Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sulphur Mountain - A Banff Gem

Overlooking Banff, Sulphur Mountain is often overlooked as a scrambling destination mainly due to the fact that you can take a gondola to the Observatory 700m above the townsite.  Up until a few days before this outing, I thought that Sanson Peak was actually the summit and the hike included a boardwalk and stairs. 

As I found out, this is not the case, in fact Sulphur Mountain is a 4km long mountain ridge and Sanson Peak is only one of 4 Peaks.  The true summit lies about 2.5km southwest of the Observatory and the trail provides some safe and fun scrambling along with a faily easy hike that I think can be done year long.


Find out more about the adventure by clicking here...


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ha Ling - A Windy Affair


This is likely my last post about Ha Ling as you can only write so much about a trip that is esentially a difficult hike and I have covered both winter and summer ascents.

The nice thing about Ha Ling is that when many other peaks are out of season, socked in by weather or in just plain dangerous conditions, this peak is almost always summitable. In other words, this is considered an all-year summit. Located directly behind Canmore to the west, this summit is a good half-day trip and one of the best places to test people's endurance and hiking skills. We decided to do Ha Ling after we checked out the weather forecast that morning and saw that we were in for snow and high winds.

Trips up Ha Ling (which is mainly a hiking trail) are hardly eventful usually the hardest part is finding your way though the throngs of people in the summer. Winter however has a tendency to throw wrenches into what are otherwise uneventful ascents.

Find out more about this adventure by clicking here...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ha Ling - A Canmore Classic

July is always a good month to revist an old favourite of mine and a favourite of many Calgarians.  Ha Ling rises over 900m above Canmore Alberta, but despite its imposing cliffs, it is a very popular peak that can see over 100 people summit on a warm day.

Nearly 4 months after my last mountain adventure, I decided to take a break from paddling and test out my mountain legs.  Along with four friends we started our way to Canmore to tackle this imposing wall of rock...

The adventure continues by clicking here...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rain, Rapids and Tonnes of Snow - A Bow River Experience

So I just completed a short jaunt on the Upper Bow River from Ghost Dam to Cochrane as part of my South Dakota Kayak Challenge training.  Its a simple stretch of river the consists of a small class II rapid, a little step but some gorgeous turquoise water, and this time, over  feet of snow...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

2011 South Dakota Kayak Challenge And Reflections From 2010

This weekend will mark the 2 month countdown to the Second Annual South Dakota Kayak Challenge. A challenge primarily and a race secondary, that will see about 100 racers line the shore of Riverside Park in Yankton SD and with the sound of a gun, start their journey along a 75 mile (120km) section of the mighty and historic Missouri River, crossing into three states and finally finishing in Sioux City Iowa. As such, I have dedicated this entry to the challenge in an attempt to answer many questions for people that I have talked to that are interested in taking part in this great event.

THE COURSE
As stated, the course is approximately 75 miles (121km) in length, for which each boat will have 30 hours from the starting gun to finish. This 30 hours includes all breaks, naps and calls-of-natures there may be.


The course has 4 check points, Myron Grove, Mulberry Bend, Bolton and Rosenbaum which can divide the race into 5 spearate legs. Below are descriptions of the race based on my experiences last year and from talking ot the organizers and other fellow competitors.

LEG 1
The first leg between Riverside Park and Myron grove is a 17.5 mile (28km) downstream stretch of river that is channeled by numerous large islands and many more smaller islands, however, the flow is relatively unimpeded and the water deep. Last year there were a few sandbars along this route, but nothing major. The only real concern that I would say there is in this leg is a branch in the river after about 5 miles (8km), a smaller branch will flow north while a second brach flows south. I advise all would be paddlers to take the southern branch as its the more direct route and the northern route will lead you through what appeared to be a narrow, shallow channel that has its fair share of small islands you'd have to negotiate around before rejoining the main channel - it also adds about 0.6mi (1km) to your overall distance. I didn't hear about anyone taking the northern route last year - probably because you can still follow the crowd of paddlers, but it wouldn't be hard for a person to take it.

LEG 2
The second leg of the race between Myron Grove and Mulberry Bend is 11.5 miles (18.5km) in length. About 0.5mi (0.8km) after the Myron Grove checkpoint, the river becomes divided by Goat island, an island about 4.5 miles (7.2km) long, forcing you to choose one of two channels - a northern channel and a southern channel. Last year we we pulled into Myron Grove in a group of about 5 boats all within 7-10 minutes of each other. Of those boats, Tyler and I were the only boat to take the south channel. In retrospect, I would still recommend paddlers to take the southern channel. From accounts from volunteers and other racers, the northern channel is more channelized as it is divided even further by smaller islands. When the two channels merged, we had actually made time and distance on a few boats that left Myron Grove before us and even passed one or two. About 0.8miles (1.3km) the Missouri River will start to have fun with you - the river flows around two islands creating 3 channels and water levels drop. Last year the southern channel had many downed trees and some sandbars that were visible. We opted for the middle channel which for the most part was decent, however we pulled too close to the first island and quickly found ourselves bottoming out - coming to a complete stop in the middle of the Missouri River. As we quickly found out, the middle channel has a large barely submerged sandbar that sticks out about a quarter of a mile from the north shore of the island. In retrospect, we should have hugged closer to the southern shore of the second island as I believe the water was deeper. After these islands the river takes a sharp turn to the south where these sandbars are pretty much part of the scenery for the last 5 miles (8km) before Mulberry Bend. It is also around this time the headwind wind really started to pick up (20-30mph, 30-50kph).

LEG 3
The third leg of the race is about 12 miles (19km) from Mulberry Bend to the Bolton checkpoint. I stongly remember a strong channelized current along this section, one that is not hard to miss and if you can ride it, can propel you through the bend in quite a short amount of time - I do also remember som very large boils that threaten to derail your run if you happen to slip out of this current. Just over 3 miles (5km) after Mulberry Bend, the river will fork into three channels. I remember the south channel being filled with shallows and sandbars, the same with the middle channel, however, if you stay river left in the middle channel you should miss the shallows and the sandbars. From the sounds of it, the northern channel is completely clear of sandbars and might be worth attempting this route as the length difference is less than 0.2mi (0.3km) and might mitigate the decrease in speed caused by the sandbars and shallows. Immediately after the shallows two large sandbars are present and highly viible in the middle of the river - avoid them - though if you need a break, I did see one boat pulling over on them. The river channel will then squeeze past a peninsula before flowing around a small treed island - I'd again recommend river right around this island until the Bolton checkpoint.

LEG 4
Bolton checkpoint to Rosebaum comprises the fourth leg of the race. This 14.5 mile (23.3km) section sees the river gradually taper into a more narrow even banked single channel river. About 1.5 miles (2.5km) after the Bolton checkpoint wingdykes begin to appear on the right bank. These are worth crossing the river for. Wingdykes are fabulous inventions, built by the US Army Corps of Engineers, they are rock structed that are built out into the river perpendicular to flow and they force water away from the shore, narrowing the river and creating quick channelized currents as water flows around them. Be warned, they also produce extremely large boils behind the structure, but behind them the water is calm and is a good place to rest if you need to. Be careful about not hitting one though as the force of the watter hitting it can pin and/or capsize a boat - this is more important at night or in low visibilty conditions, normally they are easy to avoid. I have heard stories of this happening (not in the SDKC though). If you are a confident paddler these currents can really be beneficial. The first set of wingdykes will last for about 0.8 miles (1.3km) - enough to let you know if you want to use them. By staying river right you will avoide major channelization and shallower water on the opposite bank as the river turns southwards towards Rosenbaum. The rest of the leg except for the 2.3 miles (3.8km) before Rosenbaum is fairly straight forward paddling with no obstacles. Near the end of this leg wingdykes will again appear, this time on the left shore before stopping and picking up on the right shore. Good paddlers in good conditions iwll be able to skirt across the river and use these to their benefit, at the same time, this is were recreational motor boat traffic will wreak havoc the most - and it will only get worse.

LEG 5
Once you hit Rosenbaum you are 16 miles (25.7km) from the finish line in Sioux City and in the last leg of the race. Technically speaking, this is probably the easiest section of the race, however you have just paddled over 55 miles (88km) through shallows, strong headwinds and around islands and sandbars. From this point on, wing dykes will line the shores of the river (they will be on the outside of every major bend), so confident paddlers will find this helps a lot if they can ride the current. If conditions exist it could be worth skirting the river and riding the wingdykes, I know several paddlers did this. However, the recreational boaters might make this almost impossible. Last year the biggest complaint (after the headwinds) were the boaters throwing huge wakes at the racers - many not really caring and several doing it on purpose. Be very careful around the boaters you can see them, they may not be able to see you. About 11.5 miles (28.5km) after leaving Rosenbaum you will be able to see some extremely large mansions on the left bank, at this point you will probably be riding the wingdykes on that side as well (or avoiding them like the plague) and possibly flipping off some motor boaters, but take pleasure in seeing these, you're less than 5 miles (8km) from the finish and on the second last set of wingdykes. A mere 3 miles (5km) futher you will come to the confluence of the Missouri River and Sioux River on the left shore, but at this point you will probably be fixated on the Sioux City Bridge (Veteran's Bridge). From here make sure you get to the left shore and follow it to Bev's, turn sharply into the marina and bask in the knowledge that you just finished the South Dakota Kayak Challenge.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM 2010

When most people hear "75 miles (120km)" and "30 hours","paddling" in the same sentence, it usually summons visions of herculean trapezius muscles and biceps or just an impossible combination - this is not the case. This is not an impossible task, 75 miles (121km) in 30 hours is doable if you put your mind to it and practice, all you have to do is believe in yourself and know what you want. There are three kinds of people that will enter this race in my opinion, (1) ones that want to compete to win, (2) those that want to challenge themselves and finish, (3) those that want to just paddle regardless of the outcome. Its easy to know which one you fall into, just believe in yourself and train for that division.

For those people coming this year, the biggest thing that I can pass on is don't let the wind, recreational traffic or other hardships get you down. If you really want to finish but are finding the wind and traffic too much and are thinking of pulling out, get to the shore or into one of the checkpoints. Get ot of your boat and take a breather and a break and talk to other paddlers, they're likely having the same experience as you. A brief timeout or conversation can do wonders and get your mind and body back into the game. If you do decide to pull-out before the finish, don't be hard on yourself, just do it safely. There is always another year and lessons to be learned from past experiences, after all, no competitor in the race would hold it against you or think you lesser or doing so. Ultimately this was set up to be a challenge which by definition is something that summons special skill and strength (both physical and mental) to complete.

If you have competed in the SDKC or plan too, feel free to leave comments or questions below.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Gear Review - Eddie Bauer First Ascent Summit Mitts

Eddie Bauer states that their First Ascent Summit Mitt is "a choice for high-altitude climbers venturing into inhospitable places, this mitt ensures that your digits stay toasty warm even in severe weather." I was about to put that to the test.

Living in Alberta, I have come to the foregone conclusion that cold is just a part of life - especially if I want to enjoy the mountains. You can either learn to enjoy it or hibernate for 6 months of the year. You see, Calgary sits at 51N meaning that come winter, the Polar Jet stream often sits to the south, bringing with it arctic air masses and freezing temperatures that can plummet into the -30s. In the mountains these freezing temperatures can be compounded by extreme winds and elevation that can drop temperatures down to the -50s, causing frostbite and hypothermia in minutes.

For several seasons I was grappling with keeping my digits warm during those winter excursions. I had tried many brands and types of hand protection. I had always been a person that preferred gloves to mitts. To me, the tradeoff of dexterity to warmth was enough to keep my fingers isolated. I managed well with polypropylene liners and thinsulate gloves for most of the time. The gloves allowed my fingers to move independently and grasp things and when they got cold, I would pull them into the palm of the glove, move them around and warm them back up. It was a minor inconvenience but one I was willing to pay. I have to admit though, in temperatures of warmer than -20C, the glove/liner combo did well. But what about the times when as you ascended the temperatures continued to fall?

When temperatures dipped below -20C, I turned to a hiking favourite - oxygen activated carbon hand warmers. These don't add a lot of heat, and having them in the palm of your hand really can be very uncomfortable. So I went out and bought a pair of gloves that have a pocket for hand warmers that fit over the back of your hand. Was this to be my saving glove? I decided to put it to the test. In late November a group of friends and outdoor enthusiasts decided to hike to the summit of Paget Peak - as we pulled into the trailhead parking lot just outside Trail BC, the thermometer on my car read -36C and the summit was still 900m above where we were standing, and it was barren - meaning no trees to act as a windstop. As we gained elevation and broke free of the trees the temperature started its decline fairly quickly, finally coming to a rest at -43C on the summit. The sheer cold of the day was only offset buy the spectacular brillance of a clear windless summit, but the gloves with their liners and handwarmers were not doing the job. I found my hands clenched inside the palm of the gloves almost the entire trip. I had even somehow developed a technique of holding my ice axe with my hands clenched. Totally not safe but it gave my finger some warmth. What I took away from that trip (minus moderate frostbite on my nose) was that gloves just didn't cut the cold and that I was going to buy a pair of gloves, not just any gloves...a good warm pair of gloves, ones that did the job.

Thus my quest for a mitt had begun. Having worked in an Outdoor Camping & Hiking store previously, I knew what I had in mind and what companies had what out there. I had also read reviews from the net, talked to people about their experience with mitts and even tested out several makes and styles. I had my eye on the Black Diamond Mercury Mitt when I cam across the First Ascent Summit Mitts while shopping for some base layers at my local Eddie Bauer (they're base layers are also top notch). The first thing that stood out was the colour. One thing I have been moving more towards in my outdoor wardrobe is brighter colours, these can prove invaluable in times of distress. After the colour the next thing I looked at was the insulation - and this is where I fell in love. The Summit Mitt boasts a dual-layer primaloft shell with a removable 550-fill goose down liner, both lined with a wool-poly blend. Talk about the best of both worlds. Primaloft has one of the highest warmth-to-weight ratios of any current synthetic insulation, it also retains more of its thermal capabilities when wet - which is why I think Eddie Bauer/First Ascent hit a home run using it on the outside and having the down in the liner. The Summit Mitts also contain a durable leather palm for extra grip and abrasion resistance. So after waiting for the Eddie Bauer Anniversary sale, I purchased the mitts and promptly put them to the test. The mitts sell for $149 CAD.

It was the middle of the week when I received them from Eddie Bauer (free Fed0Ex Shipping) so I had to try them in an urban setting first. The temperature was -32C with windchill and wearing them while walking to work was great. My hands never felt the cold, nor did they sweat like some reviewers have experienced. This past weekend I decided to try them on an alpine hike, it was much more mild but the temperature still came in at a chilly -26C. Standing alone on the summit of Prairie Mountainwith the wind blowing - my hands were warm. The only drawback I found was these mitts are huge and cumbersome to work in. Thankfully Eddie Bauer added wrist straps so when you pull the liners out of the shell, you are stil wearing a 550-fill down glove and the shell cannot blow away. The fact that you can remove the inner lining and separate the gloves is an added benefit - and as the liner gloves are less bulky, but still wind-resistent, warm and they give you more dexterity to tinker with small things like zippers on backpack and nozzles on stoves. They even have leather added to the underside of them for added durability and grip. When its time to put the shell back on, the liner just slips easily inside and velcroes securely into place.

Eddie Bauer/First Ascent definately in my opinion hit a home run with the First Ascent Summit Mitts, though I guess though with names like Ed Viesturs, Dave Hahn and Peter Whittaker behind the brand it ought to be good.

SUMMARY

PROS

  • Built-in flexibility
  • Lightweight and warm
  • Packability (can be "squished" easily)
  • Windproof/waterproof
  • Wrist straps to keep shell/glove on body
  • Stylish colour
  • EB Lifetime Warranty
  • Free shipping when ordered online

CONS

  • Some may find it bulky when together (but considering what they are designed for, its accptable)
  • Cost (may be priced outside of some peoples comfort zone - but is great for what you get)

OVERALL RANKING: 5 / 5