Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Warrior Mountain & Aster Lake

It was just as well I didn't ski on Saturday & instead spent much of it sitting in the back of a car - Alex hatched a dastardly plan to get up at 5.30 Sunday & see if we could get up on to Warrior Mountain (which is on the BC/Alberta border south-west of Upper Kananaskis Lake).  We had left the parking lot on the south-east of the lake by 7.45 & spent seventy minutes skinning across the lake.  The day was very still & it didn't feel all that cold, maybe about -5ºC.  I was quite surprised to find that my light gloves weren't cutting it, my eyelashes were starting to freeze together & others' beards freezing up with moist breath - it was almost -20ºC.  The mist over the edges of the lake was interesting.  

From the lake we climbed up to the much smaller Hidden Lake, across that one & up through some evil trees (avoiding the easier drainage so as not to be in slide paths).  (Here's a map of the area, the marker is where we got to before turning around.)  The trees were dense & the terrain steep, it wasn't long before I was about at my limit of what I could make it up & still turn 135º for the many switchbacks. 

Joel & Lincoln doing a good job of not falling off this tree

Eventually, it all opened up a bit & flattened out, however by lunchtime I was pretty much exhausted.  Still the views were fantastic & go a little way to making up for the rest of the day.
Mt Marlborough

After lunch we continued around & up a little to Aster Lake, at the foot of Warrior Mountain - but it was too late to go any further.
Mt Lyautey - or at least a spur off it

Mt Sarrail

Looking back towards Upper Kananaskis Lake

Aster Lake, Warrior Mountain

Start of the drainage from Aster Lake

We turned around at two o'clock & had to skin down & around & up for about an hour before we got to the top of the thick woods.  After a delay for various telemark binding mechanical issues we started skiing down.  As I feared on the way up, there were too many big trees, I was too tired & it was too steep to be any fun at all.  After a few little falls, I was survival skiing - unable to string consecutive turns together & side-slipping a lot.  The trees thinned out a bit & then got really thick just above Hidden Lake.  I was getting slower & slower by the time we were heading back across the (Upper Kananaskis) lake (no skins this time, much less friction skating across).  Eventually we were back at the parking lot close to twelve hours after we first go there - I was spent.  It turns out I have triceps somewhere (who'd have thought?), all that pushing on poles across the lake back really had them quite sore.

Here are a few of Alex's photos, best to show some of these as the scenery was the only highlight of the day - two hours of skiing downhill (which I mostly hated) out of almost twelve is just miserable.  I can't wait to be back on the bike, where at least you get a break on the rolling terrain.

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Into the trees of misery, from Hidden Lake

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 Although the trees were the source of many problems, some times they could be advantageous around tight turns

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Trying to pretend I'm enjoying myself

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Now that I'm the slow one, there sure are a lot more photos of me - I do like this one

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I was impressed Alex didn't fall in the melt for this picture, although Warrior does look smaller

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On the way back down

Dinosaurs & Badlands

Over many homemade pizzas & another hilarious instalment of the name-game Friday night, the plan for five of us to drive a few hours east on Saturday to visit Drumheller & the Royal Tyrrell Museum was finalised.  I was a little sceptical of spending six hours of my weekend sitting in a car while I could be skiing, but with some rave reviews I decided it was worth it - plus this would be the furtherest east in Canada I was likely to go in the foreseeable future.  Past Calgary on Saturday morning & into the prairies, things got very flat - as one would expect.  It was just as white as I have gotten used to over the last five months (it's been a long winter).

First stop was Drumheller itself, which definitely playing up to all the dinosaur hype - which is fair enough, I couldn't really ascertain what else was going for it.  We got a few pictures on the feet of the "World's Largest Dinosaur", but it is so big that you can't really see us - so here's another one.
It's definitely more intimidating than a large kiwifruit (& the assortment of other large fruit around New Zealand).  There were brightly coloured, albeit smaller, dinosaurs all around town - we wandered around a little for the hell of it.

We spent a good couple of hours wandering the museum (+ lunch).  I've never been much into dinosaurs, but it was pretty interesting - the first exhibit detailing the biggest finds palaeontological finds around Alberta was the best presented.  There were numerous stories of how people had just stumbled upon what would be come great discoveries - the best was the two high school kids who were out fishing & found a T-Rex.  By the end there was definite overload of big words, different periods in prehistory & too many dinosaurs with horns - like this guy.

Leaving the museum (worth the trip, if that wasn't apparent) we went for a little exploration around part of the Canadian Badlands.  It was really quite strange being in a landscape so different to the Rockies - the softer sedimentary rock has been worn away to leave it looking like this.
With the decidedly overcast day & the snow cover it was eerie.   In amongst napping in the car (which was a whole lot quieter on the return trip) we arrived in Calgary to stop at Peter's Drive-In - a Calgary institution I've been hearing about for quite some time now.  The burger was good & the milkshake even better.  I had blackberry-butterscotch, probably one of the more conservative of combinations of thirty flavours.  Apparently, thirty flavours gives over 4500 possible combinations (a maximum of three flavours in one shake) - so geeks that we are (at least some of us) had to go back to high school maths & a basic iPhone calculator & work out if that was true.  4525 - but how many of those combinations you would actually like to try, I am unsure.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dreaming of bikes & biking

The final happening on the Main St of snow Monday last week was that it was open to mountain-bikers from four until six o'clock.  Not wanting to pass up what will probably be my only opportunity ever to MTB on a groomed & track-set main street, I dragged my bike out of the garage to go & meet Alex & Megan.  They weren't home when I got there, but it wasn't long before they arrived with Megan in possession of a brand new Giant Anthem & a rather large smile.  After quite a few days of (one of) the local bike shops promising to build it up & then failing to, it seemed that finally got around to keeping their word (which rather seems strange business conduct - are they so confident that no-one can be bothered driving to Calgary to drop thousands of dollars on a bike that they can continually disappoint & frustrate potential customers?).

We set off for the snow street, some of us avoiding the large slush puddles (not me) on the way.  Biking on the snow was OK in places, & just hard work in others.  Last year's shredded tyres were not really helping (especially for propulsion).  Alex must have been working pretty hard, because he got about one block down (out of two) before snapping his chain.  So a quick trip home & Megan was persuaded to christen her new bike (the snow was hardly likely to get the frame very dirty).  Meanwhile, I was enjoying being on the bike in the warmth & being completely in control half of the time.  Around juggling Finn, I had a little go on the new steed.  Being a 29er (that is, before you ask Mum, it has 29" wheels rather 26") it soaked up the bumps in the snow & with more rubber in contact was able to get noticeably more traction.  I think that was my first 29er experience & it was pretty neat - but being on a brand new bike is always nice, down to the lack of sloppiness in the SPD cleats.

Alex must have also been impressed as a chunk of the rest of the week was spent discussing the merits of various other 29ers & which one he should get.  It turns out he's put a deposit on one of these Specialized Cambers - yet another 29er.  All this new bike buying action & too much time on the internets, really had me considering which bike I should be buying soon.  I'd have to ride a 29er a bit more on a variety of singletrack before I could go for one - at this stage I can't get over the clown wheel factor; I also envisage them being more difficult for plane & car travel (biking & travelling being my two greatest loves), which is enough to put me off for now.  Still, it's not like there are no normal bikes out there & I found a few I quite liked.  But in the end, my bike is functioning (well will be soon, more of that later) & with more travelling coming up, $3000 could be much better used some other way.  I'll just have to console myself with some smaller toys so I don't feel left out.

With a bit of prodding from the snowmelt & Megan, I've started working on the winter clean & overhaul of my bike.  For some months now a box has been sitting in the garage with a new drivetrain, tyres & a myriad of other little parts in it waiting for the garage to warm up enough to be tolerable to work in.  So I've pulled pretty much everything off my bike & stripped the parts back as much as practical to give everything a really good clean & grease (well, those bits that need greasing).  That's taken a good few evenings - probably five to six hours in total.  In case anyone is wondering, these are the parts that make up my bike (& the tools required to disassemble & hopefully reassemble it).  Yes, there is one obvious missing part - I could say I left it out on purpose as a test, but really I put it on top of the fridge behind me & forgot about it.  Who can pick it?

I'm still trying to figure out where I picked up the knowledge to do this, not being mechanically inclined.  Still, as I'm often reminded I've always had a tendency to pull things apart.  I suppose the test is seeing if I have a bike I can ride when I've finished with it all.

The weekend was filled with skiing, yet again.  Saturday was a pretty chilled day at Sunshine with Kristy (who had just got a new touring set-up - skis, boots & bindings).  I was still working on my turns after last week's lesson & strangely spent all day looking for moguls.  I was impressed at how Kristy's skiing has come on since I last skied with her - perhaps she shouldn't have followed me off a jump & twinged her knee, but the small amounts of powder were quite enjoyable.  Following the knee incident, we had an early lunch & I skied by myself for a couple of hours before we left around two.  We had a great games night & much hilarity later on that evening - the boys just took out Pictionary (blast from the past) & the descriptive/one-word/charades game was a winner.

After weeks of talking about it, I finally had a day at Sunshine with my boss/colleague/friend, Viviane & her fiancee, Alex.  The periphery of a big storm coming up from Montana & moving across the prairies had given us some snow in town & on the road all the way up.  Unsurprisingly, there was a big wreck on the highway & about a twenty-five minute delay.  Once we got there, we had a fantastic day.  There was around 5 cm of fresh snow, it was warm, visibility was good & there were very few people around (for a weekend).  Viviane is a much better & more experienced skier than I am & it was great skiing with her & Alex.  I still find I'm bracing my right leg a bit too much coming out of turns (turning right & keeping my left leg bent is no problem), so there is still plenty to work on.  I think this post is plenty long enough so I'll just say (so I can go & finish my book) that the conditions were the best I've had since I dislocated my shoulder at the end of January & combined with that & my improved skiing, it was the best day I've had on the snow.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lesson & Main St skiing

It was unusually busy in the Sunshine parking lot at the early time of 8.15 yesterday morning, considering there wasn't that much fresh snow & it wasn't a long weekend.  It turned out that there were a few races on around the hill.  As I had no ski buddy for the day & after Alex encouraged me to last week (he must have noticed that I really don't ski that well - it was hardly a secret), I spent the day in a lesson.  I managed my trick again of paying for a group lesson & getting a private lesson as there was no-one else in my class - score.  I also lucked out & got the longest serving Sunshine instructor, Daniel - who was very good (not to mention overly enthusiastic & talkative, as one expects with such jobs).

As it was just me, we had a pretty chilled day at my pace & lots of time to talk about my technique.  My goal for the day (made up on the spot - I hate being asked such things) was to be able to ski where I want to go when it gets bumpy or mogul-ly (funnily enough, that's not a word), instead of having the terrain dictate my turns, & therefore, my path.  Considering I've only being skiing for a year, I apparently have good steering & other parts to my technique - this came as a bit of a surprise, so I took that with a pinch of salt & put it down to instructor's encouragement.  What I really needed to work on, or so I was told, was completing/coming out of turns - so we spent a lot of time getting me to flex my legs (particularly the outside/bottom one).  This involved a lot of touching the cuff of my boots as I completed turns.  By the end of the day, I was getting around & diving into the moguls much more confidently.  The lesson was also good in that I got dragged down a lot of black runs I've never been down before & I made it down the only double-black I've done at Sunshine in much better shape.  All in all a great & very worthwhile day - sorry to bore you with the details, but it's mostly so that I don't completely forget it.  Apparently, I passed the test-slope for entry in to Delerium Dive, but I find that rather worrying on a few different levels.

We lost an hour's sleep last night with the start of Daylight Savings (now nineteen hours behind NZ).  Spring seems to have decided to turn up in the last few days - hard to believe when it was -37ºC less than a fortnight ago.  The forecast this week is for mostly sun & daytime highs all above freezing & the lowest overnight low only -9ºC - crazy talk.  So, there are many big puddles around town & much slush. 
But it's still beautiful in town
With a bit of luck, there will be some uncovered (we live in hope) singletrack soon - I just have to get around to changing the tyres & the drivetrain on my bike.

No one really had the motivation to do anything too energetic today, so after a sleep in & a lazy morning, a few of us spent the afternoon mozying around town.  The Big Head (the meaning of 'Canmore') is all dressed up for this year's Ski Nationals.
Canmore has been having a bit of a celebration of that fact - on Wednesday night sitting in the pub eating copious amounts of wings we saw truckloads of snow being trucked in & then dumped on Main St.  For four or five days two blocks have been closed off with XC skiers on the groomed snow replacing the cars & pickups.  It's a little odd to walk down the street & see a groomer & tracksetter working away.

While we were walking, & later sitting enjoying chocolate chai & bagels, around town this afternoon in the balmy weather the final leg of a small X-Terra triathlon was run/skied on Main St.  We had a spot near the start of the XC skiing (the other legs were swimming [don't worry, in a pool - not the river] & running) & the finish line.  The competitors had to do five laps of the snow to make up their three kilometres. 

After that had died down, the snow was open again for public skiing.  Although the skiing wasn't great it was quite novel to be skiing down Main St so we got sufficiently motivated (only just) to get our skis & join in for a couple of laps.  It was the first, & probably last, time that I've ever skied in jeans - but with so many people around it hardly matter.  At least I didn't fall & get soaked; actually, the highlight of the skiing was seeing so many people fall over in quite ridiculous ways.
Megan & Finn enjoying the warmth - outside our favourite toyshop.

Friday, March 11, 2011

More pictures of last Sunday's touring

Here are some of Alex's photos from the little trip he & I took from Wawa to Simpson's Pass to Healy Pass & back to Sunshine base last weekend.  Mainly it's an opportunity for me to post a few photos of myself - some of them a little embarrassing.

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Taking a rest in the warm snow after trying to keep my speed up for the approaching flat & losing it over that little convexity.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Simpson & Healy Passes

That pesky little cold I picked up in London hung around for a few more days than I hoped for, but after surviving the week at work I was ready for a little skiing over the weekend.  Anya & I spent all day at Sunshine on Saturday.  It was a lot warmer than last time I went up & the day seemed to sit around -5ºC.  There was a few centimetres of the fresh stuff & the sun & continuing snowfall made it a very pleasant day.  We hit all the lifts over the day & with the exception of a couple of runs off Divide, there were few people queuing.  Funniest thing of the day was Anya getting a little confused & heading off to Teepee Town chair, ducking through some trees, hitting a roller & then straight on to a little jump & ending up stuck in a small tree well.  Forewarned is forearmed & all that & I managed to land it & have a little laugh as Anya eventually extricated herself from her little hole in the ground ("We were evicted from our hole in ground, we had to go & live in a lake.").  After a big lunch, we skied all afternoon, had a drink or two at the bottom before a spot of shopping in Banff & a long soak in the Banff Hot Springs again.

Alex's plans for a "quite interesting" (I interpreted this as "well beyond my capabilities") ski tour on Sunday were scuppered by a call-in to work for his ski buddy, so I joined him on Sunday for an easier tour.  We took the Sunshine gondola up & skied off the back of Wawa looking for a derelict cabin near a lake up the other side of the valley west of where we left the Sunshine boundary.  Once again, it was another glorious day - still, warm & mostly sunny.  We skinned relatively easily for a while before we found a spot the Alex thought looked likely to reach the valley floor.   By this time we were in British Columbia, albeit briefly.

We skied a little way down before the slope got a lot steeper & we stopped so Alex could dig a pit to gauge the likelihood of us triggering an avalanche.  The avalanche forecast was for low or moderate risk (height dependent) & Alex's field testing suggested that it wasn't likely we would bring the face down on top of ourselves.  I had a go at my first snow-pack test (for want of a better word) - basically you isolate a 30x30cmxwhatever-height pillar of undisturbed snow & then tap/hit the top of it (shovel covered) with increasing force until it shears off.

The steepness & all the trees tested my ability, as usual - I managed reasonably well apart from one chute that was too skinny for me to be able to turn & slow down.  It was a quite spectacular dive right in front of Alex - pity I can't find a link to Alex's photo of me pulling myself out of the hole I'd created.
Down on the valley floor, we skinned up to Simpson's Pass & then took off up to the left to find the hut.  It was quite a steep climb up to the lake, during which I was starting to feel quite worn out from that dastardly cold.  Eventually up at the lake we spent quite a long time traipsing around where the cabin should have been (at least according to old maps that Alex had found).  After squeezing between too many trees, getting showered in snow & just generally going around in circles I was definitely ready for lunch on the lake edge.  Disturbingly, for me, I didn't have much of an appetite & after a bit more hut hunting (we never found it) we headed up to Healy Pass with me feeling more & more tired.  Thankfully, the pass wasn't as high as I feared & we made it up there just after three o'clock - just as well it's not getting dark until after six o'clock now.  Naturally, the views from the top were up to the usual high standard of around here.

It was a gentle ski down off the pass & that went pretty well for me until I tried to keep some speed up to get me further across a flat section, hit a rolling drop & then fell over about ten metres later.  We skied down the drainage back to the parking lot.  This bit was through trees & followed the skin track/hiking trail (season dependent).  When it was downhill, it was tight & twisty (a lot of snow ploughing for me) but manageable.  Unfortunately, there were a lot of flat & uphill sections - by now I was worn out & I hated these sections.  I really can't wait to be back on my bike where it's a lot easier to keep momentum & propel oneself along flat & uphill sections.  Back at the car about seven hours after we started skiing.  At least this week's game of Cities & Knights was resource rich.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

London Interlude

My crazy dash to London & back started with an almost full day at work.  It was hardly my most productive day ever, still very much distracted at all that was unfolding in Christchurch.  It was great to exchange a few texts with Adele before a nice long phone call as she finished off her night shift at the hospital.  Shortly after lunch I was out of my cement-dust covered garb & in to something more comfortable before hitting the road to Calgary & a red-eye to Britain.  Air Canada was the same as always - surly staff, decidedly average food & altogether adequateness; mind you, my opinion is somewhat tainted by my having to take this trip in the first place.  At least the entertainment was good - I managed to draw myself away from it for a few hours of dozing.  Great to have Shelley & the girls pick me up as I wandered out in to the relative warmth of the T3 forecourt - after all the Christchurch drama I was pleased to see Kiwi friends & exchange plenty of hugs.

Conveniently, post-lunch is nap time in the Patrick household (well, for Amelie anyway) - I was certainly keen for one of those.  As this was apparently the best day of the year so far (a balmy 10-15ºC), we spent the latter part of the afternoon at a park feeding ducks, playing on the playground & trying not to bump in to the half-term crowds.  Andy eventually made it home from work, sounding a little croaky & the catching up continued over a Thai meal.

I was making the familiar Metropolitan/Bakerloo/South Eastern tube & rail trip to Sidcup on Friday morning to catch up with family.  I'm not sure how Trish timed it so well, but just as I started walking down Longlands Rd there she was in her car ready to pick me up.  Much more catching up & sharing travel stories as I jettisoned things I don't need for my last few months in North America, Steve turned up & we marvelled at the changes to the back bedroom before strolling around the corner to meet Ray & Jill for a big Indian lunch.  I'd had a hankering for a proper curry for a few weeks now & I wasn't disappointed. 

Getting off the train again at Charing Cross I was early enough for meeting Levi (a friend I went through the last ten years of school with, who has moved to London since I left) at Euston Station, so I decided to follow my nose through central London.  I had forgotten just how much busier the Strand, the West End & Soho are on a Friday night than sleepy Canmore - I managed to not get lost & even find Levi at Euston (my UK sim card seems to have expired - it made meeting people a little more difficult).  I read my book while Levi finished a little work & then my Kiwi cousin Chris met us for a pint & much more catching up.  Getting a bit peckish I was happy to continue the diversity of ethnic foods - not that Chipotle is fine dining, but it was tasty & filling.  Plus it should make Megan suitably jealous - which was the main objective.

Surprisingly, Levi lives about a hundred metres around the corner from Chipotle just off Charing Cross Rd near the Tottenham Court Road tube stop - what an absolutely great location, there is so much going on & to see around here.  Of course, the rent is horrendous but it was found in a pinch & is within walking distance to work.  Twas a pretty quiet night out, but most enjoyable (some of my Steel Mill stories were even appreciated!  But that may have been my sleep-deprived state imagining it) as more travel & London stories rolled out.  Must note that it was another mild day where I didn't need a big coat to walk around in & stay comfortable.

Rain, which I'm not too familiar with any more, was moving through the city in bands on Saturday when we (the Patricks & I) headed out for a potter along South Bank (after plenty of waffles for breakfast).  We started off at the Borough Market - somewhere I'd often walked through mid-week to get from A to B.  It was great to see it on a Saturday morning with all the stalls open & packed with people.  There was some pretty tasty food around & plenty of samples - Vittoria's cuteness factor ensured she got a whole lot.  Check out these dishes of curries, they were particularly tasty.

There was a lot of cheese around too, in some cases Andy was lucky he had a blocked nose

Still dodging the showers & carrying the buggy up & down stairs we eventually got to the Thames & decided on Greek for lunch - very tasty.  The umbrellas didn't get used a whole lot as we wandered all the way down to the Millennium Wheel & across to Westminster.  I enjoyed being back in the city & trying to pick various more-obscure landmarks on the skyscape.  
 Vittoria was pretty energetic after lunch - a brief moment of standing still

By then thoughts were turning to getting the girls home - as it turned out that was a good idea as I had another big nap before a scrumptious satay dinner.  I got a big thrashing it what was a very frustrating game of Cities & Knights for everyone.  There was next to no wheat around with which to build cities & it was almost two hours before Shelley took out the game (very narrowly beating Andy).  Our frustration was mollified slightly by a fantastic pavlova with plenty of strawberries & kiwifruit - of which we demolished, saving a wafer thin piece for Vittoria.

I somehow managed to sleep in until eight on my third & final morning, still aware that I'd picked up a scratchy throat & was therefore fighting off a cold - probably picked up from a combination of sleep deprivation, a wet day outside & Andy's lingering illnesss.  But that wasn't going to put me off my breakfast - Shelley had whipped up the best French toast (bringing me up to food from eight different countries in less than four days) I'd ever had.  From what I could work out it was a baguette cut up & soaked with egg mixture baked in a pan with liberal amounts of brown sugar on the bottom & maple syrup (my token Canadian gift) with plenty of bacon on the side.
 My favourite Kiwi family in London - you can just see the sun on the first spring bulbs in the yard.

Brilliant sunshine continued as Andy & the girls dropped me back at T3 - as we sat on the apron, the rain came on down, good timing on my part.  Managed to stay awake for the whole flight back & drive home safely - about 15000 km, 14 hours of time zone changes, 17 hours of flying in four days over; I slept well last night.  It's cold again, but it did absolutely puke snow down today, so I hope that there is still some fresh snow for the weekend.  My tiny little cold is going away too - so that's nice.