So long, Summer

summer04Soooo, running and I seem to have had a bit of a falling out.

It’s been a while. Actually, wow, more than a while since my July 2nd Forest Gump moment in the middle of Powderface where I just stopped and went home. I’ve now ditched my run club, I stopped jogging or even training on my own, and pretty much have taken up with bad boys Netflix and Pokemon Go.

I’m basically turning into mush.

Of course, I’d signed up for a million road races and trail runs this summer, and instead of being inspirational, it’s all just fizzled. I’ve sent my regrets to most of them.

SeaWheeze, however, WAS just around the corner and was still on the ticket for August. SeaWheeze is special; and it’s not because I’m a LuluLemon fan. It’s about the slick organization, the #westcoastbestcoast location and the general happiness, camaraderie and well-being surrounding the entire event. AND I was going with a FRIEND. Totally makes ALL the difference. It became a holiday. A holiday with a few fun detours. I just had to run 21km at some point during said holiday.

summerseawheeze

However, my state of mind was slightly scrambled prior to this getaway. I’d been bingeing on the The Good Wife via Netflix when (spoiler alert!) I found myself in a panic Google-ing “Is Will Gardiner REALLY DEAD???” before that fateful 5th season episode was even over. Devastation.

summergoodwife

Now, Will & Alicia are no Fitz & Olivia, not even close to Carrie & Mr. Big, nor Derek & Meredith… but it was still WRONG. He was TAKEN TOO SOON. (Totally channeling Annie Wilkes here. I may even have called the producers “dirty birdies.”). I was so mad. I couldn’t believe it. I stopped watching.

No heart-wrenching ER saving of a life, no prolonged illness, no moving to Seattle, no extended coma with a joyful awakening, no Bobby Ewing reappearing (“it was just a dream!”) = nothing. Art imitating life. He’s dead, Jim. Everything…hanging. Unresolved. Gone.

I guess that’s how death works.

But I was MAD. Will and Alicia, my imaginary friends, had a chance! Hope! Potential! Even if they weren’t my favourite TV people in the world (and c’mon, it’s far from being the most spectacular show in the world), I only wanted the best for them. I was tuning in to see it all work out in the end.

OMG – this is just TV, right?? But I’m still mad.

Now I don’t have running OR Netflix.

Maybe I have issues. Well, ya. I also kind of lost a month of summer to Netflix – whoops!

So, I packed my bag and decided to grieve the (virtual) dead by (actually) living. I prepped for a weekend away with the possibility of extending with a few extra days in the mountains if I decided to change it up a bit.  Needless to say, I had a full backpack with a crazy assortment of stuff. Ready for anything. Like a county fair, a winery lunch, a rock concert, a half marathon, a sushi dinner, a 16-hour Greyhound ride, backcountry camping, etc.

summercheaptrick

Flying (or busing) at ridiculous hours, I had little to no sleep at all the whole weekend, which made everything all that more hilarious through sheer exhaustion.  Despite my typical “I vant to be alone”-ness I spent three days in the back pockets of friends, and it was good.

summerwine

The experiences would have been nothing without them, and for their friendship and general all-round-awesomesauce, I am grateful. How else could mimosas and trout seem right for breakfast in Seattle?  Or buttering myself into a pair of LuluLemon SeaWheeze-exclusive running crops (yes – the goodies might be showing) in Vancouver? Or hanging out like a groupie after our latest Cheap Trick concert to chat with the band in middle-of-nowhere Oregon?

The latter half of my holiday – because I did decide to hop off the Greyhound 16.5 hours after leaving Vancouver – was an act of decompression in the mountains, in the woods, knee-deep in buffalo berries everywhere I went.

summercamping

No, I didn’t bring bear spray; yes, I encountered a grizzly. But LOOK, I’m STILL HERE. I’m okay! The grizz is okay! I promise to bring some next time, just to make my family feel better.  Absolutely knackered from lack of sleep, too much heat (Oregon was 36C) and running silly distances, my hiking was slow and methodical, and my bedtimes were backcountry appropriate: 8:30 pm = nite! nite!

Sometimes you just need a little crazy, some ageing rockers, underwear shopping, and maybe some beer with breakfast.

summergeneral

And after a time away from home, with way too much thought and contemplation, I decided to continue watching The Good Wife.  Hope and potential can come in other ways. Everything’s gonna be alright.

Sawback trail – Baker Lake to Skoki Valley (Days 5&6)

Our detour into the Skoki Valley was not really part of the SawbackTrail.  To wrap it up, we only had to hike 13 more km from Baker Lake down past Ptarmigan Lake and Boulder Pass, through the Lake Louise ski area and to the trail head at the Fish Creek parking lot.

Skoki Valley offers a whole whack of quintessential Rockies eye candy waiting to happen.  So close, we couldn’t pass up a couple of days exploring this destination…with a solid roof over our heads at night. As a less-than-roughing-it way of ending our hiking trip, we reserved our last two nights at Skoki Lodge, a 1930s-built backcountry log cabin which serves homemade meals and provides shelter from the elements, all in the heart of Skoki Valley.

Start point: Baker Lake campground (Sk11)

End point: Skoki Lodge

Distance: 6.5 km

Elevation: Gained ~224m, lost ~310m

Highlights: Clean sheets, four walls, bottomless watery lemonade

Trail notes: How quickly the body and mind adjust to new routines: walk, rest, eat, sleep – repeat. I’m ready to go from Baker Lake fairly early. Part of this need to get up, however, is due to an aching body of hours invested inside the tent. I’m sore, wanting to stretch and run and move. My clothes-sack-as-pillow is proving to be not as comfy as I remember it.  I wake up every time I need to shift and/or and turn over – which is often. I think I’m getting old.Day 5 leaving Baker

Funny thing when you know you’re going to be back in “civilization” – even if it’s just backcountry civilization…  I’m acutely aware that my sleeping bag smells like sweaty Doritos. I haven’t even seen my own face for days. My socks can stand on their own. I need to do a serious bird bath at the lake before smoothing out my least-offensive hiking shirt and heading to Skoki.  Hugh and I were looking forward to Skoki and the change of scenery. In particular, Hugh was still very bear-aware and was happy to be sleeping safe and sound tonight in a lodge.  I was more about the clean sheets and having someone else making the food.

We said goodbye to Mr. D., who gave us a parting gift of Gouda, an extra fuel canister and the coveted Bushman bug lotion. Woot.   From Baker Lake we could get to Skoki Lodge by hiking around Fossil Mountain or over Deception Pass – Hugh and I decided to go up and over Deception. Day 5 view to Skoki valley

It was a steep start but with fantastic views of the valley ahead, blue layer upon blue layer into the distance, and a gentle descent into the valley to the lodge passing by glaciers, lakes, creeks, meadows and endless trees.Day 5 Skoki arrival

Skoki Lodge check in is pretty mellow. Take your boots off at the front door, poke your head into the kitchen, and they’ll tick your name off their guest list, give you the brief verbal tour (outhouses out back, dinner at 7:00 pm, etc.) and let you find your room.  We’d booked a lodge room – Deception – with two single beds.    We arrived at teatime, which meant a little buffet of salsa & chips, cheese & crackers, scones, cake, fruit, and all the lemonade, tea and coffee you could guzzle. We plunked down at the long polished dining table to snack before heading upstairs to our room.

Our packs would undoubtedly be the biggest here as most people bring little more than a day pack to Skoki since everything is provided.  We gratefully emptied out our things in our room, rinsed and hung up any offending clothing and stored our tents and sleeping bags under the beds.  I fetched hot water in the jug provided in our room, and we washed our faces. Bliss!

Hugh immediately curled up in bed, and I took a wander around the lodge.  The two-level lodge houses the dining room and lounge on the main level, and above are bedrooms.  Several log cabins for both guests and staff are close by, within ringing distance of the dinner bell.  Just behind the lodge are outhouses for men and women.Day 5 Skoki interior

It was my first time at Skoki in the summer season having stayed twice before but only in the winter, hiking in via snowshoes (skiing is the usual method for winter, but a few snowshoe).  Pretty much the same. The most notable difference was that winter’s tea includes a hot soup and the lodge has a slightly more cozy feel with snow packed all around.  Summer leaves the lodge much more accessible to passerby hikers and campers, and there is much more foot traffic in the valley than in winter.

After a quick walkabout I went back up to our room and fell into a deep slumber on a soft bed with a deliciously fluffy duvet.  Hugh and I both dozed, shaking off sleep just minutes before the dinner bell rang.  Day 5 dinner at Skoki

At dinner, we met a few families, several sets of couples and a group of friends out for a few days away.  Everyone was quite nice, and shared stories of their hikes and outdoor trips.  We socialized for a bit, and when dinner wrapped up we hit the sack.

Day 6 dayhiking

Start/end point: Skoki Lodge

Distance: 7 km roundtrip (estimated)

The next morning came rather early due to our neighbours being up before 0600 hrs.  There is no way to mute the other inmates when you’re sleeping in a lodge room. The walls are thin and you can hear every cough or sneeze; the floorboards creak with each step taken; and then there’s the stage whispering… so, either get earplugs or book a cabin.

Breakfast at Skoki appears in two courses: one – oatmeal, yogurt, fruit salad and granola; two – something cooked, usually involving eggs.  Most of the time I’m skeptical about the cooked stuff despite my love of eggs, so I skip it and have another round of the first course.  After breakfast, I sat down with one of the Skoki crew and they drew me a map for a hike to Merlin Lake. I’d wanted to do the hike to Skoki lakes instead, hearing about the waterfall the night before at the dinner table, but the staffer was pretty insistent about Merlin, and that I should save the Skoki lakes hike as an alternative route back out instead of Deception Pass on our departure day. I dutifully took the Merlin map, but had every intention of hitting the trail to the lakes instead.

Hugh was a happy camper in our lodge room, and had no desire of leaving it – ever.  So, he skipped breakfast and was completely content with hanging out and reading all day.  He’d found a book on a shelf in the lounge by Bow Valley’s Ben Gadd, Handbook of the Canadian Rockies, and was learning about everything from bears to lichen.  I packed my hiking snacks from the picnic lunch prep buffet and headed out solo to check out “the Skoki lakes.”

These lakes are actually named  Zigadenus Lake and Myosotis Lake on my map, but interestingly enough, the trail from the lodge to the lakes is not marked on my map. This semi-hidden gem is for those in-the-know apparently, and from what I understand, Skoki staff will share a roster of neat off the grid hikes and scrambles as they see fit.Day 6 bridge at Skoki

My day hike started over the bridge at the fork in the road, literally, a stone’s throw from Skoki on a well-worn trail with only one sign marked “Packer’s Pass.”  Day 6 fork in the roadThe trail wound through the forest for a short time, and popped out in a wide meadow, with a rock wall and waterfall at the far end.  Cairns were my best friend at this point, marking the way frequently through a creek and a rockslide.Day 6 cairn spotting Can you spot the cairns?? Sometimes they really blended in…  Upon arriving at the lovely waterfall, I was a little stumped. Because the Skoki staffer gave me instructions for Merlin Lake, not the Skoki Lakes, I lacked details of this hike. What appeared before me was a rock wall with a rushing waterfall, and no apparent way up.

However, upon closer inspection, there were cairns leading right up to the falls.  I began to follow them, one by one, and slowly made my way on a very easy trail right up beside the waterfall, under a huge boulder, into a hidden chimney and boom – on top of the falls!  What a thrill!Day 6 up the waterfall

I skirted the lower lake, Myosotis, and following the cairns made my way up another rocky incline to the upper lake, Zigadenus.  Day 6 Skoki LakesI parked it at the top and hung out in the sunshine for almost an hour beneath the Wall of Jericho, eating my lunch and watching ice crack off the hanging glacier and tumble towards the water.Day 6 upper lake

I didn’t meet another soul until I began to pick my way down to the lower lake, and head home. Other Skoki guests were using this route as their way back out to Ptarmigan Lake and onwards to the trail head at Fish Creek.

This was a charming little day hike and my photos just don’t do it justice.Day 6 upper lake 2

I headed back to the lodge for tea, a rest and then dinner (so much food…).  Hugh was still engrossed in his book and not willing to give that up for socialization at dinner.  He skipped dinner as well, with the promise he’d come down for breakfast in the morning.

My sleep was restless that night. I was bitten several times by some sort of tiny midge that ended up leaving massive bumps on my arms and legs.  Yuck.  How ironic to survive the nasty mozzies for many days with only my tent to protect me, but then get taken down by another biting sort within the “safety” of the lodge.Day 6 back to the lodge

Tomorrow – time to go home!

 

 

Sawback trail – Badger Pass Junction to Wildflower Creek (Day 3)

Day 3 of our backcountry adventure, and Hugh and I had fallen into a pretty easy routine. For me, it was very Camino-eque… hot, long days of walking, followed by lingering hours of rest, conversation and easy solitude. At home, we’d simply find something to play or do or clean. But in the wilderness, other than the basic chores of caring for our clothes and gear, and preparing our food, we rested our bodies and minds.

Start point: Badger Pass Junction campground (Jo29)

End point: Wildflower Creek campground (Ba15)

Distance: 10.3 km

Elevation: Gained ~320m, lost ~515m; highest point was Pulsatilla Pass at 2,345m.

Highlights: Fantastic views, trailfinding 101

Trail notes: We were pretty stoked to be hiking up Pulsatilla Pass. After the long slog through forests and endless raptor-bushes (willows), we would get our first pass of the hike, and hopefully see some mountain vistas from the top, rather than the bottom of the valley.

I think our peanut and raisin oatmeal was still lurking somewhere in our stomachs from yesterday morning, so we opted for an easy breakfast of nuts and protein bars. The heat had effectively killed our appetites, and although we were definitely getting enough water, this is probably the least I’ve ever eaten on a hiking trip.

Mr. D. had already left for Pulsatilla, and the three uber hikers were off in the opposite direction.  We were the last to pack up camp, and were quite pleased to see low cloud cover this morning, with a bit of drizzle in the air.  The temperatures, while still muggy, were slightly less and much more amenable to hiking up and over a mountain pass.Day 3 on the road

The path out of the campground hooked up with the main trail in the meadow along the valley floor where we left off the day before, and after a quick water bottle refill from the creek, we moved towards the pass.  Our reward for two days of tree/bush-hiking was now a lovely forest trail that opened into a narrow, flowered meadow divided by a bubbling stream leading up the pass.  The incline was moderately steep, causing us to stop and take in the view multiple times.  The low clouds swallowed the terrain we’d left behind, and the cool mist felt amazing on our warm skin and sweaty heads.

The grassy meadow gave away for the last bit up Pulsatilla, where we picked our way along the rocky path and through snow patches to the top.   Waiting for us on the other side was a broad hanging meadow dotted with tiny Alpine Forget-me-nots, buttercups, Pulsatilla (Western Anemone), and Indian Paintbrush, surrounded by peak after peak layering into the hazy distance.  Water burbled down the pass into a glassy aquamarine lake, where one just wanted to loll and spend the afternoon.  An earnest discussion was had regarding future trips, and the packing in of an inflatable dinghy.Day 3 Pulsatilla

Perched on a cliff above the lake, we were just finishing up our snack break, when Mr. D. came down the trail behind us. We’d assumed he was well ahead of us but it turns out he stopped along the creek early on to have a cooked breakfast.

He asked if we’d seen any bears.

Our bear radar was turned on pretty high, and no, we said we hadn’t.

“There are bear prints on top of your boot prints heading up Pulsatilla,” he advised.

Well – what the heck??  Pulsatilla Pass is a bottleneck, essentially, so if a bear (and friends) needed to get though it would be pretty noticeable. I’d even read a blog previous to setting out on this trip how a party heading to Pulsatilla turned around because a grizzly and her cubs needed the space to get through the saddle, and mama was not a happy camper to see humans as an obstacle. That party actually then turned around and hiked out Johnston’s Canyon that day – yowza, long hike! On the flip side, we learned yesterday how silent those massive bears could be even walking within 20 feet of you…sooo…

Hugh and I scanned the meadow.  Once out of the saddle, there was lots of room for the bear(s) and the hikers to continue on the lake side.  Nothing seemed to be moving…nonetheless, we continued on, but constantly checking out our surroundings with due diligence.

Following the meadows, we began to descend into the valley to meet up with Wildflower Creek.  The descent was super steep and long…pity the hikers who would come up from this direction over the pass.  Our paths crossed with Mr. D. once again, and we set forth all together to thrash through seven-foot willows creek-side.  Seriously.  Not my cup of tea. Raptor bushes all over again.

The trail was muddy and full of wet branches swatting us in the face. We came to an easy creek crossing – meaning, not deep – but then to pick up the trail on the other side became a challenge.  We worked hard to spot cairns – thank goodness for the cairns – but this is the part where I actually got turned around 180 degrees.  It’s that feeling where you are dead set that you should be heading the opposite direction from where you should really be going. And thoughts such as, gee, I should’ve been practicing with my compass as we walked… To be sure/unsure. Yikes.

Hugh and Mr. D. explained their reasoning as to directional choices, and we moved ahead on the very faint trail beside the creek (in the right direction!).  We continued to do a bit of trail finding through the brush, watching for cairns or other indicators such as broken branches, footprints, etc.  There was always a concern that we were following a game trail, too, versus the actual trail.

For the next several kilometres our movement was slow-going, cheerless bushwhacking through willows and mud puddles. We walked this way for at least two hours before the trail entered a more forested but open mossy area and descended steeply back towards Wildflower Creek.  Knowing from the map that this campground was low, at about 1,830 m, it was a good sign we were close.

We arrived – QUITE JOYFULLY – to discover a very quaint little campground with neatly organized sites next to a tumultuous creek, a squeaky clean outhouse, and a charming food area with a fire pit.  The ground between the trees was almost sproingy with moisture and rot, and lent quite a cozy, woodsy feel it it all.  The campground was distinctly under-used, more than likely because nobody was crazy enough to make this hike.Day 3 Wildflower

Each of us pitched our tents immediately and peeled off our wet stuff. I swear a strange sucking sound emanated from my boots when I pulled my poor, puckered wet-fish feet out of them. We were all soaked to the bone.  Not five minutes after settling into our tents in our warm, dry clothes, then the rain started.  For two hours the rain fell steadily, as we hung out in our tents, napping.

It’s funny…dozing next to such a tumultuous creek, and having the constant pitter-patter of rain on the tent fly, deep in the forest, you begin to sense a pattern, a rhythm or thrum of a presence approaching, or perhaps voices. But in the end, it’s just the water.  (Island? Others?)Day 3 Wildflower tents

At supper time, Hugh and I emerged, quite relaxed, and set up for dinner. Hugh started a nice smoky fire to chase the mozzies away, and I prepped dinner.  Rays of sunlight found their way through the trees, and the whole forest smelled fresh and clean.  The heat returned fiercely, though, despite the earlier reprieve.

For dinner, we had another win-win: Shepherd’s Pie and Hawaiian Rice with Chicken.  Both super yummy, and perfect for the night.  After we hung out at the fire for a bit, we cleared away our things, did some washing and re-hung our food bag at the bear poles provided near the back of the campground.Day 3 supper

And off to bed by 7:45 pm to listen to some Vinyl Cafe, then slumber.

Tomorrow: Wildflower Creek to Baker Lake

 

Sawback Trail & the gear that got us there

Prepping for a long-distance trek can be intimidating.

“Long distance” meaning any adventure more than 2 nights for me…!

My methodology is to plan, plot and then start actually making piles: sleeping gear, footwear, clothing, first aid & toiletries, food & utensils, various gadgets…. and then the test: does it all fit?Gear list

This is the part where things get tossed out of the pile. Agonizingly. Or sometimes with great fickleness.

To be honest, my pack list doesn’t vary too much from trip to trip.  There’s always duct tape involved, for example. But here are some factors to consider:

Know your trail:  Get a topographical map, check out a guidebook and search online for blogs or other trail reports of your destination. Get the low-down on how wet, boggy or mucky a trail really is, or what obstacles seem common along the route. Maybe you’ll need to add something to your list because of this.

Prepare for all weather: Even if it’s calling for 30 degrees in the mountains, pack a raincoat, bring a toque.  Weather changes can be quick and fierce.

How’s your endurance?  And I mean smell-wise. Ha.  Do you need 4 clean shirts and your Axe Dark Temptation body spray or can you work with just one hiking outfit, one relaxing/sleeping outfit, a couple extra pairs of socks, and the pungent odour of awesome and epic?

Creature comforts rule. There’s often a fine line between the necessity and the luxury.  For me, it’s battery-powered snowflake-shaped LED string lights for my tent interior.  Yep. Call me crazy but this makes me feel at home.

For the Sawback trail I recently did with my youngest son, Hugh, we had ahead of us four backcountry campgrounds running along the front-ranges wilderness from Johnston Canyon through to Lake Louise, in Banff National Park.  Upon reserving the campsites for this trek, Parks Canada folks did say to expect some trail finding and creek crossing along our journey, but otherwise business as usual.  This is what I brought for a four-night backcountry trek:

  • Sleep
    tent (mine is a two-person but perfect-for-one kind of tent)
    sleeping pad (Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite)
    sleeping bag (-10, down-filled)
  • Food & drink
    4 dinners and 4 breakfasts (pre-packaged) + an Ichiban noodles as a back up
    8 granola/protein bars
    4 baggies of trail mix (mixed nuts, yoghurt raisins, peanut M&Ms + pretzels)
    a block of cheese + 1 baggie of jerky
    backpacking stove + 1 fuel cartridge + 1 pot + matches
    1 bowl (with measuring increments) + 1 long-handled spoon
    knife
    2 wide-mouth 1-litre water bottles (Nalgene)
    water filter + water purification tablets
    flavoured Nuun tablets
    a drawstring food bag for keeping it all together + for hanging/storing food at camp
  • Clothes
    hiking clothes: quick-dry long pants, tank, long-sleeve shirt, socks, boots, with alternating hat with brim/Buff/bandana
    in the pack: fleece pants, thermal shirt, 1 extra undies, 2 extra pairs of socks, warm jacket with hood, toque, gloves (all in a compression sack, which doubles as my pillow) and then easy access at the top of my pack is a rain coat and rain pants
  • First aid
    duct tape
    extra blister pads
    Polysporin
    AfterBite
    BandAids
    alcohol swabs
    Advil
  • Personal stuff (all teeny tiny versions)
    sunscreen
    lotion
    deodorant
    facial wipes
    foaming soap paper sheets
    toothbrush
    toothpaste
    bug spray*
  • Gear
    hiking poles
    pack cover
    topographical map + compass
    bear spray
  • Extras
    flip-flops for around camp
    DSLR camera with a wide angle lens + 2 batteries, waterproof zip soft case
    journal + 2 pens
    twinkle lights + batteries
    headlamp
    Therm-A-Rest Z Seat
    paracord survival bracelet (made it myself!)
    10 foot of light rope
    a couple extra Ziploc baggies for nasty wet socks or food garbage
    1 large black Glad garbage bag…you never know when you might need to glissade down a snow patch!

Things I thought would be good in past hikes but turned out to be just agonizingly (mentally) heavy due include a small tripod (never used), a deck of cards (never played), a flask (never drank), a travel towel (just drip-dried) and a book (never read). All of these were unused due to my general exhaustion at the end of each day. I’m pretty much capable of getting supper down the hatch and then passing out. Am not so sociable, per se…something I could work on.

I rarely crack my first aid kit (knock on wood) and I didn’t even use my foaming soap flakes to wash anything, but I think I’d still bring them along for the next trip. Just in case.

All of the list above fits into my 65L Arcteryx pack. Fill up those water bottles and oomph – that pack is sufficiently heavy!!  I’m guessing it came in around 45ish pounds with the water bottles filled up. Felt heavier, mind you.  Next time I’ll weigh it for sure, so I can think about every pound as I walk…

How heavy is your pack?  What can’t YOU live without?

*Hugh is even more fickle than I when it came to jamming things into his pack. He tossed his raincoat, sunscreen, toothbrush, deodorant and bug spray. Hm. Which do you think was the most vital for early summer in the backcountry?  Discuss.

Fast food for the backcountry

Planning continues for the backcountry hikes this summer.

No surprise, I’ve been working more on the “hmmm, what can I eat” rather than the “how many stairs can I climb” questions.

Stockpiling trail food

I seriously have an arsenal of dehydrated shepherd’s pie, spaghetti and meatballs and bananas foster, among others.  I could very well be a doomsday prepper at this rate.

Here are my top five greatly-anticipated pre-packaged trail meals for this summer:

1. Shepherd’s Pie – like mom used to make, Backpacker’s Pantry
2. AlpineAire‘s Forever Young Mac & Cheese
3. Tsampa Soup – channelling the power of the Sherpas
4. Peanut & Raisin Oatmeal, Backpacker’s Pantry
5. Fire Roasted Veg Blend, Mountain House – eat yer veggies!

[And stay tuned for reviews later in the summer as to whether these lived up to their reputations!]

The pre-packaged dehydrated meals often have a reputation of being hit and miss, not to mention chock-full of sodium… I actually don’t mind the fact that that sodium levels are a bit high on these meals.  I’m huge on losing salt when I sweat, and without a serious replenishment, I am apt to become generally useless, drool or pass out.

As for taste, well, it comes down to a wee bit of desperation because you’ve been on the trail for 4 days already and there’s not a cheeseburger in sight.  Mostly, the flavours are slightly off the mark compared to the real thing, but you just tell yourself the faulty Star Trek-esque replicators were malfunctioning. Sometimes, though, going through the homemaker motions of preparing and eating a meal is actually quite comforting when, hey, you’re sleeping in a tent for yet another night with mere microfibers between you and big giant bears.

Yummers! Bananas Foster in the wild

Yummers! Bananas Foster in the wild

The majority of the pre-packaged meals I’m bringing I’ve already tested on the trail, and am happy with, or I’ve watched my companions chow down and thought I should get some (as a result of a little camp-food envy).  I’ve bought a few new ones to try, like guacamole; although I’m not sure how to avoid crushing the chips that come with it.

I’ve dabbled in the idea of dehydrating food on my own, and even ordered a book on it. Alas, I actually don’t anticipate ever investing in a dehydrator, so … I may attempt it all on a very low-set oven temperature.  But I am kind of too lazy to do this… we’ll see.

Trust me, my entire oh-so-gourmet backpacking menu won’t be “fast food” per se… but it’s good to have a few pre-made foil packets each trip for the nights you are too zonked to play house, or if the rain is belting down and you just need to eat and hit the sack…

What are your favourite backcountry foods?

 

 

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.