Mountain Ropes Adventure

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


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.


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?

walking on air

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

in the net

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.


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.

Climbing wall

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!

Richard ropes course

ropes course 2


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.



Matt and Robin


Adding to my shell collection


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!




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.




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!


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.


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.


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!


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.



Nate watching a Great Blue Heron



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!

Anniversary on Lonsdale


In recent years, we’ve been coming to Vancouver at least twice a year. Dividing our time between my very elderly father, my mentally handicapped brother, and our oldest son, his wife, and their two growing boys always seems to be a balancing act. We planned our current trip specifically because my father was having minor surgery last Thursday. Thankfully, that went extremely well and as we did when we were last here in June, I decided that we ought to take a bit of time to enjoy the city. Of course, the fact that today is our 42nd wedding anniversary was also a good reason to do something a bit out of the ordinary!

Though we spent the first few days of this visit staying in one of the guest suites at the assisted living facility in Burnaby where my father lives, we relocated to our son’s home in North Vancouver on the weekend. After walking the boys to school this morning and then having a late breakfast, we headed off to spend a few hours exploring Lower Lonsdale.

With stunning mountain views in one direction and Burrard Inlet in the other, bustling Lonsdale Avenue is main street North Vancouver and Lower Lonsdale is its oldest neighbourhood. There past and present come together in a unique area bursting with shops, restaurants, cafés and pubs. At its heart is Lonsdale Quay.

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Lonsdale Quay Market has an abundance of unique shops and services selling everything from fresh seafood to authentic west coast art to kitchen ware and handmade chocolate. It’s also the northern terminus of the SeaBus, the passenger-only ferry that crosses the inlet and connects the North Shore to downtown Vancouver.


After wandering the shops inside the market and enjoying a delicious lunch of fresh fish and chips overlooking the harbour, we made our way outside.


Public art reflecting the heritage, culture, and environment of the area is found all over the city of North Vancouver. The 100 foot mural “Coastal Energy” on the side of Lonsdale Quay was designed by North Vancouver students in collaboration with local artist, Dennis Creighton.


After leaving the Quay, we walked a few blocks up one side of Lonsdale Avenue and back down the other checking out a few of the shops and enjoying the character of the place.



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Then, anniversary or not, it was time to return to our real reason for being in Vancouver; time to pick up Dad and take him for a follow up appointment with his doctor. Thankfully, he is doing well!

Back to school week

I loved seeing all the back to school photos on Facebook earlier this week. Here are three of our littles.

photos: Melaina Graham

The campground attendant at Camp Lake Park near Kinsella, Alberta was happy to take our “what retired teachers do on the first day of school” photo shortly after we arrived there on Tuesday morning!

1st day of school

We had the campground almost entirely to ourselves and we thoroughly enjoyed the solitude. We spent Tuesday to Friday relaxing, reading, going for walks, and exploring the lake by kayak.

Although the colours of fall aren’t as spectacular here as they are in eastern Canada, I still find them beautiful, especially when they’re reflected on the water.




While we were out on one of our walks, we came across this critter sunning itself on the grass.


It barely flinched even when I got up close and personal with my macro lens.


Thankfully, it was a harmless garter snake, the only kind common to this area!

This little chipmunk was curious enough to stick around while I snapped a quick picture too.


We saw plenty of wildlife while we were out on the water. The ducks ignored us unless we got too close, but the Canada Geese set up quite a squawk if they spotted our UFO (unidentified floating object) anywhere in their vicinity! The lake was calm on Tuesday and Wednesday, but there was a strong breeze blowing on Thursday so we stayed close to the sheltered edge of the lake and that’s when we saw the most wildlife. The muskrats and beavers didn’t stay still long enough for me to get any pictures, but these three white-tailed deer watched us approach and only started moving toward the bushes when we got quite close.


Now we’re home and unpacking the trailer as this was the last time we’ll have it out this year. On Monday it goes to Camrose for repairs as a result of the golf ball sized hail that hit while we were camping at Bottrel on August 1st. The insurance adjuster found a bit more damage than we had noticed initially, but thankfully it wasn’t enough to keep us from being able to use it for the rest of the season!

Calgary Zoo

While camping with our daughter and her family at Bottrel, Alberta we were less than an hour away from the Calgary Zoo so we made a day trip into the city to spend a few hours there. I’ve loved visiting the zoo ever since my days as a University of Calgary student in the early 1970s. In those days it was a great place to take a relaxing break from my studies. Now it’s fun to share it with my grandchildren!

One of the city’s favourite family destinations, the Calgary Zoo is home to almost 1000 animals from 119 unique species. One of only five zoos in Canada accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, its mission is to become Canada’s leader in wildlife conservation. I love the fact that the zoo is committed to high quality care, housing only those animals that they can best care for and being intentional about providing habitats that are well suited to each species.  The Calgary Zoo is also an urban forest boasting more than 7000 trees and numerous smaller shrubs and flower beds that add to its beauty.

The zoo is very spacious requiring lots of walking, but we bought Melaina and the kids annual passes for Christmas this year, so they’re able to visit often and we didn’t feel compelled to try to see everything on our recent visit. Before we left the campground, I asked the children which animals they most wanted to see. The penguins, said one. The tiger, said another, but for me this visit was all about the giant pandas!

The panda has been my favourite animal for as long as I can remember, probably going back as far as the big black and white stuffed teddy bear that I loved as a very wee child. In 2012, I was delighted to hear that a pair of giant pandas were coming to Canada on a ten year loan from the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Szechuan, China! Da Mao and Er Shun would spend their first five years in the Toronto Zoo and then come to Calgary for the second half of their stay. Simon wasn’t even born yet, but I determined then that I would be taking my Calgary grandchildren to see them!

Five-year-old female, Er Shun, and four-year-old male, Da Mao, arrived in Toronto on March 25, 2013. Canadians across the land were delighted when Er Shun gave birth to two cubs, Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue, on Canadian soil in late 2015! All four were moved to Calgary earlier this year.

When we arrived at the zoo, we stopped first at the Penguin Plunge. Agile in the water and entertaining on land, all four varieties are delightful to watch. Here, the little fellows basking in the sun are Humboldt penguins and most of the larger ones shown inside their temperature controlled habitat are King penguins. If you look very closely, there’s also a Rockhopper penguin in the centre of the second photo. He can be distinguished by the yellow crests on both sides of his head.

On our way to the Panda Passage, we stopped to watch the flamingoes. I love their beautiful colouring. Though these two look rather elegant, a group of their mates were having quite a squawking match.

Then came the moment I’d waited over five years for! After my hand to paw experience with a giant panda at the Dalian Forest Zoo when we were living in China, I was afraid I might be disappointed, but that was not to be the case and we didn’t even have to wait in line! Da Mao, in his separate enclosure, was rolling around playfully.


Next door, Er Shun was resting right in front of the plexiglass window. If it hadn’t been there, we could have reached out and touched her.


Though his sister was hiding and we didn’t see her, Jia Panpan entertained us by playfully tearing up a large sheet of cardboard.

Outside the panda enclosure Drew, Simon, and I had our photo taken with this giant pretender!


After lunch at the on-site Kitamba Café we continued on to see many more of the animals. The baby Bactrian camel, with his two humps just beginning to form, was quite hilarious looking.

IMG_6080 The Amur tiger didn’t disappoint, coming right up to the fence in front of us.


Though I didn’t take pictures of every animal we saw, I had to photograph one of the zebras, symbol of my neuroendocrine cancer.

IMG_6088IMG_6084Perhaps the most fun of the entire day was watching and listening to four year old Simon as he watched the antics of the comical little meerkats following their keeper around their enclosure and getting underfoot as he prepared to bring in their food! Simon laughed and laughed! Unfortunately, neither he nor most of the meerkats would stay still long enough for a photo, but this one little character decided to chill while his buddies scurried around. Perhaps he was posing for me!


Devon to Edmonton by kayak

On July 16, 2008 we climbed Mt Fuji, Japan’s most famous peak. Yesterday, exactly ten years later to the day, we kayaked the North Saskatchewan River from Devon, Alberta to Edmonton, which turned out to be a much easier challenge. Much easier, in fact, than we had expected it to be.

According to the Edmonton Canoe website which offers all day excursions, the 33.6 km paddle would take “five to six leisurely hours.” Maybe in canoe. Maybe if you just floated and didn’t paddle. Maybe, but not in our kayak!


At exactly 10:00 AM, with the help of our daughter-in-law who dropped us off and delivered the vehicle to our end point, we launched the kayak at Devon’s Voyageur Park and headed down river. We usually paddle quite vigorously, but expecting this to be a longer trip than any we’d done before, we reminded ourselves to set a leisurely pace. After all, the river would do some of the work for us. In fact, even if we stopped paddling altogether, we’d eventually reach our destination!


The day was perfect, hot and sunny with a gentle breeze to keep us comfortable. We aren’t white water kayakers. This stretch of the North Saskatchewan flows steadily, but there are no rapids to contend with. Though there was the occasional small eddy, for the most part the water was very calm. With few other boaters on the river, it was very peaceful and we spotted a couple of deer as well as a bald eagle, though not close enough to get pictures.


An hour after setting off, we broke for a snack and drifted by the Blackhawk Golf Club on our left. Forty minutes later, we passed the Windermere Golf and Country Club on our right and one of the golfers hailed us with a hearty “Ahoy!” We’d been told that this course was located at approximately our half way point. Already? How could that be?

Sure enough, we’d been paddling less than two hours when the Anthony Henday bridge came into view and it was exactly noon when we passed under it! We hadn’t even stopped for lunch yet and we were already entering Edmonton!


We found a spot along the riverbank of Terwillegar Park where we could pull ashore for lunch and a rest before finishing our journey.


When we spotted two replica York boats at anchor we knew that we were passing Fort Edmonton. Imagine taking one of those all the way to Hudson Bay with a heavy load of furs!



Around the next bend we saw the Whitemud bridge and knew that our destination, the Sir Wilfred Laurier Park boat launch, was just beyond it. We pulled the kayak out of the water at 2:00 PM. The anticipated 5 or 6 hour trip took us only 4. Considering the fact that we spent 45 minutes on shore over lunch, it wasn’t any longer and was actually an easier paddle than last week’s jaunt on the Battle River!

I’m sure that we’ll never climb Mt Fuji again, but I definitely want to do another trip on the North Saskatchewan! I’d like the next one to be longer though.