Skoki: Scrambling Down

High up and nestled in a mountain valley above Lake Louise, Alberta, the Skoki trail is a moderately challenging adventure hike. Sure, you could helicopter in, and sure, you could stay at the lodge (which has hosted celebrities and royals.) Or, you can hike the distance up and over the summit, into the valley and camp rough in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains like we did in 2018.

for whatever one photo is worth:

After three nights in the wilderness, filling our days with wandering trail exploration, circumnavigating Mount Skoki (the hazy one on the right, if I remember correctly), rehydrating our food with hand filtered river water boiled over a firefly stove all while avoiding the swarms of mosquitos, this photo was us clambering back to the trailhead where our truck was parked.

The interesting thing about this hike is that there are multiple and roughly parallel routes in and out. While the base ten kilometers or so doesn’t vary much, the trail splits as you need to decide which path to take over the summit and into the valley behind where the campsites and lodge hide.

We took the main route inbound which took us on a hard climb up and then a winding path down through that forested green ridge in the right of the photo.

On the way out we followed the creek in the centre of the photo towards a pair of glacial lakes (behind me, the photographer) out of frame, that first required some tough (particularly with a heavy pack on) climbs up and between boulders to the edge of the lakes. Then, after a rest at the lakes, the hike continued up a steep ascent to a different pass over the ridge and back down to join the other trail.

The path inbound definitely seemed easier, and the views were great, but we were also fresh and rested on day one.

The path out was much more challenging, but the scramble beside the lakes and the pause we took overlooking a glassy glacial pool still sticks in my mind as a highlight of the trip.

Iceland: Chasing Waterfalls

I snapped close to ten thousand photos over the course of not-quite-two weeks travelling around Iceland in 2014, and disproportional number of those pics included waterfalls.

for whatever one photo is worth:

Skógafoss is a huge waterfall on the Skógá River in the very southern bulge of Iceland. It was one of the first big waterfalls we saw on our trip along the ring road of the island and notable not just because it is an impressive waterfall, but having climbed up the slick and narrow path to overlook the crest I saw something even more interesting.

A trailhead.

On my visit I wasn’t carrying much more than a camera bag, but others sharing the trail with me were lugging much more substantial loads. Backpacking gear. Obvious overnighting equipment. Crampons. Warm clothes. As I turned to climb back down after snapping my photos, they were hopping over a low barrier and setting out on a serious backpacking trip.

The Fimmvorduhals Trail (as I researched later) is one of many incredible adventures in Iceland. From what I can tell it is part of an extensive hiking and backpacking network in that country and people come from all over to walk them.

To be perfectly honest, until I saw those people trekking outbound from where we had stopped for a tourist break, it had not occurred to me that there might be some seriously awesome backpacking to be had in Iceland. We were going to explore by car with the family including my (at the time) seven year old and her grandparents.

To be even more honest, it hasn’t left my mind as a backpacking trip I’d love to take on. Sooner than later. Had there not been a global pandemic, it was actually an idea I’d floated with a friend for this upcoming summer to celebrate his fiftieth birthday. It inspired me to see those people setting out, and a pang of jealousy has always stuck like a splinter in my brain that I got back into an SUV and drove on while they set off into the wilds for something far more epic.

This picture, then, as simple and beautiful as it looks is actually hiding a personal point of interest for me: it’s the trailhead of one of my bucket list hikes.

Comics: Backpacking with Kids

When my daughter was younger I wrote, illustrated and shared an online web comic about fatherhood. It documented some of the quirky things we did and used some of the funny things she said as the heartbeat of the jokes.

The comics are mostly still (mostly) online at www.piday.ca but to save readers from trotting over there to hunt through the relevant ones, here is a short triple-strip series I made shortly after one of our backpacking trips.

Of course there is a much longer story behind this brief comic trilogy.

It involves a kid who was a little worried about being eaten by a bear on top of a mountain and parents who (were just following the rules and) added to that fear by locking our food in a hard, steel bear locker while we slept a hundred meters away in a soft-fabric tent.

As it turned out, on one of our short day hikes we chanced upon not just the ranger station but the ranger himself who (being a great example of being an above & beyond public servant) gave us a tour of the ranger shack, told the kid about how they tracked bear movement for safety, and handed her a BC Parks pin for her jacket.

And she left pretty certain that if the ranger would be out there watching her back for bears, though informed me that if the ranger fell through that Dad would be on the hook to wrestle the bear.

Thankfully, it was a bear-free trip and my honour was spared for another day.

Backpacking: Stumped for Entertain-ment

We usually pack light for any long backpacking adventure, but bringing along a book or a pack of cards is worth the small additional weight, even if it turns out there is no table to play on at the top.

For whatever one photo is worth:

In 2018 we did a multi-day backpacking trip up over the pass at Skoki Mountain near Lake Louise, Alberta. Three of us, two adults and a pre-teen, lugged our full kit up about eighteen kilometers of service road, trail accent, lakeside hike, summit climb, and winding approach.

The bugs were brutal and aggressive, as was the murky smoke from a far off forest fire. So, when we were not working through the never-ending routine of chores to cook, clean and keep camp, we spent the better part of our time wrapped up in mosquito hoods or hiding in our tents.

Luckily we brought along some cards.

Backpacking is all about weight. Every gram is yet another gram one needs to squish into the bag and lug with every step up a steep, dangerous climb. Too little weight means you may be unprepared. Too much and you could end up injured atop a mountain.

There is necessary weight for things that you will likely suffer or need to bail without, such as food, cooking gear, clean water tools, your tent, sleeping equipment, first aid, and at least one pair of dry socks.

There is also important weight accounting for the really nice to have gear that will provide comfort and success, like full changes of clothes, toilet paper, tooth brushes and soap, groundsheets, clotheslines, a phone (or other GPS & communications device) and a little bit of bug spray.

Then there is the luxury weight itemizing the stuff (sparingly) brought along because there is more to life than mere survival. My list often includes cameras, a paperback book, a (very lightweight) folding chair (which I will write about soon!) and of course a pack of cards.

So between cooking and cleaning and hiking and sleeping we hid from the bugs, read our books, and played some card games … even though we neglected to bring a table and were left balancing it all on a small stump.