September 2013: Canmore
Canmore, Alberta is one of the most beautiful towns I have ever been to. Heading westward it's the first city you hit n the Rockies. Canmore's wide, relatively empty roads are lined with trees, sports stores and what used to be the best used book shop I had ever been to (The Second Story). It's populated by nature loving residents (I see you Ben and Bexx, Colleen and Devon) and surrounded by towering mountains. An amazing place to relax or to get your boots on and experience hiking in the Rockies, Canmore is also home to the Association of the Canadian Mountain Guides, and I was here to become a member.
The Assistant Hiking Guide certification course with the ACMG takes place twice a year, once in the spring and then again in the Fall. It's a ten day course / test that serves as a great entry into the world of Canadian guiding, helps solidify a lot of outdoor skills and make inroads into the guiding community. As with any course there is class time to review and learn about new techniques, discuss weather phenomena and talk about good and bad habits when in the mountains. AS this is a hiking course, a majority of the ten days is spent out in the mountains solidifying those skills and putting them to good use.
The course begins with some shorter day trips. Here we find course leader Helen Sovdat and fellow guide, Micheil Hill on the saddle of Yamnuska
Map reading plays a huge part of the course. Whether in class finding and creating route plans or getting on the top of a mountain and naming the surrounding peaks and pinpointing our location. Although we brought GPS with us everyday, they were left in our packs and compasses were used our main form of navigation. The only time a Garmin was found in our hands was to double check our accuracy of our compass work.
Wildlife is a major part of the Canadian hiking experience and as a guide, a major part of our work is interpretation. Moose, elk, wolf, grouse and bear are abundant in the Rockies and seeing them is as rewarding as getting to the top of a peak. There is a lot of emphasis on being bear aware. We all carried some form of bear deterrent, whether it was bear spray or bear bangers, and spent a lot of time looking for signs of bears in order to avoid them all together. We were successful in that we never came across one. However, we did find a few sites where bears had recently dug for food.
Another aspect of interpretation is the abundant flora. When it came to mushroom identification fellow guide Eliza could not be beat.
Three of the last four days are spent on an overnight trip / test. The instructors gave us location objectives for the trip and we figured out our routes and took turns leading through the way-points. You can't go on a three day hiking trip and not eat so another element was working out a meal plan, and then putting it into action. This was our kitchen on night one with Eliza in charge of chefing a master meal.
Cam enjoying the view.
Home sweet home for the first night. Not a shabby view with good neighbours and reasonable rent.
Although we were split into two groups for the final testing days we still had the same objectives. If you listened carefully enough you could catch the other groups nearby at times and routes merged. Here is course leader, Peter, watching carefully from above on The Wedge. On the right, I caught fellow guide, Shaun, in action on the last day of testing.
We made it back to civilisation. I hesitate to say "success," because success would have really been being able to live in those mountains and not having to come back to the tarmac.
Joel, Helen, Cam and Mike letting the dogs out while waiting for our pick-up.
The trip was a success despite not finding a hidden cabin in the woods where I and my wife could while away the rest of our days. We had only one day of rain for the entire time, the foliage was amazing, the companionship was second to none and everyone passed, and I couldn't have asked for better instruction. Really, my only complaint was not being able to stay but the road reaches farther to the horizon and I must abide by it's call.