Hiking Mt. Yamnuska- Come Blizzards, Pneumonia, or Babies

After a really busy two weeks of job hunting, house hunting and travelling back and forth from Saskatchewan to Alberta…twice, I was about ready to get out and enjoy the fresh mountain air. Me and a friend from Banff, Kelly, decided to call up Kelly’s friend James and go for a nice stroll among the trees. Neither me nor Kelly were overly ambitious in our hiking plans as Kelly’s 6 month old daughter was tagging along in her backpack carrier and I was recovering from a bad bout of pneumonia. As we pulled up to James’ house to pick him up, Kelly gave me a quick introduction to James and what to expect from him. After her description, we both decided on the nickname “Twenty More”. (I’ll let you see if you can guess how he got that nickname by the end of this story). Laughing to ourselves over the name, James climbed in the car and gave both of us confused looks.

As we stopped the car to grab a quick coffee before hitting the trail, we all looked out over the mountain and frowned over the heavy clouds rolling in, socking in the whole Bow Valley in fog, rain and sleet. Me and Kelly looked at each other, looked in the backseat at baby Katelyn, then looked at James, who would be our hiking guide for the day as he knew all the trails around the area. “I’m not taking Katelyn through that slush” Kelly stated, while I seconded her opinion with my own addition of “my tender pneumonic lungs are not going to handle well in the wet cold wind”.

The decision was made to drive out to kananaskis country and see how the weather was out there and do a trail out that way. So we hit the road, drinking our coffees and sharing some rousing and at times passionate theological debates. Once we cleared the Bow Valley, the sky opened up into beautiful blue skies and sunshine. And here is where “Twenty More” showed his first card. “We should hike mt. Yamnuska.” My first thought was, hills means harder breathing which means death right now, when walking up the stairs at my hostel sent me practically onto my knees in a coughing fit.

Kelly too was a little skeptical. Is it safe to take a baby up? *I will put a disclaimer here that Katelyn is not a normal baby, and has been going on hikes since she was about two weeks old, and Kelly is super mom who was out hiking within two weeks of giving birth, so “safe” is a relative term*. James, smooth as a politician stated that it was our decision but that he thought it should be fine. It was only a meandering trail through the trees up to the base, one narrowish gap to squeeze through to get around to the backside and then just a traverse across, and then back down a really beautiful scree field. All in all only like 5km, maybe 2-3 hours. And besides, if it gets too much, we can always turn around and come back the way we came.

a nagging voice at the back of my head told me not to trust Twenty More, but it was a nice day, I did want the fresh air, and if my lungs did explode out of my chest, well, James was a big enough guy to carry me back down the mountain to the ambulance. So we strapped on our bags, got Katelyn settled in her carrier and off we went. The switchbacks up the tree slope were steep enough in places to make me question my sanity in doing this with pneumonia, but the views, both floral, fauna and vista, made all the pain in my lungs worth it as we steadily climbed to the base of the rock face cliff that gave mt. Yamnuska its signature look.

Reaching the base, we suddenly found ourselves huddled in a nook in the rocks, doing our best to shelter Katelyn from a blizzard that had snuck up on us from behind the mountain. As the cold wind raked my tender lungs, I turned to the team and said, I think we should head back down. Kelly, who was already on the same track as me agreed. Twenty More said, well, let’s wait five more minutes, I’d hate to miss the whole mountain for a five minute weather system. Maybe it will blow over. But it’s your call. Well, how much more is there? We asked. The squeeze is right here, and after that it’s just around the back to the peak and

then back down. We meet up with the forest trail we just came up on the other side. It’s only probably about 5km more. Sure enough the system passed and we decided to just look around the corner past the squeeze, see how much more there was, and then decide from there. After all, we could always turn around and go back the way we came.

So with James in the lead, and me behind Kelly to help give her balance, we squeezed Kelly, the back pack carrier and baby Katelyn through the narrow slit in the cliff wall and rounded the mountain to the backside. The view was nothing short of spectacular. The path, while narrow and steep, was clearly marked and we could easily see the way to the summit of the cliff. We decided to continue on to at least there, stop for a quick break and decide whether to turn around there, or keep going all the way around.

Walking the path, it turned out was a whole different story from seeing it. Shaded from the full intensity of the sun, the path was still covered in patches of ice and snow which made for slippery scrambles up and across large rough scree fields with rocks that gave way under foot and hand. The path, which had been so easy to follow with the eye from a distance, disappeared up close as many paths merged and converged, disappearing and then reappearing suddenly several feet above or below you. While Katelyn is small and light, the backpack carrier was large and clumsy and the smallest gust of wind or shift of Katelyn’s weight would compromise Kelly’s balance. I spent most of the scramble to the cliff peak hawk eyed zoned in to Kelly’s movements, ready at the blink of an eye to catch her and the baby before they toppled over into serious injury.

But, awesome athlete that she is, Kelly handled the scramble like a pro and at long last we were enjoying our victory with breathtaking views. After a quick snack break, we once again consulted James. The peak is just around that corner. It will be just like what we’ve already done to get to the peak, then it’s just a quick run down the nicest scree field in kananaskis, and we are back down in the trees again. Once again repeating the old adage of we can always turn around, we pushed on. One corner, two corners, three corners, a cliff with a chain to traverse, and some bouldering down a steep narrow rock valley later, me and Kelly were both ready to throttle Twenty More. The peak was finally in sight, but the big snow covered ridge was firmly in front of us and the snow filled cold wind was bearing down.

We were now in too far. It was hazardous to go forward, but it was too dangerous to go back. Besides, it was five hours back or two to push on. Doing everything in our power to tuck in to the ridge to keep the wind sail of a baby carrier out of the gusts coming over the peak, me and Kelly scrambled, slid and pushed for the peak. We didn’t even slow down as we reached the top and kept right on going down the other side, racing to get Katelyn out of the blowing wind and snow. We practically dragged James away from another group of hikers who had come up the mountain backwards, when he stopped to talk to them. We ran down the scree slope (which for the record is one of the nicest scree slopes in Kananaskis) and finally found some relief from the cold wind and snow as we quickly lost elevation. Finally out of the danger zone, we tucked into some large boulders out of the wind

and stopped to eat some lunch. We decided nachos and an ice cold soda sounded great so we loaded back up and continued down the second scree field.

It was about here, as we were traversing a scree field that the path gave out under my foot and I fell, wrenching my hip and groin. Shaking it off, I pushed on, but it wasn’t long after we got off the scree field and hit the forest path that the combination of my hip and groin injury met with my old nemesis, downhill trails with bad knees. My hiking poles barely made a dent in my hobbling as I tried to put a brave face on and push through the pain, wanting nothing more than to get off the mountain and get Katelyn out of the cold. But between all the strain I had put on my ligaments traversing scree fields all day and the freezing cold stiffening up my joints, I could only handle so much before I gave into the excruciating pain and embarrassingly halted the group so I could massage and warm up my joints before descending a little more. I lost track of how many times we had to stop on the way down, but finally, the path levelled out and we were looking at the car.

By the time we got to the restaurant, it was already later in the evening around 8 or 9pm. The gentle hike I had planned on doing with pneumonia and a baby in tow had ended up being an 11km hike with a 900m elevation gain at 2232m elevation and between blizzards and injuries, the scramble had taken us around 7-8 hours. My nachos which had sounded so appetizing on the mountain tasted like sawdust in my mouth as nothing would taste better right now than a long soak in a hot bath followed by a long sleep in a warm bed.

Looking back now, I can say that bring back my pneumonia four-fold for the sake of that hike was totally worth it. And while I’ll never trust Twenty More James again when it comes to hiking directions, I can honestly say that he does know how to pick his adventures.

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Story Time
Have you ever hiked mt. Yamnuska? What’s your favourite hike in Kananaskis or the Bow Valley? What are some of the hikes you want to do this summer?

Job Hunting In Paradise

For the whole duration of my Perioperative Nursing Program, one thought kept going through my head; I can’t wait to be done this so I can finally move to Banff. Everyone I talked to had one of two things to say: “Don’t do it, you can’t afford to live there” or “I am so jealous”. I’m definitely on the latter team.

While Banff is notoriously expensive to live in, I believe that loss of luxury is an easy sacrifice to make in exchange for living in outdoor recreation heaven. It is a well known fact that you can walk out your front door in Banff, pick a direction, start walking and it will be guaranteed to be one of the most beautiful hikes of your life. And for the perspective OR nurse? Banff is known as one of the top sport medicine surgical hospitals in the area. Surrounded by five ski hills within a two hour  radius, it makes it easy to see how this small town became the hub for all sport related injuries. And it is into this specialty area that backpacknurse hopes to jump into!

Never one to miss an opportunity for spontaneous adventure, I called up my best friend Cat, who you will recognize from The Great US Roadtrip chronicles and asked her if she wanted to join me for a hiking trip up into the mountains while I threw out resumes and did interviews. Always up for adventure herself, she packed a bag and jumped in my car. Like no time at all had passed, we quickly settled back into the routine that had become so familiar to us during our previous month long travels. Within minutes of landing in the Banff/Canmore area, we had our hiking boots on and our feet on the trail. After months of being crammed into buildings studying and working, it felt good to breathe the fresh air and really stretch out my legs.

This post will be super short as this backpacknurse has better things to do right now then sit inside writing! Lets go hike a mountain!

Banff from Tunnel Mountain

Banff from Tunnel Mountain

All the problems of life seem so small from up here...

All the problems of life seem so small from up here…

Adventures are always better with a best buddy

Adventures are always better with a best buddy

Rundle... my goal is to hike this mountain this summer...

Rundle… my goal is to hike this mountain this summer…

The Diagnosis

Accomodations: Samesun Hostel $36/N for 6 Bed mixed Dorm

Transportation: Vehicles entering Banff National Park will need to buy a vehicle pass. These range from day passes to season passes which will run you around $60 for the year.

Trails to hike: The possibilities are endless! Even walking down the street is an adventure! But I highly recommend Tunnel Mountain (featured in this post), Sulphur Mountain and Johnston Canyon for easy day hikes or Rundle or Cascade for intense full day there and back trekking.

Story Time

Have you ever been to Banff? What were some of your favorite parts about it? What are some of your favorite hikes?

I Am Officially A Tourist Attraction

A pair of eyes pop wide open. A camera appears out of nowhere. A flash goes off. The girls giggle and point as they speed by in their little red Hyundai.

At first I’m perturbed by their enthusiasm, but as the next three cars pass by without so much as slowing down, I sarcastically mumble under my breath about at least picking me up after you snap my picture. Then a car full of cute little grannies passes me by and the pointing fingers and horrified looks on their faces send me in to a fit of laughter. It must be official then.

I am a tourist attraction.

This is confirmed a few minutes later when a recently retired couple stop to give me a ride. “You don’t really see hitchhikers around here anymore,” the wife tells me as I thank them for stoping. “We saw you walking past the restaurant a few miles up the road while we were eating lunch, and we were commenting on how heavy your bag looked!” She confesses this, almost apologizing for their conversation, but I just laugh. My bag is stupidly heavy.

This was my first time hitchhiking and I didn’t know what to expect. The only thing I knew was that hitchhiking, like the Canadian weather, was unpredictable. So I packed with the expectation that at least once, I would be stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no ride, and have to spend a night in a field in the middle of a thunderstorm. But what was the most unpredicted thing, was the awesomeness of people.

I have heard horror stories where people have stood on the side of roads for hours on end, in all weather. I have heard of people pretending to swerve at them, pretending they are going to hit them, or people yelling horrible things to them as they drive by. These hitchhikers are true road warriors, bravely soldiering on without losing hope. I wish I could claim to be one of them, but I’m not. The worst thing that happened to me, was one girl honking her horn and glaring at me. And the longest time I waited for a ride? A whopping ten minutes, in beautiful warm sunshine. Such a hardship…I know haha.

But in another way, I hope I have gained acceptance into this brave tight knit family. I might not have suffered harsh road conditions, but I did suffer a few panic attacks for one sole reason: I hitchhiked alone. And just in case you aren’t putting two and two together, I’m a girl.

I also wish I could tell you that I now have some solid tips and tools on how to be safe while hitching alone as a girl, such as fail safe ways to judge whether your ride is safe or not. Don’t hitch with green cars, those people hide chainsaws in their trunks. And never get in a car with a single young female with brown hair, she’s secretly a serial axe murderer. And look out for the grannies, they are the most dangerous of all!

It’s ridiculous to try and pin point what’s “safe” and what’s not. Many people will say, don’t get in a vehicle with a single male driver, but I did. Twice. And they both ended up being in the hospitality business and ended up being awesome tour guides to the best places to stay/eat/visit in the area. One of them even offered to contact their niece in the area to offer me a bed and a meal for the night. Many will also say, having a sign saying where you are going is helpful, and this one probably is helpful, but it is not essential. I did not have any signs. Just a huge backpack and a smile. Friendliness goes a long way.

One thing I always made a point of doing though, and this one I do recommend for safety sake, was to walk up to the passenger window and speak to the driver before I even thought of jumping in the car. It is here that I can’t tell you what to “look for”. All I can say, is trust your gut. Your instincts will tell you if something is off. If you are talking with them and something in your gut is screaming, “don’t do this!”… Listen to it. Thank them for stopping, but that you would like to wait for a different ride. YOU DO NOT have to accept the first ride that stops. I repeat… You do NOT have to get in just because they stopped. If something feels off, back away. Another ride will come.

I grew up with “stranger danger” pounded into my head and an older sister who saw axe murderers everywhere, (including the lady from down our street who was pushing a baby stroller, fyi: the stroller is where she hid her axe). I am also a nurse, and therefore see the darker sides of humanity when they come through the hospital doors. This has made me abnormally suspicious of strangers. Every person sitting alone in a car in a parking lot is a potential kidnapper, every guy who comes up to talk to you at the bar is a potential serial rapist, and the guy walking his dog in the park? He’s definitely a mugger. I know how ridiculous that is, but how do you break a thought pattern instilled over an entire childhood?

I was tired of always feeling suspicious, always feeling like I had to be on guard to protect those around me (just ask my friends, they call me momma bird). I was sick of always assuming the worst of those around me. For once, I wanted to learn to assume the best of people. I wanted trust in the good of humanity. So I made myself as vulnerable as I could and threw myself into their waiting hands.

And what would you know… People are awesome. Everywhere I went, people went out of their way to help me. Whether it was giving me a ride, connecting me with people going my way, giving me a place to stay or just in general helping me along my journey, total strangers became the best of friends, some of who I even crossed paths with multiple times as I zig zagged across the four eastern provinces.

Mission accomplished. Strangers are now potential friends rather than the stuff of nightmares, hitchhikers on the road are my new travel companions on long road trips. And in the next few posts, I’ll even share how strangers became my saving grace.

Images from the open road

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Medical Diagnosis

Accomodations: Couchsurfing, tenting

Cost: a lot of courage, a lot of patience, and the cost of a good pair of walking shoes.

Story Time

What rookie mistakes did you make the first time you hitchhiked/ backpacked? What are some of your roadside stories? did you have a great experience hitchhiking or a get caught in a rain storm? Do you have any tricks/ safety rituals you practice when hitchhiking?

I’m going on an adventure!

More exciting news for backpacknurse! As you might have already noticed, I never do things the easy way, the slow way or the one at a time way, so after getting accepted into the perioperative nursing program, I decided that a trip was in order. Actually I’m kidding, the trip was already planned, but instead of cancelling because school started a whole two months earlier than I had anticipated, I decided I could handle it. So here I go!

Backpacknurse is hitting the open road. Literally. I might even resort to pounding it with my fists if I get frustrated. I am backpacking across Eastern Canada for two weeks, starting in Halifax and ending it all in Montreal, passing through PEI and Quebec City along the way. I will be taking my classes online the whole time, and even have my first assignment due on Thursday (pause for mild panic attack).

Wish me luck, and see you on the road!