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
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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.

A Weekend of Rock Climbing in Revelstoke, Toddlers in Tow

Everybody loves Revelstoke.

Nestled between the Selkirk and Monashee mountains, this railway and forestry town really is gifted with an amazing geography. Glaciers and dramatic snow-capped mountains, the mighty Columbia river as a backbone, lush rain forest with oversized cedar trees and ferns. Everywhere, the influence from the West Coast can be felt; in the culture, the lifestyle, the vibe…as well as the amount of annual precipitation.

Abundant precipitation in the winter (in the form of cold, dry powder snow) is part of what has made Revelstoke, or Revy as the locals refer to it, a skiing Mecca. With its incredible ski resort that boasts the highest lift-accessed vertical in North America and hundreds of acres of pristine and rowdy terrain for cat, heli and backcountry skiing, Revelstoke is up and coming on the global best ski destination scene.

Revelstoke also has an impressive network of high quality single track trails, like hundreds of veins on which fresh-air deprived mountain bikers from all over Western Canada and beyond come to ride, up & down.

However, what Revelstoke is less known for is the diversity and the quality of its rock. About ten different climbing areas are scattered around town, all within 10 to 30-minute drive; trad or sport, from the short single pitch to the 450m multi-pitch bolted routes on the Columbia Buttress, from low grades to 5.13 +, there is no shortage of fun routes to climb.

Both ourselves and our loyal climbing partners and friends Marc and Shenoa had been to Revelstoke for climbing before kids and had all had an amazing time.

The highlight of our previous visit had been climbing at Waterworld, a cliff on the side of aquamarine Lake Revelstoke, a few kilometre north of the dam. After a 2-minute hike, climbers rappel down all the way to a small wooden platform only a foot or so above the water. Although the couple of 3-4 pitches routes at Waterworld are all bolted, they offer a nice alpine-like challenge as once you’ve rappelled into the unknown, you’re committed to at least climb the easiest route up: Gilligan’s Island ( 5.8). On hot summer days, make sure you take a skinny dip from the platform before you start the climb, at least you will feel nice and cool for the first few moves! The photo featured at the top of this post was actually taken 6-7 years ago, during our first visit to Revelstoke.

With great memories from our previous experiences, when the time came to decide on a climbing destination for a long weekend in the spring, we quickly reached a consensus. Over and above the good climbing options, we were all pretty confident that this place would also be very kid friendly with easy and convenient camping options and other fun family activities to keep our busy toddlers entertained.

On the May  long weekend, then, after the usual full day of packing, we set off to enjoy a couple of days of climbing in Revelstoke, kids in tow.

Our family set up camp at the Williamson Lake Campground just a kilometre out-of-town on the Thursday night. We had booked well in advance knowing that this would be a very busy time in Revelstoke and we didn’t regret it as the place was full. Our daughter was ecstatic when she realized that there was a fabulous playground at arm’s reach from  our campsite, which in fact made us feel like we were camping at the playground. Wiliamson Lake was also pretty cool with tons of fish to feed Cheerios to from the dock.

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Eva and Finn “setting up” THEIR playground for the weekend

Although this type of campsite wouldn’t normally be our fav, this time around we were thankful to find hot showers, plenty of other kids for our children to play with AND a washer and dryer that we were stoked to find when the camper’s roof leaked gallons of rain water onto our bed.

Our friends Marc, Shenoa and their little boy, Finn,  only met us the following day and brought along a canopy tent that also proved to be quite useful in the rainy weather.

Shenoa and I had the privilege to tackle the climbing first as the papas took care of the children. Under a beautiful sunny sky we aimed for the Begbie Bluffs and spent our afternoon connecting with the local rock at the Raptor wall. We were glad we hadn’t taken the kids as there was little to no flat and safe space at the bottom of the crags. At Raptor wall we found some nice vertical routes from 5.8 to low 5.11 . We came back to the campground late afternoon to relief the dads and let them enjoy a few hours at Begbie Bluffs. The little ones on their end also had their share of fun while they dipped their naked bums in the lake and made sandcastles.

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Herve on the steep and classic “Flashdance” (5.11a) on Raptor Wall

The following day, after a short stroll  downtown, we stopped for delicious coffee and treats at La Baguette, a local favorite held by a fellow couple of Quebecois. As the name indicates, La Baguette is a fine bakery where you can buy your daily loaf of fresh bread, order a full breakfast or lunch and treat yourself with their in-house baked goods and tasty gelato. This place is tiny and can be very busy so come prepared to wait to be served, but the wait is always worth it.

Later that day, we all packed up to go spend the day at Blanket Creek Provincial Park.

Herve and I then left our precious, who was snoozing in the camper, to the attention of our friends and went for a romantic outing on to the Blanket Arête (2 pitches, 5.10d). The Arête is highly visible from the bridge over Blanket Creek when driving south towards Galena Bay. Although the walk to the start of the climb made it feel like the rock would be mossy and moist, in the end it was a really nice climb, with the bouldery crux being at the start of second pitch.The Blanket Creek Crag also boast some single-pitch routes, mostly in the low 5.10’s. While the provincial park is ideal for families, the crag is unfortunately not.

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My date scoping “Blanket Arête” from the bridge
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A little moss on the first pitch of Blanket Arête
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Marc taking his baby-sitting role very seriously

After this quick outing, we went back to the day use area to relief our friends and put our parents hat back on. We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking to Shannaghan Falls, chasing gofers and playing in the sand by the lagoon with the two tots. Upon Marc and Shenoa’s return from their climb, we had a nice picnic dinner in the park before heading back to our own campground for the night.

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Shannaghan Falls are only 5 minutes walk from the campground on a stroller-friendly trail

 

When we woke up on the Sunday, it was pouring rain. This meant we had some time to explore what Revelstoke has to offer in terms of indoor activities and we were quite pleased with all the options! Of course, we all indulged once again in one of our favorite activity, which is going for coffee and treats. We also checked out some of the towns’ boutique stores, before heading to the aquatic centre for a swim. Revelstoke’s public pool is quite impressive with its 3-storey high water slide, its kiddy pool and deep water solo like climbing wall. Everyone had a good time there and we ended up staying for a few hours! In the end, we didn’t even get a chance to check out the other “indoor” options such as the Railway Museum, the Dam, or the Begbie brewery.

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Our little gourmet is always up to checking out the local dining scene…especially when it comes to sampling “pains au chocolat”
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Our two dwarfs enjoying a hike in the rain (aka so glad we packed warm clothes and rain suits)

On our way back to the campsite that day, we decided to go check out another climbing area, “the Drive-In” which is only a few kilometres from Williamson Lake on the east shore of the lake. This area is nothing major but it was steep and sheltered enough than even after a day-long rain shower, some of the climbs were still dry. We decided to give it a go and were quite pleased with the end-of-day muscle stretching opportunity at this low-key crag.

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Herve and Marc checking out the Drive-In, which boasts a few .10’s, .11’s & .12’s

After one last nice camping dinner all together and a restful night, we all set off the following morning. Our friends hit the road back to Kimberley and we set off West towards our next destination, Squamish, where we were intending to spend the rest of the week.

On our way out-of-town, we stopped to the ultimate kid’s attraction on the Trans-Canada Highway, the Enchanted Forest. For a mere $11 per adults (free for tots) our mini spent a full 2 1/2 hours visiting every single hobbit’s house and shaking hand with every one of the statue animals, elves and other fairy tale creatures.

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The closest thing to heaven for a 2 1/2 year old: the Enchanted Forest at Three Valley Gaps

In spite of the rain, we had a great time climbing and enjoying family time in Revelstoke. If you head there, make sure to purchase the excellent local guidebook “Revelstoke Rocks” from 2010, self published by local route-setter and mountain guide Ruedi Beglinger.

Provincial Parks near Revelstoke, such as Martha Creek and Blanket Creek offer great camping options. There is also numerous forest service roads and backcountry camping options out-of-town.

The town has good boutique shopping, a good Saturday morning Famers Market, as well as plenty of excellent dining options. For quick and easy meal with the fam, check out Nico’s Pizzeria and the Village Idiot, or for a more refined dining experience, Woolsey’s Bistro or the 112 Restaurant and Lounge won’t disappoint.

There is no shortage of good swimming holes on hot summer days as well as plenty of stroller-friendly multi-use trails around town, including the Greenbelt. Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks are also located very close from Revelstoke and boast multiple family friendly hikes and scenic views. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to experience it all this time…

We will back there for climbing and all the other fun stuff, that’s for sure…because for kids and adults alike, AND for non climbers, Revelstoke does rock!

 

 

Your Wheel of Canadian Brie, My Family Story

For my first food-related post, the topic that naturally came to mind was to tell how and why my passion for food came to life and grew over the years.

…Don’t run away just yet. I am not going to tell you too much about myself growing up and learning to cook with my mom and that kinda stuff…

I thought instead I would dig a little deeper in my family’s history and tell you all about how it relates to this wheel of Canadian made Brie, this creamy blue or tangy and fresh-tasting goat cheese you love so much and regularly buy at your local grocery store or order in a fancy dish at the restaurant.

Alexis. Perhaps this name sounds familiar. The “Alexis de Portneuf” brand takes up quite some space at many grocery stores across Canada in the fine cheese section, alongside many other brands of Canadian made and imported fine cheeses.

However, way before the cheese brand, there was the character, Alexis Cayer, who has existed…for real. He was my ancestor; my great-great grand-father on my mother’s side.

The story of my family is directly tied to the story of the land. The land surrounding the current location of Quebec City was traditionally occupied by the Huron-Wendat First Nation. Almost 200 years ago, the first settler of European origin to pay interest at the land located 50 km north of the City,  on the plain of the St.Anne river about 75 km upstream from its junction with the St.Lawrence, at the foothills of the Laurentian mountains, was Alexis Cayer. He became one of the founding fathers of Saint-Raymond de Portneuf, a former forestry and agriculture town currently leading major diversification efforts and on its way to become an outdoor recreation mecca. On a mission to log, farm and establish a settlement on the land given by the Crown to brave and hard-working young men, Alexis made Saint-Raymond his home.

Alexis’ legacy was his knowledge and passion for the land and his strong family values, which were passed down to his children and grand-children who became landscapers, builders and farmers, and finally, cheese makers.

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The Cayer Farm and Mill and a healthy cattle of Holsteins

Henri was my grand-father. He was smart and hardworking. However, he didn’t really enjoy vegetable farming and the hard labour in the fields that he had to do as a child to support his parents on their farm. He certainly had a different vision for himself. At 19 years old, he got his first contract as a forestry foreman and he was managing 40 guys. What was the most interesting part to him was to arrange transport of the lumber from far and remote logging sites.

Henri was also a real entrepreneur. A few years later, he took over the distribution of the dairy products from his parents’ farms. He thought the milk and dairy distribution around town offered better opportunities than vegetable farming and weekly market sales. On his parent’s land, he put up little building with large fridges to stock the milk as well as bottling equipment. “La Laiterie Chez Nous” was founded.

The first morning he went on his milk run, he took 18 bottles with him but sadly brought 12 back home at the end of his shift. The following fall, he was selling 300 bottles a day and had extended his milk run significantly. Soon enough, his own cows were not producing enough milk to supply his clients so Henri started acquiring more cattle and expanding the stables. Buying cows, growing the cattle and reselling them was also a lucrative activity for him. In addition, he invested lots of time, research and effort into breeding milk cows. Over the years, Henri was awarded multiple times for the excellence of his cattle-raising.

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La Laiterie Chez Nous in 1954. Some of the delivery was still made with horse-drawn wagon. Cayer Family archives

In 1951, Henri expanded his dairy production even more and started purchasing pasteurization equipment, a bottling plant and a fleet of delivery vehicles to expand the milk distribution route to the neighboring communities and even all the way to the outskirt of Quebec City. His production consisted of bottled milk, cream, butter…and ice cream!

Vintage bottle caps. Source: laiteriesduquebec.com

In 1969, Henri had some more grand ideas and took off for France to explore the opportunity of making fine cheeses right at his Saint-Raymond dairy farm and to learn all about the ancient French tradition in cheesemaking. He knew the milk producers in Quebec had significant surpluses but strangely enough, we were importing tons of fine cheeses from France. From then, Henri was convinced that fine cheesemaking in Quebec had a promising future and he started investing seriously into it.

In Montpellier, Henri met Mr. Roger Capdepon, who soon after immigrated to Canada and started making cheese with grand-pa…Henri was kind and caring and family meant a lot to him. Therefore, Mr. Capdepon soon was considered as a family member. Brie, camembert, blue cheese were produced at the little factory of the rang St.Jacques. Their team also specialized in goat cheese making and soon took over the largest chunk of the provincial market.

In 1976, the dairy production counted 70 employees. Denis, my uncle was the general manager, René, my uncle and godfather, the accountant and my great-aunt Eva was the head of the research lab. Research partnerships were also established with Université Laval. Together, they all worked hard to create new products and promote fine cheeses to an ever-growing market throughout the entire province of Quebec. When he took over the business in the late 70’s upon Henri’s retirement, my uncle Denis and his team expanded the distribution of more products to further away markets, with more investments in marketing and better production efficiencies.

Almost every member of our family has been involved with the Fromagerie at a certain point in time.  I myself have manned exhibit booths as a teenager at some fairs, shows, festivals and farmers markets and I remember it being a lot of fun to promote and sell the products I knew so well, to learn more about the making processes and spend time with my elderly cousins.

Partners and employees were also considered family by my grand-father and, growing up, I remember my grand-parents hosting huge reunions and gatherings. There were always people randomly dropping by at their house, who would be greeted with good home cooking, fine cheeses and wine. My grand-father also use to like his gin…

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Employees and family members all mingled at social gatherings hosted by my grand-parents in 1958 .Cayer Family archives

 

In the early 2000’s, the Fromagerie was sold to Saputo. Although Saputo is a big corporation, they have always honoured the family tradition and artisanal character of the cheeses, which are still produced in Saint-Raymond in the same factory. My aunt Reine stayed on for a few years in her role of Director of Operations to ensure a smooth transition. If you happen to be passing by, there still is a cute little cheese store in my grand-parents’ house, with lots of family photos on the walls and many family artifacts displayed.

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Pasteurization equipment displayed at a local exhibition in the 1950’s

 

Back in the days, it was pretty unusual to have brie, goat and blue cheese on the table anywhere in Quebec, and even more so in Western Canada…Back then it was mostly the reign of good old cheddar. My grand-father certainly has transmitted us the taste for good quality food, his love for the land and nature and his family values. He also contributed in building our most recent Canadian pride for artisanal food and local savoir-faire and contributed to a certain extent to the refinement of the Canadians’ taste for fine foods.

I can’t quite say that I am related to a wheel of Brie…nor that cheese runs through my veins…well, not quite…but almost!

 

The Little Climber’s Gear Check-List

We are so excited!

In 3 dodos (three sleeps) we’re leaving for an eleven-day climbing trip in BC. This year we’ve decided to do our spring trip a little later than usual and to stick to destinations within our dear Canada for a few different reasons: low Canadian dollar, lack of friends with the same schedule and a desire to spend some time with Tata (French slang for Auntie) on the coast. Our trip will be in two phases; we will spend the first half in Revelstoke, and the second half in Squamish. These choices will allow us to split the drive in 2 (Squamish is a mere 12 hour + drive from Kimberley, where we live), and will provide great variety in the climbing and in the scenery.

Our Mini actively helps with prepping our camper and packing her stuff, which really contributes to building the excitement!

A few weeks ago, I came across this excellent blog post from mother, climber and writer Beth Rodden on great outdoor kid gear. (I must say that I pretty much agree with all her list, with the exception perhaps of the Poco Plus child carrier by Osprey. I would certainly have used and loved this pack had it been generously donated by a sponsor! Unfortunately, we stuck to a much more minimalist version by Deuter, generously donated by dear friends with two older kids. My husband decided this Deuter pack was more aligned with his own vision of what mountain gear should be: light, light and light. The fact that there was no padding and storage space for useful things such as diapers, water, food, spare cloths was to him, a detail he could cope with.)

Anyhow, our daughter is now almost three years old, very active, and somewhat interested in climbing and hiking…all by herself (I DO IT! …sounds familiar?). With quite a few camping and climbing trips under her belts, we now have our list of favs when it comes to packing her gear. Here’s our check-list:

1- Deuter Little Star Sleeping Bag: Can be extended to fit children from age 1-6. Combined with the Z-Thermarest= hours of entertainment


2- Petzl Ouistiti Full Body Harness: for the 5-minute climbing session which last less time than it took to put that thing on 🙂

3- Patagonia Capilene Thermal Underwear: our MUST since birth. Need to transition to a t-shirt rather than onesie now as missy doesn’t wear diapers anymore

4- Helly Hansen Rain Set: The suit was great up to 2 and potty training. Now we find the 2-piece set more versatile. Can be layered with warm pieces to replace a snowsuit…Yeah, we’re going to coastal BC…did I say the weather can be unpredictable in BC in May, or in fact, every month of the year?

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5- Grivel Kid’s climbing helmet: cute and functional, can also be used as a bike helmet for space saving purpose

6- Mammut Kids 10L Backpack– (because she wants to hike ALL BY HERSELF!): a serious review website would say: storage= 0, functionality=0, waist belt=0, hydration system compatible=0, cuteness=10, stuffed mammoth=10.


7- Shoes: hikers, beach/water shoes, Keen sandals, Bogs rain boots… weather can be unpredictable in BC in May…tak’em all.

8- Books: Mountain-related for total immersion into our element

9- Sun/bathing suit: in case we get the odd warm day

10- Sun hat+sun glasses: for the style, and the odd sun ray

11- Ukulele: for showing off with Tata by the campfire

12- Smartwool Merino Socks: a couple of pairs, they are simply awesome

13- Flash light: for reading the cool mountain books on line 8.

14- Water bottle: You know the great $30 Klean Kanteen kiddy water bottle …NOT! A $10 no BPA version will do just FINE!

15- SMALL toys+ favorite SMALL stuffy: ’cause that’s all that fits into the 10L backpack on line 6.

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16- Patagonia Puff Ball jacket: warm, versatile and so reversibly stylish

17- Bubbles, bucket and shovel: to keep busy at the crag, beach or campsite

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Allright, I got to go finish packing!

 

My Awesome Cat-Skiing Weekend

It’s 4 am and I am wide awake. I am so excited and anxious I have barely closed my eyes all night. The eight-hour road trip from Kimberley to Monashee Powder, near Cherryville, should have exhausted me (in fact it has!) but the anticipation is just too high. The temperature, which was very high yesterday, has dropped a lot and the rain turned into snow early last night. I look out the window. The sky is clear and I can see some stars. The snow has stopped falling.

Warm and cozy between the soft flannel sheets, I can hear my sister’s regular breathing. I smile. I am here with her for 3 full days to experience cat skiing for the first time and to see with my own eyes what her job is all about. It’s her second season as a Tail Guide here. Her alarm should ring soon; the days start pretty early for MPS’ staff. I smile some more and think about the day ahead. It’s the first time that I will be away from my family for so long. 5 long days of “me time”, which is so precious when you’re a young mom. I feel so grateful to have a wonderful husband who also understands the value of it and also welcomes some alone quality time with our daughter. 

6:30 am. I am granted access to the guides’ morning meeting. I hear them talking temperature, wind, new snowfall, avalanche rating, weather forecast, what runs are “safe” to ski and which ones are to be avoided. Truly fascinating. The guiding team is very knowledgeable and professional and listening to them makes me feel like I am in good hands.

After assisting my sister with some preparation tasks such as checking avalanche beacons, filling up the water bottles for the guests, etc. we fill up on a hearty and delicious breakfast buffet. Not far from there in the dining room, another buffet is set up for the guests to prepare their lunches. Salads of all sorts, meats & cheeses, baked goods, fruit, vegetable sticks, dips and different types of bread make up a very inviting selection. It seems like no one will go hungry today, unless one forgets to take his own lunch bag to the cat!

By 8:30 am sharp, the beacon search training begins, following up to an informative avalanche safety and research technique refresh provided the night before by the Lead Guide. In my group, everyone seems fairly savvy on how avalanche beacons work, yet everyone listens carefully to the instructions and welcomes the refresh.

Then we all load the cat after a few more safety instructions. Once again, guests on my group all listen carefully to the Tail Guide’s speech. As she says, the snowcats are big hard machines with lots of blind spots and we humans are small and soft in comparison…no one wants to be crushed under their oversized tracks.

A 15-minute ride up a steep road takes us to our first run. The other 13 guests in our group are not on their first experience at Monashee or at cat-skiing in general. A few of them even mention they are celebrating their 15th anniversary visiting MPS this year. Now that’s loyalty!

Unloading the skis and poles happens very quickly and within minutes of reaching the “drop off”, we’re all clicked into our bindings and ready to go, smiling with excitement. Our guide assesses the slope and drops in. The fresh powder, nearly 15 cm, flies light and fluffy behind him. This sets the tone to our day.

After one, two, three runs of effortless turns in pure “blower”, we all realize our group is made up of solid and experienced skiers so we are able to step it up a notch. Everyone is paying attention to the Guide’s instructions, staying close by and making the transitions very fast and smooth, which will allow us to link

the runs faster, ski more vertical and more challenging terrain. The visibility being fairly low at this point means steep tree lines will be on the program for the rest of the day.

Monashee Powder’s tenure is huge, 17,000 acres total, and the terrain extremely varied, although the visibility doesn’t allow me to gauge the extent of it on that very first day. The Lodge itself being located at 1600m of elevation, the rain and warm temperatures has only had a moderate effect on the snowpack above it so the skiing is absolutely fabulous. At the end of the day, I am in awe and so stoked about what I just got to experience. I am even happier thinking that I have two more days of this ahead of me. As the forecast predicted, it’s snowing hard again!

Back to the Lodge, guests disperse to soak in the hot tubs, take advantage of the Registered Massage Therapist and Acupuncturist on duty or enjoy some Après in the bar where some tasty appies and cold beverages are served.

A little later, a gourmet 4-course dinner is casually served in the dining room by the Lodge’s friendly staff. Helping bringing the plates really works up my appetite. To the sound of chatter, laughter and tales of the extraordinary day, guests and staff all replenish their energy with a fine albacore tuna tartare, split pea and roasted garlic soup, bison tenderloin cooked to perfection and sweet delicacies crafted by the on-staff pastry chef, all paired with a selection of fine BC wines.

Jokes and stories are flying around and I can tell that a long-lasting friendship links Carolyn and Tom Morgan, the owners of Monashee Powder, to their guests and staff. This extraordinary couple, originally from the oil & gas industry in Calgary, literally got addicted to cat skiing and to this little corner of the Monashee mountains back in the 90’s. Back then, guests were hosted in prospector-type tents (Tom would tell you the exact make and model of those tents!) heated by wood stoves…and skiing long straight skis. The Morgan’s have invested all their heart in this unconventional business, making this place unpretentious, warm, authentic, and extremely welcoming, where people gather around a true passion for skiing. This is certainly the reason why their guests return over and over and the Lodge almost sells out a year in advance.

While guests and staff make their way to the bar for some after-dinner drinks and live music, I head right for my cozy little bed. One thing is certain, tonight my eyes won’t stay open and my dreams will certainly involve some white, fluffy snow and steep untracked lines…