Fish Creek Park – places to run

One of the classic linear parks around here follows a creek for the entire width of the city. I would guess the park is maybe 20 km long by 1 km wide.

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One of the access points to Fish Creek Park is at Votiers Flats near the center of the park. From here you can go either west or east. I chose West. Maybe next time I will go East. It should be quite similar.

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You can follow the paved pathway along the entire length but I chose to follow the lesser trails mostly right along the waters edge and deeper in the trees.

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Corduroy trails in a couple spots

Most of the trails are bike friendly so I had to keep paying attention. I ran into the same biker three times over about half an hour. Each time he was obviously trying to work up some adrenaline by going very fast on narrow trails. Keep your head up!

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Some friendly spectators

The water was hardly moving since we have barely had rain this month (or last month).

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These photos are from last weekend and as you can see winter hadn’t shown it’s face much. But as I write this a week later, snow has blanketed our city of Calgary and the temperature has dropped to well below freezing. So that run may have been my last snow free run in a while.

My run was about 13 km. I was able to run mostly on one side of the creek going west and the other on the return. And I was able to stay off the pavement for the most part.

Sideshow Bob – Trail Running in the City

Some of the seldom-travelled trails in the city are definitely worth trying out. I ran these trails on the banks of the Bow River in Bowmont Park in Calgary with my kids last night and thoroughly enjoyed them.

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We saw some beavers, ate lots of saskatoons, heard rustling in the trees (deer and squirrels, I hope), huffed and puffed on the steep uphills, and awed at the river at sunset. We didn’t have to get out to the mountains to experiene the amazingness of creation.

I don’t think I have ever seen the name “Sideshow Bob” on any map or trail head anywhere, but I’ve heard it among the trail runners in the area. Even the mountain bikers like this trail, although seldom is anyone on the trail at all.

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We even got a sunset over the Bow River as we were finishing up.

Dodging the Rain

I’ve been really lucky with the rain this week. Tuesday I only got rained on for the last 200 meters. Wednesday it was down to the last 50m. Thursday was my day off of running and guess what? It was raining when I got up and rained all day. It looks like rain on Friday too and I could probably use another day off running. Hopefully by Saturday it will clear up again for another LONG run.

But last week I got drenched. On my 12k trail run, we got soaked but had a blast. On my weekend hill repeat run it was pretty lonely out there in the rain. Also, we went floating down the river and got hailed on and absolutely drenched. But at least I wasn’t running that time and wasn’t miserable all by myself – I had my family to be miserable with – that was a lot of fun.

When your schedule makes you run almost every day you have to take what comes. Grin and bear it, but have fun in the middle of it. It’s all part of the journey.

“This is the precept by which I have lived: Prepare for the worst; expect the best; and take what comes” – Hannah Arendt

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Running the Land of the Living Skies

Saskatchewan and most of Alberta have skylines that stretch forever. The clouds and colours can be amazing.

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We had all kinds of weather to spruce up our recent camping trip to Dinosaur Provincial Park and day-long excursion to Saskatchewan. Extreme heat, gusty wind, clouds, and torrential rain. All this makes this the “Land of the Living Skies” as  Saskatchewan Tourism boasts.

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A couple of the views had me wondering how anyone living in rural flat-land ever gets into running. For me, running inspiration definitely does not come from roads that go on forever with nary a curve or hill. I sure wouldn’t want to take up any sort of slow mode of transportation when you can’t see the next undulation, corner, road, or even a car, let alone a pedestrian or bicycle. I’d probably be into motorcycle racing or some other adrenaline pumping speed sport.

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While I was happy for our adventure to this huge expanse, I was glad to get back to running in the hills and trees even if that means a little more city to go with it.

Happy trails!

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.

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

Defeated But Not Out

It was going to be one of those epic hikes. A 5 hour top of a mountain type hike. A cross-training hike for my running addiction. The weather has been beautiful all week and we were itching to get outside.

The googling was done, the packing was done, and a last minute weather check was done. It was overcast when we got up but that wasn’t unusual since it usually takes a couple hours for the sun to really come out. The hint of bad weather came as we were putting our shoes on. It had started to sprinkle. “Don’t worry it never rains in Calgary and if it does it doesn’t last long.”

Well the rain only got stronger as we drove the 45 minutes to the trail head. We turned off the main road only to discover that the winter gates were still closed. It sure didn’t feel like winter.

So we drove on looking for another epic hike eventually getting to another well known trail but we wouldn’t have the views on this hike. We realized by this time that it was going to be a wet hike so we took out our jackets, hats and gloves out of our packs. We started down the trail for a km or so before we really couldn’t go on because of the rain on the icy trail had made it very treacherous.

So we slid back toward the car where we had seen one more trail we thought we could try out that was deeper in the trees and might have less ice. We were still quite determined to get a hike in but the “epic” quality of the available hikes was diminishing quickly. Well this new trail had a little less ice but much more mud so our feet got wet. We were really soaked now. Eventually after about a km we realized there was a geocache in the area so we went a little further to go log it. Having quickly found it we headed back to the car once again. Just before the car it started snowing very heavily – very wet snow. So as we piled into the car and peeled off our wet layers, the consensus was that this time we were defeated. We needed to go warm up. What was going to be an epic 5 hour hike to the top of a mountain with amazing views, turned into a soggy one hour slog in the valley.

There’s always next weekend. Maybe it really will be spring next week.

#1 – Epic hike choice #1: Moose mountain
I had to steal this photo since we didn’t actually get there
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#2 – Less epic but would be an amazing hike in the summer: Powderface trail
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#3 – Cool hike but far from epic: unnamed trail along Prairie Creek

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Wet, wet, wet
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As far as considering this hike as cross-training, I am training for the Vancouver marathon which is bound to be wet and humid. Since we don’t get much of that here in Calgary, I can considering spending time in this dampness as environment conditioning for this race.

P.S. And of course, as we got home, the sky cleared up and it was a beautfiul afternoon.

But we will be back for more mountain epic-ness.

A photo walk to loosen up race muscles

Our family decided to walk to the nearest park and to see what kind of cool pictures we could get (and to loosen up the legs after a hard race in the morning). We all had cameras. And we all stopped randomly to take photos as we saw them in our minds eye. Besides bumping into each other with the sudden stops we had a great time. Since no one was watching us we felt less inhibited. Here is what I took.

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We might even do this again next weekend since we will have another race to loosen up after and we have cameras to play with.