Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail – Hiking with Kids

With this week’s poor air quality rating and the repaving related traffic snarls on Scott Lake Hill we chose to avoid getting stuck in traffic on Hwy 1 went to Bragg Creek instead.

It’s always a challenge finding a the right trail that will suit the kids and adults alike. My criteria are:

  • The location must be in the mountains or as wild as possible
  • The return distance should be 2-3km; maybe up to 5km but then we’re getting in carrying and whining
  • If possible it should end in something interesting that will give the kids a reason to keep going. Waterfalls, lakes, viewpoints, etc are all “interesting”
  • The ratio of outdoor time to driving time must be greater than one. Example: if it’s a 1 hr drive to get somewhere we have to be outdoors for at least 2 hours to make it worthwhile. With our current nap schedule it’s challenging to reach more distant places.

We took the kids out for a nice easy hike along the Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail. The trailhead is a small paved pull-off just past the Elbow Falls parking lot. From there the well built trail drops down towards the river and follows along a marshy fenland near the Elbow river.

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The trail is well maintained and critical bridges have been rebuilt after the 2013 flooding that wiped out a huge amount of infrastructure in this region. Like our trip to Upper Kananaskis Lakes we brought the Chariot again and pressed it into service as pack-mule and rescue-vehicle for tired kids. The Upper Kan trail was challenging for the Chariot with roots and narrow sections, and by comparison the Beaver Flats trail was easy terrain for our mule.

The best part for the kids was the series of beaver dams along the way. They enjoyed looking for beavers (we only saw a frog and some ducks), standing a beaver’s house, and throwing rocks in the water.

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The trail ends at the Beaver Flats campground, conveniently right near some outhouses too. We turned around there and followed the trail back all the way back to the first bridge where we ate lunch.

In the end Logan (3.9 yrs) and Riley (2.5 yrs) both hiked the whole distance and there was no need to use the Chariot for them. Emily (5mo) rode happily in the Ergo for half the trip then in the Chariot for the other half. Total distance according my Gem Trek map is 1.3km one-way, however measured on Google Maps it shows only 950m. Either way, the kids did 2 km or more without whining or crying and it was a fun morning.

One of the best parts of this hike is that it was very low stress. It doesn’t take long to get there, you don’t need anything in particular for it, and it isn’t a committing trail. Another important aspect is that I had already lowered my expectations for the day and wasn’t anticipating a summit or a lot of distance. This really helped frame the day as a chance to be outside, to play in the mountains, and to create a positive experience for everyone.

Better Outdoor Trips with Kids: Lower your expectations

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn about hiking or camping with small kids, is that I need to substantially lower my expectations.

Our trip last year to Sunshine Meadows was a good example of that. We did a lot of prep for the trip: had our packs ready the night before, clothes, boots, and snacks all lined up; got up early to catch the bus from Sunshine; pumped the kids up for a fun day in the mountains and how we’d hike all the way to Rock Isle Lake. Then we get off the bus, start moving, and 100m later the kids want snacks and a break! Super Frustrating!

This was the first moment when it became fully clear to me that we needed to redefine what it mean to have success int the outdoors with kids. Prior to having kids “success” usually meant blasting out four summits in three days or getting up at 4am to climb a snowy couloir. While I am confident that we’ll have those days again they aren’t the kind of adventures you can have with a kid under 4.

Banff based adventurer, writer, and parent, Meghan J Ward of the Adventures in Parenthood Project addressed this re-definition really well in her piece The Transition to Parenthood: 5 (More) things I didn’t consider. Number 3 on her list that “Practicality Will Keep You Sane”, she writes

A huge weight lifted off my shoulders when I discovered, and accepted, that it would be impossible to keep my standards for, well, everything. Organization, cleanliness, punctuality… I do my best, but I simply had to let go of my perfectionism in these areas. I also let practicality guide my outdoor pursuits. I pushed it a few times this summer, but mostly preferred gentler, whine-free adventures. Eventually we’ll be able to handle longer hikes and less stressful overnights. (source)

After our meltdown at Sunshine Meadows we redefined success in the outdoors with kids as the following:

  • Having fun
  • Letting the kids set the pace
  • Sharing a love of the outdoors
  • Having a positive experience for kids and parents

As our kids grow in age, skills, and ability we can keep refining and adjusting our definition of success outdoors, but for now this works for us.

 

Family Walk Time

One of our emerging family traditions is the Family Walk Time. It actually started when Jamie and I were still living in Denver as a way to stretch our legs after dinner and stay active on days when we weren’t out climbing mountains. Regardless of the weather we would head outside for an hour-long walk through our community. There was no destination, no time to beat, and no minimum distance to make it count; the goal was just to get outside, be active, and spend time together.

Now that we’re a family of five (with three kids under 4) we’ve adapted the tradition to include all members of our family. At first we would push the kids in the stroller, then the Chariot when they grew too large. Logan (3.75 yrs) and Riley (2.5 yrs) are now masters of kick-bike and prefer to ride their bikes rather than walk. We still explore our neighbourhood and take great advantage of the wonderful green-space that our community has to offer. We regularly walk/ride for thirty minutes or more with stops to play in the trees, the grass, or to yell into a large storm-water drain to hear the echos (the kids mostly do the yelling…). With two adults, two kids on kick-bikes and one kid in the stroller the goals of Family Walk Time are still the same: spend time outside, be active, and spend time together as a family.

 

Upper Kananaskis Lakes

Now that we have three kids under four, including one that is only 4 months old, mountain adventures are taking a backseat to playing in the yard and various nap schedules. However, we did get out for a nice morning trip to the Upper Kananaskis Lakes area.

The plan was to hike around the Upper Lakes Trail, and if possible, try and get up to Rawson Lake. IMG_8565

The great thing about hiking with kids is that they are generally full of energy. The kind of energy that radiates from their eyes and their smile and their legs as they race up and down the trail. It’s an infections energy that feels endless… until out of nowhere it hits a giant brick wall and cascades into shards of tantrums, whining, and pleas of “carry me!” Fortunately we didn’t experience any of this at Upper Kananaskis Lakes, but we came prepared for it anyway and brought along our double-Chariot and the Ergo. In this way we could transport all three kids if we really needed to; it wouldn’t be pleasant, but neither is abandoning one in the woods (c:

From what I remembered of the last time I was on that trail (~10 years ago) it was a fairly smooth and fairly open trail; surely it would qualify as a Chariot Friendly trail. As we started down the Upper Kananaskis Trail it was clear that trail was indeed Chariot Friendly – assuming you didn’t mind lifting it up and over roots, rocks, and ledges. This wasn’t bad with a 4mo old in it I didn’t really mind, so we stoically kept  moving along. Next time I think we’d leave the Chariot at home and just use snacks and breaks instead to make sure that the kids can make the trip.

For us, the trail ended at Sarrail Falls ~1km in.
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The bridge across the creek was wiped out in the 2013 floods and has not yet been rebuilt. We briefly considered continuing, and many helpful people offered to help get our Chariot across the creek, but ultimately decided that was a poor idea. It really wouldn’t do to be on the far side of a creek later on with three kids running out of energy.

We always have the kids carry their own backpack, for a few reasons:

  1. They love it, it makes them feel like they’re “really hiking”. Since Jamie and I usually have one, they want one too
  2. In the super-unlikely, and super-uncool even they get separated from us in the woods they’ll have jacket, some food, and some water. It isn’t all of the 10 essentials but it’s as much as they can carry at this age
  3. It’s less stuff that I have to carry!

We turned back and went to play at the lake shore while eating sandwiches and trial mix. I’m always amazed how much fun the kids have just throwing rocks into the water and generally exploring somewhere new.

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View across Upper Kananaskis with Mt. Lyautey on the left and Mt. Indefatigable on the right. IMG_8581

Mt. Indefatigable (which was fun to scramble for sunrise)
As is our style these days we took off shortly after lunch and let the kids sleep in the car. Since Logan and Riley are both still napping 1.5-2hrs per day this works out pretty well. They never nap as long in the car and I really have to be careful to hit the cattle-gates just right or risk waking them up.

Castle Mountain – Night Photography in the Canadian Rockies

I recently had the good fortune to spend a week in Banff attending the 2014 International Snow Science Workshop. The conference was an excellent mix of snow science researchers, practitioners, and industry members and covered a lot of ground including snow mechanics, materials properties, human factors, and of course plenty of time for networking.

While in Banff I swapped out a night of networking in favour of astro photography. One of my favourite things about doing night shoots is that by their very nature they force me to slow down. I have found that it takes at least 30min of open exposure to time to get a star-trails image that I’m happy with, any less doesn’t do it, and this is 30min of slow, outdoor, time that I wouldn’t otherwise take. Unfortunately, the night I chose had a few clouds blow in on me and I ended up cutting the session short. I think the images still worked out, and I’d like to go back again for another try.

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Since the clouds were covering Castle Mountain I re-oriented and tried for some shots of the Milky Way galaxay, another favourite of mine. Unfortunately there were clouds there too.

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“Do you have everything you need? Are you OK?” Calgary’s positive cycling culture


I cycle commute to work as often as I can, and it’s an experience I really enjoy. There is great value for me in starting the day with physical activity and waking up my mind and body. I live in the NW quadrant of the city and work in the SW so the commute works out to about 25km each way, or about an hour of riding time, less if the wind is at my back.

Two years ago I upgraded from my mountain bike to a sleek and speedy road bike which decreased my time significantly (~20% I’d estimate) and made the ride more enjoyable. The only downside that I have found with riding road bikes is the sturdiness of skinny tires. I seem to get a ton of flat tires. In the 20 rides I’ve done this year I’ve had three flat tires – I don’t know how many flat tires is “normal” for a road bike commuter, but it probably isn’t 3 flats in 20 rides. In all fairness, the flat tires might come from my own lack of prowess at changing a bike tire as 2/3 flats this year were pinch flats.

This morning’s flat tire was was simply poor riding on my part. I was day dreaming about something or other and not watching the road for debris. I was zipping along southbound on Home Road heading towards the Bow River when I felt a jolt through the handlebars and heard an unnerving bang. In my day dreaming I hit a rock square-on the front tire and after a moment of wobbling I regained my balance and kept riding. However, only a minute or  two later I felt the characteristic sloppy feeling of a flattening tire and had to pull over right where Home Road joins the river pathway.

As you can guess I’m pretty good now at changing tires on the go (excepting the pinching part…) and I was taking the front tire off when the first cyclist rode past me. He called out “hey, do you have everything you need? Are you ok?” I called back a quick “yes” and he was on way again riding in to work. My flat happened right near a popular bike-and-ride parking lot and there was a steady stream of of riders passing me. Many of them slowed down and shouted out a variation of the first guy’s offer of help or gear, and I am always impressed by the helpfulness and generosity of Calgarians.

This aspect of helping one another out, of offering up something from own kit for a complete stranger, is something that I really appreciate in Calgary’s cycling culture. It is nice to know that cyclists are all looking out for one another and that there is a support network of strangers with kind hearts willing to help out.

This morning I was fortunately able to say “no thank you” to all of the offers of assistance, but in the past I have not been so lucky. Twice, in fact, I’ve accepted the offer and each time another cyclist has offered their help or gear. Just two weeks ago in fact I had flat #2  while I was on my way to work and had to ask for help. I was just south of downtown in Stanley Park and had realized that, in fact, I did not have a spare tube with me that morning. My options were slim and all resulted in my being late for work: hike the remaining 5 km to work, try and catch a C-Train (even though bikes aren’t allowed on during the rush), or patch my blown tube. I’d already turned down a few offers since I thought I had everything I needed and wasn’t really expecting to get more in a low-traffic area like that. I was looking forlornly at my patch kit, I have a bad record with field patching, and was thinking that a 5 km walk wouldn’t be so bad when I heard a voice call out

“Hey, do you have everything you need”? Are you ok?” I paused, admitted to myself that I did not have everything I needed, and said

“Do you have a spare tube? I forgot mine this morning”

To her credit she did have a spare and gave it to me with a smile. I thanked her profusely and she was on her way while I finished up my repair.

The reason that giving up your spare tube is a big deal is not the $3 cost for the tube, it’s that you’re giving away your insurance policy. If she had a flat on the way home she’d be in a bad way because she chose to help out a stranger, and yet many cyclists in Calgary willingly offer up their insurance policies to strangers. The other time I had to accept help I remember telling the guy that I’d find him the next day and get him his tube back, but he just laughed and said “don’t worry about it, just pass it on to someone else”.

Today, I have 4 3  spare tubes in my kit and would happily give one to another cyclist in need. It can be intimidating for many new cycle commuters to think of being out there “on their own”, especially if they aren’t familiar with repairs or changing tubes. If that is you then I’d urge you to consider the positive, helpful, and kind attitude of all of the other cyclists out there and know that you’re certainly not out there alone. If you’re one of the people that asks others if they need help, then thank you for creating a positive cycling culture in Calgary (and for lending me tubes when I blow through the other 3 in my kit!)

 

Being Outside – the power of community green spaces

I love to be outside, and I love to be in the mountains. I’m also utility-oriented with a desire to maximize the benefits for any costs, so as result it isn’t always “worthwhile” to do a mountain trip with our two toddlers. If it takes 1+hr to drive there and another 1+ hour to drive back I figure you should have at least 2+ hours of mountain time to make the trip worthwhile (this is my equation, your mileage may vary and I’d love to hear it in the comments).

With toddlers we find this isn’t always possible since ours are still solid nappers and are not yet quick to get going in the morning. With this excellent summer weather we have instead been making the most of our community green spaces. We are fortunate to live in a city where green space is plentiful, available, and often times left wild. These green spaces range in size from the incredibly vast such as Nose Hill Park, Fish Creek Park, and The Weaslehead area to mid-sized areas such as EdworthyBowmont right down to the local neighbourhood sized green spaces.

In our case we are fortunate to have a ravine running through the neighbourhood which has been left relatively wild and which provides many excellent opportunities for an urban wilderness experience. As far as the kids are concerned they get the same joy from the local ravine as they do from an early-season trip to Sunshine Meadows, or Kananaskis Lakes

The power of these community green spaces is that they can connect us to the outdoors, give us a fleeting glimpse of wilderness, and create a relaxing fun space that is distinctly different from work or home. They help us to find wilderness, explore nature, and experience the world in a way that is different from simply being in our houses, offices, and rec centers. It requires very little effort to take the kids to local green spaces and let them explore along the pathways, through the aspens, and splash in the creek. For them every little bug, flower, stick, and rock is an exciting new discovery.

For me it’s a chance to be outside, in a natural environment, experiencing things through their eyes without the 2 hours of driving. The other great benefit of course is that we can make many small trips to our local green spaces, sometimes two or three times per day. Each visit provides something unique, a chance to discover something new, and another chance to be outside. While I will always advocate for, and do, big mountain trips with the family I think it is good to remember the power that our community green spaces have and their ability to provide wilderness into our everyday lives.