Family Day Weekend on the Icefields Parkway

February, for such a short month, always seems hard so I’m thankful that the Family Day long weekend falls right in the middle of it for a little vacation.  I’m not the best at planning over-night outdoor winter adventures but luckily our friends had this one covered by booking the weekend at the Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel and so a winter road trip to Jasper was planned. Sometimes February is warm and spring like but this is a cold and snowy year which made a winter adventure up the Icefields Parkway the perfect way to embrace the arctic temperatures and avoid the temptation to spend three days huddled up at home.

Saturday

The hostel is located about 25 km south of Jasper on the Icefields Parkway, making it a bit of a drive from Calgary. Because of this we waited until Saturday morning to set off on our adventure and made a day of the 400 km drive. This gave me Friday night to pack up and meant that we didn’t have to rush to leave on Saturday. In fact, by the time we solved our frozen vehicle problems and finally hit the road it was close to 10 am.

The main highway as far as Lake Louise was in great shape but as expected the Icefields Parkway was a slightly different experience. The highway is definitely experiencing winter driving conditions (much more so than when we made the trip in March) so it was snow covered and bumpy. We convoyed up with our friends and it was nice to know what we weren’t out there on our own should something happen. While not deserted, the highway is pretty quiet in the winter which is what makes it awesome (the place can be a zoo in the summer) but also a little lonely.

Winter driving on the parkway

The weather was cold and cloudy so we drove without stopping to Saskatchewan River viewpoint (near the intersection with Hwy 11 – we actually stopped at a pullout called Howse Pass which had open washrooms and a cleared parking lot) where ate lunch and went for a short walk to the view point even though there weren’t any views. It was very brisk out and I was happy that we’d taken the time to gear up for even such a short adventure.

All bundled up

After our break we hopped back in our vehicles and drove to Sunwapta Falls. We stopped again for a short walk to see the first falls but I think everyone just wanted to get to the hostel so we didn’t linger long. The highway was actually the worst for the final few kilometres from Sunwapta to Athabasca Falls so we took out time navigating the ice. It was a long driving day – about 6.5 hours in total – so I think we were all ready to get out of the vehicles when we arrived at our destination

Of course there were sheep on the road – and right at a corner too

We arrived before check in so we hung out in the main kitchen/lounge cabin where it was warm before we were given the tour and how-to by the hostel manager and given the keys to our cabin. We had private rooms booked (there are two) so we settled in for a bit before heading back the kitchen for an early dinner. The kitchen is big but there was also a large group staying there so we were happy that we had made meals that required very little prep work. The lasagna was simply popped in the over and then we were able to hang out while it cooked. Everyone was hungry and even E ate a huge helping of lasagna.

We hung out a little bit after dinner and then it was time to attempt to get the little ones to sleep. It took a bit to get the kids to bed – our friend’s older kid was able to sleep in the cabin with the monitor but we ended up taking E back to the main building in his car seat to sleep so we could hang out while the adults played board games before heading to bed ourselves.

Sunday

I thought we’d be up super early but E surprised me by sleeping in until 8 am. Apparently he likes the hostel lifestyle! We eventually got dressed and headed to the kitchen for oatmeal and coffee. The thermometer read around -25 C so we weren’t in a huge hurry to get going on any outdoor adventures. We finally decided to start our day with a walk to Athabasca Falls so everyone bundled up and we headed out. It is about a 1 km walk from the hostel to the falls and apparently in the summer there is a path you can take but with all the snow we ended up just walking up the highway. It was pretty quiet and we kept well over on the shoulder but I would maybe skip the walk next time and just drive (even though it is so close). Once at the falls we did a short walk around before heading back to the hostel for lunch.

Checking out a very frozen Athabasca Falls

After lunch we left Jon and E in the warmth of the hostel and headed out for a cross-country ski. It is possible to ski almost right from the hostel by starting at Athabasca Falls and skiing along highway 93A so we drove back there after talking to a few other hostel guests who had been out skiing. It had warmed up to about -10C and was really nice for skiing. The road was skier trackset and I skied 4 km out and back to Leach Lake (for a total of 8 km). It is an easy gradual climb to the lake and then a gentle hill all the way back down.

After our ski we headed back to the hostel where E and Jon were just getting up from a nap (seriously, our kid slept awesome there). We all met up in the main building for a pre-dinner snack and drink while our pulled beef warmed up for dinner. We put the kids to bed around 8 pm and the adults followed soon after.

Monday

It was -35C when we woke up – so chilly! We packed up our gear and headed for breakfast with the plan to be on the road by 10 am (hostel check out time). Unfortunately, our Rover had been sitting in the lot since we arrived Saturday night and refused to start. With a lot of coaxing and a couple boosts we finally got it started and were ready to hit the road by 11 am.

With the chilly temps came beautiful blue skies and sunshine so we enjoyed finally seeing all the mountains that had been hidden on the drive up. We stopped briefly at Athabasca Glacier for a few photos:

The Athabasca Glacier

And then kept driving to Howse Pass for lunch again. This time we were able to take in the views (and they are worth the very short walk from the parking lot).

Views from Howse Pass lookout

We powered on home from there, arriving back at home around 5 pm.

Three days was definitely a nice break from the usual and it felt good to get out and do something. I wish we’d been able to squeeze one more day in – there were lots more activities I would have to loved to do including a trip into Jasper for some skating. While still do-able as a three day long weekend, it would be a perfect destination for a four day weekend.

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The 2017 MacDonald Family Christmas Tree Hunt (and Blogger Christmas Swap)

Read about previous years: 20162015, 2014, 20132012201120102006

It felt like Christmas at the beginning of November when we got our first snowfall, but the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having now hardly make it feel like the middle of December. While it wasn’t a winter wonderland this weekend, the warm weather made for an easy and enjoyable time to be out looking for our Christmas tree. In fact, it was so nice that we decided to spend all weekend out in the bush adventuring!

As we’ve been doing for the past few years we headed out to the Junior Forest Wardens’ lot in Jumpingpound on Saturday. It’s super easy but we’ve decided that next year we’re going to be more adventurous – particularly if the weather is as nice because everyone was out there and it was just too busy! Still, we managed to get a spot in the parking lot and headed out to find ourselves a tree.

E’s got his game face on – he’s ready to go get his first Christmas tree
Felt a lot more like a spring day than December out there

I don’t know if it was the weather or what but we really struggled to make a decision (sometimes it helps when it is really cold  – just cut something already!). We finally settled on a tree, chopped it down and hauled it out to the Disco. Then E enjoyed his first campfire (and watched us eat some hotdogs) before we headed home.

Post-tree success selfie

We had a to cut a little more off the tree before we could get it into the house but we were able to set it up right away since it wasn’t frozen. We decorated it after dinner and even though I think it is a little wonky, E’s excitement totally makes up for it.

I was more restrained in my decorating this year and didn’t insist that every ornament we own end up on the tree

Having the tree up meant that I could put up my new ornament that I got from Becky for the 2017 Christmas Blog Swap. I can’t wait to a take a photo of the little guy all decked out in his Christmas PJs to put in it! She also sent also some candy cane chocolates which I devoured immediately.

Just waiting for the perfect Christmas photo

Sunday morning we again loaded everyone up and headed out since it was just too nice to spend time doing chores. This time we headed north of the city to the area near Water Valley – a place I’ve never been – to hang out and help some friends with their Christmas tree hunt. We brought the portable BBQ and roasted hotdogs for lunch while we lounged around in the sun. Then we helped with the Christmas tree hunt, did a short walk and soaked up a little more sunshine before having to head back to the city.

Glad we chose outside over chores on a day like this!
Our perfect little hangout spot

We keep saying that we need to spend more time outdoors so it was nice to finally just do it (even if it means that my house isn’t clean).

Snowshoeing Near Upper Kananaskis Lakes

We do not snowshoe very often, in fact its has been over 8 years since we last got out on a pair, but when our friends invited us out for a snowshoe over the long weekend we figured why not? The snow is pretty much gone here in the city so I wasn’t even sure we’d need the rental snowshoes I picked up on Friday but we packed them and warm clothes and headed out of the city on Saturday morning towards Kananaskis.

The avalanche danger was fairly high over the weekend but I felt pretty comfortable that our experienced friends weren’t going to lead us and their small children into anything risky. We ended up parking at the Upper Kananaskis Lakes Day Use site where we put on our snowshoes and headed counter-clockwise along the lakeside trail. We only went a few hundred meters before turning up into the treed slope.

While the trail around the lake was packed down, there was enough snow in the bush that snowshoes were definitely required. For a while I was able to walk without breaking through but as we climbed higher and the snow softened up I found myself sometimes standing in waist deep snow trying to climb a hill. It was not easy going but it was nice to still tackle something challenging at 32 weeks pregnant. I was a little jealous of the kids who floated on top of the snow the whole time and couldn’t understand why the adults were struggling up the hill.

While we basically just slogged up a steep treed hill on snowshoes, it was the most fun I’ve had snowshoeing (and perhaps on any winter activity this year). The views aren’t bad for something that never becomes exposed and gave me an excuse for frequent breaks as we worked our way uphill.

Even more fun than the way up was the slippery descent. Everyone slid and sometimes face planted their way down the trail. I was pretty cautious, sitting down on my snowshoes to slide the steepest parts, but the kids (and some adults) ran their way down the hill. Given the number of spills we were all soaked to the bone (and pretty tired) by the time we made it back to the trail and to our car.

I have no idea how far we went but we were out there for several hours and that was enough to wear me out! I’m not sure what our snowshoe adventures are going to look like in the future but we’ll definitely try and get out again (even if it is for something a little tamer).

Weekend Update

I was going to update about the last two weeks of January (because wow – how can we be at the middle of the month already?) but I can’t really remember what we did. It was cold, and I went back to work (and I’m sure some other stuff). So, instead I’m just covering the weekend, which I can still remember.

Our weekend ended up being fairly booked up, so Thursday night we made a spur of moment decision to send Patches to doggy day care for the weekend and luckily his kennel had space. I dropped him off on Friday morning and knew that he’d get to play while we were out.

Friday evening we headed out to do something that neither of us had ever done – see an all male ballet performance by Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo . I haven’t been to the ballet since I was little and Jon had never been so it was fun to do something new. The performance was interesting (even though most of the time I had no idea what was going on) and it was nice to be out since its going to get a little more difficult after April! We ended up staying out way later than I thought (I consider any arrival home after midnight late these days).

Saturday morning I had a quick visit to the chiro and then we headed out to Bragg Creek to ski. We arrived around 10 am and the place was already packed! Its been cold in Calgary since New Years so it wasn’t a surprise that everyone jumped at a chance to play outside now that the weather has warmed up. We skied about 5. 5 miles and I have to say my ski outfits and technique are certainly getting stranger the larger I get.

Putting my jacket extender to good use these days

We were home by early afternoon and I did school work before going out to pick up Patches while Jon tackled our basement reno project. We ate frozen pizza, watched TV and headed to bed early.

Project goal – be done by April

Sunday morning I woke up early (and hungry) so after I’d had first breakfast we took Patches for a walk. Then I had second breakfast, did a little work and headed out for my glucose screening test. It was not as terrible as I thought it would be (I’m getting so much better at blood tests – I was able to watch the needle go in and chat away while they sucked out vials of blood) and I didn’t feel terrible after. The rest of the afternoon was spent with chores, school work and finally meal prep for the week. Not the most exciting of days but I feel mostly prepared for another week at work.

This coming week is busy – and next weekend looks Iike I’ll need to spend lots of time doing school work so it was nice that this weekend was a bit more balanced! I did end it on a low note by grabbing the handle of pot that had been in the oven. It’s a long way from the heart but sure hurts! We’ll see how blistered it ends up tomorrow..

The MacDonald Family Christmas Tree Hunt and Blogger Christmas Swap 2016

Read about previous years: 2015,  2014,  20132012201120102006

We’re still having this terrible cold snap here in Calgary, which made for an interesting annual Christmas tree hunt last weekend. If it hadn’t been the only real weekend to get our tree we probably would have stayed snuggled up at home but instead we layered up and headed out to cut down a tree.

One of the advantages to it being so cold was that the tree lot was pretty quiet. We arrived around 11:1ish and were one of only a dozen vehicles in the lot. I was happy to see that even with the cold weather the JFW crew was out with their fire and hot dogs.

It wasn’t as cold as I’d anticipated it being so we were able to wander around for a quite a while before finally settling on a tree. There was fresh snow, and more was falling so it felt very Christmasy to be out on such a cold, snowy day.

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Patches eventually got tired and cold (he tried to head back to the car at one point) so we settled on a tree that had some potential (minus the first few feet). We cut it down and hauled it back to the Rover. Then it was lunch around the fire before heading home.

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Our tree was pretty frozen by the time we got home so we let it stand until the next day before we started decorating. I think we’re getting better and better at picking trees because this one is quite full for a scrawny bush pine!

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Having our tree up meant that I could finally put out the decoration I got in the Canadian Blogger Christmas Swap . My partner was Kara at She Write Words and you can visit her blog to see what I sent. There were two things I noticed right away about my package from Kara  – the beautiful box she had chosen to send it in and her incredible taping skills! There was no way that box was accidentally opening during shipping!

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Inside was a mug (with a cosy little mug sweater), some tea (and tea bags), some chocolate and an adorable dog ornament. I love that the ornament is soft so that I don’t have to worry about it breaking when we have little hands grabbing at our Christmas tree (and cats and dogs who run into things).

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It’s nice to have the tree up. I also bought myself some stocking anchors so I was able to hang our family stockings for decoration too. It’s feeling quite festive in the house – now I just need to get my baking and shopping done!