This is what I learned …

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First, can I just say, 
 
WHAT A FREAKING GREAT DAY!
 
Sorry for yelling but, honestly, if you know me at all it’s pretty amazing I didn’t actually drop the F-bomb there. 
 
But it needs to be said, I had a great day yesterday.
 
Allison, over at My Slice of Paradise, and I decided fairly last minute (earlier this week) that if the stars aligned and the weather permitted, we would drive out to Rock Lake and possibly do a bit of a day hike into The Willmore Wilderness Park. 
 

 
So when we seemed to have a great forecast for the day we headed out early in the morning, despite the fog that hung in the air.
 
Before too long we added snow covered roads to the mix and just when we started thinking (on the inside) that maybe this wasn’t the smartest idea, we came out of the fog for a bit and saw stars. 
 
If we made it to Rock Lake we would be watching the sun rise on the mountains with what turned out to be about four inches of fresh snow on the ground.
 
It was spectacular. I cannot believe I have lived here so long and have never made it out to Rock Lake. 
 
Be sure to click “read more” below after watching the slideshow to read the story behind the photos.
 
Rock Lake, Alberta, Canada
 
When we left the house, my perfect-world scenario would have taken us out to the trail head and entrance point for The Willmore, we would have hiked in as far as The Wild Hay River (the first river crossing on a much larger hike we have in the works for 2015), we would have eaten some lunch by the water and then headed back out.
 
I would have been happy with a drive out to the lake. 
Either way was a win, in my books.
 
As we pulled into the staging area for The Willmore, it looked like the stars had all the way aligned for my perfect day. 
 
 
 
The trail is well marked, and isn’t much of a trail at all, really … it was under four inches of snow, but was more of an old road. 
 
 
Our plan was to head out the Mountain Trail, as far as the first river crossing.
 
 
This hike quickly became named the “this is what I learned” hike. 
We’ve been out hiking a lot lately, but with winter just hitting now, we don’t have a lot of cold weather experience yet.
 
First up … we both forgot our hiking poles.
 
Interestingly enough, I didn’t even hike with these at the beginning of the year, but they have quickly become a vital piece of my equipment. They help me with vertigo and they really help on uneven terrain. They would have been spectacular on a rocky, snow-covered road.
 
I had a twenty-pound pack loaded with camp gear for an overnighter as part of my hike training – I want to learn what it feels like to hike with the weight before I’m on a full-blown overnight adventure. 
 
I also brought my new Spot Gen3 gps gadget so that I could learn how it works. 
 
 
This unit allows me to set a tracker that will pin my location in a map every ten minutes and I can send “I’m ok” messages to cell phones at the push of a button. It worked wonderfully. I sent a message to Jason and I learned that it needs to be out in the open. Even putting it in an outer pocket of the pack was enough to block the signal.
 
 
I had poured over maps of the area … I love maps so much. So I brought the map of where we were hiking despite the easy to follow trail. Again, as training for future hikes. It’s best to learn map reading in an area you don’t need the map in first.
 
So, I learned that the word ETIP on my gloves are just lightly more than a kilometre on my map scale, handy.
 
 
I also learned that the money I spent on the fancy ETIP gloves was well worth it. They work on my touch screen phone. I was able to take all these photos without taking off my gloves!
 
 
Another lesson I was hoping to learn on this hike, was how to effectively layer my upper-body clothing so that I wouldn’t sweat enough to create a hypothermia risk.
 
I sweat a lot. Always have. Last weekend I did a short hike during our first snowfall and when I got home I was soaked through several layers … a dangerous situation in cold weather.
 
So I hit up my favourite hiking group on Facebook and asked them what they wear in similar situations.
 
There was a variety of answers, but what really struck me is that several well-seasoned hikers wore much less than I would have even considered. So, for this hike I decided to try it. I wore four layers, but all thin, breathable layers and no jacket. I took my insulated, exercise hoodie for when we stopped and it all worked beautifully. Lesson learned.
 
 
I also learned that I have to wear my hair back in colder weather. The frost of my breath accumulated on my hair and by the end of a day’s hike, my hair was wet … not good.
 
We had some beautiful surroundings as we made it down the trail. There were some long uphills and downhills but nothing too severe – enough to get the blood pumping and I did pause on a couple of the uphills to manage my body temperature.
 
 
If you had told me, six months ago, that I’d be hiking comfortably in four inches of snow with a 20-pound pack on my back for fun … I’d have laughed and laughed and laughed …
 
 
We heard the river before we saw it. From this point on, The Mountain Trail follows and crosses the Wild Hay. I was so thrilled that we had made it.
 
At this point where the trail meets the river, it is quiet shallow, but still impossible to cross without getting your feet wet … except for where there was a log across … a wet, snow-covered, slippery log that might have been navigated … with a set of poles … yep, lesson learned.
 
 
So we stopped here and pulled out our camp kitchens so that we could practice making trail food.
 
 
A package of noodle soup and a cup of instant coffee has never tasted so good. With one fill of the old cat food can stove I was able to warm the water (I used the water I brought, learning the filter system can wait until the next time) enough for coffee, add more water and boil it for the soup as well as melt a pot of snow. Another good lesson learned.
 
 
And sure enough, just when we thought the beautiful weather and our surroundings couldn’t get any more idyllic we looked up and across the river there were three men and their pack horses making their way out of the wilderness after spending two weeks hunting. 
 
 
 
 
I could not have been happier with how my first excursion into The Willmore went. And, for the record, there was ice forming on the water in the dog bowl while we stopped for lunch … I went hiking, happily, in conditions that meant ice formed on water while I ate lunch. I feel so badass.
 
 



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