressful. With a dedicated effort of willpower I can start to ignore everything that’s going on. But walking out here at night it is entirely deserted. Then the quiet lapping of the water on the sand and the twinkle of the stars are able to fill the void left by all the people.

Taken in Cuba
24mm, f1.4, 15 seconds

A Land Filled with Meaning

Bright Colors in the Belly Buttes

Being in the Belly Buttes was an interesting experience. They are on land owned by the Blood Tribe in southern Alberta, and I had to get special permission to hike here. On the one hand I felt at home – it felt open and free and the chance of running into random people was small. The only trails were deer and cow trails. On the other hand, I definitely felt I was travelling on someone else’s land, through someone else’s past, which holds a significance that I can only begin to understand. I wonder if this isn’t a feeling that should be more familiar to me – the sense of past and future people living with and on the land, the sense of the land meaning more than just a place to hike.

Evening Hikes

California Evening near Grey Whale Cove

I tend to go for a lot of evening hikes, walks, and runs. They require a different sort of planning than mid-day outings. They require an being aware of the terrain you’ve traveled over and knowing the directions to get back to your starting point in the dark. They require a headlamp and extra batteries in your pack. But if you’re prepared, an evening walk is a stress-free adventure. Often, right before sunset and at sunset is when animals are most active – having a final evening snack and finding a place to settle down for the night. Watching the sun set and the stars finally getting their chance to shine, watching the world slowly slip in darkness and stillness – it’s a peaceful, beautiful and exciting time.

Taken near Grey Whale Cove State Beach, California
12mm, f9, 1/125 of a second

A Different Life

A Different Life in the Cuban Countryside

I’m not sure if it’s growing up on a farm and now living in a city, or if it’s a symptom of a hectic life, or if it’s just another “grass is greener” kind of thought, but living here looks like a beautiful life to me. I’m sure it comes with its own struggles and frustrations. I wonder if the owners would be surprised to know that I sometimes dream of living there.

Taken in central Cuba.
40mm, f2.8, 1/4000 of a second.

Early Mornings

Still Pool on the Cline River

I’m not normally a morning person, but early mornings while camping are different. The stillness and peacefulness are too sweet to miss.

Taken by the Cline River, AB
12mm, f7.1, 1/320 of a second

Summer Sunset

Saskatchewan Summer Sunset

Just posting a quick warm photo of the beautiful province where I grew up: Saskatchewan. Spring is pretty much here and these are the evenings we have to look forward to soon!

135mm, f16, 1/25 of a second

Memory and Promise

Banff Mountain Sunset

The prospect of backpacking this summer has me pretty excited. It’s come up a few different ways in the past few weeks and it has me studying google maps, reading trip descriptions, dreaming, and remembering past trips. It’s not the most immediate thing, but it is a familiar thing I can come back to. In a couple weeks I’m going ski touring and winter camping for a few days, which will be new for me. New things come with both excitement and nervousness. But backpacking will be like climbing into a warm sleeping bag, like curling up with a purring cat. This photo is from quite a while ago in Banff National Park. I was looking through some old photos and reliving some old trips.

Banff National Park
32mm, f6.7 1/180 of a second