Monthly Archives: September 2016

The jury’s in: Jura Creek is a great hike for kids

The limestone walls on either side of Jura Creek canyon near Exshaw, Alta. beckon like the lost city of Petra. Only, instead of manmade buildings hewn from rock, your little explorers will find treasures of the all-natural kind: “staircases” of rocks and boulders to clamber up, “railings” made from logs wedged between cliff walls and “sinks” shimmering with crystal clear pools of water trapped in shallow rocky depressions.

For kids, there’s nothing more enticing than a narrow chasm to squeeze into and dry waterfalls to scramble up, and the thrills don’t really stop on the way back because you have to navigate the trail in reverse.

The kids loved scrambling up this ledge at the entrance to Jura Creek.

The kids loved scrambling up this ledge at the entrance to Jura Creek.

Ominously, not 50 feet in to the canyon we spotted a trail of blood (ostensibly from an injured rock climber or hiker exiting Jura Creek) and followed it all the way up, which lent our little adventure a Blair Witch vibe on a cool fall afternoon.

I had never even heard of Jura Creek until this past weekend. Nearby Grotto Canyon gets all the glory and perhaps that’s not a bad thing — we had the canyon and all of its kid-pleasing obstacles to ourselves for most of the hike.

The canyon gets quite narrow in parts, and you can imagine the floodwaters of 2013 sluicing through the slots with force.

The canyon gets quite narrow in parts, and you can imagine the floodwaters of 2013 sluicing through the slots with force.

This narrow canyon has been eroded to reveal smooth limestone walls that curve and swoop as spring runoff has shaped it over the years. In fact, late summer/early fall is probably the best time for this hike, as the creek has mostly run dry so you don’t have to worry about slippery rocks or getting your feet wet. There were a few crossings where the water burbles up from underground, or where it pools in depressions, but these were easily navigated.

The most dramatic parts of the canyon — where you’re wedged between grey rock walls that tower above — are early on in the hike. After awhile the creek bed widens and the rock faces soften into forested hillsides. We hiked until the creek flattened out, and turned around at a spot where hikers before us had built a cluster of inukshuks. They’ll probably be washed away during next spring’s runoff, but we made one all the same — our own natural treasure for another family to find.

We ended the hike at a sort of Inukshuk shrine that's been built up in the dry creek bed over the season. We celebrated by making our own contribution.

We ended the hike at a sort of Inukshuk shrine that’s been built up over the season in the dry creek bed. We celebrated by making our own contribution.

If you go: Finding the “trailhead” is a bit tricky as there isn’t a sign or anything. It’s basically a turnout off of Highway 1A on the north side (take the Seebe/Exshaw exit from Hwy. 1, head toward Exshaw on the 1A), just across from the Graymont Plant but before the town of Exshaw. Various dirt tracks and trails head west and north toward a valley; you’ll know you’re on the right track when after a kilometre or so you emerge from the forest and see the gravelly reclamation effort around the creek’s washout after the 2013 flood. Turn right (north) and you can’t miss the start of the canyon.

A view from the canyon toward Exshaw. You can see the tons of gravel post-flood.

A view from the canyon entrance toward Exshaw. The gravel in the foreground is part of the post-flood effort.

 

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It’s not too late to tackle summer’s best hikes

The mountains are my happy place. I was fortunate to spend many hours seeking out views and breathing in the scent of pine-baked trails this summer.

In my happy place.

In my happy place.

We haven’t hiked this much since 2012, when Blake and I were training for our Kilimajaro trek. What a difference four years makes! The kids actually enjoy hiking now. What’s more, they can go for ever greater distances, which means we can actually do some interesting hikes with rewarding views.

This week and upcoming weekend are shaping up to be the nicest weather we’ve had in a while. So, if you need some hiking inspiration, here’s the highlight reel from our summer in the mountains.

Best hike for kids: The Old Growth Trail in Fernie, B.C. gently ascends from Mt. Fernie Provincial Park four kilometres to Island Lake Lodge. There are bridges across streams, logs to balance upon, giant Western red cedar trees to hug and a pretty mountain lake at the end.

Avery stands on a Western red cedar along the Old Growth Trail in Fernie, B.C.

Avery stands on a Western red cedar along the Old Growth Trail in Fernie, B.C.

Bag a peak with kids: Our children made it to the top of their first “mountain” this summer — Castle Rocks in Fernie. It’s not so much a peak as a rocky high point of the Flathead Range on the Elk Valley’s east side. Avery and Bennett loved finding and eating five kinds of berries on the hike up (thimble berries, Saskatoons, raspberries, strawberries and huckleberries). They also liked picking out landmarks at the top like Fernie Alpine Resort and the Lizard Range across the valley. I couldn’t believe they hiked almost eight kilometres round trip!

That moment when we reached Castle Rocks outcrop.

That moment when we reached Castle Rocks outcrop.

Most epic/Best variety: After 20 years of talking about it, Blake and I finally tackled the storied Crypt Lake hike in Waterton Lakes National Park. It’s been named Canada’s “best hike” and one of the “world’s 20 most thrilling trails.” That’s a lot of hype, but when a day hike packs in a boat ride to the trailhead, a 600-foot-high waterfall, a ladder climb, a 40-foot tunnel crawl, and a cable-assited cliff traverse, the thrills — and the stunning mountain cathedral views — are for real.

Behind that waterfall wall lies Crypt Lake.

Behind that waterfall wall lies Crypt Lake. I’d forgotten how much I love the mountain amphitheatres that make up this Alberta park.

Most surprising: The Chester Lake hike off of Spray Lakes Road in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Alta. is a busy thoroughfare on a summer day, and it’s easy to see why. At four kilometres one way and only 310 metres of elevation gain, it’s a no-sweat way to get your wildflower and alpine lake fix. But venture beyond the glassy lake and things get interesting. Another hiker staying at nearby Mount Engadine Lodge gave us that tip and we were thrilled to discover a giant limestone rock slide deposit called Elephant Rocks not 10 minutes past Chester Lake. They look like something out of The Lion King and make a great scramble up for a snack break. We will return with the kids!

This rock deposit left over from a rock slide looks more Serengheti than Canadian Rockies. It was out favourite part of the Chester Lake hike.

This rock deposit left over from a rock slide looks more Serengeti than Canadian Rockies. It was our favourite part of the Chester Lake hike.

Most challenging/Best views: Before our stay at Mount Engadine Lodge, I had never heard of Tent Ridge. In fact, it’s not even listed as a trail on either of our 20-year-old Gem Trek maps of the Kananaskis area (it is an option on more recent versions). Not only is this hike mostly a ridge walk — you’re up in the alpine with spectacular views of the Rockies and Spray Lake for about six of the 11 kilometres — it’s also a loop! It’s a bit of a scramble to get up to the ridge, with some light route finding, but those challenges made us appreciate the apres-hike beers on the lodge’s deck all the more.

The mountains seem to go on forever on this hike.

The mountains seem to go on forever on this hike.

We’re planning to hike with the kids this weekend. Any suggestions?

Paradise in Parksville/Qualicum Beach

During low tide in Parksville Bay, on the east side of Vancouver Island, the beach stretches toward the horizon seemingly forever. Even better, when the tide’s on its way out, you can wade out into the shallow water quite a distance and never get your shorts wet. For our family, these conditions are just about perfect. Add in temps in the high 20s and it’s no wonder we packed our beach bag and hit the sand immediately after checking in to The Beach Club Resort.

There's sand for miles in Parksville during low tide.

There’s sand for miles in Parksville during low tide. The view from our room at The Beach Club Resort.

Bennett was in heaven swimming from puddle to shallow puddle, and we never worried he’d get in over his head (literally). Avery turned her attention to all the critters getting left behind as the water drained toward the Salish Sea, including sand dollars, clams and tiny shore crabs that tried to hide unsuccessfully under beach rocks. Blake and I delighted in the kids’ happiness and tossed around a Frisbee. Paradise, found.

Bennett in his happy place: a shallow pool of warm sea water.

Bennett in his happy place: a shallow pool of warm sea water.

Three tiny shore crabs at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park.

Three tiny shore crabs at nearby Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park.

I’d been hearing for years that Parksville and neighbouring Qualicum Beach, a quick 30-minute drive north of the Nanaimo ferry terminal, was a perfect spot for families — warm calm water, fantastic tide pools and a ton of other things for kids to do beyond the beach. We’d never been to Vancouver Island with the kids and figured this would be the perfect initiation.

After a lazy beach afternoon and a spectacular sunset, Avery and I were up at first light for a Salish Sea Tidepool Tour with Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours. My little naturalist was in her element searching for critters in rocky pools of water and then picking up everything — even the sea slugs!

Avery holds a purple ochre sea star that seems to be eating another shelled creature.

Our guide holds a purple ochre sea star. They were everywhere!

A neon green sea anemone.

A neon green sea anemone.

I was pretty amazed by all the life in the tide pools. We saw so many sea stars, shore and kelp crabs, and sea anemones that we lost count. We also spotted some unusual creatures, including a sea cucumber and the aforementioned sea slug. It was definitely worth waking up early!

I think what made Parksville special — beyond its beach beauty — was just how excited the kids were to be outside and either in or near the water, swimming or exploring. As Avery nears the teen years and Bennett grows ever more interested in iPad games and gadgets, it’s pretty cool to see them still see the natural world with wonder. Too bad life isn’t a beach every day.

Avery is in her element looking for critters in a tide pool.

Avery is in her element looking for critters in a tide pool.

Frozen Coconut Rumbin

Don’t let the cool long weekend forecast keep you from making some coconut rum blender drinks! With Captain Morgan Coconut Rum, it’s a tropical party no matter the weather. We brought a bottle to Fernie for August long weekend, and in no time it was empty. Basically, we called on our Belizean ingredient repertoire and tossed fruit into a blender, along with ice and coconut rum, then pressed “frappe.”

The end result is a Frozen Coconut Rumbin, which approximates a blended coconut version of a Rumbin, or a coconut rum version of a Rotten Fruit Rummy. A few of these will get you to your happy place speedy quick.

This tropical blender drink might look out of place in the mountains. Who cares?

This tropical blender drink might look out of place in the mountains. Who cares?

Frozen Coconut Rumbin

  • 2 oz Captain Morgan Coconut Rum
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 3-4 large chunks watermelon
  • 2 handfuls ice
  • Water to blend, if necessary
  • Garnish: Half a banana

Method: Add ingredients into a blender and blend. If mixture is thick, add a bit of water to dilute. Garnish with a half banana.