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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.

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.