The Countdown to a Long Journey

In exactly four months to this day, my family and I will take off on our next big adventure; six months of travelling, climbing, skiing and enjoying uninterrupted time with each other as well as with our French family and friends.

 

We have itchy feet. We need to move out of our routine and comfort zone as often as we can. It’s now been three years since the last time we took off for several months. It was back when I was on maternity leave; we had gone to Europe for four months with our then 7-month-old baby.

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The biggest little traveller

 

The time before that was when we packed all our belongings into my small Toyota Matrix and moved across Canada to be ski bums. That was seven years ago.

 

This need to break with our everyday life for an extended period of time is cyclical and tends to germinate in my head shortly after I have accomplished a project or lived a dream I had had for a while.

 

I am not one to be fooled with the promise of freedom retirement will bring. I don’t want to put my life on hold and suck up my urges to live freely and explore the world at my family’s own pace until I am 65 for many obvious reasons.

 

This time around, we are leaving lighthearted as we both negotiated a leave of absence with our respective employers, which takes a huge financial stress off of our shoulders. What also makes a huge difference is that now that we’re homeowners, we don’t have to worry about giving up our rental and fearing to be homeless upon our return. We get to decide the terms of the rental.

 

At D-4 months, the things we need get sorted out in order to be all ready to leave when  November rolls around are mostly administrative. We need to get my daughter’s French passport and a spouse visa for myself, which will allow us to stay for an extended period of time in the Schengen Space. We also need to sort out what we are going to do with our vehicles and try to find reliable tenants for our condo through word of mouth.

 

And of course, we need to save money. Without the option of a deferred leave, it’s up to us to put money away each month so we can live without an income for months. $20K is the amount we have set as our savings goal to live 6 months in Europe. With the exchange rate not quite in our favor, this will convert to a mere 13K Euros, which is a little over 2K per month. We are also securing a personal line of credit, just in case. We will have to be frugal but we know it’s possible.

 

$20,000 can seem like a lot of money to put aside…and at the same time not a lot of money for 3 indivudials to live of of for half a year. We already had some savings for rainy days that we decided to roll into our trip fund. We are saving the rest at a pace of approximately $1,200 a month.

 

We plan on spending as much time as possible visiting friends and relative and therefore saving on accommodation. We are so fortunate that our friends live in some of the most desirable places in Europe. The rest of the time we will rent vacation homes and apartments and will stay in the odd hostels, campgrounds and AirBnB’s.

 

We can also rely on my in-laws’ vehicle to come and go, which will also save us a huge amount of money. The bulk of our expenses will be on airfare, medical insurance, ferries, food, coffee, gas, ski lift tickets and vino and beer (which will be our exchange commodity for staying at our generous friends). oh, and we will also need new climbing shoes.

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Leaving on an airplane is always a source of great excitment…no matter how often we do it.

 

Our project is bringing a lot of excitement in our household and we love planning together and talking about what we are going to do. While we don’t have a clear plan and are hoping to go with the flow, there are some must-do things that we like to prioritize, like spending the holidays with my in-laws, which I can’t recall ever doing before. We also want to go back to Spain, visit Sicily, climb in Greece, ski in Chamonix, hang out in our beloved La Grave, ski in Queyras…

 

We obviously have some compromises to do this summer and need to keep our adventures a little more low key than usual. My husband’s desire for a new mountain bike will have to be put on hold as will our wish to replace the camper we miss so much.

 

We are also mindful about every purchase we are doing as anything that comes into our condo will have to be stored somewhere. But we know how much it’s worth it. So very worth it. Bring on the countdown!

 

What tips do you have to prepare for a long trip?

Purpose

“Your greatest contribution to the universe may not be something you do but someone your raise” Andy Staley

 

To all the mothers, who with dedication strive to accomplish the most natural yet the most complex of all tasks; bring up independent, intelligent and kind humans beings.

…And to all the fathers who embark upon the journey with them (of course!).

Happy Mother’s Day, with all my love and admiration.

E.

 

 

Easter Wine Tasting & Climbing in Skaha, BC

Easter in Skaha is becoming a tradition for our family…and every other climber in Western Canada, as we found out this year.

Integrated into the BC Provincial Park system less than ten years ago, the Skaha Bluffs keep gaining in popularity as the number of rock climbers in Western Canada grows exponentially year after year.

Tucked on the Western slopes of the Monashee mountains just above Skaha Lake near Penticton, the Bluffs offer close to 1000 routes ranging from 5.4 to 5.14. This South Okanagan gem benefits from a warm and dry climate that is unsurprisingly very appealing to warmth-deprived Calgarians escaping the cold and Vancouverites escaping the wet and gloomy.

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Hiking to the bluffs in the warm spring weather on a previous visit to Skaha

If the destination is popular in the spring and fall, it is known as almost too hot for climbing during the summer months; climbers then have to aim for early morning and evening sessions. I have heard through the great vine, however, that local route setters are currently working on a new north-facing crag…Some winter climbing is also possible sometimes, although the gate to the parking area is usually open from late March to late November.

Speaking of vine, the climate in Skaha combined with the nature of the rock are not only benefiting climbers; they are also creating the ideal conditions to grow grapes. The perfect exposition combined to gentle slopes, rocky soil, cutting edge irrigation technology and a local savoir-faire developed over the last thirty years or so make this area one of the best in Canada for producing award-winning wines.

Fine wines, great climbing, and decent weather forecast all aligned to guarantee a great time on our Easter getaway.

If we’re usually camping on our annual Easter getaway to Skaha, this year we were lucky to benefit from the warm hospitality of my sister Anne and her partner Chris, recently established in Shaka where Chris’s family is from. In addition, our father, Jacques, also decided to tag along for the trip and booked a last-minute flight ticket from Quebec City into Cranbrook to enjoy the road trip with us and a long overdue get-together with my sister and I.

Although climbing was obviously on our list, this time we took the opportunity to explore a bit further what Penticton and the Skaha area have to offer in terms of activities for the small and big kids alike.
The heavy rain we had on the first morning didn’t put a damper on our spirits and we headed straight for the Penticton Aquatic Centre, auntie, and grandpa in tow. My daughter, who I suspect to be way more interested in swimming than she is in climbing, was in heaven!

Splashing in the huge hot tub

Penticton, a City of over 40,000, really has an amazing selection of recreation amenities and counts on a state-of-the-art aquatic centre that provided a full morning of fun for everyone, in spite of the mega yellow water slide being out of service.
The rain finally stopped around midday and therefore we were able to get out for an afternoon stroll in the gigantic Skaha Lake Park.

Rated #1 attraction in Penticton on TripAdvisor, this park located a stone’s throw away from my sister’s place didn’t disappoint. From riding bikes along the lakeshore to building sandcastles on the beach, goofing around on the two playgrounds and feeding the gazillion ducks in the creek, the park was well worth the daily visit.

One of the daily visits to the Skaha Lake Park
Not quite the beach temperature yet
Paved trails to ride bikes

And of course, there was the climbing!
We had never seen the Bluff’s parking lot this full, but we still managed to find some routes to kick off the season and spook the crap out of ourselves awaken our senses on the tiny technical ledges.

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My sis and I climbing side-by-side on the solid gneiss

We all gathered at the “Day Care” crag on a warm afternoon to make the kids climb and I must say that it is a very good initiation area, as its name tells. It was surprising over that weekend to see how many climbing families there are and to see that more and more parents are starting to appreciate this family-friendly activity (or perhaps it is that more and more climbers are starting to have kids?? I wonder…)

Parents will have to be mindful of ticks early in the season and do a full children and pet checkup at the end of each day.

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Climbing lessons are on!

On a long weekend, those who want to tackle specific projects have to get up early to beat the crowd, which my husband and I took turns to do…on some mornings.
Another highlight of our stay was the time we spent with Chris’ family around great meals and the chugging tasting of local wines.

Paul, Chris’s father took us all on a nice walk along the mountainside to the nearby Pentâge Winery on Easter Sunday.

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Grasslands and rocky cliffs are typical of the area’s landscape
Half of our wine-tasting posse on its way to the winery
Pentâge’s vineyards overlook Skaha Lake and the valley
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One kind of “Heaven’s Door”

There, we were introduced to Julie Rennie and Paul Gardner, former Vancourites established on their land since 1996.
Passionate about their craft and so eager to share their knowledge with their visitors, Julie and Paul grow 19 types of the highest quality grape in small lot releases on their 23-hectares property.

Cheers!

In the sleek design tasting room where colourful local paintings contrast with the dark plywood and steel walls, Julie served us a crisp Gewürztraminer, followed by a Sauvignon Blanc and an oak barrel-aged Roussanne-Marsanne-Viognier, which really delighted our privileged group of tasters.

We then completed the tasting with a rich Syrah and took our glasses outside on a private tour of the impressive 5000 sq. ft natural rock cellar carved right from the bedrock, which offers the controlled climate required for the French-made oak barrels to operate their magic.

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Eva and Uncle Chris climbing the granite slabs in the natural rock wine cellar, a glass in hand

Paul the winemaker then took some time out of his busy schedule to share some of his wine-making and travel stories with us…along with some dirty jokes.

We left the winery with fuzzy heads and a baby stroller heavy with a sleepy child and numerous bottles of Pentâge wine; some of them were consumed that very night, paired with the delicious Easter dinner prepared with love by Sally, Chris’ mother.

We departed Skaha the next morning with the skin on our fingers still intact, as this time we didn’t make climbing the core focus of our stay. However, we departed Skaha with our batteries recharged from the great times spent with the family (and extended family) and a bottled sample of Skaha’s terroir in our luggage.

Where to stay in Skaha (if your sister doesn’t  live there):

Banbury Greens Campground (opens on April 1st) Special early season rates for tenters and small camper vans. Sits on the right side of the lake to get the early morning sunshine. Hot showers, fire pits, and electrical hook-ups. No groceries nor restaurant nearby. The most popular spot for climbers.

Penticton is a fairly large City and therefore you will find accommodation options to suit any taste or budget from motels to vacation rentals: www.visitpenticton.com


Where to eat:

Bad Tatoo. A craft brewery with a great ambiance and tasty pub fares and healthy dishes at a reasonable price point.


Where to have a drink:

The Cannery. The other craft brewery. Excellent beer with the flagship brew being the Muse. Snacks and sandwiches available.


More family-friendly activities:

Ride the Kettle Valley Rail Trail between Penticton and Naramata

Climb indoors at the new bouldering cave in town

Tour other wineries of the South Okanagan VQA (which most of them open on the Easter Long)

Drive down Route97 to Oliver and Osoyoos and check out the Desert Interpretive Centre

Hike the Skaha Bluffs’s Trail and look for bighorn sheep and snakes.

In 2017, I wish

( in no particular order)

to write more and more often;

to never ask for a plastic grocery bag or a disposable to-go coffee cup again;

to only drink local beer, wherever I am;

to spend more time in the backcountry with my dear husband;

to visit my family and friends in Québec and write a blog post about the wonderful things there are to do as a visitor;

to get rid of more stuff (donate, sell, swap, repurpose);

to spend less money and put more into savings;

to start meditating and doing yoga more consistently;

to make healthy freezer meals so I have more time to do all the things above;

to become a rock warrior (mentally stronger in my climbing);

to plan a big trip with my family;

to come up with a successful strategy to put my daughter to bed without a fight each night;

to breathe more mindfully;

to not take things so personally;

to improve my public speaking skills;

and last but not least…

In 2017 I wish to love more, love better and more unconditionally because I now am convinced that it’s the only thing that can improve my own life, my family’s and have a positive impact on the world around me.

2017 is a blank canvas. 2017 is the year of true love. Happy New Year.

Vamos a Chulilla! Climbing in Spain with Kids

Hola, Espanol!” says my daughter, giggling, as she runs out of the Panaderia. In her hand,  she holds a small pastry generously offered by the owner. Then, she runs across the narrow street to the village Plaza and sits on a bench to savour her sweet chocolate-filled mini croissant with a delicious honey-nuts topping.

It’s 11 am on beautiful Thursday in November and the Plaza is bathed in the sun and bustling with life. Today is market day. The locals are shopping for fresh produce, leather purses or pajamas and socks. Nearby, at the Caffè, a few climbers are sipping café con leche and catching up on emails, eyes glued to their laptops.

The temperature is cooler at this time of year and therefore no one rushes to the crags before noon, especially the shady ones; the mythical ones.

 

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A village nestled between the cliffs. Photo by Shenoa Runge

No one rushes to the crags but us. On a ten-day vacation with young children, we want to maximize every hour of daylight to explore and enjoy this huge climbing playground. Time is limited and family vacation also means we are here to spend quality family time.

 

We’re wondering how we possibly are going to fit everything into ten days…
Although a tiny little village, Chulilla is an enorme climbing destination. After timid developments in the 90’s, local route setters have been very prolific in the last few years, with increased community support towards this major tourism draw. The spot now counts over 800 routes dispersed across a dozen different areas, some located at walking distance from the village and some a little further away in the valley.

The quaint, white-washed village is perched on a bluff and surrounded by countless kilometres of bright limestone walls, perfectly vertical or slightly overhanging.


The climbs are known to be long and tenuous. It isn’t uncommon to link beautiful technical moves for 40 metres and even 50 metres in one single climb. Climbers must come prepared: strong forearms, eighty-metre ropes and lots of quickdraws are required to make the most out of a stay in Chulilla.
While the area offers climbs that range from 6a to 8b, Chulilla is an absolute paradise for 7b climbers, grade in which many of the most iconic climbs can be found. This is a little unfortunate for us, who happen to be modest climbers in comparison to many visitors to this destination.
The information we hold prior to our arrival is that routes in the 6th and low 7th grades can be found but can prove a little runout or polished. Nonetheless, the place still looks appealing to my dear husband, our loyal climbing partners Marc and Shenoa and myself, and we feel confident about finding nice climbs to play on.

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Marc and Hervé eager to get on the rock

In such a large destination with all the many different sites, the local climbing guidebook Chulilla: Guia de Escalada is absolutely essential, but requires some studying.
Fortunately, after day 2, we realize that there is some excellent climbing in our grade with plenty of newer climbs on excellent rock and very well equipped. Sectors like Fantasia, Cherales and la Peneta is were we end up spending a lot of time, in the warm autumn sunshine. These areas never seem crowded although very easily accessed. Most of those sites however, are not very toddler-friendly.

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Moms get on the rock while children play nearby, sheltered by the overhang. Photo by Marc Trudeau

The sites that we find fit and welcoming to families are La Nevera that is of easy access and has fun caves for the little cavemen. Competicion is the best area we found to set up a small top rope for the kids and is also an easy end-of-day crag on our way to the bar. Finally, we also enjoyed another small crag in the canyon between the bridges for the great hike it provides, the river and the fine sand.

Finn, never taking the easy road
Because the little ones like cragging too
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Eva and Finn exploring the narrow streets

We find however that the best way to maximize our time on climbing days is to split up our group into two teams; one team to look after the children for the half-day while the other team climbs.

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The Turia valley, a real oasis in the desert

There are plenty of fun things to do with the kids around the village between exploring the narrow cobbled streets, playing princess & knight in the Castillo, paying a visit the white fluffy goats, hiking the river valley or simply enjoying the local delicacies and running around on the Plaza. Chulilla also has two decent playgrounds, of which one is located by the local watering hole, wifi hotspot and tapas and climbing beta provider; Goscanos.

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Eva, Finn and Shenoa hiking Los Calderones trail
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Meet the Knight and the Princess of the Castillo

 

 

Fortunately , we also have opted for a comfortable and spacious four-bedrooms vacation rental, la Casa Nispero, which is located on a large gated property and the end of a quiet street where the little ones are free to roam. The location and amenities of the house really contribute to making our stay enjoyable, from the ability to cook healthy meals at home to the cozy evenings by the wood fireplace, pool-side lunches and naps in the sun…as well as the two bathrooms.

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Our Casa for ten days

There are also many other vacation rentals right in the village to suit every budget and group size as well as cozy inns and hostels, the main one being El Altico, owned by one of the prolific local route setters. Many climbers also stay in camper vans around town or on the main public parking lots, with access to water and wifi at the nearby climber’s bar.

The village hosts several small mercados or carnecerias where one can find most of the staples to survive: cheese, bread, wine, meat and charcuterie, oranges and mandarines in season, local and absolutely divine. For more diversified foods, the nearby city of Lliria or Valencia are the best options we found to please our little and big eaters.

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Breakfast in the warm morning sunshine

In Chulilla, the spirit between locals and climbers from all around the world is truly positive, especially when the climbers happen to have ninos,  who are the best conversation starter and get a very special attention from every store or restaurant staff.  Even with a limited proficiency in Spanish, it is very easy to communicate with residents who are so friendly and welcoming and never seem on a rush.

Eva chatting with a local abuela at the market

In the small climbing shop, visitors can buy all the staples including the guidebook. The store also carries t-shirts and hoodies with Chulilla’s tagline: Climb. Eat. Sleep. F**k. The sight of it makes me think that it’s probably what defines a stay in Chulilla for most climbers, single, young and beautiful, although we definitely noticed an imbalanced male vs female ratio.

Obviously, going on a rock climbing trip with toddlers changes your experience … a lot. I think it’d be more accurate to summarize our experience in Chulilla this way: Sleep. Climb. Eat. Play. Nap. Snack…and wipe bums.

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our crew – Photo by Shenoa Runge

October Snow in the Wild Purcells

The Purcell mountains stretch on a north-south axis over approximately 400 km in the southeastern corner of British Columbia.

 

With the Columbia river and the Rocky mountains to the right  and Kootenay Lake to the left, this ancient mountain range has been the local’s centre of attention for many years. It also has recently received world-wide consideration in relation to the  most recent developments to the controversial mega-resort project on Jumbo Glacier, a few kilometres west of Invermere.

 

A land of high spiritual value for the Ktunaxa First Nation as well as a sensitive habitat for grizzly bears, these mountains also represent a very special place for the residents of the valley and beyond: an enclave of relatively untouched wilderness of a surreal and mystical beauty. They also offer the significant hope that the term “public land” still means something here in BC and that capitalism won’t have the last word.

 

My  recent and limited experience in these mountains reveals that winter lives there ten or more months of the year.

 

A Labour Day weekend at Jumbo Hut in a total snow blizzard and an October day hike into Monica Meadows in knee-deep snow make me wonder if summer ever gets invited up there and if the wildlife ever gets to enjoy the warmth of sun-filled days and the sweet taste of chlorophyll between snowfalls. The presence of massive glaciated areas proves how temperatures rarely climb above zero and the massive amount of snow these mountains get coated with.

 

This year, cold and snowy weather has arrived early, just as meteorologists predicted. This is certainly received like a promise to an excellent winter for us, backcountry snow sports enthusiasts.

 

And since all the planets seem to align and lead to our greatest enjoyment, my husband, a few friends and I were able to get out for an early season ski outing to Farnham glacier.

 

I would normally be the one to say that a 500km return trip to do one lap in the backcountry is a little excessive.  However, when it comes to visiting the wild and magical Purcell mountains, even for a few hours, I am the first one to say: Let’s go!

 

Dry road and golden larches at the valley bottom
The mighty and impressive Commander glacier under a fresh layer of snow
Such a bliss to start our ski directly in the alpine and forego the usual bushwhack
A little wind effect towards the top
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Jumbo Mountain: in the clouds and wild forever #Jumbowild

 

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Summit selfie and deep valleys

Two and a Half Paddlers in the Valhalla Kingdom

There is just no word to describe BC’s Valhalla Provincial Park. The granite spires of the Devils range stand proud and tall over the forest-covered & rolling hills, steep talus, pristine alpine meadows, glacier-fed lakes and deep unpopulated valleys.

With only a few access points up endless kilometres of rough forest service roads, this little enclave in the majestic Selkirk mountains has little to no amenities to serve its adventurous visitors.  It’s most iconic mountain, Mt. Gimli is slowly starting to get more attention from climbers and hikers escaping from the crowds. At its base, a rustic camping site and no other amenities. Most of the year, one can count more white fluffy mountain goats then humans there.

The “Valhalla” are, if not a heaven for warriors killed at war, as suggested in the Norse mythology, a real Eldorado for alpine climbing, with certainly many firsts yet to be completed.

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Mount Gimli and the classical South Ridge route during our first visit to the Park in 2011

From those high peaks and the thin remnants of ancient glaciers flows pure water, into raging creeks, down thick and impenetrable forest, into steep thalweg, down high drops creating impressive waterfalls and, finally, into the deep turquoise of Slocan Lake. The West side of Lake, as the locals refer to it; the wild side of this 40-kilometre long lake.

If the mineral world up high is inhospitable to the living, down below, by the lake, plants & creatures thrive. Crystal water, home to thousands of fish, bushes fat and heavy with berries and other delicacies to the animal reign.

The quietness and the beauty are not quite disturbed by the few motorboats circling around on hot summer afternoons. Not yet….but certainly soon.

The lake is calling. A canoe is the perfect vessel to explore it. At the marina in Silverton, one of the few settlements on the East side of the lake, we get ready for our 3-day paddle. Filled with food, a shelter, some clothes, our canoe is ready for its passengers. The lake is renowned for unexpected weather changes and wind gusts. We would like to get across quickly.

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Absolute cuteness moment in this stunning nature

But only after a few strides, the charm operates. We all relax and tune ourselves to the lake’s pace.

For us, humble mountaineers, being on the water is unusual, but not completely foreign. For now we enjoy letting the canoe carry our heavy load…and our 15-kg 3-year old. Some have had the same brilliant idea…we are not the only family with small children on the water.

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My crew in its new environment

We soon reach the wild side and the first sandy beach where we enjoy our first of many daily swims. Inviting beaches are plentiful which makes it easy to find the privacy we want to lay in the sun and enjoy our the moment in peace. For those who prefer, company is also easy to find in July and August.

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There, far from any distraction, quality family time just happens

We set up our first camp next to the freezing cold Nemo creek, directly on the sand. Tent pads, food cache, fire rings and an outhouse are also available a few metres away in the forest, sheltered from the wind. The evening is beautiful and warm. After a late afternoon swim, we enjoy a simple and tasty meal together, make a fire and roast some marshmallows.

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Our home for the night

The next morning, after a restful night and a polar bear dip in the creek, we enjoy a hearty breakfast before exploring the land around us. A good trail is set along the creek and we are able to observe the waterfalls. The moss on the ground, the trees and the oversized ferns really add something magical to this surreal nature. We don’t hike the whole trail as we don’t have our child carrier…and the lake awaits.

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Just soaking it all up

That day we paddle, slowly but steadily, sometimes in silence, sometimes to the sound of our own songs and laughter. Our daughter sleeps in a small cave we made in the canoe with thermarests. She rests, recharges her batteries. We paddle in peace and avoid stopping not to wake her up. The sun is hot but the cool of the lake tempers the air and makes it very comfortable. The heat must be almost unbearable ashore, we think.

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A restful nap, gently rocked by the motion of the boat and steady sound of the paddles diving in the water

We reach Evans creek by the middle of the afternoon and set up camp for our second night. Two young guys have already set camp near us on the beach. Later, around the campfire, we learn that they’ve been traversing the park by its ridgeline for over a week. They are two 23-year old local twin brothers. Evans Creek is their finish point and their father is picking them up with his power boat. “They have been fishing and hunting in the area since they were kids”, say their dad. There are no climbers, per say…but certainly hardcore adventurers…They ask us about climbing, what gear we use, how heavy our pack is when we climb and such.

They tell us that around Lake Beatrice, the bush was so thick and they were so tired they built a raft to cross the lake as they didn’t want to bushwack their way around it…Their mom sent their dad to pick them up with bacon, eggs and potatoes that they eat with a lot of appetite. Their appetite for food certainly equals their appetite for adventure.

That night, as we get ready to go to sleep, a huge thunderstorm hits us. Our little one is so tired from her day of swimming and being outdoors in the sun, she drifts off to sleep while the wind gusts shake our small tent and the thunder rages around us…

On the second morning, we feel we now have our camping routine well established. It doesn’t take us long to be all packed up and ready to go. Too bad this is our last day. We are really enjoying the simplicity of living with only what our canoe contains.

Slocan City, our final destination, is only a few kilometres away. We know we can reach it in very little time. Eva still finds the opportunity to have one last restful nap in the canoe. On the way, we take time to make a swim stop, jump off rocks and make the delight and pleasure of this trip last a little longer.

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Water so clear we can see the texture of the lake’s bottom

In the Valhalla Kingdom we will be back, by land. On this lake we will be back, as it is the perfect summer journey to enjoy with the family and certainly how we like to experience lake life.