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Penner: Mountain climbing with out the hoards

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A few hours into our hike and I’m starting to marvel if there’s been some sort of zombie apocalypse and my son and I are, nicely, the final of us. Since leaving the trailhead close to the freeway we haven’t seen one other human. No half-dead, fungal-infected freaks both. True, the path we’re on – Excessive Midday Hills in Sheep River Provincial Park – isn’t precisely world-renowned. However, nonetheless, I might have guess there’d be at the very least a couple of different wanderers out and about. However it’s November. Most individuals have put away their poles. Simply one in every of many the reason why the shoulder season is, in my view, the perfect time to go for a stroll!   

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After all, I’ll take stroll within the woods any month of the 12 months. To me, even on a crazy-busy path in Banff in mid-summer, the professionals all the time outweigh the cons. In any case, it’s nature. It’s the nice open air. And it’s essential in your thoughts, physique, and soul to only get on the market and recreate. So far as I’m involved, going for a hike has all the time been one of many biggest methods in historical past to do that.  

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Pretty much as good as it’s, climbing within the shoulder season does include a couple of little nuances. “Dangers” may be a greater option to put it. Path circumstances may be variable and sketchy. Mud, snow, ice … it’s all in play. Even driving to sure trailheads may be troublesome some days. And climate circumstances can be difficult. Excessive chilly, sturdy winds, blowing snow, sleet … ya simply by no means know. 

A silhouette of the writer climbing in Kananaskis Nation. Picture, Andrew Penner jpg

“Rule primary when climbing within the shoulder season is to keep away from avalanche terrain,” says Joel Hagen, an accredited and award-winning climbing information and the proprietor of Nice Divide Nature Interpretation in Banff. Hagen, who began his firm together with his accomplice, Nadine, in 1997 after working as a naturalist for Parks Canada for numerous years, has led lots of of hikes within the Canadian Rockies and is totally conscious of the dangers and the perfect methods to mitigate them. He’s been a climbing information for 32 years and is one in every of solely 20 guides within the nation with “Grasp” standing with the Interpretive Guides Affiliation.  

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“Ice cleats are additionally important,” says Hagan, who spends a lot of his winter guiding snowshoeing adventures in Banff Nationwide Park. “They supply that crucial traction that you simply want when the path will get icy they usually can prevent from having a critical fall. Additionally, you must pack extra security gear than you would possibly in summer season. I like to recommend additional layers, a headlamp in case night sneaks up on you, snacks, and a thermos of one thing heat like tea or scorching cocoa. Given how lengthy and chilly the nights are, it’s a good suggestion to let a detailed contact find out about your plans simply in case one thing goes improper.”   

Whereas being ready is, clearly, important, selecting the place to go can be a make-it-or-break-it resolution. “In Lake Louise, Lake Agnes is an effective guess in November,” says Hagen. “The path is straightforward to search out and normally well-packed by different hikers. For many who wish to squeeze the final bit of warmth out of the season, the Citadel Lookout path alongside the Bow Valley Parkway has massive vistas and might really feel surprisingly heat on sunny days because of its south-facing facet. In Banff, attempt the shoreline of Lake Minnewanka. It’s open and scenic and one other place the place sunshine feels particularly good within the mornings.”  

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The writer climbing alongside the spectacular Whaleback Ridge within the shoulder season. Picture, Andrew Penner jpg

As a result of lack of individuals, I’ve all the time loved the hikes within the Sheep River Provincial Park space west of Diamond Valley. Excessive Midday Hills, Foran Grade, and Mesa Butte, which is positioned within the Mesa Butte Provincial Recreation space, are private favourites. As a result of its south-facing facet, Mesa Butte – a comparatively fast scamper as much as a pine-coated knoll with beautiful views – all the time appears to be good late within the fall and in early spring. The proximity of those hikes to Calgary (lower than an hour to get to the trailheads) is one other draw. Earlier than heading out, I all the time test climate forecasts, test for street closures, and path circumstances, and skim current path opinions on apps similar to Alltrails and Trailforks.  

Unquestionably, the payoffs of climbing within the shoulder season are quite a few. On these “regular” days when the temperature is reasonable and the winds are calm, it may be spectacular. Contemporary snow on the peaks, moody fog banks, frost-coated bushes, frozen waterfalls, lovely Chinook clouds, clear skies, no bugs, and no crowds are simply a few of my favorite elements of climbing within the shoulder season. 

To high it off, the vast majority of the bears are in hibernation (I’d nonetheless pack bear spray) and zombie sightings are additionally fairly uncommon (they don’t make zombie spray.)   

Andrew Penner is a contract author and photographer primarily based in Calgary. You possibly can observe him on Instagram @andrewpennerphotography. 

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