Oh, the places you’ll go and the people you’ll meet.

Dan and I stumbled into the backcountry earlier this summer almost by accident. Our planned car camping adventure was foiled by a mudslide, which sent us to Kananaskis Country where every single campsite was booked. We thus ended up in overflow camping (read: a parking lot) where we were nearly eaten alive by mosquitos before a thunderstorm hit and we were subsequently kept up all night by a drunken group of boys. All I wanted the next night was to get away–far away. So we backpacked into Elk Lakes, where we spent the evening around a fire eating marshmallows and swigging whiskey with a pair of down-to-earth dads, and four Nepalese-Americans who have backpacked every single weekend since February–rain, shine or snow. You meet a different sort of folk back there. The sort that inspire you to get off your ass and explore already.

This weekend, we journeyed to Burstall Pass and Burstall Campground. The first half is a day hike, and was well-populated.

There was fresh snow on the ground. People looked at our backpacks and raised their eyebrows. “Hope you have some warm gear in there.”

“How far away is the campground?” Dan asked me. Oh about 12 K, I think. “And what’s the elevation change?” Mmmm…yeah I forgot to check that. We take out the map. “Looks like we lose about 900 meters in 5k.” (i.e. tomorrow’s uphill is going to be brutal.) “Sky. For future trips, maybe you could check these things.”

Right. But throw a little caution to the wind and here you are:

The backside of the pass granted us our wish of solitude in the wilderness. We were exhausted when we arrived.

At first, we were all alone. (We got the best tent site.)

Then a family arrived. A couple and their teenage son.

(We were reading when they showed up.)

“Is anyone else here?” they asked.
“No, just us.”
“Sorry! You would’ve had it to yourselves.”
“No, no,” we said. “Welcome!” The truth is, we were relieved they showed up. We’d seen an unnervingly fresh pile of berry-filled bear scat not too far back on the trail.

The sun began to go down. Dan gathered tinder for a fire.

“Are you making a fire?!” The teenager, whose name is Max, ran over. He took on the fire like a pet, watching Dan, gathering wood, throwing on whatever he could find.  The mom and dad were Paulette and Rick, they live in the countryside outside of London and have extremely awesome accents.

They are here on a month-long vacation  and this was there first day of six on this particular jaunt through the backcountry. They have already completed two, one in Yoho and one from Lake Louise to Banff.

Every summer, they do a month-long trip like this. Last year, it was the Sierra Nevada. The year before, the Wind River Mountains, the Tetons and Yellowstone. They’ve been to Bolivia, Peru and the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. All with Max, every single year of his life.
Wilderness dishwasher.

I’m pie-eyed, having assumed that we’ll have to give up camping adventures for several years while our kids are young.

“It was one of the things I worried about most when Paulette said she wanted to have a child,” said Rick. “When he was young-until he was two-I could carry him on my back. Ages three to six, when he couldn’t walk properly, were the hardest. But when he was seven, he could begin to carry his own sleeping bag and things like that.

“The thing is, you just have to decide what you want to do, and then figure out how to make it happen.”

Dan and I went to see my cousin Cory‘s film Cold at the Banff Film Festival last year, and people asked them Why? Why do you risk your lives to climb these ridiculous mountains (in winter)?

His climbing partner Simone Moro answered: “Well it’s love, really.” You follow the things you love, however foolish, whatever sacrifice you have to make, whatever risk you have to take. Just like you would for a person you love.

Our adventures are so dang tame in comparison, and I’m not sure how much risk or sacrifice they involve. But I think we are pushing ourselves harder and farther.  Because I do love the mountain light.

I love fetching water at the river.

I love imagining a Giant Queen opening the door and stepping out of this mountain.


I love campfires, and the smell in our tent before we sleep. Like evergreens and nylon and smoke in our hair and sweat and sunscreen. (I love this man, too.)

I asked Rick if he was always a mountain man, if his parents were outdoors people.

“No,” he said. “Not at all. I have this distinct memory of being about four-years-old and looking out the window at this big hill and wanting so badly to see what was on top of it. So I begged my dad for weeks. Finally, he took me up there, and there was this huge view and all of these sheep trails. I just thought it was the most wonderful thing. Ever since then I’ve wanted to be on top of things and exploring.”

When the moon rose and the stars came out, we finally went to bed. In the morning, we gave them our fresh thyme and the rest of our parmesan cheese (Max almost toppled over he was so excited about the cheese.) It’s all about the little treats when you’re camping.

We took their picture and they took ours.

So cute, aren’t they?

Also: we found this moose antler. Can you imagine shedding this thing?

This is my favorite picture. Favorite mountain. Favorite man.

I think Dan wanted to smack me a little bit during the uphill on the way back. And maybe even more during the last 3k when our legs were about to give out under us and we were hobbling like 80-year-olds.
But, hey, baby, it was worth it, right?
I’d say it always is when you’re on top of things and exploring.

A weekend away in the mountains.

Sometimes I need to get away.

It’s not that I have the most stressful life. Lord knows, I don’t. But when you drink coffee here–beside a creek with a mountain view–it tastes richer. The sun feels different on your skin, warm relief from the chilly morning air.  The water tumbling down the river sings you awake.

We live in the Rockies now. People come from all over the world to see these mountains.

The sun is still summer warm and the days are long. Part of me wishes it could last forever. But I think knowing fall is just around the bend makes getting out and about more urgent. You can’t put it off. It’s now or never (or next year, at least.)

One of these cowboys was an ex-park ranger. He encouraged us to get off trail.

Which led us here. To this hidden lake. Hidden Lake of Heaven, I think I’ll call it.

Replete with a little fairy waterfall.

We spent all day just. Soaking it in.

I feel so humble in the mountains. They remind me that I am here. And that that is enough.

Sunrise.

Our little MSR is like a second home. (and this was possibly our favorite campsite ever.)

The weekend before was a tough one for me. Someone I love very much had a stroke. He loves the mountains and was a great adventurer. In fact, my family has a long history in this very mountain range.

It’s overwhelming sometimes, isn’t it? How joy and sadness and love and fear somehow share the same space in your heart?

Life is so short, Friends. We say it all the time, but it’s true. I think for me it’s about the Hidden Lakes of Heaven.

And love, of course.

(For anyone curious, we camped at Mosquito Creek backcountry campground in Banff on night one. About a three mile hike in. We then hiked to the top of Molar Pass. We had reservations to camp at Molar Creek but the aforementioned ex-park ranger told us we’d be ok if we camped on the Pass so long as we were smart and low impact. So that’s what we did.)