Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Aspen Beach Provincial Park

Trip Date: June 2016

Our first camping trip of 2016 took place at Brewers Campground in Aspen Beach Provincial Park in central Alberta. Aspen Beach is located approximately 185km north of Calgary between the communities of Bentley and Gull Lake. The park sits on the southwest corner of Gull Lake, a large body of water covering some eighty square kilometers and is home to Northern Pike, Walleye, and Lake Whitefish.

Brewer's Campground in Aspen Beach Provincial Park
Aspen Beach Provincial Park was established in 1932, making it one of the earliest in the Alberta Parks system. The park is home to two campgrounds (Lakeview being the second), which contain 572 total campsites. The park also features amenities such as sandy beaches, day-use areas, boat launches, flush toilets, showers, playgrounds, horseshoe pits, a concession stand, and a group camping area. 

Our site was really close to the lake, which made easy access for SUPing
Obviously the lake is a big draw for many guests. Its warm water is a nice change over glacier-fed mountain lakes, making water-based recreation a popular choice. Opportunities for power boating, sailing, swimming, fishing, windsurfing, canoeing, and of course stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) are plentiful. Even though it was rainy and wet for a good portion of the weekend we took advantage of some afternoon sunshine to get out on our paddleboards and enjoy the lakeshore scenery.

GoPro paddlecam is back in action!
Ashley and Christine taking advantage of a break in the rainy weather
A huge beaver lodge in the marshy area of the lake. We didn't see any of the residents though!
Aspen Beach would be a popular place for birdwatchers as well. We saw a large variety of species over the course of the weekend. Waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds, and the lake's namesake gulls were all plentiful. The interpretive boardwalk trail was a fantastic place to spot many of the resident birds and other wildlife.

Interpretive boardwalk trail
The boardwalk runs through this marsh with nice views of the lake beyond
One of the interpretive signs reads...
Did you come to the park because of the lake? So do a large number of ducks and other waterfowl. Gull Lake provides them with a place to rest as well as food and shelter. Most of these birds are found in the north end of the lake where there are more plants and shelter from the wind. However, you may find several species, like the Pintail Duck, anywhere on the lake. Watch for them when you are walking by the marshy areas of the lakeshore.
Both species of blackbirds perched together on the boardwalk's railing
Another sign states...
The area in front of you was covered with water fifty years ago. No one knows why the lake level change, but the plants and animals that live in marshes had to move to this location. Have you heard the noisy Red-Winged Blackbird while walking across the boardwalk? Their "Cronk La Ree" is heard often during the early summer as the birds mate and nest in this marshy area. The marsh also provides homes for many quieter residents. If you are lucky you may spot a Great Blue Heron stalking its prey of frogs and minnows, or watch a Muskrat moving amongst the cattails.
Red-Winged Blackbird
Yellow-Headed Blackbird
Unfortunately the sun didn't last forever and the clouds rolled in around dinnertime. It rained on and off for the next few hours, but that didn't stop us from cooking dinner outside.

Ribs and beans cooked over the campfire!
In the evening the rain stopped so we headed out for an evening paddle. The wind had calmed down, making the lake's surface almost glassy. We paddled along the western shoreline and were treated to views of the setting sun behind storm clouds and an exciting wildlife encounter!

Ashley, myself, and Ryan enjoying the evening calm
SUPing along the marshy lakeshore 
This Muskrat allowed me to get surprisingly close before disappearing into the marsh
Setting sun below another approaching storm
We got off the water just as the first few rain drops started to fall
Aspen Beach is a very family friendly destination. We all had a great time, but the park wouldn't be my first choice for future camping trips. I prefer quieter campgrounds and this one is really busy. The number of loud trailer generators was also a bit much for us tenters. Lastly, the park was quite popular with dogs, which I'm a big fan of, but dogs are not allowed on the beaches. I wish there was a dog-friendly beach in the park because leaving a dog in a car or a tent isn't an option on a hot summer day. As previously mentioned we all seemed to have a wonderful weekend, despite the weather, and are looking forward to more camping trips later this summer.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Paddling Moraine Lake

Trip Date: June 2016

Christine and I had such an awesome time paddling on Lake Louise we decided to try Moraine Lake next. Again we headed out early on a Saturday morning because the Moraine Lake parking lot is notoriously overcrowded and for good reason; it's one of the most picturesque lakes I've ever seen! With a spectacular backdrop in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake is an extremely popular place; one that we are no strangers to. We've done several hikes in the area (please see my previous posts titled Larch Valley and Eiffel Lake for a couple of examples), but had yet to spend anytime on the lake itself.

Moraine Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks
Moraine Lake sits at the end of a 14km access road just outside of Lake Louise in Banff National Park. We managed to find a parking spot, but the lot was filling fast. When we were leaving we noticed that they had to close the access road due to the sheer number of vehicles just trying to get there. Once again we drew some attention to ourselves as we inflated our boards on the busy shoreline, but the cameras didn't come out until we launched the boards with Rome proudly sitting on the front of mine. For some reason she's a bit of a novelty to the out of town guests!

My GoPro paddlecam strikes again!
Rome's point of view!
The lake was like glass and the paddling was easy. The sun was shining as we were prepping our boards, but the clouds came in fast and the rest of the day was overcast with the ever-present threat of rain. Luckily the weather held out long enough for us to complete our paddling adventure but we had a fair bit of rain on the drive back to Canmore, where we spent the night. 

Christine enjoying the morning paddle
Making our way to the end of the lake
We found a quiet spot at the end of the lake to sit, relax, and enjoy the incredible scenery. Christine mentioned that she could have her morning coffee in a place like this everyday! Rome also got an opportunity to do a little exploring along the shoreline. The Moraine Lake Lakeshore Trail runs along the western shoreline, making the east side of the lake very quiet and peaceful.

Docked on a rocky beach
Christine enjoying her coffee with Mount Temple in the background
Chris & Rome
Moraine Lake selfie
A couple of the Ten Peaks (Mount Little & Mount Bowlen I believe) as viewed from our small beach
The Fay Glacier perched atop Mount Fay
We didn't want to risk being caught in a rain storm so we launched our boards and paddled back via the western edge of the lake.

Working our way back
Just another awesome day out on the water!
As previously mentioned we didn't head back to Calgary right away. We spent some time in Banff before making our way to Canmore for the night. We took a little scenic drive around the Lake Minnewanka Road and were rewarded with several wildlife encounters.

Near Lake Minnewanka we spotted a group of three Rocky Mountain Sheep rams
It's not uncommon to see sheep along this stretch of road, but it's always nice to see rams, which tend to be a bit more elusive!
A ram's horns can weigh as much as 14kg (30lbs), more than all of the bones in its body combined!
We also encountered several bull Elk further along the road. Elk shed their antlers each year (usually in March) and will start re-growing them sometime in May. The antlers on this guy are still covered in velvet.
Elk are also known as Wapiti, a First Nation word that roughly translates to "light coloured deer".
After we arrived in Canmore Christine took Rome for a run and I drove up the Spray Lakes Road to the Goat Creek Trailhead parking area. Like the Minnewanka Road it's not uncommon to see wildlife in the area and I was hoping to get for a third sighting in one day. I guess my luck hadn't run out because I was pleasantly surprised to find several Rocky Mountain Sheep ewes with their lambs.

One of the lambs posing for my camera
These four lambs were preoccupied with something happening above them. When I looked up I saw another ewe with her lamb high up on the steep cliffs of Ha Ling Peak.
I have no idea how these creatures can move with such ease across this rugged and unforgiving terrain!
Eventually both of them made it to the bottom to rejoin their herd, but they made the whole process look incredibly easy!
As I'm sure you can tell we had another amazing weekend in the mountains. We already have a few more adventures planned and I know there will be a lot more happening spur of the moment. Until next time...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Paddling Lake Louise

Trip Date: June 2016

Lake Louise is one of the most photographed lakes in the world and it's easy to see why. I have been to the popular lake numerous times for a variety of activities (see this post for an example), but had never paddled on the turquoise water that makes the lake famous. That all changed on a recent weekend in June when Christine and I packed the truck with our stand-up paddleboards (SUP) and headed west into Banff National Park.

Rome and I starting our day of paddling
Rome is quite comfortable sitting on the front of my board!
Even though it was early June and still considered "shoulder season" the parking lot was already pretty full when we rolled in. I had anticipated a crowd, but the amount of people milling around was a bit surprising. Maybe it was the cloudless sky and warm temperatures that brought everyone to the lake shore that morning. We found a parking spot in the lower lot, grabbed our gear, and headed for the lake. We made our way through the throng of tourists snapping photos and found a relatively quiet spot to inflate our boards. Christine and I both have inflatable SUPs from Northwest River Supplies (NRS). They make awesome all-around boards that are great for both flat and moving water. After our boards were ready to go I ran back to the truck, dropped off everything we wouldn't need, leashed Rome, and made my way back to Christine, who was patiently waiting to get on the water.

My paddle + GoPro = cool photos!
Contrary to the beliefs of some tourists the bottom of the lake is not painted turquoise blue. The lake gets its colour from suspended particles of rock flour being deposited into the lake by melting glaciers.
Christine taking the lead
Christine and I with Chateau Louise in the background
We launched the boards among a host of camera flashes; apparently we were a bit of a novelty to the out-of-town visitors! I like to think it was our extraordinary good looks, but in all honesty it was likely Rome that commanded much of the attention. Everyone was quite surprised and entertained that she would sit comfortably on the nose of my board as we paddled towards the far end of the lake. Although there were several canoes out on the lake we were the only paddleboarders in sight. Many canoeists paddled over to chat and snap a photo or two of Rome perched on the board!

Playing in the water at the far end of the lake
My NRS board docked on the sandy beach
We docked the boards on the beach at the far and of the lake and did a bit of exploring while Rome sniffed every rock and stick she found. The wind started to blow so we decided to make our way back before the lake got too choppy.

Paddle selfie
Christine appears to love her new board!
Making our way back
The Caribbean of the Rockies!
Like most of the lakes in Alberta, Lake Louise is a public body of water meaning anybody can access it for paddling trips. You aren't allowed to use the docks where the canoe rentals are, but any access-point along the shoreline is fair game. The lake is just above freezing throughout the year so it's important to be prepared while out on the water, which includes wearing a PFD and proper clothing. If you fall in into the water hypothermia becomes a real danger in a very short amount of time. Exercise caution and you'll have an unforgettable experience out on the lake!

It's pretty obvious we had an awesome time paddling on Lake Louise. This won't be our last paddling adventure on a glacier-fed lake. We are hoping to get to Moraine Lake next, so stay tuned!