Winter Hiking in the Rocky Mountains. Canada

UPDATED: October 2020

Having spent most of my adult life travelling and working in The Canary Islands, The Middle East, The Caribbean, and lots of other warm places, it seemed high time to experience ‘real’ cold weather! Being from the UK does not count as it rarely goes below freezing, with a nearly constant drizzling rain in the winter.

This post focuses on the Bryant Creek hut hike we did soon after I arrived to Canada for the first time. To read about the other stuff we got up to during my time there, click through to the next post!

The first mission that Candace had set out for us was a hike up to Bryant Creek Shelter, a small hut in the middle of the mountains with a nine kilometre hiking trail to reach it – a perfect opportunity for me to learn how to use snow shoes! However, I felt like Bambi on ice while learning to use them; I have always pictured snowshoes to be like in the cartoons, effectively glorified tennis rackets strapped to your feet. What I had not realised is that modern ones are very fancy with hinges etc. to allow the user to walk normally. Instead of walking normally however, I picked up my feet with each step like a drunk elephant walking on wet concrete. This in turn created a loud slapping noise every time I stepped forward as the hinges allowed the frame of the snowshoe to drop. Candace meanwhile was gliding along like a snowy ninja – quiet and stealthy, not to mention with a bemused look on her face too watching me fail!

I was eventually able to get the hang of the snowshoes, and I too was able to act like a true mountain man, enjoying the scenery as we walked. Living on a flat Caribbean island has its perks, but I had certainly been craving a little elevation, so I was revelling in the stark mountain landscape around me. In the days before my arrival, the weather had been positively balmy with temperatures sitting around -4c. (25 F) This meant that a lot of the snow on the trees had melted, and the snow beneath our feet was hard and compacted, we even took our snowshoes off for a few kilometres, walking in just our boots.

During a kilometre-long section of the route known for its high avalanche risk, Candace and I walked with a long distance between us so that should an avalanche occur, it would be much less likely to take out both of us, allowing the other person to be a rescuer! We both prudently carried fancy electronic beacons and rather less fancy shovels should the worst of happened, fortunately they were not needed!

Candace did notice some fresh cougar tracks at one point, so needless to say, we hustled through this area of the trail quickly! With Candace being older than me, I did contemplate making some ‘cougar’ jokes, but decided against it at this early stage of our growing relationship!

After several hours of hiking, we arrived at the hut and started the process of getting the wood-burning stove going; this would be our only source of warmth for the night (aside from down-filled sleeping bags and rum!) so it was a top priority. The previous occupants had kindly left us some graded firewood to get us started, but it would not have lasted long, so I once again switched roles from barefooted Caribbean dive boat captain, to rugged outdoorsman (in my mind at least) as I began swinging a large axe to chop more wood and create a supply for the night. There was something distinctly life affirming having to chop wood to make a fire in order to cook our food, melt snow for drinking water, and to warm the inside of the little wooden hut so that we could sleep safely and comfortably. I think the modern world, while full of wonder and shiny things, has shut us off from nature and basic outdoors survival – I certainly felt very grounded being so far from civilisation out there in the wilderness working hard to make sure our basic needs were met.

As we prepared the sleeping bags, we noticed snow had begun to fall, and by the next morning the rugged landscape out of the window looked very different. I eased my sore, creaking body off of the bare wooden shelf that acted as a bed, and glanced out of the window at the snow which now covered everything outside, it had clearly dumped a significant amount overnight.

Coming from the UK, where ‘snow’ is synonymous with dirty grey/brown coloured slush, and the whole country coming to a grinding halt, I was stoked to see the first ‘real’ snow of my life! Candace thought it was adorable how mesmerised I was when I stepped out of the hut into the early dawn light and saw the winter wonderland around us. Our tracks from the previous day, and indeed the entire trail, had been swallowed up by the night’s snowfall. Every branch of the previously green trees was now adorned in heavy powder, and every few minutes we could hear the cracking as branches gave way under the weight of it all.

After melting more snow to make coffee and fill our water bottles, I chopped some more firewood as a courtesy to the next visitors, and we ate a breakfast of bread and hummus. We then packed our bags and stepped out of the warm hut to begin the return trip.

In contrast the previous day’s easy hike, the new snowfall definitely created a whole new sense of adventure! Even trying to discern were the trail lead was a real challenge as the fresh snow had filled it in, and so we picked our way carefully through the trees, tripping and stumbling occasionally as we dropped through the fine powder. I had to periodically remove my hat and backpack to shake off the snow that was accumulating on them from the near-constant breaking of heavily-laden tree branches in the canopy above our heads.

Once back at the car, we headed to the town of Canmore to treat ourselves after a long couple of days. One of my favourite restaurants (and breweries!) in the world is located here – Grizzly Paw! No nonsense food at a good price and fantastic local beer. (Evolution IPA was my favourite!) I loved the town of Canmore as a whole – an awesome place to spend time in the mountains.

The only town that has subsequently beaten Canmore in my personal ratings is Revelstoke, but that’s a story for another time. Either way, go to Canmore! You won’t regret it.

For more about my Canadian shenanigans, click the link for more fun stuff!

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5 thoughts on “Winter Hiking in the Rocky Mountains. Canada

  1. Winter Hiking in the Rocky Mountains: Great read James. Say hi 👋 to my cousin Candace for me. Looking for to your next blog.
    Roxanne Berard

    Like

  2. Love reading about my favourite ‘bambi’ ‘drunk elephant’ and ‘carefooted Caribbean boat captain’ son’s adventures!

    Like

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