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Fatbikepacking Adventure With Teens

The teen years mean father and son trips are a lot lamer than they were when my son was young. Not that I’m slower, or less adventurous, but I’m just not as cool as his friends are.

[as usual, click photos to enlarge.]

The solution to this, is of course, to bring friends.

Adam had been on a spring fatbikepacking trip with us, and he is good company and competent outdoors. He has many skills, and can keep both Tadhg and I interested with his memory of interesting facts. He also has his own fatbike.

This trip ended up being a bit more challenging than I originally anticipated, but with the challenge came adventure. We had some of nearly every type of snow, lots of pushing, a river to ford, and nearly a full day of blizzard conditions. And yes, we did eat a bag of chips and hummus for breakfast.

Adam may have to sleep for a week after riding, pushing, and carrying his bike on over 80km of winter trails, but I hope he’ll have memories for a lifetime. This was full-on adventure riding, and when things got tough, the kids were up to the challenge.

I posted. a route on RideWithGPS here

For those who have been asking, I make the pogies, aka bar mitts by myself, in my basement, I sell them on this very site, so click on this link to buy some..

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In Which My Friend Guy and I Stumble Into a Surprise Winter Adventure

My friend Guy is a super positive influence to take on bikepacking trips. He always has a new piece of home-made gear to show off, or a new idea to solve a common problem. He never whines, which is good, because…

The Sensible Part

Our first night out was led by our mutual friend Steve O’Shaughnessy, the host of the Bikepack Canada Podcast. Since Steve had to get home to his kids early,  he wanted to show off his favourite camp spot within an hour of his home. Steve is very fortunate (and grateful) for the beautiful Lake Enid that sits an easy ride from his home.

In what I think of as the middle of the night, Steve was up and away at 4AM (sorry Steve, we did not get up to see you off). That left us with my speculative plan of reaching a camp spot near Dave White Cabin, about 1000m higher in the mountains. There was ice on the water in the morning where we were.

We Find Winter

Around 30km into our ride, things started to get really scenic, and also somewhat covered in snow. Just a few km later, and a couple hundred metres higher, the somewhat covered became completely covered, and the snow started getting deeper. We hadn’t brought fatbikes, who does for unknown conditions high in the mountains in late fall?

We got to some steep, rocky, snow-covered trail, we pushed the bikes onward. Guy didn’t whine, in fact, he seemed happy, just like I was. We didn’t make it to the cabin, we did make it to some nice larches showing their beautiful golden fall colour. The mountains were stunning. Don’t go, you’ll hate it. We set up camp early enough to eat in the last of our natural light.

We Sleep Through a Cold Night

The cold warning went off on my InReach at some point in the night. That usually means -18ºC, though the temperature on my thermometer was -14 when I got up after sunrise. I am very glad that both of us were prepared, because that is definitely into the realm of cold temperatures. I usually use my jacket in its bag as a pillow and I was within a couple of degrees of swapping it into a jacket and using my clothing bag as backup pillow instead. With my -10ºC quilt, and my hacked Costco blanket, I was theoretically good to about -17ºC plus a wool sweater.

Coffee, breakfast, a ride back to Invermere filled out the rest of our winter mountain adventure.

I’m told this area is popular with snowmobilers in winter. I think we may need to go back and try our luck after a few snowmobiles have packed a trail for us. Worst case, we have fun again.

Thanks to Guy Stuart for the pictures of me and the better scenic shots, to Kimberly for the group shot, and to Guy and Steve for being the kind of friends they are.

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Bad Advice Girl

We were hiking a popular 3-8 day trail. A group of women was hiking approximately the same route and schedule as us. The apparent leader of the group was loud, and did a lot of lecturing. It was impossible not to overhear.  We had questions about her competence, her gear choices seemed impractical, she was using enough Kinesio tape on her skin that she resembled an Orca (this is not a weight comment, she just had more than 50% of her skin covered in black shiny tape), and then there was the advice she loudly offered to her group.

Elk leaving parasites in a creek.

 

My Water Bottle is Mouldy!

One of the women in her group wanted some soap and a cleaning cloth to clean out the smelly, green mould in her water bottle. This seemed like a reasonable and prudent idea to me, but not to Bad Advice Girl. (It also might seem reasonable that this type of pre-inspection/washing of equipment may have been better suited to her home while she was packing rather than while she was on trail.)

Bad Advice Girl emphatically replied: “Once, my fridge broke down and I ate the mouldy food from it, I was fine. The mould from foods and drinks is harmless. Just drink from your bottle!”

Now, I am not an expert on human pathogens, but this advice goes against pretty much all of the things I’ve read regarding food safety.

Water Treatment

Water treatment tablets are intended to kill pathogens in water taken from wild sources like creeks and rivers. Though there are those who will drink from surface water in the mountains (especially if they can see the source glacier), there are mammals that live in those mountains, so there is definitely the possibility of pathogens in the water. Unless Beaver Fever sounds appealing, then treating the water is a good idea.

One of the women was discussing how she was waiting the 15 minutes specified in the tablet instructions. Once again, Bad Advice Girl had a “pro-tip”. “Just take the tablet like a pill!” she advised, “then make sure you drink the full litre of water and the tablet will treat the water in your stomach!”

Once again, I’m pretty certain that if this was the approved method, it would be listed in the instructions. Also, what if I’m not that thirsty? Maybe I should just swallow a bunch of tablets before I go based on how much water I intend to drink, like a vaccine.*

*this is not how vaccines or water treatment tablets work, you would almost certainly die from this.

The Dreaded Backcountry Food Thieves

We only heard the woman from Bad Advice Girl’s group crying from her tent, “You told me that if I put my food in the bear locker, people would steal it!” The voice continued, “Now, a marmot ate through my tent AND my food bag AND all my food is ruined and there is marmot [poop] all over my tent!” “You owe me $200 for a new tent!” she continued, “Now I have to leave and it’s all your fault!”

Bears, mice, voles, squirrels, chipmunks, martens, fishers, weasels, crows, ravens, jays, and many more animals are perfectly willing to take an easy meal when it is offered. The bear lockers are intended to protect food from scavenging by animals (including, but not LIMITED to bears), and food in a tent is pretty similar to a free buffet for opportunistic critters.

Backpackers, on the other hand, nearly always have enough food. They might leave extra food in the bear locker to avoid carrying it out (NOT ADVISED OR CONDONED IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM – PACK EVERYTHING OUT – LEAVE NO TRACE). They might sneak an extra meal into someone else’s food bag, but I have never heard of any hiker on a major trail stealing food. (protect your beer though!)

This guy will steel your food!

 

The Friends Leave

I saw one of the group members leaving, she was hiking down the trail in tears. Presumably because her hike was cut short by marmots eating her food. I also heard Bad Advice Girl complaining that her friends had left. Her only direct interaction with us (if you know me, you know I’m chatty) was to complain about the “crappy” sights on a very scenic (world famous) trail.

I have deliberately chosen not to mention which trail, or other identifying information, lest Bad Advice Girl finds out we’re talking about HER.

Gratitude

Surprisingly, I feel a great deal of gratitude toward Bad Advice Girl. First, the advice she gave is priceless… comedic material. I was ready to speak up about the potentially catastrophic water treatment tablet consumption, but the group seemed very clear on that one and didn’t follow the Bad Advice Girl’s Bad Advice.

I’m also grateful for the lesson. Though I don’t make up ridiculous claims, I like the sound of my own voice, and every time I have a tip, I try to keep it in context so that it does not stray into the realm of bad advice.

Thank you, Bad Advice Girl, we’ll never forget you.

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Rockwall Featherweight Division Follow-up Video

During our third hike of the Rockwall as a family the week before, Fiona decided that she and I should hike the Rockwall twice as quickly with as little stuff as we could. I couldn’t bring a real camera, so here is a POV camera movie of that trip.

Yes, we hiked the Rockwall twice in the span of 13 days. Either of us would do it again.

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Rockwall: The Third Time

Some hikes are worth it. Some are worth doing again.

The Rockwall is a world-famous hike in the Canadian Rockies, and for good reasons. The first time, we were amazed by the scenery. The second, we were still enthralled. A third trip seemed in order.

We had planned to bring an extra teenager, but with some miscommunication between his parents and ourselves, we ended up as just our family. Our experience has generally been that bringing more teens makes all of us happier.

The Important Part

Fiona swam in Floe Lake before any of the adults from the Edmonton group. That’s a life lesson, whenever you think you’re all that, an eleven-year-old girl is going to put you in your place with her badassery.

The Quick Summary

Longer wilderness trails tend to bring out the best in people, or maybe just bring out the best kind of people. We met a group from Edmonton who, though they were 14 people who knew each other, were welcoming, and supportive of others on the trail. They were lots of fun to be around. We met several groups from the US who were super positive and clearly enjoyed being outside.

We continued this trip with our efforts to eat home-made backpacking foods, and we were quite successful. Our least successful meal was channa masala, which, while delicious, did not rehydrate very well, leaving the chick peas rather crunchy. We ended up simmering it for half an hour, which was fine when our fuel supply was plentiful like on this trip, but which would normally be out of the question. Next time, I am trying soaking it cold for a couple of hours and then reheating it to see if that works.

The hiking had not changed, but there were more wildflowers in bloom in August than the beginning of July.

It threatened to rain every day, but only ever enough to get us into our raincoats. It rained most or all of the nights, which is much better than while hiking, setting up, or taking down camp.

Even Tadhg had fun, though bringing a friend would likely have improved his experience.

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures.

Tania took almost all of these pictures, and I feel like she captured the experience very well indeed. Click the photos to make them big.

 

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Rockwall: the Featherweight Division

I got some groceries, some peanut butter
To last a couple of days
But I ain’t got no speakers, ain’t got no headphones
Ain’t got no records to play

Talking Heads

We Love the Rockwall Trail

On our recent third hike of the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park, Fiona and I were discussing trail runners and ultralight backpackers. The Rockwall is everything we love in a mountain trail, with beauty everywhere around you. It also has a few mountain passes to climb.

We were due for an adventure together, and though we are both hooked on bikerafting trips, we also like hiking and we decided that the long weekend was a good time to test our limits in terms of minimizing what we take with us on a hike. We’ve done the trail as a 6 day trip, and with the skimpy packs, we’ve booked campsites to do it in 3 days, 2 nights. Availability on the long weekend was sparse, so our Friday and Sunday are both over 20km while the middle Saturday is a mere 8km.

How Low Can We Go?

Each year, my pack gets lighter. I try to take less stuff every trip, but I still carry a massive pack by ultralight standards. One of the goals of this hike is to cut back to an absolute minimum when it comes to weight. The idea is that even with longer distances, the hike will be more enjoyable when our packs are barely noticeable.

The goal is 5 pounds for Fiona’s pack, and 15 pounds for mine.

What do we Really Need?

I don’t mess with safety. If I need it to be safe, or to keep Fiona safe, I’m bringing it. That means my InReach Mini gets a free 100g ride, along with 350g of bear spray. The first aid kit is getting stripped down to a backcountry minimum, mostly gauze and duct tape which should cover bleeding emergencies, with ingenuity left over for splints.

Stoves are great, and anyone who knows me knows my love for coffee, but a stove, fuel, and pot, not to mention the coffee grinder and Aeropress. Food is going to be stove-free. Water filters are great, but if we want to count grams, even the lightest is going to weigh us down. Mountain stream water in BC is generally drinkable right from the stream, with the exception of Giardia, and a couple of grams of tablets will deal with more water than we can possibly drink in a week.

Nobody wants to sleep in the rain, so shelter matters. We have a selection of shelters, but our usual is my home made tarp which comes in under 450g with pegs. I’ll use my hiking poles this trip so I don’t have to use sticks or find trees to hold the tarp up. Our quilts are good down to about -10ºC, and we shouldn’t see colder than that. We discussed bringing closed-cell foam mats, but our Therm-a-Rest Neoair X-Therm mats are only a little heavier and a lot more compact.

My spare clothing is a wool puffy jacket, a Buff, wool longjohns, and a pair of wool socks. Fiona’s is similar. A mylar space blanket poncho and a cinch-sack rain skirt pass as rainwear. I plan on rocking a Buff as an all-purpose hat.

Toothbrushes, toothpaste, a couple of sports-drink bottles for water, and toilet paper pretty much round up the rest.

My pack, and all the contents. red bag is food, blue is clothing.

 

That’s a Wrap!

The food plan is to bring leftover thin-crust pizza, bean and cheese burritos, and peanut butter and honey wraps as our main food, with some Cliff Smoothie bars as snacks. Without my beloved coffee in the morning, I’m bringing some chocolate-covered coffee beans for breakfast.

Pack it in!

I have been using a 1982 Lowe Alpine pack. It is massive, and carries lots of stuff for the family, but it weighs 6 pounds empty. Instead for this trip I will be using my HMG pack which is just over 2 pounds. Fiona is getting in on the pack lightening with a summit pack that has less support and less weight than her usual one.

By the Book

We would normally bring a book to read in the evenings, when we aren’t ready to sleep but do feel like a rest, but books are heavy. As a compromise, we will bring an encyclopedia containing all scientifically proven astrology – total weight 0 grams.

Are You Ready to Rock?

With the packs full, and a bottle of water, Fiona will be carrying 7 pounds, or 3.2kg. My Pack without food but with a full water bottle is 14 pounds (6.3kg) after I add food for 3 days that goes up to 10.3kg, or 22.8 pounds. We’ll let you know how it goes.

 

 

 

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Fish Lakes Adventure – F****ing Porcupines, Kickboxing with Grouse, Hail, Snow, Mosquitoes, and More.

The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude.

Bob Bitchin

Fish Lakes and Pipestone Pass are two of the most beautiful places in the Canadian Rockies. We’ve been before, and we’ll be back, but this time we brought our friends to show them one of our favourite hikes.

The Hike

The hike is gorgeous, especially from km 8-16 to Fish Lakes, and our day hike 18km through Pipestone Pass and back. There are not enough good things to say about the mountains, the flowers, the rocks, and more. This is not a hike that one regrets doing.

But That’s Not What This Story is About…

What a Sap!

The trip up the pass featured our first interesting event. Fiona’s braces had a bracket break in an unfortunate granola bar incident. She didn’t have any wax with her to keep the braces from irritating her mouth. A trail query failed to produce a hiking orthodontist, but it did spark a discussion about wax-like substances, and coupled with a book I had recently read about birch bark canoes, using sap from trees seemed like a viable option. Level 1 complete.

The Perils of Camping by a Boggy Lake

Upper Fish Lake is Stunning. Mountain lakes are generally an attractive lot, but this one goes to 11.

But, it’s surrounded by marsh.

At first glance, apocalyptic mosquitoes might seem tragic, but aside from photobombing the rainbow pictures, and falling into our dinner by the dozen, and of course sucking our blood, the mosquitoes motivated us to hike up the Pipestone River to Pipestone Pass and beyond. No one complained about the distance of our day hike when the destination was windy enough to be mosquito-free. And mind-blowingly beautiful.

Things May Not Have Been Perfect

There were creeks and marshes to cross.

A Prickly Situation.

Our last night out, we awoke near midnight to some very peculiar sounds. Sounding somewhat like a small whining dog, somewhat like a cat wanting to be fed, and a lot like an out of tune violin, the sound had me up almost right away. I didn’t want to wake anyone else up, so I kept my light off until our friend asked if I knew what the mysterious sounds were.

Porcupines Sure are Cute for Animals that Keep me Awake!

By then, I had seen that they were porcupines, fighting, mating, fighting over mating, whatever they were doing was not conducive to our sleep. It ended up that all of us were awake.  Porcupines are indeed cute, and I got a couple of mediocre pictures before going back to bed. Pretty soon, the porcupines were back at it, at one point one was chewing my pack (right beside Fiona) while another was harassing it (“hey prickly girl, can I buy you a drink?”)

Conveniently, it started raining around 2:30 AM, and apparently porcupines don’t date in the rain.

Rain, Snow, Hail in the Pass

North Molar Pass is not particularly difficult to cross, especially considering how spectacular the views are from the top.

This time round, nature was throwing us a challenge. On the climb to the pass summit, the wind had picked up, and clouds were moving in. As we reached the windiest part, the hail began. The wind-driven hail was not comfortable, but with little choice, we continued. A little past the summit, the hail turned to snow. To the untried, snow doesn’t sound that great, but it is much more comfortable than hail. Slush accumulated on our rain gear.

After the hail and snow, we were well prepared for the rain pouring from the sky and running in creeks down the indented trail. The slippery mud was treacherous, but we continued on.

Chicken Fight!

We were hiking down the trail, at the tail end of the storm when Fiona spotted a “chicken”. Male spruce grouse are attractive birds, with bright red plumage on their brow. We were impressed with the fearlessness of the bird until it attacked our 8-year-old friend’s legs.

The chicken held on while the youngster kicked and ran. Eventually, I kicked it away. The bird tumbled a couple of metres, and I got between it and the rest of our crew. The bird came at me again and again, with me trying my hardest to keep it back without seriously wounding it. After a few dozen metres of kickboxing with the bird on the slippery clay of the trail, I reached the limit of its territory and it stood glaring at me to be sure I wasn’t returning.

We’ll be Back!

In spite of all this, this is still one of our favourite places and this was one of our favourite trips. Having an adventurous weekend is not the kind of thing that turns us off a trail. This mere four-day-trip brought memories and experiences to us that may have challenged us at the time, but at the same time have enriched our lives.

Epilogue

Back when I had the punctured bear spray can empty in my face, my friend Vik suggested that he would not take pictures of my crying on the side of the trail. I told him that no, he should take pictures, because one day it would be funny. I retold that story to the kid who was ravaged by the bird, and in fact, it is a funny story. The kid was able to see the humour in his bird attack as well. None of the other kids in grade 4 are going to have bird attacks on their “How I Spent my Summer” essay.

Note: many of these photos (the good ones) are from Tania, be sure to follow @taniachimo on Instagram.

 

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DIY Packraft Early Review

What the Heck?

Packrafts are inflatable rafts that are light enough to pack on a bike or in a backpack. Though they are all light, many have whitewater capability. In general, the lightest flatwater models weigh 1-3kg and the whitewater styles can be as heavy as 5kg.

I heard about DIYpackraft.com through internet searching. He is a one-man part time operation making raft kits that customers must assemble for themselves. By assemble, I mean cut, align, heat weld, and seal. The kits consist of a pile of fabric scored with the pattern, and some valves. There is an optional TZip waterproof zipper to allow you to open the tube and store bags in it.

I Bought Some.

Manufactured packrafts are great, I’ve tried a few. But I wanted packrafts soon, and that meant I needed to improve drastically on the $4000 cost of a pair of manufactured packrafts. DIYpackraft fit the budget.

I bought the required tools while waiting for the rafts to arrive. They arrived on time, with the password for the instructions, and the kits enclosed in a no-frills wrapping. I was glad to see that I hadn’t wasted money on frivolous packaging.

I Build Some Rafts:

The kits are very basic, the fabric is scored, but needs to be cut out. I was a little disappointed in the depth of the scoring, it was inconsistent and sometimes even hard to see. The uneven scoring was my biggest complaint about the whole experience.

In any case, in about 27 hours I had yellow raft built. Sealing the leaks was definitely not as difficult as some of the customers on the forum complained of, but neither was it easy. In hindsight, I would have practised some large seams like the floor seams before doing the actual raft welding.

Let’s Paddle!

Once the first raft was assembled, it was time to hit the water. I strapped the raft to my bike and fit a test paddle in between running some errands. Though there were some leaks, I could refill on the fly, and I was happy with the performance.

After some quick patching, I was ready to bring a passenger, and by that I mean a kid.

I arranged a field trip with one of my Hobo Daycare™ girls on a day when she was the only client.

The Red Raft:

Once I had the second raft made, I brought Fiona with me. Her paddling experience is limited, and highlighted how well the rafts handle. With a slight load on the front to keep it down and help the raft track, she could manage the raft in the riffles of the river.

Post Testing Use:

I’ve had my rafts out for several weekend outings now, I’ve written about them previously on this blog. While both rafts had some persistent leaking, I’ve only had to re-inflate about once per hour or less. I spent a couple of hours last week doing some further sealing and they seem to be much improved. None of the leaks have been random, they have been consistently in the hardest to seal places, or in places where I made an error in assembly.

Conclusion (for now):

I really like these rafts. After re-working the yellow one due to some deficiencies with my iron, it has been great.

I feel confident taking my rafts up to class 2 rapids (with a bike strapped to the bow!), though by some standards I’ve paddled class 3 with them. I built spray decks for both of them, and they really help keep the waves out.

Make no mistake, these are not an easy weekend project. They require attention to detail and meticulous assembly. They will not forgive poor assembly. I am confident that if I get a third, it will be incrementally better than the first ones.

For those willing to commit the time to assembling them properly, these are a budget-friendly entry into the world of packrafting. For others, these will be a frustrating experience. If you enjoy working with your hands, crafts, or sewing, than these are the bargain start to a packrafting hobby.

Stay tuned for a longer term review some time next year!

Post Script:

Yes, you want the zipper!

Disclaimer:

I bought these with my own money. I have no relationship with DIYpackraft.com other than as a customer. I did not warn him that I was doing this review, nor did he ask me to do it. I did not get a discount for being an obscure winter bikepacking blogger.

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Kootenay River Bikerafting Loop

I originally had a 4-day loop planned for this weekend, It definitely involved hot springs. Life, and drying out an iPhone that had spent some time submerged, got in the way of the 4th day, and I set out from Radium late Friday afternoon. My bike was loaded with my packraft, paddles, pfd, 4 days of food and camping gear.

A bit of highway riding got me to Settlers Road FSR and the start of the fun. A quick 15km down the low-traffic gravel road took me to my set-in point near Nipika Resort.

The River

The Kootenay river is not as straightforward as the Bow River that Fiona and I had paddled two weeks ago. It has several challenging rapids, and the flow rate is much higher. I was not ready to paddle something like this with kids. I’m sure they could have managed, but I did not feel prepared for river safety with children without another experienced paddler.

The river did not disappoint.  I paddled to the famous Horseshoe Rapids, pulled out, decided I really wanted the provincial rec site on the opposite shore, and paddled across again. I had a relaxing time eating and watching the standing waves in the river.

Saturday, after some quick boat patching,to deal with a slow leak, I hit the river again. What followed, was  four more hours of rapids, canyons, cliffs, and sensational river beauty.

Biking After the River

I had a vague plan to visit Lussier Hot Springs, and ride the Lost Elephant Jumbo route back to Invermere. Being short a day, I decided to shorten the route and visit the Red Rock Hot Springs instead.

Not-so-Hot Springs

I was just rolling down to the river to cross to the hot springs when I met a couple in a Jeep (on about the most backroad of back roads) who filled me in on how the “hot” springs were only lukewarm, and covered by the river when the river was high (it was).

I re-routed myself on to the Jumbo route. I figured I’d get some riding in, and camp for the night.

Things Go South

My dehydrated dinners need water to re-hydrate. The pass I was climbing had wet forest all around me, it had hailed on me twice. All of BC has streams and creeks, and rivers, it’s kind of their thing. Unfortunately, the trail I was on had only dry creek beds. I was alternating between pushing and riding because the trees were so wet that I was getting soaked if I rode, and too sweaty if I rode with my paddling jacket. I pushed on for 2 hours without finding a creek. My GPS told me the pass summit was 4 km away, but that was up switchbacks, so it took 18km of pushing/riding.

As it got dark, I finally crossed the high point of the pass I was on and found a creek about 200m down the opposite side. I quickly put up my tarp as darkness settled in and it began to rain. I tossed my stuff under the tarp, and inflated my mattress. Unfortunately, I then put it down on a sharp stick and had to repair the puncture – and the glue wouldn’t stick to the wet mattress, and the patch wouldn’t stick. It got cold, it was raining, I was having a lot of fun.

I awoke to near 0ºC temperature, fog, but weather that looked like it was clearing. A quick coffee and some food and I was off.

After some great downhill and some wonderful singletrack (Spirit Trails? east of Columbia Lake) I dropped down on to the highway to make time back to Radium to pick up my family.

Here is the RideWithGPS route link

Here is the Video I made with my limited footage. Bike riding singletrack at 7:01 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rmatzy8VwK8

Note that this route would be entirely possible without a raft since there is an FSR that parallels the river for the entire water portion. It was my alternate route if I had found the river paddling too risky.

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Solstice Weekend Bikerafting Overnight on the Bow River

Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it


 Ferris Bueller

Where Can I Go Bikeraft Camping Near Calgary?

I got myself a couple of packrafts this year, and I’ve been itching to take them for a long trip. Since quick trips involving rivers are generally unidirectional, combining the rafts and bikes is a win as far as retrieving my car at the end.

The Bow River in Banff National Park offers enough current to keep things interesting, and a highway that Parks Canada claim is a cycle-friendly route to reach a put-in point. Add to that, just a few km down the river from the Castle Junction put-in point is a a water-access-only backcountry campground where we could book a spot.

Two Packrafts Means I Need to Bring a Friend

We aren’t quite ready to leave the kids behind for a weekend, so we generally split into parent/kid pairs, or go as a family. Fiona is usually my best bet for adventures, she loves to sleep outside and try new things. She also has been really keen on the packrafts in general and has been out on the Elbow River near our house a few times. So it was that Fiona signed up for this trip. I booked the site on Friday afternoon.

Give’er

We drove out to Banff Saturday afternoon, got the bikes out of the van, and hit the road. The Banff Parkway is less-bike hostile than the Trans-Canada highway, but it has narrow shoulders and enough rental RVs on it to make it scary, even if the speeds are low by car standards. Even if 98% of people give you lots of space to pass, that leaves you with some near misses on a ride like this.

With a long break at the Johnston Canyon trailhead, we got to Castle Junction and put in by 7:45. I knew the paddle wouldn’t be long, there was a good chance to see wildlife in the evenings, and the sun doesn’t set until after 10pm, so I wasn’t in a hurry.

The paddling did not disappoint. We saw a herd of elk, and many cool waterfowl. The current was fast, and there were many rifles and waves to keep things interesting. Fiona was pretty good at spotting the sweepers that were waiting for us on every bend. One bend had a herd of elk. We also saw many different types of waterfowl.

Sleep, Repeat

Our burrito dinner was its usual delicious, and after some reading, we settled down to sleep.

We learned an important lesson in the morning about inflating rafts, the bikes need to be removed, unless you really like the inflation by mouth part, in which case, if you leave them on you’ll get lots of it. Turning the boat upside down so the bike is at the bottom seems like it would work, but the inflation valve is then under the boat. I did have some good luck with propping the bike up with stuff.

The second day’s paddling featured the rapids at the Redearth Creek Junction. We pulled into a large eddy to scout the rapids. I was pretty confident that Fiona could handle them, and so we opted to paddle them rather than take the portage.

Fiona loved them. I was a little tense as I followed closely, prepared to rescue if needed, but Fiona navigated well, and the water was high enough to cover most of the rocks that might be a hazard at lower levels. The boats handled quite well. I had installed spray decks on them in anticipation of the rapids. Even without skirts, the decks prevented the waves from filling up the boats and making them handle like, well, like they were full of water!

For future trips, I might try for an earlier takeout point since getting to the bridge required getting through a long stretch with almost no current. Packrafts are not ideal at covering distance on flatwater. Fiona was not happy about how tired her arms were for the “very boring” flat segment. Either way, we both had a great time.