Birthday Camping in Kananaskis

This weekend, Alex and I went camping. It was the first time I’d gone camping since about 1997, before I’d moved to Vancouver. Seven years is far too long a dry period.

We weren’t camping alone, though. My aunt and uncle had invited us. This meant a good campsite (because Brenda would get up there long before us), good food (my family always cooks well, no matter where it is), and some really good insider knowledge of the Kananaskis area.

Still, one had to be prepared. That meant going to Mountain Equipment Co-op for seam sealer (my tent had leaked the last time I’d used it) and two self-inflating mattresses so we wouldn’t be sleeping directly on the compacted gravel ground. (I still think I’m young, but even in my prime I wouldn’t have been able to sleep on that ground — it was like concrete.)

Friday night, I picked up Alex and we headed west, stopping at the Safeway to get our basic food supplies. As we arrived at the store, we could see very dark, ominous clouds heading east. There was a storm approaching. A big one. A nasty one. One that was generating a lot of worry for a lot of people. Alex told me that a tornado watch was in effect.

As we drove west, we started to pass under the storm. Big, heavy drops of rain fell periodically on the windshield. Not the little drops of a starting storm, but the elephantine plops of something wicked this way coming. Alex asked:

“Um, just out of curiousity, how do you tell when a tornado is going to strike?”

I thought about all the documentaries and articles that I’ve read about tornadoes. The general aspect was pretty simple:

“When you see the worst weather you’ll ever see in your life.”

We continued driving, the Mini skating a bit around on the highway. (It was quite windy.) The rain fell harder, the drops barely diminishing in size. Suddenly, going back to Calgary was seeming a better idea.


Pling plack plink.

[Insert sound of a million ball bearings bouncing of a tin roof.]

Calgary is conveniently wedged in an area loosely known as “Hail Alley”, and for good reason. There’ve been a few nasty hailstorms here in the last decade or so. This was yet another one.

Like every vehicle on the road, we pulled over. (If I’d been smart, I would have pulled alongside a transport truck, to shield myself from the deluge.) For the next 10 minutes, we were target practice for Mother Nature. The storm was wild, winds buffeting the little car (and its two occupants), pellets of ice rapping into the side as if to tear it apart (I honestly worried that we’d lose a window) and creating a 5-6 inch sheet of ice and water on the highway. It was so thick that we couldn’t see 10 metres away.

The hail ranged from little pellets right up to near golf-ball size. The noise was deafening.

Finally, the storm passed over (thankfully, storms out here don’t last too long), and we were able to start moving forward. It took a couple of kilometres driving barely over 20 km/h before the road cleared up enough for some forward movement. By the time we got to Scott Lake Hill, it was hard to tell that it had hailed. By the time we got on the highway into Kananaskis, you couldn’t even tell that foul weather had passed by.

As the storm shrank in the distance (before pummelling south Calgary), Alex noted:

“That was the worst weather I’d ever seen in my life.”

(The result, in case you’re wondering, was hundreds of little dents on the roof, hood, and passenger side of the car, and a cracked driver’s side mirror. I’m taking this up with State Farm for repairs.)

We finally arrived at site 17 of the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park’s Interlake campground just after 21:00. They were more than a little relieved to see us, since the campground manager had told them there was a tornado warning earlier in the day. (We would have no foul weather for the remainder of our time there.)

We quickly pitched the tent and got ourselves settled. The managers (who zipped up and down on a golf cart) soon spotted the tent and let us know that we had to pay for the time we were there. By that point, we’d already been to the lake, started a fire, and chatted with Brenda and Jen about the drive out to the campground. (The managers were almost horrified at the story.)

Brenda and Jen took off for the showers (the nearest ones are over a five minute drive away) while Alex and I enjoyed the setting sun and the lightning from distant storms illuminating the horizon over the mountains. We tried to roast marshmallows, but realized that we’d have to wait until they got back with the car. (The marshmallows were in the rear.)

The two of us stayed up late, sitting on rocks on the shore of Lower Lake, watching the stars (we saw two satellites — the moving glint is hard to miss), and the massive thunderstorm way off to the south, which flashed light even through the trees (though you couldn’t hear a single rumble of thunder).

We woke up late(ish) Friday morning. It looked earlier than it was, but since we were nestled well within the trees, it was hard to tell just how early (or late) it was. Almost as soon as we had waken, Alex turned to me, smiled, and said:

“Happy birthday!”

She would say this to me all day long. Have I mentioned that I love this woman?

On Thursday, I’d had a little rant about how after waiting for four years for Critical Mass to finally have a Stampede breakfast, they decided to have one on the day I’d chosen to go camping. (It figured.) When Brenda offered pancakes as an option, I couldn’t resist. Alex whipped up the batter, and I tackled the bacon.

So on my birthday, I still had my pancake breakfast. ‘Course, watch Critical Mass not do a Stampede breakfast next year.

Following breakfast, Jen, Alex, and I went for a bike ride to fetch some milk. Jen, as you might recall, needs milk as badly as cars need gasoline (see [[Turning Japanese Again, Touring Osaka]]). Skim milk just wasn’t cutting it, so we biked to the store (near the showers) to pick up four litres of 2%. It would at least tide Jen over until later in the day. (Okay, yes, a bit of an exaggeration. But only a bit.)

The ride there was a bit difficult, but not too hard. The trip back was considerably more difficult, as the hills were steeper. We arrived back to find a rope tied between two trees, brandishing a series of white balloons. The word had been spilled. Someone knew it was my birthday.

(I have to admit that for quite a while, I thought Alex had something to do with all of this. She routinely denied anything beyond her own personal involvement, so I can only assume that my mom must’ve let her sister in on the deal.)

The bike back had gotten us quite warm. (It didn’t help that it was already in the high 20s.) This seemed like as good a time as any to go swimming. And since our campsite was next to the “beach” (a very rocky beach), it seemed like a good idea. So armed with a couple of chairs and our books, we went in search of something a little cooler.

Lower Lake is … cold. I won’t mince words, it’s numbing. It’s about 10 degree (an estimate, as I have no thermometer). Walking in was hard enough. Dunking was painful. By the time we got out, we could barely feel our knees. (We had to wear our flip-flops into the lake, due to the sharp rocks on the bottom.) Jen had even more trouble that we did.

Sitting on the beach, we took in the sun, watching the people pass us by and the birds fly overhead. Using a pair of binoculars, I scanned the slopes of Mt. Indefatigable for signs of an illusive bear and her two cubs. They’re responsible for the mountain’s trails having been closed for the second year in a row. It’s not a good idea to climb a mountain with a mother grizzly bear.

The search only garnered me a sunburn on my upper back. Ouch.

Uncle Mike showed up not too long afterwards, with Maggie in tow. That meant it was time for lunch. We went with the old camping favourites: hamburgers and hotdogs. And some potato salad thrown in for good measure.

After lunch, Mike and I hung the hammock. At that point, we officially lost Alex for the rest of the afternoon, as she wanted to spent the rest of her time swinging between the trees. I joined her before too long, and we drifted in and out of consciousness most of the afternoon. (We were supposed to go to Kananaskis Village with Mike and Jen, but they opted not to disturb us.)

Dinner was later than usual, but given the late lunch and the heat, a break from eating wasn’t such a bad thing. Given the option of a side of beef and chicken, we went with the chicken. It was chicken served with a salad that had avocado and mango thrown in with the raspberry vinaigrette. Quite tasty, really.

We also had dessert, which I’d half-hoped they wouldn’t do. (Of course, I half-hoped they would, so I wasn’t disappointed.) Out came Jen, carrying a birthday cake, riddled with candles. (I hopefully need not mention all the “old” jokes I got as we sat around the table. Don’t worry, Alex, you’ll get yours in due time.)

Cheesecake. Sadly, not something I can usually eat. In fact, I’ve only ever been able to eat one cheesecake (one my friend Emma had made during the CBC 50th Anniversary Train journey). Fortunately, Mike and Jen had brought back some chocolate delicacies that would keep me placated.

Following our meal, Alex and went for a short walk (primarily to the toilets, but we looped back via the beach). As we walked away from the campsite, we reached out to hold hands. But there was something in her palm. As I pulled my hand away to see what it was, she deposited the object into my palm. Keys. To her apartment. I think my heart actually stopped for a moment.

Yes, folks, it’s that serious.

We didn’t stay up too late that night, as it was quite a bit cooler than the night before. Which is too bad, otherwise we might have heard more of the coyotes, who howled around the lakes all night.

Waking around 10:00, we took immediately to the task of collapsing the tent. So long as the tent was down before 11:00, we wouldn’t have to worry about being charged for one more night. Breakfast soon followed — bacon and eggs, a classic if there ever was one.

Following our meal, we headed up to Upper Lake, for a short hike to Rossland Creek. Or at least that was the idea. Unfortunately, Alex had a blister under her little toe, which subsequently burst, making walking exceptionally difficult. We made it about a kilometre or so, arriving at a large waterfall, before deciding to turn back.

The idea was to head back towards Calgary, stopping at Calaway Park for the majority of the afternoon. Before leaving, we hit the showers at the Boulton campsite, to remove two day’s grime. Timed or not, that shower felt good.

Arriving at Calaway Park about 90 minutes later, it was 32 degrees. It was stifling. But not nearly as stifling as the $23.54 entrance fee. Having neither enough money (or inclination), we decided that a Slurpee and Bowness Park was more than good enough. The remainder of the afternoon was spent in my backyard, where we read, drank a couple of beers, and cooked the last of our camping food — two hotdogs, and cobs of corn.

So ended our camping weekend away. It’s a forgone conclusion that we will be doing this again. It’s just a matter of when and where.

And preferably without the hail.