Trail Tuesdays: Hiking in Herds & Finding Trail Joy Anyway

Many of us hit the trails because they offer reprieve from the noise and stress and busyness of daily life.  In nature, we find quiet, often solitude, and the ability to hear nothing but our own breath and footsteps.  The calming effect cannot be denied.  Research has shown that being in nature can lower blood pressure, stress hormones, heart rate and muscle tension. In other words, nature for the win!

Sometimes, though, we don’t find quiet and solitude on the trails. As an example, this weekend we tried to take my mom into Kananaskis to get her nature on. What we encountered en route was a highway jammed with traffic care of long weekends, and three accidents in a 50 kilometre stretch. A plan B was in order but, unfortunately, that plan B involved swarms of other nature seekers.

Instead of tranquility and solitude and the peaceful hush of nature, we found:

-a crowded parking with illegal parkers blocking valuable driving territory and hikers wandering aimlessly mid-road

-the constant drone of loud conversations

-trail “traffic jams” (i.e. getting stuck behind large groups and a steady stream of slow walkers)

-a canyon floor full of hikers milling about like cattle on the range, rendering humanless picture-taking a near impossible task

Sounds awful doesn’t it? It’s certainly not my ideal. The reality is that more of us are trying to escape to nature and you don’t always have the time nor energy (nor fitness level, in my case!) to seek out the more remote and lesser known trails. Never fear, though, for you can still enjoy the well-travelled trails even when they’re crowded. Here’s how:

1. Shift your mindset: When we arrived and I saw herd upon herd of hikers swarming the parking lot, my first thought was ‘get me out of here.’ But then I realized that we were out for a family day of fun, a little bit of fresh (albeit slightly smokey) air, and to celebrate my mom’s birthday. All she wanted was to be outdoors with her family. This trail met all those criteria. I had to get over my attitude.

2. Enjoy the company: If everyone else around you is going to be talking and yelling and laughing and hollering, join in the fun. Talk and laugh and drown out everyone’s noise with your own.

3. Whenever possible, choose the lesser-travelled path: Along the route there were numerous places where the path split and rejoined later. We always choose the lesser travelled trail and, in those moments, you could almost forget that there were upwards of a hundred other hikers within a kilometre of you.

4. Look up (waaaaaaay up…okay, that reference will be lost on anyone who isn’t a Canadian child of the 80s who watched the CBC classic the Friendly Giant):  It was next to impossible to take a picture without people in it, unless I looked up. But there was so much to see that I would have missed otherwise: canyon walls (even some hieroglyphics!), blue skies, spired peaks, and even the odd hoodoo.  Looking at things from a new perspective really can make all the difference.

And so, even if you’re forced to hike with the masses, you can still connect with the joy of nature. Get out there!

Looking up and finding a peak peeking out (see what I did there?)

Throwback Thursdays: Best Christmas Hike

Oh my goodness, it’s December! It’s 24 days to Christmas! The winter sporting season is in full force! That’s a lot of exclamation marks to kick off a post but my enthusiasm for the holidays will not be squelched. I thought I would share one of my favourite Christmas day hiking memories because, let me assure you, there is no better prelude for a gluttonous Christmas feast than a hike.

In somewhat fortuitous fashion, my bro and I went for a perfect bluebird, snow-filled Christmas day hike last year, a year which also happened to be my parents’  last Christmas living in the Rockies. It’s like we knew we needed to seize the moment. And seize the moment we did.

Picture this: it is Christmas morning. We have torn open all our stockings because, yes, my brother and I still get stockings even as grown-ass adults. We’d devoured Christmas breakfast. It is gloriously sunny outside but ridiculously cold.  What else to do but drive for 45 minutes and then go for a 12 km hike, right? Right. This is how my brother and I roll, and it is all the more impressive for him since he lacks proper gear and also has zero percent body fat to insulate him against the elements.

It was, perhaps, one of my best Christmas days. Sure, we couldn’t feel our faces it was so cold. Sure, my iPhone stopped working in the extreme cold (although, really, it was only -28 celsius which, by Rockies standards, isn’t THAT bad).  Sure, our water froze inside the bottles leaving us extra dehydrated (we may have had considerable Christmas eve wine). All of that was true.

Still, the scenery was stunning. The trail was uncrowded. The forest was serenely quiet and calm. The crunch of snow underfoot was meditative. The fresh air was invigorating. The perfect bluebird day was a true Christmas present. Yes, I realize how cheesy that sounds.

Don’t you just want to jump into the pillowy snow?
Icicles for days!
Icicles for days!
Come on, isn't that worth it being so cold you can't feel your face?
Come on, isn’t that worth it being so cold you can’t feel your face?
I spent a considerable amount of time wondering how this creek wasn't frozen solid.
I spent a considerable amount of time wondering how this creek wasn’t frozen solid.

Long story long, if you have access to mountains on Christmas day and there is blue sky, don’t let the cold keep you from hitting a trail. It may just be the perfect Christmas gift that you never knew you even wanted.

Throwback Thursday: My Personal Fave Trail Run/Hike

I have been feeling nostalgic for hiking and trail running lately. Between crappy weather, low motivation, weekend getaways and injury recovery, this has been one of my least stellar years for trail adventures. I’ve barely tried any new trails, nor revisited old favorites.  I had originally planned to be in the Rockies this week, but when I saw the forecast I quickly changed plans (postponed til later this month, really). What this all boils down to is, I miss the trail.

This got me thinking: I’ve written about my least favorite hiking trail ever, but haven’t considered the other side of the coin.  I can’t come across as being so glass half empty that I only focus on the negative (though, let’s be honest, that’s a more accurate reflection of my general disposition), and so I present you with my favourite trail run/hike. Happy adventuring!

What is it? Lake O’Hara Access Road + McArthur Lake

Where is it? Yoho National Park, BC (just west of Lake Louise area)

How long is it?  28.3 km return

Why do you call it a “run/hike”?  Because I am a lazy trail runner and won’t even attempt running up remotely steep trails. Therefore, I run the access road in/out (22 km return) and hike the 6.3 km return trail to/from McArthur Lake.

What you can I expect? Awesomeness, wonder and beauty start to finish, and a nice little work out to boot.

Why is it your favourite? I have run/hiked this trail at least a half dozen times over my years. I’ve visited the Lake O’Hara area to hike other trails at least another half dozen times. I absolutely, positively, never tire of the trails.

Some may say that the access road is uninspiring and that there’s no reason to run it since you can take a pretty cheap bus in/out.  I always turn my nose up at shuttles and buses as the lazy person’s option (well, unless you’re actually carrying in all your backpacking and/or hiking gear), but also I genuinely believe the road has its own beauty.  It’s also one of the few places you’ll find solitude.

Lake O’Hara and Lake McArthur, as destinations in their own rights, are both just simply stunning. Yoho is definitely my favourite park in the Rockies and this area is my favourite area within the park. I cannot think of a more perfect example of nature’s beauty. Need more convincing?

See Exhibit A:

I mean, really.

And Exhibit B:

Seriously, is there a more idyllic setting???
Seriously, is there a more idyllic setting???

And I have about a million more pictures from over the years that will surely convince you to give this trail a whirl. For extra wondrous nature perfection, visit during larch season (usually starting as early as mid-september or as late as early October).

There you have it, a glimpse into one of my most happy of happy places and evidence that I’m not always a champion glass-half-empty whiner!