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Posts categorized “Hiking/Trekking Canadian Rockies”.

The all-new Ultralight Gear 7th edition of “Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies, the Opinionated Hiking Guide”

Hiking Guidebooks have always been hiking gear. They just haven’t fulfilled their mandate until now. Play video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dv3PyKzZ1rU

The Canadian Rockies

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The Canadian Rockies’ Supreme Crest Walk near Calgary: Pocaterra Ridge

IF this current blast of cold and snow in the Canadian Rockies is merely an early warning from the Weather Gods, IF blue skies, sunshine and moderate temperatures return, and IF you can arrange a day off with a couple friends and two vehicles, we urge you to hike Pocaterra Ridge (Trip 30, page 164, Where Locals Hike in the Canadian Rockies) within the next few weeks. Otherwise, give it high priority on your hikes-to-do-next-summer list. Because Pocaterra is the supreme crest walk in Kananaskis Country.

While re-hiking as many Kananaskis Country trails as possible (checking for flood damage), we hit Pocaterra on a perfect day. Midway along, we agreed this is one hike we’ll eagerly repeat every year. As for flood damage: none here. Sure, we noticed a few places where the effects of voluminous, swift water were evident, but the flood left no impact on Pocaterra Ridge that hikers need be aware of. Even the final, short, bushy thrash between the north end of the ridge and the highway is much the same as it’s long been: the route remains evident.

Why the need for two vehicles? Because the ideal way to hike Pocaterra Ridge is one way: south to north. Pre-arrange a shuttle, and the trip ends when the hiking ends. If you’re willing to hitchhike, you can do it with one vehicle. Bear in mind, hitching is much easier on weekends, when more people are hiking in K-Country and driving over Highwood Pass. Our preference is to hitch in the morning, so our vehicle is waiting for us at day’s end.

This time we felt lucky, came with only one vehicle, and didn’t even consider hitching in the morning. Midway along the ridge, we met two women hiking one-way, in the opposite direction. We chatted, recognized our mutual need, and offered to exchange keys. After dismounting the ridge, we delivered their car to the other trailhead and picked up ours. Challenge overcome. And the day’s perfection was burnished by an act of mutual trust between mountain folk.

Walk on!

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Bears Menace Hikers in the Canadian Rockies

grizzly bear

Bears are constantly menacing hikers in the Canadian Rockies. Not through direct encounter, which is rare, but through the towering, terrifying shadow they cast across hikers’ imaginations. As a result, countless hikers are so intimidated, they never probe the wilderness deeply, never stray from the most popular hiking trails.

We want you to fully appreciate the Canadian Rockies. That’s not possible if you limit yourself to short hikes on crowded trails. Because there’s more to experiencing wilderness than simply seeing it. You must feel it—which you can’t do if constantly distracted by the sight and sound of other people.

Wilderness hiking requires confidence. Confidence that a bear encounter is unlikely. Confidence that, should you see a bear, you can prevent a close encounter. Confidence that even in a close encounter with a bear, you can walk away uninjured. Such confidence is based on knowledge. So here’s what you need to know.

But first, would you rather listen than read? Download our 30-minute Bears Beware! MP3. Click on “Books” in our  home page menu. You’ll find it under “Bear Safety.” Listen to it at home, or on your iPod while driving to the trailhead.

You prefer to read? Carry on here. We’ve shortened the 30-minute MP3 for you:

Only a couple hundred grizzly bears roam the Canadian Rocky Mountain national parks. The black-bear population is comparable. You’re more likely to see a bear while driving the Icefields Parkway than while hiking most backcountry trails.

Grizzlies are the slowest reproducing land animals in North America. Only the musk ox is slower. So Banff Park’s grizzly population will remain small.

The Banff Information Centre posts trail reports that include bear warnings and closures. Check these before your trip; adjust your plans accordingly.

Grizzly bears and black bears can be difficult to tell apart—even for an experienced observer. Both species range in colour from nearly white to cinnamon to black. Full-grown grizzlies are much bigger, but a young grizzly can resemble an adult black bear, so size is not a good indicator.

The most obvious differences are that grizzlies have a dished face; big, muscular shoulder humps; and long, curved front claws. Blacks have a straight face; no hump; and shorter, less visible front claws. Grizzlies are potentially more dangerous than black bears, although a black bear sow with cubs can be just as aggressive. Be wary of all bears.

Any bear might attack when surprised. If you’re hiking, and forest or brush limits your visibility, you can prevent surprising a bear by making noise. Bears hear about as well as humans. Most are as anxious to avoid an encounter as you are. If you warn them of your presence before they see you, they’ll usually clear out.

Use the most effective noisemaker: your voice. Shout loudly. Keep it up. Don’t be embarrassed. Be safe. Yell louder near streams, so your voice carries over the competing noise. Sound off more frequently when hiking into the wind. That’s when bears are least able to hear or smell you coming. To learn more about what sounds to make, where and when, download our Bears Beware! MP3. It’s subtitled “Warning Calls You Can Make to Avoid an Encounter.”

Bears’ strongest sense is smell. They can detect an animal carcass several kilometers (miles) away. So keep your pack, tent and campsite odor-free. Double or triple-wrap all your food in plastic bags. Avoid smelly foods, especially meat and fish. On short backpack trips, consider eating only fresh foods that require no cooking or cleanup.

If you cook, do it as far as possible from where you’ll be sleeping. Never cook in or near your tent; the fabric might retain odor. Use as few pots and dishes as you can get by with. Be fastidious when you wash them.

At night, hang all your food, trash, and anything else that smells (cooking gear, sunscreen, bug repellent, toothpaste) out of bears’ reach. Use the metal food caches provided at some provincial-park backcountry campgrounds. Elsewhere, a tree branch will suffice. Bring a sturdy stuffsack to serve as your bear bag. Hoist it at least 5 m (16 ft) off the ground and 1.5 m (5 ft) from the tree trunk or other branches. You’ll need about 12 meters (40 feet) of light nylon cord. Clip the sack to the cord with an ultralight carabiner.

Backpackers who don’t properly hang their food at night are inviting bears into their campsite, greatly increasing the chance of a dangerous encounter. And bears are smart. They quickly learn to associate a particular place, or people in general, with an easy meal. They become habituated and lose their fear of man. A habituated bear is a menace to any hiker within its range.

If you see a bear, don’t look it in the eyes; it might think you’re challenging it. Never run. Initially be still. If you must move, do it in slow motion. Bears are more likely to attack if you flee, and they’re fast, much faster than humans. A grizzly can outsprint a racehorse. And it’s a myth that bears can’t run downhill. They’re also strong swimmers. Despite their ungainly appearance, they’re excellent climbers too.

Climbing a tree, however, can be an option for escaping an aggressive bear. Some people have saved their lives this way. Others have been caught in the process. To be out of reach of an adult bear, you must climb at least 10 m (33 ft) very quickly, something few people are capable of. It’s generally best to avoid provoking an attack by staying calm, initially standing your ground, making soothing sounds to convey a nonthreatening presence, then retreating slowly.

What should you do when a bear charges? If you’re certain it’s a lone black bear—not a sow with cubs, not a grizzly—fighting back might be effective. If it’s a grizzly, and contact seems imminent, lie face down, with your legs apart and your hands clasped behind your neck. This is safer than the fetal position, which used to be recommended, because it makes it harder for the bear to flip you over.

If you play dead, a grizzly is likely to break off the attack once it feels you’re no longer a threat. Don’t move until you’re sure the bear has left the area, then slowly, quietly, get up and walk away. Keep moving, but don’t run.

Arm yourself with pepper spray as a last line of defense. It’s available at outdoor stores. Keep it in a holster—on your hip belt or shoulder strap—where you can grab it fast. Cayenne pepper, highly irritating to a bear’s sensitive nose, is the active ingredient. Without causing permanent injury, it disables the bear long enough to let you escape. Many people have successfully used it to turn back charging bears.

Research presented to more than 300 bear experts at the 4th International Human-Bear Conflict Workshop, in Missoula, Montana, suggests pepper spray is more effective than firearms at stopping a bear attack. The combined results from two studies are convincing: 98% of people who used pepper spray to stop charging bears walked away from their encounters unharmed, and none of the people or bears died. 56% of people who used firearms to stop charging bears were injured, and 61% of the bears died.

Vigilance and noise making, however, should ensure you never encounter a bear at close range, thus preventing you from having to so much as unholster your pepper spray. Do so only if you really think your life is at risk, at which point the bear is at risk as well. A bear confronted by a human being is at one of the most precarious, dangerous moments of its life.

Any time bears act aggressively, they’re following their natural instinct for self preservation. Often they’re protecting their cubs or a food source. Yet if they maul a hiker, they’re likely to be killed, or captured and moved, by wildlife management officers. So when you go hiking in the Canadian Rockies, you’re accepting responsibility for the protection of these beautiful, magnificent creatures.

Merrily disregarding bears is foolish and unsafe. Worrying about them is miserable and unnecessary. Everyone occasionally feels afraid when venturing deep into the mountains, but knowledge and awareness can quell fear of bears.

Just take the necessary precautions and remain guardedly alert. Experiencing the grandeur of mountain wilderness is certainly worth risking the remote possibility of a bear encounter.

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Fall Hiking in the Canadian Rockies: Arm Yourself with Weather Info

It’s Wednesday, August 31, and our annual blast of winter-preview weather has arrived. It’s 4°C at our house in Canmore. It’s been raining all day. The clouds are so low, the mountains ringing our town are obscured. Tonight, the rain will likely turn to sleet or snow. And when the clouds clear, the summits will be white. But the clouds will clear. The lashings of wet snow will melt off the peaks. Summer weather will return—soon. This is just the annoying-yet-motivating reminder notice we always receive this time of year from those capricious Weather Demons who lord it over the Canadian Rockies. “Take full advantage of optimal hiking weather,” they’re saying, “because those days—numbered to begin with—are now fiendishly few.”

Weather info sources that will help you plan the remainder of the hiking season:






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Canmore, Alberta: Best Mountain Town in North America

When traveling outside Canada, we often say “Banff” when someone asks us where we’re from. It’s just easier, because most people have at least heard of Banff National Park, while relatively few are familiar with Canmore. But we wince when we do it, because we love Canmore and feel proud and fortunate to reside here. There are dozens of reasons for that. Among them… Friendships, of course. Our “pit crew” of healthcare professionals, including our chiropractor, massage therapist, and Chinese medicine practitioner, all of whom are superb. The setting. Where else can you step out of the bank, or the grocery store, or the hardware store, and find yourself staring up (literally up) at a massive wall of peaks? A small commercial centre, clustered around an authentic Main Street, that is — in our opinion — among the two or three most atmospherically pleasing in Canada. An energetic, adventurous, athletically-charged, core population. … But the primary reason we’re enthralled with Canmore is that our backyard affords some of the best hiking in North America. We were reminded of that yet again when we recently left our house after a late lunch, drove only a short distance, and began hiking—at 3 p.m.—into the headwater basins of James Walker Creek. Here are some photos from that hike. They articulate precisely why, for us, Canmore will always be home.

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Secret Hikes in the Canadian Rockies

“Please take that hike out of your book. It’s a secret few people know about. I want to keep it that way.”

We rarely receive a request to excise a particular trip from one of our hiking guidebooks, but when we do, that’s the thrust of the argument: Someone wants to keep their “secret route” all to themselves.

We understand their desire for solitude, because we prize it too. And we recognize that publishing a description of a trail or route will likely increase the number of people who hike it.

We also believe hiking makes people better people: healthier, happier, calmer, saner. The more of us who go hiking, the better off we’ll all be. And one of the best ways to encourage more people to go hiking is to spread the word about trails and routes that are particularly rewarding.

So we’re comfortable spreading the word.

Still, the “secrets” we’ve “revealed” in our books are, in fact, not secrets. All were known before we published our descriptions of them. Granted, some were not widely known, but neither were they unknown. We’re simply giving a few more people the confidence to attempt them.

For every little-known hike described in one of our books, there are many we’ve chosen not to publicize. These truly are secrets. Some were suggested to us by our hiking buddies. Others we sussed out by trial and error.

If you want to covet genuine “hiking secrets,” you can. All you need is a topo map, a compass, the skill to use them, and the will to explore and discover. Be aware, of course, that you’ll occasionally expend a lot of energy to no avail.

Usually, what prompts us to study a topo map is a canyon, ridge, or peak that catches our attention while we’re driving. We glimpse a potential route leading to a compelling goal. By scrutinizing the map, we learn whether or not the route might “go.” If we think it’ll go, we agree to come back and try it someday.

That’s what we did last week, when we finally attempted ????????? Ridge. We noticed it years ago. It’s northeast of ???????? Ridge (Trip ??, page ??, Where Locals Hike in the Canadian Rockies). Trails briefly probe the canyons on both sides of ???????? Ridge. The ridge itself is trail-less, but the crest has always intrigued us.

Now that we’ve hiked ???????? Ridge, we can tell you our opinion of it and offer directions that will help you hike it. But we won’t. We’ll leave it a secret.*

But thousands more secrets await you in the Canadian Rockies. We hope you make time to ferret out a few this summer.


*Oh, alright. We’ll give you a visual hint. Here’s a photo revealing the crest of ???????? Ridge.

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Scrambling Mt. Temple, above Lake Louise, in Banff National Park

This past week in the Canadian Rockies, enough snow has fallen at high elevations and the daytime temperatures have remained cool enough that scrambling season has clearly ended. Sure, any summit is accessible any time of year, if you’re a black-belt mountaineer. But a patina of snow and/or ice makes a long, steep, rough scramble significantly more challenging and possibly dangerous for most of us. So between now and ski season, it’s wise to hike rather than scramble.

Our final scramble of the season was Mt. Temple. We did it on the last, truly summer day of what has been little better than a mild winter these past four months here in Canmore and Banff.

Looming above Lake Louise, 3543-m (11,624-ft) Mt. Temple wears a helmet of ice. From the lake, the peak appears insurmountably vertical. But from the other side, starting at Moraine Lake (1884 m / 6181 ft), a pedestrian glideway of a hiking trail leads to 2373-m (7785-ft) Sentinel Pass. From there, it’s only a moderate scramble to the summit of Mt. Temple. Total elevation gain: 1659 m (5442 ft). We completed the round trip in nine hours.

As you can see, the summit panorama is glorious. And the ascent, though taxing, is enjoyable. If you’re an outdoor athlete with a head for heights and enough scrambling experience to be comfortable on steep talus and scree, you should find Mt. Temple a reasonable goal. The ideal time to do it is late summer, once the route is snow free. Wait for three days of perfect weather. Plan your trip for the middle day. Bring a helmet and, just in case, an ice axe. Pack enough clothing layers that you can enjoy sitting on the summit for an hour even if the wind is screaming. And try to get an alpine start, so you won’t be racing down the mountain at sunset. You’ll want plenty of time to choose the optimal route—particularly on the descent.

For complete details, get our book: Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies, The Opinionated Hiking Guide. The all-new, ultralight gear, 7th edition will tell you everything you need to know to summit Mt. Temple.


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Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit vs. Tongariro Crossing

The Opinionated Hikers on Patrol for You

New Zealand has marketed itself to hikers more successfully than any country in the world. True, NZ is blessed with gorgeous scenery and has an enviable number of tracks (trails), but those aren’t the only reasons it ranks high on many hikers’ life lists. Kiwis are smart. Their nation’s natural beauty is an infinitely renewable resource, so they sell it—hard. In doing so, they sometimes exaggerate.

Case in point: the Tongariro Crossing. Kiwis convincingly tout it as “the world’s greatest day-trek.”

They’re entitled to their opinion. And, granted, it’s a subjective matter. But having hiked the Tongariro Crossing three times during the past 20 years, and meanwhile having also sampled a lot of the most spectacular hiking terrain elsewhere in the world (Patagonia, French Alps, Sierra Nevada, Alaska, etc.), Kathy and I can say with assurance there are many day treks more deserving of “the world’s best” label. We hiked one of them just last week: the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit, in Yoho National Park, in the Canadian Rockies.

Is the Alpine Circuit the best dayhike in the world? Perhaps. It certainly ranks among the supreme ten.

Compare the photos above. The top six are from the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit. The bottom three are from the Tongariro Crossing. Where would you rather hike? We believe most hikers will agree the Alpine Circuit offers a scenically superior experience. So why doesn’t Canada market the Canadian Rockies with anything approaching the cunning and savvy with which Kiwis market New Zealand?

We hope the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit is on your radar. Before you go, read the complete description in the all-new, ultralight gear, 7th edition of our book: Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies, the Opinionated Hiking Guide.

Meanwhile, here’s our advice…

If you’re reasonably fit, begin the day by ascending to Wiwaxy Gap. Next, follow the Huber Ledges to Lake Oesa. From there, descend back to Lake O’Hara. Allowing plenty of time to gaze and take photos, this abbreviated loop will take you about three or four hours.

You’re fit and keen? Continue from Lake Oesa, onto the Yukness Ledges, then down to Hungabee Lake. From there, descend the East Opabin trail to the south shore of Lake O’Hara. Total hiking time: five to six hours.

You’re very fit and super keen? Proceed west along the north shore of Hungabee Lake. Work your way onto the All Souls’ Traverse, beneath Schaffer Ridge. Ascend to All Souls’ Prospect for a new panorama of the entire region. Then descend the Big Larches trail to Lake O’Hara, arriving there about seven or eight hours after you began hiking.

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Let the Bear be the Boss

Bear stories are boring. Actually most animal stories are boring. Everyone tells them. Yet the magic we feel during a close encounter with wildlife is difficult, often impossible, to convey. And most people simply aren’t skilled at story telling. All of us have politely listened to others’ animal stories, feigning interest throughout the tedious litany of unnecessary detail, so it’s best to keep that in mind when we’re tempted to regale our friends about our latest wild-kingdom experience. Regardless how cute that chipmunk was, how crazily that moose behaved, or how much that bear terrified us, we’ll only bore our friends if we burden them with the whole story.

So we’ll be brief here.

On our recent backpack trip up Johnston Creek Valley to Luellen Lake, Pulsatilla Pass, and Badger Pass, we encountered a sow grizzly with her cub. We’d been making bear-warning calls (http://www.hikingcamping.com/bear-safety.php), so the bear was not surprised. She heard us approaching and was moving in our direction, clearly coming to check us out, when we spotted one another about 40 metres apart. She continued slowly but confidently striding forward. We scanned the area, assessed the situation, spoke briefly to one another, unholstered our pepper spray, then retreated—all the way back to the trailhead. End of story.

Our point is this: Let the bear be the boss. Bears live in the backcountry. It’s their home. We humans are uninvited guests. Bears generally display remarkable tolerance of human beings. But if we test their patience, it might end tragically—for them as well as us.

Deferring to a bear, in a situation like ours, can be counter-intuitive. “What? Back down? Turn around? Me? Now? No way!” Letting the mere presence of an animal quash our efforts and alter our plans is in direct opposition to what society has taught us about humans being masters of the planet.

We’d started hiking in Johnston Canyon, camped the first night at Luellen Lake, and were in the upper reaches of Johnston Creek Valley, a mere 1 km shy of Badger Junction campground. We intended to camp there, then dayhike to both passes. The weather was magnificent. We’d been unable to shoot good photos of either pass during our previous visits due to rain and low, heavy clouds. Finally, our timing was perfect. So, we admit, we considered maneuvering around the bear and continuing.

But it was apparent this bear and her cub had taken up temporary residence in the area and were disinclined to leave, which made us disinclined to stay. It was a painful decision. Prepping for a backpack trip takes hours. We’d hiked—carrying hefty packs—nearly a day-and-a-half prior to mama bear’s stern greeting. Turning back at that point meant another day-long slog, and a virtually empty camera card. Save for Luellen Lake, the hike had been a scenic zero—a long march through disenchanted forest on a muddy, horse-tromped trail. Finally, our reward was just ahead. We’d soon be surging into the alpine zone. The bear didn’t overtly threaten us, but she tore our trip into tatters.

During the long, rather depressing, down-valley hike, we replayed the situation in our minds, discussed alternatives, pondered our decision, and agreed we’d chosen the wise course of action. We thought we should tell you about it because you could someday find yourself in similar circumstances. Having a frame of reference might help you make a quick, smart decision under pressure.

Remember to make lots of noise on the trail; it’s your best defense. (Download our Bears Beware MP3. Listening to it while driving to the trailhead could save your life.) If you do encounter a bear, remember to let him or her be the boss. And later, though it might seem like a fascinating tale, remember to spare your friends the details.

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Hiking and camping in the wilderness can be dangerous. Experience and preparation reduce risk but will never eliminate it.

Information published in a book or on a website—regardless how authoritative—is not a substitute for common sense or sound judgment. Your safety is your responsibility. The unique details of your specific situation and the decisions you make at that time will determine the outcome.

When hiking, threats to your wellbeing are unpredictable; you must always be aware. In the backcountry, risk is subjective; you must gauge it for yourself. Away from civilization, small mistakes can have severe consequences; you must vigilantly prevent injury and avoid becoming disoriented.

Never hike alone. Before setting out, check the weather forecast and current trail conditions; adjust your plans accordingly. Always carry a map and compass, a first-aid kit, extra clothing, a personal locator beacon, plus enough food and water to survive an emergency.

If you doubt your ability to negotiate rough terrain, respond to wild animals, or handle sudden, extreme weather changes, hike only in a group led by a competent, licensed guide.

The authors and the publisher disclaim liability for any loss or injury incurred by anyone using information published on this website or in the books presented on this website.