Northern B.C.’s Ancient Forest

Ancient Western Red Cedars. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

Ancient Western Red Cedars. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

Sometimes the best travel finds are those easily overlooked. Take the Ancient Forest Trail, for example. The big sign on Highway16 between Prince George and McBride, BC stands stalwart. We’ve driven by many times, but with miles behind us and many more ahead, we felt a need to get out and stretch our legs.

Slow Start, Big Rewards
The parking lot, overgrown and looking little more than an old gravel pit, is not immediately inspiring. We scan the introductory signage and trail/boardwalk sponsor list and then catch our breath as we head uphill to find Big Tree. Flowering thimbleberry plants quickly give way to Devil’s Club. Scrubby alder disappears in the shadows of ancient cedar trees. Interpretive signs dot the trail, offering snippets of natural history. Bits of boardwalk turn into a steady chain of wooden planks as we climb up into the land of giants.

Over a thousand years old, these cedars are giants. (Photo Credit: M.Kopp)

Over a thousand years old, these cedars are giants. (Photo Credit: M.Kopp)

Naming the Giants
Big Tree measures 5 metres (16 feet) in diameter. It measures its age in millennia. This massive Western Red Cedar is estimated to be several thousand years old. Dubbed Treebeard by local hikers, one of the giants shares its moniker with a character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels. Perhaps the most important tree is Radies Tree. It’s not the biggest or the most unusual; it’s just an old giant named in honour of one Dave Radies.

In 2005, the graduate student was studying old growth forests. Radies discovered markings on a few of the cedars and learned that the area was to be logged. He spread the word. One year later, the Ancient Forest Trail was built. In 2008, logging plans were cancelled. Thanks D.R.

Near the base of this giant are red survey markings; a tangible reminder of how close we were to losing this special forest. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

Near the base of this giant are red survey markings; a tangible reminder of how close we were to losing this special forest. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

Let’s take our hearts for a walk in the woods
and listen to the magic whispers of old trees.
~Author Unknown

 

 

Ireland’s Skellig Michael (Part 2)

Where was I?

Oh yeah, distracted by puffins on Skellig Michael. Other travel adventures, work, and life have kept me from finishing this story, but what better time to get back to blogging about Ireland than St. Patrick’s Day?

We agreed that once off the boat, we’d head straight for the monastery dating back to about 700 AD. It is perched on top of the green isle, so we’d save picture ops for the way down. Throw in a puffin or a hundred and out come the cameras.

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A posin’ puffin! (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Shoot! They are too dang cute!

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Pausing for puffins. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

I could fill a dozen posts with puffin pics, but let’s get back to the hike. If you’ve watched the latest Star Wars epic, you’ve seen a little bit of Skellig on the big screen.

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The ascent up Skellig. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

The climb is steep, really steep. So steep that a misstep can – in fact, has been – fatal. But the views…

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Stopped for photos. It’s a long, rocky way down. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

And then there it is, the summit hermitage. Why did the monks choose this remote, storm-battered rock in the Atlantic? What made them stay for over five centuries? What was the best part of life on Skellig?

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Entering the hermitage. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Climbing past the beehive shelters lies the high cross. It’s weathered and worn and full of wonder.

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The High Cross towers over Little Skellig. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Skellig Michael. It’s a walk on the wild side.

Teaching Kids about Writing

Head down, office door closed, the last couple weeks of September and into October have been full of work. With seven books to wrap up, two magazine articles to write and travel queries to send out, there hasn’t been a lot of spare time.

Okay, maybe a little spare time… but not a lot!

So when I received a request for a school program late last week, I had to turn it down.

Not!

I jumped at the chance to talk writing while soaking up the positive energy that comes from a roomful of kids. It didn’t matter that taking another afternoon out of the office meant working late that night, those two hours were full of excitement and interest – and I think the kids enjoyed it, too 😉

Spending an afternoon with these keen kids wasn’t a chore, it was a privilege. Pushing my ability to multi-task when my plate was already full showed me that I was capable of more than I thought. In the words of Nelson Mandela: “There is no passion to be found playing small–in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

3 Tips for School Presentations:

  1. Start strong with a hook. I began telling the kids how I wanted to write a novel full of adventure and drama when I first started writing. The problem was that I wasn’t any good at writing fiction. I pulled out a copy of my first Reader’s Digest article and read a paragraph of Marianne trapped on a ledge, yelling into the wind at her rescuers in the distance, and watching the lights disappear. I wasn’t good at writing fiction, but I was skilled at writing non-fiction. They were hooked!
  2. Circulate. I always make sure that there are several hands-on activities for the kids to do. Instead of twiddling my thumbs at the front of the room, I wander through the groups, offering suggestions and answering questions. The kids enjoy the one-on-one time.
  3. Break it up. Be sure to build in bathroom and stretch breaks. Everyone will be happier and better able to focus.

Skellig Michael: A Walk on Ireland’s Wild Side (Part 1)

There are places that beckon, that call to a place deep within your soul and say “you must come.” Skellig Michael, off Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way is one of those places. It spoke to me. No, that’s not quite right. Skellig Michael didn’t speak, it yelled.

And I listened.

My daughter and I only had two weeks to travel from Canada to Ireland and tour the Emerald Isle for the first time. I really didn’t have any must-sees as long as we worked in time to drive to the Ring of Kerry to find the little harbour town of Portmagee for the chance to board a tiny boat and ride out over the waves to climb 600 stone steps up a cliff to a monastery dating back to 700 A.D.

'Sceillic' means steep rock. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

‘Sceillic’ means steep rock. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Was I crazy? I hate rough seas. Not just a little bit, I’m terrified of rough water. Truth be told, I’m not always that good with heights, either. But I couldn’t help it, I had to go.

The trip out to Skellig Michael (a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996) is not a guaranteed event. An average of two days out of seven, it’s simply too rough for locals captains to ply their vessels. With this in mind, and a somewhat flexible schedule, we decided to wait until closer to the date to book our trip. When we did, it was full.

“You can try standby,” we were told.

Skellig Michael tour boats in harbour at Portmagee. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Skellig Michael tour boats in harbour at Portmagee. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Arriving an hour early, we stood in a line that grew to almost 40 individuals – all looking for last-minute passage over to Skellig Michael for the day. There are 12 boats in total running from three locations that hold licences to land at Blind Man’s Cove each day. As the boats began to fill, we stood by the gate and crossed our fingers. Five seats were available for standby.

We were the last two to get on.

Final two seats on the Anchorsiveen. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

Final two seats on the Anchorsiveen. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

The captain’s assistant handed out extra waterproofs to cover legs for those of us who hadn’t thought to bring rain pants. The calm inner harbour soon became gentle waves and then rock and roll. Cold, salty water misted faces over and over again. I kept looking back, watching the cape recede. I couldn’t see our destination ahead. My girl smiled and reminded me – yet again – that I was the one who wanted to do this trip.

At the end of the day I asked our captain how he would rate the seas for our trip - with one being the best possible crossing and 10 being the worst. Our trip was only a four! (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

At the end of the day I asked our captain how he would rate the seas for our trip – with one being the best possible crossing and 10 being too rough to go out. Our trip was only a four! (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

As we pulled into the lee side of the island, 11.6 km from the mainland, the waves died down to a rolling swell. Bobbing up and down beside the concrete dock, we jumped on slippery steps and scampered up to terra firma.

Looking back at the landing in Blind Man's Cove on Ireland's Skellig Michael. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Looking back at the landing in Blind Man’s Cove on Ireland’s Skellig Michael. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

I could have kissed the ground – but I was too distracted by the sudden warmth of the sun. Shedding layers, we stuffed our backpacks and began the stroll up the gently climbing paths that led to … OMG… puffins!

Puffins can be seen on Skellig Michael until early August. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Puffins can be seen on Skellig Michael until early August. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Not one, not two, but hundreds of puffins land on the tiny isle to breed every summer – along with guillemots, fulmars, razorbills and…

(Read Part 2 here)

Circumnavigating Kananaskis Country’s Tombstone Mountain

I should have paid closer attention to the details.

We shouldered our backpacks in the Elbow Lake parking lot on Highway 40 in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and joined the day hikers heading for Rae Glacier and the young families traipsing up to the lake. The short 1.3 km uphill was quickly covered and we left most of the crowd behind to head out alongside the headwaters of the Elbow River towards the Piper Meadows turnoff at 3.8 km from the lake.

Looking at the topographic map, we saw the “shortcut” across the meadows. The main turnoff was less than a km down the trail, but why go downhill, just to climb back up again? Why not take the direct route and save a little time and effort. You know where this is going, right? After a little cursing and more bushwhacking, we came up on the trail. No time or effort saved; probably the reason Gillean Daffern didn’t mention the “shortcut” in her guidebook!

Happy to have a trail once again under my feet, we ambled through the forest, steadily climbing to Piper Meadows in full bloom.

Wildlfowers in full bloom on the approach to the meadows below Piper Pass. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Wildlflowers on the approach to the meadows below Piper Pass. (Photo: M. Kopp)

A single Bighorn sheep skittered off to the scree slopes as we entered the meadows and old bear diggings marked the search for juicy roots as we got closer to the pass. What looked like uniform, fine brown dirt from a distance turned out to be slippery and steep scree up to the pass. The views back towards Rae Glacier took some of the sting out of the effort!

Climb, climb, climb up to the pass. (Photo: B. Kopp)

Climb, climb, climb up to the pass. (Photo: B. Kopp)

Layers, snacks and drinks took precedence at the pass (5 km from the Big Elbow trail junction). Piper Pass was named in honour of Norma Piper, an opera singer who married local legend George Pocaterra in the 1930s.

At the pass overlooking the route down the West Fork. (Photo: M. Kopp)

At the pass overlooking the route down the West Fork. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Looking over the other side towards the small tarn that was our original destination for the evening, I almost gasped at the faint trail – I swear made by the shaggy sheep that was looking up curiously at us. Had I been paying closer attention earlier, I might have heard “cliffs and vertiginous scree slopes” and “for experienced scree bashers and route-finders only.”

The descent off Piper Pass is challenging with loose scree and next to no trail. (Photo: M. Kopp)

The descent off Piper Pass is challenging with loose scree and next to no trail. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Ankles and knees still operating at almost full capacity, we stopped at the tarn and assessed the weather. The warm, sunny summer’s day was turning cloudy and without a doubt a storm was going to hit. The small alpine meadows offered little protection and we agreed it would be best to head for the shelter trees near the valley bottom. This is where it turned ugly… the route that is, not the surroundings!

Side-hilling across grassy meadows on the right and descending through some blocky scree we eventually reached the avalanche paths mentioned in the guide, hoping to see a sign of a trail. There really isn’t one. Pushing on in the direction we knew we had to go, we bashed through the trees and finally found a bit of a route… oh, lost it… there it is… no, it’s gone again.

Finally on the "trail" - West Fork is a test of route finding skills. (Photo: B. Kopp)

Finally on the “trail” –  the West Fork of the Little Elbow is a test of route finding skills. (Photo: B. Kopp)

By the time we reached the small canyon, a fairly well-defined trail lead us down to an old hunter’s campsite beneath a towering ribbon waterfall. Perfect place to pitch a tent and hang a cooking tarp – all accomplished just before the rain set in for the night.

The problem with rainy nights and bushy trails is that no matter how waterproof your boots  are or how high the gaiters rise, you are going to get wet. Especially when the trail disappears from time to time beneath the ravages of the 2013 floods. We kept heading downstream and angled across the wide meadows until we intersected the trail.

Moist meadow walking. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Moist meadow walking – yes, there is a trail here! (Photo: M. Kopp)

At this point, I’m really not sure why I bothered taking off my boots for the first of four creek crossings for the day, but damp is different than soaking wet! On the creek bank, fresh wolf tracks were spotted in the mud.

Glacial creek crossings are part of the adventure. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Glacial creek crossings are part of the adventure. (Photo: M. Kopp)

It was a challenging 3.5 km from our camp to the end of the exploration road where the route heads up to Paradise Pass. With clouds threatening, we made a hasty route change and opted for the easier hike 4.9 km down to Romulus Campground, up towards Tombstone Pass and back around to Elbow Lake rather than heading over Paradise and out Evan-Thomas as originally planned.

Spending another night down the trail from the pass, we took the side route in the morning into Tombstone Lakes. So close to Piper Pass and yet, so far!

Lower Tombstone Lake - Piper Pass is right on the other side of those rocks! (Photo: M. Kopp)

Lower Tombstone Lake – Piper Pass is just on the other side of those rocks! (Photo: M. Kopp)

Yes, I probably should have paid closer attention to the route details before heading out on this adventure, but if I had, I might have objected and missed the chance to circumnavigate Tombstone Mountain – and this little slice of heaven.

Total distance travelled: ~39 km
Guidebook: Daffern, Gillean. Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 2, 4th ed. Rocky Mountain Books, 2011.

Rafting the Kootenay

There is nothing like a long weekend in the mountains to rejuvenate body and soul and put that smile back on your face. Spent four days in Kootenay National Park soaking up some seriously fine weather and waves!

Vermillion Crossing to Simpson River on the Kootenay (Photo: B. Kopp)

Vermillion Crossing to Simpson River on the Kootenay (Photo: B. Kopp)

The hound was happy, too!

She even rocked her own doggie life jacket! (Photo: B. Kopp)

Taylor’s rocking her doggie life jacket! (Photo: B. Kopp)

After two days of rafting adventures, took a day off to gain a different perspective. The scale of the mountains never fails to amaze when you see how easily they turn a raft with four large guys into a dot near the bottom centre of a picture. Love the Rocky Mountains and the rivers that run through them!

Kootenay River, B.C. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Kootenay River, B.C. (Photo: M. Kopp)

One wishes to go on. On this great river one could glide forever — and here we discover the definition of bliss, salvation, Heaven, all the old Mediterranean dreams: a journey from wonder to wonder, drifting through eternity into ever-deeper, always changing grandeur, through beauty continually surpassing itself: the ultimate Homeric voyage.

– Edward Abbey

The Mountains Call Me Home

Spray Lakes, Kananaskis Country (Photo: M. Kopp)

Spray Lakes, Kananaskis Country (Photo: M. Kopp)

I could have stayed in the office and caught up on work, but the mountains were calling and I had to go.

I’ve been away for the past five weeks, travelling in southwestern United States and overseas to Ireland. On each trip, I was immersed in moment – the pull of the river through canyon country, the spirit of the roads winding through the green isle – but now that I am back in the Rockies, I’m reminded that home is where the heart is and my heart is in the mountains.

Summit approach on Ha Ling. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Summit approach on Ha Ling. (Photo: M. Kopp)

“Because in the end you won’t remember the time you spent
Working in an office or mowing your lawn
Climb that goddamn mountain.”
– Jack Kerouac

 

Springtime in the Foothills of the Canadian Rockies

How do I know spring is here?

It’s the tired pup in the back of the car at the end of a warm hike up Prairie Mountain, outside of Bragg Creek (just west of Calgary, Alberta).

Taylor in the boot - of the car! (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Taylor in the boot – of the car! (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

The flowers are starting to show their glorious colour!

Prairie crocus - one day out! (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Prairie crocus – one day out! (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

I’m playing pickup on the river as my guy and his friends come down the Bow River from Ghost Dam with huge smiles on their faces.

Shuttle pickup for my kayaker and his pals on the Bow River. (Photo credit: M, Kopp)

Shuttle pickup for my kayaker and his pals on the Bow River. (Photo credit: M, Kopp)

“Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm.”
― John MuirThe Wilderness World of John Muir

Long Weekend Skiing at Dave Henry Lodge

My friend pulled down a book from the narrow, wooden shelf high above the front window. It was “The Book of Awesome” by Neil Pasricha. The gist of the book is enjoying the little things in life – like waking up in the morning and realizing it’s a Saturday.

Dave Henry Lodge, Valemount B.C. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Dave Henry Lodge, Valemount B.C. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

Or like standing on the main floor of Dave Henry Lodge, high in the mountains above Valemount, B.C. with two long-time friends and a half dozen or so new acquaintances, brooms and snow shovels and flattened cardboard boxes in hand, trying to coax a pine marten out from behind the indoor woodpile. And trying not to squeal like a little girl as the marten flies past the blockade of plastic ski boots, brooms, shovels, and cardboard and hides under the red and black benches surrounding the long table.

Live trapped and awaiting relocation. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

Live trapped and awaiting relocation. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

Awesome is walking down the narrow staircase from the sleeping bunks at 6:30 a.m. smelling fresh coffee wafting from the kitchen and seeing thick snow falling outside.

It’s having your guy give up a day of ripping up the slopes with the strong skiing group to find the perfect hero snowpatch for you to yo-yo up and down all day – and then complimenting you on your awesome descent through the thickly treed slope back to the cabin. Plus, it’s catching duplicate ear-to-ear grins on the faces of the lakeside snowshoers and steep and deep skiers at the end of the day.

My guy... (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

My guy… (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

...and I! (Photo Credit: B. Kopp)

…and I! (Photo Credit: B. Kopp)

Could it be just sitting in the low-roofed sauna with a cold beer, a bucket of snow and the irrepressible impulse to throw a snowball at your sauna mates?

Awesome is happy hour beginning with red grape salsa on goat cheese crostini and a guys versus gals game of Sequence, chasing it down with baked steelhead and round of travel and adventure tales and topping it all off with raspberry Linzer torte, Irish-cream laden coffee and a dollop of whip cream.

It’s having one of your new friends point out the silhouette of a hawk-owl perched high on a conifer tree in the middle of the day.

Maybe it’s skimming the tops of two snow-capped passes and banking hard right as the helicopter soars back towards spring.

Passes between Dave Henry and Swift Creek. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

Passes between Dave Henry and Swift Creek. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

How was the weekend?  A whole lot of awesome.

  “Because, life’s too short, my friends. Let’s squeeze in as many laughs as we can get.
– Neil Pasricha

A little snowboot downward dog! "“Because, life’s too short, my friends. Let’s squeeze in as many laughs as we can get.”  - Neil Pasricha

A little pre-ski downward dog. Can someone help him back up? (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)