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.
The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude.
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 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.
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.
Jeremy and I had not gotten out for a bikepacking overnight since the weather turned winter. I planned to take my family, and invited Jeremy and some other friends to add to the fun.
The Actual Group
By the time Saturday rolled around, it was Jeremy and I and a daugher each. Jeremy’s daughter had been with us before on rides, but this would be her first bikepacking ride on snow. We hoped for a firm or firmish trail.
My family are equipped with fatbikes and winter camping gear. Jeremy’s daughter is still on the small side for a 26″ wheeled mountain bike, so she was on her 24plus bike, she weighs little enough that the tire pressures can be run at roughly what an adult fatbike can. Jeremy is a fatbikepacking veteran, so he has more than adequate gear. He brought his own -32ºC Western Mountaineering sleeping bag for his daughter to ensure that she would be warm while they slept. Their tent was pretty much filled with down insulating products.
The only gear that wasn’t quite up to the task were a pair of Bogs boots. These boots really should come with a warning label. There is way too much thermal mass in a Bogs boot to consider it a viable boot for any kind of long-duration winter activity. There were tears Sunday morning as the frozen boots sucked the life from a young girl’s feet. Thankfully, the sun eventually came over the top of the mountain, and we put the boots in the sun to warm. My new official policy on Bogs is that they should be restricted to the wet season, as they are truly great for keeping feet warm in cold (liquid) wet conditions.
As dads, our job is to help our girls to prepare for life. A bit of challenge and a lot of fun meant that this trip helped the girls get a little extra empowerment, and some of the bragging rights that come from doing something a little beyond what the average kid has a chance to.
The trail was firm enough to ride, but soft enough for a bit of challenge for the snow-bike rookie. Fires are permitted at the SP6 campground, so our burritos were roasted and yummy. The temperature dipped down to something below -18•C at night, so we were glad we brought appropriate sleeping gear. The stars were bright, and we all slept well. The dads did not get their fair share of chips, which was my fault since I neglected to bring a bag of my own like I usually do.
The girls agreed that they were glad they had come, and that’s really what counts.
Many of these photos were courtesy of Jeremy, thanks for helping me get outside.
Pogies are giant mittens that go on the handlebars of bikes to allow the user to wear light gloves but still work the controls and not freeze their hands. They are a not necessity for winter cycling but they sure are a great way to keep hands warm. If you know how to sew, you can make pogies and have toasty warm hands on your bike this winter.
For those who don’t ride their bikes in the cold, pogies might not make sense, but they are probably the single most important piece of equipment for making me comfortable on the bike in the winter. It is entirely possible to ride a bike in mittens, but brakes and shifters wear out mittens at a very quick rate. I would not go bikepacking in winter without them.
For anyone who doesn’t care about making their own, or hearing my philosophy on making pogies, go ahead and scroll to the bottom or click this link to just buy some.
How I started making them.
My second bikepacking specific item I ever made was a pair of pogies. At the time, there were few options in pogies commercially available, and I wanted some specific qualities. First I wanted them warm enough to keep my hands from freezing. Second, I wanted them to be roomy enough the I could fit some snacks thawed in them, third, I wanted them to serve extra duty as emergency booties. What I missed out on was the part where they would be better if they stayed better attached on the bars. Though they worked well enough, the outer edges would rotate outward unless I left the zip ties that I designed to hold the corner tethers in place. Unfortunately, the zip ties would rub on my hands causing serious wounds after a few hours.
There are a bunch of commercial solutions to the problem of securing pogies to the ends of handlebars. A very popular method is a velcro strap and tether. It works, but does not really address the issue that I had of my city-boy hands rubbing on the strap. It also does not do an ideal job of securing the pogies. My favourite way to secure pogies is a bar plug that clamps the pogie to the end of the handlebar. Conveniently, Tadhg took up 3D design and printing just as I was trying to work out how to modify some off-the-shelf bar plugs to work with pogies. He has refined the design enough now that a pair of his clamps comes with all the pogies I sell. One of the big advantages of home-made gear is that you can modify it easily, or at least easilyish, if it doesn’t do what you want.
My pogies have changed over time
I modified that first pair of pogies several times, and I still have them, they now use a plug in the end of the bar to keep the pogies on. The number one issue I have had with them is that they can fill up with snow if I leave them on the bike without rotating them downward. They were, however designed to be used as booties when they are off the bike. I have not made any more pogies that fill with snow.
As time goes by, my preferences change, and many things that I liked about the first set of pogies were not what I ultimately wanted, and so I have tried several other styles over the years.
Upcycled Children’s Jackets as Pogies.
I have made many pairs of pogies from children’s size 12 to 14 jackets where I simply hem the cuffs, turn them inside out, sew each side of the zipper to the back of the jacket, cut them in half, and voila, a pair of pogies. They are warm reasonably light, and aren’t too expensive to make. They are not the most attractive pogies, but they are simple, warm, and are reasonably light. I still have several pairs of these in my collection (how many people have enough winter cyclists and winter bikes in their family for a pogie collection?) and they are great for around town and even for longer trips. Several of my pairs of this style don’t have mounting holes in the sides, so they are quicker to install and remove than the newer style that I make.
They are a great first MYOG project, and I can definitely endorse finding a relatively simple style of kids jacket in roughly a size (US age sizing) 14 and making it into pogies.
Pogies from Scratch
When I first started selling pogies, I made them by upcycling children’s jackets with faulty zippers. These eventually became harder to source in sufficient quantities, and I eventually decided to make my own design of pogies from scratch.
My experience had shown me by then that I wanted several things in pogies. First was simplicity. I have made pogies with complicated vent systems, food thawing pockets (it is exceedingly difficult to eat things that are frozen to -30ºC), storm cuffs, and a number of other “features”, but I gravitate toward simple styles.
My preferred style for the last few years has been a simple shape with roomy hand area, longer arms (to keep the blood warm on the way to your hands) and enough stiffness to help me get my hands in but not so much that they face upward and get filled with snow in a storm. They are fleece lined, which is comfortable and reasonably warm, they are large enough to fit a couple of snacks in the bottom for thawed food.
I encourage people to make their own pogies, but people have lives. Not everyone wants to make their own, and not everyone likes sewing as much as I do. Some sewing machines won’t punch through the materials well enough to make pogies. For this reason, I sell my own pogies on this blog. Feel free to buy some, also feel free to ask me questions about building your own.
Since I am not only a winter bikepacking nerd, but also a dad, I of course make the pogies in smaller sizes for kids (or anyone with smaller hands).
My first blog post about Tadhg fatbikepacking has gotten some super positive feedback.
When I arranged to get Tadhg his Mukluk, a couple of people questioned the wisdom of buying a kid a real bike. They thought I should get him a BSO for a couple of hundred dollars because: Continue reading Some people get it, some don’t