Explor8ion's Top Ten Page

I've been asked many times for a list of my top 10 hikes, backpacking trips, scrambles, climbs and so forth. I thought about it for a bit and decided that it would be best to separate my top 10 lists into several categories, so here goes. Please note that I will update these lists as I continue to find "better" options. ;) These are obviously very subjective and are rated as much based on the weather and mood I was in at the time, as the actual trip itself.


Another thing to be aware of, as long time followers of this blog will already know, I am a bit weird when it comes to what types of trips I find especially satisfying. Some of the peaks on my top 10 lists will leave you scratching your head wondering, "is Vern sane?!". For example, I rate Recondite as a top 10 easy alpine climb. Most folks avoid that loose, distant peak until they 'have' to climb it to finish the list of summits over 11,000 feet. I apologize in advance for having a soft spot for long, off trail approaches and more distant and somewhat obscure summits than some folks would like to spend their weekends and free time chasing.


Top Ten Table of Contents



Top 10 Overall Scrambles

As you can imagine, it's very hard for me to choose just 10 scrambles as my overall favorites. I'm suspicious of the fact that two of them were done this year (2016) - it makes me think that maybe I'm biased towards more recent ones simply because I'm remembering them clearer. Another thing you'll notice is that my top favorite scrambles are either remote, difficult, or both. I think the reason for this is simply that I get the most satisfaction out of long trips that aren't done too often and aren't too easy or boring.


[This is one of the reasons Breaker Mountain appears on the overall top 10 scrambles list. And it's not even on this shot! This is looking back at Phil Richards as we hike towards Breaker alongside Capricorn Lake. ++]

[Mount French is not for the faint of heart but it is stunning summit and a great scramble. ++]


[Even with clouds the summit ridge of Little Alberta presents some huge views towards the northern end of the Columbia Icefields. ++]

[How's that for a summit view? Thanks to a high bivy, this was a special morning on Mount Amery. ++]


Scramble Difficulty Rating Short Description
Molar Mountain Moderate Stunning views, not ascended often, very long day trip. Despite being in Nugara's guidebook, the elevation gains alone will keep traffic down to a minimum on this peak.
Mount French Difficult Amazing upper mountain scrambling with great Kananaskis views. Again, this one was very special to me as so few bothered doing it. Now that it's in Kane's new book I'm sure it'll get more attention. The views and scrambling are excellent.
Mount Vaux Difficult Huge mountain with huge views of the Yoho / Ottertail Ranges. This one was special for me because so few had documented it before Kane put it in his new Scrambles book.
Fortress Mountain Moderate Remote and difficult to access with stunning views of the Columbia and Hooker Icefields. Even if you make it to the shores of Fortress Lake, you still have much bushwhacking and loose groveling up Rockies choss to look forward to. It's worth it.
Cataract Peak Moderate Remote with a long, but lovely approach through some of Banff's most beautiful meadows. 
Little Alberta Difficult The mountain itself is quite easy, but accessing it requires a long and difficult route including river crossings, the Woolley Shoulder and even a glacier running along the south side of Mount Woolley.
Mount Drummond Moderate Remote and wild views of the Drummond Icefield and the Skoki / Red Deer Lakes area. Route finding is key on the lower mountain - as is good weather on the upper part.
Mount Amery Difficult This is a top scramble, despite having a short glacier crossing. Trust me, crossing the river, approaching up the untracked valley and then climbing through the cliff bands and the amphitheater will make the glacier look seem like a walk in the park. Which it literally is.
Breaker Mountain Difficult Long and demanding 100% off-trail with stunning views both on approach and from the summit. The long approach via Mistaya Lake, Capricorn Creek and the gorgeous Capricorn Lake make this mountain a winner in my books.
Mount Chephren Difficult A wonderfully huge peak with equally huge views over the Icefields Parkway. Lots of scrambling along the way to this summit and a gorgeous bivy if you choose to use it.


Top 10 Kane Scrambles

Just as I stated in the previous section, when I'm choosing only 10 out of 170+ peaks, it's very hard to choose a favorite! Again, most of these are difficult scrambles and make the list because they're more remote or in gorgeous areas or I just had a great time on them.


[Just one reason why Mount Temple is in the top 10 Kane peaks is this stunning view over Paradise Valley. ++]

[The summit view from Mount Ball looking over the Pharaoh Lakes towards Banff. ++]

[The view from Mount Daly redefines what "earning a photo" means. ++]

[The summit views from Mount Sarbach in late summer. ++]


Kane Scramble Rating Short Description
Mount Smuts Difficult A beautiful area and a fun hands-on scramble. I did this one feeling great and we combined it with The Fist for a memorable day out.
Mount Ball Moderate A beautiful peak with good scrambling on the upper mountain and a prime bivy location.
Mount Carnarvon Difficult Another beautiful Yoho peak with great views over Emerald Lake and the Yoho area.
Pilot Mountain / Mount Brett Difficult A great two peak solo trip in the fall. Excellent approach and tricky scrambling combined with a long day, a classic Rockies outing.
Mount Coleman Difficult Another gorgeous scramble on the Icefields Parkway. My first scramble with Eric Coulthard, which led to us falling in love with Mount Amery and another top 10 trip.
Fisher Peak Difficult Very fun, hands-on scrambling to one of the best views in the eastern Kananaskis peaks.
Mount Galatea Moderate / Difficult Fun scrambling on the upper mountain and it's height / central location provide great Kananaskis views.
Mount Temple Moderate There is very little not to love about Mount Temple - especially if you do it with fall colors.
Mount Daly Moderate / Difficult Views of the Wapta Icefield and a great scramble with my brother in crisp fall air. What could be better than that?
Mount Sarbach Difficult Fun scrambling down two chimneys and sublime views over the Saskatchewan crossing area along the Icefields Parkway.


Top 10 Nugara Scrambles

I haven't done a ton of Nugara scrambles, but enough of them to have a top 10 list. Many of these are from the southern Rockies, which is the area that Nugara specializes in.


[Eye popping views of the many Murchison Towers from the summit of Bison Peak. ++]

[Just a small sample of the views awaiting you if you tackle the Victoria Peak / Ridge traverse in the fall. ++]

[The scramble to the summit of Vimy Peak is just the start of an incredible high traverse over Waterton Lakes National Park. ++]

[The hands-on gully scrambling is just one of the reasons I love Drywood Mountain - another being the views of course. ++]


Scramble Rating Short Description
Bison Peak Moderate Another gorgeous view along the Icefields Parkway including views of Murchison's many towers.
Ribbon Peak Difficult Includes one of my favorite day hikes to Memorial Lakes and some fantastic scrambling on the upper mountain.
Vimy Ridge Traverse Moderate A long, gorgeous ridge including three peaks and great Waterton views.
Mount Lougheed I Difficult A great scramble with route-finding and exposure. Highly recommended for small parties only due to the looseness of the upper mountain.
Mount Roche Difficult A great hands-on scramble with intricate route-finding and all the great Castle area colors.
Victoria Peak to Victoria Ridge Moderate A great scramble up Victoria Peak followed by a meandering ridge walk to Victoria Ridge. All followed by a mellow hike back to the car. An excellent outing.
Drywood Mountain Moderate Awesome gully scramble with a great alternate descent.
Gravenstafel / Haig Traverse Easy Gorgeous Castle area colors and fantastic scenery on Haig.
Pincher Ridge Difficult Great hands-on scrambling with amazing colors and views.
Mount Richards Difficult A great Waterton scramble with some route finding and stunning views. Full disclosure: the route I took wasn't Andrew's route but he is updating his latest guidebook to include the route I took.


Top 10 Easy Scrambles

For some less fierce options that many hikers will enjoy, these are my top 10 favorite easy scrambles that don't involve a ton of bushwhacking or exposure. You shouldn't feel like you're going to die on any of these or you're off route. :)


[You have to hike a long way to enjoy these views from the summit of Cyclone Mountain but it's worth it. ++]

[McArthur Lake, Park Mountain and Odaray from Mount Schaffer. ++]

[The views from Eiffel rival those of Temple and it's much easier to get to this summit. ++]

[The views from South Totem Peak are certainly worth the effort it entails. ++]


Scramble Rating Short Description
Cyclone Mountain Easy  This mountain isn't very close to the road, but it is deep within some of the most pristine landscapes of Banff National Park. Visit in the fall for the best views.
South Totem Peak Easy / Moderate An easy scramble along the Icefields Parkway with a sting in the tail to the true summit. Unique views of the Murchison Group.
Numa Mountain Easy / Moderate A longish approach but views of Floe Lake and the Rockwall are worth the effort on this one.
Wonder Peak Easy / Moderate A no-brainer for this list, but you have to somehow get into Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park which makes this a wee bit harder than it appears.
Mount Schaffer Easy Another no-brainer, especially in the fall. I've done this peak 3 times - more than any other on my list of over 500. Do it in the fall.
Boundary Peak Easy Tucked in front of the Columbia Icefields, this peak is a no-brainer just for the views it offers. One of the best "bang for your buck" peaks out of all the peaks I've done.
Mount Jimmy Jr. Easy Another gem along the Icefields Parkway. Some bushwhacking on approach but short and easy otherwise.
Greater Pharaoh Peak Easy This peak is a long way for a day trip - but if you time it right your camera will overheat! Combine it with Lesser Pharaoh or do that one separately for similar, but different views.
Mount Noyes Moderate A great scramble along the Icefields Parkway with excellent views.
Eiffel Peak Moderate A Lake Louise classic that's just a wee bit more involved than the other two easy scrambles / hikes in the area (Fairview and Piran) with great views of Paradise Valley and the Valley of Ten Peaks.


Top 10 Remote Scrambles

Wow - I didn't realize that so many of the more remote scrambles that I've done are only rated as 'moderate'. Most of these are well beyond a simple day trip from the parking lot, with the exception of maybe Breaker, Poboktan and Corona Ridge, all of which will have you pretty bagged by the time you drag your tired carcass back to your car! ;) These scrambles all left me with an impression of mostly untouched, undisturbed beauty, special alpine views and solitude. Most of these also come with a generous helping of alpine tarns, meadows, flowers and wildlife. All of my favorite things.


[Poboktan has some very special summit views so make sure you don't do it on a cloudy day. ++]

[Nearly at the top of the rarely ascended Fortress Mountain - even less now with the bridge across the Athabasca River gone. ++]

[Wild views over a couple of hidden tarns along the summit ridge of Mount Drummond. ++]

[Only determined peak baggers will experience this view from Mount Stewart. ++]

[This view from the summit of Cataract Peak will cost you around 51km of hiking and 3,400m of height gain. Yes - 3400m.]


Scramble Rating Short Description
Poboktan Mountain Easy Incredible views of the Brazeau Range and buried behind the Waterfall Peaks in Jasper National Park. Doable as a 40km day trip with a great approach trail and no difficulties.
Mount Drummond Moderate Another peak buried behind a popular area (Skoki) with an amazing approach hike and views of the Drummond Icefield and some rarely ascended peaks along the east Banff boundary.
Mount Stewart Moderate Tucked deep within the special White Goat Wilderness Area nestled between Jasper and Banff National Parks, this summit is only for the determined peak bagger to ascend and enjoy.
Fortress Mountain Moderate  Speaking of determined... Especially now that the suspension bridge over the Athabasca River is out of commission, Fortress Mountain, looming over Fortress Lake in Hamber Provincial Park in BC is not going to see many ascents. The views from the top are spectacular though.
Cataract Peak Moderate / Difficult Cataract Peak is one of the most remote scrambles on this page. It includes 51km of hiking through some of Banff National Park's most lovely alpine meadows along great trails most of the way and easy bushwhacking the rest of it. The views from the summit are unique and worth the work to attain them.
Arctomys Peak Moderate I've rated this one 'moderate' but it's easy once you get there. The issue is getting there. You can walk 20-30km from either the east or the west but either way, you earn some of the best views I've ever had on a scramble.
Little Alberta Moderate / Difficult Speaking of "best views". Little Alberta is ranked as one of my top 10 scrambles for a reason. Jaw-dropping views of the so-called "black hole" and some of the biggest, fiercest mountains in the Alberta Rockies. The issue? Reaching this peak isn't for the faint of heart and involves river crossings, glaciers and suffering the Woolley Col.
Watermelon Peak Moderate Watermelon Peak is a spectacular mountain which involves everything from alpine meadows to a tame glacier to a fun ridge. The views from the summit elevate this more remote peak even more.
Castle Rock Easy / Moderate Castle Rock is a front range peak in the Ghost Wilderness Area. What makes this easy / moderate scramble so appealing is that although it's visible from a city of 1.2 million people, it sees very few ascents thanks to a long, spectacular approach.
Breaker Mountain Difficult The approach up Capricorn Creek after slogging along Mistaya Lake rewards you with a spectacular hike along Capricorn Lake and then up Breaker's west slopes with stunning views of the Wapta, Mummery, Freshfield and Lyell Icefields.


Top 10 Day Hikes

I probably need more time with this list. I've just started to realize how many hundreds of day hikes I've done, mostly as part of approaches to either scrambles or climbs over the past 15 years. I plan on greatly expanding the list of hikes on explor8ion over the next 12 months so this list will change over time. The ratings here are based on hiking, not scrambling or climbing.


[Just one of the great views you'll get while hiking the Skoki Lakes area in Lake Louise. ++]

[This is why Loaf Mountain is on my top 10 favorite hikes. ++]

[These are the views that await you on the Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit. ++]

[The third Memorial Lake with Bogart Tower at left and Ribbon Peak towering at right. This is the reason I love this hike - but you have to persevere to the third lake!]


Hike Rating Short Description
Lake Agnes / Big Beehive / Valley of Six Glaciers Moderate A long day that involves hiking a good trail to Lake Agnes and great views from the Big Beehive before dropping down to the Valley of Six Glaciers before the long hike back along Lake Louise.
Victoria Ridge Easy If you forego Victoria Peak and follow the egress trail I used from Victoria Ridge as an approach, this hike will expose you to the fantastic Castle / Crown area's red / yellow and pink rocks. Do it in fall for the best scenery.
Loaf Mountain Easy Another Castle Wilderness Area gem. The hike is easy and passes a lake along the way.
Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit Moderate / Difficult This hike should not be underestimated - especially for the views. My top favorite hike in all the Rockies, especially in the late fall (October) when the crowds are gone and the larch needles are frozen into the many ponds and tarns along the way.
Memorial Lakes Moderate One of my most-visited hiking areas for a reason. Gorgeous views and a haunting reminder of nature's beauty and life's cruelty when it comes to plane crashes and losing the people we love.
Headwall Lakes / Chester Lake circuit Moderate / Difficult A long day trip, but the views and terrain will leave your jaw on the ground. Classic Kananaskis with some steep scree to the high col between Chester and Fortress peaks.
Sparrowhawk Tarns Easy A great hike along fantastic open alpine meadows with a myriad of Marmots serenading you.
Packer's Pass Peak / Skoki Lakes Easy A great Skoki area destination with huge views despite it's diminutive stature. Carrying on to the Skoki Lakes will induce serious overheating in your camera.
Iceline Trail Moderate / Difficult A very long day trip with pretty big elevation gains, best done as a loop that starts along the Yoho Valley and loops back to the parking lot over the Iceline Trail. Views are stunning.
Picklejar Lakes Easy This classic Kananaskis hike will leave your feet sore but your mind whirling with amazing views of sublime lakes and soaring peaks. Plus maybe a Grizzly bear or two. :)


Top 10 Fall Trips / Areas

These areas are among the very best to experience during the fall, which I generally consider to be September / October with the last two weeks of September being the best time of year for spectacular larch and alpine fall colors. The disadvantage of fall in the Rockies is the extremely unpredictable weather. But trust me. If you get lucky and experience one of those special days when the sky is blue and the sun is warm, you will not soon forget any of the following areas. The ratings here assume hiking, i.e. 'moderate' or 'difficult' is on a hiking scale, not scrambling or climbing.


[Some of the best views of my life have been in the fall from the All Souls Prospect along the Lake O'Hara Alpine Hiking Circuit. ++]

[It's very hard to beat Skoki Lakes and the Skoki area in general for fall colors in the Canadian Rockies. ++]

[It's not hard to see why Pocaterra Ridge and the Highwood Pass area in general is a fall color favorite. ++]

[Another gem from the All Souls Prospect looking over Schaffer Lake at Mount Odaray. ++]


Fall Trips / Areas Rating Short Description
Valley of the Ten Peaks / Sentinel Pass / Eiffel Lake Moderate The best bang for your fall color buck is the obvious and very popular Sentinel Pass / Eiffel Lake hikes in the Valley of Ten Peaks in Lake Louise. Come early to avoid crowds.
Lake O'Hara Region / Alpine Circuit Moderate Another Rockies classic fall hiking destination. You may have to walk the 11km approach road, but it's easily done in less than 2 hours and if you get there early you can still beat the bus. It's worth it.
Skoki Lakes and Skoki Area Moderate The views along the Skoki Lakes in the fall are pure landscape magic. I'll never tire of them.
Tent Ridge Moderate / Difficult Sublime Kananaskis fall colors and the Spray Lakes views make this a fall classic. Don't underestimate this one.
Pocaterra Basin / Ridge Moderate / Difficult Hiking into the basin beneath Pocaterra is already worth it for all the larch goodness. Extending this to include the ridge high above will leave your jaw on the ground. ;)
Rowe Lakes Easy Waterton is full of great fall colors, Rowe Lakes is just one option but there are many others such as Alderson Lakes and Vimy Peak.
Sunshine Meadows / Simpson Pass / Healy Pass Easy / Moderate I can't think of a more stunning day hike than heading into Healy Pass, up the Monarch Ramparts and then back along Eohippus Lake, Simpson Pass and / or Sunshine meadows in the fall. This is a long loop that will fill your camera's memory card!
Egypt Lakes via Healy Pass Easy / Moderate It's a long way in but the Egypt Lakes area will knock your socks off in the fall. If you hike in over Healy Pass you're in for a real treat.
Berg Lake - Robson Area Moderate Backpacking during the fall in Robson Provincial Park is pure bliss. When I went in late September there were no crowds and getting camp sites was easy - even at the popular Berg Lake area. Stunning views and many options for day hikes including Snowbird Pass / Titkana Peak. Note: There are no larches in Robson Provincial Park.
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park Moderate I recommend approaching this Rockies area gem from Sunshine Meadows in Banff National Park. Your camera will be smoking as you walk towards and through this mind-blowing landscape dressed in fall colors.


Top 10 Backpacking Trips

Strap on a backpack and give any of the following trips a shot - but only if you like adventure and some of the most in-your-face views in the Canadian Rockies. They range from more remote and difficult to access (Devon Lakes, Fortress Lake) to easy with good trails and established campgrounds (Berg Lake, Assiniboine Provincial Park). As with any Rockies trip, late August and September might be the best time of year, but these areas are good any time you might try them. These are rated using hikers in mind, not scrambling or climbing folks.


[Incredible views over Berg Lake and towards Mount Robson from the Mumm Basin hike in Robson Provincial Park. ++]

[The Northover Ridge backpacking route is a premier Rockies trip - one of my all time favorites. ++]

[Incredible view over the White Goat Wilderness from near Cataract Pass including Mount Stewart at right. ++]

[You have to earn this view on the Geraldine Lakes backpacking route - but what a view! And honestly - it gets even better than this. ++]

[It's hard to go wrong at Lake O'Hara. ++]


Backpacking Trip Rating Short Description
Berg Lake - Mount Robson Provincial Park Moderate It's a long way into Berg Lake but I can't think of more impressive views than Emperor Falls up close or the Milky Way and Mount Robson reflected in Berg Lake! Lots of top hikes around this area as well including Snowbird Pass.
Aster Lake, Northover Ridge Loop - Kananaskis Difficult A classic Alberta Rockies backpacking loop that will take you through some fairly remote country, high above treeline.
Skoki Region - Banff National Park Easy You can't go wrong with pretty much any backpacking trip through the Skoki region of Banff National Park. Beware of recent horse traffic on the trails - this is the only fly in the ointment. Mosquitoes can be bad at Baker Lake.
White Goat Wilderness Area Moderate The White Goat Wilderness is a random camping area that is tucked in behind Banff and west of the front ranges. It's not a huge area, but it is special. There are trails and you will likely be alone with the bears. ;)
Devon Lakes / Molar Pass Area - Siffleur Wilderness Moderate / Difficult There are different ways to access the Siffleur Wilderness Area but once you're there, it's a special place of sparkling tarns, rushing streams and jagged peaks.
Fortress Lake - Hamber Provincial Park, BC Moderate / Difficult Fortress Lake is huge but is hard to access thanks to a key suspension bridge across the Athabasca River collapsing in 2013. Camping along this lake provides some pretty special views and the Cutthroat Trout are world class so pack your rod!
Geraldine Lakes / Meadows - Jasper National Park Moderate / Difficult The Geraldine Lakes area is gorgeous but not for the faint of heart to get past the third lake. Accessing the Sydney Valance Hut via a high col west of Mount Fryatt won't be easy either, but the views and landscape are worth it. 
Lake O'Hara Region - Yoho National Park Easy / Moderate An excellent network of trails and sublime series of lakes, ponds and rushing streams overlooked by towering rocky peaks makes this area one of the premium backpacking destinations in the Rockies. It's busy though so late fall is best.
Iceline Trail / Yoho Valley - Yoho National Park Moderate A great network of trails in and around the Yoho Valley make for a wonderful backpacking destination. Another very popular area - best done outside of high tourist season if possible.
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, BC Moderate There is no better backpack that Banff to Assiniboine through the Sunshine Meadows IMHO. Views to knock your socks off and great trails. 


Top 10 Bivies

There's nothing better than sleeping under the stars in a bivy sack, or near a rushing stream under my HMG Mid. The feelings of isolation and connecting with the landscape are heightened when you're not in an official campground or with anyone else around. Many of these bivy sites are the norm for climbing bigger or more remote peaks like the 11000ers and is one of the prime reasons I like chasing after these mountains in the first place.


The ratings here assume hiking, i.e. 'moderate' or 'difficult' is on a hiking scale, not a scrambling or climbing one. If you're a hiker / backpacker trying any of these, please don't underestimate them. Most of them involve river crossings, possible flirtations with glaciers, ice or snow, steep slopes, untracked wilderness and / or heinous bushwhacking. You've been warned. ;)


[The best bivy views I've ever had were from high on Amery's east shoulder. Forbes at left and the Lyells at right. ++]

[The views from the Mount Fryatt bivy above Iceberg Lake isn't shabby either. ++]

[A sublime evening in the Catacombs Meadows with an outlier of Fortress Mountain rising at right and Mount Alberta at center in the distance, after a successful, possible only 2nd summit of the peak. ++]

[Despite horrendous bushwhacking to get to Warre Pond, it was worth it for this sublime bivy. ++]

[Sunset views towards Narao, Victoria and Huber from the Cathedral Mountain bivy. ++]


Bivy Location Rating Short Description
Mount Fryatt (Iceberg Lake) Bivy Moderate / Difficult This is one of the nicest bivies I've stayed at in the Rockies. Perched about 30' above Iceberg Lake, beneath the hulking SW face of Fryatt with waterfalls plunging down all around, you will feel privileged to fall asleep here.
King George (SW Glacier) Bivy Moderate / Difficult Another top bivy location. Getting here is hellish (especially in the dark!) but when you wake up the next morning it's like you're living in a dream.
Catacombs Meadows Moderate / Difficult I can't begin to describe the beauty and remoteness of these meadows. Tucked between the imposing east face of Fortress and the west slopes of Catacombs near a couple of peaceful tarns, this is another special Rockies bed and breakfast that only costs you sore legs.
Warre Pond Moderate / Difficult I didn't expect this one to be so delightful. Many years pass between visits to this gorgeous backcountry tarn, mainly due to its obscurity and the bushwhacking required to attain it's shores. And the bears. Lots of bears in this area!
Woolley / Diadem Bivy Moderate / Difficult A classic 11000er bivy site with views of Woolley, Diadem and Mushroom Peak. The biggest challenge is crossing the North Saskatchewan River. BEWARE THE PACK RATS. (Shudder...)
Mount Alexandra Bivy Difficult You will earn this delightful rest - trust me. Unless you chopper in with an ACC group. Then you won't quite enjoy it as much as taking the jaw-dropping highline traverse through the area.
Mount Forbes Bivy Difficult Another well-earned bivy site with views of Banff's highest peak. The approach for many 11000ers turns my crank as much as the summit - Forbes was no exception.
Mount Amery - East Shoulder Difficult Bivying at well over 10,000 feet on the east shoulder of Mount Amery is a highlight of my scrambling career. Views of Forbes, the Lyells and so many other giant Rockies peaks will keep you up late - as will the chilly temps if you don't pack a warm enough sleeping bag. :P
Mount Cathedral Bivy Moderate One of the easiest bivy sites to attain on this list, Mount Cathedral can be done as a day trip, but why do that when you can watch the sun set on Narao, Victoria and Huber from the comfort of a bivy sack?
Northern Columbia Icefields Bivy Difficult I've spend quite a few nights bivying on the north end of the Columbia Icefields in everything from full-on blizzard conditions to t-shirt weather. I can honestly say that I enjoyed almost every minute of it. Obviously there is a long process involved with getting to this area and setting up a safe winter camp.


Top 10 Alpine Climbs - Non Winter

The cream of the crop are on this list. Mountains that I've dreamed about for years before ascending them. Mountains that I never thought I'd stand on top of. At heart I'm nothing other than a hiker / scrambler, so any alpine climbing I've done is a gigantic bonus for me and I've managed to grovel up a few beauties, including the ones on this list! Of course, I owe the folks who are more climber-oriented than me, who have been willing to drag me along on most of these trips. Ratings here include the approach and the climb itself in alpine climbing terms as rated by guidebooks / real climbers (i.e. not me).


[Dramatic views across the east face of Mount Assiniboine, looking over Marvel Lake. ++]

[Descending the SW face of Mount Fryatt. ++]

[Most of Recondite is 3rd and 4th class scrambling. The loose nature and remote location make it a tougher objective than it's rating might suggest. Spot Eric traversing some exposed terrain at far right here. ++]

[A great climb on Woolley / Diadem - look at these views and we're not half way up yet. ++]


Alpine Climb Rating Short Description
Mount Victoria / North Victoria Alpine II, 5.3 I'm cheating a bit with this one by linking two trips on the same mountain, but honestly, North Victoria should not be considered a separate summit from the main South Peak. Both are classic Lake Louise climbs - I found the north summit to be more involved than the main one which was pretty much just a scramble, even with snow and ice on the rocks.
Mount Fryatt Alpine II, 5.4 Another of my all-time favorite trips in the Rockies. Mount Fryatt has everything that makes Rockies alpine climbing so great. A myriad of lakes on the approach. Bushwhacking. Open alpine meadows. Acres and acres of wild flowers. A world class bivy site. Some chossy scrambling followed by 1 pitch of real climbing (!). Jaw dropping summit views. Repeat on descent.
Mount Edith Cavell Alpine II, 5.3 Edith Cavell is easy as far as climbing goes, but it absolutely makes the top 10 list simply because the quartzite rock holds are pretty bomber for Rockies choss! ;) The views down to Cavell Lake and the north face and into the Verdant Pass and Tonquin Valley areas are also awesome.
Recondite Peak Alpine II, 5.3 The fact that this peak is on this list should tell you something about me. I'm much more of a hiker / backpacker at heart than a hardcore climber. Recondite has some of the crappiest rock you'll ever find, but the remoteness, wild beauty and experience of it all vault it into one of my favorite trips and peaks.
Mount Sir Douglas Alpine II, 5.3 I am the only person on earth who would put Sir Douglas on any kind of "favorites" list. :) Seriously. I'm not kidding. It's a chossy, icy, nasty peak and most people feel lucky just to survive it, no matter which route they take. I have to say that I loved it. The approach via Burstall Meadows. The bivy - even through I forgot my sleeping pad. The climb itself and the feeling of accomplishment. It's what Rockies climbing is all about.
Mount Assiniboine Alpine II, 5.5 Duh. Mount Assiniboine is a world class climb. The fact that I did it with a good friend in perfect conditions, soloing and with the entire massif all to ourselves is a huge bonus that the universe conspired to grant us. I will never take this peak off my favorites list. A top 5 summit by any means for me, and that will very likely never change.
Mount Alexandra Alpine II, 5.2 Another glimpse at what I love about the Rockies - Alexandra isn't on too many favorites lists either! I dreamt about this one for many, many years before finally standing on her apex. With a high line traverse granting stunning views of Mounts Bryce and Columbia along with a remote and gorgeous bivy site and beautiful day in the mountains with friends - there's many reasons for this summit to be on my top 10 list.
Mount King Edward Alpine II, 5.3 Mount King Edward is one of only a very few alpine climbs on the Columbia Icefield that isn't best done in winter conditions on skis. After trying twice to climb it as a winter / spring objective, I was finally successful treating it as a summer alpine climb instead.
Mount Woolley Alpine II This is another peak that might not be on many folks top 10 lists, but the views of Mount Alberta and the gorgeous weather we had put it ahead of many others. Some challenging conditions and the fact that we managed to bag both Diadem and Mushroom Peak on the same day make this another fond memory. The bivy site is also prime now that the pack rat king is dead. ;)
Mount Cline Alpine II, 5.4 Cline isn't considered a very difficult ascent by hardcore climbers, but trust me, the notches were enough to give me some pause! I had a lot of fun on this peak and we did it in one day return from the parking area. The approach is quite nice, especially around the tarns.


Top 10 Easy Alpine Climbs

The following is a list of my top 10 easy alpine climbs - either not requiring special climbing gear, or a very minimal amount of it (i.e. short rappel or easy glacier crossings). Again - a very challenging list to settle on only 10, since this is my favorite type of activity! I'm rating this somewhat subjectively as easy, medium or hard from what I think a confident scrambler or novice alpinist would think.


[Coming up the summit ridge on Mount Cirrus. ++]

[A gorgeous early morning ascent of Cathedral Mountain. ++]

[The view from near the summit of Mount Athabasca doesn't disappoint++]

[Gorgeous early morning views from an ascent of Des Poilus in Yoho National Park. ++]


Easy Alpine Climb Rating Short Description
Cirrus Mountain Easy / Moderate Cirrus Mountain was on my list for many years before I finally managed to stand on its impressive summit. I like pretty much everything about this mountain, including the approach past Coleman Lake and the excellent bivy site.
Mount Murchison Difficult (5.2) Murchison was another very special peak for me. After Rick Collier pretty much proved that the SE summit was up to 20m higher than the previous 'official' NW one and Andrew Nugara measured it at 3353m (11,000 feet), I've wanted to climb it. Raf and I became some of the first folks to summit the SE summit and sign the register there.
Devil's Head Moderate (5.2) A fairly straightforward climb in the Ghost Wilderness Area. This is a mountain that is very recognizable from the east and it was pretty cool to stand on its summit after years of looking at it.
Catacombs Mountain Easy / Moderate Possibly the second ascent party to summit this gorgeous, remote peak in Jasper National Park. This trip was good for all sorts of reasons, but mostly the remote terrain and unknown nature of the mountain climb itself is what makes this one stand out.
Cathedral Mountain Easy Another classic, easy alpine ascent in Yoho National Park. Cathedral is a gorgeous peak, especially the upper mountain as it curves off the easy glacier approach.
Ernest Peak (Lyell III) Moderate (Alpine II) The Lyells aren't difficult for the most part (Lyell IV being the exception) but getting all the way into them without using a helicopter can be the crux! The excellent approach via Icefall Brook and views from Ernest combine to make this a favorite easy alpine climb.
The Presidents Easy (Alpine II) Two more classic Rockies ascents in Yoho National Park, the President and Vice President were among my first alpine climbs and very enjoyable.
Mount Athabasca Easy (Alpine II) I waited many years for the right conditions to align with my schedule for this Jasper classic 11,000er - possibly the most popular 11,000er next to Mount Temple. The views and the classic nature of this mountain combine to put it on my top 10 easy climbs.
Mont Des Poilus Easy This is one of the more beautiful looking and hard-to-access peaks on the infamous Wapta Icefield. Before the addition of another hut on the western edge of the icefield, Des Poilus was much harder to climb in the winter than it is now. I enjoyed the hike and the easy glacial ascent in summer conditions.
Mount King George Moderate (Alpine II) I had a ton of fun on this peak. Not too difficult but the approach and the SW glacier was great fun to crampon up - as was the final gully to the summit ridge. A fairly old register and the fact that I dreamed of climbing this mountain ever since spotting it from the Northover Ridge route combine to put it in my top 10.
Mistaya Peak Easy I combined both Mistaya and Cauldron into one long day trip from the Peyto Lake lookout. This is a gorgeous area and is a highly recommended peak.


Top 10 Winter Alpine Climbs

These mountains will make you work for their summits. The hardest part on most of them is simply surviving the approach and the winter camping that's usually required! Many of these have pretty severe avalanche slopes and / or crevasses and should not be underestimated. Ratings are the generally accepted alpine ratings from guidebooks or experienced climbers.


Most of these are rated difficult simply because of the effort required to get to them and then the exposure to avalanche risk / crevasses to ascend them and get back to camp safely. From a technical climbing perspective, none of these are especially hard (i.e. a Mount Robson level of commitment).


[The giant of the Columbia Icefields beckons us ever closer as we cross the endless expanse of snow towards her east ridge. ++]

[Unbelievable exposure and wild beauty as we traverse the super-exposed summit ridge of South Twin Peak. ++]

[The summit ridge of Mount Balfour on a perfect winter ascent day. ++]

[The North Twin (L) / Twin's Tower (R) col is a wild and crazy place! It's also one of my favorite memories from all my Columbia Icefields trips. ++]

[Downclimbing the upper ridge on Mount Forbes.]

[Great views of the mighty Mount Robson from the descent ridge of Resplendent. ++]


Winter Alpine Climb Rating Short Description
Mount Columbia Alpine II Of course the highest peak in Alberta has to be on this list! I waited many years for the right conditions to climb this beauty. We ascended it in the evening on the same day as our approach, getting some great lighting on the surrounding peaks - all of which were lower than us. Although technically a fairly easy ascent, don't get too casual about it, as the final 600 vertical meters are steep enough to slide and there are some big holes hidden throughout the slope - we found some of them.
South Twin Peak Alpine II Probably my hardest won peak of all the peaks on my summit list. It took three trips to the northern Columbia Icefields before I finally topped out on this beautiful and esthetic mountain. It was a great climb and made much easier by perfect snow conditions which aren't guaranteed each year.
Twin's Tower Alpine II You will earn this one. 90% of you will experience some "tightening" as you glance up at the gorgeous, exposed arete leading to the tiny summit from the North Twin col. Depending on conditions, your nerves might be already a bit frazzled thanks to navigating huge slots and tricky snow conditions on the descent from North Twin Peak which must be traversed before arriving at the Twin's Tower arete.
Trapper Peak Alpine II Trapper is one of the more difficult snow climbs on the Wapta. Most people think the Columbia Icefields has harder peaks than the Wapta due to the much bigger terrain, but in reality some of the Wapta peaks give most of the Columbia peaks a run for their money when the objective hazards of the larger icefield aren't factored in.
Peyto Peak Alpine II / 5.3 Admittedly we probably overestimated the difficulty on this peak when we first did it. It can feel exposed and tricky when covered in fresh snow and ice. Compared to the "ski summit", the real summit of Peyto isn't nearly as straight forward and is ascended far less often. I was super stoked to complete this climb.
Mount Collie Alpine II The summit ridge of Mount Collie has a fierce reputation and it's well deserved! Everything else about the mountain is fairly easy - although the approach isn't short from Bow Lake. A cornice the size of several school buses with terrific exposure, that must be traversed to the summit, is one of the scariest objective hazards you'll face on the Wapta Icefield.
Mount Ayesha Alpine II / 5.0 Another difficult Wapta ascent, Ayesha will test several of your alpine skills including perseverance (it's a long way), snow climbing (it's bloody steep) and snowy rock scrambling (loose and exposed) to the summit. The classic, beautiful snow arete was very fun.
Mount Balfour Alpine II The king of the Wapta Icefields! There's nothing about my climb of Balfour that I didn't like. We had perfect weather conditions and a great team. Honestly, one of my favorite winter climbs to date. A majestic peak that should be on every Alberta winter alpinist's hit list.
Mount Forbes Alpine II / III I waited many years to ascend Mount Forbes. I've been dreaming of standing on its summit so long that when I finally did it didn't feel real. In some ways it still doesn't. Banff's highest peak is well-earned with a long approach and steep snow slopes but it's technically not that hard if conditions are solid.
Resplendent Mountain Alpine II Another well-earned peak, especially if you ski it in the spring like we did. The approach via Berg Lake is long and usually by the time spring rolls around the lower half is completely melted out so you're carrying your snow sticks a long way. The upper mountain is very crevassed and there are steep snow slopes and exposure to seracs.


Top 10 Easy Winter Alpine Trips

The following are easier winter alpine trips, many are snowshoe trips in some pretty big alpine terrain. As with the harder winter trips, these should only be attempted by alpinists who have some training and experience on an Alberta snow pack and are well versed in traveling safely through avalanche terrain and on glaciers.


[Huge terrain while heading up Mount Wilson. ++]

[Looking ahead to the summit of Big Bend Peak from an outlier. ++]

[The highest peak I've snowshoed - Mount Athabasca. ++]

[Mount Joffre is a perfect candidate for snowshoes in the spring with a variable snow pack. ++]


Alpine Trip Rating Short Description
Mount Hector Moderate My favorite ski summit in the Rockies. 1600 vertical meters of skiing from the summit of an 11,000 foot peak. What could be better than that? Beware of crevasses though - people have died skiing down this one.
Mount Baker Moderate The approach via Peyto Lake and the steep slopes to the summit ridge are what make this a moderate winter objective. If you're lucky with conditions you can even exit via Peyto Canyon.
Mount Wilson Moderate It was tough for me to "give in" and snowshoe Wilson rather than ski it. The reality is that with good conditions in the steep shortcut gully, you are likely NOT to have good ski conditions there. Only you can decide if it's worth carrying skis on your back half way up this mountain. The glacier is definitely great ski terrain. The slopes under the summit are steeper and more exposed than I expected and there's crevasses there.

Cirrus Mountain

Easy Cirrus Mountain was on my list for many years before I finally managed to stand on its impressive summit. I like pretty much everything about this mountain, including the approach past Coleman Lake and the excellent bivy site.

Mount Habel

Difficult Except for the final section to the true summit, Habel is as easy as Rhondda and a very pleasant Wapta peak. Unfortunately for those who care about reaching summits - there is the final section that must be dealt with. Not hard for serious alpinists, but hard enough for me!
Mount Olive / St. Nicholas Moderate A classic Wapta winter climb. We did it in February on a beautiful, clear and warm day in the Rockies. Our views went on for kilometers and the group was a blast to climb with. Combining both summits of Olive with St. Nicholas makes for a longish day trip from Bow Lake but it's well worth the tired legs.
Mount Athabasca Moderate Another toss-up for me between skis and 'shoes. Skis would have been great on the glacier but shoes were good everywhere else. We cramponed up to the main summit, leaving the 'shoes lower down.
Mount Patterson Moderate / Difficult Don't underestimate this peak on the northern end of the Wapta Icefield. The views are stunning but there is some pretty severe avalanche terrain on the lower canyon section.
Mount Joffre Easy Joffre was a perfect snowshoe alpine trip. Skis would have been a PITA to lug all the way up there and the snowshoes worked all the way to the summit. Having heel-lifts on the 35-40 degree roll was excellent!
Mount Gordon Easy Mount Gordon is one of the very few peaks I've repeated. The reason? What other peak can you easily ski to the very summit and then ski 15km downhill back to your car? Yes - it's that good in the right conditions. As one of the highest Wapta summits, it also sports a pretty nice 360 degree panorama.


Top 10 Ski Summits

One of the best feelings in the world has to be pointing the snow sticks downhill after completing a winter or spring climb and swooping down on stable snow, covering hundreds of meters of terrain in mere minutes, all while taking in the stunning scenery around you. Some of my favorite moments in the Rockies have been spent like this. I am not an extreme skier by any stretch of the imagination so most of these are rated "easy". This doesn't mean there's no hazards in getting there though - consider a mountain like Resplendent which has a long winter approach and a ton of crevasse and avalanche exposure but only "moderate" skiing terrain.


I'm assuming you are at least a novice alpine climber and a competent snow evaluator and are familiar with a Rockies snow pack in rating these. By definition they are all exposed to avalanche risks and other objective winter mountain hazards.


[A great ski outing on Chickadee Peak. ++]

[Boot packing to the summit of Androlumbia with the Columbia Icefield stretched out below. ++]

[Some wild views off the ascent ridge of Mount Cromwell. ++]

["Little" Crowfoot sports some pretty darn BIG views! ++]


Ski Summit Rating Short Description
Castleguard Peak Easy Although this is a longish day trip, Castleguard Peak is one of the easiest summits to attain on the Columbia Icefield. It's also definitely the lowest. But the views from the summit and the excellent ski down from high on the summit ridge more than make up for it's diminutive stature.
North Twin Peak Difficult The skiing is fairly benign on this Rockies giant, but it is remote and hard to get to and the slope hides some pretty big crevasses which is the only reason it's rated this way.
Hector Moderate My favorite ski summit in the Rockies. 1600 vertical meters of skiing from the summit of an 11,000 foot peak. What could be better than that? Beware of crevasses though - people have died skiing down this one.
Mount Cromwell Moderate Cromwell probably isn't quite 11,000 feet but if you get lucky you can ski all the way to it's summit before realizing that you're a LONG way from your vehicle and standing in a pretty wild place with some pretty wild views!
Rhondda Easy Another easy Wapta day trip with great views and skiing right off the summit.
Ramp Peak Easy I really enjoyed Ramp Peak. An easy approach via Mosquito Creek combined with an excellent slope and fun terrain make this another peak I'll probably repeat some day.
Chickadee Peak Moderate This unofficial summit near Boom Lake is a wonderful skiing destination. Big avalanche terrain but fairly mellow as far as backcountry skiing goes and usually has pretty good coverage.
Mount Androlumbia Difficult The same issue as North Twin Peak. Access is via the Athabasca Glacier which is very crevassed and exposed to objective winter hazards. There are crevasses on the main peak too but this is one of the easiest and quickest ski summits on the Columbia Icefields and can be day tripped.
Little Crowfoot Easy An easy day out but does involve some complex avalanche terrain. Views of the Wapta are great from here!
Emerald Peak Easy Another favorite, this ski ascent goes right up (and down) a massive avalanche gully near Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park. If you get good snow, you will want to go back!


Top 10 Ski Tours

A ski tour might still involve a peak but is more focused on the "tour" part of the ski rather than full-on snow climbing. Obviously all the winter ski ascents in the previous section also included tours, but in general the following trips are more benign and less exposed to serious avalanche risk and / or crevasse hazards, but obviously still somewhat exposed in several cases.


Ratings are somewhat subjective but assume you are familiar with Avalanche risks and how to mitigate them and are an intermediate level of experience traveling on an Alberta Rockies snow pack - which is vastly different than a BC one! :)


[The terrain around Healy Pass is pretty darn mellow but it does have some nice views and is a very low avy risk option for those days you just want to chill in the mountains. ++]

[The Young's Peak traverse near Roger's Pass is a spectacular high line ski tour. ++]

[Citadel Peak (C) is a long way from the Sunshine parking lot, but the ski tour across the Sunshine Meadows is pretty sublime. ++]

[If you do the Wapta Traverse you might get lucky enough with this view of the king of the Wapta - Mount Balfour - as you leave the Balfour hut and head for the high col. ++]

[Looking back at the Bow Hut as we start up the headwall to the main Wapta Icefield. A view I've seen many times over the years and never tire of. ++]


Ski Tour Rating Short Description
Little Temple / Paradise Valley Moderate Ski touring throughout the Paradise Valley is pretty mellow. To challenge yourself a bit, head up Little Temple. This tour is exposed to some avalanche terrain and even serac fall off Mount Temple.
Sunshine Meadows / Citadel Peak Easy This is a long tour but a lovely one. There is some limited avalanche exposure on Citadel's summit ridge but it's quickly passed over. Save it for spring and enjoy beautiful temperatures and a feeling of solitude - once you're out of the resort area anyway.
French / Haig / Robertson Traverse Moderate One of my favorite ski tours. Big terrain and great turns down the Robertson Glacier. There is some route finding up French Creek if you're not lucky enough to have a skin track to follow and severe avalanche terrain up to the Sir Douglas / Robertson col. The Robertson Glacier has some crevasse and serac exposure.
Youngs Peak Traverse Moderate My first ski tour in Roger's Pass. I got crappy snow conditions, but was still impressed. This classic tour covers some big terrain so don't underestimate it.
Healy Pass / Monarch Ramparts Easy One of the easiest and lowest key ski tours you can do and still have fun doing it. Very minor avalanche exposure and some great views but don't expect any epic skiing because without avalanche terrain you're on pretty mellow angles. ;)
Burstall Pass / Burstall Pass Peak / Snow Peak Moderate Burstall Pass and surrounding peaks are a classic Kananaskis ski tour that I've done more than any other in the Rockies. Views are stunning and the skiing around the pass is usually pretty decent. People have died in avalanches on this terrain so do not treat it too casually.
Wapta Traverses (Peyto Hut, Bow Hut, Balfour Hut) Moderate / Difficult Another classic ski touring area of the Alberta Rockies. The Wapta Icefield has two classic traverses with variations. The Classic or Extended Wapta Traverse goes from either Bow or Peyto Lake to Sherbrooke Lake via Peyto, Bow, Balfour and Scott-Duncan huts. There is another traverse of the Wapta known as the Bow-Yoho Traverse that will become more popular with the addition of the new Richard Guy Hut on the western edge of the icefield.
Sunshine Meadows / Twin Cairns / Wawa Ridge Easy / Moderate Sunshine meadows are quite benign ski touring for the most part. If you want to spice it up a wee bit you can either ascend Wawa Ridge or Twin Cairns and get some limited turns in before either repeating or skiing back out of the resort.
The Dolomite Ski Circuit Easy / Moderate The Dolomite circuit takes you up Dolomite Creek and around the entire Dolomite Peak massif. There is some big terrain in here that has the potential to slide so be aware of your surroundings. The views from the pass are very respectable and this is a good option for a quick tour.
Spray Traverse Moderate / Difficult The Spray Ski Traverse is a serious undertaking in Kananaskis Country, mostly due to the unstable nature of the snow in that area. Waiting for a spring snow pack isn't a bad idea. I've only done part of the traverse and will be going back for more.


Top 10 Honorable Mentions

The following are trips that were memorable and fun and just didn't squeak into any of the above categories for whatever reason. Some of these are easy snowshoeing or scrambling trips and some are full-on alpine climbs.


[Evening views from the summit of Mount Brazeau. ++]

[Seldom seen views from the summit of Mount Farbus with Oppy and Alexandra at center right. ++]

[Views from the descent of Portal Peak. ++]

[Views over Abraham Lake from the summit of Abraham Mountain showcase why it's one of my favorite scrambles in the David Thompson area of the Rockies. ++]

[It's easy to see why Mount Andromeda stands out as a "top 10" in this photo from the summit. ++]


Trip Rating Short Description
Mount McArthur Difficult This scramble can be combined with several other peaks (Pollinger, Kiwetinok, Kerr, Isolated) for a fantastic views-overload in some of the nicest Rockies terrain.
Mount Andromeda Alpine II I really enjoyed this peak on the Columbia Icefields. We ascended the easy west ridge and approached on skis as a day trip from the parking lot.
Big Bend Peak / Saskatchewan Junior Difficult Big terrain along the Icefields Parkway - there's no way to go wrong here on a clear day, except for again - avalanche terrain. Be careful.
Mount Brazeau Alpine II An easy, classic 11000er with a gorgeous bivy and approach.
Farbus Mountain Alpine II Difficult to access with very good views of distant giants such as the north side of the Lyells, Oppy and Alexandra.
Portal Peak Difficult This peak is very loose and steep but the views along the way and from the top are well worth the effort expended to get there.
Titkana Peak Easy This easy scramble in the Berg Lake area is a no-brainer if you're in the area anyway. Views of Mount Robson, Rearguard and Resplendent are in your face the whole time.
Mount Willingdon / Crown / Tower Alpine II, 5.0 The Devon Lakes area is gorgeous. Climbing three of the highest peaks in the area, including two 11000ers, in one day will make you a very tired and a very happy alpinist!
Abraham Mountain Moderate Abraham Mountain is one of my favorite David Thompson Country (DTC) scrambles. It offers interesting scrambling and routefinding and stunning views over Abraham Lake.
Mount Ishbel Difficult One of the more difficult scrambles around the town of Banff, this peak offers excellent hands-on scrambling and great views. Just don't pick a really hot day as water sources are lacking.


Top 10 Least Favorite Mountain Trips

By popular demand - some of my readers thought it was only fair that since I posted so many awesome and favorable trips, I should include at least 10 of my least favorite outings in the Rockies. I agree. Following are some mighty fine, crappy days spent wasting my time in the hills. ;) Looking at them, I realize a pretty common thread going on. A good number of these are snowshoe trips. That's no big surprise. I also notice that they're all fairly easy trips - probably chosen because of crappy conditions / weather when I really didn't actually feel like being anywhere other than my warm, comfortable couch.


[Good times on the Cockscomb approach.]

[Wading through crappy snow on Fortune.]

[Views on Festubert.]


Trip Rating Short Description
Cockscomb Mountain Easy / Moderate A long, dumb approach via choked up creekbed with no good trail and miserable ascent slopes. This mountain should be unnamed and taken off of all maps - it's that crappy. I'm not kidding around here.
Middle Sister Easy Guess what? Another long dumb approach via a creekbed with miserable ascent slopes. Doing it in unfavorable weather is like punching yourself in the face. It's a complete waste of time and it hurts afterwards.
Mount Kidd Junior Easy A horrible bushwhack on unconsolidated, crappy snow on snowshoes with a recent cougar kill to keep me feeling panicky all the way down. Why do it when there's already TWO other summits of Kidd offering much better views and more fun?!
Mount Bell (via Boom Lake) Moderate A long, boring approach to Boom Lake followed by a long, loose, boring ascent, all accompanied by a painful, boring stomach flu. Good times all around.
North Castle Peak Easy Oy. Bushwhacking over Alders with our ice axes to assist in the task. Need I say more? Oh yeah - the summit is buried in thick, gnarly, twisted trees with no views.
Horseshoe Ridge Easy There is no good reason on this Earth to do this ridge other than you're "nearby" and want to increase your summit stats. That's it. That's literally it. 
S.O. Isola Easy This little bit of Rockies magic isn't even a "real" summit. How's that for crappy? We invented the name so that a miserable day on snowshoes in bad conditions wouldn't feel like such a complete waste of time.
Mount Fortune Easy The gem is anything but "fortune". On snowshoes, during winter, it's a crapfest of unconsolidated sugar snow combined with steep slopes that had us swimming uphill at about 1km per 3 hours. This was some of the least fun I've ever had in my LIFE. Never mind in the Rockies!
Mount McNab Easy Why? Why would anyone feel the need to do this insignificant bump that requires crossing an un-bridged river on snowshoes in winter to no views whatsoever?! The drive to the trailhead is infinitely more interesting. Just do that and go home and you'll have a more productive day. I promise.
Festubert Mountain Easy / Moderate What a crappy day this was! Another terrible idea with Phil Richards. Almost like we're suckers for punishment or something. Jeez. This snooze-fest of a mountain only ever offered us hours of painful slipping and sliding on boulders and rocks while following a grumpy Grizzly Bear's tracks, and then summiting in a total whiteout with cold winds. A terrible, terrible idea. Who's was it again?

First Impressions of the iPhone X

iPhone X

Yes. I'm one of those annoying people who got their iPhone X the day it was released. I'm a geek - what can I say? cheeky To be honest, it kind of happened by accident when a coworker ordered an extra one to sell online and demand wasn't high enough to make serious extra $$$ on it. I was thinking of getting one anyway, next year and offered to buy this one instead. FYI, for all those people upset about the price for a "phone" - if you still only use your device as a phone, you certainly don't need today's modern smart devices, and should probably not waste your hard-earned money on them. For people like me who use their "phone" for mostly non-phone things such as, grocery lists, calendars, todo lists, note taking, trip reports, email, social media, photos, video, step counter, music, running, navigation, gaming, reading etc. I don't consider the cost too much for me. I consider it a pretty good deal, actually. I spend a lot more money on camera and computer gear and I don't use them nearly as much as my "phone" - which I call a Lifestyle Device.


I've written about using a phone for navigating the backcountry. This was for my iPhone 6s and is a bit outdated but the gist is still applicable and I still use ViewRanger with my new iPhone X as well. Obviously, with a bigger screen this works even better. But there are other aspects, besides navigation that make iPhone's and smart phones in general, extremely handy for the tech savvy outdoor enthusiast. In this article I'll focus on some of the features of the iPhone X, but most of them are applicable to the cheaper iPhone 8 (plus) and other modern lifestyle devices like Google's Pixel or Samsung's Note as well. Obviously the X has just been released and I've only used it on one outing to the Rockies, on my recent scramble up Kink and Fallen peaks. This is a first impression review.


(Note: With my whole family fully adopting the "Apple ethos" (i.e. iCloud, Music, MacBook etc.), it makes sense for me to purchase and use Apple products, but there are good arguments for using Android devices instead. It just doesn't work well for me.)


The Phone 

One of my main reasons for being interested in the iPhone X was its improved camera and better screen. Admittedly the iPhone 8 Plus has pretty much the same camera for much less money, but it's way too big and heavy for my liking. If I'm perfectly honest, I think the iPhone X is also too big and heavy. Every time I pick up the iPhone 7 that my wife now uses, I miss it's size and weight. It feels tiny and very lightweight compared to my X. It's hard to believe that they're only 26 grams apart (add another 26 grams for the Plus). Too bad Apple didn't make a phone without FaceID the size of the iPhone 7 with a bezel-free screen. Oh well. Definitely first world problems! The issue of weight and bulk is by far my biggest complaint with the X. It's heavy. It's big. Don't let the hype fool you. Unless you thought the iPhone 6/7/8 was way too small and loved the size of the Plus models, I think you'll find the X quite big too. It's heavy enough that I don't want to run with it in my pocket and I'm wondering if I want to hike with it there. It's making me think I also need an Apple Watch for activities like walking / running to music and even light and fast trips to the mountains. I'm not kidding - that's probably part of Apple's evil master plan. surprise


[A detailed specification comparison between the iPhone 8 and X models.]


Once I put the issue of size and weight in my rear-view mirror, I can honestly say that I love everything else about the X. The screen is obviously gorgeous. Easily viewable in bright daylight - very important for taking photos, reading route descriptions and of course, navigation. I've noticed some touch issues in cold wind, but nothing major. The FaceID is actually handier than TouchID outdoors. My thumbs / fingers usually stopped working for TouchID due to sweat or cold after about an hour of hiking or skiing. FaceID doesn't work with my particular sunglasses, which is a PITA, but other than that it works very well, including in very low light or even total darkness. It's much easier and quicker to lift my sunglasses than take my hands out of my gloves to authenticate. I admit that I usually turn off authentication for hiking / scrambling trips - that makes things even easier as long as I don't lose my phone.


The Camera

There is no doubt that the camera(s) on the X are a big improvement over the 6s/7 and even some improvements over the 8 models. If you're a Plus user, you're already used to a 2x (56mm) lens along with the standard 28mm lens. I was not used to it but I already love it and use it more than I thought I would. While shooting landscapes, having that 2x optical "zoom lens" (actually it's a second camera) is very, very handy. I do a lot of panoramic stitching and this extra lens works well for that, along with summit shots of more distant peaks. 56mm isn't exactly telephoto, but it's a heckuva lot tighter field of view than a 28mm lens! Having the portrait blur on both the front and rear-facing cameras is a pretty sweet touch. It really enhances the quality of casual family / friend photos for my year-end photo books. If you've ever spent over $1,000 to get an f/1.4 lens for nice bokeh, you might understand the value of software enhanced background blur. Put it this way - I'm a fan. wink


Low light photo quality is also improved on the X thanks to a faster telephoto lens - f/2.4 instead of the f/2.8 on the 8 Plus. That doesn't sound like much, but it's significant when light levels are low, especially on the iPhone's tiny camera sensor. The X also has OIS (optical stabilization) on both of it's lenses whereas the 8 Plus only has it on the wide-angle lens. This is a big difference, especially in low light. Think of hiking at sunrise or sunset, or taking portrait photos at a restaurant or wedding where the light levels are usually low. The combination of OIS and a faster lens should make the X camera(s) a clear winner in these situations.


On my recent trip up Kink and Fallen peaks I was still getting used to the camera / phone so I made some mistakes that I won't repeat. I was using the excellent camera app, ProCam 5 as my camera on this particular day. The main features that I like in this app are it's ability to take and store photos as RAW DNG files instead of JPEG. This allows much more freedom when developing them later in Lightroom. Significantly, the app stores its RAW photos as DNG instead of TIFF. The difference is about 18mb per file! The DNG's are about 12mb each and nicely show up in iPhoto at home from where I download and extract them into my Lightroom libraries for normal post processing work alongside all my other photos.


[ProCam 5 is an excellent camera app for the iPhone X. I especially love the "RAW" feature.]


To be honest, I think there's too many gimmicky options in most camera apps, including ProCam 5 nowadays. I get it - they need to stand out in a crowded field. I found myself inadvertently touching and turning on or off other options by accident which was a PITA. I wish they had an option to not show any other options. indecision Selfishly, all I need is the RAW option and the ability to adjust exposure and lock it (AEL). I encountered one issue on my descent of Kink Peak. When I took a RAW photo, the review shot on the screen looked horribly unfocused for some reason. Thinking that something was critically wrong, I started taking HDR (JPEG) shots for my Fallen Peak photos. This was a mistake. I should have just done normal JPEG shots, or continued with the RAW shooting as the issue was with the reviewing, not the RAW photos themselves. That's why some of the photos from the descent of Kink and ascent of Fallen look a bit off. Another issue with taking "HDR" as opposed to normal JPEG's is that HDR doesn't like movement. Many of my shots were blurred and unusable when I looked at them later.


[A stitched panorama from my Kink Peak ascent taken in RAW and stitched / edited in Lightroom. Note the range of lighting and lack of blown highlights / shadows? This is the big advantage of the RAW format. Another advantage of RAW is the ability to tweak the white balance, after-the-fact which is harder to do accurately with JPEG's.]

[This image looks "off" and was taken on the descent of Kink Peak. The colors are too vibrant and not natural. This is a series of JPEG's taking in HDR mode and stitched / edited in Lightroom. I much prefer the colors and tones of the previous photo to this one.]

[The telephoto lens lets me capture more dramatic images than always using a wide-angle, which tends to make everything look small and insignificant.]


Suffice it to say, I'm more than impressed with the camera(s) on the iPhone X and when used with the right app, they can be extremely versatile and produce photos that are more than "good enough" for the vast majority of people. Obviously, a decent DSLR or even compact camera with a larger sensor and a variety of lenses will produce better results, but often it's the gear you have with you that matters, and the iPhone is pretty easy to take just about everywhere. Using add-on lenses like the Moment setup, gives you the option of wide-angle and even macro. I love the fact that if my main camera breaks down, I always have a backup camera literally in my pocket which is certainly better than nothing!


[An old chart - but you get the idea! The sensor in a smart device isn't going to match a 1", 4/3 or Full Frame sensor. Not yet anyway. Click here for why you may or may not care.]


Navigating with the iPhone X

Navigation is something I've already written about and most of what I wrote is still applicable. The GPS unit in the X is upgraded from the one I had in the 6s and 7, but I'm not sure if it's better or the same in real world usage. It certainly didn't behave any worse for me on my trip but I'll need more time and more trips before I'll know if it's that much better. One aspect of the X that's undeniably better for navigation than the iPhone 7 is the screen. Visibility in bright conditions and the size of the screen combine to make a more effective navigation tool.


Miscellaneous iPhone (X) Perks

Something a lot of folks don't realize, or use effectively, is the ability with Safari on the iPhone - any model - to download and save most web sites as PDF's in their iBooks library. This is extremely handy! Instead of bringing paper and / or books in your pack, simply save the trip report that you want to follow into your iBooks library ahead of time and you're good to go! I have an entire list of trip reports saved by area that I can refer to at the last minute if plans change, something that happens more than you'd think thanks to the Rockies fickle weather. That gorgeous screen is sure nice for referring back to these reports on the trail too!


The waterproof rating on the X hasn't changed from the 7/8 but is the same, which is good. I've sweated and dropped my phone in enough snow drifts to know that this feature is very, very handy on a $1,000+ device! crying 


Another handy feature of the X is the supposedly longer battery life. I haven't seen this myself yet, but if true it would mean that I could use it for 2-3 full days in the backcountry without the need for a charge bar. This is very handy as charge bars are pretty heavy and inconvenient on short, fast trips.


I'm sure there's more perks that I'll discover over time as I continue to use the X. I'll update them here when I find them.

Going Light - Gear and Thoughts

I don't like to advertise my age, but suffice it to say that I'm getting to that point in life where I no longer throw things in my pack "just in case" I might need them. ;) My knees / back and shoulders have taken quite the beating over the past decade and after hundreds of Rocky Mountain summits, many canoe trips and thousands of kilometers of walking and skiing with everything from light day packs to huge expedition sized (90+ litre) back packs overflowing with gear.


After completing some very grueling trips over the past few years in some of the more remote and beautiful terrain in the Rockies and in Canadian Shield country, I realized a couple of things;


  1. I love those areas and the difficulties getting into them almost as much as climbing the peaks they protect so well or paddling the lakes that are hidden amongst their ancient routes.
  2. I want to keep doing these trips as I get older - I don't want the fun to end until it has to.


In order to fulfill my dream of continuing to plan and participate in many more tough trips as I get older, I've had to do a serious analysis of my outdoor gear and my philosophy towards living and traveling in the back country. I've always been a big believer in going as light and 'bare-bones' as I thought possible, but now I have to get serious about it. Really serious. I've lost weight on my body a number of times over the years and losing weight from my gear had to follow the same basic process. At first glance the losses are so small they seem inconsequential. It's only after adding up a large number of small weight savings that the numbers become impressive.


  1. I need to know how much my current gear weighs so I can focus on certain areas.
  2. I should eliminate the heaviest stuff first - the best "bang for my buck" so-to-speak.
  3. I have to constantly re-evaluate my gear, plan trips more carefully and possibly take slightly more risks around what to put in my pack.


There is a great article on Hyperlite Mountain Gear's (HMG) web site on the going light philosophy as it applies to adventuring and outdoor travel. The article specifies what is generally accepted as light (20lbs), ultralight (10lbs) and super-ultralight (5lbs) weights for base packs (not including food, fuel or water). I am somewhere between light and ultralight at a base pack weight of less than 20lbs. This includes all basic camping gear such as a tent, sleeping matt / bag, warm clothing and even photography and climbing gear such as extra lenses, batteries, climbing helmet, crampons and even a crevasse rescue device, ATC, harness and an ice screw! I'm pretty sure I could get my base pack for just a few days of scrambling / hiking to around 12lbs if I tried hard to eliminate any unnecessary gear.


NOTE: The easiest, most obvious and least-fun way to save your knees / back and go light, is to lose body weight. :) I can speak to this unpopular topic because I've always struggled with my own weight and am often a good 10lbs over my optimal weight for hiking / climbing. Obviously 10lbs adds up over kilometers of hiking and climbing. Working out and maintaining a good fitness level is the best way to have fun and be safe in the back country - at any age. There are no shortcuts to these two obvious first steps to going light and having fun. Just lots of hard work!


Prioritizing Gear

The first task was easy. I bought a $25 digital kitchen scale from my local grocery store and proceeded to weigh my gear. This included everything from mosquito spray to bear spray to sunscreen to toilet paper. At the end of the day I knew what my top heaviest gear was going to be but some items in the top 12 surprised me. Here's some of the biggest weight savings that I targeted first, roughly ordered by the amount of weight saved;


Category Old Gear Old Gear Weight New Gear New Gear Weight Weight Savings
Tent BD Hilite (no pegs) w/ Groundsheet 1582g HMG 2-Person Ultra Mid 499g 1083g
Sleeping Bag MEC Raven (-7) 1150g FF Vireo UL (74") 474g 676g
Backpack BD Mission 55L 1660g HMG 3400 Ice Pack 55L 980g 680g
Sleeping Matt Exped 7 Down 888g Neoair xlite Regular 350g 538g
Down Booties MEC Regular 346g Goosefeet socks w/ over-liners 111g 235g
Crampons Grivel Full Steel 980g Grivel Aluminum 580g 400g
Hiking Poles BD Regular 490g BD Ultra Distance CF 290g 200g
SPOT Beacon Gen1 300g Gen3 114g 186g
Water Bottle Nalgene Regular 1L 175g Vapur Element 1L 40g 135g
Mountaineering Ax BD Raven w/ Leash 408g Camp Corsa Nanotech 278g 130g
Ice Screw BD Regular 170g Petzl Laser Speed Light 100g 70g
Headlamp BD Storm 114g BD Ion 48g 63g
TOTAL WEIGHT   8355g   3959g 4396g or 9.69lbs


Notice that total weight saved on just these 12 items is almost 10 lbs! There are other tricks and tips that I've learned over the years that save me pounds of weight compared to a lot of trekkers and climbers without compromising too much on safety or even comfort;


  • Don't carry water unless you have to. I carry a cup on my pack waist loop and drink straight from streams / rivers as I cross them during the day. Obviously there's risk of illness from water borne bugs but I have yet to get sick in 17 years of drinking from Rockies' streams. On canoe trips I do carry 1L of treated water, but rather than bring a filter, I use the chlorine solution drops - much lighter and easier to use.
  • Don't get fancy with cooking / eating. Some people love to eat in the outdoors and I totally get this. There's nothing like fresh bread or some wine with fresh veggies or fruit after a hard day of hiking, but it'll cost you extra energy / wear 'n tear to carry that extra weight in your pack. Is it really worth it? (Sometimes the answer is 'yes' BTW...)
  • One pot solutions for cooking. I use titanium cup / pot to save weight.
  • Dehydrated food is your friend. Much healthier to make your own (less crap like salt and MSG in it) but I still buy mine usually as it's more convenient.
  • Don't carry too much clothing. Either learn to like your own smell or better yet, invest in fabric that doesn't smell, like Merino wool products. On multi-day trips, simply do laundry once in a while (i.e. when your tent mate starts dry heaving every time you come close).
  • Extras like water filtration pumps, air mattress pumps, camera tripods etc are all not necessary and often don't even get used much.
  • Instead of bringing a really warm jacket and a warm sleeping bag, bring a warm (down) jacket and a lighter sleeping bag. Wear your jacket to bed and you'll be toasty! Wear your down socks to bed and you'll be too hot half the time! ;)
  • Climbing gear is generally really, really heavy. If you must bring a rope (better yet, learn to scramble low fifth class! ;)), bring one or two 30m 8mm singles if at all possible. You spread the load between two people, can still rap 15 or 30m at a time and can even do easy climbing where the odds of actually falling are very low. I know of people that travel glaciers with only a 7mm rope or one 30m 8mm travel rope, and one 30m 7mm rescue rope. It's not for everyone, but it saves a TON of weight! Know how to use a skinny rope - i.e. make sure your rap device works with thinner ropes and know how to rap on a munter hitch which works well with thinner ropes (although rope twist can be an issue). 
  • Do lots of research before traveling so you know what to expect and can plan for it ahead of time rather than bringing everything you might need. For example, if your route is well traveled it might have bolted anchors or lots of solid tat. You may not need those 8 pitons or that full rack of nuts or cams. On Mount Assiniboine and Mount Alexandra we brought too much gear for just-in-case scenarios. Especially on Assiniboine, which is climbed many times per season by experienced mountain guides, you know there's going to be lots of (recent) tat, tons of gear on-route and very little need to build your own anchors. At most you should only need a moderate rock rack. If you time it right you should have a dry mountain and may only need to protect a couple of pitches and rappel a few times on descent. For Alexandra, we knew the rock section was short and the rap bolted, so pitons were complete over kill.


Some readers are probably wondering if trekking without all the extras is even 'fun' anymore! Only you can decide what you need to make life in the back country worth getting to and staying in. Contrary to what you may think, I will still carry the following extras some times - depending on the type of trip of course!


  • e-reader (I managed to get a tiny kindle when they still sold them)
  • extra camera lenses (for astro or macro photography)
  • flower ID cards or even books
  • ultra light fishing rod w/ tackle
  • good food
  • wine


The Costs of going Light

Nothing in life is free. Saving 10-20lbs on basic gear weight is far from free! Even though I can still use most of my old gear (i.e. my sleeping bag for car camping, my heavy crampons for ice or my large head lamp for canoe trips), I still spent hundreds of $$$ switching over to lighter gear. The biggest expenses by far were on the shelter, pack and sleeping gear.


But the cost of going light has to be weighed in terms besides just the money. According to me, the benefits of enjoying tough mountaineering, hiking and canoe trips into middle and hopefully old age are far more important than a few hundred bucks invested now. My knees were weak when I started climbing mountains almost two decades ago. Through careful training and using poles and light'ish gear, I've managed to keep them reasonably functional so far. Now I have to invest some more in them to keep the rest of me going another 10, or 20, or 40 years!


There is another cost to going light. I might lose the occasional summit or end goal due to compromising on equipment to save weight. South Twin is a good example of where this already occurred for me. Thinking there'd be plenty of snow on the climb, a bunch of us left our full steel crampons at home. This meant we weren't confident climbing the 35-40 degree hard glacial ice on our flimsy (and light) aluminum crampons. When one of our party tried going around the bare ice to make tracks for the rest of us, he fell in a crevasse and our trip was over for the day. To this day, I still don't have South Twin... I've been pushed to the edge a few times thanks to crampon issues. On Mount Fryatt my aluminum crampons felt skimpy too, and I really wanted a second ice axe for one of the icy gully moves.


As I mentioned earlier already, on Mount Alexandra we carried way too much rock gear. We should have realized that the route is done fairly often (thanks to ACC camps) and would be bolted and fairly easy. The approach on Alexandra is long and brutal so we didn't want to fail, but carrying the extra weight cost too - just in more subtle ways, like wear on our knees and muscles. The cost of going light can be a missed route. If you count on Mount Assiniboine being dry and are very confident in your free climbing abilities you might leave too much gear behind and miss out on the summit of one of the Rockies most majestic mountain peaks.


Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention another potential cost of going (too?) light. Unlike hiking where leaving that extra coat behind might mean a cold night or two, leaving climbing gear behind to save weight can either leave you stranded (best case) or even injured or dead. I've done ski trips on the Columbia Icefield in May when it was +15 degrees at the parkway and we all got frost bite while skiing in a blizzard above - I'm talking small areas of black skin on my face. :( Leaving warm gear or climbing pro behind can do much more than cost you a summit if you're not extremely confident in your abilities, the weather and your ability to adapt to changing scenarios, which only comes with experience.


I want to end this section with a strong caution to beginner hikers / climbers / skiers that it's still safer to pack a few too many items than not enough. As you gain experience you'll discover what "too few" and "enough" means for you - everyone has different definitions!


Going Light - Going Miserable?


Many folks assume that because I'm in a 499g tent instead of a 1500g one, I'm less comfortable or compromising on space. In this case, the opposite is true! The HMG 2-person UltraMid is a wonder of new materials and manufacturing abilities. It provides 63 square feet of space under a completely water / storm proof pyramid that is just as comfortable hanging from a tree branch or set up on an icefield in a howling blizzard. I've only ever stayed in a tent once in winter, every other time has been in a 'mid' of some sort. They are delightful for winter camping. Cuben Fiber is the miracle material that Hyperlite Mountain Gear uses for their gear. I also have their ice pack, which not only weighs much less than other 55 liter mountaineering packs, but is completely waterproof! No need for a pack cover. Excellent. I also use their stuff sacks for organizing gear in my pack. Due to it's very limited manufacture and distribution, Cuben Fiber is not cheap! I managed to score some good prices on Black Friday and sold some of my gear, or I never would have afforded the UltraMid.


As mentioned earlier, you don't have to freeze either, just because you're carrying a smaller / lighter sleeping bag than before. If you carry a warm down jacket and booties, just wear those to bed if it's cold! Voila! Nobody is cold when wearing a 900 fill down jacket to bed... ;)


In a strange way, I find going light to be more enjoyable than carrying everything and the kitchen sink. For example I like carrying only a few camera lenses. I find when I carry too much gear (usually on canoe trips where you can get away with carrying a lot of extra crap) I just end up not using it or always debating about which piece of gear to use. When I am 'forced' to live simply I spend less time worrying about my gear and more time enjoying the natural world that I'm part of. And for me that's the entire point of it all in the first place! I've used camera's with only one fixed lens before and really enjoyed the experience (and still got some fantastic images).


Another benefit to using lighter gear is that it's usually smaller - it takes up less bulk. This means you carry a physically smaller back pack (in my case a 55L instead of a 85L) which has all sorts of side benefits from being easier to climb with, easier to bushwhack with and more balanced. You can also use the same pack for day trips from a base camp - you don't need to lug your huge pack around or pack a separate day pack.


'Go Light' in Everything!

Finally, I would like to stress that discovering what works for you in the 'go light' philosophy is a personal journey and is unique to each individual. It should not be a contest to see how extreme everyone can go relative to each other. I've seen that script and I know how it ends. :(


I am trying to 'go light' in my personal life too. I live in a small house, drive smaller vehicles and try to leave a 'light' foot print on the environment both at home in Calgary and when I live in the wild. Going light in life is a huge relief and a huge stress-saver.


I'm a big believer in letting people go their own journey rather than dictate what everyone 'should' do but I do think we need to live responsibly with our environment wherever and however we can. There are over 7 billion of us and we all have unique needs, ideas and dreams. Let's try to be responsible with our big, beautiful planet and leave it a better place than we found it, so our kids can enjoy the same wild places we do!


Invest now in good, light gear for the future and you will be able to use the same equipment for many adventures while saving your body for even more trips in the future.

Happy New Year & Updates to Explor8ion

Happy new year 2016 to all my friends and visitors! Normally I don't give a shout out to the new year, but I am reworking and rejuvenating much of explor8ion and would like to call your attention to all my hard work. So what am I up to? Several initiatives are underway that will be developing over the next few months to possibly a year on this site.


GPS Tracks on


I'm finally announcing that I will start providing GPS tracks for viewing and download on many of my old trip reports and most of my new ones. You probably didn't even realize it, but in the past, I've been against providing GPS tracks in most of my trip reports. I know that many of my good hiking / climbing friends such as Marko Stavrik, So Nakagawa, Sonny Bou and of course, Bob Spirko have been providing you with GPS tracks for years already but I still debate the practice, even though I'm going to follow it going forward.


What is my hang-up with freely passing out all my GPS tracks? Well, there's a few reasons;


  • There is so much beta available nowadays in the form of multiple online trip reports, route lines on maps / photographs and of course guide books that I wonder what sense of adventure is being lost while scores of people follow a blinking arrow on a screen through rugged terrain and up peak after peak after peak.
  • What impact does providing free GPS tracks have on guide books and the need for them? I've always struggled with how my free beta impacts the good guide book authors, all of whom I greatly respect, including but not limited to Chic Scott, Bill Corbett, David P. Jones, Alan Kane, Tony and Gillean Daffern and Andrew Nugara. I think that freely available GPS tracks can't help but hurt local authors. On the other hand, I recognize that change isn't always bad and usually hurts someone.
  • I am of the humble opinion that I'm already providing an incredible service to the folks who visit I have spent countless hours, a lot of hard earned money and countless kilometers of both distance and height gain to provide all of my beta at zero cost to the public. Do I really need to add my very hard-won GPS tracks too? Sometimes I feel like I might as well just sign the damn register for everyone too! (Kidding of course...)


I think it's already pretty darn easy for the modern scrambler / climber / hiker given all the freely available beta. Yes, I know that makes me an old curmudgeon, but I don't care because that's how I roll. :) IMHO, there's already too much information, too many worn paths / trails and way too damn much plastic flagging (!) on routes all over the Rockies and Canadian wilderness. Is the only reason to stand on a peak or pass through some remote place, the social media brag, that "I've bagged another one - look at me!"? That thought makes me very sad and I sincerely hope that it's not the motivation for most of you. Exploring (i.e. following a compass and your gut) and route finding used to be a necessary wilderness skill in order to navigate off trail and up remote peaks. I wonder how many people miss all of the excitement and adventure that I've had over the years, struggling to make sense of the damn guidebook or the complex micro-terrain that doesn't show up on the map? It's always surprising how many PITA cliff bands fit between contour lines! ;)


Now, after that little rant I have to be 100% fair and honest. I always download and take a GPS track if I have one available to me. Like everyone else, I use all the beta available to me when planning and executing a trip. It would be silly not to. Just because technology makes something easier, doesn't make it necessarily bad. I use an avalanche transceiver and SPOT devices too - both of which make backcountry travel safer and arguably easier. I have a family that I love and that is looking for me to come home safely after each trip. Anything that can make my wilderness outings safer is something I have to seriously consider - and that definitely includes GPS technology. I've been using a GPS with built-in maps for quite a few years already, and on many trips it's come in extremely handy. Try navigating through Canadian Shield country with only a map and compass some time! There are so many little islands and rivers that you can very quickly get lost. A GPS device can literally be a life saver in that terrain.


I also recognize that it's way too late to make any sort of meaningful stand on a anti-GPS high horse. There are free GPS tracks for most common hikes, scrambles and climbs already, so I'm not providing you with anything you can't get elsewhere anyway. I might as well make explor8ion more usable and help you avoid having to click on multiple trip reports to get other people's GPS tracks when I have perfectly usable ones myself. If I can assist in getting more people out of the concrete jungles and into real ones, safely, than I've accomplished the goal of my site. If I have a GPS track available for a trip, you'll find the link as follows;


[The GPS Track / Route has been added to the Trip Details section and will show with a link to the file. If there's no GPS track available, the link will not show on the trip report.]


Updating old Trip Reports


Something much more near-and-dear to me than providing GPS beta, is the updating / refreshing / renewing of old trip reports that I've written and published over the many years that I've been tramping around the Rockies and canoeing in Shield country. Basically, any trip report that's more than 2 years old needs to be updated and refreshed;


  • More photographs - many more for each trip report now that everyone is on high speed internet.
  • Larger photographs - 665 pixels displayed on the long edge, 600+ pixels on the short edges of panoramas, more panoramas with more peaks identified and linked in the captions.
  • Revamped formatting - includes putting captions under photos in italics, a consistent zoom using the '++' hyperlink, breaking each report into multiple paragraphs, with photos in between (blog style), formatting photos to display nicely on high resolution devices (i.e. Retina displays) and providing more trip information such as total distance, GPS tracks, route map images and more links to other trip reports on both explor8ion and on the web in general.


This is a lot of work, as you can imagine. I am going into old photo archives and reprocessing hundreds of images before uploading them into newly formatted trip reports. I find this 'work' to be very satisfying, as it allows me to essentially re-live the trips as I update the reports. Many of my best memories come flooding back as I read my blogs from years ago, which validates why I have my site in the first place - as a diary for myself to remember trips without repeating trips. Some examples of reworked trip reports;



I will be prioritizing popular trips and trips that I have enjoyed for updating. (You can sort trips by the last updated date in this view). Hopefully you will enjoy old trip reports all over again as I update them and I sincerely hope that by providing as much information as I can, I am assisting you in your adventures, whatever they might be. Here's to an excellent and exciting 2016!

Happy New Year 2017!

Climbing Mount Alexandra

Happy new year! 2017 holds some pretty nice adventures for me, I hope you are busy planning (or doing) your own adventures too this year. There's nothing quite like dreaming about green alpine meadows with sparkling lakes and blooming wildflowers while freezing your a__ off walking to work in January is there? What I want more than anything for this new year is to focus on simply living by living simply.


The older I get, the crazier the world seems to get around me. I know this isn't the case. I am just getting less naive about the realities of life, while also getting less patient to deal with these realities in a constructive manner. Younger folks seem to have an innate ability to overlook or ignore much of the darker side of humanity and life in general, while older folks seem to gravitate towards cynicism or withdrawal from it in order to cope. I have always had a natural ability to see things for what they really are, which is both a good thing and a terrible thing, depending on where I happen to be looking.


I've found that for me, the easiest way to get down about my life, is to buy into the fantasies that social media and advertising are propagating on humanity in fine form. These lies include the time-worn myth that humans can be happy and relevant, only when we are heavily in debt - both socially and monetarily. We are hounded from all sides, constantly reminded that we can only be popular and relevant when we own the very best "stuff" that our lenders are willing to let us borrow for. We must live in the nicest possible house, drive the nicest possible vehicle, hang out with the hottest and most popular people, have the most important, high paying job and do the most extreme vacationing, or be at risk of total and devastating irrelevance. We are reminded again and again that as long as we can afford the minimum payment, there is no downside. The person to die with the most toys and the most "likes", wins.


We push ourselves at work and play to be that one person who everyone else is jealous of. Explor8ion is a bit of a challenge for me, because the nature of having a blog on the Internet is that it can serve to mount pressure on oneself to do things that garner more attention and approval, thereby stoking the fires of ego. I've considered making this site private, but that seems selfish when so many people seem to get enjoyment out of sharing my adventures or dreaming of their own as a result of my photos and stories. A conundrum to be sure, and one that I continue to struggle with.


I'm hoping to make this year more about doing things that really make me and my family happy rather than what I think I should be doing. Selfish? Perhaps. Boring? Probably. Normal? You bet! Maybe I'll do 5 hiking trips and spend the rest of my year on the golf course. Maybe I'll only chase a few 11,000ers. Maybe I'll go canoeing instead. Maybe I'll practice my climbing skills and become a more serious alpinist. Maybe I'll ski more. Maybe I'll quit social media. I'm not sure, because I usually don't know precisely what I'm doing until I'm actually doing it and even then I'm often not sure. ;)


I know one thing with absolute certainty. I'm not going to do any of it for you. ;) Don't take it personally. I wish all of you a very Happy New Year and hope you all find the motivation and adventure in life that you are seeking.

How many 11,000er's are there?

I'll state up front that while I love climbing the 11,000er's and plan on climbing most of them if my health stays reasonable, I have no desire to pursue the "list" of 54 (58?!) that several people have completed and more are currently working on. If I ever do complete this list it will be more by accident than with any intent. I'm done with climbing 'lists' and simply want to get out and enjoy the Rockies as much as I can. Lists are good in that they give us something to focus on but I also love getting out and climbing stuff that nobody else cares about - or most have never even heard of!

While browsing the web I recently came across a four part series on the topic of the 11,000 foot (and higher) peaks in the Rockies which I thought were interesting enough to share here.

  1. Part I
  2. Part II
  3. Part III
  4. Part IV

These links are all taken from here. Enjoy!

Kananaskis Flood Damage

[Update July 12 2013]
Many areas are now opening in Kananaskis thanks to an incredible effort by many. Many trails still remain closed, however. Please visit the Kananaskis Trails report page for updates.

[Update July 04 2013]
Volunteer to repair this valuable and loved area by filling out this form and submitting it.

As you probably know by now, our beloved Kananaskis Country has suffered extensive damage in the floods of June 2013. Here's an image of the damages, you can download a PDF here and go to the Alberta Parks website for more details as they assess and repair all the damage. Thankfully no lives were lost in the mountains over this dramatic event.

For a more private look at the flooding of Cougar Creek in Canmore, take a look at Photographer John E. Marriott's YouTube channel.

My Battle of the Bulge

My Weight Battle

I've struggled with my weight for most of my life. I grew up on a farm and had unlimited access to cookies and milk (whole milk - not skim) while I was growing up. We ate very big meals and even though I was a very active kid, I was always known as 'big guy'. I was also made to believe by my family that my extra fat meant that I was 'big boned' - even though my natural body type is very slim and tall. I have an addictive personality and to this day milk and cookies are what I turn to when I'm having a rough day or week.


Growing up I would hear comments about my weight. I was always jealous of my cousins who were slim and muscular with no big love handles. The comments about my weight hurt and to this day I have body image issues because of comments made to me when I was young. I don't believe people were trying to be mean to me, they just commented on what they saw and made jokes about it. I will never joke with anyone over their weight because I know how much hurt it causes. Many fat people joke about their own weight in order to get the comments 'over and done with' on their own terms. This way they don't have to hear it from other people. If you know someone who regularly jokes about their own weight you know that they have problems with their weight.


When I was in my early 20's I found myself addicted to cigarettes and weighing over 230 lbs. I was 6ft tall with a puffy stomach, no energy and a really bad body image - no confidence at all. I was getting married to a beautifully slim girl who had a lot more self control than me. Finally one day, when I stood on a medical scale and saw the numbers '235' I knew that I had to do something about this problem. I quit smoking (took about 10 tries over 2 years) and because I couldn't bear the thought of gaining even more weight, I started running. I remember driving out of Winnipeg to surrounding dirt roads so that I could run without people I knew commenting on it. I remember being chased by farm dogs down the road too! :)


Over the last 15 years I've continued to struggle with my weight. Only a couple of times have I been completely satisfied with my weight and then most people thought I was way too skinny. They weren't used to me being a healthy weight! My weight continues to fluctuate as I struggle with the same issues you have. This qualifies me to write about what works and doesn't work for me and how I think you can lose weight.


I've been there. I AM there.


It's Tough!

Let me state up front that losing weight is harder than quitting smoking. Yeah, I know - motivating isn't it? But it's true. Losing weight and maintaining the loss is one of the hardest things anyone can do. It's harder than quitting most other addictions. Yes, food is an addiction, especially for most people who are over weight.


The problem with a food addiction is that you can never completely stop eating! With smoking, drugs or drinking you can completely stop the activity. With food, you have to force yourself to do less of it while still doing some of it. It's like an alcoholic trying to limit herself to a couple drinks a day, every day, and no more than that!  :(


The statistics are also against you. Something like only 5% of people who lose weight, keep it off. My friend, you are in for a long, hard battle but I am going to offer you some advice that can greatly assist you and turn the odds in your favor. Once you feel in control of your weight you will feel in control of your life. This can translate into many other benefits such as exercise, health and confidence.


Unfortunately there is no easy way to lose weight and keep it off. Every single diet or weight loss program will have one thing in common. You have to follow them strictly and they will restrict your calorie intake. You will have to fight tooth and nail for your healthy weight and then you'll have to keep fighting for the rest of your life to keep it where it should be. I could sugarcoat (pun intended) it but that's the facts.


It's tough.


Running and Exercise

When I first started running I would drive outside the city and run on dirt roads. This was for two reasons. First of all, I grew up in the country and loved the fresh air. Secondly, I didn't want people to stare at me while I ran! I started off running pretty slow and was soon running 2-4 miles. 


I've been running regularly for about 16 years now and there are some things I've learned about using running as a weight control mechanism:


  1. Running or exercising consistently is TOUGH. I love it when people say, "running comes more easily to you than me". Yeah right! Do you have any idea how hard it is to motivate yourself to run in -15 weather with blowing snow and ice? That part of it doesn't get any easier. Or it hasn't for me. Notice that I used the word consistently. Anyone can run or bike in nice weather. It's what you do in bad weather that either makes you an exerciser or simply someone who gets out on a bike once-in-while when it's sunny.
  2. Exercise doesn't make you slim. I know that's not what you wanted to read but it's ultimately true. I've actually gained weight many times while running fairly consistently. You burn about 100 calories for each 1.5km you run. So if you run 10km you burn 600 calories. This is only one burger or one milkshake. If you ate a burger AND a milkshake after the run, your total calorie intake would be positive and you would be gaining weight! The only reason you don't see very many fat runners is because if you have the discipline to exercise regularly, you probably also have the discipline to watch your calorie intake (i.e. eating) and therefore the combination of less calories and more exercise keeps most active people slim.
  3. Exercise can hurt you. If you run or exercise consistently you will feel it. There's no way around this simple fact. Learn to run properly by attended a running clinic, that will go a long way to mitigating running injuries but you will have to learn an alternative sport for those pesky knees, ankles and backs!
  4. Running is better for weight loss than almost anything else. I know a lot of people try to convince themselves (and others) than walking or swimming burns just as many calories as running but quite simply put, it doesn't. Walking is a great way to spend your injured days or to fill in for days when you can't run and swimming is a great way to tone but running elevates your metabolism and heart rate much higher than walking or running does. Most people simply don't do enough other exercise to burn the equivalent number of calories that a good run can cook off.
  5. Exercise is addictive. If you do manage to get into a regular exercise routine you will find that it's also addictive, even though it's not easy to do consistently. You'll miss it when you can't get out and you'll find yourself working exercise into your holidays because it's so relaxing and feels so good. This is a good thing kind of addiction.


Barriers to Weight Loss

There are many barriers to losing weight. Some of them are obvious, some not so obvious. One of the biggest barriers is the people around you. When you turn down that ice cream cone or that piece of birthday cake people around you will not like it. Generally people like to suffer communally and don't want you to lose weight, it's like smokers. When I quite smoking my smoking friends kept telling me that "you'll never last". They felt guilty because I managed to quit and they were still killing themselves with a bad habit. Count on others ridiculing you and trying to make you lose your resolve. Use the negative energy of your friends and family to spur yourself on with even more resolve. You know you're doing something right when the people around you are grumpy about it. It's their problem, not yours, so don't be guilted into falling off the wagon!


Another barrier that may be particular to certain cultures or religious groups has to do with providing meals for the family and eating a communal meal with family or friends. These cultural practices simply have to change. A simple meal of soup or salad and raw veggies can be just as harmonious, cheaper and far healthier for the evening meal.


Other barriers are the very reasons why we eat. Especially in North America, we eat for many reasons other than hunger. As a matter of fact, most of the time we are eating for reasons other than hunger. It's all these other reasons that make us fat including;


  • Social eating (including drinking - a calorie is a calorie!)
  • Polite eating (related to above)
  • Mood eating - this is a bad one for me, especially chocolate when I'm depressed!
  • Habit eating - includes my coffee / muffin every morning.
  • Weekend eating (most people assume they can eat anything on the weekend without gaining weight...)
  • Hormonal eating (do I have to expand on this one? :-) Gain too much in your pregnancy and you will suffer for it afterwards.)
  • Worth or Religious eating - you think that you have to supply big meals to support your family and show that you're worthy. You're hurting them and yourself instead.


It's actually pretty sad that the main reason North Americans (and Europeans) are so fat is because we have too much money and can afford to eat when we don't have to be eating. Someone with very little money can't afford to eat even if they are depressed and craving chocolate.


Three Laws of Weight Management

There are three laws of weight loss and weight management. Until you agree with (and understand how they apply to you) these three laws you will never manage your weight and whether you are slim or fat will be more luck than anything else.


I didn't invent these laws, they are universal laws of living organisms and are true for anything that eats to sustain life, whether it's plants, animals or YOU. Interestingly enough, these laws also apply to your bank account.


  1. Extra credits are saved. Usually in your stomach, thighs or love handles.
  2. Extra debits are taken out of your credits. Usually the thighs, stomach and love handles are the very last areas of debit!
  3. Balancing credits and debits results in no savings and no debt. I.e. you don't gain weight.


Of course a credit is a calorie gained and a debit is a calorie burned in this scenario. You don't have to like these laws but they're true - that's why they're laws. You don't have to like the law of gravity or death either, but both happen on a regular basis.


Everyone credits and debits their calories in different ways and at different rates but the universal truth is that the more you eat and the less you burn, the more you gain. Lately I've read and watched various articles and programs that claim that everyone responds differently to different foods (i.e. Glycemic Index). I read of one case where the author seems to be implying that she gains weight while eating grapes, while her slim friend can eat chocolate and ice cream without gaining a pound. This is pure poppycock. Sure! GI might affect everyone differently for different food groups, but I guarantee that if you eat nothing but grapes for a week, you will lose weight. And if you eat nothing but chocolate and ice cream for a week guess what? You'll gain weight. Sorry - but that's the way it is! 


What you need to do

There are a few things you need to do before you can lose weight. The most obvious and hardest thing to do is to admit that you need to lose it in the first place and agree with the three laws as stated above.


While it's true that our society (North American) is far too obsessed with weight and looks, it's also somewhat ironic that we are in the middle of a fat crisis. The reason a slim body is considered fashionable is because it's so hard to obtain and maintain that relatively few people over the age of 35 manage to do it! When something is hard to do and only accomplished by a few it becomes a pinnacle to strive for (think Mount Everest or being very wealthy).


The reason you should want to be thin shouldn't be primarily because it's fashionable, but rather because it's healthy and it feels good. If you're married, your partner will appreciate it too! You can't expect to maintain energy and libido if you're 20, 30 or 50 lbs over-weight.


Here's a list of things you must do in order to lose weight. You will find all kinds of reasons why you don't want to do them or why you shouldn't have to count calories or limit your food intake. I guarantee if you don't do all of the following things you will NOT lose weight or manage a healthy weight. It's up to you how serious you are about this. No one can force you to lose weight. Make up your mind and then dedicate yourself to the following principals:


  1. Quit blaming your glands! I will admit that there are a very small number of people who can't medically lose weight. If they stopped eating they'd die and they can't stop gaining weight when they do eat, but this is a VERY SMALL MINORITY AND IT ISN'T YOU.
  2. Quit blaming your body. It isn't your body's fault that you are over-weight. It's your fault. I don't mean to be harsh or unkind but your body is built a certain way and even though some people are more naturally slim than others, it's probably because they aren't as depressive or addicted to food or drinking as you are. Usually the people we consider "naturally slim", simply don't eat or drink as much as we do. It's that simple.
  3. Find out who and what to blame! In my case I had to realize that I eat when I'm depressed and the reason I do this is because since I was a little kid I used food to deal with stress. In your case it may be the same thing, or maybe you eat too much for other reasons (see the 'barrior' section above). The bottom line is tough to admit but unless someone is literally cramming food down your throat YOU are ultimately the one to blame for being over weight and YOU are the only one who can fix it.
  4. Deal with the fact that you eat too much. I know you want a quick fix. I know that you don't think you eat too much. You do. Even if you only drink one extra glass of milk a day for a year, you will gain 1 pound  a month or 12 pounds a year! I didn't say you were a pig or a slob, I simply said you eat too much. You don't have to like this reality but you do have to admit it in order to lose and maintain your weight. This is related to the three laws of weight management as stated above.
  5. There is only one way to gain weight. Too much intake of calories for your body. That's it. Confront and acknowledge this reality or you will never lose it. Don't even keep reading until you agree with this statement (law #1).
  6. There's only one way to lose weight. I know that you don't want to 'starve' to lose weight. I know that you don't want to slow down your eating. I know that you don't want to change your lifestyle. I know that you want to take a pill that will make you slim. IT AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN IF YOU DON'T CHANGE. END OF STORY. The only way to lose weight is by taking in less calories than your body needs on a daily basis, otherwise known as starving. Deal with this reality and you're a long way towards losing weight. Until you deal with it you will never lose and keep weight off. I know this sounds harsh but I didn't make the rule, it simply is this way.
  7. Discover who you are. So who are you exactly? What I mean by this is, how exactly does your particular body deal with calories? For example I have two main problems with weight. First of all, I am an emotional eater. I eat to feel good. The biggest problem though, is that I never seem to feel full! My body doesn't tell me when I've had enough till I've had way too much calories. Interesting eh? This sucks because it means that when I'm trying to maintain my weight I basically always feel hungry.
  8. Monitor yourself. A lot of crappy advise is out there on "throwing away your weight scale"! How is that going to help?! You must pick at least one day a week (not more than two) and one time of the day to weigh yourself on a digital scale. Mornings are best (weight fluctuates a lot through the day thanks to fluid intake) and you should be naked for consistency. I do Thursday and Sunday. If you're not monitoring your weight how do you really know if you're maintaining, losing or gaining? You don't. It can be very scary to weight yourself, especially if you know you've had a particularly bad week. Don't be afraid to skip the occasional weight-in but if you find yourself not weighing in for more than 2 weeks you've probably regressed to old habits and you should immediately take stock of your situation and get back into it.
  9. Use anything that works. Don't limit yourself in how you cut back calories (law #2)! Any diet (that works), does it based on the three laws of weight management. Any diet that works for you is good enough. You can lose weight on a chocolate bar diet. Of course you should consult with your physician or nutritionist at some point and should always maintain healthy eating of fruits and veggies but let's not kid ourselves. Losing weight is hard and any way that works is good enough for me! ;-)
  10. Find a supporter! I've lost weight many times over the years, and only one person seems to notice on a regular basis. That's my wife and I love her for it. I understand that people don't want to admit that they may have a weight problem but why is it that when you gain 5 lbs everyone comments and when you lose 20 no one says anything? You need a supporter or you won't make it.


What your new life looks like

So what will your new life look like when you've done the impossible and managed to lose weight? Well, you probably don't want to read this but it will look quite a bit different and the hard part has just begun.


If your new life doesn't look different then you will not be able to maintain your healthy weight. If you regularly partake of the following types of food you will not keep your weight down, you WILL GAIN WEIGHT, no matter how much exercise you do.


  • Fast food. Yes, even salads from fast food restaurants are quite unhealthy, especially if you use the dressing.
  • Cheeze
  • Butter
  • Red meat
  • Chips
  • Soft drink
  • Beer or any other Alcoholic beverage (I know, it sucks but...)
  • Sugary snacks
  • Starches


 The following types of food should regularly show up on your diet:


  • Grains
  • Veggies
  • Fruit
  • Low fat milk
  • Lean meat
  • Unprocessed food


Another habit you should get into is eating smaller meals, more often. Instead of a huge breakfast, where you consume more than half of your daily required intake of calories, eat some oatmeal with coffee and have another snack at coffee time.


Do I have to count Calories?

Yes you do. You're currently over-weight because you didn't count calories in the first place. Don't make the same mistake again and risk getting very despondent over weight loss efforts that don't produce any results. I know people who regularly exercise but are quite over weight. They are constantly depressed about this situation and wonder aloud why they're not losing any weight even though they're so active. The answer is because they aren't monitoring their calorie intake (or out-take for that matter). They don't realize that even though they're burning a lot of calories once or twice a week, they are consuming way more than they're burning. Therefore they're gaining weight, not losing it.


How are you going to keep a healthy bank account if you never count your money? It's impossible. Can't be done.


The problem with most people is that when we're young we tend to be more physically active. Our young bodies were growing and needed way more calories than our older bodies do, so we're not used to counting calories. We want things to be the same as when we could eat anything and stay slim and healthy. Wanting something to be a certain way doesn't make it so. You're not 18 anymore. C'est la vie my friend, c'est la vie!


Counting calories is not as hard as you probably think. It requires some discipline but becomes as natural as eating once you're used to it. You learn to be a good 'guestimator' of food calories and this is usually enough for most people. Learning that a glass of skim milk is 100 calories is not that hard to remember. Most people gravitate towards the same types of food so eventually you will learn what your favorite foods cost in terms of fat. You will be very surprised how little you actually need to eat to maintain a healthy weight.


For most men who aren't active, 2200 calories a day is more than enough. For most women it's far less, somewhere around 1500 calories a day. Considering that a Tim Horton's breakfast sandwich + coffee with cream is probably around 800 calories or more, 2200 calories is not as much food as you'd think, especially if it's unhealthy food you have a penchant for!


This doesn't sound like FUN!

No it doesn't. And it isn't. In our culture we expect to get everything for nothing, but life doesn't usually work that way. You don't get a big bank account without working hard and saving every penny, and you don't get a slim body without sacrificing some pleasure out of eating. Diet companies try to say that you can have it all without sacrificing anything but they're lying to you. The only way you can eat more and lose weight is if the food you're eating has less calories than your body needs for energy.


Just like you have to sacrifice the pleasure of smoking in exchange for a longer life when you quit that habit, you have to sacrifice the pleasure of unhealthy eating in order to live a longer and healthier life. If you can't face the fact that other people will be enjoying a big hunk of chocolate birthday cake and you'll be drinking a glass of water and nibbling on a carrot stick instead, or others will be eating two hamburgers and you'll be only eating one, then you won't lose or maintain your weight.


Nothing comes for free. That includes a healthy body.


Does everyone have to be skinny?

Nope. No one 'has' to be anything. But this article is about losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight, whatever that means to you. You may be skinny at the end of this or moderately over weight. It's up to you how far you want to take it.


Do I have to starve myself to lose weight?

Yep. It's a strong and surprisingly unpopular way to put it, but technically if your body is eating itself (i.e. losing weight - it doesn't just melt off you know!), you are starving. That's why it's so hard to do. We are surrounding by tantalizing food and cultural situations where we're expected to eat and you have to voluntarily starve yourself amidst all this temptation. That's exactly why most people can't lose and maintain their weight.


UPDATE - July 2010

So here we are, 1 year later. I thought I'd write an update to this blog entry to let you know how my last year has gone. Hopefully yours is going well and you are on your way to weight loss and a healthy body!


I lost it again this past year.


Isn't it funny? Last year I SWORE up and down that I would never weight over 180lbs again. I would maintain my weight at around 175lbs for GOOD. Yeah well that didn't work out so good.


After taking the summer of 2009 off, I started looking for work in a depressed market in September. By October I still didn't even have an interview! Guess what happened? Yep. I started doing more and more sitting around (after a very active summer of climbing 47 mountains!) and resorted to what I do when I'm bored and depressed. I ate. And ate some more. Many chocolate chip cookies were sacrificed before I finally got a job in late October. The damage had already started and mentally I just didn't have what it took to stop snacking and eating. I kept exercising vigorously through the fall and winter but the eating kept me from maintaining or losing the extra flab. By the end of November 2009 I was back up to 187lbs! GRRRRRRR.


Depressed with my weight situation AGAIN, I decided in January 2010 that something radical had to happen or I was doomed to simply be over weight. After much resolve I decided that starting on February 01 2010 I would stop eating chocolate. This would be a permanent thing, like quitting smoking or drinking. Because chocolate is the one snack that I was really addicted to (whether chocolate milk, cookies, bars, candy - they were all a major problem for me), that was the one food I would never eat again.


Six months later and I'm still chocolate free! The first three months of my withdrawal were very tough because I only lost 2 lbs / month while exercising insane amounts (like 80km / week running & walking)! The reason I didn't lose more weight was because I replaced chocolate with other fats such as chips and cake. Starting in May and June I dedicated myself to eating much less and still exercising quite a bit. I'm now around 170lbs and still losing. Since February I've lost 17lbs.


Did I mention that this is a LIFELONG struggle? :-|


The New Plan

So the new plan is to stay off chocolate forever. This is a sacrifice that I think is worth it. I still crave it like crazy but nothing is free and this is the cost of me staying slim. It's also teaching me self control in other areas of my life which is something I've always struggled with.


The new plan is that I will have to drop to (and try to maintain) a weight of around 165lbs to be slim and healthy. This is much lower than I thought I had to be. I thought 175 was a good weight for me but it's simply too easy for me to balloon over 180lbs from this place. I am going to try for 165lbs this summer and maintain this weight through the winter. It'll be the first time in 15-20  years that I'll be this weight if I manage to pull it off.


Wish me luck!


Update - November 2010

I'm still off chocolate but due to a major stretch of slight depression I am again over 175lbs (but under 180). Today I read about a guy who lost 27 pounds while eating twinkies! It's all about calories in and calories out.


The battle continues...


Update December 2015

Wow! I can't believe it's been over 5 years since I updated this blog. Time flies... Long story short? I'm in the best cardio shape of my life at 40 years old. I'm running between 20 and 40km / week and getting averages of 12,000 to 20,000 steps per day. I climbed more mountains than any other year of my life and had some incredibly long days in the hills this year including a 3,500m height gain day


So I must be really slim and trim right? WRONG! I must still be done with eating chocolate right? WRONG!!


So why am I still over weight? Good damn question. This is more than frustrating - it's down right depressing some days. :( I'm not super over weight, but definitely still 15-20lbs heavier than I'd like to be and nowhere near as lean as I like. Even though I'm eating much more fruit, veggies and lean meats than ever before, I'm still eating too much sugar. I'm no longer off chocolate which is a major source of caloric intake for me. Over the years I have weaned myself off chocolate occasionally, but keep coming back to it's cocaine-like, dopamine boosting goodness. Goddammit.


I'm still quite bored at work in a Calgary high-rise office building, which encourages eating. I took two weeks off in September and lost almost 10 lbs simply by not sitting around bored all day. I've said this numerous times and I think it's still true - working in an office at a job I find boring and unfulfilling is literally killing me slowly, one day at a time. Oh well. I need to provide for my family and some days I actually enjoy it, so I will soldier on. There are things we all need to do in life that we'd rather not if we didn't have to. I'm delighted with my cardio and exercise, but once again I'm reminded that it's all about EATING. Exercise is merely to help me get up and down mountains and do the activities I enjoy, it does not make me slim and trim physically. Goddammit. (I swear a lot more now, in my 40's because I no longer care what folks think of me... ;))


At the end of the day, if I can't control the calories in, no matter how much I work out each day, they won't go out fast enough to prevent fat build up. Of course, getting older doesn't help either. My body simply loves to store calories and whether I like it or not, most days I seem perfectly content to feed it more than it needs.


All I can say to the many people reading this that might also struggle with their weight, is to KEEP ON, KEEPING ON. I know it's a struggle and a depressing one at that, but you are much more than your weight! Your value as a person and your ability to tackle life with all its wondrous challenges is much more important than a few numbers on a scale or looking how Hollywood says you should.


Update Feb 2016

So here I am, only a few months after the last update. I think blogging about my struggles must have helped motivate me because starting in January 2016 I once again gave up chocolate, snacking and eating (!!) and have lost about 10 lbs in one month. Currently, I'm still going strong but I have a long ways to go.


Something I'm trying this time around, is taking weekly photographs of myself so that I can see the physical changes in my body as I lose the weight. Yesterday was my 5th photo session and I can finally notice a real physical difference in the way my body looks. I will keep going strong for another month and update in March.


Update March 2016

Well, I'm still going strong. My previous record for very strict dieting (around 1200-1800 calories intake at most every day, 7 days a week, plus daily 1-2 hours of exercise) was 6 weeks and I'm now approaching 9 full weeks of very intensive dieting - along with lots of exercise of course.


I am in the stage where some days I don't have enough energy to do my usual 10-15km of walking but I have managed to keep hiking and doing easier stuff while I try to maintain dieting long enough to reach my goal weight. I still haven't weighed myself - that's coming on April 1 - but I have stopped wearing certain clothing that doesn't fit anymore and my photos are showing a remarkable physical difference since I started this endeavor in January. I get angry when I look at them because they show how much weight I gained at the end of last year, even with all the exercise I was doing. It doesn't seem fair. :(


This will be a tough month as I seem to have entered the stage of weight loss where every pound is an epic battle of the will versus the body. I'm delighted with my progress but I'm scared of how much longer it'll take to finally lose the amount of weight I need to be satisfied. I'm thinking I will have to continue this current diet for at least the month of April too. Losing weight becomes almost impossible in your 40's - I'm going to have to figure out a way to never gain it back...


Update April 2016

Believe it or not, I am still dieting almost 14 full weeks after starting this journey way back in January of this year. I just had an unbelievably rough month in March. :( Even though I managed to continue my strict caloric intake, I am now so depleted that I got majorly ill, not once, but twice! And I mean, MAJORLY! I was so sick this past week that I had a high fever for over 48 hours before it finally broke. I don't think this is directly related to my weight loss, but I'm sure my body has much less energy to fight illness now than a few months ago.


I have now finally lost a significant amount of weight. I bought some pants while on a weekend away with my wife in Banff this past weekend and was surprised that I'm down over 2 inches in my waist now from 13+ weeks ago! Pants that fit me only 4 or 5 weeks ago are now falling off. :) This is VERY ENCOURAGING.


I was going to weigh myself on April 1, but I've decided to wait at least another month before stepping on a scale. I suspect the numbers still won't impress me much at this point, and I'm really, really worried about losing momentum. At all costs, I must continue this effort! I don't have the will or energy to do something like this again any time soon. It's hard to explain to folks who've never struggled with their weight or who have never lost significant weight, but doing what I'm doing takes an incredible toll on both the body and mind. I am still shocked to look at photos from January and realize how f'ing over weight I somehow got again at the end of last year, despite all the exercise I was doing. This bothers me a great deal and worries me for the future. How can I prevent this from happening again? I don't think I can handle this type of weight loss effort again in my life. It's simply too hard and takes too much out of me. :(


Every single day for almost 100 days now, I've struggled with eating enough food to function and keep from falling over, but only that much and not much more. Every day I worry about whether or not today is the day I "fall off the wagon". Every single damn day is a fight against my body (which is getting weak from all the dieting) and my mind (which tells me to simply "give up"). I am reminded every single day that truly losing weight is so much harder than the pretty lady on TV promises. She tells me that I don't have to give up anything in order to "have it all". To go from so-called "normal" North American eating patterns which involves at least 3 full meals plus snacks and drinks every day to my current regimen of 1.5 meals and maybe a couple of granola bars and an apple a day, has been extremely difficult for me.


Here's what a normal day used to look like compared to what I try to eat nowadays;


Meal Before Current
Breakfast Coffee with muffin or breakfast sandwich Coffee with home made banana bread or fibre 1 bar
Snack Something unhealthy like candy from coworkers Apple
Lunch Something unhealthy with a coffee Coffee with high fiber chicken sandwich and an apple
After Work Couple of cookies with milk N/A
Dinner 1-3 helpings of home cooked meal or frozen pizza with milk, bread, cheese etc. 1/2 helping of dinner, no milk, no bread
Evening Couple of cookies (or more) with milk, crackers, chips or whatever is around to eat N/A

Run or walk every day, climb, ski, hike, bike on weekends and holidays


Eat as needed to cover energy needs will exercising on weekends

Run or walk every day (at least 10-15,000 steps). Climb, ski, hike, bike on weekends and holidays


Eat as needed to cover energy needs will exercising on weekends


As you can see, this is a pretty significant change! As I move forward in life and slowly transition from a weight loss model to a weight maintenance one, I am probably only adding another 0.5 to my evening meal or something like that. It is very shocking to me how little food the human adult over 40 years old needs! I was reminded of this in Banff this past weekend. My wife and I did a lot of people watching and of course we went out for dinner a few times. Firstly, we noticed that (most) people are ALWAYS EATING. Most folks are also significantly overweight - including a disturbing number of younger people (i.e. teenagers). From beavertails to ice cream cones to fudge snacks to bars, restaurants and coffee shops - folks seem to be eating from sun up until sun down. I certainly hope these people aren't shocked that they're over weight! I'm surprised that most of them aren't MORE overweight, to be perfectly honest!


Another thing we noticed, is that serving sizes are way too big. We only had a light breakfast, barely any lunch and then dinner, and we both ended up over or very close to over our needed caloric intake for the day. This is without drinking, eating or snacking AT ALL during the day. I didn't want to finish my dinner because I could feel myself overeating as my plate emptied. I know what some of you might be thinking; "can't I just enjoy life and eat freely on holiday"? Yep. You can. But you'll gain weight doing it! Your choice I guess. ;)


As I continue to transition (very slowly and carefully) off a strict diet and onto a more sustainable eating pattern, I'm realizing that my eating life is going to look very different in the future than it did in the past. Essentially, my eating patterns going forward need to more closely resemble a strict caloric deficient diet than a 'normal' one. I don't get to eat "normally" anymore because I can't handle it when I do. "Normal eating", for me, doesn't exist. I am either eating too much or not enough - there isn't an easy middle ground ahead. This isn't an easy pill for me to swallow - remember I've been this way for over 40 years now! Changing fundamental life habits at 40 isn't easy. But I'll continue to try...

Perspective in an Overshared World

Lists, Lists and more Lists


In 2012 I finally completed the so-called "Kane List" (2nd edition). Of course, that wasn't the end of it. I continued to scramble and climb bigger and ever more remote peaks, and plan longer and bigger canoe trips and backpacking adventures. I find myself now entering a somewhat more reflective phase of my peak bagging journey and my life in general. Friends and acquaintances around me have also started completing (competing?) summit lists and have moved on to go ever bigger - completing the 11,000ers list or upping their technical climbing skills. Every day as I ride the crowded c-train to work, I look down at my iPhone screen and am reminded on various social media feeds and blogs, just how free and adventurous many of the people around me seem to be. The question I end up asking myself constantly, is;


How do I keep a balanced perspective in regards to my pursuit of adventure and my life in general - especially while living in an overshared world where comparing our lives to others is almost unavoidable?


How does fit into this current ethos where the camera on the front of our phones is used more than the one on the back? How do I share what I do with others without caring too much about the reaction? Why do I share what I do? If I share my adventures with others, thereby reducing the "wild" in wilderness, am I not contributing to the problem, rather than preserving that which I love? Or does sharing the backcountry help to garner more love from more people, thereby keeping it more pristine rather than forgotten and unprotected? These are questions that I ponder often while tramping through the woods.


It's so easy to be influenced by the goal and records obsessed culture that surrounds us. Again this week, the outdoor social media headlines are dominated by how quickly a team climbed a popular rock wall. I feel like so many folks are unduly impressed with unimportant details such as speed, danger and size rather than what really matters - did the team actually ENJOY their adventure?! Most of our social media feeds and lists are all about individual accomplishments and I have discovered that this can very quickly turn majestic and wonderful wilderness experiences into nothing more than a checkmark on the back page of a dog-eared book on a nightstand. Lists are great for focusing attention on certain areas or for ideas of what to do next weekend, but they have a hidden curse that I have personally experienced more than once. Lists can take the ultimate enjoyment out of climbing mountains when the focus becomes "getting the next summit on the list to make me feel accomplished" rather than, "doing the next trip on the list that gives me real enjoyment". Social media feeds are the same. Rather than asking what makes us truly happy, a lot of us seem to be asking what will garner the most "likes" and "shares" next weekend. Instead of asking what we really want to do, we look at what others have done and try to gain their happiness by mimicking their actions. Their list becomes our list. We want their social media feed rather than our own. We want their life feed rather than our own.


Allow me to be honest for the remainder of this post, about my perspective on climbing mountains and why I will never again chase after a "list" of things to do, whether it's summits, life goals or the latest fad of chasing a "bucket" list. I am going to be candid about what I've discovered so far in my own life and my own pursuits of personal achievement and pleasure. Please understand that this is a very personal journey for all of us, this is just my own perspective. Your journey should be yours and yours alone and should look vastly different from mine. I intend zero judgment in this blog. I have zero desire to tell anyone else how to live their life. I am simply sharing my own personal meditation with you in hopes that maybe it can offer some perspectives that you may not have considered before.


Happiness is a personal thing that comes from within each of us individually. It took me many years to discover what truly made my happy and content - and to my great surprise, it wasn't bagging peaks or even avoiding work! 


When I first started climbing mountains I never even knew there was such a thing as lists of summits. I just loved the views, the exercise and going out with good friends who shared my passion for fresh air and exercise. As I made my (very reluctant) career in the cloistered concrete jungle of downtown Calgary, the peace that comes with a long solo trip on a beautiful summer day is what kept me sane. When Dave Stephens and the RMBooks web board came to my attention, I lost a little bit of my early hiking innocence. I believe it started out fairly benign but soon the atmosphere around the web board became more and more competitive. Dave even started a spreadsheet to track everyone's progress on the Kane list compared with each other. Social media didn't really exist yet, but the first hint of its future influence was already starting in the early days of online beta and trip reports. I started a web site called before changing over to I copied Dave's idea of detailing my adventures, mostly as a way to remember them later for myself. There was no online community like Facebook or Clubtread back then, other than around 20-30 of us on the RMBooks forum, who all knew each other personally. It started out as good fun - we all wrote about our weekends as a way to entertain each other back in the boring humdrum of everyday life on Mon-Fri. Everyone I knew worked full time jobs, had families and considered themselves lucky just to get out 10-20 times per year.


Once the tracking spreadsheet was born, I continued to scramble and hike many peaks because I loved to do it, but I noticed that more and more of my objectives were tackled for other reasons. I wanted to summit more mountains than anyone else and if I'm brutally honest, I often wanted my summit list to matter to others too. I was looking for approval and kudos on my weekend pursuits and it made me feel special when people congratulated me on a certain peak or ascent time. This was ultimately a mistake that I have vowed never to repeat. Since the advent of social media I've seen this attitude explode around me, especially on Instagram and Facebook. Despite vowing to avoid this bottomless pit of unhappiness, I find myself standing on it's slippery edge despairingly often. I've heard friends state bluntly that without Facebook they wouldn't be climbing the peaks that they are - an honest admission that still amazes me with its implications. Ask yourself;


Are you doing what you're doing in life because you really love it? Or are you doing it because you think you should love it? Because others love it? Because of the reactions of others?


Over the years I noticed that there was a compulsion often lurking deep within me, ordering me to bag a summit at every opportunity. When you're a family person such as myself, with a full time job and many other responsibilities outside of a single-minded pursuit of personal adventure, it can be very discouraging to see the feats and progress in technical climbing skills of your friends from behind a desk. My most "accomplished" year was 2015 when I managed to ascend 60 peaks in between all my other life commitments. I know more than one person who has done over 120 summits in one year! Next to that even my best year looks rather lame! I do not get great pleasure out of taking a lot of risk - and alpine climbing in the chossy Rockies has plenty of that! surprise As I continue to climb more technically difficult mountains (i.e. the 11,000ers - and no, I am not chasing that list) I have to remind myself that there is a balance between what I actually enjoy and what I sometimes feel I should enjoy. 



Unhealthy Ambitions and Sideways Glances


With the onset of social media making it very easy to brag, share and project seemingly perfect lives and an unending stream of so-called accomplishments with the whole world, I often find myself feeling very underwhelmed with my own adventures and my own life in general. I'm sure I'm not the only one affected this way. I'm not stupid. I completely understand that much of these projections are either completely false or at the very least, exaggerated, but they're still tough for me to ignore. Part of the reason I am affected negatively by social media brags, is probably due to my naturally competitive nature. I tend to be hard on myself when I think other's are outworking or out-adventuring me. I have done enough research and met enough people to know that even the seemingly perfect lives of travel bloggers, mountain guides and ski bums isn't all it's cracked up to be. There's a reason I haven't pursued any of those things seriously myself. In a world full of people desperate to obtain "likes" and "shares" from complete strangers, I am constantly fighting my own desires for outside approval. It's taken me many years to fully understand that the inside approvals and likes are the ones that really matter. The "likes" that really mean something only come from ourselves and our loved ones - not the 45,678 anonymous IG accounts, many of which aren't even real people but rather emotionless marketing bots. 


As the years ticked by and my summit list grew longer and longer, I began to notice something about myself that I didn't like very much. I would be in a bad mood if the weather was perfect for climbing and I was "stuck" at home with my family. Even when I did manage to get out for a day or two, I was only happy temporarily and only when bagging as many summits as humanly possible. I have a wonderful family and to feel "stuck" when I was at home with them was not healthy or fair. It certainly caused tension in my marriage - I can assure you of that! Despite adjusting my attitude many times, I still struggle with balancing my love of open spaces and my love for my family. The best way to explain it is this;


When I'm with my family;

I miss the wild.

When I'm with the wild;

I miss my family.


In speaking with friends who share the responsibility of family and jobs, I know that I'm not alone in these feelings. We are all affected in some way or another by the lives we see others living. We know we shouldn't care, but it's getting harder and harder to ignore the Joneses when everything they do is shoved in our faces every minute of every damn day. There's millions of them, all continuously oversharing the best moments of their lives on the endless conveyor belt of our social media feeds. The nature of social media is also such that we don't notice that someone might not post for three weeks. They might not post for a whole year. The conveyor belt of endless drivel doesn't care! It simply recycles someone else's happiness in front of us - leaving us with the impression that everyone but us is constantly happy, successful and thriving in their lives.



Keeping Perspective in an Overshared World


I think most people who love adventure, understand that there's a very delicate balance between going into nature for the enjoyment of it and adventuring for the accomplishment of it. For many people (especially climbers and type-A personalities) the feelings of enjoyment and accomplishment are very tightly coupled - and this is what drives them to some pretty amazing things. For some very keen folks, the two are the exact same thing - there can be no enjoyment without accomplishment. Personally, I stop enjoying the mountains when my goal becomes bagging as many summits as possible within a set amount of time, without regard to how or why I'm summitting them or who I'm climbing them with. When my only focus is to stand on as many summits as possible, at every opportunity possible, I begin to view unclimbed mountains and unexplored landscapes as obstacles that must be conquered, rather than an elixir for my soul, offering me an artistic outlet, health, peace, tranquility and balance.



I am not a great climber or adventurer by any stretch of the imagination. I simply don't have the time, funds or desire to put in the necessary training to be a full time dirt bag. I climb, canoe, hike and scramble because I love wide open spaces. I like the smell of fresh mountain air and the freedom of balancing across a sharp ridge with birds flying overhead and nothing holding me back. I like the sound of a rushing stream as I hike next to it and the apprehension of coming across grizzly tracks in the sand as I hike up a remote valley with puffy white clouds floating overhead. I like the feeling of my muscles straining against a warm wooden paddle as the sound of water rips around the hull of my canoe. I like the feeling of morning fog drifting around the small rocky island I'm camped on, as the haunting call of a nearby loon drifts over the water and bounces off the hard rock and thick forests all around me. I live for the smell of the pine forests and the sight of wild flowers blooming in harsh conditions where nothing should thrive at all. I love photographing the landscape as I wander through it. I can never drink enough fresh water out of the rushing mountain streams. This is why I spend time away from all of the other responsibilities in my life. This is what gives me deep and honest enjoyment. I could care less what others think of what I love to do - at least that's what I tell myself. indecision


I love the feeling of accomplishment after a long and challenging trip. I have a personality that thrives on testing my own physical and mental limitations. Mount Assiniboine is one of my favorite trips for this very reason. That was a trip that gave me the exact balance between enjoyment and accomplishment. It took me many years to work up to this mountain and this added to my feelings of satisfaction when I finally managed to ascend it. Mount King Edward is another example of a peak that took me years to summit, and many difficult attempts and life lessons. I choose to believe that most folks who travel the world, hike and climb mountains or do other arduous outdoor adventures, start out with the pure intent of having a good time and enjoying their lives. I think it's only when we notice that others are paying attention to our accomplishments, that we are in danger of losing this innocent perspective. In my personal experience, it's only when I start paying attention to others that I start to feel unaccomplished or unfulfilled.


The pure passion for adventure that so many of us start out with can very quickly be dulled by oversharing and over caring about others' opinions and reactions.



I've finally come to understand that my personal enjoyment or fulfillment should never depend on others' accomplishments or what strangers might value in their lives. Looking at my Facebook feeds and Instagram posts with envy or longing is the surest way to diminish the moments in my life that most deserve to be remembered, enjoyed and celebrated - no matter what they might mean to anyone else. Each of us is different and although social media loves to demand that we all love the same goals, adventures and outcomes in our lives - this is a lie. We all have commitments and responsibilities in our lives that we'd rather not have. We all look longingly at that "perfect couple" or that "lucky person" and wonder why they seem to have so much more freedom and adventure than we do. This is the hidden curse of an overshared world, IMHO. Instead of considering how good we have it, we are lulled into slowly feeling more and more dissatisfied with our (great) lives.


I will enjoy my (limited) freedom, secure in the knowledge that nothing in life is free and everything requires some sort of sacrifice, whether we realize it at the time or not. My personal sacrifices have given me a wonderful marriage and family life - something that should never be under appreciated and something that means more and more to me with each passing year. My summits are that much more sublime due to the fact that I have to pick and choose them carefully - balancing them with the other loves and priorities of my life. The lakes that I paddle are ever more sweet, the longer the time between visits. I will celebrate my moments on the summit because they're mine and I earned them. I will bask in the enjoyment of finally standing on certain peaks after dreaming about them for many years and spending many moments anticipating what it would finally feel like to travel there. I will enjoy that remote lake that I planned and dreamed on visiting for 2 years - not because someone else might care but because it feeds my soul. I will enjoy my family and my life because it's mine and because I've chosen to make sacrifices and take on responsibilities so that others can enjoy a good life along with me.  



A Reflection


I challenge all my readers to reflect and meditate on why you do the things you do and pursue the lifestyle you are committed to. In this day and age of social media, where the camera on the front of the phone is used more than the one on the back, there is a very fine line between sharing experiences and bragging about them. We all owe it to ourselves and our friends and neighbors to consider our own motivations that are driving our many hurried pursuits. We should ask ourselves if we are really enjoying our accomplishments or if they're only checkmarks on a meaningless and endless "Bucket List", with no reward of true happiness, passion and contentment to back them up? There is no right or wrong way to do life - there's simply consequences for the choices we make throughout. Some consequences are easy to live with, but others - not so easy. 


The most important thing I'm trying to impress on all of us is that we are worth far more than the sum of our social media feeds or 'gram worthy moments. We are among the richest, freest and most uninhibited societies this earth has ever seen. We must celebrate that! We must meditate on that! We should all live our lives as largely, loudly and boldly as we possibly can! We shouldn't worry about what others think of our choices but we should ensure that we make ones that we can live with 10, 20 or even 30 years from now.

Ratings on Explor8ion - Thoughts on Scrambling

Every year the same topics start creeping up on climbing and hiking forums across the internet or in my email inbox. It usually starts with someone free soloing a low 5th class rock route like Edith Cavell or Willingdon or something like that. The comment or question goes like this;

I read that you went up the north ridge of Mount Assiniboine without roping up or using pro. This must mean it's just a scramble right?


The east ridge of Edith Cavell is just a glorified scramble - nothing more.


I think I understand where these assumptions, discussions and questions come from and I want to address the issue of rating hikes / scrambles / climbs here so that I can refer to it when folks ask me. 


Downgrading Climbs

First I want to address why I think folks (including myself) like to downgrade climbs to scrambles. and then I'll go into the different formal ratings for rock and alpine routes. I think there's a few reasons to downgrade climbs;


  1. To be macho. :) Let's face it. It sounds cool to say you "free soloed" something. It just does. And the bigger the number after it, the better right? For example to say you "free soloed 5.1" is a bit lame. To say you "free soloed 5.8" is way cooler. You rather call a free solo of 5.1 a "scramble" than a "climb".
  2. To be humble. The opposite of number 1 but you basically don't want to hype a route or trip. You don't consider yourself a formal or trained climber so you'd rather just call everything you do a scramble, no matter how difficult it may be. If you read the book on Don Forest (excellent read BTW), you will laugh at the routes he did without a rope in order to avoid being a "climber". He didn't think he qualified! :)
  3. To keep loved ones happy. My wife still calls almost everything I do a "hike". I had to laugh when she called Twin's Tower a "hike" to someone else. If I tell my wife that I scrambled Mount Edith Cavell she doesn't worry. If I tell her that I'm climbing Mount Assiniboine, she worries. I've tried telling her that roped climbing is much safer than free soloing and she's finally coming around after years of convincing.
  4. To keep ourselves happy. This is sort of related to number 2 but with a twist. If we can convince ourselves that the east ridge of Edith Cavell is nothing but a "scramble" than we can do it without a rope or an experienced rock climber or training. This opens up way more terrain! We know deep down that it's also opening up risk, but it's "only scrambling" right? So we keep ourselves happy thinking that we aren't pushing the risk factor when we certainly are.
  5. Being naive. There is, of course, a naive component to downgrading climbs - you don't realize you're doing it. After scrambling and climbing for a while you get more and more comfortable on rock and eventually a "difficult" scramble is so easy for you, you honestly don't think it's very "difficult" anymore and start calling anything up to 5.5 a "scramble". I would argue that if you're publishing comments like this in trip reports or blogs or online forums you should try to consider others and start using formal rating systems as I doing on explor8ion. It keeps the playing field level and safe - which is exactly what it's supposed to do!


Alpine / Mountain Rating Systems

Alpine rating systems are designed to avoid exactly the issues I'm describing above. Rather than relying on the climber or scrambler's personal comfort level and experience to rate a route subjectively, the rating systems are supposed to add an element of formality and objectivity to the difficulty and hazards of any particular route.


Recently I added a couple of fields to my trip reports.I added a YDS rating and an Alpine rating to the 'Trip Details' section. There are other rating systems (i.e. the French system) that are also suited to the task but I want to keep things as simple as I can without compromising too much on usefulness of the ratings. I've also been intrigued for a few years in the Rocky Mountain Rambler Association's rating system. With their permission, I've now added it to explor8ion as well. There is a risk that things get too confusing but better too much information than not enough I suppose! You are free to ignore any or all of my ratings. A summary of the RMRA ratings is given below, after the YDS section.


YDS Rating System


Marko Stavrik sent me a very interesting link to an article about the YDS system. Since it is often used, I will still reference it in my trip reports. There are actually 3 components to a YDS rating and they apply to the crux, the overall route and the level of protection on route as follows;


Class - 1 to 5 from hiking to climbing. There are sub-classes when talking about 5th class climbing.

  • 1 : Walking.
  • 2 : Simple scrambling, occasional use of hands and low chance of injury.
  • 3 : Scrambling with increased exposure. Falling on the crux won't always kill you on class 3, but could.
    • ​Easy to Moderate scrambling
  • 4 : Simple climbing with exposure. Rope can be carried but isn't always used. Falls will likely kill or injure badly on cruxes.
    • Difficult scrambling
  • 5 : Technical climbing with rope and pro usually carried. Unroped falls on crux will kill or severely injure. Subclassed as follows (this is up for some debate and / or sandbagging but you get the gist...);
    • 5.1-5.4 : There are roughly 2 hand and 2 footholds for each move, the holds getting smaller as the grade increases.
    • 5.5-5.6 : The 2 hand and 2 footholds are still there somewhere - but not obvious to the inexperienced climber.
    • 5.7 : The move is missing 1 handhold or 1 foothold.
    • 5.8 : The move is missing 2 of the 4 holds - or missing only 1 but very strenuous.
    • 5.9 : The move has only 1 reasonable hold for either foot or hand.
    • 5.10 : No hand or footholds. Pretend a hold is there, pray a lot or go home. :)


Grade - I call this the Alpine Rating, basically from Grade I to Grade VII, indicating the length and seriousness of the route and usually applies to mountaineering routes. This rating doesn't apply to class 3 sections or the approach / egress but only to the exposed climbing / scrambling sections with the most risk.

  • I : 1 to 2 hours of climbing
  • II : Less than half a day
  • III : Half a day
  • IV : Full day
  • V : Two day
  • VI : Multi day
  • VII : A week or more


Protection - I ain't good enough to use this rating yet. :) It indicates the level of protection the route offers, from "good" to "no protection".

  • G - Good protection
  • PG - Pretty good
  • PG13 - Not bad but falls will result in minor injury due to length between pro
  • R - Runout. Falls could injure due to distance between good pro placements
  • X - No protection and extremely dangerous. Don't ever fall!


If you're still confused, here's a quote I love from RJ Secor;

  • Class 1 : you fall, you're stupid.
  • Class 2 : you fall, you break your arm.
  • Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg.
  • Class 4 : you fall, you are almost dead (i.e., you can't breath and move your arms, legs, and head).
  • Class 5 : you fall, you are dead.


RMRA Rating System

The following is a summary of the Rocky Mountain Rambler Association's rating system (used with permission).


Trip Category - What type of trip is it? Technical Difficulty Levels (1-9) - How technically difficult is the most difficult section of the trip (note: it might be short or long)?


TL - Trail Hiking (non-winter ratings)

  • 1 - Well maintained, easy terrain suitable for running shoes (i.e. Upper Kananaskis Lakes circuit)
  • 2 - Purpose-built, graded with switchbacks if necessary (i.e. Healy Pass)
  • 3 - Sections of trail, few purpose-built sections, non-bridged streams (i.e. Prairie Mountain)
  • 4 - Hiking poles are a definite asset, rougher sections of trail that could be slightly overgrown (i.e. Memorial Lakes)

OT - Off-Trail Hiking (non-winter ratings)

  • 1 - Flat, easy gradients on firm, open ground (i.e. Alpine Lakes with no trails but a good shoreline, West Coast Trail - beach sections)
  • 2 - Moderate slopes, pretty easy terrain with some stream hopping possible (i.e. Alpine meadows with no trails and little bush)
  • 3 - Steeper slopes, rougher terrain, hiking poles an asset (i.e. Whaleback)
  • 4 - Sustained steep grassy or wooden slopes, hiking poles required for balance (i.e. Kent Ridge)
  • 5 - Steep slopes including grass, wood and scree. Little use of hands required but some exposure on route (i.e. Opal Ridge)

SC - Scrambling (rated for dry or optimal conditions)

  • 5 - Kane "easy" - YDS 1 - rocky gradients slightly more serious than OT5 (i.e. Grotto Mountain)
  • 6 - Kane "moderate" - YDS 2 - steep, exposed sections with moderately loose rocks and exposure, route-finding (i.e. Mount Temple)
  • 7 - Kane "difficult" - YDS 3/4 - very steep, exposed sections with slabby or loose rocks and lots of exposure and/or tricky route-finding in an alpine setting (i.e. Mount Chephren, Smuts, Northover)

MN - Mountaineering (in dry or optimal conditions)

  • 6 - Low angle glaciers, under 20 degrees with minimal crevasses (i.e. Saskatchewan Glacier)
  • 7 - An SC7 scramble with simply glacier terrain or snow slopes added to the mix (i.e. Mount Patterson)
  • 8 - An SC7 scramble with slightly more complex glacier travel and steeper snow slopes or extreme exposure where most folks would find a rope reasonable (i.e. Mount Victoria)
  • 9 - YDS 5.0 to 5.4 - equipment to protect the leader from falls is good practice, extreme exposure on steep but easily climbed rock, possible snow and / or ice couloirs used on route (i.e. Mount Assiniboine north ridge, Mount King George south glacier, Mount Harrison ice couloirs)

TS - Track-Set Skiing

  • 1 - Easy
  • 2 - Easy / Moderate
  • 3 - Moderate
  • 4 - Moderate / Difficult
  • 5 - Difficult

TL - Trail Skiing

  • - Easy
  • - Easy / Moderate
  • - Moderate
  • - Moderate / Difficult
  • - Difficult (Elk Lakes via Elk Pass)

OT - Off-Trail Skiing

  • - Easy - Low angle slopes with minimal avalanche hazards, on partial approach roads or easy summer hiking trails (i.e. Elephant Rocks, Healy Pass)
  • - Easy / Moderate - Low to moderate angle slopes, some avalanche hazards, partial trail on approach (Burstall Pass, Bow Summit, Parker Ridge, Simpson Pass)
  • - Moderate - Follows established winter routes with avalanche terrain and possible navigation issues in certain conditions (Crowfoot Glades, Dolomite Circuit) 
  • - Moderate / Difficult - Proceeds a bit further off-trail than a moderate route, requires more stable snow and more exposure to avalanche hazards, may require boot packing to the summit (Bow Peak, Citadel Peak, Ramp Peak)
  • - Difficult - Completely off-trail in severe avalanche terrain, requires very stable snow conditions and good weather (Spray Traverse, Crowfoot Mountain, Jimmy Junior, Snow Peak)

MN - Ski Mountaineering

  • - Fairly low angle approach on established winter routes, avalanche hazards and easy glacier travel requiring crevasse and avalanche rescue gear (Mount Rhondda, Gordon, Thompson, French / Haig / Robertson)
  • - Moderately hazardous approach through crevassed and avalanche or serac-exposed terrain, usually requires overnight winter gear along with crevasse and avalanche rescue gear (North Twin, Mount Baker)
  • - Hazardous approach, severely crevassed terrain, large avalanche slopes, usually requires overnight winter camping (Mount Balfour, Mount Columbia, Mount Resplendent)
  • - Hazardous approach, hazardous winter, cornices and/or glaciated terrain to the summit, severely crevassed and avalanche-exposed slopes on route and usually requires overnight winter camping (Mount Collie, Twin's Tower, South Twin, The Helmet)

TL - Trail Snowshoeing

  • - Easy (Kananaskis Village area)
  • - Easy / Moderate (Rummel Lake)
  • - Moderate (Rawson Lake, Elk Pass)
  • - Moderate / Difficult (Chester Lake)
  • - Difficult (Elk Lakes via Elk Pass)

OT - Off-Trail Snowshoeing

  • - Moderate angle slopes with some avalanche terrain (Mount Fortune)
  • - Moderate to steep snow slopes with avalanche terrain (Big Bend Peak)
  • - Steep snow slopes with avalanche terrain and possible glacier travel (Castleguard Peak, Commonwealth Ridge)
  • - Extremely steep snow slopes with severe avalanche terrain and / or glacier travel with crevasses and / or cornices (Mount Wilson, Mount Olive - both summits)



Notice one thing about the ratings above? They never include whether or not someone actually uses a rope or not. They might talk about using a rope, or the need for using one - but whether or not a climber actually takes out the rope and places pro doesn't impact the rating of the route at all. The RISK and SERIOUSNESS of the route determine its rating. The experience, naivety or cockiness of the CLIMBER determines whether or not he or she actually pulls a rope on the route.


So, when you're describing a weekend outing for others to read and possibly emulate, I would argue that the safest, most reliable method of rating what you did would be to learn the basic rating system used in North America and apply it to your description to avoid confusion or misunderstanding. If the route you're on already has a rating, make sure you highlight it with a comment like, "due to the great rock quality and conditions we soloed the 5.3 climbing sections..." or something like that. Obviously there is still some subjectivity when rating 4th class terrain (scrambles) as "easy", "moderate" or "difficult" but I think it should be fairly obvious when you are on 4th or 5th class terrain.


  • If a fall will almost certainly kill you, you are NOT scrambling anymore and should use 5th class ratings. Don't be a sandbagger
  • If a fall will likely kill you but not certainly, you might be scrambling and should use descriptors like "easy" or "difficult" to relay the seriousness and length of the scramble.


​YMMV of course, but this is how I'm rating my outings from now on and will be going back over old trip reports to modify them as needed.


Sisyphean Life Lessons - King Edward II


Mountain Dukkha


Buddha says that most of life's suffering is caused by an endless cycle of human craving for impermanent things and states of being, which is dukkha - incapable of satisfying and painful. By trapping ourselves in this continuous state of craving things that don't last, we are caught in an endless cycle of rebirth, dukkha and dying, or samsara. Only by attaining nirvana can we be liberated from this path of suffering.


I'm considering the possibility that Mount King Edward - or likely all mountains in general - is my samsara. Might I be caught in an endless cycle of craving something on the next mountain top that the last one didn't fully satisfy - for whatever reason? I am cognizant that often the most satisfying adventures might not be "successful" in the classically defined sense of reaching the original goal, such as a summit. Some successes might be born of traditionally defined failures. Sometimes coming out on top may mean not even getting to the top at all! Case in point - this past weekend on Ben and my second attempt and second failure at our goal to stand tall on the summit of Mount King Edward, a Canadian Rockies 11,000er. Was this trip a failure or a success for us? Making the question much more interesting is the fact that a third member of our party - Steven Song - did make the summit, while we watched him do it from far below. Intrigued? Read on.


Last year around the exact same time period, Ben and I made our first attempt at this gorgeous peak. Due to minimal overnight freeze (i.e. none), we packed up and headed home, disappointed to put all of that time and effort into a "failure". I remember feeling pretty bummed about it for a few weeks. Over the years I've managed a pretty strong success rate when it comes to standing on the top of mountains that I'd set out to do. This is much easier in hiking and scrambling than mountaineering simply because the objectives are usually much easier to plan for and be flexible on. Much of my high success rate was due to extreme flexibility and planning around weather and conditions. I've also gotten very lucky on many of the larger objectives and I've taken some chances that on hindsight weren't very smart either.


Lately, I've slowly gotten more and more disillusioned and disheartened over attaining peaks just for the sake of it. It can be such a selfish, empty and ultimately meaningless enterprise when it's pretty much all you focus on in life. And it's not without costs either! Mountains have cost me incalculable amounts of family time, personal expense and even relationships. More and more often, I catch myself feeling like Sisyphus, except my boulder is a backpack and instead of a Greek god forcing me into an endless cycle of pointless toil, my Zeus is either lists of summits defined by others, or a self imposed correlation between summits, self-worth and meaning in my life. I know from talking with other mountain enthusiasts that I am not alone in this particular dukkha. I suppose nirvana isn't easy. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way - life lessons are rarely attained through easy, and possibly lucky, success.


Learning the Hard Way


The Plan


The last week of May, 2017 was shaping up to be a pretty darn nice one. Long term forecasts just kept getting better and better until not planning something big, seemed like a waste of the weather god's generous and rare gift. After the usual emails and Facebook messages finished swirling and bouncing around the globe, it was a regrouping of the little adventure group of Ben Nearingburg, Steven Song and myself that decided a King Edward redux was in order. As mentioned earlier, in 2016 Ben and I were part of another attempt at this remote 11,000er at much the same time (early June). Most folks do King Edward in late summer or early fall to take advantage of a lower Bryce Creek and a clear glacier to avoid the many crevasses on route to the south face. In these conditions it's usually a rock route with a few low-fifth sections. After seeing Trevor Sexsmith and Ian Button's east face ascent and ski descent in 2015, Ben decided that skiing the south face would be an ideal and interesting way to climb Kind Eddy. Obviously, I agreed.


The challenge with climbing King Eddy safely, in late May or early June, is that five things that normally don't line up, must align or you will be forced to take high-consequence risks. The five things are;


  1. Good weather (i.e. clear)
  2. Cold (i.e. hard overnight freeze)
  3. Low Bryce Creek
  4. Dry and drivable Bush River FSR
  5. Lots of snow (i.e. good coverage on glacier and south face)


The problem is that some of the 5 things above don't align with each other very easily. In order for the road to be in good shape, it must be dry. This implies hot weather to melt snow and release avalanches early so that they can be cleared off the road. Lots of snow means that the road might not be cleared to the end. Lots of snow implies a high Bryce Creek, especially if it's warm weather. Low snow melt implies less coverage on the glacier and more chance of thin snow bridges or crappy weather, preventing a melt. Cold temperatures imply bad weather at the end of May. Clear skies, implies warm or hot weather. The incongruities go on and on. But since we're all pretty optimistic, we decided to go for it anyway. Sometimes you just have to put the analysis and predictions to the side and tackle an adventure with enthusiasm. It rarely works out but it can produce a heckuva tale!


The Approach


Ben and I met at around 15:00 at the Lake O'Hara parking lot before continuing on to Golden where we'd be meeting Steven at Josee's place around 16:00 or so. Steven stopped by Ian Button's place in Golden to grab a chainsaw in case of deadfall on the Bush River FSR before proceeding to Josee's house. Ben and I had a delightful hour or so visiting with Josee who was a very gracious host along with her three energetic dogs. The weather was very warm down in the valley and honestly we talked about the fact that it was very likely too bloody warm to be planning a south face snow climb for the weekend. Eventually Steven showed up and it was nice to visit after a couple of years since we last saw each other. We transferred all our gear to Steven's truck and soon we were bombing along the TCH for the turnoff to the Bush River FSR near Donald, BC.


It was a hot, dusty evening but the road was largely clear of traffic by the time we started the long drive to the King Eddy parking area. We noticed some fresh road work around the Sullivan River Road intersection - a good sign of the road being actively maintained, likely in preparation for the 2017 logging season. We drove quite a few more pleasant KM's before Steven suddenly exclaimed that our good luck was ending. Sure enough! Just ahead of us was an obvious, fairly fresh avalanche blocking the entire road. As we got out to examine it closer, it was obvious that our second serious attempt of King Edward was going to be over long before it even started. Unfortunately for us, we required a bulldozer to get rid of this obstacle and Ian didn't own one of those to lend us. Huh.


But wait a dang minute! I quickly blurted out the question,


How far are we from the end of the road?


GPS units were deployed and brows furrowed over the question. Soon the answers starting coming in. Ben thought we were around 15km or so and I quickly agreed that it was around that far (I actually thought it was slightly further at close to 17km, but who's counting). Fifteen kilometers isn't that far is it? With a road to walk on, we could easily maintain a 4km/h pace and could even dampen the pain by wearing our running shoes and carrying our heavy mountaineering boots. Navigation in the dark wouldn't be an issue as we had head lamps and the road is pretty bloody obvious anyway. It was only when I slightly adjusted the wording that we had second thoughts. 


This means we're adding 30+ kms to our trip total.


GULP. Thirty extra kilometers sounded a wee bit crazy. Remember - this is full-on winter mountaineering. We were packing skis, snowshoes, large boots, crampons, axes, ropes, glacier safety gear, rock gear, tents, stoves, fuel and warm clothing including down jackets, fleece and other glacier camping necessities. This wasn't a day hike with Aunt Edna to Three Isle Lake. This was a full backcountry expedition. Sure! It was only a few days but that only changes the amount of fuel and food we carried - everything else we needed to pack was pretty standard whether it was a week, or a 3 day long trip. We stood outside the truck looking forlornly at the pile of avalanche debris while the early evening sun shone brightly down on us and the sounds of the Bush River and it's many local inhabitants wafted through the dry air and took over our senses. What the heck. Why not? Let's do it! Life is short and we're here now. Nobody really felt like any of our alternate plans and what's 15km between friends? Four hours of walking? Meh. No problem.


Twenty minutes later, after hurriedly stuffing our large packs with the requisite gear (we were expecting lots of time to do this at the end of the road later that evening) we were tramping off down the Bush River road. It was around 20:30 - we would be getting to sleep well after midnight. Our ideas of a leisurely camp with lots of time to eat, load gear and prepare for our trip were gone. We were into things much earlier than expected - but this is the nature of trips like this. You can't be too rigid or you might as well stay home. Nature doesn't give a crap about your emails or schedules. She just does her thing and you either have to accept and adapt or go home. Your choice. She doesn't care one bit either way. Steven and I both decided to absorb the extra kilometers in our running shoes to try save our feet on the hard surface of the gravel road. Ben decided to walk in his ski boots. This sounds crazy, but he also walked all the way to Mount Forbes via Glacier Lake this way so he'd done it before. (It's still a bit crazy though. :)) Ben also decided to bring his skis instead of snowshoes. I had my skis along in the truck, but once the extra 34 kilometers got added to the itinerary, I quickly chose the 'shoes over the snow sticks. I'm a sucker for punishment, but even I have my limits! Ben was just coming off a 27 day ski traverse along the Great Divide route so he was still firmly in ski mode. Thank goodness he has short and very light skis - this detail will become crucial later in this tome.


[A last glance back at the truck as we cross the avy debris and start our 17km march down the Bush River FSR.]


Tramping down the Bush River road was quite pleasant for the first few hours. Birds were chirping in the BC forest next to the road. The sun was warm, but not too warm. There was a slight breeze carrying the intoxicating scent of spring. Views were intermittent but very impressive, as usual for this area of the Rockies. Cockscomb and Bryce stole the show across a roaring Bush River while the Chess Group and other unnamed peaks loomed over us to the west. We chatted about all the many exciting trips we'd been on since last going out together and as the shadows grew longer and our feet grew hot spots from the concrete-hard road surface we slowly grew quiet and let the monotony of long distance hiking with a heavy pack take over our senses. Running into a large black bear and a huge (think grizzly bear cub size) porcupine broke the monotony a bit and reminded us why we wrapped the truck with chicken wire. There were three large trees downed over the road - that chainsaw we borrowed from Ian certainly would have been very handy for these if we'd managed to drive further. Finally, after three hours or so we reached the bridge over a roaring Bush River, just before the Bush River FSR intersects the much smaller South Rice Brook road, which leads to the Bryce and Alexandra approaches. We took a break here. Originally Ben had us excited that we only had 2km to the end of the road. That didn't sound right, however, so I pulled out my GPS and confirmed that it was closer to 5.5km. Darn. Nothing to do at this point but shoulder the packs and push onwards - and as it turns out - upwards. As night settled in we donned our headlamps and slowly continued up the narrowing road. We were all done with the "easy" approach by the time Bryce Creek stopped our progress and marked the end of the Bush River FSR. Our stats for the evening stroll were over 17kms of distance and around 450m of height gain with 300m of height loss. We tried to ignore our sore feet and shoulders as we set up camp on the road. It was bloody warm as we got into our sleeping bags. Alarms were set for 04:00 to allow an early crossing of the creek, which looked higher than a year previous to me.


[Evening settles in as we continue on the road with Mount Bryce looming over us now.]

[The chainsaw would have been put to good use.]


Sunday morning dawned very early! Already at 04:30 it was light enough for no headlamps as we packed up camp and prepared to cross what looked like a fairly deep and fast Bryce Creek. By 05:00 we were dipping our toes into the fast flowing water and taking tentative steps across. The water felt as deep and fast as on the return a year previous when we all felt like we didn't want it to be any higher. This was at the back of my mind for the next few days as the temperatures soared and the creek inevitably would rise further. By 05:30 we were tramping up the road to the cutblock - a familiar trek for Ben and I. I am always struck by the beauty in this area. I'm not sure if it's my imagination or not, but the birds seem to chirp louder and the environment itself seems more pervasive than many other areas of the Rockies. Everything is bigger somehow. I'm not gonna lie. I was feeling the previous night's 17km death march as we ground our way up the overgrown road. Our packs were heavy but our spirits soared, as we enjoyed another gorgeous day in the Rockies. We introduced Steven to the alders on the road - not something you see every day and a bit of a bummer considering how easy the road is above and below this section. The same stream was still running on another section of the road, making us hop, skip and jump around to avoid sopping wet feet. What was vastly different this year compared to the previous, was the snow line. We encountered our first snow much lower on the road and soon Ben could finally don his skis and start skinning which brought a huge smile to his face after carrying the boards around 20km and over 700m vertical to this point! Steven and I were also happy to take the weight of our snowshoes off our packs.


[Steven and I have already crossed Bryce Creek and are waiting for Ben.]

[A familiar trudge now.]

[Alder-thrashing on the road.]

[We reach snow much earlier and lower down than on our last trip.]


From the snow line on the road, travel was excellent. The temperature got low enough on Saturday night to give us fairly supportive snow all the way to the top corner of the cutblock before entering the forested slopes to the alpine meadows above. Instead of running water and easy bushwhacking, we had at least 3 or 4 feet of snow in the forest. Travel was very easy and fast as we knew the route. Old snowmobile tracks also helped keep us aligned - as the gullies in this section can make you wander off in random directions if you're not paying attention.


Once the trees started thinning we followed a slightly different route than the year before and as it turns out a slightly more direct route to the tarns and our intended glacier access point from the alpine meadows. Our access was east of an obvious rock buttress that we ascended the year before - GR660745 via a nice uniform snowy ramp. There were no visible crevasses as we finally crested the ramp and took in views of the icefield between us and King Edward. Once again, I was impressed by the view of Mount Columbia's west face and Cockscomb and Bryce rising behind us. The Chess Group to the west looked fantastic too - with avalanches thundering off it's steep east aspects. There was some debate about where we should stop for the day but there were pros and cons either way. Going right to the bottom of the south face was better for an early alpine start the next day but meant traveling across the glacier with heavy packs on rapidly softening snow bridges. Falling in a crevasse would suck anyway - but falling in a slot with a fully loaded backpack is even worse! Also, we were only about 1.5km from the south face anyway - not a long distance to travel with lighter packs the next day. With great snow coverage we knew we'd find a way through the crevasse field to the face. There was also the simple fact that we'd traveled over 28 kilometers and almost 2000 vertical meters with heavy winter mountaineering packs over the past 12 hours and did not feel like continuing further with them on.


[Easy travel up the final cutblock (travel to upper left) with Mount Columbia visible.]

[Easy and fast travel in the trees too.]

[The gullies work against you a bit on the traverse as you always want to follow them while the route mostly cuts across.]

[Now that's a view! King Eddy at left and Columbia with Steven and Ben in the foreground at right. ++]

[Ben and Steven look pretty small with Columbia rising dramatically over them in the distance. ++]

[The last stand of trees before reaching a world of complete white.]

[Looking back at our approach including Bryce, Cockscomb and Pawn (L to R). ++]

[The handrail ridge at left with our ramp onto the glacier just ahead. KE in the distance, obviously.]

[The terrain is bigger than it appears.]

[Mount Columbia with a tarn in the foreground.]

[Made it!]


We set up a cozy camp in decent snow conditions and settled in for hours of lounging and resting at camp - all the while staring at Mount King Edward and it's snow covered south face and upper gullies. The afternoon sun was relentless and we found ourselves wishing for some cloud cover which never did show up. The snow was obviously very soft around our camp - even on the glacier, but we did a lot of probing to ensure we weren't on top of any hidden holes.


There were some concerning hints of instability in the snow, that were pretty obvious from our camp on the glacier. First of all, the east aspects of the Chess Group were avalanching constantly throughout the afternoon as temperatures soared and the sun beat down on them relentlessly. These are very steep aspects and include overhanging cornices, glaciers and seracs so this wasn't 100% relevant to our route. Our intended route was quite a bit tamer and on a south aspect which wouldn't get sunlight until around 08:00. A much more concerning thing for me, when I peered through my 300mm lens towards King Eddy, was evidence of a recent, big slab avalanche on the same south aspect and as a matter of fact, the very same slope that we intended to climb the next day. The slab ripped out at an obvious shallow rock outcrop and ran right to ground. It was a big one too - propagating at least 350 vertical meters over steep cliffs and running another few hundred meters across the glacier below. It was at least 300m wide too. The thing that bothered me as I studied it was why the heck our slope, immediately to the south of the slide, hadn't triggered at the same time? How much was our slope disturbed by the neighboring one's demise? Why didn't the obvious shallow rocks and convexity about halfway up our slope set off a similar slide? What the heck was our slope waiting for? I would have felt much better if the whole south face had slid rather than just a random part of it. I also noted how black the exposed rock on KE is. That strong spring sun had to be heating those black rocks like coals in a fire - setting off instabilities deep in the snow pack. At least a glacial base won't heat up the same way a rock one does. The exposed rock was in some interesting places along our intended line of ascent including a couple of visible cracks and couloirs that were showing signs of releasing rockfall and sluffing. I secretly hoped that our slope would rip out that afternoon or even overnight and solve the problem of assessing whether or not it would remain stable long enough for us to finish our climb the next day before finally giving up and just letting go.


[Catching some zzz's and drying out gear.]

[Ben's tent at camp.]

[The giant north face of Mount Bryce. This has been skied!]

[Pawn Peak is impressive in the Chess Group to the west.]

[Not too many souls climb the equally impressive Cockscomb Mountain to the south.]

[Looking over GR660745 that we ascended a year previous when it was a scree summit.]

[Almost 9:30pm and still this light! Note the avalanche on the south face right next to our slope?]


We discussed setting tracks to the bottom of the south face for the next morning but nobody really felt like crossing the glacier in the nuclear conditions we were experiencing, so we held off. On hindsight setting some tracks to the face might have been a good idea as there was plenty of coverage on the glacier to keep any snow bridges pretty safe despite the heat. Again - 28km and 2000 meters height gain with heavy packs didn't help our motivation. After lounging around for hours, we tried turning in early with an 03:00 wakeup time. We wanted to give the snow enough time to set up - if not from a good hard freeze (which we vastly preferred), at least from re-radiation provided we had a clear overnight sky. Trying to fall asleep in the hot tent wasn't easy but eventually I drifted off with my toque pulled low over my eyes to block the seemingly never sleeping sun.


The Climb


I woke up and my first thought was how warm I felt. This wasn't a good thing. I'm always cold sleeping on glaciers - especially in the morning. And usually I'm wearing my big down jacket, while on this occasion I was in a t-shirt and my thin Gore-tex jacket. Uh oh. Ben confirmed that the temperature was at around 4 degrees outside as I got out and tramped around camp to see if the snow had set up overnight. It had - marginally. I sunk through a thin crust every fifth step or so. The slight north breeze felt warm! Well, we were here now and there was some firming of the snow, so we decided to eat breakfast and wander over towards King Eddy to check it out.


By 04:15 Steven was leading us over and around some broken up sections of the glacier. Coverage was excellent and by 05:00 we were approaching the bottom of the south face, which looked to have excellent snow coverage right to the edge of the glacier and covering the rocky access to the south face proper. As we transitioned to crampons for the climb, things weren't looking too bad. The snow seemed more supportive at the base of the slope than it was at camp, although it was still 2 degrees and felt very warm. I was pretty much on Steven's heels as he started kicking steps up the steep snow to an obvious moat about 100 vertical meters above. Right away, as I followed him up, I knew that our 2nd attempt at this peak was likely over. 


[Approaching King Edward's south face.]

[Waiting for Steven to clear the first convexity around the moat at the top of the first slope to see if the slope holds. Note how deep the tracks are already? Pure slush at this point.]


I was using one alpine ax and a pole with no basket so that I could assess the snowpack as I climbed (this also works as a handy crevasse probe when crossing glaciers). My ax was pretty much useless in the soft snow but what really concerned me was that my 125cm hiking pole sank easily right to the handle without hitting any resistance in the snow pack whatsoever. When I pulled it out, the snow in the hole it left behind was very blue - i.e. wet. I doggedly kept going and as Steven approached the moat I stiffened once again as another sign of instability made itself known. The sound of a small waterfall running out from under our slope onto the rocks beside me on my left disturbed the still morning air. Yikes! Even worse? When I stopped to listen further, I noticed another gurgling stream of water running out of the slope on the other side of our slope to my right! Jeez. To summarize the conditions I noted on the first 50 vertical meters of climbing to the south face that morning;


  1. No overnight freeze at this elevation.
  2. A large to-ground slide at the very same elevation, aspect and even the same slope that we were on, just to our left.
  3. An open moat above us where the slope is convex as it rolls over from the south face and down steep slabby cliffs to the glacier below (this slope can apparently be quite challenging to climb when dry - it's pretty steep).
  4. Another section of exposed rock, higher up the slope with another crack opening up on yet another convex roll - this is the exact line that the other half of the south face had already ripped out along.
  5. No stability in the snowpack - slushy right to ground and I was sinking knee deep when I wasn't tip-toeing in Steven's tracks.
  6. Running water under the snow - on both sides of our slope, which was sitting on steep, slabby rock - not glacial ice and which had already slid pretty large just off to our left over similar slabby terrain.


Honestly, at this point we all should have turned around and gone home. We knew the forecast wasn't improving over the next few days for snow travel. We had plenty of warning that the slope we wanted to climb was on a hair-trigger to slide, and had many good reasons to let go, nevermind three people climbing on it and encouraging it even further! We knew that even if the lower slope held us on ascent, the sun would be hitting it by the time we descended sometime after 08:00. Initially we had given ourselves until around 10:00 to exit - hoping for a freeze to stabilize things - but this didn't happen. I yelled up several times at Steven, asking him about conditions where he was and inquiring how the moat looked as he looked to be struggling a bit with the snow over it. He replied that the snow was very "loose" and he was looking for a way over it. I replied that conditions were looking dicey and it wasn't safe. He didn't reply as I turned around and descended a bit towards Ben who was getting ready to ascend just below. I knew that Steven would keep pushing on - such is his modus operandi. But it's not mine.


The One Who Speaks First


I would like to state at this point, that there is a method to my madness in the next bit of writing, besides personal angst or feelings of defeat. When Steven posted his trip online almost immediately after the trip was finished, the reaction from certain people was to congratulate him on "pushing through difficult conditions" and "successfully bagging the summit" while presumably Ben and I didn't have the energy or stones to follow. There is much more to this tale than a hard-won summit and two people left waiting far below, without the requisite gonads. It's the other parts of the story that are especially relevant for any aspiring mountaineers reading it, who might not understand some of the subtleties of ethics and safety that (should) exist within alpine climbing. I am reminded of one of my favorite life quotes that is found in Proverbs 18:17:


The first person to speak always seems right until someone comes and asks the right questions.


In his trip report, Steven talks a lot about speed and soloing difficult winter objectives on his own. Speed is an essential skill in alpinism as often conditions are changing fast and speed is one way to mitigate risks that might be increasing all around you (i.e. sun on snow slopes, rockfall, thunderstorms etc.). Soloing winter objectives is a risky business - there's no one to dig you out if you get buried - but I couldn't care less about anyone risking their own lives and suffering the consequences of making their own choices to travel or climb solo. I love traveling solo in the mountains and do it all the time. Trust me - I get the "solo thing". The problem in this case is that this was not a solo trip and conditions weren't deteriorating, necessitating speed above all else - they were already deteriorated before we even started out that morning. I'm a fairly laid back guy and on many of my scrambling or hiking trips I have no problem if the people I'm with separate for stretches of time while we each go our own pace or even pick our own routes and get lost in our own thoughts. But alpine climbing in a group is a different game than hiking or scrambling with others - and for a lot of reasons. Taking off on your own isn't just selfish when you're part of an alpine climbing group - it's very dangerous for all the parties involved and here's just some of the reasons why:


  1. The person going ahead could (and will) knock down rocks / ice / avalanches on the party he's left below.
  2. The group loses it's ability to make safe and wise decisions regarding everything from current conditions to route choices to turn-around times. More people means more discussion, which can certainly be annoying at times, but nobody is immune to having bad ideas and a group can more easily call each other's bad ideas out when they're within talking distance of each other. Nobody likes to turn around - this is why group communication and decision making is essential in mountaineering.
  3. Half of the group safety and shared climbing gear is in a backpack that is nowhere nearby most of the group members. Not really that useful!
  4. There is one less member of the group to assist in case of an emergency with any of the other members of the group. 
  5. The soloist uses the group when it suits them (i.e. crossing a glacier or belaying up a cliff) and then quickly abandons them when they become a perceived "burden" - i.e. too slow or too safety conscious.
  6. The soloist could easily get into serious trouble themselves (i.e. avalanche, serious fall, getting off-route, dislocating a shoulder, medical emergency) which would be difficult for the others to notice, much less assist with. This increases the stress of the people left behind and puts them in an awkward situation when they have no idea what's going on or how long they should sit and wait below before assuming something bad has happened.
  7. I've been on many easier trips where the person ahead, or behind, gets on a completely different route than the rest of the group. Now what? Many frustrating hours have been spent trying to find each other on easy terrain - never mind difficult and exposed alpine climbs.


Also, it's a bit rude to assume that the rest of the group wants to sit there for hours watching the soloist risk his or her life playing Russian roulette with conditions that have just been assessed as too hazardous for anyone else to climb. There's nothing "hardcore" about pushing ahead in this scenario. IMHO, don't do group trips if you aren't willing to respect the others in the group over your own glory.


Consider the very real possibility that Steven got caught in a wet slab avalanche half way up the lower third of the south face, or dislocated his shoulder while in the final steep couloir just below the summit? His shoulder dislocated on Sir Douglas - so it's happened to him before. And what if he couldn't pop it back in this time? Ben and I would be forced to climb the lower part of the face, over the moats, cracks and convexities on the slope to try to rescue him - exposing ourselves to the very objective hazards that we avoided by turning around in the first place! The way I stated it later to my wife, was that there were two outcomes that Ben and I were forced into as we sat out of the reach of any potential avalanches beneath the south face for over an hour as Steven completed his summit bid high above. Both potential outcomes were not ideal for us, and we didn't have a choice but to wait it out and see which one would come to pass;


  1. Our assessment of the risks was correct and happened in front of us, with Steven getting caught in a slide or a bad situation, which we then would have to deal with somehow.
  2. Steven successfully bags a peak that we've spent two attempts and untold amounts of physical and mental currency on and makes it back to individual glory - getting lucky once again considering the conditions and leaving us to wonder why we didn't take the same risky path he did and question our decision to be safe.


In his account, Steven implies that Ben and I were so far behind him due to our "slow gear transition", that we basically screwed ourselves out of the summit. This isn't the case. First of all, Steven was kicking the steps and Ben and I are in fantastic physical shape. We easily would have caught up to him if we didn't have long discussions about the conditions and express severe doubts in the snow slope's stability. Secondly - I was literally right behind Steven as we started up the first slope to the first moat - right on his heels. I stopped, turned back, and waited at the bottom of the slope as soon as I heard running water under the 3+ feet of slush that we were on, just in case it slid. I was waiting to see if Steven would survive getting over the first convex roll and obvious weakness at the first moat before starting up myself. This is another group strategy on questionable snow slopes. You cross or climb them one at a time. This is very basic safety protocol that everyone learns in their first avalanche awareness course. If the slope did let go, there would have been two of us to rescue Steven instead of just Ben trying to dig out both Steven and myself.


[A gorgeous morning pano as I wait for Steven to clear the first moat, looking south to Bryce, Cockscomb and Pawn. ++]

[Ben briefly climbs ahead of me to see if that'll help him not sink knee deep in the tracks! It didn't help any so I took over again and tried setting better tracks.]


If he would have bothered sticking around to participate in the discussion, Steven would have realized that Ben and I were agonizing over what all the signs around us were saying and what our hearts and minds were saying. Does anyone reading these accounts really think that the easy thing, in this case, was for Ben and I to turn our backs on the mountain and go back home without the summit for a second year in a row? Really?! Hundreds of kilometers of driving. Many days off. Hours of approach and egress, including crossing Bryce Creek multiple times. Slogging up overgrown logging roads and struggling up many hundreds of vertical meters on soft snow for nothing? C'mon! This wasn't our first rodeo in the mountains! Ben has climbed many difficult and challenging 11,000ers and literally just came back from a 27 day ski traverse on the same snowpack (Rockies, Great Divide) - does anyone really believe that Ben turned around just because he wasn't "hardcore" enough to suck it up on a relatively easy angled snow slope and a few couloirs?! That's a bit insulting to be honest. I've done a few climbs on snow myself and even if my cojones aren't the macho size and heft of the latest batch of younger, bolder, stronger and more confident climbers, I still do "have a pair" - so to speak. ;)


The Luck Jar and the Experience Jar


Despite all the signs yelling at me to turn around and descend back to the glacier and go home, I was too caught up in wanting the peak myself to listen properly. After I waited for Steven to survive the first convexity on the face, I started up again. That's when I heard the second waterfall on my right. Yes - there were two running waterfalls at 05:30 in the morning, at the base of a loaded slope of slushy snow, sitting on top of black rocks angled at around 30-40 degrees - the most perfectly angled avalanche slopes you'll ever find. As a matter of fact, since the water was running on each side of the slope, logic dictated that it was also likely running underneath our feet on the same slope - we just couldn't hear or see it there yet! Dang it. I was getting less and less happy by the second.


Ben, to his credit, was ready to turn back already as I yelled down the latest beta of the second running waterfall down to him. He was sinking knee deep in the tracks and was clearly alarmed at the many signs of danger all around us. Ben was by far the most experienced snow stability assessor in our group, having just completed the Avalanche Operations Level 1 certification this past winter, not to mention his recent 27 day ski traverse on a Rockies snowpack along the Great Divide. Another of my favorite human quirks was quickly coming to pass in front of our eyes - the Dunning-Kruger effect. In short, the DK effect states that the less people know about something, the more confident they are that they are deeply knowledgeable about it or that it won't affect them personally. Ben, having the most knowledge about avalanches and their danger signs, was by far the most worried about one occurring in the conditions we were experiencing. I was definitely worried, but trying to ignore my own warning bells due to a deep desire to summit King Edward. Steven was obviously willing to silence all the warning bells in his mind - despite admitting later that they were going off like crazy.


I was absolutely loathe to turn around at this point. My gut was screaming at me to turn around before the slope slid and it was too late, but my heart was screaming even louder. All that work to get here for a second year in a row! Steven is doing it! Keep going! Push harder! You'll be fine! Stop over thinking things! Go on! A few more steps - it might get better.


[Looking down over the convexity at our gear far below already. Note the blue snow left in our tracks? This is wet snow.]


Ben was reluctantly following me up the steep lower slope, and even passed me for a bit as I coaxed him to try ascending a bit higher. We crossed the scary lower moat, which was bound on top and bottom by unconsolidated snow and in the center by a gaping, open maw with soft edges. It looked bottomless as I quickly navigated over it, trying not to think about the consequences of a sluff, slip or slide into its dark depths. We pushed on, heading up towards another convexity around two rocks at midslope - where the slide beside us had ripped out a hundred meters or so to our left. We stopped a few times to discuss how uncomfortable we both were. We were so desperate to attain the summit this time, that we even talked ourselves into staying up high above all the avalanche terrain until midnight (this would mean hours of waiting) for the snow to harden again for descent. I got a bit higher than Ben and just below the second open crack and convexity on the slope I experienced a small settlement beneath my feet and yelled down to Ben that I was getting the f__k out of there. He quickly agreed and we both turned around to get off that loaded suicide slope as quickly and safely as humanly possible. The descent was scary. We didn't want to trigger the slope with huge, plunging steps but we both felt we didn't have time to lose. The moat was more threatening on descent. Easy enough to slither carefully across - but with high consequence of either slipping into its depths, or more likely triggering the bottom of the slope under it to slide, which would almost certainly propagate to the whole south face above. Which would suck for all of us. Big time.


[More blue snow and Steven up ahead, pulling away as Ben and I discuss the safety of our situation. Note the two rocks above me here? This was another convexity in the slope and directly left of them is a line to the slab avalanche that ripped out to our left (the top of it is visible at upper left). When I got closer to the rocks the slope settled a bit and this was my final warning shot - we got the hell off this slope!]

[Ben following me up the slope.]

[Ben following me down the slope - note how steep it is around the lower convexity / moat?]


I want to take a brief detour at this point to write about the Luck Jar and the Experience Jar. This metaphor has been used before and applies to many things besides climbing. It goes something like this. Every hiker, scrambler, skier, climber or enthusiast of any kind, starts out their chosen hobby with a full jar of lucky coins and an empty jar of experience coins. Every time they get away with something that could have hurt or killed them (i.e. lightening storm, rockfall, crevasses, avalanches, injuries, bad planning) they use up one of their lucky coins, which gets transferred from their Luck Jar to their Experience Jar. When folks get some experience and gain wisdom, they start to use coins from their Experience Jar and they keep some coins in their Luck Jar for another time (i.e. they avoid the thunderstorm, keep away from rockfall, avoid avalanche terrain, protect against crevasses and do better planning). People who don't have the patience to gain proper experience, burn through their lucky coins too quickly and eventually they run out of them. This is when accidents happen. The kicker? None of us knows just how big our Luck Jar is and nobody knows before it runs out either. Eventually we are only left with our Experience Jar to keep us safe and get us back home to our loved ones.


On this trip I used a coin from my Luck Jar because I stubbornly followed up a very questionable snow slope, depending 100% on luck to keep me alive while ignoring my experience that was yelling at me to turn back. I added a coin to my Experience Jar too - by turning around and not pushing my luck too far. I learned from my mistake. But I still used up a valuable luck coin when I didn't have to. I had all the necessary experience to read the signs all around me and use them to avoid that slope altogether and yet I still stubbornly took the risk of ascending the most dangerous part of it. That pisses me off. Mountain dukkha strikes again, I suppose.


Learning about Dukkha


I was relieved to survive my stupid little spending spree of lucky coins before briskly swapping back into my snowshoes and getting the heck out of the way of any possible slide paths that could come off the huge south slope above. On a small rise on the glacier, Ben and I set up to watch and see which of two things would happen to Steven, now that he was tackling the first steep snow gully on the face. For the next 1-2 hours Ben and I were destined to sit there and hope that the third member of our group would survive his decision to abandon the group and successfully bag a summit that was obviously very important to both of us. Not the hardest thing I've done in the mountains, but among the most unpleasant - if I'm honest.


[Watching Steven descend the south face - now in full sun. Note the sluffing, the slab avalanche to the left of our route and the two obvious convexities both near shallow rocks on the face. The next day a slide came down part of this face, originating with rockfall from above. It is around 700 vertical meters to the summit from the bottom of the face - much higher than it first appears. ++]


After watching Steven successfully bag the summit and come back down the slope (which was now fully exposed to the sun), it took everything we had to remain civil and upbeat as we worked our way back to camp. I thought it was telling when I asked Steven how he felt about making the summit;


Not that good about it.


was his only reply. He knew that he'd pushed it too far and gotten lucky - thankfully.


[Sigh. A beautiful peak and a beautiful area but I sure would have preferred to get the peak this time rather than come back yet again. Especially on such a gorgeously clear day! ++]


For the rest of the day we lounged around in nuclear conditions as the east faces of the Chess Group really started going off - avalanching every 10 minutes or so and sometimes pretty hugely. Towards the end of the day I noticed a fresh river of rock and snow debris had run down from the first gully on King Edward, all the way to the cliffs down below over our route - but most of the snow remained stubbornly stuck to the south face. Ben and I half heartedly planned for a midnight second chance at the face but I think we both knew that it wasn't going to be cold enough for a safe attempt. The day went by pretty slowly. I grew more and more frustrated by the failure of Ben and I to summit and Steven's success. Why the f__k didn't I just suck it up and follow him to the top? I would have made it! I'd be so happy if only I'd made it.


It was while I was feeling sorry for myself and questioning my courage that I read a section in my ebook on dukkha and the endless craving for more that we all get caught up in. Slowly I started adjusting my attitude until I realized that coming back for King Eddy wasn't the worst thing in the world. I realized that it took courage to turn around and ignore my cravings for a summit too. Despite the adjustment in my attitude, I still wanted to bag the peak - provided we got a safe freeze that night. Ben and I set the alarms for 12:30 and once again tried to sleep in our too-warm and too-bright tents. At 12:30, when Ben got up, it was obvious that there was no freeze once again and we would be going home empty handed once again. I wasn't surprised and turned over in my sleeping bag to drift off until our wake-up time of 04:30.


Meditation in the Bush


After packing up camp in warm temperatures at 04:30, it was time to rush back to Bryce Creek and hope-to-heck that we would be able to cross it without drowning. Then there was the "little" 17km slog up the road to look forward to. The best part? No summit for Ben and I. Things were a bit melancholy but less so than I expected, as we set out from camp. My dukkha revelation and Ben's good attitude about turning back on King Eddy was helping me deal with "failure" better this time than last. The snow was punchy but we managed to get down to the approach road fairly easily and quickly. 


[Sunrise on The Pawn.]

[Early morning sun on Bryce as we race towards the creek.]


Steven and I were a few minutes ahead of Ben as we approached a roaring Bryce Creek. I knew it wasn't good the minute I saw it. The water wasn't only looking deeper than 48 hours earlier, but much faster. I had scouted a section just downstream before, and thought it looked a bit wider than the section we crossed earlier. Steven and I got ready at this section and nervously started across. 


The current was very strong. Anyone who's crossed mountain streams before knows that there is a hypnotic presence to the water as you cross. You have to force yourself not to look at the swirling, rushing water or you instantly get dizzy and start losing your footing! It's very hard not to stare at that which is trying its best to drown you but you have to force yourself to look up and feel the bottom with your feet. I could barely jam my poles in the river bottom firmly enough to prevent a slip on the smooth rocks and boulders beneath my feet as we crossed into even deeper and stronger currents towards the far shore. Steven was a man on a mission - nothing was turning him back. As he approach the far shore the current was so strong that if he stopped moving he would have been pushed over. Even though we were 'only' waist deep, the water was soaking our chests due to the strength of the current as it desperately tried to swallow us whole. I watched, horrified, as Steven suddenly began to lose control and go down in the current right in front of me! He would have been swept into a log jam just downstream if he succumbed to it. Somehow, as he twisted and fell in the strong current, Steven managed to reach out and grab a rock along the calmer far shore - just out of the main current. He hauled himself out of the water - clearly shaken and relieved to be alive.


[Hard to tell from a photo but this is a no go! We tried further downstream and although Steven survived, he almost didn't. We had to find another way...]


I was left standing there with mesmerizing water flowing hard around me, trying to assess if I could survive the same move that Steven had just been forced to make. I turned back - not easy to do either in that roaring river - and hastily beat a retreat to assess other options. Ben was now ready to cross as well, and we tried a few places, including retrying the widest spot again, but to no avail. People have asked me about using our ropes to make the crossing. While a hand line is a good idea to assist crossing on a log or deep water, tying into a rope with a strong, cold current such as the one we were dealing with is a horrible idea. If you lose your footing and are tied in, you will drown in about 8 seconds or less. Because Steven's truck was 17km away, we couldn't use the chainsaw or axes we'd brought to make a tree bridge either.


We had to find another way. I suggested - only half seriously - that we should cross the much larger, but shallower and wider, Bush River and bushwhack to the bridge near Rice Brook and Mount Bryce. This was approximately 5.5km downstream, not a horrendous distance but we're talking about BC bush here! The idea seemed less and less ridiculous as we looked at our options. Staying another full day to see if the water would drop wasn't really a great option. I needed to be back at work, and it was unlikely the river would drop enough to make a real difference. We had an idea of the terrain on the west side of the Bush River, it was going to be bad, but we didn't think there was any terrain that would stop us (i.e. canyons etc). Eventually we had to make a decision. We chose the bush.


After letting Steven know our plans (he started off up the road to meet us at the bridge), Ben and I crossed the Bush River and plunged into the bush alongside it under a blazingly hot sun. The next hours were difficult. With our winter mountaineering packs including snowshoes and skis (!!), we had to traverse kilometers of BC bush. This included niceties we'd encountered before, such as Devil's Club, Alders, steep terrain, creeks and fallen trees that were so big we had to climb over them. My shoulders were aching as we kept going on and on under the hot sun. The huge packs would shuffle around as we stumbled over the steep and rough terrain. I was worried we'd end up snapping an ankle or breaking an arm if we weren't careful. Eventually we started carrying Ben's skis as it was impossible to navigate large stretches of Alders with them sticking up on his pack. We used the InReach to communicate with Steven, letting him know that our pace was about 500m / hour and telling him to continue to the truck from the bridge. We were hoping the road was cleared but weren't counting on it.


[And into the BC bush we go...]

[A relentlessly hot sun beats down on us as we bushwhack. Find Ben in the photo. Note the skis?]


When faced with challenges like 5.5km of BC bush, it's important that you're with the right partners. Everyone has to remain calm and focused and a sense of humor is essential. We had many low moments in that bush traverse, but enough good ones to keep going. Every time we saw either little white flowers or fresh bear scat, we knew we were on a decent route that would open up a bit. When we saw open forest ahead we knew that we were in for a very intense hour of alder-thrashing. "Open" slopes don't really exist in the Bush River valley unless they've been logged recently. As we slogged our way slowly towards freedom, we slowly encountered more and more Devil's Club. Despite crossing many streams we were getting dehydrated due to the effort of lugging our packs and gear up and down the slopes and over obstacles. One stream in particular, was pretty nasty. It was a deep gorge and climbing into and out of it was "challenging". I hoped we wouldn't run into too many of those or we'd be coming out the next day. In one funny moment, I told Ben that if he wanted to be depressed he should look left at the clearly visible Bush River road running along the opposite side of the valley - clear and open and obviously much easier to walk then where we were. Ben casually glanced left and asked, "what about the bear"? I took another look over and was startled to see a large black bear ambling slowly down the road! We were glad Steven didn't have a bad encounter while walking that section! (He confirmed later that he hadn't seen a bear while walking the road, only later while driving it.)


[Hours and hours of this. And worse. Way worse.]

[Devil's Club rises from the forest floor like dancing cobras. They have fangs too. And the fangs come out in your skin when you touch them! At one point I counted 5 barbs in one finger tip.]

[Doesn't look too bad right? Find Ben just starting another Alder thrash in the distance. ;)]

[This is the really nasty stuff. Acres and acres of Alders and no way around it. Bear down and slowly weave, dodge, crawl and swear your way across. That's the only way to make it.]

[Mount Columbia is a distant dream at this point in the thrash. Small patches of snow were heaven-sent and I liberally ate the snow and put it under my cap to cool off.]

[White Trilliums were a sign of more open travel and we started getting excited every time we saw some.]

[Deep in the suck. With a ski. Glorious fun... These alder stands weren't just a few meters across either. Most of them were huge avalanche slopes at least a few hundred meters wide, some closer to 500m. It would take up to an hour to cross through some of them!]

[Uprooted giant trees combined with Devil's Club and undergrowth made for some interesting language every once in a while.]

[Tricky terrain into a deep gully with a nice cool stream.]

[This stream provided temporary relief from the blistering sun. It was like air conditioning and after 10 minutes I had goose bumps sitting next to it. It was so good, I drank about a liter from it.]

[The price we paid for the stream was a very deep gorge and tough exit back to the forest above.]

[Not Alberta trees! This is a small one compared to many we crossed over.]

[Despite the difficulties, the forest was gorgeous too.]

[We came across evidence of old logging efforts on massive trees that for the most part don't exist in this valley anymore.]

[Could this be the start of an old logging road?!]


An InReach message from Steven lifted our spirits immensely. He'd gotten a ride back to his truck - the road was cleared! This boosted us huge. Now we knew that after the bushwhack we were truly done, rather than facing another 12km hike to the truck. We took a few short breaks throughout the rest of the day and by the time we were about 1.5km from the end, we knew we'd make it. Our arms and legs were full of spines from the Devil's Club and our bodies were bleeding from the thick and relentless branches and undergrowth in our path. And then we got a small miracle. All of a sudden, as we passed yet another pile of bear scat, we were on a human, motorized track of some kind! After fading out a few times as it passed through an old logging clearcut, we found ourselves on an obvious bush road. A few hundred meters further and we were on a very new bush road - graveled and traveled recently and headed towards the Bush River FSR.




[This new logging road saved us about 2-3 hours of bushwhacking to the Bush River FSR.]

[A glance back along our escape road with King Eddy still taunting us far in the distance. Don't be fooled! This road doesn't go far before disappearing.]


We hobbled the last 1km at a pace that felt ridiculously fast but I'm sure was very slow, until finally we spotted the Bush River Road and the end of our ordeal. Ben dumped his backpack and walked back to the bridge a few hundred meters up the road to fetch Steven, who was patiently waiting for us. I sat there on the side of the road in the hot sun, not quite believing what had just happened and deliriously happy that this trip was finally done.


[Walking out to the Bush River FSR.]

[Ben walks past some logging debris as we approach the Bush River FSR.]


Closing Thoughts


Phew. This trip report is feeling as long as the trip itself did. Oh well. Lots to think about on this one, I suppose. On the long drive back to Golden there was some discussion on what had happened and on some of the decisions and happenstance on the trip. It seemed like everyone was on board but I guess there are always things that go unsaid until later. There were a few awkward moments when meeting Ian and Josee before continuing our separate ways - both congratulated all of us on a successful summit. Apparently Steven told the world that he was successful from the summit - leaving out the fact that only he was "successful". Ben and I were left to explain why we didn't share in his summit. The experienced mountaineers understood the situation right away and agreed that a safe choice was the only choice. Ian recounted to us that he had many attempts at Mount Forbes already, without a successful summit yet. I don't think anyone who knows Ian (or knew Trevor) would accuse him of being either too slow or not having the guts to climb gnarly snow lines! Ian regularly skis terrain that I wouldn't dare go up - nevermind down!



I hope that by being as honest as I have been in this tale, I can impart a bit of wisdom to a new generation of aggressive and bold climbers in the Rockies. I'm no ace climber or mountaineer - and I never have been, but I've spent some time in the Rockies under many different conditions and scenarios. The main takeaway from this experience, for me, was that group trips should be thought of differently than simply 2 or 3 soloists sharing the same route. A group alpine trip is a group of people for many reasons and for the safety and sanity of all involved, the participants should remain together as much as feasible and make decisions and route choices as a group rather than as selfishly motivated individuals. This isn't to bring down the vibe or to be so safety conscious that nobody ever makes a summit - it's to prevent individuals from taking needless and unnecessary risks to their own safety and even the safety of the rest of the group. Lord knows, I've taken many risks myself in the mountains! We all want to make the summit above all else, especially if we've put so much time and energy into it as Ben and I have for King Edward and it's this drive that gives us hundreds of peaks between us.


My pursuit of Mount King Edward has taught me the hard truth that sometimes the most spectacular "failures" turn out to be among our greatest "successes" and for that realization, I'm grateful for this mountain and for this latest trip. I'm especially grateful that we all returned safely at the end of another grand adventure up the Bush River FSR.


Trip Statistics


Total Distance: 53km

Total Elevation Gain: 2400m

Total Time: 68 hours

Smart Phone Navigation (iPhone 6s)

Recently, I wrote an article on using your smart phone for photography, especially as it relates to the back country. In this article I want to explore the ability of the smart phone (the iPhone 6s in particular) to navigate in the Canadian Rockies and just about anywhere else. Just as with photography, the modern smart phone's capabilities with navigation are often confusing and misunderstood. There's a lot of misinformation out there due to the rapidly changing technology that these amazing machines contain.


NOTE: I would be remiss if I didn't add a warning up front that there is some good evidence that cell phones interfere with avalanche transceivers - obviously something you should be aware of during winter when you take an electronic device with you, including your phone. There are solutions such as keeping the two devices separated by at least 20 inches.


I read a great article recently that outlines a bunch of the things I'm going to talk about too. It's nice to see I'm not the only one who wants to use my phone for more than just social media and texting. :) Just like using the camera in your phone, you might be wondering if it's worth using the GPS / Altimeter in your phone, when you can buy dedicated devices that supposedly do the same job. Only you can determine how far to take the whole phone-as-everything-motto, but I'm continuously amazed at the technology I'm discovering in mine! For example, just a few weeks ago I learned that the altimeter in my iPhone is an actual barometric sensor. I had no idea and was under the impression that it only used a GPS altimeter. I was lugging my Garmin 62st up any peak close to 11,000 feet because I didn't think my phone was accurate enough. Apparently, it's pretty much as accurate as any other non-professional device with a barometric sensor. No more need to lug the Garmin 62st along - and that's a good thing because it's not light or small.


[The Pro Altimeter works pretty slick and even allows calibration with several data points from automatically discovering nearby airports to manually entering altitude.]


ViewRanger App

First let me talk about the app that I use. Wietse tried to get me to use this one already for a year and a few months ago I finally broke down and tried it when I got my new iPhone 6s. The app is called ViewRanger and is attached to an online presence as well. I'm sure there are many other decent GPS applications out there - ViewRanger works for me and has been around for awhile. The best part is that you can reasonably use it for free - including free maps if you wish.


[Using the free OpenCycle maps gives you many tracks that have been uploaded into the ViewRanger system. For example, these tracks around Mount Lougheed were already on the map - I didn't do anything special to put them there. Lots of cool trip ideas just from browsing an area!]


There are a few things I like about ViewRanger in particular. I like that there's an online component that backs up all my tracks and allows me to embed any GPS track in my trip reports (scroll to the bottom). I also appreciate the ability to follow a myriad of tracks and even discover hikes / ski tours on the free OpenCycle map that comes by default with the iPhone application. Just by navigating to an area of the map (i.e. Lake Louise), I can see many other tracks / routes to use as ideas. I'm not sure where ViewRanger gets all these tracks, but they are pretty darn handy.


[I like that all my routes are synced with the cloud and stored under my account in the ViewRanger app online. I can choose to make them public or not.]


Here are some of my personal notes about using ViewRanger, I'm still evolving my techniques so bear this in mind and take these suggestions with a grain of salt;


  1. Don't forget to download your map and any tracks you wish to follow BEFORE getting out of cell phone / WIFI coverage! You can still follow a downloaded track with no map, but it's not pleasant. I've done it several times. ;)

    [Don't forget to download the area that you are going to be navigating - BEFORE your trip!]

  2. Always put your phone in 'Airplane Mode' before heading out into the wilderness with it. You don't need WIFI or cell and if you do, you can always reactivate. These things will burn through your battery quickly! Remember to turn the location services back on in the ViewRanger app when you start it up.

    [When you put your phone in Airplane mode - the GPS will be Off. You also don't need to be 'Online'.]

    [Here I've turned the GPS on and made the application go Offline.]

  3. I use the following GPS settings for tracks and the GPS itself, in order to maintain a decent balance between accuracy and battery life. On Poboktan Mountain we were out for 15 hours and I had my iPhone GPS on the entire day. By the end of the day I still had over 70% battery, which I thought was pretty darn good. There are some complex and interesting ways to save even more battery power if you're doing multi-day trips - see this article for ideas or simply Google for many suggestions.


  4. This is going to same strange, but do *not* follow a route when navigating unless you feel this is really necessary (i.e. navigating in a whiteout). Instead of following a route, simply download the track or map that you're interested in. For example, in the Mount Lougheed map that I showed earlier, if I download the maps around Spray Lakes, all those route lines will be on the map. I don't even have to download tracks or routes or anything! To go up "Little Lougheed", I simply turn on my GPS and start "Recording a track without following directions". By following the line on-screen and checking my position against it, I can reasonably follow the route manually. Why do this? To save battery. If you choose to follow a route, the application will not follow your GPS settings, but will chew through the battery extremely quickly by maintaining constant communication with the GPS satellites in order to ensure you stay exactly on the route line.
  5. I bought the Canadian topo map for a more accurate and widely-named map set. To be honest, the OpenCycle map is pretty darn good. I'm not sure it's worth buying the alternate maps, because you lose all the great route ideas if you do as they are all stored on the OpenCycle free map. I switch back and forth and use the Canadian topo for detailed navigation and if I have a downloaded track to follow.
  6. I linked my ViewRanger with Apple Health. This is a handy way of tracking your stats and calories burned. Another bonus of carrying my phone with me while I hike is that all those yummy steps get recorded and boost my average step count way up! ;)
  7. Experiment with the app and your phone in a non-stress setting to determine how / if it'll work for you. The OpenCycle map is free so there's no risk in trying it. Go for walks around your neighborhood or try it on a trail where you're not going to get lost anyway. Some people insist that they cannot realistically replace their GPS unit with a phone and you could be one of these people.


Myth Busting

There are a few myths regarding phones and their capabilities floating around, that I used to believe myself until I researched them a bit more. Remember - these apply mainly to the iPhone 6s since that's the unit I'm using. If you have a relatively new smart phone, it probably shares or exceeds these specs but you should double check yourself.


One myth that's critical to using the iPhone 6s for navigation is the one that states you need cell coverage to use the GPS. This is not true. The GPS in the iPhone is a true GPS and only needs satellite reception to work properly. Cell coverage can improve accuracy but not by much. Of course, just like any consumer grade GPS unit, the iPhone doesn't work great in canyons or really heavy tree cover (i.e. the jungle). I've used my phone in Alberta "trees" no problem. ;)


Another myth that I used to believe was that a dedicated consumer grade GPS unit (i.e. Garmin 62st) would be much more capable and accurate than the GPS unit in my iPhone. This is no longer an issue for most users, according to some sources. For increased GPS accuracy with your phone, there are devices available to make it extremely accurate while still offering all the benefits of a phone such as large screen, tons of apps and ease of use. The add-on device that I've linked (Dual XGPS150A) is only 51 grams and attaches easily to a pack or even your arm - and again, this is only if you need increased GPS accuracy due to the type of terrain or criticality of application (i.e. you're navigating around the North Pole in a blizzard, alone).


Using your expensive and delicate smart phone outdoors seems like a really bad idea at first. Is it durable enough to handle the rough housing? Of course, this is a non-issue once you look into rugged cases that are much more durable than any consumer grade GPS unit. The LifeProof cases have always worked pretty good for me.


Phone vs. GPS Unit

Only you can decide if you are willing to either completely or partially replace your dedicated GPS unit with your smart phone. I'm going to borrow some pros and cons for each from the Gaia blog to help you make your decision.


Smart Phone Pros;

  • More / better maps
  • Bigger screen
  • Better software
  • Cheaper (since you own it already and apps / add-on GPS receivers are cheap)
  • Multi-use device (can also easily be your camera)


GPS Unit Pros;

  • Battery life - not really though, as you can use battery cases or charging devices for your phone, plus I find that my phone will last just as long as my Garmin 62st does (about 2-3 days)
  • Precision - true, but with add-on units costing less than a GPS and being much lighter and smaller, this is a non-issue if you really need the extra precision of a dedicated GPS unit.


Hopefully I've introduced a helpful addition to your outdoor gear pile, by using a smart phone that you already pay for. As I wrote earlier in this blog, it doesn't have to cost much (anything!) so what's the harm in trying it? Let me know if I've overlooked anything obvious or have misrepresented anything in this article.

Trad Climbing Course

For my 2014 Father's day gift my family gave me the best present ever - a privately guided trad climbing course from Yamnuska Mountain Adventures. Our guide for the weekend was Cian Brinker, an affable and very knowledgeable local rock climbing guide from Canmore.

There are many different ways to learn new skills in the mountains. The most important one, by far, is the skill that only comes through experience. It's only when you put boots to rock that you really start learning. But every once in a while you realize that you're getting into territory where you could probably stand to "sit in the classroom" for a bit. After climbing 1/3 of the 11000ers, with half an eye on at least another 1/3, I started thinking that maybe it was time to learn some good trad climbing techniques including;

  • Building anchors
  • Placing pro
  • General techniques for setting up belays, cleaning routes etc
  • Rope management techniques
  • Gear lists (i.e. what do I need)

My three amigos from Edmonton, Ben, Eric and Steven were all keen on sharing the guide so when the weather forecast looked dismal on Father's day weekend 2014, we decided to give Yamnuska a call.

The weather wasn't perfect but Cian figured a good place to go would be under a large roof at the back of Lake Louise. This was a good choice and we spent both days there. It wasn't as busy as usual, thanks to cool weather and some light rain on Sunday. Over the two days we progressed from building anchors to lead climbing a pretty stiff 5.6/5.7 trad route - definitely more challenging than most mountains I'll be climbing in the next short while! We also learned some cragging techniques such as cleaning anchors after setting up a top rope etc. 

Some pics from the weekend;

[A gorgeous Saturday morning along Lake Louise]

[Lefroy - soon!!]

[Back of the Lake!]

[We started with some pretty easy lines - learning the basics. To be honest - this is about as hard as it gets on most of our large alpine climbs so far. Most 11000ers can be climbed at or under 5.5.]

[Vern hard at work belaying...]

[Steven placing pro]

[On Sunday we moved to a different location. The holds were different than what we're used to - crack climbing techniques were required.]

[Still a nice enough day at the crag]

[Ben cleaning his route on the way down.]

[Vern's turn - Cian is giving me hands-on instruction and teaching me to climb cracks!]

[Learning to trust the rock shoes and reverse hand jams... (pic by Steven Song)]

[Steven's turn]

We still have a long ways to go before we're anywhere close to rock / trad experts but this was an important safety step before putting more boots to rock as we go for more beautiful Rockies summits.

Travel and Muse in Cuba

Looking over the city of Trinidad, Cuba


Cuba 2018


For our 20th wedding anniversary, Hanneke and I decided that a trip to Cuba was the perfect way to celebrate this milestone in our lives and relax. The reason we chose Cuba over other popular warm weather destinations like Panama, the Caribbean or Mexico was threefold;


  1. Cuba is a bit different than other all-inclusive travel destinations but still offers that relaxing beach experience which we both needed for at least some of the time.
  2. Even though Trump has closed some of the doors that Obama opened towards Cuba, it's only a matter of time before the American tourist hordes invade the island and change it forever - we wanted to preempt that happenstance.
  3. I've been in love with Havana for years already and really wanted to get a feel for it in person, in order to plan a longer trip there sooner than later.


Before traveling to an interesting place that I haven't been to before, I like to do some research on it, including it's cultural and political history. Cuba is one of those countries that has a very complex and fascinating story which continues to this day. You can buy your own books on the subject (I recommend this one and for sure this one) but here's a brief outline to wet your appetite. Feel free to skip ahead to a muse on the Cuban identity or our experiences there if you're not in the mood for some rambling prose.


[The Straits of Florida lie off the Varadero beaches on the north side of Cuba. Cubans consider the north side of the island the "cold side" for swimming. We thought it was pretty warm compared to our glacier-fed lakes though. cheeky]


A Brief History of Cuba


Early Years (3100 BC - 1800 AD)


Cuba was first populated by people who navigated there from South America and consisted mainly of small agricultural clans. The earliest evidence of humans in Cuba is from around 3100 BC. Various roving clans either replaced or displaced each other on the island over the centuries before 1492. In 1492 the Spanish explorer, Christopher Columbus screwed all of their lives up pretty emphatically by "discovering" the Caribbean and its many treasures. I'm pretty sure the people who lived there already knew about it, so the way we think of his "discoveries" is somewhat interesting. The first full scale guerilla warfare in Cuba was organized by the indigenous peoples against the Spanish but this ended predictably with the leaders of the movement burnt alive and the eventual total control of the island by Spain in around 1514 with the founding of the precursor to the city of Havana. 


After settling the island and setting up tobacco plantations, the Spaniards were faced with a labor shortage. They first worked the indigenous people to death (literally) and then started importing and working African slaves to death after the 7 years war with the British who imported thousands of slaves over a ten month period. Interestingly Spain traded Florida for Cuba with the Brits as part of the war settlement. By the 1800's sugarcane had replaced tobacco as Cuba's main source of wealth and with free labor (surprise, surprise), the profits from sweet toothed Europeans and Americans really started adding up. Slavery wasn't abolished until the end of the 1800's in Cuba and America was its biggest source of income, buying over 80% of it's sugar exports.


Middle Years (1800-1955)


There were many rebellions, upheavals and revolts over the several hundred years between the Spanish discovery of the island and the late 1800's. Obviously, America always had its sights set on acquiring this island and many presidents spoke and schemed on the issue. Jose Marti is a Cuban hero who advocated for Cuba's independence from Spain and resisted annexation by the USA in the late 1800's. The ten years war resulted in Marti's death and despite being vastly outnumbered by Spanish troops, the so-called "Mambis" prevailed and started taking over the island from Spanish rule. In 1898 the congress of the United States agreed to intervene on behalf of the Cuban people and assist in kicking Spain off the island. The USA promised it would not seek to annex Cuba for itself but when Spain gave up and surrendered the island, Cuba was left out of negotiations and the the USA didn't immediately leave the island either. In 1899 an American governor was appointed and by the early 1900's American investors were quickly taking control of the sugar plantations despite America's insistence that it wasn't annexing the island. There were a few agreements in place supposedly preventing the USA from an all-out take over of the island (Teller and Foracker Amendments) but once some legal loopholes were found there was no stopping them. Imports from the USA went from $38 million in 1905 to over $200 million in 1918 and exports went from $86 to $300 million over the same time period! Throughout the early 1900's there was a nervous "back and forth" between Cuban demands for complete independence and the United State's financial ambitions and unofficial occupation of the island.


[An impressive 109m tall monument to Jose Marti across from the Revolucion Square in Havana.]


In 1933, for the first time in Cuba's history, a patchwork political party of young and inexperienced revolutionaries enacted a series of reforms that were not part of a forced negotiation with either Spain or the United States. It didn't last long, however. In 1934 a US backed government, led by Fulgencio Batista took power. Batista won the 1940 election and pursued some reforms including his own term limit which precluded him running again in 1944. With new prosperity in the 40's came new government corruptions and Mafia attention from US based organized crime families. Fidel Castro was part of the political party expected to win the 1952 election on an anti-corruption campaign, but instead Batista grabbed power in a coup three months before the elections and became Cuba's new leader. Despite some early economic prosperity under Batista, soon the strong unions present in Cuba resulted in a widening gap between Cuban people and their neighbors to the north - the Americans. Cubans wanted to prosper like the Americans and wanted to be free of the increasingly heavy yoke of Batista's corrupt government. In 1953 the young lawyer, Fidel Castro and his brother Raul tried to overthrow the Batista government for the first time in Santiago de Cuba. They were captured and imprisoned until 1955 at which time they were released and fled to Mexico where Fidel and Raul met other young revolutionaries including Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. 


Early Castro Years (1955-1991)


Over the next few years, Fidel and his guerillas waged war on the Batista regime until finally in 1959 with the encouragement of the United States, Batista fled Cuba and Fidel took the reigns of power. And this is where the story gets really muddled depending who's telling it. The very short version is that Fidel deeply disliked the States for its initial support of the Batista government and vowed not to get too close to the Americans - in politics or economy. It didn't take long for the US to realize Fidel was going to be an issue for their interests and within 6 months of his taking power, the Americans were already trying to get rid of him!


["Vas Bien Fidel" - a mural of Camilo Cienfuegos on the Telecommunications building in Revolucion Square in Havana, Cuba.]


Events escalated very quickly with the Cuban government seizing ("nationalizing") private investments all over the island and appropriating companies and land from foreign (i.e. American) investors. Fidel was a socialist and many of the seized assets were distributed to the Cuban people. Many Americans were forced to leave the island with nothing - leaving their houses and possessions behind, including their cars. This is where most of the old cars in Cuba come from. With the cold war escalating and Cuba adopting a socialist ideology, the US was getting very nervous about Fidel. By 1961 Kennedy had imposed a trade embargo on Cuba and then the Bay of Pigs happened. Although the Bay of Pigs invasion obviously failed, the CIA continued to sponsor terrorism and subversion in Cuba against the Castro regime and this obviously led to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962 which pushed the world to the brink of a nuclear conflagration. Because the USA had stockpiled nuclear arms in Turkey, nearer to Russia, the USSR had motivation to find a spot for their own medium range nukes closer to the USA. Cuba fit the bill perfectly and agreed to do a deal. Thankfully the situation was calmed through some last minute negotiations which included the Russians removing their nukes from Cuba, the USA removing nukes from Turkey and the USA promising not to invade Cuba.


[Cuba's famous for its collection of old cars and the fact that they are as numerous (or more so) than more modern ones. The backstory on this phenomenon is one of economic and political intrigue.]


Fidel continued to align with the Soviets and other Socialist regimes after the missile crisis and the relationship with the US continued to grow more and more sour. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans emigrated and fled to the USA from 1959 to 1993 both legally and illegally. This is why there are so many Cubans living in Florida today - which is only around 90 miles from Cuba. The economy of Cuba was largely propped up by the Russians and with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba entered it's so-called "Special Period".


Late Castro Years (1991-Present)


This was a rough time for the Cuban people and is known by them as the special period. The US tightened its embargo during this time, hoping for the downfall of Fidel, making things even harder for the average Cuban. It's always the regular people that suffer the games of politics! Things were so desperate that people were killing random cows all over the island and even animals from the zoo and their pets just to have something eat. This is why cows now belong to the Cuban government and killing one is worse than killing a human. You'll get up to 30 years in jail for killing or buying illegal beef in Cuba today, a strict measure as a direct result of the special period.


Desperate for another source of income, the Castro government opened the Cuban doors for Tourism in the 90's, even allowing US dollars to inject much need foreign currency into their coffers. By 2004, with the USA pressuring the Cuban government to stop using its currency (due to the long standing trade embargo), the confusing double currency system was born in Cuba. Essentially the Convertible Peso (CUC) became a 1:1 Cuban replacement of the USD for use by tourists, while the Meneda Nacional (MN or CUP) remained the local Cuban currency (also worth 24x less than the CUC). In 2014 Cubans were allowed to start using CUCs and tourists could use CUPs, making things almost more confusing than before! We were told more than once by our tour guide - who had a degree in economics - that it doesn't make sense, so don't even try. indecision


Fidel Castro effectively handed over the reigns of governing to his brother, Raul in 2006 after falling ill. In 2008, Raul officially took over from Fidel. President Barak Obama reopened talks with Cuba and even the US embassy in Havana was reopened in 2015. The Trump presidency is a step backwards for US / Cuban relations but things are slowly moderating and Cuba is gradually opening up and seeing its people's economic lives improving as a result. Small businesses are now privatizing (obviously paying tax to the state) and many farms are also passing from the state to private ownership. The Cuban people are housed and fed by the government using a ration-based system and are also educated and receive medical benefits for free - including dental work! There are no homeless or people living on the streets. The elderly and mentally ill are also cared for by the state. There are many misconceptions surrounding Cuba and the Cuban people, some of which I'll address below.


[Cows belong to the state in Cuba - don't even think of killing one for meat! Farms are slowly being privatized once again, however.]


The political scene is about to change dramatically for the country in 2018, as Raul Castro has announced that he will not be running for re-election as part of a 10 year (two term) limit he introduced on his election to power in 2008. For the first time in many years, there will be no "Castro" on the voting ballets for the Cuban people. This could be a great or a bad thing. Time will tell.


The Cuban Identity


The whole country of Cuba is, for the most part, very openly pro-Castro - vocally and proudly supporting Fidel and now his brother Raul. While I do think that the country is much more tolerant of new ideas and open discussions than 10 or 20 years ago, it was clear to me that they have been somewhat indoctrinated by their (free, government run) education system to a very pro-Castro, pro-Socialist worldview. I should point out, however, that we are no different with our own politics or education for that matter. We all tend to be very pro-Capitalist despite some major shortcoming of that ideology, not the least of which is our enslavement to debt and consumerism. I guess we all tend to focus on the positives of what we agree with and the negatives of what we don't. How many Canadians would freely cop to, and discuss the residential schools issue or other blights of our recent past?


Despite Westerners obvious doubts, there are many successes with Cuba's form of Socialism and our tour guides made sure to point them out to us. Unlike most other countries, Cuba has no homeless on their streets. Nobody goes hungry - they all get allotted government rations every month. Everyone is educated to at least high school. This includes room and board if they have to attend a school far away from home (i.e. if they live in the middle of nowhere). Every Cuban has the same access to electricity - no matter where they live. Every Cuban is housed, including the old and infirm. Medical care is totally free - including dental work and many required medications - which are very expensive thanks to the embargo. Cubans have, for the most part, very close-knit families and communities. They build their houses with flat rooftops so that the next generation can add a layer to live in when they get married. Cubans are wise with family planning - too many children only produces issues around living space and food rations. Men are obligated to serve in the military (1-3 years) while women are allowed to sign up, but not forced to. All Cubans go to university for free (well - free after serving in the military that is...) and can pursue any career they want. If they move out of Cuba after their university training, they are obligated to send some of their earnings back for a period of time but otherwise they are pretty much free to choose their own destinies. There are no drugs on the streets. There is zero tolerance for them and it shows. Cuba felt very safe to me - much safer than Tijuana or even a lot of areas in my home city of Calgary. 


[Houses are build with flat roofs in Cuba so that when family members get married, they can simply build on top of their parents houses and continue to live and support each other.]


Small farms are slowly being privatized again and other small private businesses are also being allowed, such as the "Casa Particulars", or Cuban B&B's. Of course, these private enterprises are being taxed heavily. Welcome to the wonderful world of Capitalism!! wink The Cubans we spoke to were very well educated and openly admitted that their country has deep economic issues. They admit that Fidel made a huge mistake aligning with the Soviets as strongly as he did. They don't hide the fact that the double currency of CUP and CUC is hurting the average Cuban and that the extremely high price of goods (thanks to the embargo) is impoverishing them. They hate the fact that with 14 years of university education they are better off being tourist guides, thanks to the generous CUC tips, than being doctors, accountants or lawyers. Cubans have a sophisticated way of surviving their harsh economic realities and as a so-called Money Tree  (the more pesos that fall from you, the harder you'll continue to be shaken) the tourist is a very important part of this strategy.


Like any country forged by revolution, myths are just as important to Cuba's core identity as some of the more uncomfortable objective truths are. In Canada we have our Hudson's Bay explorers, Pioneers and Voyageur myths which leave out many inconvenient truths as well. Cuba's current identity is a deeply proud one. They constantly remind the tourist of their defeat and thwarting of the United States at the Bay of Pigs followed by decades of the Castro regime's constant defiance towards the USA. They deeply and openly dislike the United States - but who wouldn't given the decades of trade embargoes, CIA-backed conspiracies and constant political and economic interference since the early 1900's and even much earlier when Spain was also breaking their backs? Cubans are especially proud of the four heroes of the 1959 revolution; The brothers Fidel and Raul Castro, the Argentinian freedom fighter Che Guevara and, Camilo Cienfuegos. (They get very annoyed with tourists who only know the first three and forget about Camilo.) There is no advertising in Cuba, except when it comes to quotes from any of those four heroes of the revolution. It was interesting to see billboards with Fidel alongside some pretty infamous leaders such as Salvador Allende from Chile. Ernesto "Che" Guevara gets by far the most attention on billboards, graffiti and merchandise around the country with Fidel running a surprisingly distant second. Interestingly, I didn't see any propaganda from Raul Castro, despite him being in power for the past decade, he seems content to be in his brothers shadow for the most part. Like any true Socialist, the Castros apparently live quite humbly and their families avoid publicity and live normal lives like everyone else. Just like the Trump family. NOT. surprise


[Cuba hero-worships Che Guevara, but it makes sense when you realize what he helped them accomplish in 1959 and why he did it.]


I was impressed by most of the Cubans that we met. They seem to be a very strong people who have come through some very dark times as a polite, intelligent, kind, generous, honest (for the most part), humble, smart and very positive people with a wicked sense of humor buried just under the surface. Despite many folks being turned off by the so-called "tipping culture", I found it the opposite. Once I understood how financially challenged the average Cuban is, and how much they depend on the tourist for valuable CUC, I realized that they are actually holding back when it comes to tips. My advice is that if you want to be tight with your precious money, go to an all-inclusive in Mexico, or go on a fancy cruise instead of Cuba. If you are a kind, generous and open personality you will fall in love with this special place despite the fact that you will never be more than a Money Tree to the Cubans, as a rich western tourist. C'est la vie. They can't help their situation and you can't help yours. #noapologies.


Cuba and the Tourist


There's two Cubas within the one country of Cuba. One is the Cuba that the Cubans live in every day, the other is the Cuba that tourists and outsiders see and experience. This is somewhat true of any country, but in Cuba it is a bit different and I believe a lot of the misconceptions about Cuba come from these differences. Here's just some of the negatives we heard before going to Cuba;


  • Food is awful and bland
  • Water isn't safe for drinking - even at the resorts
  • Way too many Cuban people begging for tips
  • Hard to get good service
  • Poor and run down country
  • Suspicious and openly hostile Communist government


Money and Tips


I think there are some truths buried in all the dire warnings, but they are exaggerated by tourists who lock themselves in the all-inclusives along the white sand beaches and pontificate based on very limited interaction with actual everyday Cubans. Along with the two money systems (CUC and CUP), comes a natural double standard. Imagine that Canadian workers were paid in cents what the tourists paid for in dollars. I'd make a dollar a day working as a laborer up to maybe 20 dollars per day as a doctor, while a visiting tourist would think nothing of tipping their tour guide $20 or more for a good days work! Now imagine that regular goods, such as shoes, clothing and any extras like alcohol, toys etc. were priced, not in cents, but in dollars. This is the way it is for Cubans. They are paid in pennies and expected to support themselves with dollars. It doesn't work.


Many tourons hear that the average monthly wage of a Cuban is 40-50 CUC and they think that they don't need to be tipped properly. Do some research and you'll quickly realize that even 200 CUC per month doesn't pay for a families needs in Cuba. Even a top-tier doctor isn't living large on their salary. Imagine you made $500 / month. How well would you be living on that with a family of four or five in Canada? Sure! Basic food needs are met by the government rationing system, but you still need to pay rent on your tiny house or apartment, buy shoes and uniforms for your kids and anything extra is for you to provide including fresh food and drink, phones, some medications and transportation. Even a cheap bottle of rum is 5-7 CUC. That's almost 1/4 of the average Cuban monthly salary! There are no mortgages or loans in Cuba. You want a house? Pay rent for many years, get lucky with an inheritance, US relatives or save the cash yourself. You want a car? Forget it. The average Cuban can never buy a car - remember there are no loans! An old Russian Lada can cost well over $15,000 CUC, nevermind the gasoline and repair costs. Those nice old cars you see in Havana are worth over $40,000 CUC - way out of reach for the average Cuban. Cars are passed down like heirlooms in Cuba and unless you have rich relatives sending you lots of money from Florida, you aren't getting one. Purchase and read this guidebook to understand much more about how the everyday Cuban lives and survives.


[Even an old beater car like this one can set you back $15,000 CUC in Cuba. That's equivalent to $15,000 USD!]


Considering the previous paragraph, I think the Cubans are very reasonable when it comes to tips. Sure! Some go around with their hands out (still less aggressive than most Canadian beggars IMHO), but even if they manage 'only' a few CUCs per day from sympathetic tourists, who can blame them? They'll make more than a teacher in a month of part-time begging! That's like making $5,000 / month here in Canada just by asking the occasional tourist for $1! I tipped generously, but fairly and got great service and lots of smiles in return. I understood my role as the dumb tourist Money Tree and didn't let that bother me too much. Our maid got $1 CUC per day with a personal handwritten note asking about her and her family which she answered in English. We got great service as a result, so I had no regrets spending that $10 for the week. Other resort staff got $1 CUC for good service, including servers, suitcase assistants or towel attendants. Our Sunwing vacation rep got $20 CUC at the end of the week to thank her for her hard work and excellent recommendations. Our tour guides got the standard 10-20% tip at the end of a long day of escorting a bunch of naive tourons around their country. We ignored street beggars and were left alone after a firm, "no". We had no issues with Jinateros or Jinateras in any of the cities we visited, but being firm and ignoring pestering Money Tree pickers when necessary is simply part of traveling anywhere. I felt more harassed the weekend I got home and tried walking into a Tim Horton's in Calgary only to be blocked by two locals who physically blocked my path before finally relenting and letting me pass by when their tree shaking didn't produce any fruit. frown 


Food and Drink


Cuban food is not bland. Cuban resort food is often bland due to them still figuring the rest of us out. They don't want to offend the delicate tourists with all our allergies and food sensitivities, so they go with "average" and end up being accused of having bland palates. Also, the resorts can't source any food from the USA or affiliated companies. Resorts can't source local seafood or beef either - food such as lobsters and cows are owned by the government and there are heavy fines (and jail) for harvesting them for yourself. The beef you do get is mostly imported from Alberta, believe it or not! It's mainly chicken and pork for meat in Cuba, and locally grown fruits and vegetables for sides. I have to say that I ate healthier at our resort than I eat at home. Authentic Cuban food is apparently quite delicious, but since we didn't eat a lot of local dishes I can't comment on that. Cuban coffee is to die for! I couldn't get enough of it - dark and deliciously smooth. Even the powdered milk they used didn't ruin the taste. Cuban pop has almost half the calories of American pop thanks to using sugarcane rather than corn syrup. I preferred Cuban pop by a fair bit to the crap we drink here, although I didn't drink a lot of it. Cuban cigars were, as expected, a wonderful experience. I don't drink much, so I can't speak for Cuban rum, although a lot of folks around me weren't complaining. wink


[I didn't feel that I was underfed on vacation... wink]


If you know me, I tend not to worry too much about drinking water from various sources. I generally drink directly out of streams when hiking and I figure that if the locals can drink the water without dying or getting sick, I probably can too. That being said, it's no fun being sick on vacation so I took pretty good precautions with water. I did drink some tap water on occasion and predictably I was fine. I think if I stayed longer in Cuba, I'd drink most of the tap water there without worrying too much about it.




Is Cuba poor? Yep. Is it impoverished? I don't think so. People in warmer countries live differently than we do in frigid Canada. We look at their tiny houses with some apparent need of repairs and we think that they must be destitute. While the average Cuban could certainly use a few more CUC per month to make their lives a bit easier, the vast majority do have a roof over their head and enough food to survive. Personally, I think we could make do with quite a bit smaller abodes than we currently aspire to in our country. When you think about all the debt most Canadians are enslaved by simply so they can keep up with the Joneses next door, I have to wonder who's really better off?


[Sure! Cubans live a lot differently than we do in Canada, but they aren't in abject poverty either. They have a roof over their head, food and basic rations and now there is the possibility of government-sanctioned small businesses opening up too.]


It is true that the power grid in Cuba is notoriously unstable. A few months ago a huge chunk of the island was without power for days. Communications are also very limited. Forget about roaming on your cell phone and especially roaming with data! Wi-Fi is only available in certain areas for a limited time at limited speeds and for around $1-3 CUC / hour. Roads are rough - and that's the few paved ones. Towns and cities are hot and crowded. Infrastructure is aging. It's certainly a different sort of chaos to what I'm used to in Canada, but that's why I love to travel - it opens my eyes to other people's realities and makes me rethink mine.


Government and Safety


I didn't notice the government other than the monitoring of internet (providing my passport to get access) and at the airport which is pretty much the norm for every country nowadays. I only saw soldiers at the Che memorial and a few popular tourist sites in Havana. I saw very few police. Compare that to Mexico where we saw armed guards and cops everywhere, including in trucks with mounted machine guns cruising the neighborhoods we were working in! I saw way more police and armed guards in Los Angeles than in Havana - a LOT more. Of course, I realize that this doesn't mean the government wasn't watching us - I'm sure they were! I just never felt unsafe - and as a tourist that's a good thing. Please note that Cuba never was a communist country. Socialism and Communism are different. Do your research.


The crime rate in Cuba is quite low. For the smart tourist (i.e. don't do drugs or go looking for trouble), I'd say Cuba is a much safer destination than a lot of other warm-weather destinations including Mexico, Panama or others. Cubans know that they need tourist dollars to survive. The government deals very harshly with folks who interfere with this 3rd largest source of money to the island. As I stated earlier, I felt quite a bit safer in Cuba than a lot of places back home.


Our Experiences in Cuba


As typical western tourists, we didn't really get to experience the "real" Cuba other than through our tour guides' stories and our two excursions, which were still very touristy. But I'm not going to apologize for that! Whenever I travel, I'm a tourist. So what? We enjoyed our experiences in Cuba immensely and are planning to go back for a more authentic Cuban trip soon. But make no mistake. No matter how hard-core you think you are, as a traveler in Cuba you are an outsider and a tourist. You can't become a Cuban no matter how hard you try - it's literally impossible. Che Guevara is the only non-Cuban to be honored with an authentic Cuban citizenship and you are not him!


Sol Palmeras


As tourists looking for nothing more than relaxation, warm weather, and white sandy beaches, we stayed at a lovely all-inclusive resort called Sol Palmeras and had zero regrets with this decision! We stayed in one of the bungalows situated apart from the main resort area and awoke to the sounds of morning doves and other birds every day. At night we sat on our little porch and enjoyed the distant sounds of happiness going on at the main resort, along with the more relaxing sounds of night birds and ocean waves nearby. We enjoyed the a la carte restaurants and the buffet much more than we thought we would and I ended up losing a few pounds thanks to the healthy options available. 


[We were suitably impressed with bungalow 533 at the Sol Palmeras resort. ++]

[The view looking the other way from our porch. The ocean is visible at left and was a 2 minute walk away. The busy main resort is nowhere to be seen and is off to the right about 5-10 minutes away on foot. ++]

[Banana trees line the walkway to our bungalow. You can tell it's winter due to the sparse vegetation and lack of bugs.]

[There are a lot of bungalows at the Sol Palmeras resort, spread out over a surprisingly large area with good walkways connecting them all to each other.]

[A nice sunset over our bungalow.]


Every morning we'd skip breakfast to go for a long stroll on the beach before heading to a small outdoor cafe near our bungalow for a light brunch and fresh cappuccino. This small cafe seemed to be unknown to most of the other resort guests as we were almost always the only ones there. After brunch we'd head to the beach for a few hours of reading, relaxing and swimming in the clear water. This was the cleanest and warmest ocean water I've ever been in. The beach was fine white sand and free of debris or litter. I was very impressed with the beaches. We even managed to find a spot along the water that had both shade and sunny options and was away from the main lounging area and noise of the other touron hordes. I'm starting to think that Hanneke and I are a bit antisocial... wink Seriously though, we really felt like we were on our own private vacation whenever we wanted to be.


[The morning walk was very peaceful with few other tourists around.]

[We managed to set up our beach chairs in isolation of the masses thanks to a large beach area.]

[We did a lot of beach walking.]

[Neat photo opportunities along our walk.]

[Enjoying the breeze.]

[The beach walk included some interesting rocky cliffs which made for good landscape photography.]

[A safe and quiet beach offered the perfect opportunity to unplug and reconnect with books again.]

[Trees lined the beach behind the sand, providing much needed shade in the heat of the day.]

[We could easily walk from the Sol Palmeras beach area to the Melia Resort areas - Melia actually owns the Sol Palmeras resort too. ++]

[Fresh coconut!]

[This is as far as we could walk to the west of our resort, looking back at the Melia beach where we've come from. The reason we can't walk further is the golf course, the club house visible here.]

[Workers were assembling more beach "umbrellas" near our spot in the sand.]


There were tons of socializing opportunities - we just didn't want them on this trip. After a few hours in the hot Cuban sun we'd head back to the outdoor cafe for a delicious afternoon cappuccino or fresh orange juice - enjoyed with a nice cigar of course! Then it was back to the beach followed by another long walk along the ocean, as the sun started to set at around 17:00. A refreshing shower in our air conditioned bungalow was followed up with a private a la carte dinner at any one of the 5 restaurants on site. All of them were delicious with a nice atmosphere and all were largely empty when we were there - either early or late. After dinner we'd enjoy more cappuccino or wine on warm balconies around the main resort, with live entertainment echoing over the humid air and adding to the ambiance. We'd also use our Wi-Fi cards to do quick updates in the evenings. After enjoying the warm evenings (so nice compared to the biting cold we get in Calgary even in summer) we'd retire to the bungalow for some Netflix - saved on an iPad. This Heavenly routine comprised 5 of our 7 full days in Cuba. It was sublime, I'm not gonna lie! (BTW - our devices all plugged directly into the outlets with no issues except for Hann's flat iron which required a converter and the large iPad charger which didn't fit in the plug - we just used our smaller iPhone chargers for it.)


[My favorite walks were around 17:00 as the sun started to go down and the temperature cooled off a bit.]

[Late day lighting on our beach.]

[Early morning sunrise near our beach.]

[The beach was very quiet at 06:30.]

[The moon sets as the sun rises behind me.]

[This section of the cliff collapsed.]

[Dressing up for dinner.]

[Dinner in the a-la-carte restaurants was quiet and tasty.]

[At the Italian restaurant - probably our favorite.]

[It was dark by 19:30 so we spent some time walking around the resort even after dark - no safety concerns at all.]


Despite the fact that we were at a cushy all-inclusive resort in Varadero, Cuba is still Cuba. I'll illustrate what I mean with an example. In order to eat at the a la carte restaurants, we had to book them in advance. As I was booking our next few dinners, I noticed that nothing seemed to be available when we wanted it. I deftly palmed a $1 CUC in my hand and let the lady helping us book our restaurants see it. Everything magically opened up! We got all our bookings exactly when we wanted them and she got her "tip". It didn't stop there though. When she heard we were going to Havana she promised that "her husband" (yeah right) could take us for half the price and twice the fun. On hindsight this would have been a fun adventure, but I'm sure it wouldn't have ended much cheaper. indecision This is just the way things are done. Everyone gets a slice of the action - unofficially and away from the government of course. For the rest of our stay, me and the booking lady played a game where she never knew if I was going to tip her and I didn't know if she was holding back on me for a tip. I liked the game but many polite Canadians won't like it or won't even know they're part of this game at all. You've been warned. If you think you didn't have your money tree shaken in Cuba than you got it shaken more than most!




What about the other two days that we didn't spend laying around drinking cappuccinos, swimming in the ocean, wandering perfect white, sandy beaches and reading books under shady palm trees? We did two very touristy excursions from the resort via tour companies. Naturally there were less touristy options but who are we kidding? Just because you aren't with an official tour company doesn't mean you're not a tourist in Cuba. You are either Cuban or you're not. That's it. An experienced Cuban tourist just gets their Money Tree shaken a bit less than the newbs - but probably way more than even they are aware. surprise 


Next time I travel to Cuba we'll likely spend time in a Casa Particular rather than an all-inclusive for at least part of the time, and I'll likely be more prepared to jump in a taxi rather than a tourist bus, but honestly I really enjoyed our excursions for several reasons;


  • Our guides were very well educated, spoke excellent English and provided us with mini courses in all things "Cuba" over many hours of travel time. This was a very cheap education IMHO and worth the price of admission even without the destinations themselves.
  • The buses were MUCH more comfortable than the local cars. My step counter was well over 30k steps on our Trinidad excursion from the rough roads - and that's in a comfortable ride. That same trip in an old 1950's car would likely have rendered me incapable of walking for the rest of the week!
  • We managed to hit some of the more popular spots which gave me ideas for next time on avoiding these hot spots at peak hours and which ones were worth coming back to, such as Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad.


A quick note about washrooms in Cuba. If you're outside a resort make sure you have the two following, very important items. Without these two things, your day just got a lot more interesting;


  1. Toilet paper - none of the bathrooms at any of the restaurants or museums we went to had any available
  2. Small change for the attendant or you really look like a newb and will be treated like one


Havana Excursion


If you're going to go on an excursion from anywhere within a few hours of the city of Havana, you have to visit this unique place. It's just one of those places you should see. I've had a dream of walking the old streets of this vibrant city with a Leica camera for many years and I was not disappointed to finally get that opportunity. After passing through the city of Matanzas we spend another hour or so on the bus before arriving at the old city wall of Havana, near the Revolution Museum, Museo de la Revolucion. Our tour guide, named Rey, regaled us with tales of Fidel and his crew coming over from Mexico in 1959 to kick off the great Cuban Revolution against the Batista government, and we saw the modest boat ("Granada") that that they used, as the bus drove on by the rather uninspiring show of force. 


[Listening to Rey, our tour guide, on the bus ride to Havana.]

[Checking out trinkets at a stop along the way to Havana. Lots of people got their first Mojito of the day here. At 10:30 in the morning!! surprise]

[Passing through Matanzas. Which means "massacre".]

[A nice setting along the way through Matanzas.]

[Narrow streets and aging vehicles are par for the course in every town and city in Cuba.]

[A view over the Bay of Matanzas which is the site of a pretty famous Dutch vs. Spain naval battle in 1628.]

[Entering the city of Havana with a view across a plaza towards the Museo de la Revolucion.]

[Part of the old wall of Havana (everything on the near side used to be open ocean) with the Museum of the Revolution at right and the Iglesia del Santo Angel Custudio at center distance.]

[Another view towards the impressive gothic spires of the Iglesia del Santo Angel Custudio.]

[An SAU-100 tank used by Castro during the 1961 battle of the Bay of Pigs is pointed at an old section of the original wall that surrounded Havana. This wall was erected in the late 1600's by slaves, who spent 23 years building a 4,892m long, 1.4m thick, 10m high wall from rocks they hauled in from the coast. Only 123 years later, the wall was demolished as Havana burst its seams. In a cruel irony, it was destroyed by slaves that were the grandchildren of the slaves that first erected it.]

[Part of a rather unremarkable outdoor display of Cuban "military might".]

[Driving past the sights and sounds of Havana on our way to the Revolution Square.]

[The new Capital building is still under construction. The main Cuban government will be relocating here soon.]

[It's a pretty impressive building.]

[The color and vibrance of Havana is hard to miss.]

[This photo sums up Havana. Tour buses, a horse drawn cart and old cars.]

[Some obvious signs of neglect reminded some on our tour bus of bombed out buildings in Eastern Europe!]

[Typical Havana street scene with workers slowly repairing an old building.]

[The University of Havana was founded in 1721.]


Our first official stop was the infamous Plaza de la Revolucion, in Havana. Apparently every major Cuban city has a "Revolution Square" but this one is extra famous thanks to Fidel's famously long speeches that he used to make here - up to 7 hours long! Millions of Cubans have assembled in this square for various reasons and speeches over the years. Along with the drab concrete buildings housing the ministries of the interior and communications, there is a spectacular 100m+ tall monument to Jose Marti and two interesting murals of the 1959 heroes of the revolution, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos who is often incorrectly labeled as "Fidel Castro" by many uninformed tourists. What many people don't seem to understand, is that the quote under Camilo's mural is a reference to his reply to Fidel's question at a revolution rally in 1959 when Fidel asked him how he thought he was doing. Camilo responded with the now infamous words, "You're doing fine Fidel".


[A mural of Ernesto "Che" Guevara features prominently on the Ministry of Interior building along La Plaza de la Revolucion. The quote underneath means, "Until victory, always!".]

[This matching mural of Camilo Cienfuegos was commissioned on the Telecommunications Building in 2007 along with his famous utterance to Fidel after the victory in Santa Clara.]

[A massive and impressive, 109m tall memorial to Jose Marti lies on the north end of the plaza.]

[A wider view of the plaza, looking towards the Che mural and the rather dreary Ministry of Interior building.]

[Brightly colored taxi's line the Revolution Square, ready to take tourists for a ride through Havana.]

[Apparently Cuba has an industry dedicated to producing parts for all of its older vehicles.]

[In a country with no loans of any kind and an average monthly income of around $40 CUC, these $40,000 CUC cars are heirlooms passed down through families.]

[Everyday life in Havana.]

[Driving past a medical school with an example of the government propaganda that is the only form of advertising in Cuba - Fidel Castro, next to Salvador Allende from Chile.]


Our next stop was all about la bolsa negra or the black wallet that drives the everyday Cuban economy and is a key component of the average Cuban's economic survival. I overheard many fellow tourons complaining bitterly about this stop and how long it took, but seriously - what did they expect?! This was the key stop for not only our tour guide but for a whole industry of Cubans who's main source of income is tourist buses filled with hordes of visitors and of course fat wallets. The stop wasn't advertised as a money grab for our tour guide and his relatives, but rather as an "opportunity" for us to buy authentic Cuban coffee, rum and cigars. I thought it was hilarious when Rey stepped behind the counter in the store and helped sell the products - he didn't even pretend not to be related to the so-called "random" shop owner. The owner was very entertaining and the epitome of a Cuban rum and cigar magnate - all a good show to shake our money trees that much harder. laugh I thought the flaming cappuccino was pretty neat in the store's adjoining coffee bar and the coffee and cigars were certainly delicious to enjoy on our balcony later that night! I certainly wasn't offended by this stop on our tour. I wouldn't go back, but it was fun and entertaining to experience one time. As a side-note, the cigars at the duty free shop in the Varadero airport were pretty much the same price as the ones I bought in Havana. Same with the rum. Everyone needs to be paid - don't expect to get anything cheap unless it's highly illegal and counterfeitwink


[The "owner" of the shop where we were taken was a colorful character with nice charm and a good story about his rum factory not being very efficient thanks to all his drunk workers.]

[Tourons == Money Tree!]

[Driving past a large stadium while driving from the Revolution Square back to Old Havana, we passed a Wi-Fi hotspot where customers pay $1-3 CUC for an hour of Internet access - all monitored closely by the government of course.]

[Driving past the Christopher Columbus or Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón, a huge cemetery containing over 1 million interments and covering 140 acres. It is considered one of the most important historical cemeteries in the world. Bodies are removed from their tombs after 3 years and placed in special ossuaries due to the sheer number of dead buried here.]

[If you look closely you can see a red symbol on the door of this house which is undergoing some sort of repair work. You might think this is the same as the "blue" Casa Particular symbol indicating a Cuban B&B but it's not. Depending on the location it could be a "rent-by-the-hour" sort of place or it's only for Cubans to stay in. Either way - it's not for the regular tourist.]

[Starting our drive along the Havana Seawall with the Torreón de la Chorrera standing guard to the Almendares River. This small fortress was built in 1646.]

[A classic part of Havana.]

[Walking along the seawall with the Straits of Florida stretching out in the distance.]

[One of the many drab, Soviet-style buildings that conspire to dim the Havana old city vibe.]

[A distant view of the Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro, built in the late 1500's on the backs of slaves it took over 30 years to finally complete in the early 1600's. An interesting historical feature of the castillo is the prisons, which have holes in the back walls through which prisoners were fed to the sharks. I'm not sure the prisoners thought this was "interesting" or not.]


Next up, after the shopping excursion was my favorite part by far, a walk through Old Havana. After disembarking in the Plaza de San Francisco (1575) near the Basilica Menor y Convento de San Francisco de Asis, we proceeded to explore some of the more touristy areas of the old city. Again - la bolsa negra dictated exactly which museums, stores and sites we stopped at but since it was all new to us, we didn't care. Hann and I both readily agreed that next time we'll spend at least 2-3 full days exploring Havana. This excursion was just a nice taste for a later trip. My 18mm Leica lens worked fantastically in the very tight confines of Old Havana - especially with the towering old buildings and crowded squares. Highlights for us in Old Havana included;



[The Basilica Menor y Convento de San Francisco de Asis was built in 1561 in the shape of a cross and then rebuilt in 1716 on the old ruins of the original.]

[My 18mm Leica SEM lens sure came in handy in the tight streets of Havana!]

[Looking at the Brazilian Embassy which lies on the north side of the Plaza de San Francisco.]

[A nice restaurant.]

[The narrow streets of Old Havana were crowded with tourists but had a good vibe.]

[Standing in the Old Square - Plaza Vieja which was Havana's 2nd or 3rd open space to be constructed in 1559 after monks complained that vendors in the 2nd oldest square - Plaza de San Francisco were interrupting worshippers trying to celebrate mass. For $2 CUC you can visit the Camera Obscura in the tower of the tall yellow building pictured here.]


[This building is on the north end of the plaza and houses an elementary school.]

[In 1952, Batista (former president of Cuba) built an underground car park here! After being declared a UNESCO cultural heritage site in the 1980's, the square was slowly transformed back to it's former glory. This fountain is a replica of the original which was built in the 1700's by Italian sculptor Giorgio Massari.]

[Lots to see and do along numerous narrow streets of Old Havana.]

[In 1890 a fire broke out in Old Havana, resulting in the deaths of at least 60 firemen who are remembered at this location and at a large memorial in the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón.]

[We briefly visited the Museo Armería 9 de Abril (Armory April 9 Museum) where followers of Fidel Castro stole weapons for his cause on April 9th, 1958.]

[Lots of weapons claiming to be "Fidel's" or "Che's". I'm not convinced but it is a useful prop for more stories of the great revolution. frown]

[Lots of shady parks and outdoor cafe's to enjoy. In general it's a very laid-back atmosphere.]

[Italian design shops are allowed but nothing from the USA and advertisements are kept in-store only.]

[The Castillo de la Real Fuerza which was built from 1558 to 1577 as a defense of Havana. The fortress has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982 and houses the Museo de Navegación (Navigation Museum).]

[A classic medieval moat surrounds the fortress.]

[The courtyard has several cannons on display.]

[Looking north across the Port of Havana entrance canal towards the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña++]

[The bell tower in the distance was built in 1632 and two years later it was crowned by La Giraldilla, a weather vane in the form of a woman thought to be Doña Inés de Bobadilla, Governor of Cuba and wife of explorer Hernando de Soto. She is also the symbol of the popular Havana Rum and considered a symbol of the city of Havana.]

[Another view of the bell tower and moat.]

[Built in 1827, El Templete commemorates the first mass and town council held in the city.]

[Late afternoon lighting along the impressive pillars lining the south side of the Fortress and part of the Palacio del Segundo Cabo. This was the first official Spanish post office built in 1770-1773.]

[The entrance area to the Museo de la Ciudad Palacio de los Capitanes Generales. It was built in 1792, on the sight of the former parish church, as the imposing Palacio de los Capitanes Generales (Governor’s Palace).]

[Detail on the old porch covering.]

[The street in front of the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales is made of wood, rather than stone, supposedly so that the governor wouldn't be disturbed by passing carriages and foot traffic!]

[A statue of Christopher Columbus sits in the center of the inner courtyard and makes a nice bench on a hot day.]

[I'm sure this is all very interesting, but I get bored pretty quickly with these sorts of displays. :)]

[Impressive in size, architecture and displays, the Museo de la Ciudad is well worth the CUC 3 to get in.]

[In the late afternoon the tourists are starting to leave the city and the workers are looking more and more relaxed.]

[Put it this way - the governor of Cuba lived pretty darn swell.]

[Looking down into the inner courtyard from the second story with its statue of Christopher Columbus.]

[Walking past the Ambos Mundos hotel where Ernest Hemingway wrote the first few chapters of "For Whom the Bells Toll" in a room on the 5th floor .]

[Sitting kitty corner to the Colegio Universitario de San Gerónimo (bell tower first built in 1578 and now restored) is the La Dominica Cafe (foreground).]

[Old Havana street scenes.]

[Walking towards the Cathedral Square.]

[Plaza de la Catedral was originally named Plaza de la Ciénaga (Swamp Square) because of its muddy terrain, but by the 18th century, it had already become one of the city’s most important squares. ]

[The Catedral de La Habana sits on the north end of the plaza and is considered one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Cuba. Construction first started around 1748 by Jesuit missionaries who were given this plot of land due to its swampy (not ideal) character. When the Jesuits were expelled from Cuba in 1767 the church was not yet complete and was finished off by Franciscan Monks. This is why the tower at left (Franciscan) is much different than the tower at right (Jesuit).]

[Inside the Catedral de La Habana.]

[Church door detail.]

[Street scene.]

[A big discussion.]


We didn't have very much time to explore any of the sights in depth, but as I indicated earlier, we got enough of a taste to come back some day with more time to explore. As the tourists started leaving the old city and the shadows grew longer we sat in an old cafe and enjoyed a cold Cuban Cola with a freshly purchased cigar. The bustling street just outside of the cafe faded from consciousness as we sat there and peacefully enjoyed a few minutes in the refreshingly laid back atmosphere. This moment made me want to come back during off-peak hours more than anything! As we drove out of the city I glanced back at the Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro (1600), the Fortaleza de San Carlos and the impressive Cristo de La Habana looking over the Port of Havana and I knew I'd be back some day. 


[I loved the huge doors and open atmosphere of the city. We enjoyed a nice break in this cafe.]

[The cafe.]

[Enjoying a cigarillo in the cafe.]

[Late afternoon sunshine along the canal leading into the Port of Havana.]


Three Cities Excursion


Our second excursion was quite different from the Havana one. We decided to visit three important historical cities located in central Cuba;


  1. Santa Clara - founded in 1689 and an important site of the 1959 revolution when Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos won an important battle here. It's also the site of Che's Memorial and Mausoleum.
  2. Trinidad - founded in 1514 and an important historical city with lots of culture but also lots of tourism traps.
  3. Cienfuegos - a city with French origins and some nice plazas and parks.


The only fly-in-the-ointment with this excursion was the sheer distance we'd have to travel to get to these three cities from Varadero. It would be far enough even on newly paved freeways in comfortable cars, but on the Cuban road system we were in for a bit of an epic drive. The total kilometers would be around 650 and the total time driving would be well over 9 hours! We decided that to see all three of these places in one long day was worth it - we could always come back longer some other trip if we thought any of them were worth exploring longer. Our tour guide for this day was a very well educated with 14 years of university education in a wide range of topics including economics, philosophy, English and French. She was teaching herself German as well - because why not?


Unfortunately, the rest of our tour group on this day were a bit less impressive than our guide. surprise First of all, the Canadian couple from Vancouver who sat beside us was nice enough but they weren't prepared for the long, bumpy ride and quickly tired of the heat and rough back seat ride of the small bus we were in. Next there were a couple of women from a small bush town in Ontario. I'll try to remain polite, but they did not make me very proud to be a Canadian. They meant well, I think, but they were very condescending to the tour guide and to the Cuban people in general. Typical white privileged tourists that knew better than anyone else including the Cuban with 14 years of post-secondary education!! Two other Canadians - from Quebec - didn't elevate our collective Canadian reputations, I'm afraid. They were also not at all suited to such a long, hot travel day and were frankly, quite rude. They sent food back at the restaurant, complained about the heat, could barely walk 10 feet without a rest, and talked loudly inside Che's Mausoleum - one of the most revered and respected memorial sites in all of Cuba! angry


Thankfully we had one interesting passenger to hang out with. Maria was originally from Serbia and currently working for the United Nations out of Afghanistan. She was a very interesting person to converse with and was an astute and respectful traveler. This excursion really highlighted the importance of the group when doing really touristy stuff like this - it's not enough just to have a great tour guide. We truly felt sorry for our group leader most of the day as she had to remain polite and smiling while wanting to strangle most of us, I'm sure.


We left the resort early on Thursday and drove the first 3.5 hours to Santa Clara and Che's memorial. Our tour guide, Mirella, spoke frankly about many topics including Cuban politics, economics and philosophy. She openly admitted that there were problems with her country, but also wasn't afraid to point out the many positives of a Socialist ethos. We were a bit disappointed in the two Ontarian "know-it-alls" who kept interrupting and pontificating over the poor guide, but c'est la vie.


[It was a long drive from Varadero to Santa Clara and we got a nice Cuba history / social lesson from our tour guide along the way. This is a school building - note the students outside here.]

[A nice tourist stop along the way. I thought it was funny that everyone automatically went in a long line-up in the main bar to order drinks, while I found the "Cuban" snack shop next door and got my cold Coke in about 2 seconds for half the price.]

[The old cars can really move! The roads were extremely bumpy - even the few main highways we were on, which made getting anywhere that much more time consuming.]


When we finally pulled up to the Che memorial we only had about 15 minutes to look around before being rushed through the mausoleum and museum there. I got some great pics despite the rush. There was a long lineup at this important cultural site. As I stated earlier, Ernesto "Che" Guevara is the only non-Cuban to be given a status of "Cuban citizen by birth" in February of 1959 after his important contribution to the revolucion. Cubans love, respect and admire Che and I was deeply embarrassed for our group when the ladies from Quebec started talking loudly inside his tomb. sad On hindsight, a lot of tourons don't seem to do a lot of research on excursions before signing up for them.


[The memorial is impressive, but you don't need more than a few hours at most here. The mausoleum had a long line to get in and you can't take photographs anywhere within the museum or the mausoleum. You can't take anything inside due to a bomb threat here years ago. It's the only place I spotted armed guards in Cuba.]

[Che and a security guard who slipped me a "thumbs-up" immediately after I snapped this photo.]

[Looking out on another "Revolution Square" where great political rallies and speeches have taken place over the years - from the steps of the Che memorial.]

[A mural of Che's life.]


After the interesting visit to Che's memorial, we piled back on the bus for the 1.5 hour ride to Trinidad. We watched a documentary on Che while absorbing more rough highways and our tour guide educated us on the education system and the meaning of the different colored uniforms worn by Cuban school kids;


  • Kindergarten - white top, blue bottom and scarf
  • Primary - white top, red bottom and scarf
  • Secondary - white top, yellow bottom and scarf
  • Plantation schools - white top, navy blue bottom and scarf
  • Medical students - white top, purple bottom


[By the color of their uniforms these are primary school students.]

[Neighbors visiting. For the most part Cuban culture is defined by very close-knit families. This is why they build literally on top of each other's houses!]

[Interesting fashion on the streets of Santa Clara.]

[Lots hills and lots of farms in the open country between cities.]

[A rare overpass shows the state of highways in Cuba.]

[Passing by yet another small farm in a small hamlet along the way from Santa Clara to Trinidad.]

[Pork is the meat of choice in Cuba. I'm not sure how long it stays good, out in the heat like this...]


We spent too much time eating lunch at the charming Restaurante Trinidad Colonial in Trinidad. The reason it took so long? Our group first didn't like the private room our guide had arranged so we waited 30 minutes to get another spot. Then half the group (guess which half) sent their food back because they didn't like it. By the time we finally finished lunch we only had about 30-45 minutes to check out the town square, Plaza Mayor, and some of its surrounding attractions. 


[The inside of the restaurant.]

[Great atmosphere from within the Restaurante Trinidad Colonial++]

[A common street scene in Trinidad. Note the cobblestone street.]

[A market on the street.]

[Not all taxis are created equal...]

[The streets in Trinidad are made from the ballast stones of ships coming over from Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries. They are quite rough!]


[The tower at the Palacio Cantero museum is visible from the street - but now we have to figure out how to get there and we only have a few minutes!]

[The inner courtyard of the Palacio Cantero museum which granted access to its famous lookout tower offering views over the city of Trinidad.]


Amazingly Hann and I had time to blast up the very narrow steps of the Palacio Cantero tower which offered some pretty unique views of this small, but historied city. Trinidad is named after the Christian concept of the Trinity and is located in the only Cuban province with a Latin name, Sancti Spiritus or "Holy Sprit" - one of the members of the Trinity. Trinidad is also one of the best preserved cities of the Caribbean from an era when sugarcane plantations were like modern day oil and gas companies and a mainstay of the local economy. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988. 


[A great view over Trinidad looking north towards the Convento de San Francisco de Asis at center left and the Church of the Holy Trinity or the Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad at center right, standing over the Plaza Mayor. Note the market on the narrow street at bottom left. ++]

[The Church of the Holy Trinity or the Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad, standing over the Plaza Mayor.]

[The Convento de San Francisco de Asis was constructed in the 1700's by Franciscan monks.]

[A panorama over the city looking south, west and north (L to R). The treed hills at center distance are part of the Parque Natural Topes de Collantes - a nature reserve park in the Escambray Mountains range. The Caribbean Sea at distant left here. ++]

[Looking down on people going about their day on rooftop patios and decks all over the city.]

[More rooftop scenery.]

[Looking south to the Caribbean Sea over Trinidad.]

[Looking north (L) and east (R) to the Caribbean Sea at distant right. ++]

[Looking SE off the tower, over the market below and to the Caribbean Sea at far distance.]

[Looking straight down to the inner courtyard of the Palacio Cantero from the tower.]


The black wallet was part of our experience again in Trinidad. The cost of the Underground Cuba Travel Guide was worth this one experience that we would have missed out on without it. We literally had about 45 minutes to enter the Palacio Cantero museum, climb the tower and then race around the Plaza Mayor before our tour bus left for Cienfuegos so we could see some of that city before dark. It took us a few valuable minutes to find the bottom of the steep staircase running up the tower inside of the museum. Even though the tower looked empty from outside and there was nobody coming down the narrow stairs, we were blocked from going up by a smiling women attending a rope across the bottom step! My first thought was that this was a simple crowd control technique. It made sense as the the stairs were extremely narrow near the top and there was only so much room for folks on the tower itself. BUT. The tower and stairs were pretty much empty! Hmmm. After thinking about it for a few minutes, I blatantly offered the attendant a $1 CUC "tip". Sure enough! The rope came off and up we went! The couple behind us quickly employed the same technique with the same positive result. Remember - the tower is free to climb with a museum pass which we'd already purchased. This was simply la bolsa negra at it's wonderful best. I'm sure if we would have started yelling, or simply waited long enough we would have eventually been allowed up - but for the cost of $1 CUC I wasn't going to bother with all that. indecision This sort of thing would likely bother a lot of people but I found it immensely entertaining - trying to figure out where I was trapped in a la bolsa negra situation, and where I was simply experiencing a normal delay or misunderstanding.


[The very narrow staircase down the tower - there's no way to pass anyone else in here!]

[Looking out of the tower as we descend past a small room along the way.]

[The cobblestone streets are apparently an absolute nightmare when they get wet.]

[Trinidad street scene.]

[The Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad with a large, busy square at distant right and the Convento de San Francisco de Asis at center distance.]

[An art shop.]

[Trinidad street scene.]

[Two school children walk towards the Convento de San Francisco de Asis.]

[Trinidad street scene.]

[A Casa Particular with a rather peculiar resident keeping an eye on the street!]

[Enjoying the disconnect in Trinidad.]

[The shadows are lengthening.]

[Saying goodbye to a very interesting city.]


After a nice late afternoon walk around the Plaza Mayor, it was time to jump back on the bus and drive 1.5 hours to Cienfuegos before dark. I enjoyed the Parque Jose Marti especially in the late afternoon calm when the local residents came out for impromptu games of soccer and a late day chat with their neighbors. I got my favorite car photo here with the lovely Catedral de la Purisima Concepcion in the background while walking around the park. Sitting there in the warm evening sunshine, watching the locals start to come out as the tour buses left made me, once again, want to stay another day. I didn't expect to have that reaction in Cienfuegos for some reason, but I did. After a much too short break here, it was time for another 2.5 hour drive back to our resorts in Varadero. 


[Street scene in Cienfuegos.]

[The streets are starting to empty around the Parque Jose Marti. The distinctive blue building is the Palacio Ferrer - Casa Provincial de la Cultura which is known for its spiral staircased tower.]

[The Arco de Triunfo is a pretty small one...]

[An early evening impromptu soccer game starts up in the plaza.]

[Street scene in Cienfuegos.]

[Another street scene with the restored Teatro Tomás Terry in the background.]

[Another classic street scene.]

[Another angle on the same car.]

[Statues in the Jose Marti park.]

[The Catedral de la Purisima Concepcion first opened in 1833.]

[A statue of Jose Marti stands in the center of the Parque Jose Marti.]

[Saying goodbye to Cienfuegos - another lovely Cuban city that I'd like to spend more time in some day.]



It's all about the Expectations


Overall, our experience in Cuba was much better than I was expecting from reading online reviews and talking to people at the office who'd been there recently. I've decided that Cuba is all about expectations. If you are ready to experience a socialist tourism destination than you'll love it. If you're expecting a warm-weather "easy" destination spot like Mexico or the rest of the Caribbean, than you'll likely be a bit disappointed.


Hopefully this article can help you decide if Cuba is worth your time and vacation dollars - I know that they'd love to have you and especially your dollars! wink

Wapta Icefields & Bow Summit Map

Mark Klassen, TJ Neault and Chic Scott just completed an update to the old Murray Toft Wapta & Bow Summit ski map. I have received my copy and it's a great resource for anyone planning to ski or climb any of the Wapta peaks or Bow Summit area mountains including (but not limited to),

  • The Wapta Traverse
  • Detailed Balfour High col route
  • Wapta peaks including Balfour, Olive, St. Nicholas, Gordon, Thompson, Rhondda, Habel, Peyto, Trapper, Jimmy Simpson, Mistaya, Patterson, Observation Peak and sub Peaks, Cirque Peak, Dolomite circuit, Hector, Ayesha, Collie and many more!

Get a copy today here.

Welcome to Explor8ion!


Hey folks - welcome to my tiny little corner of the internet. is an online personal journal of my hiking, backpacking, climbing, skiing, snowshoeing, camping, biking and canoeing activities. Every once in a while I go off on some tangent or another just to keep things interesting.


Many people wonder about the name - why such a weird one, especially the convoluted spelling? Since the domain, was obviously not available to me, I had to get creative with something similar, but different. Since I like to think of life as one long exploration - both in a physical and spiritual sense, I settled on that theme. The "8" is an infinity symbol turned vertical and the tagline for is, a slice of infinity - a reference to the fact that this site only captures one tiny, insignificant time-slice from one person's point of view. I am but a slice of infinity, as are my trips, my photos, my stories and my experiences. Our lives are nothing more than an impossibly thin slice of infinity, and I believe that remembering and living this reality is key to living a fulfilling and contented life. What we do doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things - especially what we do for our own pleasure.


My trip reports are pretty standard with basic stats, stories and photos to accompany my journaling. Older trip reports will have to be fixed up because the JavaScript I used from 1999-2003 doesn't work anymore with the new site tech. Thankfully I didn't go out very much back then so I should be able to eventually fix up those reports. I apologize for the ads, I had to do something when the site was costing my over $200 per year just to have it hosted. Because I have so many photos and get so many hits each month, I can't use a free or cheap hosting solution anymore. The ads don't make me more than what the site costs, but at least I break even now.


I've tried making simple to navigate and explore - unlike many parts of my beloved Rockies! Tags are the most useful thing on the site. All content has tags and the tags are clickable. If you see a tag for "Highwood Pass" on a TR, simply click the tag to get all my "Highwood Pass" area content including blogs, articles, photos and trip reports. I've also tried to make the two summary report pages a bit more useful. The summit log is simple - a list in reverse chronological order of all my summits. The trips log can be sorted by different criteria and I'm going to add some more to it over time (i.e. it would be nice to show only peaks over a certain height or only peaks with certain tags etc).


I have also done up some articles, mostly around photography related subjects, that are meant to help readers with their own photography or explorations. You can find my articles here and my photography blogs here. I have also started some summary view pages for different areas of interest as follows;



Feel free to leave feedback - in order to leave comments you have to register or enter annoying captcha's in order to stop spammers from wrecking this site like they were busy doing with my previous one.


Finally, please note that is my personal journal - there is nothing on here that you should necessarily agree with or follow or even like. It's part of my personal life journey and exists as much for me to remember my many trips as for you to gain inspiration from them. A trend I noticed in many of my older climbing acquaintances was that they started forgetting the minutia of their many previous adventures as they aged and their trips accumulated. The thought of all the investments of time and money that I've put into my trips being wasted when I could no longer recall them was very depressing - leading me to create my first site at which I changed over to for reasons outlined above.


. As always - be safe and see you sometime in the hills or on the water.