The Mountains are so Much More Than Jasper and Banff

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This post about my adventures in Jasper and Banff was originally published in 2007. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

So we’ve already determined that I am a mountain person extraordinaire. But we weren’t so sure I was a camping person.

My last experience camping was on the May 24th weekend some 6 or so years ago. Upon leaving the campground after 3 days of shivering in the cold and getting soaked by the rain, closing up a flooded camp on the last day and loading as much mud as equipment into my freshly detailed car, I decided that I was never, ever going to camp again. Ever.

I guess I’m eating those words now!

On an impromptu 3 days off during the week, with a terrific forecast on the radar, we decided to head off into the wild blue yonder and camp in the mountains. It was a great chance to reconnect with nature, do lots of hiking and scrambling, and just plain relaxing too.

Well, “relaxing” is all in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?

My style of camping isn’t necessarily what the average Albertan would think of as camping. There are many a camper out here who thinks that camping entails sitting around a big fire outside of a big tent, with as much beer as can fit into the big truck. Oh yeah – and guns. Possibly fishing poles too.

Now, that isn’t every camper in Alberta by far – I am unfairly stereotyping. The sheer number of campgrounds (and variety of amenities therein) in Alberta is massive. Looking at a backroad map, you will see campgrounds almost every 5km. And that’s if you’re not the truly hard core backcountry camper, who hikes in all your gear, pitches a tent wherever there is enough space, and breaks camp the next morning only to hike further in and pitch camp another 20kms away the next day.

This camping trip was somewhere in between the “guns and beer”, and “backcountry isolation” styles.

Hiking in the mountains outside of Jasper and Banff

Each morning we arose, cooked up a fabulous breakfast using both stove and fire, and then left the campsite for yonder. Using a mapbook we sought out the trails that nobody thinks of hiking. We followed canyons, looked for caves, hiked to waterfalls, and searched for fossils. Each day held 5-7 hours of hiking and exploring before returning to camp.

What struck me more than anything else on this trip is how massive the mountains are. I don’t mean just the sheer size and grandeur of each individual mountain; I mean just how big the mountain ranges are, and how many tiny pieces of paradise you can find therein.

We weren’t even in the National Parks of Jasper and Banff. We were off the beaten path near Nordegg, just beyond the frontal range of the Rockies. In our area there were no less than 3 dozen trails, hikes, backcountry adventures, fishing lakes, you name it.

On one particular hike we did, we followed Coral Creek Canyon as it wound up, down, around, and through the mountains. We took the trail maybe a quarter of its 42km length, and even beyond the trails ending, the path keeps going. And going. The isolation and peace is inspirational and arresting all at the same time. I stopped a few times to consider just how remote we were, and we were just on a day hike. Imagine camping 42kms from the nearest road, the nearest cell phone signal, the nearest sign of civilization.

I trust Kelly’s backcountry skills implicitly and I’m learning a ton about it myself. We plan on doing some ultralight backcountry trips, and I’m getting weaned into it slowly but surely. The city girl in me is slowly being taught that there is more than city life in this world, and it can be truly beautiful!

And the city girl in me certainly took a break from the city life even during our brief car-camping excursion. I got used to bathing in frigid river water (if I bathed at all – ick!), chopping wood in order to make meals, and eating something even if it fell on the ground or got dirty (eewwww! 3 second rule!).

I learned techniques for not attracting bears to the campsite, which was probably one of my biggest fears 100% of the time we were in the wilderness. The big furry creatures instil fear in many a mountain traveller out here, as there are many bears to be found. They’ll come to your campsite, they can even track you while you are hiking with a particularly smelly lunch in your pack. Using the proper awareness and prevention techniques are imperative, and even when you encounter them on the fly there are a number of things you can do. Contrary to popular opinion they aren’t out to get us.

And although I didn’t see a single bear, I wonder if one saw me. The isolation of the entire trip gave me pause to consider some of these finer points of survival in the wilderness.

It also gave me a respect for those who settled the west when it was the “wild west” (which wasn’t so long ago). It is a beautiful, immense, grandiose, and foreboding place to be. You must have your wits about you, and thick skin to boot.

But if you’re up for it, it’s the experience of a lifetime, and provides insight and inspiration for anybody, including born-and-raised city girls like me.

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