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, and so our Fish Lakes Adventure began.
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
But, it’s surrounded by marsh. Our Fish Lakes adventure featured mosquitos.
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 – more Fish Lakes adventure.
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. She had been crouched in the tent vestibule with a knife in one hand and her bear spray with the safety off in the other – they really were bizarre sounds.
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.
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.
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.