Sunday, October 18, 2015

Jewell Bay: First Backcountry Camp for the Kids

[Sep 12 2015]

This was our 5th and final family camping trip of the year, so we went big. We went backcountry camping on bikes to the north shore of Barrier Lake in Kananaskis. At some point during the course of the 5km trip to the site, I ended up carrying each item of gear, every bike and almost every person (except Scott) in various combinations -- including all of them at once.

Each camp this year has been a preparatory step towards this trip-

1. Beaver Flat: Classic car camping, except that we had to haul armfuls of gear down a short pathway.
2. Gooseberry: Sleeping bags, foamies & clothing were carried down short path in Dad-sized backpacks. Roasted eclairs. Abandoned ship at 5am. Cattle grate camp.
3. Little Elbow: Backpacks again. First pocket knives. Kids heated their own water. Introduction of oatmeal. Deer visitors.
4. Little Elbow: New backpack for Scott. Tried trail-riding bikes with backpacks on (Katie abstained) in camp and around pond. With friends. New camp pillows.
5. Jewell Bay: Backpacks for both. 5km ride/run to the campsite. Headlamps for all. First time chopping wood. Introduction to Tang and freeze-dried mac&cheese.

We were all smiles when we got to the parking lot at Barrier Lake. This time I had been very thorough and I was pretty sure I hadn't forgotten anything. One final pit-stop and we were on our way down the trail. Katie thought the outhouse was gross (it was actually a pretty nice one) and preferred to go in the bushes. She is getting very comfortable with nature.

We slung our packs on and mounted our bikes to depart. Katie's pack weighed 6 pounds. Scott's pack weighed 10 pounds. They each carried their own sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camp pillow, clothes, headlamp, pocket knife, camp mug and spork. Apparently, that was still too cumbersome for Katie -- at least, given condition of the trail. The first part of the trail is atop a hydro dam across the Kananaskis River which creates the lake, and that trail is wide but the gravel is composed of very large stones that were pretty bumpy for a little bike like Katie's. I suggested that I could take her backpack from her, to help her balance better. She tried again, but she still didn't like it. Holding the backpack in one hand, I used the other hand to help push and steer her handlebars. That helped stabilize the forks, but it threw the balance off for the rest of the bike. She still didn't like it. She had started to cry at this point. Through her tears, she said, "I want to ride my bike but I don't want to ride it on this trail!" I tried to explain to her that there wasn't a better option available at this moment, and that the trail would improve once we got over to the base of the hill, but she was already starting to get a bit hysterical. I considered whether we should just pull the chute and bail out on the whole endeavour, but then I noticed that she was saying she was still okay to try riding, just not here.

So I offered to take her bike, and she was fine with that. Scott rode on ahead on his bike, while Katie and I trotted along behind. I still had her 6-pound backpack in one hand and her 14-pound bike in the other (this is where the more expensive aluminum bike proved its worth), in addition to my own 36-pound pack on my back. Katie's tears didn't stop immediately, but she was a trooper and she pressed on.

We finally got off the bad gravel and onto the good path where Katie could ride again, but then it started climbing up a hill and I took the bike back again. It was a pretty big hill, and before we got to the top, Katie said her knees were starting to ache. So I lifted her up on my shoulders. I already had 60 pounds of gear, so what's another 40 pounds, right? At the top of that hill we encountered some other hikers coming the other way. I told them that if they were tired they could also climb on my back.

At the top of that hill I also saw a sign that said, "DANGER, BEAR IN AREA." I did not read the sign to Katie because I didn't want to alarm her. Scott read it her instead. So much for that.

I remember going on a backcountry hiking camp with my Dad when we were kids and we came across a dead deer that a bear had partially buried so it could come back later and eat it. If anybody knows stuff about bears, it is my Dad (his first job our of university was tracking and counting bears and other wildlife in northern Alberta), so when he used a steady, quiet voice to tell us to get out of there in a hurry, we did exactly what he said, and hiked many kilometers in the other direction before setting up camp for the night. That night I couldn't look anywhere but at the campfire, because every shadow looked just like a bear to me. I didn't want to do that to the kids, so I didn't make a big deal about the bear spray that I had strapped to my hip belt. But I kept a very careful watch. We saw 2 more of those signs later on along the trail. Spooky.

Once we got past that hill, the trail still undulated up and down a bit, but there were good sections where both kids would ride their bikes and I would lope along behind with Katie's backpack in hand. If it was too steep down or up then Katie would hop off and I would take her bike again. We got into a pretty good rhythm and started making good time. However, there was one hill that was quite steep and quite long. By the time we got to the top of that one, not only did I have Katie on my shoulders again, I had transferred her bike & pack to one hand so that I could wheel Scott's bike up the hill with the other hand. That was a bad hill. We decided that on the way back we would try the hiking trail that detoured lower down along the lake shore and skip that hill.

Scott held up pretty well the whole time, but near the end his pack was starting to get uncomfortable. Rather than stop again so close to the finish, I just took his pack from him and let him loose to ride on ahead. Since I already had a pack on my back, I strapped his pack on the front of my body. I should have had him climb on my shoulders at least once, just so I could say that I carried everything. Oh well. You can't have it all.

The campsite was amazing. Jewell Bay is about half-way down the north shore of the lake and the site that we picked let us perch our tent on a ledge that overlooked the bay and then the whole length of the lake stretching all the way back to our starting point. There were hours of daylight left, but the bay was already in the shadow of the mountains. Still the sun was shining on the north end of the lake, creating a beautiful backdrop for the photos that I took. We were the only ones at the campground for most of the evening, and we built a fire with the huge stack of firewood that was provided. The kids tried their hand at chopping wood with the big, heavy axe chained to the ground (after thorough safety training from Dad).

We roasted hot dogs (ketchup packets courtesy of Wendy's) and the kids tried their first freeze-dried backpacker meals. They liked the mac & cheese quite a lot, but they were lukewarm towards the corn chowder (which was lukewarm). They tried Tang orange drink for the first time ever -- a family camping tradition when I grew up. I should have brought more of that. It was a big hit. We drank it cold, but next time we can do Hot Tang.

This was our first experience storing our food in bear bins. Normally, we can just stow our stuff in the truck. The kids thought it was fun to climb in and hide in the bear bins. All this talk of bears didn't seem to make them too nervous. However, after we bedded down for the night, we heard a noise outside that sounded like something splashing through the water, and Scott asked me what it was. I could see the shadows of flashlights shining through the trees towards our tent, and I told him that it was probably the other campers washing their dishes in the water. He was relieved. He had thought it might be a bear. I guess all the bear signs and bear bins had finally gotten to him. Once he relaxed, he had what he called his best sleep ever on a camp. He usually complains that he gets cold, which didn't make much sense to me, since he's usually in a -5C sleeping bag on a +9C night, but I realized that he usually starts seeping out of his bag during the night and cools off. This time, I had him slide way down to the bottom of his bag and he pulled the bag right over his head. He said it was very nice and toasty. Aside from Katie's nosebleed emergency, it was a wonderful night in the tent.

I awoke in the morning to a beautiful view out the window of a red sky lighting up the water and silhouetting Mount Baldy to the East. I had a fire going before the kids awoke, and we warmed up with hot mugs of oatmeal and some toasted bagels with peanut butter (peanut butter packets courtesy of TJ's Healthy Choices in the food court near work). I also introduced them to instant breakfast milkshakes. I had powdered milk and the instant breakfast packets and we shook those up in a water bottle. Another big hit.

The return trip back took us only 45 minutes -- much better than the 1hr10 minutes it took us to get in. That was partly because we had already refined our technique, and partly because we took the detour and cut off 1 km of total distance (4km instead of 5). Katie was once again a real trooper, jogging behind Scott whenever she was off of her bike, and Scott took pride in making it the whole way without needing any help with his bike or his pack (I helped nudge his bike up one steep & bumpy section, but the judges determined that he could have done it on his own if necessary, so my help doesn't count against his score).

Another camp in the books. This one was the best by far. So beautiful. Such a challenge. I asked Katie what her favourite part was. She said, "THE BIKING!"
I am always surprised how they perceive things.

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