2016-17 Winter finally settling in.

Having taken a rather extensive holiday into some warmer climates, it was a bit tough to come back into short days and quickly afterwards, very cold weather. As usual, there is no sign of climate change where we live. Early December brought lows into the -30C's, and highs of -20C's. Surely the pine beetle is in demise! Snows have been reasonable for December at altitude, but somewhat less in the Bow Valley where Canmore resides. That said, it has certainly been cold enough to make snow at the Nordic Centre, and surrounding ski resorts.

The cold weather sent us into Elevation Place (in Canmore) to make use of their world class climbing wall facility. It's been busy there! Since it has auto-belay routes, you don't even need a partner. If you have a partner, the routes range up to well beyond my capability. But, it's actually quite a social place to hang out!

Sunday, Dec 11, we ventured out to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to check out the coss-coutry ski conditions there. Much to our surprise, the tracksetting was excellent from the Elk Pass parking lot to Elk Pass, and the Blueberry Hill lookout. Nice soft snow, albeit somewhat slow due to the cold temperature. The daytime high, though, did hit -15C, which is quite tolerable when there is no wind, and you're working on your stride and gliding. It won't be long before all the trails there are in great shape.

We've been out back country skiing (alpine touring) where you can start out at 1900m+ from the road. That has included Bow Summit on the Ice Fields Parkway in Banff, and Robertson Glacier in Kananaskis Country. Powder skiing in those places was very good for December! We'll continue to investigate....

 

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Hoping Santa brings more snow!!

The High Rockies Trail

Spray Lakes Reservoir

Spray Lakes Reservoir

The High Rockies Trail is a multi-use trail in Kananaskis Country, that, when completed in late 2016 (or early 2017), will be approximately 80 km long.  It connects the Goat Creek parking lot above Canmore, AB and extends south to Elk Pass at the BC border (see http://kananaskisblog.com/HRTrail/page1.html). This will be a portion of the Trans Canada Trail system.

Currently, hikers and bikers are mostly using the section between Driftwood and Buller Creek. This section parallels the Smith Dorrien highway along the Spray Lake reservoir - usually 200-330m above the dusty gravel road (shown on the right side of the picture above, which was taken from Tent Ridge).

We decided to test out that particular section on Canada Day (2016) on mountain bikes. Driftwood is about 25 minutes from Grandview Chalet B&B in Canmore. We parked there, crossed the road, and started climbing. Initially, the trail is pretty "cobbly", but then becomes more clay surfaced, wide and flows nicely. The bridges are exceptional, as you traverse the bases of mountains like Wind Tower, Sparrowhawk and Buller. 

Somebody measured out about 15 km and 500m of climbing each way. We were certainly tuckered at the end of the return ride. But we had smiles on our faces - lots of jumps, and banked corners!

Note that on this section of the trail, the only real views are where you cross an avalanche slope on Mt Buller. These slopes have to be carefully considered in winter (fat bikers!).

A view of Spray Lakes from the HR Trail

A view of Spray Lakes from the HR Trail

When a lot more of this trail system is complete, it will be a major attraction! Plans apparently include a big snowshoe centre at Sawmill, warming huts, etc. Should be great!

Grandview's "7 Red Chair Ride"

Here's a GRAND Cycling tour: 7 RED Chairs with Vista Views in a 100km ride from Canmore's Grandview Chalet B&B. The first time we encountered Park Canada's "Red Chairs" was in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland in 2014. After that, Park's Canada started placing them in strategic places throughout the national parks - generally near roads or popular trails - all with amazing views. Here's our own tour start and finish from our B&B in Canmore:
START: km 5: We met a few friends at the start of the paved cycling "Legacy Trail "in Canmore, and headed out on a cool, but Alberta-blue sky day.

Valley View

Valley View

#1. Valley View RED CHAIRS: Approx 9 km from the Legacy Trail start, and now in Banff National Park, you'll find a picnic site called Valley View, and it's pretty obvious why it was named that. Sit in the chairs and look across the Bow Valley and you see the north-facing subpeaks of Mt Rundle, which is a thrust sheet extending from the town of Banff all the way to Canmore. (15 km?). The fence in the foreground runs along the TransCanada HIghway to keep wildlife off the road, or perhaps to keep people away from the wildlife.

Cruising on the Minnewanka Road, with the Cascade waterfall in the distance

Cruising on the Minnewanka Road, with the Cascade waterfall in the distance

Approx 7.5km further along, there is an intersection on the pathway. At this point, turn right and ride safely under the highway to the Cascade Ponds picnic area. Unfortunately, the ponds are dry now.  Previous to the 2013 flood event, a clay base prevented water from draining through the underlying alluvium, but the clays were swept away. Not sure when, or if the ponds will be back. However, this route gains you access to Minnewanka Road, which has a 50 kph speed limit for the cars, making it nice for road biking and it's a circular loop with spectacular views, as you'll see.

Bonus site:  RED CHAIRS @ Johnson Lake, which is off the Minnewanka Road. We cycled down to Johnson Lake, but upon investigation realized to reach the red chairs you must hike to the far end of the lake. Since this is a bike trip - skip that! Enjoy the lake view ( & park's bathroom facilities) and ride back up the hill.
( Bonus if you add a hike to this extra Red Chair site :)

 

 

#2 Two Jack Lake Red Chairs: Continue along the Minnewanka Road to Two Jack Lake, approx 15 km from Valley View site. These chairs look south across the Lake with Mt Rundle in the background. Two Jack Lake lake is excellent for relaxed paddling and has a National Park campground. Its a favourite site for mountain sheep and don't be surprised if you see a wedding ceremony too along it's shores.  

Two Jack Lake

Two Jack Lake

Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka

#3: Lake Minnewanka RED CHAIRS : A few kilometers past Two Jack Lake is the very large Lake Minnewanka, which is dammed for electrical power. The chairs are ideally situated on a vista point, just past the boat docks, providing a fantastic view of mountain peaks and water. Nearby, you can access boat tours up and down the lake, available throughout tourist season. There's a hiking/mountain biking trail on the north side of the lake (off limits to bikes and dogs July 10 to Sept 15 due to bear habitat). Special note: Ice cream usually available at the little café;  if you like the soft variety. Eco friendly public toilets are here too.

Vermillian Lake(s)

Vermillian Lake(s)

Although there is no red chair, we cycled approx 12 km's to Vermillian Lakes for lunch spot. Continuing from Minnewanka road, ride back via Cascade Ponds, onto the Legacy Trail and into the town of Banff (a great number of food outlets exist if you didn't pack your lunch). Ride west a short distance out of Banff townsite to the most photographed Vermillian Lakes area. These large shallow waters offer perfect reflections of Mt Rundle, and some nice benches too.

Norquay Red Chairs

Norquay Red Chairs

Banff Townsite from the Norquay Red Chairs

Banff Townsite from the Norquay Red Chairs

#4: Mt Norquay RED CHAIRS: Now well fed and watered, you're ready to tackle the biggest hill in this tour. Norquay's Red Chairs are located approx 5 km up the paved road switchbacks enroute to Mt. Norquay ski hill, providing an outstanding view of Mt Rundle, the town of Banff and a myriad of other peaks. Stop at the vista car parking "pull out" to find the chairs. Big horn sheep often are grazing in this meadow too. If you wish to keep climbing, it's another kilometer to the ski hill. Total elevation to Mt Norquay ski hill approx 300m. Descent ride is pretty smooth and fun! ( Beware of texas gates at the bottom of the road; ride fast over 'em)

Mt Norquay - a Via Ferrata starts from the top of the chairlift to the peak in summer.

Mt Norquay - a Via Ferrata starts from the top of the chairlift to the peak in summer.

# 5 Cave & Basin RED CHAIRS: Cycling back into the Banff townsite,  follow a bike/walking path along the Bow River, past the Banff Avenue car bridge to the new pedestrian bridge just downstream. Once over the bridge, turn right, back under Banff Avenue, and onto Cave Avenue. This is a pleasant cycle for 1.5 km to the historic Cave and Basin, where the next red chairs are situated. This historic site encompasses the original cave and hot springs around which Banff National Park was created in 1885 (Canada's First National park and Third in the world). Banff Park is now 6,641 km2, and connects with 3 other national parks, several provincial parks, and a few wilderness areas. Note: There is a nominal fee to tour the site, including the famous cave   - or you can just take a picture of the Red Chairs from outside the original pool area. ( Pool is now closed and bricked/cemented over)

Cave and Basin

Cave and Basin

#6 Tunnel Mountain RED CHAIRS: Continue from the Cave and Basin, retrace your cycle tracks back over the pedestrian bridge, make your way through Banff and up the Tunnel Mountain road. At the top of the road, past the campground, watch for thethe Tunnel Mountain chairs. Again, they provide a beautifulview of the small mountain the road is named after, along with the Bow River and the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel.

Tunnel Mtn

Tunnel Mtn

#7 Hoodoo RED CHAIRS:  Approx another km down the Tunnel Mtn road, another pullover gives access to a short walk pathway, bringing you to the Hoodoo red chair site. Hoodoos are formed from erosion of glacial deposits that extend from one side of the Bow Valley to the other, leaving prominent pinnacle features on the cliff sides of the Bow River. Note: The chairs were not placed to see the Hoodoos - best seen from the nearby hiking trail, or better yet a kayak:

Kayking along the Bow

Kayking along the Bow

From this point, it's a pretty easy cycle down the remainder of Tunnel Mountain road, leading back down to an intersection with the Legacy Trail and return to Canmore.  Usually, there is a west wind blowing, so you get a nice tailwind back home to Canmore.

Along the Legacy Trail

Along the Legacy Trail

Back in Canmore

Back in Canmore

If you are staying at Grandview Chalet B&B in Canmore, the return trip is approximately 100km for this trip (including the side trips to Johnson and Vermillian Lakes). But it's pretty easy to tailor an easier trip (or harder).

There is a final set of red chairs at Grandview Chalet's backyard! Bring some cold beer, and treat yourself to a ride well done!