My Favourite Things From 2015

I resisted writing this post today for various reasons. Busyness. Fatigue. Repetition. Mainly, I wondered if these more personal reflections are better kept in a journal.

But, as usual, my keyboard called me back.

I have been doing a year-end review online for nearly ten years, in one form or another. And every time it forces me to sit down and count my blessings, to recount the moments that made me smile. I have also enjoyed reading the annual reflections that other people are posting and think it’s silly to keep these thoughts to yourself. Putting them out there helps to spread positivity in this world, and I think there can never be too much of that. 

I recently heard that it’s in being grateful that we find joy and not the other way around. So, call this year-end round-up my way of expressing gratitude for yet another year of memorable, sometimes miraculous, things. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but sometimes the ‘top-of-mind’ items stand out for a reason. In no particular order…

My Husband.

If you’re wondering who inspires me, it’s my husband, a guy who chases his dreams with relentless passion. Seriously. I don’t know anyone else who, among many other things, stays up all hours of the night waiting to shoot dramatic and innovative photos of the Northern Lights, plans photography workshops in his dream destinations like Greenland, keeps up with a massive social media community, and manages to find an amazing amount of time for his wife and daughter.

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Paul under The Milky Way over the mountains in Mount Assinboine Provincial Park, British Columbia.

My Dream Job.

A “dream” job does not imply that everything is easy. While it’s quite the opposite, I am grateful for the opportunity to use my skills in a meaningful way and sink my teeth into an exciting project. Many of you have already seen a bit of what Crowfoot Media is up to, but I can’t wait to release the first volume of the Canadian Rockies Annual, our beautiful print magazine (if you’d like to have it, order a copy!).

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This is a mock up. Yeah, we make you wait for the real thing. ;)

My Daughter.

This little rock star is growing up to be a beautiful human, inside and out, with the most vibrant and vivacious personality in 100-square-kilometre radius. She calls me to be my best self each and every day and opens my eyes to new ideas and possibilities I often overlook. I love her spirit and can’t wait to create some new memories with her in 2016.

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This Quilt.

My mother sewed this quilt for my daughter for Christmas this year. It makes me grateful for the family ties and the love that flows through the generations. I don’t take this lightly as I have a number of people in my life who don’t share in this privilege. So here’s my shout out to anyone who has (or is married to someone with) Ward or Moore blood running in their veins, including my parents, sisters, brothers-in-law and nephews.

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Our Trip to Belize.

It was an ‘easy’ trip by our standards, in that we didn’t rough it or explore as much as we usually do. But it was exactly what we needed. We learned the hard way that on previous trips we had pushed our little girl a bit too far past the limits of her temperament. (On that note, you can read about that in The Difference a Year Makes).

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Biking to The Split on Caye Caulker, Belize. iPhone snap by Paul Ziza.

My Business Partner. 

The very term feels a bit too stifled since I’m lucky my Crowfoot Media business partner and I work insanely well together and we get along! Dee Larosa (Medcalf) is one of the most talented designers I know (check out Phaneric.com), and I am eternally grateful for her attention to detail and self-motivation. Knowing we can lock ourselves up for hours on end for a work retreat or take off in the backcountry for four days and come out still talking is totally awesome!

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Me and Dee (left) and our volunteers at the Spindrift Sessions back in June. Photo by Kurtis Kristianson/Spindrift Photography.

Mountains!

It has been a long journey back to this point, and one I’ve written about in depth over on AdventurousParents.com. This past year, I went on three backcountry trips (to Lake O’Hara/Abbott Pass Hut, Skoki and Egypt Lakes) and climbed Mt. St. Nicholas, Mt. Cory, Mt. St. Piran, Fairview, Mt. Lawrence Grassi, Lesser Pharoah Peak, Cirque Peak, Wastach Peak (am I forgetting a bunch?). The best thing was I fell right back into my stride as if I’d never taken a break.

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Coming down from St. Nicholas Peak. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

 

And to complete the list…

I am grateful for my house, my friends (who shall go unnamed so that I don’t forget anybody!), my writing nook, the gym with the awesome views, cappuccinos, chocolate, hiking, biking with my little girl, yoga, skiing, Paw Patrol, gluten free baking,  Wild Women Magazine, Aventura Clothing, our Crowfoot Media contributors, the last light on Cascade Mountain, and everything else, even the ugly stuff that made me stronger.

Have a Happy New Year everyone!

Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

Looking over Cory Pass at Mt. Louis. Photo: Adam Zier-Vogel Photography.

Last week I went on a 14-kilometre hike with some friends around Mt. Edith via Cory Pass – in my opinion, one of the best day hikes in Banff National Park. Halfway, we hit Cory Pass and got an incredible view of Mt. Louis. I climbed the Kain route on Mt. Louis in 2011, in what feels like “my past life”. The trad climb took our party 24-hours of solid moving from base to summit to car. To that date, I had never pushed myself so hard. Only my ascent of Mt. Assiniboine comes close to the pride I felt in having reached the iron cross that stands at the top of Louis.

The next summer I was back at the pass with my sister and two months pregnant with Maya. My sister chose our lunch break at the pass to tell me she was expecting, too, and our babies arrived three weeks apart in Spring 2013.

Looking up at Mt. Louis on Friday I wondered if I would ever do a climb like that again. Or is my life drifting in another direction? There are some places on this planet that give us a chance to pause and reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. Returning to the same location provides us with a baseline that we can use to gauge the changes we’ve been through and how we’ve evolved as people.

Which places on the planet act as your baseline?

 

Historic Plaque for Alpine Club of Canada’s Abbot Pass Hut

As a proud member of the Alpine Club of Canada, and also a member of their national Mountain Culture Committee, I volunteered to write this historic plaque to be placed at the Abbot Pass Hut. This stone hut, built in 1922 at a col high above Lake Louise, offers a cozy stay for mountaineers en route to Mts. Victoria and Lefroy. Finally, mountaineers (and adventurous hikers) will be given an opportunity to read up on the history of the shelter, and gain a greater appreciation for how it has served climbers in the past.

Mount Rainier (14,411′)

I suppose turning back 300m from the summit due to 70 km/hr winds and -25 degree temperatures is an honourable way to retreat, but it was pretty heartbreaking. Mount Rainier showed its uglier side to us despite the incredibly beautiful highway of ice we were walking on. Still, the 14,411′ peak has its share of dangers and challenges and isn’t a place to fool around. Not when your lips are purple, your water tube is frozen shut and the only food you can bear to eat are Dora the Explorer fruit chews.

Two members of the group managed to fight the winds and cold temperatures to the summit, finding shelter in the crater at the top among vents that gave them the same feeling as those fancy seat warmers my parents have in their cars. The rest of us retreated back to Camp Schurman, where the winds were almost just as strong but warm sleeping bags and comfy thermarests awaited us.

The ridge overlooking Little Tahoma and the sea of ice below.

The adventure started at 8:30 in the morning on September 3rd when we departed for the hike and glacier walk  up to Camp Schurman. This was terrain we were used to, having come from the Canadian Rockies, but more deciduous trees lining the trail made things a bit different. Eventually we crested the moraine to access the Interglacier, which gave us a highway all the way to another ridge overlooking the sea of ice that cascades down Mount Rainier and its neighbour, Little Tahoma.

Camp Schurman

The Emmons glacier led us to Camp Schurman, where we arrived around 4:30 pm and quickly downed a Backpacker’s Pantry. An early night gave us a few zzzs before our midnight alarm went off, beckoning us to get geared up and on the glacier. We woke up to gusty winds, which didn’t subside until we reached the valley below 20 hours later.

We hiked up the glacier through the night, crossing over small crevasses and past large chunks of ice that looked like small houses by the light of our headlamps. And the winds only got stronger and colder as we ascended. I waited for the sunrise for what felt like an eternity. When it did finally come up, I seemed to enjoy basking in the warmth more than the incredible colours rising above the clouds below us. At some point, I turned back to see the views, but in my state of exhaustion hardly registered the incredible sight. With my camera put away until our descent a few hours later, I tried to take a mental picture before it was too late. I was in the front of the pack and the string of five other people dotting the rope downslope looked otherworldly.

Little Tahoma rising from the clouds.

Eventually we were climbing in full daylight, high above the clouds that had gathered over Washington State. Six hours into the climb, the winds were gusting so hard I was literally getting blown off my feet. Thank goodness for crampons. Fingers frozen, I changed my ice axe from one hand to the other, bringing my fingers into the warmth of a fist for a few minutes before switching again. The winds blocked out all sound, which lead to a strange sense of isolation. At times I had to look behind me to see if Greg was still following ten metres behind me on the rope.

All of a sudden, I felt a tug around my waist. I braced for an arrest, thinking perhaps Greg or Paul had fallen. But when I turned around to look, they were simply signalling to me to pull over and seek shelter from the wind next to the wall of a serac just off the route. The whole team pulled over and as soon as we did, I started shaking and so did Rachel. She clumsily pulled out her Nalgene bottle and with a shaky hand unscrewed the lid only to find the surface of the water totally frozen over. It was nothing for the ice axe, though.

And this is where we turned around. Four of us walked down the three hours back to Camp Schurman while two ventured for the top. They arrived at the bivy a few hours after us and after a brief snooze amidst howling winds we all packed up and left, eager to escape the gusts. By late evening we were back at the parking lot, exhausted, elated and absolutely starving. A late night pizza never tasted so good.

Six people, all our gear and one Suburban = giant puzzle.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2010.

Mount Assiniboine – South West Face

If you are using this information for your own trip, please read this disclaimer and description of my abilities. Additionally, for this particular entry, I don’t have many photos of the route itself and therefore cannot describe our route with a lot of accuracy.

from wikipedia.com

Somehow I went from writing about Sundance Canyon to writing about Mount Assiniboine (11,870 ft), the highest peak in Banff National Park (though at 11,850 ft, Mount Forbes, is the highest peak entirely in the park). Mount Assiniboine sits on the Great Divide (the Alberta/British Columbia border)  and can be accessed a number of ways. Fortunately for our party, we accessed the mountain via an 7-8 km trail located along Assiniboine Creek, which you can access by logging roads that march their way through Assiniboine Provincial Park (see GemTrek map “Banff & Mount Assiniboine”). Unfortunately, this meant that we never viewed Mount Assiniboine from its more iconic side that gave it the name, Matterhorn of the Canadian Rockies. Instead, we bivied at a small plateau located on its ‘uglier’ backside, also known as its South West Face. Otherwise, you can access the mountain via Bryant Creek (Spray Valley Provincial Park) or Sunshine Meadows (Banff National Park).

Headed up into the mist on Day 2.

Shortly after reaching our bivy site on July 22, the skies unleashed some hail and rain that never really relented until about 8 a.m. the following day. Our forecast seemed to be about 24 hours late – we were expecting a bluebird day on July 23, but woke up at 1am to the pitter-patter of rain hitting the tent and no sign of a break in the clouds. Our crew eventually woke up and started up the mountain for a day of reconnaissance and perhaps an ascent of the nearby Lunette Peak (also known as ‘Lost Peak’ thanks to James Outram’s accidental ascent).

Now, if I’ve ever heard anything about Assiniboine it is “go when it’s dry.” Trudging up the mountain in low clouds and snow made us second guess at times whether our sojourn into this part of the Rockies was worth our precious summer days. Surely the weather was better somewhere else…

Overall, the South West face was very snowy, which at times helped our ascent and at other times made us think about what it would be like to be scrambling on the loose rock underneath like those who had climbed the mountain before us (and whose beta and notes we were using). For the most part, we used the snow as a ramp and kick-stepped our way up so long as it wasn’t too soft. Thankfully, the more exposed scrambling wasn’t too snowy or icy and where we encountered some menacing verglas, we put faith in the old crampons. We stopped to rest at a particularly odd rock formation which we called The Bus Stop – a title that will forever stick amongst this group of friends and mountaineers.

The Bus Stop

So, on our reconnaissance day we managed to kick steps about half way up the peak and do some important route finding. When the ceiling showed no sign of lifting and the snow got steeper, however, we decided to turn back for the comforts of camp, aborting our attempt on Lunette Peak as well. Thankfully, the sun eventually came out and we were able to dry out our gear…and tent…and enjoy the bivy site.

Day 3, July 24, we woke up at 1 a.m. to a star-filled sky and high hopes. By 2 a.m. we had started up the peak under the most memorable sparkle of stars and retraced our steps very quickly to where we had left off. Within two hours we had reached our turn-around point and the sky started to get lighter. We travelled through mixed terrain, kick-stepping our way up a series of snow slopes and scrambling up rocky outcroppings and chimneys to arrive at ‘The Eyebrow,’ a horizontal outcropping of rock (or orange tinted block, as it is described in the books) that can be circumvented via its right-hand most side.

Night sky over Mounts Aye and Eon.

Eventually we met some steeper, more exposed areas, some angling about 50 degrees, and decided to belay our way across and up, sometimes pulling some surprise mix climbing moves as snow, ice and rock reunited under our feet. All you could do was go up and think about the scare factor later (which I did in the car on the way home….) Upon reaching the top of the ridge to the summit, we were quite the joyful bunch. The hardest climbing was behind us and now we just had to kick-step our way to the very top on crusty snow that had been hardened by wind and sun.

Upon reaching the summit, we learned that another group had been there only 10 minutes before us (otherwise we would have been the first party to reach the summit this season). And only a few minutes after we arrived, a guide and his client arrived to join us on the summit. Seems everyone decided to make their push for the summit on this bluebird day. While the views were spectacular, I must admit I didn’t take them in as much as I had hoped. A strong wind battered us on the summit and, fully aware that it was 9am and that was ‘late’ by alpine standards, we began our descent for fear of softening snow and avalanche conditions.

The snowy summit ridge.

Sure enough, our descent involved some rappels on less-than-ideal anchors and panicked downclimbing on softening snow underneath imposing gullies that loomed with heaps of snow just waiting to come down on this sunny day. Still, the descent went off without issue despite the potential danger. Dave kissed the rock at The Bus Stop upon arriving back there, thankful that nothing had gone wrong.  It is amazing how quickly conditions can turn from perfect, to reasonable, to deteriorating. More downclimbing and slushing our way through snow eventually brought us to familiar grassy ledges just above our bivy site. Upon arriving, we lay on the grass and stared up at the mighty peak. Backpackers Pantry has never tasted so good.

We concluded the trip by hiking back out to the car that very same day – fairly elated, and surprised, that we had just climbed Mount Assiniboine, a large peak that has been on the list for a number of years. For me, it wasn’t an item on a ‘To Climb’ list – it was an item on my Life List, and personally an amazing experience and accomplishment. Despite the warnings of climbing in snow, we proved that it can be done. You just have to go check it out for yourself.

I’ll try to post a topo soon.

Marvel Lake from the summit.

Downclimbing some of the trickier rock. Photo by http://www.zizka.ca.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2010.

New Article on Travel Alberta Website

Photo by Paul Zizka.

Photo by Paul Zizka.

The latest article is up and running on the Travel Alberta Website! The article will also be featured in Fresh Tracks, a publication of Travel Alberta, in their August 2009 edition. Find out more about the history of mountain guiding in the Canadian Rockies, the Conrad Kain Centennial and where you can hire a guide today by reading the article here.

Excerpt: Climbing equipment is more sophisticated and modern guidebooks describe routes in enough detail to assist with route-finding on an ascent. As a result, more peaks are accessible to experienced amateur climbers. However, books and equipment don’t always help with decision-making – and they can’t kick steps up a snow slope for an aspiring climber. Almost any climbing party will benefit from the knowledge and skill of a certified mountain guide.

Costa Rica Fast Approaching

On summit of Grizzly Peak, Kananaskis.

On summit of Grizzly Peak, Kananaskis.

My trip to Costa Rica is fast approaching and at some point I will have to surrender to the ongoing to-do list and just leave it behind! I have been busy finishing articles and researching before I leave, as well as finishing up my commitments to other aspects of my life, such as the three act original musical, History Skip, which is being performed at the Margaret Greenham Theatre here in Banff June 1 and 2.

Costa Rica will provide me with a great opportunity to put a couple of things on hold, simply because there is nothing I can do on them while I am away. So often I take on too  much and have a hard time focussing on the tasks at hand, and I am excited to have the freedom of time and thought to come up with some new material and do wee bit of a cleanse after a busy Spring.

Lately I have also been conducting interviews for a report commissioned by the Alpine Club of Canada called The State of the Mountains Report, looking at climate change and human impacts at high elevations. There is a team of people across the nation who are assisting with this project and it has been fascinating to speak to some of our country’s most experienced guides and mountaineers. So far interviews with Chic Scott, Glen Boles and Roger Laurilla have been eye opening and quite wonderful for an aspiring writer and mountaineer.

In other news, I have a book review coming out in Highline Magazine, due for release June 8. The review is on Bob Sanford’s book, The Weekender Effect, published by Rocky Mountain Books.

That’s all for now folks! The next update will likely be during or after Costa Rica!