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Category: Wilderness stories

Nature – A Big Part of My Life

Nature – A Big Part of My Life

Submitted by: Jonathan

Nature is and has always been a big part of my life. It started when I grew up in a small village in Germany, where my brothers and I used to build our own bunkers and tree house in the forests. As a teenager my family moved to Canada and bought an acreage. That’s where I learned a lot about farming and how much we as humans depend on the well-being of our planet. As I started getting into the workforce, I have noticed ow a lot of people and even companies are so concerned about the weather or pride, but don’t realize the impact they have or leave behind on this earth.

As a drafter, I worked on a lot of equipment for fracking companies, which is a big oil industry. The oil industries have a big negative impact on our planet, but without the oil our modern society could hardly function. that’s why I enjoyed working in the research and development department where I was able to improve and elaborate on new technology to make fracking more environmentally friendly.

I believe it’s only fair to take as much as you can give back. I’m also really glad that our government supports companies that take the time and effort to preserve this planet. In my family we have been taught to respect our elders and in a similar way we have to respect our planet.

 

My Relationship With Nature

My Relationship With Nature

Submitted by: Joseph

When I think of how I related to nature, I trace my life back to childhood. I spent most of my early life living on a number of isolated acreages across Alberta and Saskatchewan, as my father uprooted us from one place to another in search of work or living space. Many of these acreages had access to winding brush forests, hilly cattle pastures or shallow, mysterious sloughs. My brothers and  and I learned from an early age that having a large area of wild nature to ramble through, range about and explore, is an invaluable experience. I felt connected to the world around me as we explored and walked, watching for interesting birds or animals, picking wild flowers, or simply examining the frantic, tiny worlds of the ant hills or the grub communities of insects to be found under rocks and deadfall logs.

These wandering adventures instilled both a fascination for the natural world and a concern for the health of our environment in me that have endured to my adulthood. I feel that the environment is important to me, to all of us, for so many reasons. It connects us to nature and to each other. It is the great provider and teacher. Here in Alberta, so much of our agriculture and economic prosperity relies on a healthy natural environment, and too often I feel that we take this state of nature for granted. I believe it is necessary for our government to think carefully about how best to both use, preserve and maintain the health of our environment here in Canada.

Public parks are well and good, but there is something so much more fulfilling, at least for me, in a long walk in rough and untended nature. I would hate to see future generations deprived of the simple joys of a long walk in the wild, finding burrs clinging their socks, seeing deer cautiously graving, hearing the unrestrained chorus of frogs in the pondwaters, or watching the proud hawk soar through the sky above, seeing a landscape not yet fully dominated by human civilization and watching us below with fierce, unreadable eyes.

The environment is connected to us all, whether we think so or not, and that applies to those who come after us as well. I know I will look forward to teaching my children to enjoy time outside and hopefully help them to connect with nature like I was able to in m own childhood. It’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed.

 

Wilderness in Switzerland

Wilderness in Switzerland

Submitted by: M. Grün

Switzerland is a small country with an amazing landscape that might look adventurous on postcards, but in reality is not as wild as one might think. There is no wilderness in Switzerland.

I live in Visp, which lies in one of the most remote areas in Switzerland. In the 1970’s some of the valleys and villages had still not been connected with modern infrastructure networks such as streets, railways or airports. People were not able to leave the valley except on narrow streets through the mountains. They lived in natural rhythms, laboured their grounds and had few contacts with the outside world. This lifestyle seems to go on today in the eyes of the masses of tourist who come to our area. Even today, there are wild wolves living close to villages. But the population all over Switzerland is increasing and the density of houses and blocks is rising. The so called “wilderness” I live next to is nothing but a carefully maintained image with the goal to attract visitors and adventurers.

The Alps as a geological and biological sphere have been massively shaped by humans. Thanks to the many farmers who bring their cattle to fields on different mountain levels according to the season, hillsides spare erosion. Their contribution to the biosphere is highly valued and pursued by the Swiss government, who subsidizes this tradition and by this contribution finances a whole sector of local agriculture. this keeps the landscape in a “human” shape. The shape – which consists of cleared meadows, cleared forests, hiking trails and infrastructure in the mountains like streets and trails, is perceived by outsiders as wilderness – simply because they do not see a house anywhere. but it is not. There is rarely a valley that is not inhabited. Huts for alpinists are often as well equipped as hostels or even hotels. The telecommunication system covers every space – you can call somebody abroad from a mountain peak.

Switzerland is a small country compared to Canada – a high percentage of people shares infrastructures and living space. As a consequence, even the wilderness becomes subject to further cultivation and human involvement to a degree that has been increasing in the last decades – mainly for touristic and economic reasons.

 

Tonquin Valley Surprise

Tonquin Valley Surprise

Submitted by: Tara

Adventure friends are the best friends, and I am lucky to have some gems. Specifically because one of them has a knack for getting everyone organized and booked before you have truly committed to the activity. Last year this resulted in one of the best trips of my life. We were lucking enough to get ourselves booked into the beautiful ACC run Wates Gibson hut in the Tonquin valley. The Tonquin Valley had been on my list for a while, not only because of the amazing views, stunning valleys, and shocking Ramparts (pictured), but because it remains one of the best places to see Woodland Caribou, an at-risk species that I have been working to protect for the better part of two years now.

The trip on labour day long weekend was off to a grim start as we headed out in the pouring rain, on the muddiest trail, with loaded packs (we subbed the volume we saved on tents, sleeping mats, and stoves because of the hut for beer which weighs substantially more.) The forecast was calling for rain, snow and grey skies all weekend. The only thing keeping our spirits up was the promise of the hut and the prospect of drying out our soggy clothes over a fire.
Tara, Grizzly tracks, Tonquin Valley
A night of drying off, good food, and new friends in the hut was what we needed before another day of hiking in the rain. Little did we know nature had a treat instore for us.

We started out the day in a light dusting of fresh snow, which eventually melted into some more mud. As tedious and exhausting as thick slippery mud is to walk in, it provides an amazing glimpse of the other trail users.

It was just before our lunch stop when we got to meet one of the other trail users face to face.

We rounded a corner, about to dip down into a boggy meadow when we were privileged enough to meet a whole caribou family! A peaceful cow, and calf were laying down and grazing, with a big buck nearby.
Tara Caribou Tonquin Valley
The large and stocky animals were not terribly concerned with our arrival in the meadow and let us observe and photograph them (from a respectable distance) without fuss. We got to spend a glorious 25 minutes with them before my friends, who have less motivation to watch wildlife do (in their minds) very little, for hours on end, pulled me away. I fell so fortunate to have met these iconic animals. We are losing them rapidly from our landscape, but it was so magical to see them munching away without much concern for the threats facing their species.

Although I didn’t think the day could get any better than it already had, it was as if the wilderness powers that be were rewarding us for heading out on a rainy cold weekend. The clouds cleared and the sun shone as we reached the valley that held the ramparts, affording us a stunning view of the main attractant to the Tonquin. We ate our lunch sans rain, and it managed to stay clear for the entire evening, allowing us to enjoy one of our very heavy beers under a crystal clear starry sky.

Tara Tonquin Valley
I always leave the wilderness with a smile, but after the surprises on this adventure, you could barely contain my grin.

Saskatchewan Glacier From Two Perspectives

Saskatchewan Glacier From Two Perspectives

Submitted by: Kecia

Since my husband and I moved to Alberta in December 2012, it has become a tradition to meet up with two close friends from Calgary at the Wilcox Creek campground near the border of Banff and Jasper National Parks in August. Each year we hike different trails for a couple of days, but one of our favourites is the Parker Ridge hike. The hike provides a wonderful payoff at the top with a spectacular view of the Saskatchewan glacier, part of the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River. The hike is short, but a little bit steep, so the abundance of wildflowers to stop and look at along the way are welcome for more than their beauty. At the top, we enjoy the view, have a snack, and wander along the ridge for different views of the glacier and the valley that the glacier drains into. As we wandered along a couple of years ago, we thought that getting into the valley below would be a nice hike for the future.

Parker Ridge
Parker Ridge
Saskatchewan Glacier
Saskatchewan Glacier from Parker Ridge

 

Twin Flowers
Twin flowers in the forest

Last year we decided to get a view of the glacier from below. The hike is longer than the short walk but Parker Ridge, but it is mostly flat, and includes some meandering trail in the forest before opening up into the bottom of the river valley. The walk along the valley bottom is quite long, most of it over cobble rocks. We didn’t get all the way to the base of the glacier, but we did get to see it! The huge expanse of the valley bottom gives you a much better sense of the scale of the glacier and the valley than seeing it from above! I loved seeing the beginning of the river spread out over the valley floor.

 

 

Saskatchewan Glacier
Coming out of the forest into the floor of the valley.
Saskatchewan Glacier
Looking towards the tongue of the Saskatchewan Glacier. Parker Ridge is up on the right.
Saskatchewan Glacier
Looking along the valley bottom, away from the glacier.

After our hikes we return to our side-by-side campsites to cook a big feast and enjoy the stars around the campfire. When we time our trip right, we are there for the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, which is always a fabulous show.

Alberta is full of beautiful wild spaces, but the Icefields Parkway, the connection of Banff and Jasper National Parks, is certainly a crown jewel of Canada’s National Park system. We hope to continue our new tradition for many years to come!

 

Backcountry Hiking With My Two-Year-Old

Backcountry Hiking With My Two-Year-Old

Submitted by: Christian


The backcountry is a bit like an adults-only resort. You can expect that your sleep will not be interrupted by the screams of a toddler – or your meal at a shared-picnic table for that matter. There are lots of really good reasons why parents choose not to hike for 44 kilometres with a two-year-old – but when our friends invited us to join them on the Skyline Trail, one of the classic backcountry hikes of the Rockies, we decided to see for ourselves if family trekking was a good idea.

While we had done short excursions into the backcountry with our son Paul, they were limited to small hikes into easily accessible sites, usually overnight. We didn’t have to worry as much about weight, weather, wildlife or family sleeping patterns, and we could always pull the plug and hike out six or eight kilometres to the car. This hike was different, our exit strategies involved at least 12 kilometres back to a road, and then hitchhiking back to our car. Unsurprisingly, we found that everything that makes the backcountry challenging was amplified with a toddler!

RAIN, MOSQUITOES AND BEARS…

We had rain on our first night, which meant that we spent 4 hours in the tent with a toddler who had spent the day in a backpack for the 12 km hike in. Need I say more? Tantrums in a three foot square wet tent are stressful, especially when other campers are only a few feet away. Oh, and did I mention the clouds of mosquitoes? By 10 pm, we had decided to hike out at first light, and to never stray from car-camping sites with a child again. On the other hand, who needs bearspray when you have a toddler acting as a deterrent?

TODDLERS MAKE FOR HIGH MAINTENANCE CAMPERS

No surprise here either… eating and sleeping are complex in the comfort of your own home, but no amount of lightweight (expensive) backcountry gear and gourmet re-hydrated meals can trump the demands of a toddler. There are more no-nos than usual (no playing in the river, walking in the mud, touching the marmot, running along the cliff…) at a time when Paul is looking for more control than ever before. Protecting him from the elements and keeping him comfortable took most of our attention, and took at least one of us out of commission at any point in time. Oh, and did I mention we’re potty training?

WHY ARE WE DOING THIS AGAIN?

Luckily, the weather perked up long enough for us to decide to stick with it. While all the discomforts of the backcountry may be amplified with a toddler, the pleasures are as well. The views were spectacular and the 45 pound load of a child meant that our pace allowed us more time to appreciate them. We also found ourselves pointing out wild flowers, rock formations, animals and plants to Paul, sometimes stopping for 10 minutes at a time just to throw rocks in the brook or play in the snow. While he may not have walked to the summit, Paul certainly shared our pride in having climbed it. In fact, he seemed to take ownership of the whole experience, maybe coming close to the feeling I have of conquering the mountains climbed.

DON’T TRY THIS ALONE…

We were lucky to do this trip with such excellent friends. When we were out of patience and burnt out with Paul, they stepped in to entertain and childmind. They made dinner (boiled water and poured it in our pouches) so we could set up camp or deal with poop and other toddler situations. They accepted our snail’s pace, Paul’s screams and sang along for hours as we belted out every song we knew on the trail (including The Wheels on the Bus for approximately four kilometres.) They even trucked Paul 9 kilometres of a fire road in 27 degree heat and made him giggle the whole time. It was great to do the trail as a family, but even better to do it with friends.

WOULD WE DO IT AGAIN?

Of course! But not for a few years. Paul will officially be too heavy to carry next year, even if we have a better pack. Which is another important learning – aside from a good child carrier and weather appropriate clothing, no fancy children’s gear is required.

 

Berry Long Time Ago

Berry Long Time Ago

The “Pole Line” at the end of a long dirt road didn’t sound like a remarkable place when my dad first told me about it. In the evening after a long summer day spent in the sun, I hoped in the truck with my parents and dog, and we headed down to the river valley. Sure enough we came to the end of a dusty gravel road that lead to a gravel pit.

We wandered in and my dad pointed to a gravel ridge in the corner. To my surprise I saw a sea of blue covering the ground. It was not often that I had found a patch of blueberries that thick; usually just a bush here and there. We had hit the ultimate jackpot. After a while of picking we had a few honey pails overflowing with juiciness, even though only a few would hit the bottom of the bucket for every couple I tasted. It was hard to resist the fact that such an itty bitty berry held a package of so much flavour inside.

On the way home I asked my dad how he had found that patch and he went on to explain how when he was a very young boy his grandmother would make blueberry pie with berries from that very spot. Then years later his mother would go there to pick berries. My aunties and grandma would head out for the afternoon with ice cream pails to fill while my dad stood guard for bears. Who could blame them for wanting to snack on these delicious berries.

I could not believe that this patch could have lasted at least eighty years. How such small plants merely ten centimetres in height could survive so long in a desolate environment and sustain themselves is beyond me. One day I hope to show my children the patch and keep it as a family pasttime.

Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing

Submitted by: Leah

Growing up, I was not a big fan of winter.  I was in the mindset that it was too cold, dark, and that there was just never anything to do.  Then in 2015, I went on a week long snowshoeing trip through the outdoor education program at the U of A’s Augustana campus. The course involved eight Canadian students, and seven Japanese and Chinese students. The trip took place in mid-February and was led by Morten Asfeldt and Takako Takano.

Before leaving, we got all of our food and clothes ready, and constructed our own toboggans to pull our gear.  Right when we got the Lac la Biche area, where we were going to start, we got both vehicles stuck in the snow and had to spend four hours getting them out. By the time we got unpacked and moved the trailers, we were not able to get very far before nightfall.

Every night we winter camped in four different wall tents. One tent was for the leadership, and all of the students were mixed in the other three tents. I had two international students and two Augustana students in my tent. I loved seeing the international students experience snow for the first time, their eyes would light up in the morning when we would hit the walls of the tent to shake off the snow. They also got to see the beautiful northern lights for the first time! I had never seen them either, so we were all in the same boat.

Each day we would pack all of our gear onto the toboggans and travel in our tent groups, taking turns pulling the heavy sleds. My white winter boots were a size too big, and really heavy. I was wearing so many layers it was difficult to move, but I was warm! Wearing snowshoes took a long time to get used to, if you didn’t step properly you would trip and fall all over the place. You didn’t realize how much snow there was, until took your snowshoes off and sunk to your knees.  We mostly travelled and camped alongside the lakes.

Around supper time, we would stop for the day to gather wood and set up the wall tents. We cooked all of our meals over small campfires. In the evenings we would gather around the fire at the leadership tent to share stories. One story was about the mad trapper, others were about the Iditarod and the grey owl. The international students would bring up discussion questions, and we would share about the cultures of our home countries. They only had one word for environment, nature. It was a more romanticized word, which was interesting. At points there was a language barrier, so we had to be more attentive to their words and pronunciation. However, it didn’t stop us from having a lot of laughs!

In the middle of the trip, we had a layover day where we didn’t have to travel. That morning we ate pancakes.  We then spent the rest of the day together hiking around, and identifying various animal tracks. It was nice to be able to relax and explore without having to pull a heavy toboggan.

It was sad to part ways at the end of the trip, after spending so much time together. We created a lot of memories, and learn more about each other’s cultures from a student perspective.  I gained a new appreciation for winter and all of it’s beauty, you just have to get outdoors and enjoy it!

The Cookie Race Campers

The Cookie Race Campers

Submitted by: Mackenzie

As my uneventful reading week hit the halfway mark, I couldn’t wait to get outdoors, far away from the sedentary school library. My coach had registered myself and two teammates in the Kananaskis Cookie Race, how we got there was up to us. So, Nils, Joedy and I packed all of our gear into Nils’ truck (which he also lives in) and headed for the mountains two days before the gun was set to go off. We pulled up to the Canmore Nordic Centre after dark later that day.  My stiff legs groaned as I walked around to the back of the tent trailer we were pulling to get out some frigid ski gear. Once we were warmed up,  skiing down the trails, I was one happy camper. The trails were fast, and the clean mountain air was exponentially better than a cab full of farts.  We came to the end of the lit loop, and kept right on skiing into the dark trails. Away from the lights, the beautiful stars were visible above the treetops, and the moon shone bright enough to navigate the shadows.

That night, we slept in the parking lot of the Mount Baldy trail in Kananaskis. Joedy unfolded his tent trailer to find that a mouse had been sandwiched between the two foam pads (R.I.P). After flipping the mattresses and removing the mouse, I still couldn’t get over the smell. Joedy, too stubborn to give up on his tent trailer, slept in it alone while Nils and I slept in the back of the truck. The next morning, Joedy awoke with a very sore throat and a wheezy cough. We joked that he had contracted the hantavirus, and retired the tent trailer for the rest of the trip. Once Joedy finally coaxed us out of our warm sleeping bags, we ate breakfast and hit the trail.  About an hour later, we had ridden the heel toe express all the way to the fake summit (which we celebrated with chocolate, of course). Not wanting to kill our legs before the race, we headed back down, enjoying the views along the way.

That evening, after a hot tub and a much needed shower in Canmore, we slept in the parking lot of the Pocaterra hut, right beside the trail head. The alarm went off three hours before race time, forcing us to step out into the cold, -20 morning.  My fingers went numb as I took my mitts off to change into my race suit, and then quickly pile back on more layers than Randy from A Christmas Story.  We huddled around the propane stove in the back of the truck as Nils made oatmeal. The warm truck was harder to leave than a Mom who cooks with cheese, but there were bibs to collect and skis to wax, so we got moving.

Before I knew it, I was standing at the start line putting neck warmers around my ankles because the warm sun was shining bright and there was no time to change. The gun went off and I was one of 600 people gliding along the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park trail system. Every break in the trees brought a beautiful view of snow covered mountains that spanned the entire horizon. As the pack thinned out, I caught a guy in his early forties.  Although I was faster on the uphills and the flats, he shot down the downhills, leaving me pushing to catch up. We pulled each other along for most of the 24 km race, and had a good chat at the finish. Aptly named The Cookie Race, the food tent was jam packed with trays of cookies… Nils, Joedy and I took full advantage. We pulled away before the diabetes set in and headed straight for Ha Ling Peak.

Already exhausted, we started up the mountain, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. My legs burned right from the start, and the trail only seemed to get steeper and steeper. By the time we reached the treeline, I was half expecting a waft of steam when I unzipped my jacket I was so hot. That quickly changed, above the treeline the winds were viscous and the slopes were slick. My sweaty headband became a ring of ice and my cheeks burned, but there was no turning around with the summit in sight. I willed my noodle legs up the last stretch of rocks.  No longer having to navigate the slippery terrain , I looked up to take in the amazing views. Being an avid trail runner, Joedy took off running down the mountain, seeking the warmth of tree coverage. Nils and I slowly found our footing, regretting out poor choice of footwear. Our runners weren’t exactly designed for icy conditions, and we slipped and stumbled our way down, laughing at each other as we went. Two thirds of the way down, we met up with Joedy again who had run to the bottom and back up to meet us. Together we walked the rest of the way down the beautiful trail, breathing in the fresh air. After two mountains and a loppet, we decided our tired bodies had had enough, and headed for home.

Enjoying the Outdoors

Enjoying the Outdoors

Submitted by: Aaron

I have always enjoyed spending time in the outdoors as this is the space where I have felt most in tune with myself. Since the first time I participated in a backcountry hiking trip when I was probably 12 years old as a Scout, wandering in nature with everything I need on my back has been peaceful.

On this particular day in July of 2013, I experienced the beauty of Berg Lake on Mount Robson for the first time. Now one of my favourite mountain hikes, this place made an impression on me I will never forget. At the time, this was what I would call a challenging hike, by both experience and physical requirement, though I have since learned that this is not the case. Although there are more difficult hikes in the world, few are more rewarding that hiking up to and coming upon Berg Lake for the first time. The lake is an impressive vista of beautiful blue water, and probably not even the most breathtaking site you will see along the way. It is also on this mountain that I had the pleasure of going to sleep on a 30C day and waking up to a foot of snow and ice fog.