Nature’s aid stations – wild saskatoon berries

I understand there are people who have never heard of saskatoon berries. Wow, they are missing out. This time of year in in our part of Canada they are out in force. Many of my trails are lined with saskatoon bushes with these amazing quick snacks. They are just smaller than blueberries but so numerous and easy to find, and usually at chest height. It is so tempting to stop for breaks on the trail during saskatoon season that my training sometimes suffers a little.

But look out for the bears, they love them too.

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Coming up next? Raspberry season. That’s usually in August. Can’t wait.

Just me and the trails

Trails I run – Calgary, Kananaskis, Canmore, Banff, and everywhere between.

Collage of my trail running from late Winter to late Spring.

Instagram of the amazing trails I run: @trail_runner_guy

Stories to go with the pictures here: Ha Ling PeakEpic Trail Running, KananaskisGalatea CreekJasper, Hamilton Lake, Powderface Ridge

Going the Wrong Way Down Powderface Ridge Trail

Powderface Ridge in Kananaskis, Alberta is a tough slog both up and down but the top has amazing views

I had heard a lot about this trail, researched this trail, and downloaded off-line maps for it for my GPS and static maps in case that failed. Turns out, I should have gone one step further and taken someone along who knew the correct route.

It is on the edge of the Rockies and the top has an amazing view of the peaks in the distance.

The 8 km up is relentless. It has 700m vertical of rocky trails of mostly even grade. There was virtually no running this trail. It was mostly a fast hike to the top.

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Rocky ankle-turning trail on the way up.

I had planned to run on the way down, so I could make up time. In my misguided wisdom, I thought I would hike up the one side, down the other side, back up the other side and and then downhill all the way back to the car.

I got to the top, ooh-ed and awe-d, and then started on the way down the other side. However, I must have immediately lost the trail. What I was following looked like a trail, and followed the rock cairns along the top and was going in the right direction. Evidently other people must have taken this trail too, but had obviously judged the error of their ways and corrected before I noticed my error.

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Rockies for a backdrop

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On the way down, when I checked on my GPS 500m after the top, it showed the official trail was 100m to the east, fortunately going the same direction as I was. However, it was down a steep cliff from where I was. And that cliff continued for another 500m (forward and back). I never was able to get over to the trail. So I ended up picking my way down the mountain through the trees making my own trail. Not so smart since it took me an hour to go 2 km to the highway at 30%+ grades. At the bottom I was only 200m from the trailhead I had wanted to go down.

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Down the other side

But I had lost too much time and had to find a quicker way home. So instead of going back up and over the mountain, having briefly contemplated hitch-hiking, I ran the 9km along the highway back to my car.

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Taking the highway back to the car.
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22 km round trip – 4 hours = 5.5 km / hr (obviously not much running)
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700m from the parking lot to the top. 10% up, 30%?? down the other side

I had wanted to do the 700m x 2 = 1400m vertical, but I only got in 900m for the day. Still it was a 4 hour trail run (mostly a hike). Still an epic place to be on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. What more could I want?

Next time I’ll know the trail a lot better. But the fun is in the adventure, right?

Instagram of amazing trails: @trail_runner_guy

More mountain climbing stories here: Ha Ling PeakEpic Trail Running, KananaskisGalatea CreekJasper, Hamilton Lake, Powderface Ridge

Sulphur Mountain, Banff – Signed, Sealed and Delivered

I’ve driven past this mountain dozens of times and have been eyeing it up each time. It is a tourist trap – especially the gondola method of getting up it. The long slog of getting up it is not nearly as popular but it was on my list.

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Sulphur Mountain is just outside Banff townsite. The trail head is at the Hot Springs parking lot. When you get there you realize the gondola is going the same direction you are. You have a choice. Slog it out, or take the easy, expensive route.

So on my last trip to BC, about a week ago, I didn’t have the family with me, so I left a couple hours earlier, just to get this climb in. I started climbing at 7:30 on a weekday which evidently was earlier than anyone else. I met a couple groups on my way down later in the morning, but otherwise it pleasantly lonely.

Most of the trail is two-person wide trail, with a rock base and A LOT of steep switchbacks. If you want a real switchback experience, this is it. You don’t get out of the trees until the very top. So the view is minimal on the way up, except for the odd peak through the trees. On the day I did it, it was foggy most of the way up. However, at the top, we were way above the clouds. The gondola must have just started as I got to the top, since there were only three people there when I got there, and by the time I left the top, it was up to dozens.

Amazing viewpoint! The Canadian Rockies in Banff are pretty impressive.

5.5km each way – 750m vertical – 1.25 hours up with very fast hiking and occassional jogging, 45 minutes down.

So, I’ve just crossed this climb off my list. Okay, what’s next?

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Instagram of amazing trails: @trail_runner_guy

More mountain climbing stories here: Ha Ling PeakEpic Trail Running, KananaskisGalatea CreekJasper, Hamilton Lake

Hamilton Lake Trail – Don’t do it in May!

Tip: When running a lonely mountain trail, google it first! Check out the trail conditions before committing.

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I didn’t Google Hamilton Lake trail before I ran it last weekend. If I had, I would have found out that it was at least 2 weeks too early in the season to try to get up there. I was post-holing up to my knees for the last 500m (i.e. very tough slogging). At the top I discovered that the lake was still frozen over and not much to look at, let alone soak your feet in. This was May 30th. But the backdrop was amazing, making up for the tough conditions.

Hamilton Lake is a tiny mountain lake located near Emerald Lake which is a popular tourist stop in Yoho National Park, adjacent to Banff National Park. Emerald Lake is a must see, and Hamilton Lake is a tough hike from there.

I should have taken one of several obvious hints to do this trail later in the season:

1) The hand-made sign at the bottom recommended snow-shoes and bringing a buddy for the steep avalanche area. The sign looked legit for winter conditions, but it sure didn’t look like winter conditions at the bottom (900m lower). When I saw it, I felt the sign should have been taken down long ago.

2) I was trying to figure out if that many spiders would build webs across the trail in the middle of the day after the on-rush of morning hikers. As it turned out, there was no rush of hikers that morning, or who knows how many days before that. I was the first in a long time.

3) The snow peaks had fresh snow on them, but I thought it unlikely this trail went that high. Wrong!

The touristy trails at the bottom were packed on this amazing Saturday afternoon, but my trail was VERY quiet (i.e. absolutely no one for 2 hours).

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The inspiring view at the bottom of Emerald Lake makes you forget it might still be winter way up there.

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The first glimpses of snow, but by then I was 600m up. No turning around.
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View of Emerald Lake from half way up.
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3/4 of the way up
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500m to go
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Post-holing knee deep for the last 500m
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Hamilton Lake – Frozen over, but beautiful backdrop.

Just as I turned around at the top, I suddenly sunk to my waist and nearly lost my shoe at the bottom. Crawled out, with blood streaming down my legs from the ice slicing my knee.

Then I saw fresh bear tracks on the snow-covered trail.

Then I left in a hurry making sure my bear bell was loud and clear.

1.5 hours up, 0.75 hours down. 11km round trip, 900m vertical

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Mountains are made for climbing – Ha Ling Peak

On Friday, we did one of those “epic” climbs.

From the backseat: “Which mountain are we climbing?”

“Not that one? Are we?”

“We’re crazy!”

From the frontseat: “Yup, we’re crazy”

We climbed the backside of Ha Ling Peak and got right to the peak. 800m vertical over only a few km. 2.5 hours up, 1.5 hours down. 1 hour of viewing and basking in the sun at the top. There was absolutely no wind and virtually no clouds while at the top.

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There was a lot of trees to get through before there was a view. But the trail was well trodden and not too muddy. Even most of the snow and ice was gone by mid-May.

Very steep! Like 30% steep. Slow hiking for sure.

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And we got to the peak

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From the top we could check out the peaks on the other side of the valley for more inspiration (but that would have to be another day)

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So amazing to live this close to the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

The trail head is 15 minutes south of Canmore, Alberta. The town you see from the peak is Canmore. I am definitely thinking of retiring in Canmore (but that’s 20+ years away). Hopefully I can still do these hikes then.

More information on this trail here.

Other hikes we’ve done in the Rockies here