Hike to Mystery Lake

Much of our time since we arrived in Vancouver a little over a week ago has been taken up dealing with issues pertaining to my elderly father’s declining health, but this weekend we’ve changed gears and we’re on grandparent duty while our son and daughter-in-law enjoy a short getaway without kids. Alhough the temperature was only 5ºC (41ºF) when we got up this morning, the sun was shining and we decided to take the boys on a mountain hike.

It’s been almost two years since our snowshoe adventures on Mount Seymour, but we took the same road that zigzags up the mountainside to the ski resort. Locating the trailhead near the bottom of the ski lift, we set off for Mystery Lake.

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Though the Vancouver Trails website calls this an easy hike, I tend to agree with those who left comments saying that it’s significantly more challenging than that. It’s fairly short, but steep, ascending approximately 150 metres over slippery tree roots and loose rocks. It was also quite wet and icy this morning which made it a bit more arduous than it might be during the summer months when, on hot days, people hike up to the lake to picnic and swim.

Although the hike was a bit more challenging than we expected, it was well worth it for the beauty that greeted us when Mystery Lake came into view.

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We sat on a rocky bluff along the shoreline and ate our picnic lunch. Though the lake wasn’t frozen yet, we had no desire to plunge in for a swim! In fact, the boys had lots of fun playing with the ice on the puddles.

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Rather than returning by the same trail we climbed up, we headed toward the Mystery Chairlift and went down the rocky path directly below it. Though not as scenic, it was an easy descent.

I didn’t think about the fact that we might fit in a hike while we’re here, so I didn’t bring my hiking shoes. I was impressed, however, to find that my golden sneakers managed the trail without any problem! They provided plenty of grip even on the most difficult parts.

Because you can

We’re nearing the end of another federal election campaign here in Canada. Monday, October 21 is election day, but since we’ll be far from home that day, we plan to vote in the advanced polls tomorrow. That will be Thanksgiving Sunday here in Canada which I think is quite appropriate. I’m very thankful that I live in a democratic country where I have the right, the responsibility, and the privilege to vote.

Sadly, many people don’t seem to feel that way. Voter turnout for the October 2015 federal election was 68.5%, a significant increase from 61.1% in the previous election. In my opinion, that’s still quite disgraceful. What is the matter with people? Why does 30 to 40% of our population fail to cast a ballot? Are we Canadians really that apathetic?

I will vote, if for no other reason than because I can. It’s a privilege that I don’t take lightly. Women before my time fought long and hard so that I could exercise this right. Women like Nellie McClung, well-known advocate and popular speaker on the subject of women’s suffrage in the early 1900s, who said “Our worthy opponents will emphasize the fact that women are the weaker vessel. Well I should think that a woman who cooks for men, washes and bakes and scrubs and sews for her family could stand the extra strain of marking a ballot every four years.”

The United States began allowing women to vote in 1920, after the ratification of the 19th Amendment to their Constitution. Here in Canada, many women voted for the first time the following year, but it wasn’t until much later that all Canadians had the right to vote. Most “people of colour” were prohibited from voting at the provincial and federal level until the late 1940s and it wasn’t until 1960 that every Canadian of age had the right to vote. That’s right! 1960! Prior to that time, aboriginal Canadians were required to give up their treaty rights and renounce their status under the Indian Act in order to qualify for the vote.

On election day, get off your butt and VOTE! Don’t make excuses. Don’t be one of the apathetic masses. Vote, if for no other reason than because you can! Before you vote, however, do your homework. Don’t cast your ballot based on how your parents or your grandparents have always voted and please look beyond social media for direction. Examine the record of those who’ve been leading us, look at the party platforms, and above all, consider the character of those who are vying for leadership positions. The future of our country depends on it!

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One more time!

Every fall, regardless of how many times we’ve had the trailer out over the summer or where we’ve taken it, I yearn for one more camping trip. When September arrives, however, the calendar starts to fill up and it doesn’t always happen. The weather didn’t cooperate when we planned on going earlier this month, but this weekend we finally managed to squeeze in two more days of camping, hiking, and kayaking. Now I can clean the trailer out and get it ready for winter without regret.

Big Knife Provincial Park, located in central east Alberta where Big Knife Creek flows into the Battle River, takes it’s name from a native legend. Two hundred years ago, the Blackfoot and Cree who inhabited the area were bitter enemies. According to the story, Big Man, a Cree, and Knife, a Blackfoot, fought near the banks of the creek. Apparently, both warriors died in the battle. In spite of this somewhat bloody history, the park, which is less than an hour from home for us, is now a lovely place to retreat from the busyness of life.

After setting up camp on Friday morning and having an early lunch, we set off to hike the 4.7 km River Flats trail. Beautiful views like these ones whetted my appetite for getting out on the river!

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Unfortunately, it started to rain shortly after we got back to camp and we spent the remainder of the afternoon in the trailer playing crib! As we ate supper, the clouds parted again and the sun came out, so I decided to go for a quick paddle before dark. Richard’s back has improved, but he’s not taking any chances with it yet, so I was on my own in our son’s single kayak again. When I set off shortly after 7:00 PM, the river was bathed in golden evening light.

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Soon afterward, I accidentally took a wrong turn leaving the river’s main channel and I ended up spending most of my time in a shallower dead end backwater. That wasn’t all bad. The quiet arm of the river was bustling with beaver activity! I lost track of how many I saw and how many tails slapped the water when I got too close!

An hour after I set off, the river looked like this and I had to boogie to make sure I got back to the boat launch before it was too late to see anything at all!

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After breakfast yesterday morning, we ventured out to hike the park’s longer trail system, the 5.8 km Highlands Trail. This one climbs out of the river valley and follows a ridge above. I love this view of the meandering river below.

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The Big Knife trails are far from challenging, mostly level, grass covered, and well maintained.

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With the abundance of rain that we’ve had this year, everything is very green, a beautiful backdrop for the fall colours.

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The beavers weren’t the only ones busily preparing for winter. It seemed that almost every Canadian thistle along the trails had a bee busily gathering nectar and they were completely oblivious to me and my camera getting up close. There were clusters of little purple flowers everywhere and just as I stopped to take a photo of one, a bee decided that it wanted to be in that picture too.

In the afternoon, I was back out on the water. The Battle River flows so slowly that looking at it, one might wonder if it moves at all. The fact that I paddled upstream for an hour and a half and returned in an hour, even though I spent some of that time drifting, proves that it really does! The push ups and planks that are part of my daily exercise routine definitely pay off, but by the time I spotted the bright yellow buoy in the distance that marks the location of the boat launch, my arms were ready to say they’d had enough!

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Now we’re busy cleaning out the trailer and getting it ready for winter. If we do get out for any more hiking or kayaking this year, it will be as a day trip.

Ribstones in the rain

On the top of a hill about half an hour northeast of here, is a collection of rocks with a long history and a story to tell. The Viking Ribstones are quartzite boulders carved by the nomadic First Nations people who inhabited the prairie in years gone by. The stones stand as a monument to Old Man Buffalo, the spirit protector of the herds that provided them with food, hides, utensils, tools, and so much more. Grooves carved in the two largest rocks in ancient times are thought to represent the ribcage of the buffalo and circular holes may represent arrow or bullet holes.

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We weren’t too keen on spending a cool rainy afternoon cooped up in the house with three restless grandchildren who are visiting for the Labour Day weekend and Drew, the oldest, has been wanting to see the Ribstones since he first heard about them, so off we went. Thankfully, the rain was nothing more than a light drizzle as we approached the hill, the highest point for miles around.

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Historically, natives in the area left offerings to Old Man Buffalo at the Ribstones before hunting and after a successful hunt. Today, this is still a sacred and revered site to the First Nations people who continue to visit and leave offerings that include braided sweetgrass, tobacco or cigarettes, and other small trinkets. Five-year-old Simon was naturally curious and wanted to play with some of these objects, but in an attempt to teach him respect for the sacred nature of the place, we explained that it was something like a church and that the objects were similar to what we put in the offering plate at church.

Ribstone sites are very rare and this one has been designated a provincial historic resource. Only nine have been found in Alberta and this one is particularly significant because the stones remain in their original setting.

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Colourful ribbons and prayer cloths hang from the fence enclosing the site and trees in a nearby grove. Some have clearly been there for a long time, while others are newer.

The hilltop is a peaceful spot overlooking fields of grain in every direction. Hopefully the rain will let up and harvest can begin soon.

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Mountain Ropes Adventure

Whenever we come to Vancouver, much of our time is spent with my father who celebrated his 96th birthday last week.

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At the same time, we try to squeeze in as much time as we can with our son and his family. None of our grandchildren live close to us, but these two are the farthest away. In spite of that, we’ve managed to enjoy many wonderful adventures with them over the years and yesterday was definitely no exception! Here we are geared up and ready to challenge the Mountain Ropes Adventure on Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain, our Christmas present from Matt, Robin, and the boys.

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Mountain Ropes Adventure is a series of four aerial ropes courses with varying degrees of difficulty. The Intro level is designed for anyone 8 and over who doesn’t meet the minimum height required to do the higher levels. Sam and Nate zipped around that course numerous times while we completed the Beginner and Intermediate levels. Afterward, since it wasn’t busy, the staff allowed us to join them for a round of the Intro level. It was more challenging than we expected! Those boys are agile little monkeys!

Can you spot me walking on air?

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This is part of the Intro course and I’m actually walking inside a giant net slung between two trees.

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The complete adventure is made up of 56 elements distributed between four courses which include the Expert level that we decided not to do. We’re in pretty good shape, but we are grandparents, after all! The highest element is part of that course and is 10 metres above the ground. The longest is a 38 metre zipline in the Beginner level, one of several ziplines.

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The Intermediate level started with a small climbing wall, something I’d never attempted before. The lady immediately before me, who was at least 20 years my junior, couldn’t do it. She gave it a valiant effort, but she was unable to scale it. While I felt bad for her, I was determined to make it to the top and carry on.

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It was an element a little further along that course that almost did me in. It involved grabbing a thick rope and swinging Tarzan style from one wooden platform to another. From the ground, it doesn’t look very far, but I froze and wasn’t sure I could do it. With encouragement from Richard coming behind me and a number of people on the ground below, I went from “I can’t do this!” to “I’m going to do this!” and I did!

Other elements included everything from walking across cables and ropes to navigating all sorts of swinging wooden bridge contraptions. For someone who was terrified of heights for most of my life, I was pretty pleased with my ability to do all but the toughest level. In fact, the height didn’t bother me at all. We were secured to safety lines at all times and knew that if we lost our balance and fell, we might need rescuing, but we wouldn’t crash through the branches to the ground below. Richard and I may not have been as quick and agile as some of the younger participants, but we did it and we had fun!

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Mountain Ropes Adventure photos: Robin Thorneycroft

Coastal adventure continued

On the west coast of Vancouver Island where we camped over the Thanksgiving weekend, more than half the days in October tend to be rainy ones. When the forecast promised sunshine on Saturday and rain on Sunday, we planned the weekend’s activities accordingly. Saturday morning found us back on the beach walking, playing, and searching for treasures washed up on the shore.

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Matt and Robin

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Adding to my shell collection

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Sam and his parachute man

Of course, a sandy beach like this one is an open invitation for castle building!

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is home to numerous hiking trails varying from easy loops of less than 1 km to the rigorous 75 km (46.6 mile) West Coast Trail that takes approximately a week to complete. For Saturday afternoon, we chose the popular Rainforest Trail. Made up of two loops, one on each side of the highway, this scenic 2 km trail took us deep into the forest away from the sound of traffic. The entire trail is a wooden boardwalk that protects the dense undergrowth while allowing hikers to enjoy the magnitude of the towering trees and massive ferns. Though not a difficult hike, there are over 700 stairs along the way!

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That’s a very big tree!

Though much of what is seen in the rainforest is huge, sharp eyes can also pick out many smaller things including a wide variety of mushrooms and other fungus. These ones, growing right in the campground were my favourites.

I almost expected to see a forest nymph or a smurf peeking out from beneath one of these!

As anticipated, Sunday was wet and drizzly. We spent the morning visiting the Kwisitis Visitor Centre learning about the history, people, and wildlife of the area. This small, free museum overlooks Wickaninnish Beach and is located on the site of the original Wickaninnish Inn.

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Rain or shine, the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is absolutely stunning!

 

Coastal adventure

When our trip to Vancouver for my father’s surgery fell so close to Canadian Thanksgiving, our daughter-in-law suggested that we join them for their planned long weekend camping trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island. Not wanting to pull our trailer over the mountains to the coast and pay to take it across to the island on the ferry for just 3 nights of camping, we agreed but only if we could borrow a tent! Tofino in a tent in October? Some people thought we were crazy, but we’re always up for an adventure!

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I think it had been 25 years since the last time I slept in a tent, but we prepared well and were snug and warm in our cozy little cocoon. It wasn’t exactly ‘glamping’, but our air mattress almost filled the little tent and in addition to our sleeping bags, we had extra quilts and blankets for warmth. We even had a little space heater, but we barely used it! When it rained, as it was bound to do, we didn’t even get wet.

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Early Friday evening, we set up camp at Green Point Campground in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The campground is located on a bluff overlooking Long Beach.

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View from our campsite

As soon as we finished setting up camp, our grandsons and I headed for the beach. According to Parks Canada the official length of Long Beach is 16 km (almost 10 miles) but it’s really a series of beaches separated by rocky headlands. When the tide is out, as it was when the boys and I went down, the campground beach is a vast expanse of sand approximately 6.5 km (4 miles) long. “I feel so free!” exclaimed 9 year old Sam as he walked out onto the sand. I know exactly what he meant. It was amazing!

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Most amazing of all though was the spectacular sunset that followed! The sky was ablaze with colour as the sun slipped beneath the surface of the sea.

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Nate watching a Great Blue Heron

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Later we drifted off to sleep in our tiny tent listening to the sound of the surf. Ahhh… What bliss!

I’ll share more of our weekend adventure later in the week. In the meantime, I need to get organized for tomorrow morning’s departure. Sadly, the time has come to leave the coast behind and return to Alberta where snow has already fallen several times!