Half Ha Ling

This month marks a year and a half since our local area got caught up in the global pandemic that, among many other things, made world travelling near impossible.

We’ve made up for this by trying to find some room between the bad news, ever-shifting-work-life, and many cancelled plans to get away on some local escapes.

This summer was no exception, and over my blogging break we found ourselves in Canmore, a small town nestled into the Eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, where numerous small adventures were had, including a certain last minute attempt to climb a very tall mountain.

for whatever one photo is worth:

Stand on the main street of Canmore, Alberta and look towards the towering range of mountains standing to the south of town and you wont help but see a prominent jag of rock protruding high into the sky, standing with a sentry-like pride over the valley below.

That peak had borne many names over the years and stirred it’s share of controversy for the same, but locals now almost uniformly refer to it as Ha Ling Peak.

We spent the better part of a full week in Canmore in July.

We’d rented a small hotel room near the center of town.

We wandered on foot to grab groceries or breakfasts or beer or silly thing tourists buy when they visit small towns on vacation.

We loaded up the car to drive into the wilderness to tackle family-friendly hikes with the puppy and the teenager.

We hiked, relaxed, and ate, avoiding the heat and smoke as much as possible, while trying to make the best out of a local vacation in an admittedly beautiful place to be trapped during a global lockdown.

On the last night of our trip, sitting on a patio eating an early dinner, looking down that same main street, my wife asked me if I’d done everything I’d wanted to on our little family getaway.

”I’d like to climb Ha Ling … someday.” I replied. “But I guess we’re out of time.”

Most people set aside a full day, starting early to climb to the eight hundred meter saddle, and a further slog up to the summit and peak. It was just after five pm and we had at best four hours or daylight left.

“How far could we get tonight?” She asked.

”I’m staying at the hotel with the dog.” The teenager objected.

”We could go up as high as we can and give ourselves an hour to come back down before sunset.” I suggested.

Shortly after six my wife and I were standing at the trailhead in our hiking boots.

There are inherent risks in trying a new trail of moderate difficulty outside of the normally travelled hours. If something goes wrong while you are up and alone on a mountain with an encroaching night… well, that’s bad news.

We knew we wouldn’t reach the summit, but being fit and adventurous we gave ourselves two hours to go up as far as we could then come back down. We agreed: we’d hike until my GPS watch read exactly one hour then we’d turn around and hike back down leaving a good thirty to forty-five minutes of cushion for the sun to set behind the mountains.

And off we went.

About thirty minutes in we’d reached the first viewpoint.

At exactly an hour I could see the second a hundred meters or so ahead on the path.

We reached the half way point up the mountain and a few minutes over the half way point of our agreed time. We took a blurry selfie with light failing on the the smoky vista behind us. And we hiked back down along the slippy path, found the car, and were back at the hotel before the last sliver of sun had vanished behind the rocky crags in the distance.

It may have only been half a goal but it was easily a full adventure.

Reminder: Blogs are not a replacement for professional advice. Please read my note on safety and safe participation.

Day Hike to Troll Falls

Springtime in the mountains is unpredictable. It could be sunny. It could be snowing. It could blow in with a thick fog and lock the world into a magical claustrophobia inside the vastness of unseen towering rock castles.

Our first twenty-four hours in the mountains in 2021 saw all of those types of weather here, and more. We’re in the mountains for a short spring getaway, including some spring-slash-winter walks in the wilderness to refresh our souls for the upcoming adventure season.

Adventure Journal.

We woke to a spitting rain that was trying it’s darnest to be a snowfall, but by breakfast the weather had settled into a mere hazy overcast sky. Just down the road from our hotel (no camping for us this time of year!) was the trailhead to a short day hike into the woods to a waterfall we’d visited a few months ago in warmer days.

Troll Falls is a popular easy hike for all ages. In fact, we saw as many dogs and kids on the woodsy walk as we saw adults. And we brought one of each… to be fair.

There is some story behind where the name “Troll Falls” originates, too, and it’s linked back to the rocky cliff walls near the waterfall-proper pocked with small holes fit for the likes of the mythical trolls that might live there. I assumed they were all still hibernating during these still chilly days. I didn’t actually see any, though a deer crossed our path once.

Leading into the woods from the parking lot, the still-frozen path led us into a sparse, bare wood.

The trees here are a mix of pine, fir and poplar, the latter being still to early on for any sign of foliage, and the formers notoriously spartan even on a good day. Between the bare trees and the well-trod path (it is a very popular place to visit for most everyone who comes here after all) all this made for a sheltered but bright route.

There is nothing particularly remote about the trail, though. Apart from the fact that one is out and about in the fresh mountain air and at least a hundred kilometers from the nearest city, the trailhead is a mere fifteen minute stroll from a four-star resort hotel, and the route itself traces the lower perimeter of a former Olympic ski resort. Yet for the solitude and clear mountain air one may as well be tucked into a remote valley far from civilization.

Either way, we’ll take what we can get these days.

It was an ideal hike for the pup, tho. At just six months old she’s had a whole checklist of new adventures over the past thirty-six hours: a four hour car ride, a visit to two new cities, an overnight in a hotel, meeting a deer, the fresh mountain air, and now a wilderness hike up to a frozen waterfall. We’ll work up to bigger things and longer adventures slowly. An hour an a half through the woods tuckered her out solid.

The final stretch of the inbound hike brought us to the base of a small waterfall.

In the summer we had hiked up to the upper falls which were much more spectacular, but the steep ascent and the sketchy footing in the still-frozen spring meant that the interesting portion of the trail was still closed for the season.

Instead we crept carefully up to the foot of the frozen shards of falling water and snapped some photos at the base of the view. The cliffs all around it are only about ten meters tall, but they overhang with a teetering perspective that felt as though the whole thing could have collapsed in over us without a moments notice, snoozing trolls and all.

Amazing.

And as we made our way back along the icy path, the weather changed its mind yet again, the fog swelling up like a crashing wave over the nearby mountain and the snow spinning in the springtime breeze.

A short morning adventure concluded before lunch, and just in time to beat that unpredictable weather.

Hiking: Just the Bear Necessities

With so much closed and cancelled during the height of the pandemic, we took a couple short local vacations last summer to explore the nearby Rocky Mountain parks.

We felt we needed another break so we’ve booked a couple more nights (in the near future) for a spring hotel getaway about five hundred meters from where I took this photo of a bear last summer.

for whatever one photo is worth:

The thing about hiking in the mountains is that you’re probably going to see some wildlife.

Maybe it will be just some birds flitting through the trees or a squirrel dashing across your path.

Perhaps a larger animal of the cloven hoof variety will wander through the trees just far enough away to assert her caution into the scene.

Or occasionally, a big old bear will be lumbering down the side of the road.

I’ve come across bears a half dozen times on my wilderness adventures and every single time has resulted in a golden story that others want to hear. Bears, for whatever reason, are hiking adventure tale jackpots.

I think it’s probably the blend of big critter who doesn’t have a care for what some pesky human is doing in the woods… unless of course he has all the care and could kill you if you get in his way.

We’d been spotting bear advisory signage up and around the hotel and trails, but even so it was a bit of a shock to see this fella, a young black bear, ambling near the road leading into the trailhead parking lot one July weekend. We were preparing to hike from that same parking lot. I leaned cautiously out the car window and snapped a few photos with my iPhone, and we drove another three or four minutes down to park the car… a little rattled, a little awed.

Luckily he was headed the other direction, and we enjoyed a couple hours in the mountain woods anyways.

If all goes well, we’ll be hiking that same trail again inside of two weeks (and I’ll have some adventure journaling to share.) Chances are we’ll see some wildlife. Hopefully it’s still a little too early for another encounter with this guy.