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?

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Speedy Sexy Singing Llamas and other ‘Tails’ from the Inka Trail

After another uphill losing battle with airlines, customs, airports and the other great joys of air travel, which deserve an entire blog all on their own, but which I won’t bore you with as we have all been there, and need a beer…make that two…to properly vent our frustrations on it, I arrived in Cusco; sans baggage. Somewhere between Toronto, New York, Panema, Lima and Cusco, my backpack containing everything including my hiking boots and sleeping bag had gone MIA. That’s right, I’m looking at you New York…you know what you did…

I had made the rookie mistake of not wearing my hiking boots on to the plane. My rationale had been solid. After going through what feels like hundreds of customs, I had developed a system that got me through at top speeds, and that included easy-on, easy-off boots. What I hadn’t counted on was them losing my bag. I know, rookie mistake. This was the first time I had ever lost a bag, which is a miracle in itself because I normally take really convoluted flights to get where I’m going, which is normally some far flung out of the way destination.

But regardless, there I was, a day away from disappearing up a mountain into the jungle for four days with nothing but the clothes on my back (which for the record, I had already been in for three days). And as you will notice in the pics, I was definitely not in hike-worthy boots. Now I could have bought new boots, but since the ones sitting somewhere in limbo were less than 3 months old, it put a bitter taste in my mouth. There was still twenty-four hours in which time my bag could show up…I’m a hopeless optimist, I know.

With that optimism bolstering my courage, and my annoyance at having to be optimistic in the first place feeding my stubbornness, I wandered through my hostel, making friends and looking for people who were leaving for the trail the next day, hoping that they might be in my group. Who I met instead was an amazing girl named Nydja from Washington, D.C.. She was one of those inspiring people who travel solo for months on end and she was a huge activist for women’s rights and abused women. We sat and talked for hours over lunch about her work and mine working with rescued women and children. Lunch turned into supper, and supper turned into drinks with friends, and before I knew it, it was 5am and I was shivering in the dark pre-dawn chill waiting for the van to pick me up to go hiking with a huge hangover. (Here is where I insert a medical side note…I’m one of those really annoying people who don’t get hungover, but because of the altitude and my lack of experience with hangovers, this one hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m sure the serpentine road, the tin can of a van with no suspension and the terrifying driving habits of the Peruvians culminating in motion sickness did not help matters any). No one was more excited than me when we finally climbed out of the torture chamber on wheels and strapped on our backpacks. For better or worse it was on foot from here, and by far and large on foot has always been my favourite way to travel.

The four of us, along with our two guides and our six porters, marched to the gate. Passport stamp accomplished, we were off. Almost instantly, it became clear that our group was something special. Casper from Denmark, two sisters Ilona and Linda from Holland and myself the Canadian. It didn’t take more than five minutes before one of us started singing. Two seconds later, the whole group was pulling off acapella masterpieces the likes of which had never been heard on the Inka trail before. At first our guides Eddie and Bernardo seemed a little embarrassed by our display, but by the end of the four day trek, they wore nothing short of proud looks on their face as every team on the mountain with us knew about us, and the guides and porters from all the other teams were asking about us, greeting us and we became a bit of celebrities on the trek.

Without being cocky or tooting my own horn, I say this is well earned. By the end of the second day, our fingers were permanently blue from the lack of oxygen at that high of altitude, and we had been hiking up a steady incline all day. We had also been singing at the top of our lungs…the entire way. That’s a 1200m altitude gain in 9km at 4200m above sea level. Most of the other Trekkers simply stared at us in wide eyed wonder, trying to figure out where we were hiding our portable oxygen tanks as we sped past them. We just cheered them on, and we went from being the strong speedy singing llamas to being cheering llamas.

The trek wasn’t all roses and melodies however. We had gone through rain that day, and would go through rain every day following. I was never more grateful to Nydja then when I changed out of my soaking wet jeans (I know, great hiking material right?) into a pair of leggings she had lent me. I wasn’t so lucky with the sleeping bag I had rented from the guide company. It was down filled, and while it was warm, it gave me an allergic reaction and every morning I’d wake up looking like a puffer fish, barely able to open my eyes from the swelling. A hot cup of coca tea delivered right to my tent door before I had even climbed out of my sleeping bag for the morning was an excellent consolation prize though and I’d often sit there breathing in the steam, letting it open my pores and leech out the histamines, and by the time I got out of my tent for breakfast, most of the team didn’t even realize I’d had a reaction at all. This only worked for the first couple days, by the third and fourth day, my system had wised up to my tricks and on the last morning my swelling didn’t subside to a half human level until well into the afternoon.

Casper, who had brought the entire pharmacy of Denmark with him, offered me some antihistamine, but I didn’t dare take it, because Day Three of the trek was no day to be drowsy. It was all downhill, and the downhill was all stairs. Now… When I say stairs, I mean ladders, cliffs and boulders. Some of the steps would be barely wide enough for your toe, some of them were so far apart you had to either do the splits or jump to reach them. Some of them were flat surfaces, but some of them were sharp as a knife. And all of them were wet and slippery as Canadian sidewalks in January.

Remember those hiking boots that were still in limbo? Ya, they weren’t on my feet as I was going over these knife blades pretending to be steps. Between the strain of the uneven ground, the sharp rocks and the wet mud, my boots disintegrated. My guide Bernardo came to my rescue like a heroic Gepetto, and somehow magically glued my boots back together. This would last until some point the next morning after slogging through more rain and mud, I’d stub my toe for the millionth time on the uneven rocks and they would split open again. Once again, Bernardo would sit by the dying light of the cook stove and glue my boots back together.

By the end of the trip, my boots became just as famous on the mountain as our musical skills did. Everyone who saw them would look at me like I was insane and then ask something to the way of “how are you walking in those? Don’t your feet hurt? Are you crazy?” To which I’d always respond with ” the airport ate my bag, and surprisingly, these boots are more comfortable than you think,” when really, the reality is that I basically walked the Inka Trail barefoot, since that is how thin the sole of those boots were.

By the last night on the trail. Everyone was soaking wet and chilled to the bone. For some odd reason the Holland sisters tent was the warmest, so we all crammed into it, blending into one giant sixteen limbed human pretzel and broke into Casper’s Oreo cookie stash. We all decided that there was no longer any point in conserving our phone batteries as for better or worse we would be back at the hostel by tomorrow night. We cranked the tunes up and sang our hearts out to European pop music, half of which I didn’t understand as I don’t speak Danish or Dutch. When they called us for supper, we were all really reluctant to leave our warm nest, even though it smelled like stinky feet and dirty wet sheep.

But the cook’s reputation for creating five star masterpieces off of a camp stove made our minds up for us and we crawled back out into the cold. And sure enough, we weren’t disappointed. I don’t know who is capable of making a cake on a camp stove, but try making a tiered birthday cake complete with fancy icing on one. Oh and by the way, you carried all the ingredients including the stove up a mountain. I was so excited about this trek, because I was going to lose so much weight and get in such great shape while hiking. Ya…. That didn’t happen. I gained weight, that’s how good our chef was. Passion fruit glazed chicken over a bed of rice, ceviche, you name it. These dishes belonged in the fancy hotel restaurants, set on fancy china and served with a perfectly chilled Dom Perignon, not on my tin plate as I balanced on an uneven plastic stool at a foldable table under a tent on the side of a mountain. Whatever the company pays the chef, it’s not enough. I won’t complain though, because I thoroughly enjoyed his fantastic cuisine.

Day One through Three were amazing. So many people talk about seeing Macchu Picchu, but there were so many other ruins on the trail, some of which I found better than Macchu Picchu (GASP! The sacrilege! I know). And I found that for one simple reason. Tourism. Macchu Picchu is slowly sinking, and to preserve it they are trying to sympathetically rebuild it, using the same ancient techniques that built it in the first place. But the problem is that Macchu Picchu is one of Peru’s greatest tourism draw, and to draw in the funds that come with that tourism, a lot of people go through the ruins every day, which wears down the site faster. They have since “touristified” it, putting in signs, and labelled walkways, and have basically raped the ruins of any original beauty. It has now become Disneyland ruins.

I prefer to see things untouched. And to be honest I was so disgusted with the scene that I encountered at Macchu Picchu, that I could have happily started the four day trek at Macchu Picchu and done the hike backwards, and enjoyed it more.

On Day Four, and the last day of the trek, were were up before the birds. 3am in the pitch black and freezing cold and pouring rain. We didn’t even stop to eat breakfast. We simply grabbed a sandwich and ate it on the trail. We were in a race against time. We had 6km to hike to the sun gate and we had to reach it just as the sun was coming up. The sooner we got there, the more time we’d have at Macchu Picchu before the mass throng of tourists invaded the ruins. We weren’t the strong speedy llamas for nothing. We were among the first to arrive at the Sun Gate, and there below us looking just like a post card, was Macchu Picchu. All the pain, the cold, the wet, the tired, everything melted away as we saw our goal, there in front of us shining like a diamond in the early morning light.

Not wanting to waste any time we descended down to the ruins. And suddenly, they weren’t so beautiful anymore. As I stood there waiting for our turn to stand on the picture rock (you know the one I’m talking about, the one that everyone stands on to get that classic Macchu Picchu picture), I overheard a group of women talking nearby. They were complaining about how tired they were, how sore their legs were from the stairs, how cold they were. I turned around to ask them how the trek was for them only to catch the overpowering stench of perfume. This was quickly followed by the view of mini skirts, heels, perfectly manicured hands, clean hair and a face that had makeup loaded on with a shovel. They were tired from the two sets of stairs that led from the main entrance to the overlook. I spun around in disgust. Here I was, going on nothing but stubbornness and adrenaline, soaked to the bone, in clothes that I had now been wearing for a week solid, with no shower in that week other than the rainstorms we had walked through, and I had walked 42kms up three mountain peaks on an injured knee, subsequently overloading the other knee and finished the trip literally hobbling, and now I was surrounded by people who found the stairs in the ruins too hard and wondering why they didn’t have buggies or vehicles that did driving tours through the ruins, or at least put escalators in.

My disgust must have been evident, or maybe Casper just felt the same as me, like the once beautiful place had been prostituted, because we both quickly left the sisters behind who wanted to snap a million pictures. Casper and I walked through the ruins as quickly as we could, looking for something that had retained its virginal luster, only to find more destruction. Days of hiking to reach it, and I spent a whopping 2 hours walking through it as quickly as I could, barely snapping ten pictures, before I couldn’t take anymore and we both went to the cafeteria and ordered a cheeseburger. And most of that two hours was waiting for throngs of high heeled perfumed mini skirts to get out of the way so I could run up the stairs.

Now more than anything, I just wanted a hot shower and a change of clothes, followed by a good long dry warm sleep in my hostel bed. We grabbed the bus down the mountain side and went into the town to catch our train back to Cusco. For some reason my train ticket ended up being for a train two hours later than everyone else’s, so I put my spare time to good use and went shopping for a change of clothes. I also bought some shampoo and new boots as mine had by now disintegrated even past Bernardo’s skill.

I had a great time sharing stories on the train back as I was lucky to have gotten a seat next to a group of two retired couples and the four of them had “earned their right” to Macchu Picchu by doing the two day river hike to reach the ruins. Since they were retired and obviously not in the best of shape, I didn’t hold the shorter easier trek against them. In fact I was impressed that they had hiked at all, and congratulated them on their trek. They laughed at my stories of losing my bag and boots and doing the trek in fashion boots and we shared in the adventure, conspiratorially glaring at and mocking the fakers who had taken the train to the ruins rather than hiking it.

And I discovered the best revenge for those perfumed mini skirts. They had to sit next to me on the train ride back, and while I was used to it by now, I’m sure my dirty wet smelly llama stench brought tears to their eyes. Serves them right!

Pulling into my hostel late that night, a shower had never felt better. In fact at first I grossed myself out as layer after layer of skin sloughed off in the shower. But once again clean, and feeling human, I couldn’t help but feel doubly accomplished. Not only did I do the four day Inca Trail Trek to Macchu Picchu like I had always dreamed of doing, but I did it solo, with no bag, no boots and nothing but the clothes on my back. I had never felt more proud to be in the experienced backpacker family then I did right then. Pure stubbornness and the will to never give up no matter what the world threw at me had seen me through.

And that ladies and gentlemen, is what it really feels like to be on top of the world!

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RIP boots… You weren’t made for walking but that is sure what you did.

PS… Guess what showed up in Lima when I went to board the plane home? Better late then never I guess!

The Diagnosis:

Accomodations: Milhouse Cuzco, $13 CAN/ night, 12 bed mixed dorm

Tour: Bamba Experience 4D/3N Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu $654/ person. (expensive but worth it as this is all included for the 4 day trek including food, trail permits, entrance fees, pays for the guides, cook and porters, etc.)

Transportation: taxis, buses, etc. Cusco is a big place and the best hostels are all located in the historic city center (and trust me that is where you want to be within walking distance of because it is beautiful). This is located approximately 30-40 min. drive from the small airport. And unless you are super adventurous, fit and have a military grade GPS unit implanted in your brain, you will never be able to find your hostel or walk to it from the airport as the streets are so labyrinth-like, blending without warning into other streets, not to mention the high altitude makes you extremely dizzy if you aren’t used to it. In fact my taxi driver had to stop a couple times and ask directions to find the street my hostel was on, and its a well known hostel in the area. Once you are in the city center though, everything is within walking distance

Food: Down the street from the hostel is one of the best places to try the national specialty dish of Peru; Guinea Pig. Kusikuy also makes a fantastic alpaca steak which I highly recommend. Bonus: if you show your wrist bracelet from Milhouse, you get a 10% discount! But if you are more interested in cheap/easy rather than experience, the hostel has a bar upstairs that makes a solid meal for anywhere between $15-$30 Peruvian Soles ($6-$12 CAN).

Story Time

Have you hiked the Inca Trail? What were the highlights/lowlights of your adventure?

WANTED: A Travel Buddy

2015/03/img_0449-0.jpg Have you ever had that one EPIC trip that you have always wanted to do? Hitchhike across the U.S, do a coast to coast road trip across Canada, backpack Europe for a summer? What has prevented you from doing it? Finding a travel buddy to share the adventure with. I’m mean, really. Who wants to road trip alone? When first asked if they would come on your adventure, they were so excited! They rip out their national geographic magazines, their laptop and their cup of organic green matcha tea and they start looking through Google for all the highlights that you guys will have to hit. Both of you decide that next summer will be the perfect time to go as the summer is half gone, and who wants to backpack in the winter? Besides it will save you sooo much money if you plan ahead of time so you can get cheap flights. The deal is made, you do your secret friendship handshake and you both go to bed that night dreaming of your amazing trip next summer. Fall arrives with its pumpkin spiced lattes, then winter with its warm woolly sweaters. The next thing you know, spring arrives with a few false starts and a couple of surprise 20ft dumps of snow blizzards. Your eye starts roaming toward travel websites and you start stocking up on travel advice off of Pinterest. And finally the day is here… The day you book your plane ticket and make this TRIP OF A LIFETIME a reality. You pick up the phone and call your friend because you want to book at the same time so you get seats next to each other. And the conversation goes something like this: You: “You ready to book this epicness? I’m so excited I don’t dare drink any coffee right now or I will start climbing walls! ” Friend: “I wish! But I’m starting school in the fall, so I’m going to be working all summer saving up. I can’t afford a trip right now. Sorry. Have fun though! And POOF! Atomic bomb lands in the centre of your dreams. But you will not be shaken so easily. You are a traveller! You will not let a little thing like complete and utter betrayal stop you from doing this trip! So you start a facebook chain and a mass text. “Who wants to go on an adventure with me?” You start with dignity. You ask your closest friends, weeding out the ones you know don’t like to travel (I know, who knew these people existed right? But they do). But as the excuses roll in, one after the other: I’m getting married, I’m having a kid, I’m buying a house/car, etc. you start to get desperate. Anyone, anyone?! How about you person I haven’t seen since kindergarten? Or you person who was my arch nemesis in high School? How about you random stranger whose pins I keep re-pinning? At this point you can literally feel the ground giving out beneath you and you start grappling at anything to try and hold on to this dream. Even if that means travelling with a person you hate, you rationalize that once you are on the road and neither of you know anyone else, that you will magically become friends (stranger things have happened, and in reality this could actually happen, though I’m not in a huge rush to test that theory). But one thing you never consider as the disappointment sinks in and you start moping in your pjs watching ‘Into The Wild’ with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream, is to simply, Go Solo. Finding a solid travel buddy, especially for long intense travel like backpacking and trekking is very hard to find. Some people get lucky and their best friend since high school is in the same life space as they are and they travel together for years. Most people however, me included, struggle to even find a buddy to go to the movies with on a Thursday night, let alone a 3 month long backpacking trek through the Amazonian jungle or wherever your dreams lead you. For me, the dream wasn’t even a long one. My dream was to hike the Inka Trail to Macchu Picchu. In total the trip was 10 days long, including flight there and back. And for 5 years I put off the trip. Friend after friend would give me hope, and then dash it on the rocks when it came time to make it real. And then came the realization. If I didn’t go solo, I would never go. And to this day, I have a 20% track record. 80% of my travel is done solo. And while it can be lonely, and I wish I had a friend to reminisce with for all my adventures, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t trade those past solo trips for ‘someday’ trips with a friend. So stay tuned to find out how a solo Canadian girl found herself halfway up a mountain surrounded by friends and speedy sexy singing llamas.

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Story Time

What is your dream adventure? What has prevented you from doing it?

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!

The Great US Roadtrip- Zion National Park

If there is one part of this whole road trip that I have not stopped talking about it’s this one. In fact I think more than one person has told me to shut up because they are sick of hearing about Zion. Let me just say one thing: if you love hiking and/or beautiful landscapes…GO TO ZION NATIONAL PARK!!!! forget the the Grand Canyon, its overrated compared to this absolute gemstone! There are so many hikes for all fitness levels and all of them are beautiful. The ones that require a lot more fitness are hikes that are life changing and unforgettable.

I first heard of this park on Pinterest when I saw a picture of the “Subway”, a famous hike here in Zion. It involved rappelling, swimming and hiking through rivers and caves. It looked like something out of a dream or another world.

google image of the subway

google image of the subway

Sadly, this is another one of those hikes that requires months of preparation and planning in advance and I didn’t get to hike this amazing cave system. But before you become sad for me, don’t. Because I didn’t get to hike this one, I discovered my new favorite hike instead… The Narrows. Here’s a link to the google images of it: https://www.google.ca/search?q=the+narrows+zion+national+park&client=firefox-a&hs=IKr&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=fflb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=fRC3U6-OLOPD8QGjyoGIBg&ved=0CB0QsAQ&biw=1600&bih=789

The Narrows was rated #5 in the National Geographic ranking of America’s 100 best Adventures, and I can easily understand why. This hike is 16 miles (26km) long one way, can be done as a one day hike or a two day there and back trip. Before you start thinking, I could totally do there and back in one day, let me tell you why it is my favorite. The entire thing is hiking up a river. The entire hike you are in rushing water to at least your knees if not your waist, and at one point, your neck. The rocks underfoot are all shapes and sizes, shift suddenly underfoot or are covered in slick moss that makes for treacherous footing. The water is cold and the sheer, high and narrow canyon walls don’t allow for any warm rays of sun to hit the canyon floor. The current gets pretty strong in some places too and you will suddenly find yourself backed up against a cliff wall with no where to go except to swim through a swirling whirlpool in front of you. Reading the river and currents is of utmost importance as there are places where the cliff walls are undercut by the water and the current could potentially drag you under the rock.

Both me and Cat grew up on the Kicking Horse River and the Columbia River in British Columbia. Both rivers are known for their crazy currents and undertows, so we were experienced river hikers who easily navigated the ever changing face of the river. We didn’t discover the narrows until later in the afternoon, so we didn’t get as far up the river as we both would have liked, but as it was, we pushed pretty far up. Perhaps farther then was wise because we suddenly looked up and realized we were loosing the light quickly and we had a three hour hike back out the canyon, and the temperature was dropping quickly. We didn’t panic though. Both of us were built for adventure and we loved every minute of the race against the light to make it back before dark.

There are many other amazing hikes to be done at Zion. Angel’s Landing is a hike a friend of mine did that is quite literally breath taking as it is all the way to the top of a mountain on narrow mountain goat paths with a sheer cliff on either side. We also checked out the emerald pools which has some amazing views of the red stone cliffs and a friendly cactus bush that I became uncomfortably familiar with. We didn’t even discover the tip of the iceberg when it came to this place and I plan to come back when I can spend a solid two weeks here hiking everything. Here’s a link to google pics of Angel’s Landing as I don’t have any to show you: https://www.google.ca/search?q=the+narrows+zion+national+park&client=firefox-a&hs=IKr&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=fflb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=fRC3U6-OLOPD8QGjyoGIBg&ved=0CB0QsAQ&biw=1600&bih=789#channel=fflb&q=angels+landing+zion+national+park&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&tbm=isch

Enjoy the pics, and happy trails!

hiking emerald pools

hiking emerald pools

I loved the narrow pathways through the rocks

I loved the narrow pathways through the rocks

making friends with cactii

making friends with cacti

the entrance to the narrows, already wet above the knees and i'm barely 10m in.

the entrance to the narrows, already wet above the knees and i’m barely 10m in.

love this hike soooo much!

love this hike soooo much!

the best part is it was super twisty, so you would come around a corner and suddenly, this view was in front of you. awestruck doesn't quite describe it

the best part is it was super twisty, so you would come around a corner and suddenly, this view was in front of you. awestruck doesn’t quite describe it

The walls were such beautiful colors!

The walls were such beautiful colors!

losing the light but not my curiosity... it came down to a battle between we need to turn around and one more corner then we'll go. 10 corners later and I still didn't want to stop!

losing the light but not my curiosity… it came down to a battle between we need to turn around and one more corner then we’ll go. 10 corners later and I still didn’t want to stop!

The Medical Diagnosis

Accomodations: tenting

Transportation: Within the park there are buses that go up and down the road stopping at all the major trail heads, instead of driving and trying to find parking (which is impossible), we just hopped the bus and jumped off at the different trail heads.

What to see: The Narrows, the Subway and Angel’s Landing… Or anything else here… pick a direction and just start walking!

Story Time

Have you hiked here? What was your favorite hike? what are some of your favorite places to hike other than in Zion?

The Great US Roadtrip- The Grand Canyon

If you are like me, you dislike large crowds of tourists. I love finding hidden treasures that no one knows about and getting to enjoy them alone, unspoiled by large crowds and paved guided pathways. Sadly the Grand Canyon is not one of those treasures you can hide. It is kind of large after all. But if I can’t enjoy it alone, I at least try to find the inside track and ways to see it that others don’t. And here is where I give you a big insider’s tip: North Rim. Most tourists drive up from Las Vegas to see the Grand Canyon, and naturally stop at the first exit sign. And why wouldn’t they? The South Rim is beautiful with all the amenities you could want or need.

We didn’t drive up from Las Vegas however. We came from the North side and went to the North Rim, a long 5 hour drive away from the South Rim. There will still always be tourists there, but the number was way less, and the view nothing less than spectacular. The North Rim is a noticeable 1,200 feet (365 m) higher than the South Rim and also farther north, so there are winter closure that do happen on this side due to snow or bad weather. So if you want to visit the North Rim, I recommend calling ahead to see if there are any closures. http://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm

Thankfully our run of bad luck with thunderstorms finally ended with the Grand Canyon and we enjoyed a day of sunshine and hiking along the rim. I had hoped to hike down into the canyon and camp at the bottom, but be warned that there is a lot of red tape and paperwork that comes with that and a lot of permits that require planning months in advance. This whole trip had been a fairly last minute decision, and therefore we didn’t have any permits. So my dream of hiking to the bottom of the canyon didn’t happen. But we weren’t dismayed and instead found our own little hikes to do along the rim, and even found some little off the beaten path gems where there wasn’t another soul around for miles! We sat and ate trail mix for lunch, sun bathed and of course took the required pictures of falling off the edge of the Grand Canyon.

For the first time this trip, we even got to set up our tent in the light of day, and had time in the evening to relax by the campfire. I pulled out my guitar and plucked out a few songs while Cat pulled out her violin to join me. Life is good!

the view from the top of the world

the view from the top of the world

figuring out my camera

figuring out my camera

lookout point at the north rim

lookout point at the north rim

such a beautiful sunny day!

such a beautiful sunny day!

contemplating life

contemplating life

celebrating God's amazing creation

celebrating God’s amazing creation

being a goofball

being a goofball

I even found a fort window

I even found a fort window

The required falling off the canyon picture

The required falling off the canyon picture

The Medical Diagnosis

Accomodations: Tenting in the North Rim Campground

Things to see: The Grand Canyon!!!!

Story Time

Have you been to the Grand Canyon? Did you go to the North or South Rim? Did you hike to the bottom of the canyon?

The Great US Roadtrip- Horseshoe Canyon and Paddleboarding Lake Powell

Lake Powell. This is another one of those places in the world that is hard to describe. It is such a contrast with beautifully cool lake waters, surrounded by landscape that to tell the truth feels like you are on another planet. After our really fast drive from Canada to Arizona (we literally covered 2,700 km in 5 days, a third of our total mileage and had driven most of that in the dark as we had been hiking or sightseeing during the day), we decided to spend two nights at Lake Powell to allow us time to relax and recuperate. After seeing Antelope Canyon, we spent the rest of the day hiking Horseshoe Canyon and paddle boarding Lake Powell.

We tackled the hike first since it was on the way from Antelope Canyon, and we wanted to spend the rest of the day/evening relaxing on the water. Horseshoe canyon is a beautiful canyon that has been cut out of the rock by a mighty river and made for some spectacular scenery. I even made a friend with a little lizard!

The edge of the world

The edge of the world

contemplating life on the edge

contemplating life on the edge

making friends with a lizard

making friends with the local wildlife

After the hike, we spent the rest of the day paddle boarding on Lake Powell. I wasn’t sure at first, but once I got my feet wet I discovered a new love in life when it came to paddle boarding. We paddled around the point and enjoyed the first real sunshine we’d had since our trip started. A few hours of sunbathing and shenanigans followed. It wasn’t until after we got off the lake and were driving back to our campsite that we discovered something. Our campsite was in Arizona. The lake was in Utah. We had been crossing state lines back and forth all day without even realizing it. I had achieved one of the things on my bucket list “to be in two places at once” all day and hadn’t even realized it! Life is awesome sometimes!

paddle boarding Lake Powell

paddle boarding Lake Powell

taking on water sad faced shenanigans

taking on water sad faced shenanigans

looking snazzy in my matching neon yellow life jacket

looking snazzy in my matching neon yellow life jacket

We watched the sun set over the lake, enjoyed some lime popsicles, and reveled in the beauty of this awesome life we have on earth. Not a bad way to end a day.

sunset over the lake

sunset over the lake

our campsite...not a bad view to wake up to.

our campsite…not a bad view to wake up to.

yes my popsicle matches my toes

yes my popsicle matches my toes

The Medical Diagnosis

Accomodations: tenting at Wahweap Campgrounds

Costs: Campsite $26/night, Paddle Board rental $90/day. Since we arrived at the lake later in the afternoon, they prorated us to an hourly rental fee which worked out to around $30 for a few hours.

Things to See: Lake Powell. this lake is beautiful and a day paddling up and down its shore is a treat. There are day trips up the lake to see the famous arches which I would also recommend, we just didn’t have time while we were here. Horseshoe Canyon is also highly recommended, but make sure you bring a lot of water and a hat, because while the hike is not that “strenuous” it is ridiculously hot here and you will become dehydrated fast!

Story Time

Have you ever gone to Lake Powell or Horseshoe Canyon? What other things in the area did you explore and would recommend?

The Great US Roadtrip- Antelope Canyon

This is going to be another one of those posts that is mostly pictures and little of me talking. I first heard of Antelope Canyon in a National Geographic magazine. I then saw videos of it in the BBC Planet Earth series. I was instantly in love and knew that some day I would travel to see this amazing piece of geography. Hidden from the world next to the tiny unknown town of Page, Arizona were two of the most beautiful landscapes I had ever seen. Antelope Canyon and Lake Powell.

As I had stated in my previous post, we seemed to have brought all the rains of Canada with us and the area, known for its desert landscape, was one big mud hole and had experienced a record setting 11 flash floods that summer. Antelope Canyon has two separate canyons, the Upper Canyon and the Lower Canyon. The Lower Canyon is known for being the more beautiful of the two, but because of the intense flooding, it was currently under water. As sad as I was to miss out on the Lower Canyon, at least we could still see the Upper Canyon. Because the Lower was flooded, all the tourists were packed into the Upper, which disappointed me. But beggars can’t be choosers, and we piled onto the truck and off we went down the muddy river bank to the canyon.

the trail in

the trail in

In spite of the sheer volume of tourists packed into the small space, you still couldn’t help but be awed by the sheer beauty of the canyon. The slot canyon with its amazing striped red walls caught the light in the most fascinating ways and sent down almost dream-like rays of light that you thought only existed in fairytale movies, and in fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised if a fairy, nymph or even a pirate for that matter suddenly appeared out of the beams of light. But I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

walking in another world

walking in another world

shadows and light

shadows and light

the heart of the canyon

the heart of the canyon

pictures were hard to capture because of all the people and because of the constantly shifting light

pictures were hard to capture because of all the people and because of the constantly shifting light

I was actually kind of happy when my camera died, because then I could just enjoy the canyon with my own eyes and leave the responsibility of getting pictures to Cat

I was actually kind of happy when my camera died, because then I could just enjoy the canyon with my own eyes and leave the responsibility of getting pictures to Cat

definitely felt like being in another world

definitely felt like being in another world

outside the canyon

outside the canyon

Definitely one of my favorite places, despite all the tourists. One day I hope to come back and see the lower canyon. Especially at dawn, as i’m told that is one of the best times to see it. I highly recommend you check this place out for yourself!

Medical Diagnosis

Cost: $25/person, this got you a ride into the canyon and a guide. The website says only $8/person, but when we went in person to get our tickets there were surprise hidden costs, so be aware of those.

Story Time

Have you been to antelope Canyon? did you go to the Upper or Lower?

The Great US Roadtrip- Mesa Verde

How do you describe Mesa Verde? beautiful doesn’t cut it, amazing falls flat and breath taking is over used these days. I’m going to choose the word “inspiring”. Inspiring that people with such limited technology could build such beautiful cities, inspiring that they would use the very landscape of their homes to protect their way of life from attacking outsiders, inspiring that it has lasted to this day for future generations to observe, learn from and find inspiration from.

Mesa Verde, for those of you who are not aware of this Colorado treasure, is a UNESCO world heritage site and the best kept history of the ancient pueblo people of the Colorado Mesa region. Here is the link to the Wikipedia page for more history and information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesa_Verde_National_Park

I first heard of this site from a USA national parks guide book, and have fallen absolutely in love with it. Being a huge history buff, I loved learning about this people group that I knew so little about, and was fascinated with the archeological sites we got to visit. We went on two separate hikes to two different sites, and both were amazing for different reasons.

The first had the most amazing view and a literal city of buildings and history to observe. The second had a literal “breathtaking” hike up steep cliffs, ladders that suspended over nothing and paths that disappeared into rock walls or left you hanging on to a path wide enough for an agile mountain goat and little else. I happen to love heights and adrenaline, so i loved every minute of it. But this is the kind of post that is going to rely heavily on pictures as my words just can’t describe this amazing place. Enjoy!

the view from the top of the mesa

the view from the top of the mesa

the city palace

the city palace

descending down into a kiva- the underground dwelling of family groups

descending down into a kiva- the underground dwelling of family groups

an above ground dwelling place for multiple families

an above ground dwelling place for multiple families

some of the narrow steps straight up the cliff side which have been cut to accommodate tourists. The natives simply climbed the cliffs using small finger and toe holes the would cut into the rock. This allowed only one climber at a time which made it super easy to defend their home as invaders would have to climb down one at a time, totally exposed to waiting archers or one man holding a spear.

some of the narrow steps straight up the cliff side which have been cut to accommodate tourists. The natives simply climbed the cliffs using small finger and toe holes the would cut into the rock. This allowed only one climber at a time which made it super easy to defend their home as invaders would have to climb down one at a time, totally exposed to waiting archers or one man holding a spear.

a narrow passage through the rock connecting one cliff village to the next one. It was probably widened to accommodate tourists

a narrow passage through the rock connecting one cliff village to the next one. It was probably widened to accommodate tourists

more narrow stairs

more narrow stairs

climbing ladders over cliffs

climbing ladders over cliffs

good thing i love heights

good thing i love heights

me and Cat in front of the city palace dwelling

me and Cat in front of the city palace dwelling

After our trip to Mesa Verde, we were off to our next big hike, Antelope Canyon. It wasn’t until we were on our way that we learned that we had just narrowly avoided total disaster. The night that we had driven through the rain leaving Denver is the same night that half of Colorado flooded. Counting our lucky stars, we drove to Arizona, once again in the pouring rain. So much for the desert being dry. We definitely brought the wettest summer the south west had ever seen with us!

The Medical Diagnosis

Cost: $10 park entrance fee per vehicle, $4 for the ranger guided tour of the cliff sites (since they are UNESCO protected, it is not allowed to visit them without a guide)

Things to See: besides the two sites we went and saw, there are many more to visit. Since we were pressed for time we just saw the top two and they were well worth it!

Story Time

Have you visited this UNESCO Heritage site? what other UNESCO sites have you visited?

The Great US Road Trip- meeting the presidents

Bright an early in the morning we packed up the tent, grabbed some quick breakfast and hit the road. We crossed the border into the US, where the border guard laughed at us when we told him we were road tripping, camping and hiking the USA for the next month. He took one look in our overflowing back seat and said “Ya, you look like two girls going camping”. Deciding to take the humor for what it was and not be insulted, we laughed and took it as good fortune that he didn’t think we were smugglers, and demand to strip our car in search of contraband (I think both of us knew how long that would take with all our gear and neither of us wanted to put the effort in).

North Dakota badlandsMe and Cat soon discovered that the road we had planned on taking all the way to South Dakota was under a ton of construction and we traveled for several hours on dirt roads that had been totally dug up to put in a huge oil pipe line. I have a track record of never being able to keep a car clean under no fault of my own (I bought a new car and unintentionally took it mud bogging a week after I bought it, camping a month later and sandboarding a week after that. The car never stood a chance of keeping its new car look). It was only fitting that our road trip would start with bad, dirty roads. Thankfully both me and Cat are hardy girls who can handle any weather, as it rained all the way down to LA and we ended up sleeping in a tent through several violent thunder storms.

The first and most violent of these storms being at Mount Rushmore. We arrived at our campground and set up tent quickly as an ugly black cloud was quickly coming in over the mountains. We had barely got all our sleeping gear into the tent when the sky ripped apart and the pitch black night turned white as day. I’m still amazed to this day that we werent fried into bacon. Hair standing straight up on end from all the electricity in the air, me and Cat huddled in the tent waiting for the lightning to turn us into a crisp or the pounding rain to wash us away into the creek. But come morning, we were still alive and in one piece. We brushed off our close call and went exploring. First we visited with the presidents and of course being the goofballs that we are, we picked their noses (no disrespect was intended). Afterwards, we went exploring the mount rushmore caves which were a beautiful display of stalactites and stalagmites. It was definitely way more exciting for Cat then for me as she is the geologist. I on the other hand am the adrenaline junkie and simply enjoyed the intense beauty of the cave. I did learn a lot through Cat though and I can proudly say that I definitely know the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite. we survived the night!up close and personal with the prez mount rushmorerushmore cavestalactite beauty

After the cave we did a quick zip line swing which was pretty fun.ziplining flying down the hill

After this, it was time once again to make some miles. We drove once again through the first of many rain storms to Denver. We started to notice some car troubles, and it was decided that we would stop in Denver for the night to change the oil and get the undercarriage checked out. Thankfully that night it was raining so hard when we got to Denver that we decided to shell out for a hotel room. We woke up the next morning to find out that a huge hailstorm had dumped upwards of several feet of hail in some places across the city. We dropped the car off at the mechanics and soon discovered that my car was a deathtrap on wheels. My whole rear end was so rusted out that they literally snapped a bolt off trying to get it out to replace my snapped springs. They ended up not being able to get the bolt out and instead welded my car back together. We would have to limp all the way down to LA and back up to Canada with no springs, and half a bolt holding up the entire rear axle. Me and Cat are pretty fearless individuals and took this with a grain of salt and decided to soldier on. We jumped back in the car and headed down to Mesa Verde, racing to get there before darkness descended. We arrived at our campground at the bright hour of 2 am, having once again drove in the dark and pouring rain.

This is where I learned the importance of keeping your headlamp in an easy to get to location, as we set up in the dark. It wouldn’t be the last time. As the trip went on, we began making a habit of driving in the dark and pulling into campsites in the pitch black. You get really good at putting up tents in the dark with practice.

The Medical Diagnosis

Cost: Campsite $15-30/N, Hotel $89, Car maintenance/ Repairs $0-who knows? Rushmore Cave $23

Things to See: Mount Rushmore, Rushmore Cave. the Rushmore area had a whole bunch of things to check out and entertain as well. For the adrenaline seekers, there was a zipline park in the trees as well as a caving tour of Rushmore cave which involved squeezing through some tight tunnels (claustrophobics need not apply).

Story Time

What’s your favorite cave to explore? What are some of your road side misadventures that have happened on a roadtrip? What are some of the craziest storms you have experienced while camping?