Tag Archives: Wendy Cooper

Escaping the City (with a 2016 Ford Escape)

Well this weekend was interesting.  Of course it started with Mark getting hurt at football on Friday night.  Hard blow to the lower back and really hurt his kidney.  Mark made a tackle and someone came in a fraction of a second late and hit him.  Weird thing with this is that it can way worse so the doctor gave us a list of what to watch out for.

So instead of getting up insanely early and heading north to Prince Albert National Park, we let him get more sleep while we loaded up the Focus.

Loading up the 2016 Ford Focus

He stumbled out of the house, into the Ford Escape, turned on the heat on the front seat, grabbed a blanket and went back to sleep.  He was in a lot of pain.  The good news is the heated seats made a lot of difference.

By the time we got up, the Park Cafe had a line of people outside the door.  After a quick vote, we went to Humpty’s and ordered some Splash Omelettes for Wendy, Mark and myself and a M&M pancake for Oliver.  They made the mistake of ordering pierogis as a side and regretted it, you always order the pan fries.  You know that means they all took some of my pan fries.

M&M pancake at Humpty's

The plan was to head up Highway 42 to Alveena and then cut across to the Battle of Fish Creek (and the cool looking Fish Creek Church) and then 28 kms up to Batoche.

Two days of constant rain had turned our roads to slop.  I decided to take the Fish Creek road and see what it was like.  I went a kilometer and even with the AWD of the Ford Escape, I turned back to the highway.  We went into Alveena and realized the same thing.  The top couple of inches of road was waterlogged and moving.  If I had to get through, I could have but it wasn’t worth risking it.

So we drove to the Watrous intersection backtracked and went to Batoche.  It was closed.  For fall, it closes on the weekends which makes no sense to me at all.  That would useful to have on the front of your website but it’s the Government of Canada, I should have known better.

So we crossed the river, headed north on Highway 11 and got into Prince Albert and then Waskesiu.

We had booked a lodge  at Waskesiu but then a week later they called back and said, “oh, we were overbooked”.  In other words they got a longer booking and we got bounced.  There is a big fun run up there this weekend and we quickly found out all of the other accommodations were booked.  W

e booked an oTENTik which kind of a hybrid tent and cabin.  At first the cost seemed way to high for what I was getting but when we got there, it was nicer than what we would have had at the hotel.

A muddy 2016 Ford Escape

Let’s chat about the oTENTiks for a second.

Mark and Oliver in front of a oTENTik at Prince Albert National ParkWendy, Mark and Oliver with an oTENTik at Prince Albert National ParkMark Cooper and an oTENTik at Prince Albert National Park

The first thing is that you need to stay in one.  They can sleep 6 really comfortably.  You bring your own sleeping bags and pillows and inside they had a platform with four single mattresses along the bottom and a double mattress up top.

There is a table with four chairs and a small bench to toss your bags.  Parks Canada also gives you a LED lantern for a light when you check in.  It looks cool but kicks out almost no light.  We had head lamps and are glad we had them.

The structure is half tent and half cabin.  The floor is raised, has laminate flooring, but the roof is a plastic canvas tarp.  You can also lock the door.  We didn’t need it but there was a propane heater.

There is also a metal bear cache out front for your food.  I’ll be honest, it was the only thing I didn’t like but maybe I am a little over sensitive after the wolf incident this summer.  I wish it and the barbecue was further way from the oTENTik.  It seemed to close but then again, I am probably over thinking this after what happened in Banff.

Finally there is a picnic table that is screened in alongside a fire pit.  It is a great setup and I’d rather stay in one of these then some of the cabin’s that are in Waskesiu.  It’s really nice.

I don’t know what it is like in the summer.  The widows open up but I am not sure how hot it would be but for the fall when crisp autumn weather is the norm, it is an amazing place to stay in and I would pick it over a cottage or lodge any night.

After unpacking, we drove from Beaver Glen campground to downtown Waskesiu.  On the way there, we saw a large herd of these guys just chilling out while the male acted aggressive (the rut has begun) and was walking around looking for a fight.

Elk patrolling the trailer campground at Waskesiu in Prince Albert National Park

These were taken with Wendy’s Olympus OM-D E-M10 II and her 75-300mm lens (which is a equivalent of a 150-600mm lens).  We were a long ways away as I am not sure how Ford Escapes handle being rammed by giant elk.

Elk in Prince Albert National Park

For those of you who have never been around an elk or a moose in a rut, they are gathering up all of the females to breed with and are constantly on the look out for any other elk or people that could be a threat.  They are more or less insane and quite dangerous.  I wasn’t being flippant when I said they would ram the Escape because they would.

From there we did some shopping in downtown Waskesiu.  Oliver was choked the entire time.  He knew Mark was hurt so he was constantly challenging Mark to races which he was sure he could win.  While he was right, Mark was too hurt to even walk easily so there were no races.

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We did go into a high end boutique that was blowing everything out from 50-80% off and Mark did find an Oakley hat that he liked.  I found a great looking shirt that was still $200 on sale.  So I passed.

From there, we went to Pete’s Terrace and ordered the Volcano Pizza to share.  You can order it in terms of heat from 1-5.  We had a two which was hot enough.  They did bring us a side of #5 and my mouth still burns.  Actually it hit all of us except Oliver who just said, “I don’t do spicy”.  Wise kid.

Here is the thing about Pete’s Terrace.  The pizza is good and affordable which means in the summer, EVERYONE IN WASKESIU and NORTHERN SASKATCHEWAN eats there which means long waits because the restaurant is packed, the deck is packed, the non-licensed sidewalk area is packed.  In the fall, it’s just kind of normally busy and the services is really fast.  So the summer of last night was great pizza, great service and I still shouldn’t have tried the #5 hot sauce.

Last night we took a slow drive just past dusk and when I say slow, I mean 30 kph slow.  Explaining to Ford why there is an elk lodged in the front seat is not a conversation that  I wanted to have (okay, it would an hilarious conversation to have but you know what I mean)

This is what we saw.  Elk sleeping on the shoulder and in the middle of the highway.  Right in the middle of the highway.   Is it because of the heat or because they are in rut (we never saw it but you could hear elk in rut challenging each other in the distance while out walking).  It was really weird to be driving (we were going about 30 kph) and seeing them and not moving.  Not that I would ever do this but from their non-reaction, it looked like you could have picked one up and brought it home as a (giant, destructive) pet.

I did discover something last night, the Escape’s headlights go from high beam to low beam automatically which is a feature I have waited for my entire life.  It really makes driving at night a lot more pleasant and safer.  We didn’t drive that long with them on but from what I can tell, they aren’t confused by yard lights in the distance which is also pretty interesting.  They only dim for car lights coming at you.  Great technology.

Sunday morning Mark was even in worse shape.  We were going to go to Mud Creek Flat to see if we could find some black bears but that was cancelled, also the road still sucked.  We talked to locals about Highway #263 and they are about to impeach the Minister of Highways over how long it has been under construction.  Also they said, “don’t take it after this rain.”

We had planned to hike to LaColle Falls Hydroelectric Dam today but as well but looking at Mark, he needed to head home so we grabbed some food and got him back to Saskatoon.

In talking with Mark, the heated front seat of the Escape made the trip for him.  Yes he was on painkillers but he said he felt uncomfortable as soon as the heated seat turned off and felt better as soon as the seat kicked back in.  On the way up, you would see it turn off and then a moment later Mark would take up, hit the button and go back to sleep.

In the end, it wasn’t the trip I had planed (we are blaming Mark for that).  If you have ever seen the excellent documentary 180 South, there is a great line in it where the main character goes, “It isn’t an adventure until something goes wrong.”  It was relaxing and it was nice to check out the Ford Escape on a trip like this.  Here are some thoughts.

  • We took 4.5 three season sleeping backs, a medium sized cooler, three camera bags, three tripods, four pillows and some extra blankets.  There were also four backpacks in there and we had lots of room in the back.  The Escape holds a lot of stuff for weekend trips like this.
  • It’s powerful.  When I had to pass, the engine didn’t even work up a sweat.  It never kicked into a passing gear despite firing us forward.  It may be the form of a SUV but it’s soul is a sports car.   The EcoBoost engine is one part of the equation but so is the really smooth and always ready to go 6 speed transmission.
  • I like the addition spot for your phone/fob on the console.  I think it’s new for 2017 and it’s a nice touch.
  • For the first time ever, I actually plugged my iPod Nano into the sound system and played music rather than just ESPN Radio.  The sound system is amazing.  Rich highs and lows.  Ford did a great job with this.
  • Fuel efficiency was good.  On the trip it was 8.7 litres per 100 km.  The highways were quiet and not a lot of passing but still, it was good mileage.
  • This the first time I have never noticed this but the GPS was a couple hundred meters off from the map at times.  Not a big deal when driving through Duck Lake but for those that rely on it, it may be disheartening.  That being noted, my Bushnell and Wendy’s Magellen GPS both have done this while hiking so I assume it is a GPS satellite thing.  Also it could have happened before but I just noticed it a few times on this trip.  Also to be fair, there was a heavy cloud cover and the GPS could have had a hard time acquiring a good fix.
  • I’ll be honest.  I didn’t do a fair test on the Escape.  I only drove it in drive, not in sport mode and kept it to within safe speed limits.  Hey it’s how I drive (despite getting two tickets this summer). Even when you aren’t in sport mode, it feels like a sports car.

I get grief every single time that I say that the Ford Escape is my favorite car out there.  We are a family of four.  We live for weekend trips like this or heading out to the mountains to hike in the summer.  We have a dog that is rowdy.  This vehicle works so well for us because when Mark was sick, it was big enough for Mark to ride up front and Wendy to be comfortable in the back.  It is big enough to hold our gear without thinking too much about it (although if I owned one, I would have a carrying rack up top for camping).  I could tow an ultra light tent trailer behind it.  Most of all, I really enjoy driving it.

I have been in love with the Ford Escape for years and in 2017 Ford made it better.

Oh yeah, Mark will be fine.  They did a CT Scan at Royal University Hospital and he lacerated a kidney.  We technically the kid that hit him lacerated his kidney.  He will miss practice this week and the game and start practicing next Monday.  He’s just sore right now and doesn’t want to aggravate the injury.   It’s football.  It could have been worse but he will be fine.

Some Thoughts on Camping Gear

Some of you have asked how the gear we used on our trip worked.  Here are some thoughts.

  • Our Chevy HHR doesn’t have luggage racks so we bought a CCM rooftop bag from Canadian Tire.  The reviews were poor because they said it wasn’t water resistant at all.  So we tossed our sleeping bags and some tents into some heavy duty garbage bags.  We had extended periods of rain from Rosetown to almost Calgary.  When Mark and I opened the bag at the Johnston Canyon Campground, it was completely dry.  I am not sure what we did differently that those who had soaked bags but it worked great.
  • Nikwax Tent and Gear Solarspray: Provided waterproofing and UV protection to the tents.  While Mark and Oliver had a great high quality tent, Wendy and I were using a $100 tent from Walmart.  When it rained one night I was laying there going, “this should be leaking” and it never did.  So two thoughts from this:  Walmart tents are not bad for car camping and waterproofing your tent and tent fly is worth the money and energy.  Nikwax says that spraying UV protection on the tents will add years of life to your gear from backpacks to tents.

  • We bought a Walmart two burner camp stove instead of a Coleman stove because they were 1/2 the price, the reviews were excellent and I couldn’t tell any difference in build quality or design between the two.  It worked great.  We didn’t bring my Primus Classic Stove or Mark’s MSR Pocket Rocket but in hindsight, we should have just for making coffee and boiling water. 
  • If you have a Coleman Stove or need some propane canisters, the Real Canadian Wholesale Club has the cheapest canisters in Saskatoon.  They are around $4.   We bought three of them and thought we may need some more but we only used one and a bit.
  • A Red Niteize LED lightI bought Marley a red Niteize LED light for her collar.  She is a black dog and at night, is invisible.  She doesn’t like her natural advantage compromised but I can see her.  Other campers got a kick out of her as well.  We weren’t planning to do any night hiking but I put one on Oliver and Mark’s backpacks.  If we got caught out after dark, I want to see him.  Either way every night when Mark would take Marley for a walk though the campground, you could see this blinking from all over the place.
  • I had bought Wendy a couple of travel tea presses over the years and she offered to use one for coffee.  Big mistake.  I might as well just chewed on grounds.  The end result was not a single coffee.  We bought a GSI Outdoors Coffee Press last week.  Wendy can drink tea and hot chocolate, I want some black coffee. GSI Outdoors Coffee Press
  • We have some nice lightweight sleeping bags but while the air was hot, the ground was cold in Banff.  It got colder at night which meant with the air mattresses, we froze.  Wendy who has never camped before, ever realized that you needed some blankets between you and the air mattress to keep warm.  After Oliver was sick one night and we gave him one of our blankets, we froze.  We upgraded our sleeping bags this week to some four pound sleeping bags.  I had no idea you could sleeping bags for tall people but you can.  Mark and I both got tall four pound bags and since Wendy is confident that she will not hit a growth spurt at 46, she got a regular sized bag.  Oliver already had one.
  • Olympus OM-D E-M10 II Wendy loves her Olympus OM-D E-M10 II camera but with smaller mirrorless cameras, you have smaller batteries.  Wendy brought an extra battery along but in reality she could have had four or five.  Meanwhile I had two in my Pentax K-3 DSLR and grip and had two extra batteries and never had to use them.   Yes mirrorless cameras are smaller but that size in part comes from a smaller battery.
  • The hammocks were wonderful.  I am glad I bought them.  There is something about a nap in a hammock after a long hike on a cool summer afternoon.  The main difference between mine and Wendy’s hammock is hers had hammock straps while I had to use some cordage to tie mine up.  For ten dollars they are worth it and are easier on trees.
  • I bought a heavy duty pot, tea kettle, and frying pan for the gear.  Looking back, we may just go with our camp kitchen setup for next year.  They took up a lot of space although a decent frying pan seems worth it.
  • No one packed my camping chair but the Compact Lite chairs I bought for Wendy, Mark and Oliver worked out great.  They take up almost no room.  The ones I bought for them are too heavy for hiking but the Helinox Chair One looks great.
  • Get yourself a great camp light.  Wendy bought me a 300 lumen light from Walmart for Christmas.  It lit up our tent brilliantly and was so useful when looking for something in the car or the campsite at night.

Ventura 300 Lumen Lantern

Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park

This is why we came to Yoho National Park.   “Takakkaw”, loosely translated from Cree, means something like “it is magnificent”. The falls are fed by the Daly Glacier, which is part of the Waputik Icefield.   Its highest point is 302 metres from its base.  The falls drop a total of 992 feet in four distinct steps, first dropping over two narrow plunges hidden within the slot canyon at the top of the falls (neither of which can be seen from the base of the falls). The river then hurtles 853 feet over the side of the Yoho Valley wall, then cascading down a narrow flume-like stairstep for an additional 94 feet.

Yoho is where the big mountains are.  The drive to Takakkaw Falls both terrified and inspired the family.  It was worth the trip before we even got there.  I have never visited the park before and I can’t wait to return next summer.

Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National Park

Some of Parks Canada famed red chairs.Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkIMGP3191Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkIMGP3212Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National Park

The appropriately named Cathedral Mountain.Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkIMGP3228Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkIMGP3232Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National Park

The tradition of dunking one’s head in frozen water continues on.Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkIMGP3236Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkIMGP3251Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National Park

The Natural Bridge

While driving in Yoho National Park I saw a sign for The Natural Bridge.  I would have sworn under oath that it was in Kootenay National Park but I have happy to be wrong and so we went and checked it out.

It was pretty cool and as we were leaving, a family asked if they could have a family selfie with Marley.  Again, who takes selfies with strange dogs in strange countries as part of their Canadian Rocky experience?  Apparently quite a few people do. 

The Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National Park

Wendy pointed out that it does look like a giant toilet bowl being flushed.  The Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National Park

Moraine Lake, Alberta

I should have posted these sooner.  When you take several thousand photos on a trip, you have to edit several thousand photos.  When I mean edit, I mean hit the delete key a lot.

In our last full day in Banff National Park, we planned to hike some of the trails around Moraine Lake.  Those plans were changed when almost all of the trails in the Valley of the Ten Peaks were closed because of grizzly bears.   That disappointed Wendy, Mark, and Oliver but I had a plan B, even if they didn’t know it yet.

As we drove up to Moraine Lake, the sign said the road was closed and three cars ahead of us did the U-turn and drove back down the road.  A Parks Canada employee walked up and waved us past the closed sign so upward we went.  It’s an amazing drive and show a forest that we had never seen before.

We finally got to the full parking lot and parked about a 300 metres down the road which was pretty good considering at times, that road has people parked on it for miles.

The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

After turning my back on Oliver for about a second, he thinks he is in the Logdrivers Waltz and is jumping from log to log to go up the rock pile.  Luckily the kid has skills and made it back to shore.The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

Canoes can be rented for about $60/hour or you can take a well maintained path to the stream/waterfall at the far side of the lake.  We decided to walk.The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkIMGP3016

This is the end of the path but Wendy and Mark decided to test their luck and balance and keep going.The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

Marley decided to test her luck as well and wandered out into the water, fell in, got wet, hit her head and swallowed some water before getting out.  There was a Russian researcher there who had just gotten his permanent residency papers this week and was celebrating with his wife.  They loved Marley’s clumsiness and we had a great chat about the mountains, Trump, Putin, and dogs while waiting for Wendy and Mark to return.

The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkIMGP3063The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

I need to explain these photos.  Last year while at Sawback, I told the boys that there is a Cooper tradition of dunking you head into glacier waters the first time you head to a new lake or body of water.  There is no tradition, I just wanted to see if I could make them dunk their heads in the water.  This time Wendy and I were no so lucky as they made us dunk our heads in the freezing glacier water.Wendy dunking her head into Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy dunking her head into Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy dunking her head into Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy dunking her head into Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy dunking her head into Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy dunking her head into Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

Just before I did this, I think I said, “Mark hold my camera but no need to photograph this.”  He listens like his mother.

Solid hat don’t you think?

The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

Did I mention I didn’t wear a hat in the Banff heat (and no shade) the day before.  I was burnt.The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

Me taking a photo of a person taking a photo.The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

Don’t worry, it wasn’t a real bear.The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

While in the Gift Shop, I picked Wendy up a Moraine Lake t-shirt while Mark got her two bear figurines that made her day.  She was still on a high from seeing the black hear the day before.  It wasn’t quite as large as this one.

Vacationing with Mark

Several of you who are parents seem surprised that Mark enjoys going on family vacations still.  Many of you hated going with your parents at that age and some have kids who are resenting going on trips with them.

I don’t have a secret but here are some things I have done so Mark wants to go on vacation.

  • Scott Theede suggested we purchase Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies which is a book that evaluates hiking trails in the Rockies so you don’t take bad ones.   At first glance it seems expensive at almost $60 but it worth it when you consider it is 677 pages and if you are like us, refer to it often.   I have read the book cover to cover and so has Mark.  In fact he wants his own copy.   When we planned this trip (and are already planning the next one), I had Mark plan it as well.  I spent a lot of time getting his input and helping him figure out what he wanted to do and seeing how that can happen.  Mark suggested going to the Banff Upper Hot Springs and spent some time researching fun things to do.  He was also a part of decisions like, “Do we take the dog?”  It was Mark that convinced us that we should.  At the same time he also said, “I’ll help the dog on the Banff Gondola”, a decision that seemed a lot simpler in Saskatoon than it was in line at the base of Sulpher Mountain.

  • Mark and Oliver were comfortable in their own tent.  I kept hearing from people how much they hated sleeping in the tent/camper with their parents and how much of a different it made even as adults to have their own space.  Mark and Oliver have their own space.  They have their own duffel bags, sleeping bags, air mattresses, compact chairs, and gear.   They really appreciated having their own space.  It was worthwhile.   Parks Canada campgrounds only allow for two tents per campground (although I saw some that had a third small one) but I was clear to Mark that if he wanted his own space separate from Oliver, we would make that happen, even if it was a different campsite for him.  I’ll post the gear that we have for the boys in a later post.
  • I bought Mark the gear that he wanted.  In case it rained, he wanted a new deck of cards, a decent lantern for his tent and a great coffee mug.  The cost of all of those things was very low when you consider that they all made camping nicer.
  • I checked out the day’s itinerary with Mark every morning.  Now we have everything planned out a long time in advance but he appreciated the quiet conversation we had about what we were going to do and what ideas he had to make it better.
  • Despite being in the mountains before, this was the first trip he ever took where he was in awe with what he saw.  He fell in love with Castle Mountain and wanted to hang out and linger longer at the lookout.  He wanted to risk life and hypothermia by climbing up a stream and waterfall at Moraine Lake.  I just let him soak it in at his pace.  Same with Oliver.  Oliver’s camera is waterproof and at a certain time he sat on a rock taking underwater photos and was having a blast.
  • He had his own money from work but appreciated shopping with Wendy and I as he figured out what he wanted to get.  95% of that time was mocking what we saw but I know he did appreciate the suggestions on what to get.  My only disappointment was that he never got a onesie.

For next year we have started out debate about what we are going to do (the big picture is using Lake Louise Campground as a base camp to explore Lake Louise trails and some trails in Yoho National Park before pushing towards Jasper).  We are working on a budget and making a list of what gear to upgrade before next year.  He is a part of all of those discussions because I want it to be something we all like, not just Wendy and I.

Mount Norquay

After a day in Banff, I took everyone for a drive up Mount Norquay because Wendy and Mark wanted to see and sit in a Parks Canada Red Chair and I knew two would be up there.  At that point, I didn’t realize the upper Moraine Lake trails were closed because of grizzly bears and I hadn’t thought of going to into Yoho to see Takakkaw Falls yet (nor did I think they would have some red chairs.)

On the way to the chair, I got a phone call asking for Wendy.  She just got the word her father had died.  While she processed that news, a sports car pulls up and a guy and girl pop out because they want to pet Marley.  It was so weird and random but it happened that entire day.

Wendy soon joined us and as a family we walked down to this meadow and took in the views of Banff and the Bow Valley.

I should also take some time to point out that earlier in the day on the way to Banff and Sulphur Mountain, Wendy had her own bear sighting.  We were driving down the Bow Valley Parkway and a black bear popped up over the guard rail.  We had seen another black  bear and we are pretty sure we saw The Boss, a giant grizzly bear beside the road but they were in the middle of a bear jam and out of principle, we didn’t stop.  Wendy just mocked people for being stupid.  So when we saw this bear and we were by ourselves, Wendy was so pumped up.  It was hilarious and she was on a high all day.

Mt Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkIMGP2878Mt Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkIMGP2881The view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National Park

I am not sure how it happened but it looks like Mark got a hold of my camera.The view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkIMGP2907The view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkIMGP2920

I was accused of giving Mark the finger here but I think the photographic evidence is solid, I was just pondering what a bad kid he is.The view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National Park

We met this guy (or gal, I really have no idea) on the way up.  Wendy took some photos and we kept going.  On the way down he (or she) was in the exact same spot.  It was probably pondering what a bad kid Mark was as well.The view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National Park

Lake Louise

We headed out to Lake Louise for the day while in Banff National Park.  We got up early from the Johnston Canyon Campground and headed down the Bow Valley Parkway.  The plan was to hike up to Lake Agnes Tea House but my ankle was still swollen, I was still running a fever from being taken off the medication for my ankle.  We got there in good time and got a good parking spot (Parks Canada staff running the parking lots makes it run  very smooth).  As we walked up the path to the Tea House, I realized that a combination of rain, a fever, and a messed up ankle, I needed to understand my limits.  We’ll head back up there next year.

Before anyone feels sorry for us, did I mention we were still on the shore of Lake Louise?  It’s pretty spectacular view and we were about to find out that our fellow tourists were pretty great.

Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkIMGP2683Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkIMGP2695Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkOliver at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper, Mark Cooper, and Oliver Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper, Mark Cooper, and Oliver Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National Park

From there we headed down the mountain and stopped at Laggan’s Mountain Bakery and Delicatessen

Laggan's Mountain Bakery and Delicatessan

Everyone I know that has been to Laggan’s raves about how great it is.  You have to see and smell it to believe it.  Wendy picked out some Jamaican Patties and got use some of the best pizza I have ever tasted.  The bakery is worth the stop if you are even close to Lake Louise.

Johnston Canyon

We hiked last Johnston Canyon last year.  It was packed and I didn’t really like it at all.  This is the photo of it that has stuck in my memory.  Way too many people.

After hiking to Silverton Falls and checking out some of Castle Mountain, we came back to the campground while Wendy slept off a headache in her hammock.  After dinner, we went back to a now empty Johnston Canyon and hiked up to the lower falls.

Johnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National Park

As we crossed this, we learned that Marley hates heights and really hates boardwalks.  She refused to walk across it unless I told her it was okay.  She would constantly look back at me and wait until I told her it was okay and then she would walk very low to the ground. This scene was repeated over and over again throughout the hike.  As long as she didn’t look down, she was fine.  If she did, she wasn’t happy.Johnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National Park

Growing up in Calgary after my dad left, we had no money at all.  Johnston Canyon was our summer vacation.  We would come up and hike the canyon and then have lunch at Sawback before heading back home.  It has always been a special place to me.  We always hiked it on a non-peak day so it never was packed like it is most days in the summer with people parked for miles in either direction.

Hiking it after dinner when the hordes have left was the Johnston Canyon that I recalled growing up.  Only about 20 people on the trail, let’s of room to explore, no idiots with selfie sticks whacking me on the head.  There were just a few people wanting to pet Marley which was a trend that would only escalate as the week went on.  It was a lot of fun.

If you are going to go in July or August, don’t go during the day.  Go early morning (before 8 a.m.) or in the evening (after 7:00 p.m.).  It is a way nicer hike on an empty trail.

Castle Mountain

After hiking up to Silverton Falls, we drove further down the Bow Valley Parkway until we got to the base of Castle Mountain and stopped at the site of the Castle Mountain Internment Camp used in World War I.  It’s not a proud part of Canada’s past.

Castle Mountain Internment Camp in Banff National Park

Life at the camp was brutal.  Rations were poor, abuse was widespread and some froze to death during the winters.  They were essentially used as slave labor to build the Banff National Park infrastructure.

From there we checked out the Castle Mountain lookout which had a Canadian Pacific rail line go by it.

Views of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National Park

I am not sure what happened here but both Mark and Oliver just stared for ages at Castle Mountain.  For Mark it was almost a spiritual experience.  Finally he goes, “So this is why you love the mountains.” 

Views of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National Park

Then as we were talking, you could hear the familiar sound of a eastbound Canadian Pacific train coming in the distance.

A Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National Park

Silverton Falls

On the second day there, we had planned to hike Johnston Canyon in the morning and then do Silverton Falls in the afternoon.  As Wendy blogged, I ran a high fever with an ankle feeling like it was going to snap for most of the trip.  She was exhausted as well so we slept in.  By the time we got up and going, the line to Johnston Canyon went a kilometre or so down the Bow Valley Parkway in each direction.  We hiked it last year and it was insanely packed with tourists.

Instead I drove down towards Castle Mountain and pulled into the parking lot for Rockbound Lake.  There is a short hike to Silverton Falls which I had never done and it looked like fun.  As we pulled into the parking lot, we met this camper from Wicked Campers.  The paintjob stood out just a little bit.

Wicked Campers at the trailhead for Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkWicked Campers at the trailhead for Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkWicked Campers at the trailhead for Silverton Falls in Banff National Park

With Mark turning 16, he is thinking of the kind of vehicle he wants, in part so he can travel with it.  We had a long discussion about GMC Safari’s and Chevy Astro vans on our way along the trail.

The hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National Park

After 400 metres or so, you come across this stream running down from the waterfall.

The hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National Park

Then you start to climb up to the falls.

The hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National Park

A rockslide took a toll on the trail at this point.

The hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National Park

Finally you get the falls which unlike Johnston Canyon, have no safety railings along the path.

The hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National Park

It’s a great view across the Bow Valley.

The hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National Park

Finally it was back down the flank of Castle Mountain and back to the parking lot.  The hike is under a kilometre long and we met a total of 12 people on it which is far different then Johnston Canyon.

The hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National Park

Johnston Canyon Campground

Well we are back from vacation in Banff National Park and later Yoho National Park.   It was a great week but once that almost didn’t happen.  A few weeks ago they took me off my antibiotics because they thought they had killed the infection (again) and of course we know what happened.  In three days I was overwhelmed with fevers and extremely sick just before the holidays.  So I was back on my medication but it takes weeks for it to catch up to the infection.

The day  before we were to leave, I was really sick.  It had gotten worse and I was really suffering.  I went to be knowing that all I wanted was to sleep for the next week.

I got up early last Sunday and felt even worse.  I talked to Wendy and said that her and the boys should go without me.

They loaded the car and went to leave.  I had gotten some sleep and felt a little better. I didn’t feel strong enough to go but I had some food and talked it over with Wendy and decided to go.  I did warn her that I may do nothing more than sleep all week.  She was okay with that.

We had intended to leave Saskatoon, contact some friends and grab some coffee as we passed through town.  Now we left Saskatoon really late and it was going to be a rush to get to the campground before nightfall.

Sadly we were very  early onto a horrible motorcycle crash.  Guy on a road bike, wet highway, looks like he lost control.  When we got there, he was lying on the highway and being held down.  It was a horrible sight but ambulance was on route and First Responders were already there.

We rolled in Johnston Canyon Campground around 9:00 p.m. and Mark and I rushed to set up the tents.

This was Wendy’s and mine tent.  I know it’s massive.  It is an eight person tent that I picked up at Walmart a few years ago.  I am not a big fan of Walmart tents but I bought some Nikwax Tent & Gear SolarProof and applied it.  The SolarProof protects the tent from UV radiation at higher altitudes while making it waterproof.  We did get some heavy rain a few days and nights and we never had a leak all week.  Several times I found myself laying in it and going, “this should be leaking” but it wasn’t.

Our tent at Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

The tent doesn’t come with a ground sheet.  So I decided to pick up some tarps.  I measured the tent spent $3 on tarps from Dollarama and used Gorilla Tape to fasten them together created one.  The ground sheet saves the bottom of the tent and acts as a bit of a vapor barrier between the tent and the ground.

A five person tent at Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

We had some tents already but my brother Lee gave this tent to the boys when he upgraded.  The 8 person tent served as home for Wendy and I while Mark and Oliver lived in the smaller five person tent.  It’s a three season tent with a big vestibule.  They loved having their own space.  The fact that it came from their uncle and aunt made it even cooler for them.

The only complaint was we never had a night where I felt 100% confident that we would not get rain.  Oliver really wanted to “sleep under the stars”.  Either that or he really wanted to see what else was going on while he slept in the tent.

An eight person tent is too big for two people but one can stand up in it and there was room for our queen sized air mattress.  Since I had a dog sleeping in my arms every single night, all of the space we could get was needed.

I had purchased Wendy a hammock for Mother’s Day.  I gave strict orders to the boys that this was Wendy’s hammock.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

I had my hammock as well.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

According to this, I was late giving the edict that this was MY hammock.  By the time I went to lay in it, it had already been infested.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

You have no idea how hard it was to get them out of this tent.  There was one of them in it the entire time we were there.  Mark called it a Bear Taco.

This is Wendy getting everything set up.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

Something is wrong with this photo.  There are only three lawn chairs.  Obviously they were packed when I wasn’t planning to come out.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

Wendy had some help from Marley in setting things up.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

This is the view from the back of the campsite.  Just through the trees is the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway which thrilled all of us when it rolled through between five and ten times a day/night.  Some might have found it bothersome but we loved it.  The railway were such a big part of the story of Banff National Park, it was cool to hear them roll through, even if it didn’t make for the best alarm clock.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

I had originally wanted to stay in the Castle Mountain Campground because of it’s location but you can’t reserve there.  In hindsight staying in a place with a hot shower was the right decision.

There were only four showers for 100+ campsites but it was enough.  There was a bit of a lineup in the evenings but most people took really quick showers (although Wendy waited as a women took a 40 minute shower one morning).  The one oddity of the campground was there was two plugins in each washroom which were always being used as people charged everything from laptops computer to cameras and phones.

Parks Canada staff kept the washrooms immaculate although one of them said, “It’s not that hard, people are really good here.”  I’ll take her word for it but the fact remains those washrooms were the cleanest of any campground we had ever seen.

The campground wasn’t that large and was extremely quiet.  We were surrounded by Americans and Europeans for most of it.  It was hectic in the morning as everyone got up and got going, then it was silent for for most of the day as everyone was gone.  It got slightly busier at night but mostly people flaked out after a long day of hiking.  There were two cycling clubs there who were working out together in the mountains all day long.  Most of the noise was people slowly cycling by.  If you are looking for a nice campground, this is it.

Review of the 2016 Ford Flex

Ford CanadaA couple of weeks ago, Ford Canada was cool enough to lend me a 2016 Ford Flex for a week to review it.   We drove it in the city, we took it on the highway, and we took it on a road that was under heavy construction and kind of scary.   Here is what I learned about the crossover.

The 2016 Ford Flex compliments of Ford Canada

Mark and Oliver liked it.  Especially Oliver.  The third row of seats is amazing when you have children.  There is no fighting, no arguing, just peace and quiet.  When they are sitting beside each other, it is like an uneasy truce both sides are trying to break.  When they are separated, it is peaceful, calm, and relaxing.

The second row of seats is large enough for myself and I am 6’4.  The rear row was fine for Mark and was large enough for Oliver to think he had his own apartment back there.  It is a legit third row of seating.

The 2016 Ford Flex compliments of Ford Canada

I should say that the 2016 Ford Flex broke Mark’s heart.  I have been reviewing Ford automobiles for the last couple of years and each one of them, Mark has been too young to drive anything other than his mountain bike.  In his mind, when he turned 16, he was going to get behind the wheel and put it through his paces.   He just turned 16.   Then I told him he had to be 18.  He was crushed.  Devastated.  Forlorn.

So I asked him what he was going to do about it?  I suggested he tweet at Ferrari that he was kid in the middle of Saskatchewan and if they could lend him a vehicle for a week to review.  Mark was like, “Really?”  I then told him to compare his Twitter following to Kim Kardashian’s and evaluate his chances.  Yes, I troll my own kids from time to time.

Oh well, there is hope for him in 2018.

Driving Around Town

I took the Flex to work with me for the week and we pretty much parked the Chevy HHR.  It is pretty agile around town.  It has a tighter turning radius than you would expect and quite a bit tighter than my old Dodge Caravan which made it a nice commuter vehicle.  While I drove it pretty conservatively, I had to stomp on the gas once to avoid a careless driver and it unexpectedly tossed you back into your seat.  For a vehicle that long, you don’t expect it to handle and have the power of a sports car but does.

The kids liked it.  I had to drop Mark off at Bedford Road Collegiate for his school’s canoe trip.  The response was, “When did you get that SUV?” and “Is that a new Ford Flex?”  Not a huge sample size but it is approved by high school students who love to explore.

At least the 2016 Ford Flex looks stylish

If you want to take a moment to point out that Mark did up the hip straps on his backpack to load it into the car so I could drive him like three kilometers to his school, go ahead, I don’t know what he was thinking.  The Flex had a lot of room for his gear but could barely hold all of the geekness.   The design may be a bit polarizing but the shape means there is all sorts of storage.  if you get the optional luggage rails and then add a luggage rack or pod, you have a vehicle that begs itself to be taken for long road trips.

Driving on the Highway

We took the car to Prince Albert National Park where we intended to hike the trail along Kingsmere Lake to Grey Owl’s Cabin.

My sherpa, I mean my son loads the gear in the 2016 Ford Flex

There were four of us and the dog.  We had a cooler full of cold drinks when we were done and three and a three quarters expedition sized backpacks.  They all fit comfortable in the back even if the dog was confused why she wasn’t driving.   Check out Mark loading the gear in he back when were done.  There was lots of room.

Marley and her backpack

It was a quiet drive using the cruise control on the way up but it’s a great highway vehicle.  Lots of room, Sirius XM radio, nice sound speakers and heated and air conditioned chairs.  It was excellent.  A combination of a long wheelbase and Ford’s suspension made for a smooth and comfortable ride.

Years ago a friend of mine bought a Ford Grand Marquis when his father retired from work.  He picked his dad up, tossed him in and they drove the Trans Canada highway to the east coast, came back, went south and joined up with Route 66 and drove that from coast to coast before heading north to Highway 1 again and headed back to Saskatoon.  I always wanted to do that and have always thought of the Ford Grand Marquis as the perfect vehicle to do that with.  If I was going to do a trip like that, it would be the Ford Flex. 

I do have a funny story though about the Ford Flex.  As we were turning into Prince Albert National Park right at LT’s Food and Fuel, I heard a horrible sound from the Flex.

LT's Food and Fuel near Prince Albert Provincial Park

I immediately slowed down but the noise go louder, I pulled into the parking lot and was about to call Ford over the still going loud noise when I realized that it was a Diet Coke I was holding.  I hadn’t done the lid up tight and the road was rough which shook up the pop until air and fizz started to leak out making this noise that had us all convinced there was something wrong with the car.  For the rest of the weekend, every time something in the Flex would make a noise, Mark would go, “Dad, the Flex is breaking! Better stop.”  I deserved that mocking.

The Ford Flex was quiet on the highway and while I didn’t have a lot of traffic to contend with, when I had to pass, there was power to pass which is what is really important.

Leaving the Pavement Behind

The main reason we didn’t complete the trip was that Kingsmere Road was under heavy construction during the week and was closed.  In what we had hoped would be a three day hike instead turned into a two day one which was more than Oliver could handle.

The construction did allow me to see how the Flex handled off the pavement on some soft and sloppy roads.  Parks Canada warned us about the roads before hand.  She said that it was passable but unpleasant.  I took the warning seriously but despite the soft spots, the Flex handled it easily.  Even coming back from trailhead after a large storm the night before where the road was worse, I didn’t worry.  Well there was one part of the parking lot where there was a D6 Cat that looked stuck, I avoided that part of the road.

Final Thoughts

Over a week, I developed some strong opinions about the 2016 Ford Flex.  Let me share them here.

  • For a family like ours that loves to travel, the extra space was amazing.  Three rows of seats but the second one was large enough for the boys travel comfortably without them bugging each other.  It’s the vehicle you want when driving to Disneyland, the west coast or Waskesiu for the day.
  • ESPN Radio.  It may not be your favorite thing on a roadtrip but it is mine.  Sirius XM radio is worth the money and if the car you purchase has it built in and ready to go, you are one step ahead.
  • Heated seats / air conditioned seats.  When you just walk a bazillion miles in the Canadian Shield, things hurt.  Heated seats make that pain go away.  Air conditioned seats cool you down.  They are amazing.
  • Cup holders up front, in the back, on the sides…. Let’s see we had coffee cups, pop bottles, and water bottles all going on the way home.  There was room for all of them.
  • The front and rear sunroofs are a nice touch.  The rear one is split.  At one point Oliver had his one open and Mark had his one shut. 
  • Designed to seat seven adults, the Flex is equipped with large, plush, overstuffed front and second-row seats.
  • The third-row seat dumps into a well in the vehicle’s floor, similar to a minivan, and because the Flex has a nearly vertical rear window and a square roofline, it provides an impressive amount of cargo room even when traveling with a full house of passengers.
  • For the 2016 model year Ford gave us the company’s new Sync 3 infotainment system in the Flex. Sync 3 replaces the MyFord Touch infotainment system, and it represents a significant improvement.

    Highlights of the new system include:

    • Capacitive touch screen with swipe and pinch-to-zoom capability
    • Improved graphics, faster response to inputs
    • Upgraded voice recognition technology
    • Siri Eyes Free, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
    • System updates available via Wi-Fi
  • Fuel mileage wasn’t bad.  You can check out Fuelly and see what other Ford Flex drivers are getting.  The average seems to be about 18 mpg.   I get around 25 mpg with my Chevy HHR but it is a much smaller and less powerful vehicle.

I am a fan of the Flex.  It’s styling isn’t for everyone but I have come to love it.  If you are a family who loves to travel or just wants a comfortable ride to the great outdoors, the Ford Flex is worth looking a closer look at, you will be impressed at what you see.

On being a dad (and hiking with kids)

So we just got back from Prince Albert National Park today.  We had planned to hike to Grey Owl’s Cabin.  We got up early on Saturday, navigated a nasty Kingsmere Drive to the trailhead (it’s under heavy construction) and then started out.

Hiking to Grey Owl's Cabin in Prince Albert National Park

The biggest question I had during the build up to this was how was Oliver going to hold up on the hike and with a pack.  His pack fit him well, only had his sleeping bag, some clothes and his headlamp and knife in it but 40 kilometers over two days is really hard for anyone let alone an 8 year old.

Hiking to Grey Owl's Cabin in Prince Albert National Park

He started out fine but even at the first campground, he was struggling.  As we pushed on we passed kilometer six and he had tears running down his eyes and was saying, “I’m okay Dad, I’m okay.”  He wasn’t.  His feet were killing him.  He had hikers on but it wasn’t working.Hiking to Grey Owl's Cabin in Prince Albert National Park

I have read all sorts of articles on REI and MEC about pushing kids too hard.  It turns a hike into a forced march and makes them hate doing this.  Since hiking is Oliver’s favorite thing in the world right now, I didn’t want to do this too him.

Hiking to Grey Owl's Cabin in Prince Albert National Park

As we came into the Chipewyan Portage, I talked to Wendy and said we are staying here for the night.  He’s in pain and not having fun.  He wasn’t going to make it to Grey Owl’s.

I suggested the idea to him and he seemed so relieved.  Then he came and said, “I’m tough enough to keep going.”  I just said that this looked like a good place to camp (and it was).  Of course we had two tents and it was a one tent campground but I was willing to explain my decision to any Parks Canada warden who came by says it has a two tent campground.  We may or may not have been using that campsite but I’m not sure.  When we got it, it just looked like a picnic area and a one tent campground but I’ll defer to Parks Canada on this one.

Hiking to Grey Owl's Cabin in Prince Albert National Park

Oliver took off his hikers and put on his Dawgs but even then could barely walk he was in so much pain.  He got better as the night went on but he had given it all he had.

Around 8:00 p.m., a light drizzle gave away to an impressive storm.  Mark had a rain poncho on so he got the food up on the bear platform (anti bear platform?) and made sure no food was close to our tents.  We had cooked well away from them but by the fact that you have to do that makes you realize how deep you are into bear country.

The storm continued for most of the night.  The winds came up and we started to hear the trees snap during the night.  Parks Canada does a really good job of thinning out the trees near your campground so there are no “widow makers”  near but hearing those trees snap in the middle of the night is a terrifying sound especially when they are so close.

Hiking to Grey Owl's Cabin in Prince Albert National Park

At 4:10 a.m., I heard an animal near by.  Our tents have gazebos and were shut up for the night.  Wendy and I have the Mountain Hardware Drifter 2 person tent which has two entrances.  I had found a baseball sized branch and had put it outside my side of the tent earlier just in case.  I had grabbed my headlamp and was ready to go check it out but it just sniffed around what sounded like the firepit (which we hadn’t used for this very reason) and kept on walking.   There were bear tracks on the trail area this morning.  It worked out the best for both of us.  For me I didn’t have to get muddy and for the bear, he didn’t get his butt kicked.

Leave No TraceWe had a big breakfast, cleaned up our campground, and started the hike back to the Ford Flex.  We took the Leave No Trace philosophy seriously.  We packed out the garbage from the campground.  Before we left Mark and I restacked the firewood and replenished the wood we used the night before.  The campground was a mess before we got there with several large areas burned for bonfires by the beach (really people) and we did our best to clean some of that up as well.

Hiking to Grey Owl's Cabin in Prince Albert National Park

Oliver was good until the last 750 metres and then he was in pain and crying.  I had Wendy and Mark go ahead and open up the car and get him and I an ice cold Gatorade.  Just as we came out of the trailhead Mark came running up and took Oliver’s pack and gave him and I cold drink.

Hiking to Grey Owl's Cabin in Prince Albert National Park

We met a teen girl who was solo hiking to Grey Owl’s the day before.  I had chatted with her dad as she left and she had made the hike and left early in the morning to get back early to meet her dad.  She was chilling out at the trail head when we got back so Wendy took a cold drink down to her who seemed really happy with it.  She was also surprised that Oliver had hiked as far as he did.  That picked up his spirits and he left feeling in a good mood.  The encouraging words of a mom, dad, and brother mean one thing but a compliment from a girl he only met hours before, well that is next level.

Hiking to Grey Owl's Cabin in Prince Albert National Park

From there it was into Waskesiu to get some Doritos and then the long ride home.

Hiking to Grey Owl's Cabin in Prince Albert National Park

Next year we will try to make it to Sandy Bay.

I can pretty demanding of the boys but as I have always told them, all I want to see is there best effort at things.  Oliver put in a huge effort.  He told me that, “I didn’t have enough left in the tank.” which is a great use of a sports cliche but I said back to him, “At eight years old, your tank may not have been big enough and that is okay.”