Sawback trail – Skoki Valley to Lake Louise (Day 7)

Home time!!! Despite the beauty of the Rockies, the crazy amazing hiking, and the lovely lodge atmosphere of Skoki…we wanted to go home.

Hugh extracted himself from the comfy bed of our Skoki Lodge detour and returned his Handbook of the Canadian Rockies to the bookshelf.  We munched and chatted our way through breakfast, and packed a hefty lunch to take along with us on the hike out. I took one last swing on the Skoki swing. We signed the guest book.  We left tips for the staff. Our gear was back in our packs. Our bellies were full. The sun was shining. We were ready to go.Day 7 swing

Start point: Skoki Lodge

End point: Village of Lake Louise

Distance: 17.2 km (3.9 km in the van)

Elevation: Gained ~309m, lost ~938m

Highlights: beauty of a day, icy cold root beer

I’d told Hugh about the Skoki Lakes route up to Packer’s Pass as an alternate to going back over Deception Pass but he was more comfortable going back the way we’d come, wanting to expedite our departure from the backcountry.Day 7 Skoki lounging

With our only elevation gain going up and over Deception, we made excellent time down past Ptarmigan Lake and Redoubt Mountain, down Boulder Pass and through the meadows.Day 7 heading home

It was another hot day, so we stopped and refilled our water bottles at the halfway hut, but otherwise just kept moving.  We passed hikers with crisp shirts and smiles on their faces. We saw dogs out for the day with their owners.  We witnessed an entire Japanese family trekking along from age 9 to what appeared to be 90. Everyone having a delightful day.

Hiking up to Ptarmigan Lake is a very do-able day hike from Lake Louise (I did it last summer); and believe it or not, I met several people in the winter who skied in to Skoki Lodge for tea and then skied out again, all in one day. Such a pretty area and is totally a must-do on any Canadian Rockies bucket list.

There are grizzlies living in and around Skiing Louise, and the Skoki Lodge trailhead is on the back side of the (ski) mountain.  We kept our eyes peeled, but didn’t see any bears at all.  Now – being a lodge guest, we had the option of catching a shuttle van from the Skoki trailhead on the mountain down to the Fish Creek parking lot, or walking the 3.9 km fire road.  I’ve walked up that fire road before, and let me tell you, it’s not too much fun. All gravel, steep and few opportunities for views of the surrounding mountains.  We opted to wait 1.5 hours for the shuttle van to come and fetch us.

By the time the van arrived, most of our fellow Skoki Lodge inmates had also shown up for the ride down the mountain.  It was bumpy and dusty and squishy, but better than walking down.  Our legs were done for this week!  The driver couldn’t take us any further than the Fish Creek parking lot, and our fellow hikers all had full cars, so we hiked from there to the village of Lake Louise.  Boy, we were happy to see Laggan’s for some pizza bagels, brownies and cold drinks!

We sat and watched tourists in the village as we waited for the Greyhound to Banff.  Thoroughly entertaining… Our bus was about an hour late (apparently the eastern-bound Greyhound out of Vancouver is almost always delayed) but soon enough we were on our way to meet the family in Banff – sooo great to see them!  After dinner out in Canmore, we headed on to Kananaskis where we stayed for a night in a tipi at Sundance Lodges.

Following a refreshing shower, Hugh wanted one last night in his own tent…so he set it up and turned in early. Day 7 one last tent night

Jim, Oliver and I sat and chatted for a while.  I was very aware of a new twinge in my lower back. By the time bedtime came, it was extremely painful, and even to get in and out of the tipi I had to crawl rather than bend down.  Lowering myself into bed was excruciating if I moved a degree too far to the left or right.  What the heck??

This was a disappointing turn of events, because the very next day in Kananaskis, I had a half-marathon trail run, Powderface. I’d registered for this event months ago and was totally looking forward to the challenge of this course.  And here I was, not even able to move properly from bed to standing, from standing to car, etc.  What a rip off!  Part of me wanted to go check in the next morning to at least get my race package, but eventually I made the decision to not participate in the race, and to head home one day early.  Sad face…the boys, mind you, were totally fine with that.  Hugh couldn’t wait to get home, Oliver had things to do, and Jim missed the cats…

And thus the Sawback Trail is done!  Such a neat experience to hike through the backcountry from Johnston’s Canyon to Lake Louise.  All in all, our trail kilometres added up to about 70 km over the 7 days we took to hike and explore.  I loved being able to hike with my son. I think that was the very best part.  (In the end, backcountry trips are all about the company …)

Sawback trail – Johnston’s Canyon to Luellen Lake (Day 1)

Before heading out on bigger hikes this summer, it was time for my youngest son, Hugh, and I to put our gear, our bodies and our general hiking compatibility to the test.

We’d booked in for 6 nights total in the front-range wilderness, hiking from Johnston’s Canyon through to the village of Lake Louise.  For the first four nights, home would be backcountry campgrounds, while the last two nights of our Sawback trail adventure would be spent at Skoki Lodge.

We stopped in at Lake Louise the morning of the trek to take care of a few last-minute things, and of course, what’s a visit to Lake Louise without dropping a wad of cash at Laggan’s Deli & Bakery? We stocked up on fresh roast beef sandwiches, pizza bagels and cookies to take as our lunch on that first day. All was not lost on this little detour.

With the last minute housekeeping details out of the way, we were off by 10:00 am on a wicked hot day (highs of 32C!!) to climb into the mountains.

Start point: Johnston’s Canyon, 1A highway between Banff and Castle Junction

End point: Luellen Lake campground (Jo19)

Distance: 17.4 km

Elevation: Gained ~550m

Highlights: Da bears. Walking upstream in my newly baptized boots. Discovering we had no bug spray.

Trail notes: Taking the well-trodden tourist path through Johnston’s Canyon was a nice but sweaty way to start the day.  With the weight of a full pack, I had great gobs of sweat dripping off my brow as I huffed up past the lower falls, then the upper falls.  Already I was comparing myself to the backpack-less visitors who smelled super clean (mmmm wafts of perfume and aftershave and dryer sheets). Day 1 Johnston's Canyon

I feel that sometimes the very beginning of a hike gets brushed aside in the urgency to get some miles under the feet. Johnston Canyon was that for us.  We barely stopped at all along the trail and catwalks above the cavernous, carved canyon …there are some seriously cool fossils to be found in the limestone walls, and of course, the lovely cave and falls at the lower part, and a rainbow-filled pool at the upper falls. We motored through, looking to put the tourists behind us as we climbed up and out of the gorge and through the forest.

Day 1 Ink Pots

The Ink Pots – our next checkpoint – while unique, are not crazy spectacular…lightly hued blue-green mineral pools with a quicksand bottom and a constant temperature of 4C.  We ditched our packs between the Ink Pots and the stream that feeds the falls, and lunched on our Laggan’s stash amongst the tourist-built cairns.  (Depending how much of a trail purist you are, you might be inclined to kick over these cairns that were simply built for fun, not for direction.) Day 1 Leaving the InkPots

It was now that the adventure truly began, with our bellies full, water re-filled and seeking the faint trail through the willows that would lead us creek-side, all the way through the valley from the Ink Pots, past Larry’s Camp and onwards to Luellen Lake, our destination for the night.

The heat, I must say, was absolutely stifling. Hardly a breeze, not a cloud in the sky. Usually this is a blessing in the Canadian Rockies, but with a forecast of 32C, it created an all-around instant exhaustion.  I was soaked already, and could wring my buff out quite substantially.  By the time we hit Larry’s Camp, we fell to the forest floor and panted.

After a 30-minute rest and recuperation with elevated feet, water + Nuun tablets, we reluctantly hauled our packs back on and made our way across Johnston’s Creek and onwards through the valley.  The spiders were nuts along this trail. We were, I guess, the only ones silly enough to tackle this particular route today, and Hugh kept getting the sticky webs across the face and chest as we moved through the trees and bushes.  It caused him to yelp many a time, and my heart would jump because I thought it was a bear.  “Spiders are worse,” he informed me. And I concur. Day 1 Spiders

Bit by bit, we slowed down. It was hot. The packs were heavy.  We seemed to have made every little bit of civilized conversation already.  About 3 km out from Larry’s Camp we wound our way through the forested trail and Hugh stopped abruptly.  “Mom. MOM.” Oh boy, I thought. Another spider.  But not this time.  “Mom, there’s a bear on the trail.”

Well, how about that.

Hugh stepped to the side, and I could see – not 20 feet ahead of us – a grizzly just along the trail with his head down, completely preoccupied.  He had no idea we were there.  We started talking to him: “Hey, bear. Looking good today, bear.”

The bear glanced up and eyeballed us.

A couple of seconds passed.

And then he began walking directly towards us.

“Hey bear, not today, bear!  Whoa bear!” Shoulder to shoulder, in an attempt to look as big as possible, we slowly began to back up as he got closer, but still talking loudly, firmly.  Hugh had long since pulled out his bear spray, and had the safety off, just in case.

I totally forgot I even had bear spray, fascinated by this whole encounter. A million things run through your head all at once when you are confronted with a situation you can influence but not control.

Remarkably, the bear veered off to our right with his slow, rolling gait, passing us by going off trail through the woods.  He was still only about 15 feet away when he ambled by so quietly.  His profile confirmed he was indeed a grizz with that prominent hump. He appeared to have a yellow tag or collar on…I was trying not to be too obvious, gawking, as to stare him down.  He had little to no interest in us, and carried on down the path from whence we’d come.

Hugh and I just gaped at each other. Well. Textbook, I suppose. And over in less than 3 minutes.

Suddenly, we didn’t feel so hot or tired anymore.  The adrenaline kicked in and we marched forward like the Von Trapps, talking loudly, singing and most of all, making space between us and the bear.  The trail became muddier the further we got away from the meet n’greet and rapidly disintegrated into squishy pools.  I slipped in a deep one, dunking myself and half my pack into the muddy goo.  Soon we were forced around and through the tangled woods instead as puddles became too deep and sticky.

The trail eventually disappeared entirely – due to the 2013 floods –  as the area became a braided stream with fast-flowing, crisp and clear water over smooth white and grey stones.  We didn’t even hesitate and plunged right in, wading ankle deep upstream.  The cold water seeped through our boots, cleaning off the mud and cooling us to the core.  We marched ahead, scanning for signs of a trail, and about a kilometre or so later, we picked it up once again, squishing through the forest in our water-logged boots. This was the beginning of the wet feet – something we had daily on this trail!

Onwards we trudged, the heat and exhaustion catching up with us.  The trail is a tough one – mentally – as for the most part you’re enclosed in the forest, with no pretty views or end in sight.  We criss-crossed back and forth with the creek, and after what seemed like a million years, we hit the coveted trail marker.

Hugh groaned. “What if all it says is ‘be sure to drink your Ovaltine‘??”Day 1 trail along Johnston Creek

But we were in luck. The trail sign jived with the map.  Onwards to Badger Pass Junction, back to Larry’s Camp or a side trip to Luellen Lake. Only 1km to the Luellen Lake campground.  We’d already done 16.4 km.  And that last kilometre – as fate usually has it – was up. Up, up, up to the lake. We crossed our last bridge, filled up on water, and then began the slow climb. It took us forever, completely bushed and now victims to hundreds of mozzies that seemed to come out of nowhere.

The short path up to Luellen Lake may have been the longest I’ve ever walked. So hot. So tired. Pack so heavy.  When finally stumbled upon the lake, it was truly beautiful… a long blue-green mirror fringed by Engelmann spruce and Alpine fir, beneath the craggy cliffs of Helena Ridge.Day 1 Luellen Lake

However, with the mozzie army at our heels we headed right through the empty campground to site #1, pitched our tents and threw ourselves inside for protection…from mozzies, bears and the elements.

Did I mention that the bug spray was mysteriously left behind?  Small regret going on…small regret…

This crazy long day ended quite uneventfully.   Once inside his tent, Hugh didn’t emerge until morning.  I got out periodically to brave the bugs and rinse my hiking clothes, hang the food bag, eat a granola bar and set our wet things out to dry.  Sleep came so easily that night!

Tomorrow: Luellen Lake to Badger Pass Junction

Stretchy pants, cabin fever & other anniversary adventures

Let’s just say that the mountain/wedding anniversary celebrations have passed and the era of the stretchy pants has begun.

Seriously, that’s all I’ve been wearing since being away for a week in the Canadian Rockies. Things with elastic waists.  It was a daily struggle between “I want to look good naked” and “C’mon, treat yourself.”

BearStrTavernx I did have quite a bit of control over food the majority of the holiday which was spent at Baker Creek, with a kitchen to prep our own food.  Baker Creek consisted of delightful log cabins in the woods with absolute peace and quiet. So much P&Q that I was getting FAR TOO MUCH SLEEP and a little edgy by the time I finished two novels in four days (The Girl on the Train and A Man Called Ove), and played all the solitaire I could handle, and was wrinkly from hot-tubbing in the wonderful Jacuzzi in our cabin.

No TVs, no telephones and the WiFi on our various gadgets was very limited. Funny how my modern-day decompression habits include scrolling FB or IG.

I lacked the ability to fully chill, and I bugged my husband daily about going out for snowshoe treks.  Yep, I was a complete pest. Our first snowshoe day out was across frozen Lake Louise to the ice waterfall, back again to the Chateau, then up to Mirror Lake, just below Lake Agnes. He thought he was going to die.  He thought I was trying to kill him. Not exactly romantic anniversary stuff.  The trail WAS steep, but we’d done that route a gazillion times before. I guess on snowshoes was a little more challenging. Or it was the altitude. Or maybe because we are not in fab shape. Or the last time we did that was 20 years ago. Or something.KickingitonPtarmiganx

So, by the next day, he was committing to only short snowshoe excursions (which caused me to pout, stomp and act like a child) because he knew at the end of the week I’d booked us into Skoki Lodge and the only way in to the backcountry was to snowshoe for 11K and he’d have no choice at that point.  I need to rest, he said.  It drove me batty.  He was calm and cool as a cucumber.  (How does he do it??)

Returning to Skoki Lodge (read about my last foray into the snowbound backcountry with Miz J.) was an exciting prospect, as I wanted to introduce my husband to these kinds of adventures that are near and dear to my heart.  He was wary.  Very wary. No running water. No electricity.  His biggest fear was sleeping quarters.

Do I have to sleep next to a stranger, he asked.  He was recalling the summer I took him and the boys to several of the Alpine Club of Canada backcountry huts, where everyone bunks down on padded sleeping platforms right next to one another, and God forbid you’re next to the dude who farts sausage stink all night or snores like a freight train. (He experienced both).

I assured him that no, he didn’t have to share a room, and in fact I’d booked the Honeymoon Cabin – a little log cabin completely separate from the main lodge.  He was quite thrilled about that.  And then when I told him all of our food was provided by stellar backcountry chefs, he perked up even more. No noisy people, no cooking and no cleaning… all good.

FirstlookxBlessed with a bluebird day and crazy warm temperatures for January, our Skoki day couldn’t have been more perfect.  We checked out of our  little cabin at Baker Creek and prepared to go every more rustic.  I was SUPER PROUD of him for making the trek out to the lodge.  Not only was he chipper, but he booked it along and we snowshoed up and over two mountain passes and down into Skoki Valley to the lodge in 3.5 hrs arriving mid-afternoon in time for tea. Not bad!! Well deserving of a night in our very own wee cabin.

Skoki’s honeymoon cabin is – by all means – the way to go. The lodge, built in the 1920s, is charming but squeaky, with the ability to hear all of your neighbours in the adjoining rooms. The cabin’s resounding silence conjured up the epic depth and aloneness of the being the only two people in the world on a fluffy king bed with a softer than soft duvet.  Totally amorous if you had any energy left after snowshoeing in, scarfing down multiple bowls of soul-defying tomato orzo soup with homemade biscuits, guzzling lemonade, snacking on cheddar and brie and pecans and blackberries, and polishing off every last crumb of both the gingerbread AND the lemon tea cakes because you couldn’t quite make up your mind which would go better with your third steaming cup of apple raspberry tea.

We completely passed out in that cozy bed until the sun set, and we found ourselves hurriedly throwing on hut booties and sweaters a few minutes before the dinner bell at 7:00 pm. Like we could fit more food in.Firesburningx

The lodge’s great room transformed into a candlelit haven, with staff moving quietly to and fro, preparing for the evening meal.  The menu board promised halibut, spanakopita, Skoki salad, roasted vegetables and chocolate cake.  We selected seats at the long, polished table and were soon joined by our fellow inmates. My dear extroverted husband took over our social obligations and I sweetly faded into the background, observing.  We met folks from Calgary (tell me a time at Skoki where you don’t meet someone from Calgary…) and a couple from the States. There was the obligatory teen, and a few groups of friends, along with some Aussies for good measure.  Most everyone was lovely, and only a few you’d like to short-sheet their beds. Which could actually be done because there are no locks on the doors at Skoki.

A delightful affair, is dinner at Skoki Lodge. Not only because of the stellar menus created and prepared by Katie Mitzel and her staff, but because it is communal, taking us all back to the art of conversation.

I’d like to say after a leisurely dinner that we fell into a fitful sleep from all that mountain air and good food, but alas we did not.  Bedtime at Skoki tends to take place between 9:00 – 10:00 pm, but we were wide awake following our afternoon nap and dinner.  We warmed up the cabin and did a bit of an electronic cheat, listening to the CBC’s Vinyl Cafe on my iPod, watching the battery operated twinkle lights we’d hung in the cabin windows.  It was after 1:00 am and several chilly excursions to the outhouse that we finally fell asleep….just in time to get up for our 8:00 am breakfast. Yes, breakfast.

SkokiteaxAll about the food.  The Skoki kitchen serves up both a cold and hot breakfast (second breakfast!) followed quickly by the make-your-own-lunch accouterments for either your day trips around the lodge or your trip back to reality.  We only stayed the one night, so we made off with cookies and pockets of trail mix, not bothering with the sandwiches this go around.

Our journey back was a slog up Deception Pass and then the long-haul to Skiing Louise and an endless trudge down the ski-out.  Last time, lifties put us over the mountain but this year, snowshoers had to use the ski-out…which added a ridiculous amount of time and effort. Any shine from the lodge might have worn off DH at this point. In fact, yes, yes it was most certainly gone.  There was a lot of cursing about snowshoes and walking and inconsiderate people making other people snowshoe so far just to reach cars where there are heated seats and mobile chargers.

Despite all the tromping around in the wilderness, I still managed to eat my weight in food, and upon arriving back in Banff (and massaging my legs back to life) we had a celebratory (as in, we’re alive!) steak dinner. Mmmm steak.

Hence the stretchy pants.

It might take some time to recover. I might need another week.

 

 

 

Top 5 things to do at a backcountry lodge in the winter

Happily arriving at Skoki Lodge all in one piece the intrepid snowshoe adventurers – that would be Jill and myself – now had two days to kill.  Sounds terrible when it’s put that way, but given that the journey was indeed the destination, there was now the matter of entertaining oneself in the backcountry.

I hadn’t really given it much thought as to what we’d get up to.  Summer would be easy – there are dozens of day hikes and places to explore.  Winter?  Hmmmm.  Despite my efforts to be healthy and outdoorsy, I’m not sure if I wanted to see my snowshoes again after the 11 km, 2 pass crossing endeavour to get there.

Luckily, R&R comes in a variety of forms in the backcountry.  Here are the top five:

5. Day tripping.  Put those snowshoes or skis back on and explore the area.  Skoki staff spend time each morning with guests offering suggestions or directions on where to go depending on skill, ability and time you’d want to spend out in the backcountry that day. Admittedly, we took a short venture out to the meadows chasing the winter sun for tanning opportunities but ended up drinking Baileys in the shade and sinking up to our waists when we went off-trail.

4. Add a friend.  You’re bound to have one or two things in common with your fellow inmates at the lodge.  Start with, “So, you like to ski…”  Break open the whiskey, rustle up a board game (being completely unplugged from mobile devices and the Internet, it’s time to go back to your roots.  Scrabble, Monopoly, Charades, strip Poker, etc.), read some of the ancient novels left behind by other hikers, or tickle the ivories on the old piano.

3. Stargazing.  The unbelievably clear night skies offer up stunning views of the constellations and the Milky Way.  Bundle up with a blanket outside or at least take a quick glance upwards on way to the outhouse in the middle of the night.

2. Napping.  There is nothing sweeter than an afternoon nap, unfettered by duty, chore or responsibility.  Slide under the feather duvet and drift into another world. It’s like getting your life back. Should you be travelling with a significant other, napping could take on a whole other slant.

1. Eating & drinking.  No need for dehydrated food or protein bars on this holiday… backcountry chefs create the most delicious fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Don’t count the calories, you’ll be burning off that beef tenderloin, mushroom risotto and gingerbread cake & toffee sauce when you’re…stargazing.

Brain vs. mountain

Well.

I lived. Am here to write about it.

Jill and I arrived in Lake Louise super stoked about snowshoeing out to Skoki Lodge. Woohoo – January challenge is in da howse!  After checking in at the Lake Louise Ski Area reception and cramming into the gondola with our packs, snowshoes, poles and three other boarders that we squashed against the windows, we made it up and over the mountain to Temple Lodge, a log cabin restaurant/bar on the back side of the ski hill.

For some reason, the directions from Temple to the Skoki Lodge trail head just didn’t seem logical. We ended up screwing around for a bit looking for the trail head, and it was in the that moment… that exciting rush of “we’re going to do this!”… that I freaked out. Silently.

My pack was heavy: “better safe than sorry” had been our packing motto. The air was thin. Bloody thin. There were skiers & boarders zipping by us from every direction. Lots of curious stares. The day was already passing quickly (gotta go! gotta go!) which meant the later we started, the later we got there (aka in the dark). My glasses were fogging. The one night stand I had with Rock Creek Dry Cider wasn’t offering any strength to fall back on. And we couldn’t find the trail head.

Turns out that the little sign indicating the way to Skoki is about 100 metres up Larch run #143. We marched – vertical nightmare – up that damn ski run and every cell in my body screamed for oxygen. My legs felt like lead. My lungs could barely suck in enough air. Sweat dripped from my brow as I stood heaving in front of the sign that pointed to a pretty little path through the trees.

At that point, I didn’t care. Not a bit. I took a photo of the sign for posterity, and shoved my camera back in the pack. Jill lead the way, and I followed, feeling sorry for myself. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t keep up with her and I couldn’t breathe. I quietly suffered. Or maybe I wasn’t quiet. I might have bitched and moaned but I don’t remember.

All I know is that it was HARD.  It made every bit of “training” I did seem like a joke. I was sad.

He loved mountains, or he had loved the thought of them marching on the edge of stories brought from far away; but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth. He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire.

~J.R.R. Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings

At that point it became very much an individual sport. I locked into my own world and just walked. One snowshoe in front of the other. When my heart hammered too excessively I stopped and I took long steady breaths, and then started up again when ready. (I felt awesome standing still – I just had trouble with the moving part).

The trail gradually looped up through the evergreens and out into an alpine meadow bathed in sunshine and gloriously warm temperatures for January. I caught up to Jill and we talked to passersby (uber fit skiers, dogs with little jackets) and soaked up the sun as we stood in the middle of the trail eating beef jerky, cheese and energy shots (mmm… Salted Caramel GU).  This break came around 4 kms into the snowshoe.

This was my first experience of athleticism being a mind game  as much as a physical ability.  I calmed down, I accepted what I could do today, and then I did it.  Wasn’t a race, it was a marathon.  It truly did become the journey over the destination.  My body no longer exhibited signs of fight or flight, and I just kept moving slow and steady.

Following the gradual climb to the alpine meadow, we began the short ascent of Boulder Pass, winding up a fairly steep route between boulders capped like massive snow mushrooms. At the top of the pass, frozen Ptarmigan Lake stretched out in front of us with the trail  leading up and over Deception Pass at the far end.

This was my moment of joy.

Not because the lake crossing guaranteed absolutely no incline, but because there was something delightful in front of me.  A couple of the people who’d passed us earlier on the trail were now skimming across the icy surface on their snowboards attached to giant, brightly coloured kites.  Kiteboarding!  How awesome was that?  The thought that people were willing and able to hike into the backcountry in the dead of winter to a frozen lake at several thousand feet above sea level for FUN… So cool. I loved it.

We motored across the windblown lake at a good clip and began the slog up Deception Pass.  One. Two. Three.  Four.  Five.  Six.  Seven.  Eight.  Stop.  Repeat.  That was all I could manage.  Tired?  A bit.  But just not able to physically do any more than that.  Not far behind us was a father-son duo also headed out to Skoki for the night.  Climbing the pass on their backcountry touring gear proved to be challenging for them as well.

Deception Pass rewarded us with stunning views from the top, looking over Skoki Valley and the peaks beyond that would be our backdrop for the next few days.  We had only a few more kilometres to go before reaching the lodge, and all were downhill!  We stopped for a celebratory swig (or three) of peppermint schnapps.  Papa Bear and his son swooped past us on their skis as we continued to snowshoe down into the valley.  Gravity blessed them with a time advantage on the flip side and they made it to the lodge a whole hour before us. (Not that it mattered…but Papa Bear pointed that out to us over dinner later that night…)

We arrived at Skoki Lodge, about 5 hours and 15 minutes from the time we began.  A bit weary on my part, but pleased.  And totally within the suggested travel time to Skoki of “three to five hours”.  Overcoming my own mind seemed to truly be the biggest challenge.  Silly brain.

The only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday.

Glitter nail polish – is there an age cap?

I’m sitting in my bathrobe surrounded by piles of things that need to go into my pack and duffel, and I’m painting my nails with rather fetching tiny globes of blue & silver from a bottle of NYC “Disco Inferno” polish.

I needed a break from the frantic pack-a-thon. And because I’ve never been a girly girl and tend to associate getting your nails done with important events, such as weddings or tea at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, I thought this special going-to-the-mountains day warranted a celebration. I can be backcountry princess for a day with my Disco Inferno toes and fingers.

Might not save me from the cougars, mind you. Might make me a cougar. I’m sure I’m a little old for Disco Inferno, but what the hell. If there’s an age limit on glitter nail polish then I don’t want to know. My inner 13-year-old is loving it.

Have taken “rest days” (a bit more like lazy days) over this week from training, so am all ready for Skoki 2014! Can’t wait to share my snowshoe trip/challenge adventure (if I come back)!

Now, just to pack…

20/20 vs. beer goggles

It’s come down to budget: contact lenses or adult beverages?

The adult beverages won out.  I know – terrible, right?  Rather than ensure clear visibility whilst snowshoeing through the delightful Canadian Rockies, and avoiding the maddening fogging of the glasses/goggles, I’ve opted for bringing a mini bar into the backcountry.  I never claimed to have good judgement.

Skoki Lodge, the destination of my ultimate January snowshoe challenge journey, is a rustic mountain cabin built in the 1930s, and was recently given a celeb-boost by the stay of HRH William & Kate in 2011.  In the winter, it’s an 11 km ski or snowshoe into the backcountry of Banff National Park up and over two mountain passes.  All of the meals are included – and are reputed to be nothing short of spectacular – along with all bedding, so no sleeping bags required.  Technically, only clothing and snacks are necessary for me to carry in, but my pack list is as long as my arm. It’s WINTER. You never know what might go down, man.

I’ve got everything from duct tape to the lodge-worthy flannel shirt going.  Knife. Emergency blanket.  Hut booties. Head lamp. Down jacket. Toothbrush and face cream. Rebel, Flip, iPod. Camo buff for cool photos. Insulated Skhoop skirt for awesomeness. A bunch of the aforementioned adult beverages.  Jill had read somewhere that the wine – ordinary wine – was $40 a bottle out there. They do, after all, have to pack it with their supplies.  So, I figured I’d save a dollar or two and bring my own. Captain? Aye-aye!

Two more days until we hit the road for the Rockies!

The mountains are calling, and I must go. ~John Muir