My 3 Favourite Hikes in Kootenay National Park

Having close access to Kootenay National Park growing up has been quite a privilege. It has similar beauty to Banff NP, with slightly less traffic volume. Tucked off the Trans-Canada Highway, down highway 93S, the road narrows and you begin to wind through a highly overlooked National Park. Some of my favourite hikes I’ve ever done have started from highway 93S, and hiking in this Park always feels close to home. These top three hikes are my favorite Kootenay has to offer.

 

Kindersley Sinclair:

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Me on Kindersley Peak

The Kindersley Sinclair hike starts 12km north of Radium Hot Springs on highway 93S. To start, this hike always has a National Park Bear warning. This restriction means you must hike in a group of four people minimum or you could be fined. Though it is unlikely you would be caught breaking this rule, it is there for a good reason. It is prime grizzly bear territory, and I have seen a grizzly on that stretch of highway countless times driving by.

This hike is a loop. I’d recommend starting on the Sinclair side. That way you start higher up, cutting off some elevation gain. On the down side, if you don’t have a vehicle parked at each end of the loop, you’ll gain that elevation walking back to your vehicle along the highway. The loop is a total of 17.5km with 1055m elevation gain. The elevation is spread over a longer distance and it is quite gradual. Give yourself 6-8 hours to complete it. If you start on the Sinclair side the trail starts walking along Sinclair creek. It cuts through a few avalanche paths, and eventually make its way up to a slope heading for Kindersley pass. Try your best to have enough energy to take a quick 15 minute detour up Kindersley peak. You will not regret it once you take out your camera.

 

Floe Lake:

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Morning reflection on Floe Lake

The hike to Floe Lake starts 32 km south of Castle Junction on highway 93S. Floe Lake is at one end of the popular backpacking route the Rockwall, but if you only have a day this serves as an incredible day hike.

This hike is a total of 21km return with 715m elevation gain. The hike has a very gradual start, the trail switch backs up to multiple avalanche slopes through burnt trees from forest fires in 2003. It then levels out and you follow the valley until a last uphill section until it levels out again when getting to the lake. Give yourself 7 to 9 hours to complete it. The trail is very scenic. Because so many trees have fallen and burnt during the fires, you have a view of your surroundings for the entire hike. The downside to this is that on a hot day you have very little shade. Once you reach the lake you will see the Parks Canada warden cabin that occasionally hosts staff doing work up there and if you are brave you will dip your toes into the glacial lake before turning around and heading back down.

 

Stanley Glacier:

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Looking up to Stanley Glacier

The hike to Stanley Glacier starts 13km south of Castle Junction on highway 93S. Stanley Glacier is a very popular hike due to how short the distance is for gaining such an incredible view. It is also child and family friendly due to the small amount of elevation gain and shorter distance that the other two hikes listed above. If you are doing this hike on a weekend you’ll want to arrive early in the morning to get a parking spot so you don’t have to parallel park along the highway.

This hike is a total of 8.4km return with 356m elevation gain. After gradual switch backs take you up for first few km of the hike, Stanley Glacier comes into view. The beauty of this hike is that once you get to the “end” of the trail, you can venture farther towards the glacier. With the amount of traffic it gets, there will be paths made my other people before you that you can follow. You can go all the way up the valley to the glacier if you choose or you could stop at different locations, wherever you are satisfied with the view.

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Why I Started a Travel and Outdoor Blog

When I was nineteen I went on my first solo backpacking trip to New Zealand. When I say backpacking, I mean that loosely, because I actually packed a huge suitcase. But, I was budget travelling and despite my mother’s suggestions to pack light, I bought a large suitcase. I had convinced myself that I was going to be living in one location and working for six months, then travelling for the last four. So of course I needed lots of clothes for a ten month trip.

I had originally planned this trip with one good friend from high school. We had become quite close after graduating because all of our friends had moved straight to the city to go to University. A month before we left, she started seeing a guy we went to school with. It wasn’t long before she asked the anticipated question, ‘Can he come to New Zealand too?’ Despite more suggestions from family and friends to tell her ‘no’, I didn’t have the heart to do so.

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Me on the beach in Tauranga

I don’t think I need to go into detail about how that worked out. After one week they told me they wanted to leave. They didn’t only want to leave the hostel we were staying in, they wanted to leave the country. Their flight home was booked for three weeks later and they were going to tour around the North Island until then. I was shocked. At nineteen I was suddenly thrown into travelling alone, and my plan for the next ten months was completely up in the air. At the time it felt like one of the scariest things that had ever happened to me, but quickly I found work in the city of Tauranga, which then gave me the security to make a new plan and re-evaluate the purpose of my trip.

My trip lasted five months. It was filled with trial and error, hard lessons and intense home sickness. All these things may have been difficult, but they gave me perspective. Between these challenging events there were beautiful and memorable moments. I stepped foot on Fox Glacier and had the rare opportunity of seeing Milford Sound on a sunny day. Moments like these were why I didn’t book that flight home until I was running low on funds. They were why I travelled for four of the five months instead of spending most of my time working. Did I see as much as I should have? No. Did I spend most of my money I’d saved for University? Yes. But I learnt that as an adult, you have to get through the hard parts in life to experience the good. Seeing glow worms that looked like a galaxy through the forest, and witnessing penguins on the east coast of the south island were more than just good experiences. They were part of a lesson, and travel had taught me this.

If someone was to ask for advice about their first solo trip, I would probably say ‘don’t do what I did’. Regardless of this, I wouldn’t change a thing. At this point I’ve done three major trips abroad, always coming home in between, and it isn’t going to end there. I’ve checked some incredible destinations off my bucket list and have also gained an intense appreciation for the Rocky Mountains, my home in Canada. For these reasons, I felt like it was high time I started to document my explorations, whether they be at home or abroad. I hope that I can guide others to gain an appreciation and love for exploring, by sharing my stories and advice from my experiences.

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Sunny day at Milford Sound

My Favourite Travel Apps

We live in a day and age where information is at the tip of our fingertips 24 hours a day. The internet has created an amazing network for travellers to gain more knowledge than ever before about the locations they are going to see. But if you’re the type of traveller who doesn’t like to bring your laptop everywhere you go, or take it with you at all, it’s handy to have a few apps on your smartphone to help you navigate new territory. These apps have helped me a lot while travelling, and hopefully they can help you too!

Hostelworld:

Hostelworld has replaced lonely planet for me. Though I do still tend to carry the guide around with me on my travels, I rely entirely on hostelworld for choosing budget accommodation. It gives you prices, location and many reviews so you can pick the perfect hostel for your needs. You can also book your stay on the app.

Airbnb:

This app has really come in useful for me this past year. I was sceptical at first, because I’d been staying at hostels for most of my travels, but now that I travel so much with my partner Tom, it’s nice to have access to affordable accommodation and be able to have privacy that hostels rarely provide. You can find apartments on Airbnb for far cheaper than a double room in a hostel in most cities.

TripAdvisor:

TripAdvisor is a great app if you are interested in doing any sightseeing tours, choosing a restaurant or trying to choose accommodation. You can look at other people’s reviews, or add reviews yourself. Remember, it is good to review places that had excellent service, so that other people know about it. Take all reviews with a grain of salt. I personally worked at a pub in England and one bad review can really turn people away, even if it was at no fault of the business. Regardless it is still one of the most helpful apps out there.

Tom chose to take me to Above Eleven in Bangkok after looking at reviews on TripAdvisor

Skyscanner:

I book ALL my flights through Skyscanner. This site is similar to sites like Expedia, where you can search the flight you want and it will show you all the airlines that will sell it to you in order of price. I have not found another website that is cheaper than Skyscanner. Sometimes, to get the cheap flights you have to deal will brutally long layovers, but if time isn’t a problem you can save a lot of money.

Been:

Been is a simple app where you can select all the countries you have been to, and it will tell you the percentage of each continent you have travelled. It also shows you where you have been on an interactive map. For anyone who has a goal of hitting multiple countries in the world, this is a great app to visualise your progress.

XE Currency:

This app is the perfect way to deal with constant currency changes. It works with or without Wi-Fi, and gives the most recent rates when you aren’t connected.

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Cambodian Monks on their smartphones at Angkor Wat

Remember, the fewer apps you have on your phone, the more space you have for photos!  So choose the apps that work best for you!

10 Things You Should Know About a Working Holiday in Australia

Australia is one of the easiest places to get a working holiday visa for, and for first time travellers it’s a great place to start. But, travelling isn’t always easy, so here are some things I learnt in Australia during my Working Holiday.

  1. Hostels can be expensive, especially in the big cities. You’re looking at $35 or more per night and in the peak summer season, it’s even higher! It’s always smart to check if a hostel has weekly rates. Though cheap hostels do exist, don’t expect them to be nearly as quiet, clean or secure as the pricier ones.

    Melbourne City Centre

  2. Work in the city can be hard to find. Everyone wants to work in the big centres like Sydney and Melbourne, so there is heavy backpacker competition. Most work is on farms in the middle of no-where. When looking for work backpackerjobboard.com.au will be your best friend.
  3. Some farmers DON’T pay legally. Though many farmers DO pay legally, watch out for the ones who don’t. It may not seem like a major issue while you are working, but when your visa is being investigated you’ll think otherwise. Multiple friends of mine were sent home when trying to renew their visas because the farmer was caught forging their pay slips, underpaying, or taxing incorrectly.
  4. Farm work is seasonal and regional. Make sure you do your research to find out what areas are in need of workers. I picked grapes in Mildura, Victoria from January to April, which is the main season for this fruit.

    Me Working In The Grape Vines

  5. Working for accommodation in hostels is a common advertisement. If you have the money it can be a great experience. It usually requires a couple hours of work per day to pay for your bed, so you only have to pay for your food. If you are in need of money this could be a temporary gig until you can find a job that will pay a regular wage. I drove people to and from a greyhound bus station a couple times a day for a hostel in the small town of Port Macquarie on the east coast. The rest of the time I was relaxing at the beach or exploring the surrounding area.
  6. Goon is the budget backpacker drink. It is cheap wine in a box up to 5litres, and costs only 10$. Alcohol can be pretty expensive in Australia, so if you are on a budget this might be the drink for you. Try mixing it with sprite or lemonade if you aren’t a fan of the taste.
  7. Don’t forget to check out Northern Territory and Western Australia if you have the time and money. They both have incredible National Parks. The Northern Territory is home to Australia’s famous Uluru, or Ayers Rock. Australia is not just the East Coast!

    Uluru in Northern Territory

  8. Camping in Australia can be good budget accommodation. Just be aware that campsites usually charge for two people and it is an extra fee for anyone else in the group. If this is too expensive, you can find a free campsite. They are usually in inconvenient locations and its often just a parking lot and a bathroom, but it will save you about $40 per night. CamperMate is a great app that shows you where all the campgrounds are, their prices, and any other camping information you could ever need!
  9. Transportation can be expensive. Buses can be up to 20 hours long and flights aren’t always affordable. If you will be in Australia for a longer period of time, consider buying a vehicle. This will make it easier getting to job opportunities, and you can stop in beautiful places that busses won’t! If buying a vehicle isn’t in your budget, check out Tiger Air Tuesday for deals or the Facebook page “Australia RideShare”.
  10. Australia is HUGE. Be realistic about what you can see in your time there. I was in Australia for 7 months and I never made it to Western Australia. Don’t worry, you can always go back!

My Top 3 Peak Hikes in Banff National Park

Banff National Park has always been within a couple hours drive away from me. It is slammed with tourists year-round, and for good reason! There are many sections of Banff National Park to consider. There’s the Banff townsite area, Lake Louise and the south end of the Icefields Parkway. Because there are also far too many incredible hikes to choose from, this post will be about my favourite peak hikes.

Fairview Mountain:

My Partner Tom at the Summit of Fairview Peak

The Hike to Fairview mountain starts at the upper Lake Louise parking lot. This is an incredibly popular hike due to how quickly you can get to the top. It is a hike and not a scramble, therefore there is no exposure on the trail. Tourists who have never summited a peak in their lifetime will try this as their first, and usually succeed. Don’t expect solitude at the top.

This hike is a total of 10.4km return with 1013m elevation gain. It starts off on a wide dirt trail and gradually becomes rockier the closer you get to treeline. Once you hit treeline it breaks off to head straight up the rocky slope. The trail is clearly visible the entire way to the top, but doesn’t waste any time heading up the mountain to gain the last half of elevation. Give yourself 4 to 5 hours to complete it. If you are hiking in September, take some extra time to check out the gorgeous larch trees along the way!

Mount Bourgeau:

The View from the Summit of Mt. Bourgeau

The hike to Mt. Bourgeau starts 13km west of Banff on the Trans Canada Highway. On the way to the peak is Bourgeau Lake, which gains the majority of hiking traffic on this trail. Make sure to check the Parks Canada trail report website shortly before doing this hike, due to the occasional bear warning being in place.

This hike is a long one. It is a total of 25 km with 1435m elevation gain. Give yourself 10 to 12 hours to complete it. The first two hours are a casual walk through the forest until a steep uphill section before reaching Bourgeau Lake. Looking up from the lake, the peak is on your left hand side. The trail then goes on a variety of rocky and grass terrain, passing a couple of small glacial lakes. It is a grunt to the top, with one short section of mild exposure on the way. You will share the peak with a weather station and a few other hikers, all in awe of the unbeatable skyline.

Cirque Peak:

The View from Cirque Peak Summit

The hike to Cirque Peak starts 35km North of Lake Louise on the Icefields Parkway (93N). Cirque Peak is located next to Helen Lake, a popular hiking destination on the Icefields Parkway in both the summer and winter season. For people wanting a bit more of a challenge after Helen Lake, an easy scramble up Cirque Peak is a good choice!

The hike is a total of 14km with 1050m elevation gain. The walk to Helen Lake starts in the trees and then opens up into grassy high alpine terrain. If you reach the lake on a calm morning, you will see a crystal clear reflection of Cirque Peak in the water. Give yourself 6 to 8 hours to complete this hike. Most of the foot traffic ends at the lake, many people’s final destination. The ascent covers terrain of scree and small rocks until the final quick scramble to the summit. If exposure doesn’t bother you then the peak is a great spot to relax, but there isn’t a lot of space. Hopefully you don’t have to share!

A Moroccan Desert Trek

We pulled into Merzouga with our eyes glued to the orange dunes touching the blue sky surrounding us. The small “village” on the edge of the Sahara was close to the Moroccan/Algerian border and was a hub for tourists to come and experience the desert. We booked a guided camel trek and a night in a desert camp.

A line of camels arrived in front of us and mine was taller than the rest. We learnt that all camels used for treks were male. Mine appeared to be the strongest and therefore carrying the most gear. Due to his apparent strength I decided to name him Hercules. As Hercules stood up ,I had to lean far back and hold on very tight so I didn’t fall over the front of the camel. Since he was holding all the food prep while all the other camels only had a blanket over them, my legs sat uncomfortably high instead of around his torso.

My friend Hercules

The group of us rode into the desert for an hour and a half, eventually gaining the confidence in our balance, and taking photos without holding on. Our leader was a goofy Berber, the pre-Arab inhabitants of Northern Africa, who made up most of the population in Morocco. He spoke relatively no English, but made us laugh by imitating us when he heard anything he could relate to an American film. He would run ahead occasionally and skip through the sand dunes effortlessly, an act that would have made the rest of us double over in exhaustion.

We arrived at the base of the highest dune in the area, where half a dozen camp tents were already in place. Since it was late afternoon we immediately began our trek up the dune after dismounting our camels. We wanted to make sure we would be at the top in time for the sunset. The dune was steep, and every two steps we trudged up we slid one step back down. By the time we reached the top our lungs were burning and our cheeks were crimson. We collapsed onto the soft sand with the expanse of view surrounding us. There were dunes for miles.

After a few minutes of taking pictures, a local women suddenly came into view with her son who couldn’t have been more than eight years old. They had trekked up to try and sell handmade camels to tourists who came every night to see the sunset. A couple of us bought them at 50 dirham each, which was about 6 Canadian dollars. It was a smart sales tactic, making the customer feel guilty, having seen the woman and her young son trek so far just to attempt to sell her product.

After waiting about an hour for the sun to set, we’d gotten our desired photos and ran down the dune, skiing through the deep sand. We were greeting by some well-deserved Moroccan red wine and our Berber guides awaiting our return.

A Line of Camels at Sunrise

Inside the Fez Medina Tannery

Walking inside the Fez medina was like stepping foot in another world. We navigated through narrow alleyways that could only be accessed by foot or donkey, past shops of metalwork, scarves, robes, spices- anything you could possibly imagine. We passed a butchers, and a camel head cut off at the neck hung as a greeting out front of the shop. Its neck was completely skinned but the head was fully intact, as if we needed a reminder of the product they were trying to sell.

We turned a sharp right into a staircase I could barely fit my shoulders through with colourfully tiled steps. Once at the top, it opened into a larger room and we were each handed a vine of mint leaves without explanation. One room led into the next, all dimly lit. The walls covered by an array of Moroccan slippers, bags of all sorts and leather jackets. Each room was for a different garment. The maze of rooms led us to one with natural light streaming in coming from a balcony. A viewpoint of the central tannery in the medina met our gazes as we put our sunglasses back on, the midday sun hot on our faces.

The Fez Tannery

The Fez Tannery

It took about thirty seconds to recognize the stench, like an open sewer. I suddenly noticed a group of Asian tourists with mint leaves stuffed up their nostrils, only the stems sticking out. I then realised their purpose. We were explained that the tannery was their way of producing high-quality leather, and it was where the skins were processed. As a foreigner, it appeared like the men were working in human excrement, not with animal hide. We held our mint vines strictly to our noses, and it made the aroma bearable for a few more minutes until we took shelter inside where the smell wasn’t as pungent.

The man who owned the leather shop explained that there were different types of materials for their products- camel, sheep and cow. Camel was the most soft and therefore most expensive whereas the cow was the roughest and the cheapest. After our lesson we scattered to browse and a few of us bartered their prices to a more affordable level, convincing ourselves the products were worth the money. We’d pay the same in our home countries anyways, we were just relying on their promise of quality and authenticity. As we left, the few people who hadn’t made a purchase were followed out with prices being shouted at them in desperation. They tailed us as we paraded down the steps, and only gave up when we were back into the bustling medina.

A Wall of Leather Shoes in the Medina

Tricked in Casablanca

Casablanca wasn’t as touristy as Tom and I were expecting. Walking around the city consisted of two very white people trying to blend in with a sea of locals, but instead getting in the way of their daily routine. A man in a grey suit passed us in a hurry and when he saw us he paused, saying hello. Up to this point none of the attention we had received had ended in any verbal interaction. Seeing how confused we were, he clarified that he worked at the hotel we were staying in and that he had seen us at breakfast. He continued to explain that his father ran the hotel we were staying at. Once the conversation felt to be closing, he asked what our plans were for the afternoon. He suggested we check out a special market where women travelled all the way from the Atlas Mountains with their products to sell once every few months. Curious, I asked for directions to this place, but his explanation sounded very complicated. He kindly offered to show us the way.

It was a long walk past other markets, the type where every stall looks the same. He explained these “markets” were only selling cheap products that were made in China, nothing authentic. Soon we stopped in front of a building with a couple local teenagers playing with a soccer ball outside, and running away when seeing us coming. The building we were headed towards didn’t look like a market. Seeing our hesitation he explained that we were going into a government building where the event was held. The only words on the building were in Arabic and we nodded and followed his lead.

Inside there was one women ready at the door to greet us, and five men behind her. One of the men took control and said that he would show us around and the woman would make us complimentary tea. The man who showed us the way says his goodbyes and then leaves us for our “tour” of the market. As we rounded the corner we expected to see walls of rugs, scarves, purses, leather and maybe even jewellery, instead we were the only customers and the walls were lined with only huge and expensive looking rugs and tablecloths. There were no women from the Atlas Mountains.

The suspecting knowledge of our situation was in both of our eyes when we received our tea. We knew we were stuck. The expectation to purchase was like a thick fog around us. The only exit was the one we came in, and it was blocked by one of the men whist the woman was serving us. The man explained that the rugs took multiple months to make and that we had no obligation of buying, he just wanted to inform us how they were made and the materials that the women had used. We played along cautiously and I was asked to choose my top three favourite pieces.

Once I had chosen my favourites he listed his prices for each in the local currency of dirham, 12600, 6700, and 4600 which equates about 1666, 886 and 608 in Canadian dollars. The prices were extortion, and almost hilarious to two budget minded travellers.

He insisted that I haggle the price down on my favourite, which was the 6700 dirham tablecloth. Tom and I glanced at each other warily, not wanting to offend the man by giving him such a low offer. The man explained that he wanted to make a sale, regardless of the price and that it was offensive in his culture not to haggle. I tentatively suggested 1000 dirham compared to the 6700 he originally asked for, hoping he would understand that I truly couldn’t afford it. He immediately came back with 2000 dirham to which I tried to explain that I couldn’t even afford the 1000 in the first place.

We knew then that he had lied about the option to buy. One man was still blocking our only way out. We apologized repetitively, but he started to get angry, saying he needed to make the sale and we had to give our highest possible offer. I stuck with 1000, cursing myself for ever making the offer in the first place and getting caught in this trap. The man wasn’t letting it go and his temper was rising, his motions getting erratic. At this point we felt very unsafe. I ended up forking out the 1000, and then he demanded a sale fee of 100 dirham on top of that. I was so worried we wouldn’t make it out safely that I gave him the extra 100 and the man who had been blocking the door approached us to take my money and wrap the tablecloth. I had just paid 140 Canadian dollars.

We hurried outside without saying goodbye and laughed nervously as we ran down the street, giddy off the adrenaline and trying not to think about how we’d just been ripped off. Back in the safety of our hotel room we realized the man on the street definitely didn’t work at the hotel, and had scoped out the vulnerable tourists standing out like beacons in a crowd of locals. He had tricked us into a building we had to pay to leave. As our nervous laughter died we tried to justify our unfortunate experience as a story to tell, but my pockets felt incredibly empty.

Casablanca

Local Woman in Casablanca Square