Keeping Kids Warm in Winter

Gear you need to keep kids warm!

The Best Short Hikes Near Calgary

1-4 km hikes less than 1 hour from Calgary!

10 Fun Family Bike Rides in Calgary

10 family-friendly bike routes that include tasty snack spots!

3 Family Hikes in Northwest Calgary

Waterfall Valley, Douglas Fir Trail, Nose Hill Park

MORE Best Short Hikes Near Calgary - Kananaskis Version

The most beautiful family-friendly (3-6) km hikes in Kananaskis!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Support Snow Making at Confederation Park

The Foothills Nordic Ski Club (FNSC) has successfully raised enough funds to make snow at Confederation Park this winter, but needs your help in getting the project approved by the City. Why do we need snow making at Confederation? To ensure Calgarians have safe, groomed trails to cross country ski on all winter long. 


FNSC proposed snow making at Confederation Park in light of Winsport Canada's recent decision to convert much of its cross country trails to a tube park. With 1,000 Calgarians enrolled in cross country ski classes through FNSC and other clubs, a larger venue was required.

Confederation Park was the natural choice as FNSC has been grooming winter trails there for over 20 years. Did you know there are 5 kilometres of nordic ski trails at Confederation? Snow making and snow harvesting will mean a longer ski season for all Calgarians with no user fees.

FNSC exceeded its fundraising goal within a few months. Thank you to all who donated! Funds raised will go towards snow making, snow harvesting, grooming, lighting, a warming shelter, and washroom facilities provided the project is approved.

Cross country skiing at Confederation Park

How You Can Help

The FNSC is awaiting approval from the City of Calgary, so support from the public is critical to the project's success. To show your support, please submit an online 311 Service Request:
  1. Go to 

  2. Select "Recreation - Golf Course Inquiry" as the service type and click "Go". 

  3. For Topic of Inquiry, select "Confederation". Next, please write a comment letting the City know that you support Foothills' proposal for improving nordic skiing facilities at Confederation Park and why you think it is so important. Finally, indicate whether or not you'd like to be contacted (phone / email / no contact) and click "Next Step".

  4. Enter your contact information. Once that is complete, please click "Next Step." You will have a chance to make further comments or attach documents/images before submitting your request.

The amazing opportunity to cross country ski for free in town all winter is within reach. Please show your support today! Winter is coming!!

Confederation Park Learning Area
For more information, please visit Foothills Nordic Ski Club - Ski Confederation Project Information.

Night Skiing by the Christmas Lights at Confederation Park

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Our Mount Fairview "Blank Space" Adventure

With spectacular views and a short approach, Mount Fairview is a must-do in the Lake Louise area. Here is our experience bagging Mount Fairview with kids (and "Blank Space" by Taylor Swift; my girls kept singing it over and over).

Warning: this mountain may give you summit fever!

"Your kids made it to the summit of Fairview?! I have friends who've been heli-evacuated off that mountain!" a Lake Louise local exclaimed. A big hike for most people, Mount Fairview is an epic hike for a 5 year old (and pretty decent for a 7 year old)! How did we do it? Slowly and steadily, with treats, bribes, and a lie.

Our morning started off as glorious as can be in the Canadian Rockies, with Mount Temple bathed in golden light and blue sky in all directions. It was just what we needed after tent camping in the rain for 11 days. With the weather on our side, we resolved to do a real hike... something big. Mount Fairview seemed the natural choice as everything else was been there, done that; too long; or too technical. After whipping up a breakfast of champions and super strong coffee, we started packing. A 10 kilometre hike with 1,000 metres (3,281') elevation gain would be an all day affair at our pace.

Breakfast of champions
With food for days, ample water, and survival gear packed and double-checked, it was time to go. To our surprise, the parking lot at Lake Louise was full, so I dropped everyone off, drove down to Continental Divide and jogged back (850 m) to the trailhead near the boathouse. It was a good warm up and chance to gaze upon Deer Lodge, where we got engaged back in the day. Note: There is a free shuttle from the Village.

Deer Lodge, Lake Louise
As hordes of tourists jockeyed for best photo locations at the lake, then filed to Lake Agnes Teahouse, we patted ourselves on the back for choosing the path less travelled. A few people overtook us as we paused to do very important things - like, you know, look at moss and eat m&m's - but presently, the trail opened up. The passersby had all turned off at Fairview Lookout! From here on, we saw no more than 10 people all day! It was wonderful and worrisome at the same time since we were in prime grizzly territory, but our vocal Taylor Swift playlist deterred all carnivores.

Saddleback Trail
Trail to Saddle Mountain and Sheol Valley (and Saddleback and Mount Fairview)
As we emerged from the lush, forested trail and crossed avalanche slopes, we took in views of Lake Louise Ski Resort and Lake Louise. Although the lake looked small below us, Mount Fairview's summit was still mockingly far away. A hundred refrains of "I've got a list of Starbucks lovers.." (my kids' version of "I've got a long list of ex lovers", LOL.) later, we came to the turnoff to Mount Fairview (go right at the fork). Around this time, a woman and her son passed us on their way down and said we were halfway to the pass. We thought she was crazy - we've been climbing forever, we have to be almost there - and she thought we were insane for wanting to summit Fairview ("They'll tell you I'm insane.."). No matter who was right, tummies were rumbling, so we stopped for lunch in the first clearing we saw. Bustling pikas and marmots distracted us from the ominous clouds that loomed to the west. Before we knew it, rainclouds were right above us. Rain gear time.

Avalanche Track                                  Lake Louise Ski Resort
Chateau Lake Louise and Lake Louise
Take the right fork for Fairview!
All suited up, we made the final push to Saddleback through larches and meadows. Views opened up as we approached the pass and soon there were peaks all around us including iconic Mount Temple! We had done almost 600 metres of elevation gain in less than 4 kilometres, but everyone was in good spirits, so we decided to carry on as planned. Looking up at the peak, Big POG asked "Is Fairview as big as Prairie Mountain?" I quickly replied, "No way, this mountain's much smaller! You've done lots of hikes bigger than this!" ("pretty lies")

Big POG and Little POG racing to the pass
Saddleback headwall
Saddleback Pass - Mount Temple in the background
Mount Temple
View from Saddleback
From here, the trail becomes incredibly steep (~450 m gain in 1.5 km), so it's easy to lose perception of speed and time at Mini-Me pace. "You can tell me when it's over, if the high was worth the pain." It took about an hour to go from Saddleback to Fairview's summit, but it felt longer. About halfway up, the girls started to doubt my claim that Fairview "wasn't a super big mountain" and said they wanted to go back. We coaxed them on with chocolate and promised them Laggan's treats after, but only if they put their happy pants on. Little POG and Big POG quickly stopped moaning and carried on through the loose rock. Within half an hour we were sitting on top of the world taking in a panoramic feast for the eyes. Glaciers and peaks surrounded us and Lake Louise glittered below. Little POG kept exclaiming "I can't believe we did it!!"

Follow the switchbacks to the top!
Beautiful larches
Crazy steep but totally worth it. Keep going!
You can do it!
Almost there. Saddle Peak and Saddleback below.
Final push to the summit.
Building a fairy house on Fairview's summit
We did it!!
Fairview Summit Panorama
"Nice to meet you, where you been? I could show you incredible things."
Mount Fairview Summit
After a long, well earned break at the top, we returned the way we came. ***Do NOT descend descend the north face, as there are dangerous cliffs below (look up from the lake if you don't believe me).*** We could definitely feel our knees on the way down, but the kids ran down effortlessly like mountain goats "cause [they're] young and [they're] reckless." We chased rainbows, listened for marmot whistles, and sang some more! In a couple hours, we were back where we started with daylight to spare, and headed in to the Village for a "good job treat".

This summit plaques warns hikers of dangerous cliffs below. Return via Saddleback!
Chasing Rainbows
Laggan's for the win!
When we admitted to the girls that we'd lied about Prairie Mountain and they'd just climbed their biggest peak ever, they weren't mad; they were stoked! They started listing off peaks they wanted to do next. "When can we climb Temple?!" "How big is Everest? Can I climb Everest when I'm bigger??" Beautiful Mount Fairview had given them summit fever! While Temple and Everest may be a ways off, we can dream and train! We can't wait to bag more peaks as a family!!

"I've got a blank space, baby, and I'll write your name."

Mount Fairview at a Glance

Distance: ~10 km
Elevation: ~1000 m
Difficulty: Class 1 scramble for steepness and loose rock (i.e. strenuous hike). New to scrambling? See my Tips for First Time Scrambling. Please note visitors from sea level may have a hard time as the summit is at 2744 m ( 9,003').
Time: Allow 5-7 hours for adults and big kids. Allow more time with younger children. (We took 8.25 hours including 2 hours of breaks).
Nearest washrooms: Public washrooms in the public parking lot at Lake Louise.
Stroller friendly: No
Trailhead: Near the Lake Louise Boathouse
Route: Follow the signs to Saddleback/Mount Fairview. At the turnoff for Fairview Lookout (a few hundred metres in), continue straight. After a couple kilometres, you'll get to the Saddleback turnoff - go right. Continue to the pass. From the pass, go to the right and take the switchbacks up Mount Fairview. There's a well beaten path to the top. Come back the way you came (do NOT descend the north face - dangerous cliffs).

Insider Tips 

1. Get to the Lake Louise parking lot before 9:30 am to get a spot on the weekend. Other options are to take the shuttle from the Village or hike midweek.

2. Hike to Saddleback in late July to see wildflowers or late September to see the larches!

3. Bring hiking poles and extra layers. It's super chilly at the top!

4. Check the trail report and avoid this trail when snow covered (avalanche risk).

What is your favorite peak?

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Wilderness Survival Gear You Must Carry (The Ten Essential Systems)

Developed by The Mountaineers (a Seattle-based organization founded in 1906), The Ten Essential Systems are critical pieces of wilderness survival gear that every outdoor enthusiast should carry on every trip. With these items, you should be able to cope with a minor emergency or survive in the wilderness for at least one night. When would such a need arise? When you get lost or injured, or are detoured/delayed due to inclement weather (snowstorm, thick fog) or a natural disaster (mud slide, avalanche, flash flood). Here are the essentials that live in our packs and give us peace of mind.

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. I earn a tiny commission on items purchased through these links at no extra cost to you. Earnings go towards maintaining this website. Thank you for your support!

The Ten Essential Systems

Formerly known as the ten essentials, there are now ten essential systems to cover your basic needs. While I've tried to stay true to the original systems, please note that I have combined Insulation and Sun Protection in order to include signalling devices. You have a much better chance of being rescued if you can let others know where you are! I've also added bear spray to the list since bears live in more of our province. For more details - and the original Ten Essential Systems - please see Mountaineering, The Freedom of the Hills.
  1. Navigation: A topographic map & compass/GPS (plus extra batteries for the GPS) are essential, but only useful if you know how to use them. Practice frequently in familiar territory. Copies of route descriptions from guidebooks (photocopied and placed in a Ziploc bag) are good to have also. 
  2. Hydration: Water is critical for survival, so be sure to carry a water bottle/hydration pack filled with at least 2 L of water, as well as a water filter, purifier, or water purification tablets/drops to treat more water on the go. 
  3. First Aid, Medications, & Insect Repellent: Keep all first aid supplies in a waterproof bag with any medications you use (inhaler, epipen). I recommend adding the following items to your first aid kit if not included: Benadryl, Advil/Tylenol, pointy tweezers, Polysporin ointment or Polysporin To Go Spray (contains topical anesthetic to dull the pain; great for kids!).
    • Recommended first aid kits: We have Adventure Medical Kits in various sizes. 0.5 is good for day trips; get the 0.7 or 0.9 for family multi-day trips. All items are packed in high quality zipper sealed bags and the outer silnylon bag is waterproof, made of ripstop fabric, and ultralight.
    • Recommended insect repellentsPiActive contains picaridin which does not dissolve synthetic clothes like DEET. Ben's is a concentrated 30% DEET formula which protects against ticks and comes in a small pump bottle which is just the right size to keep in the top of your pack. 
    • Recommended post: Which Tick Repellents to Use and How to Use Them
      Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight 0.7
  4. Insulation & Sun Protection: Needs will vary depending on where you live, but in the mountains near Calgary, you should carry one insulated layer and one waterproof, breathable layer, insulated gloves, a hat, and mesh headnet to protect against biting insects. A toque (beanie) that covers your ears is great for cold weather or breezy summits, and in winter, I strongly recommend mittens and hand warmer and foot warmer packets. For sun protection, wear long, lightweight, breathable layers (pants, not shorts), a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. 
    • Recommended insulating layers: MEC Spicy/Commix Down Hoodie or Patagonia Down Sweater. A Primaloft or fleece hoodie is a more affordable option that is very warm for its weight (but not as compressible as down).
    • Recommended outer layers: MEC Goretex shell, Patagonia H2No shell, Outdoor Research Clairvoyant /Axiom Jacket - basically, you should get something durable, waterproof, and breathable.
    • Recommended sunscreens: Soleo Organics All Natural Sunscreen, Goddess Garden Natural Sunscreen, Banana Boat Natural Reflect Sunscreen Lotion.
    • For more information, please see Keeping Warm in Spring/Fall and Keeping Kids Warm in Winter.
      Toasty warm on the summit of Mount Fairview
  5. Emergency Shelter: Our #1 choice for family trips is made from a Siltarp (silicone impregnated tarp), paracord, and hiking poles, but other options include a bivy sack, space blanket, plastic tarp, convertible tarp poncho, and large, orange garbage bag (orange for visibility). While we've never had to camp under the tarp, it has come in handy as a sun/rain shelter and gear shed at camp! 
    Siltarp Gear Shed
  6. Signalling Devices: A whistle, mirror, and headlamp are the basic signalling devices that everyone should carry. You can signal SOS (Save Our Souls) with 3 blasts on your whistle. To signal distress with your mirror/headlamp, make 3 short flashes, 3 long flashes, then 3 short flashes. Use your mirror during the day and headlamp at night. You can purchase a signaling mirror, or use the sighting mirror on your compass (my preference so I don't have to carry multiple items). If you can afford it, a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) such as the Delorme InReach SE is an excellent tool that allows you to send messages with your location to check in with family or request assistance. Other options are cell phones and satellite phones but cell phones are not of much use once you're out of range.
  7. Fire Making Kit: I strongly recommend carrying more than one fire ignitor and some fire starters in a watertight container so you can get a fire going in case of emergency (best practice is one on you and at least one in your pack). After our canoe capsized, we lost our stove, but still had our fire making kit, so we could warm up and dry off. A fire not only keeps you warm and provides a sense of well-being, it can also be used to signal for help (3 fires in a triangle is a universal distress signal)!
  8. Illumination: An LED headlamp and spare batteries should live in your pack at all times. Check the batteries frequently and replace as needed. 
  9. Petzl Tikka XP
  10. Nutrition: Always bring several extra nonperishable snacks in case you are delayed. While it's possible to survive for weeks without food, it's hard to stay positive when you're hangry. Calorie dense foods like protein/energy bars, chocolate bars, and beef jerky keep well and provide a lot of energy for their size. *Pack enough calories for at least 1 day.*
    Snacks my kids like
  11. Repair Kit and Tools: Always carry a knife, several metres of paracord (for rigging a shelter, making a gurney, tourniquet etc), duct tape, and zip ties. A multi-tool or Swiss army knife is handy, and an ice ax - and knowing how to self arrest - is a must for glacier/snow travel.
    • Tip: Make paracord into a paracord bracelet or tie it onto your knife handle for easy transport. 
BONUS: Throughout most of Alberta, bear spray is a must, but there are many precautions you can take that will minimize the chance of ever needing to use the spray. For more information, please read 10 Bear Safety Tips for Hikers and Backpackers.

Bear spray in holster & large grizzly prints

Storing Your Gear

I have a system for the systems with food in one stuff sack, extra clothes in a waterproof stuff sack,  and survival gear in a large Ziploc bag for visibility. Compartmentalizing makes it easy to transfer items if you frequently change packs (I use a 60L for family adventures and a 33-40L pack for kid-free trips) and ensures nothing important gets left behind.
After each trip, be sure to replenish consumables (extra food, bandaids, etc) as needed and check/recharge the batteries on headlamps, water purifiers, GPS, personal locator beacons, etc., so everything is in working order when you need it.


Think of The Ten Essential Systems as insurance. You will hopefully never have to use all of them, but if you do, you'll be glad you packed them!

Have you ever had to make an unplanned bivouac? What do you wish you knew then that you know now?

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