July 26th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 30
Painfully rewarding
Crowsnest Outdoors hiking group doesn’t back down on Ptolemy Basin hike
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Anna Kroupina Photo
Thirteen outdoor enthusiasts, two leads and a Boston Terrier Pug named Deoge (think D-O-G) began the almost 10-kilometre trek to the Ptolemy Basin on Saturday.
Pass Herald Reporter
Sure, you could get up to the flower-speckled valley of the Ptolemy Basin in just about an hour or two on an OHV, but nothing builds character, courage and camaraderie like doing it by foot.

Thirteen outdoor enthusiasts, one French bulldog/pug mix and two leads began the almost 10-kilometre trek to the Ptolemy Basin on Saturday. The hike was organized by Crowsnest Outdoors and led by Heather Davis and Jonathan Fearns, who also run and manage the hiking group.

That morning, already hot with the undeniable promise of only getting hotter, started off as a relatively flat trek punctuated with joyful conversation and high spirits. You almost didn’t feel the 20lb backpack except for maybe the sweat stains it already imprinted on your back. Maneuvering creek crossings posed the most difficulty for those not wanting to get their feet wet, inspiring creative routes across tree trunks and rocks that tested balancing abilities. After breaking for lunch on a patch of grass surrounded by the rush of a small waterfall nearby, the route took a turn for the steep.

It was a few hours of that “head-down, keep on trekking, nowhere to go but up” frame of mind that got you to the top, and once you hit the truly spectacular clearing of the wildflowers dotting the valley of the Ptolemy Basin, you almost (almost) ended up forgetting the burning sensation in your calves and the blister that’s surely forming on your toe. Nestled in a nook surrounded by the majestic Andy Good, Mount Ptolemy, Tent Mountain and other peaks, it almost felt cozy until you looked up at the summits around you and realized just how tiny, insignificant and juvenile you are standing next to them.
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But there wasn’t too much time to admire just yet. It was time to set up camp! Under the direction and instruction of Davis and Fearns, the group learned about the importance of practicing “leave-no-trace” camping, or “minimal impact” camping.

“It’s valuable because of the sheer number of people in these areas and also because the growing season in a lot of these areas is so short that humans being in that landscape for a day, or sometimes even less, will affect the plants that are growing there. It’s about being mindful of the impact that we have on the landscape and how we contribute to that impact. Awareness is important,” says Fearns.

Being in the backcountry, wildlife and bears are certainly a concern and steps were taken to ensure the safety of the group when setting up camp. It was a collective effort to find the best location for the tents, food storage, kitchen area and waste area.

“It’s about setting up your kitchen in a separate spot from your tent. We were in a group of 15 people, so what are you going to do with human waste? You don’t want people to be going to the bathroom all over the place and leave a mess for someone else who might want to do this wilderness backcountry camping,” says Davis.

After setting up camp, a small group summited the third-tallest mountain in Crowsnest Pass, Andy Good. Dinner involved peeking into other people’s bowls, curious to see what everyone brought, and an all-around fascination with the Jetboil portable stove that can boil two cups of water in just over 2 minutes. Talk about geeky hikers! Due to the fire ban in southern Alberta, no campfires were ignited that night but that conscientiousness was rewarded with a warm, dry, bear-free night.
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The next morning after breakfast, the latrine was covered with soil and sod, any rocks were placed back where they were found and the area was left as pristinely wild as possible, a big objective of “leave-no-trace” camping. With a detour to the natural wonder that is the Bridge of the Mastodons, the hike down went much easier than the way up, with most the group no longer caring about keeping their feet dry. Why should we? We were smelly, we were dirty, we ached, but we achieved a goal that not everyone would have the strength or endurance to complete. And for that, we were better people than when we started.

Davis and Fearns both have their 80-hour Wilderness First Aid training, and Davis also completed an Assisted Hiking Guide course through the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides, a program that Fearns will be taking in the fall.

While the Assisted Hiking Guide courses are not a requirement to be a lead in Crowsnest Outdoors, the skills are certainly helpful.

“You learn a lot about navigation, and not just navigation using GPS, but using a map and compass. Trip planning is big, too. That includes things like knowing how to read a contour map, picking your route and learning how much time it’s going to take people to get through a certain area. They teach you things like checking the weather ahead of time and thinking about what your evacuation route would be if you got into trouble. In this course, you also learn about taking care of people in the backcountry, in terms of even just food and knowing how to set up camp properly,” says Davis.

This backpacking hike required a lot of preparation that began back in springtime, when Davis and Fearns were planning the various hikes to do with Crowsnest Outdoors. They used tools like topographical maps to scout out a route, rate its level of difficulty, and then plan the actual trip by determining the number of kilometres, elevation gain and nearby excursions should the group reach camp ahead of schedule.
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Beyond route planning, mitigating dangerous scenarios was a primordial concern to consider.

“We’ll do a risk assessment before to try to understand what we need to do mitigate for that, and then establish the criteria of what other basic requirements we need to go on the backpacking trip,” says Fearns.

“We want to make people feel safe and if something were to happen, we think about how we could get out of the area. Those are things that we think about before we even head out into the backcountry,” adds Davis.

On this particular trip, the current fire ban in most of southern Alberta posed a particular concern for the leads. Luckily, both Davis and Fearns are employed by Alberta Environment and Parks and are fortunate to work with people that deal with wildfires.

“I talked to them to make sure they knew where we were going to be so that if a fire sparked in the area, they knew that there were 15 people situated there,” says Davis. “They had our trip plan, they knew the approximate times of where we were going to be and if there was a reason they needed to evacuate us, they knew there was 15 people back there and they knew that they had to evacuate us.”

The next Crowsnest Outdoors hike is scheduled for the evening of July 27 at Daisy Creek. The next overnight backpacking hike will take place on August 19 up Beehive, Memory Lake and Galena Mine. For a complete list of hikes, visit the group’s Facebook page.
July 26th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 30
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