Untamed in the Mountains with Five Little Kids

 


It is late on a Friday night. The van is packed, ready for a major adventure. I am alone in our living room, staring out into a dark night. Four of the kids are asleep. Becca is downstairs with baby Ben (8 weeks old). Things are not good.

I go down and see, and hear, Ben screaming his mind out. This is not unusual. All summer he's been colicky. The worst we've ever seen with a baby, and that's saying something. Becca is holding him, sitting on the floor, crying. This is too much. We can't go. There's no way. 

But we can't stay, either. We've been stuck at home all summer. More than that, this proposed trip is not so much a vacation (ha! not at all), but a significant milestone. Ten months earlier I was facing a job loss, thanks to a draconian vaccine-mandate announcement. You know how it goes. At one point things seemed pretty hopeless. At that moment I turned to Becca and said, "I don't know how, but somehow, someway, we are going to make it to The Meadows again. And if we do, it'll be a miracle."

It's not so much about the mountains. It's about making it through hell, and coming out again for a glimpse of heaven. 


All smiles

I'm up at 4:20am the next morning. After some prayer and exercise, I wake up everyone else. "Hoo boy!" I mutter. I'm nervous. Dreadfully nervous. This isn't how epic adventures should start.

Ben is all smiles. It's unnerving to see him smile so much. I mean, what's wrong? Something must be wrong to make him appear happy?


Away we go for our longest drive of the trip. We're in North Battleford before 9am. We stop and buy some Tim Hortons (I forget the five gift cards sitting in the van and have to pay out of pocket) and we pick up some writing notebooks for the kids to journal in (a huge hit!). Soon it's on to Lloydminster and then Vegreville. Gotta see the giant Easter Egg, you know.


We arrive in a place called Ardrossan, just outside of Edmonton. Becca's sister lives there. We bunk out for the night. The kids get to play with their cousin. I think there were only three injuries while they played. No stitches either (just barely).


Day 2 arrives. Mountain day. Benedict didn't sleep well. Neither did I. I'm nervous. What are we getting ourselves into?

We always bookend our trips with traditional Latin Masses. It's Sunday morning, and we drive in to Edmonton for the FSSP (look it up) Mass. It's at 7:30am. So I get up at 5am. We roll up all the sleeping bags and mats and hit the road at 6:45am.

Why do bishops almost always stick the TLM in the ugliest parish in the diocese?

We leave Edmonton. I plan on stopping in a suburb to get gas and food. Whoops! Missed it by that much! After two or so hours we end up in Edson. As planned, I buy the kids McDonald's happy meals. Becca can't eat much (thanks to Ben). I get her fries and a dairy-free smoothie. She drinks half of it and then exclaims, "this smoothie tastes creamy... like it has dairy in it." My eyes explode. "Oh no!" We're in for a rough, colicky, disastrous start. Add to that the weather. It's getting hot. Too hot. We're Saskatchewan people. 30 below beats 30 above. Oh boy.

We see the mountains ahead. It's happy, but not jubilant. The kids are excited. Becca and I are nervous. But they are so majestic. Profound. A definitive proof of God's existence. Of His goodness and love.

We pull into Jasper and decide to stretch our legs at a local lake. Annette Lake. We pull in, or at least try to. All the parking lots are full! We have to walk, in the crazy sun, for a mile or so just to get to the lake. Once there we walk around it (Becca nurses Ben while getting an epic view of the mountains... the first of many epic nurses).

We're exhausted before we even arrive!

Many threats were made while taking pictures. "If you don't smile nice, you aren't getting ice cream! And you can sleep with the bears too!"

Annette Lake is boisterous on a Sunday afternoon. There are Filipinos everywhere. Their music is loud and crummy (techno pop). Their food looks artificial and awful. They sit in the beating sun while the raging heat penetrates their very being. And yet, they're the happiest people in the world! Go figure. I want to be like them, and I don't want to be like them. God bless the Filipinos. 

We dip our feet in, but then decide to get camp started. It's just too hot.

Nervously, we arrive at Wapiti campground. The campground is a little more run down. It's less busy. It's more our style. Miracle of miracles, our campsite has one tree. This one tree may or may not be a life-saver, but it certainly is a trip-saver.


The most epic nursing picture. Two mommas nursing babies.

The weather is hot, hot, HOT. It's tough. We're a little rattled by it. I have a pounding headache. Finally, at around 8:30pm it starts to cool off again. By 10:30pm it's comfortable. By 6:00am the next morning it's only 5 degrees and the kids are sleeping in sweaters and toques.


Day 3 begins. Our first full day in Jasper. I'm loving the cooler mornings! Everyone is. We're loaded with energy now! Deep down, I would love to do winter camping in the mountains. I think I have Becca half-convinced of it too.

We have our fire, oatmeal, and coffee (the best part of mountain living is this morning routine). Then Becca says to me, "so, where are we going?"

We don't have a plan. Because we didn't even know if we'd make it to Jasper all summer, right up to the last minute. But I have an idea. It's only been on my mind for 10 months. We start driving the crazy road up to Edith Cavell Mountain. There is Angel Glacier. There are The Meadows. There, at this Edith Cavell Mountain, rests our favourite place on earth.

Maybe it's wrong to say this, but I don't dream of travelling to see the world's most beautiful churches. Cologne. Sacred Heart. Montreal's Notre Dame. They don't keep me up at night thinking and dreaming about their awe and splendor. Instead, I think about The Meadows at Edith Cavell. Jesus is not present at Edith Cavell in the Eucharist. I get that. But He is there is a true sense. He made it. And He made it good. The greatest work of human hands, the greatest cathedrals or sculptures, cannot compare.

We arrive. This is nuts. There's an 8-week-old baby. A 2-year-old. A 6-year-old who doesn't love hiking that much. And an 8 and 10 year-old who are super enthusiastic and beasts when it comes to hiking.

We load up the two boys with backpacks containing lots of water, trail mix, jerky, licorice, and even a foldable Ascend chair (the best!). I get Jude (almost 3) in a carrier. Emilie (6) will try to hike the entire time. Becca has the baby, and will try to climb, despite still recovering from giving birth. The boys are loaded with gear. Who will be the weakest link? And, more importantly, how far will we make it up? We promise the boys nothing. We'll get as far as we can. But secretly, we have a plan...


My personal theme for this crazy trip is from Psalm 37 (36 in the Douay Rheims). "Delight in the Lord, and He will give you the requests of your heart." This trip is a testament to it. So too future plans we have as a family. Whatever may happen, we are to delight in the Lord. What does this even mean? To delight in the Lord?

The hike is my answer. It is hard. Becca is a champ. So too Emilie. Each step is difficult and invigorating. The air is the freshest imaginable. The views stunning. It all radiates the presence of God. And as we delight in it, we delight in Him.

We ascend. Higher. Farther. Harder. Faster. Then... 






It's great having Ben along. He's loving the mountain air! But I'm sure he's not loving how hot it is being next to his mommy. However, she feels sorry for him and nurses him more. It's all good. The nurses are not an inconvenience while hiking. Instead, they give us a chance to sit and soak in the place. Even the boys can't say, "let's go now." Not while Ben nurses.

Where to now? Becca and I look at each other and nod. We tell the boys, "we're going higher! To the second lookout."

More hiking. But even better views. It's glorious.



Alas, we cannot build three tabernacles and stay. We must go down. When, oh when, shall we ever be in this place again? Farewell Edith Cavell.



"Hi!"

We leave. The plan is to get ice cream at Grandma's Ice Cream, and then to swim in a lake.

Thanks Grandpa Bear for the ice cream money. Expensive place but outstanding!

And the lake? Where are the lake pictures? There's no parking! Not at 3:30pm. We can't go cool off. It's well above 30. We are hot, sweaty, exhausted. The kids are feeling the heat. It's starting to get dangerous.

Eventually we drive a long way to Jasper Lake. It's that long, shallow, thing 20+ minutes on the other side of Jasper. It's out in the sun, sandy, and right by the highway. But it's all we have. The kids and I jump in. (Note to self: don't jump in water with sunglasses, cause you might never see them again...). (Note to self again: buying $5 sunglasses is still a great idea!).

The swim is meh. Becca stays up by the parking lot and sits in the only shade possible. Right next to the outhouse.

We're hot and hurting now. We arrive at our campsite for a bleh supper. Most of our food is bleh. We have heavy diet restrictions due to Ben. Basically, if it has flavour, it'll hurt his belly. We eat chicken breasts cooked with sweet potato. It's a hash. A little deer joins us for the meal. Ben and Jude have meltdowns. Everything feels like it's melting. Oh the heat!

But then at 8:30pm it starts to cool off. Soon it is cold. Gloriously cold. That night it gets down to 4 degrees. I'll take it!

Day 4 we are a little (or a lot) sore. But onward we go! We'll rest after the trip. We go to Maligne Canyon to do the 6th Bridge hike. In total, with all our meandering, it's nearly 9km long with quite a bit of elevation. Every time we pass others they do a double take and start counting how many kids we have. People are amazed! We are witnesses. I'm not sure if it's witnesses to the Gospel of Life, or witnesses to complete stupidity for taking all these kids out on these hikes.

We love the ridge best on this hike. Stunning views! The stepping stones at the bottom are a hit. The bridges are whatever. Overall, a great time. It is a little on the strange side to go down to the bridge, and then end by hiking up to the canyon. Kind of backwards from what we're used to doing.


Jude sings for me almost the entire hike. Radio! Just like the Filipinos!


The kids love the stone pathways over some of the streams.

And I love this picture near the 6th bridge.

Miette River. Probably named after us. Probably.

Joseph walks across this. But I let John Paul only go this far.

Finally the end, at the top of the canyon.

After the hike it is more apple wraps and then on to the next stop.

Wait, I should explain apple wraps. Apples, PB, sugar/cinnamon, all in a wrap. We do this for two reasons. First, the limited diet (e.g. a simple piece of processed ham is a no-go). Second, because it saves time. When you camp/hike the last thing you want is go to the grocery store. So we eat our hiking snacks and wraps at every lunch. Easy. Filling. Repetitive (a word that defines much of our trip). But good!

We drive a little ways down the highway to one of our favourite stops: Medicine Lake. Most people pass by this lake on their way to Maligne Lake (which has a famous little island often seen in pictures and paintings). Medicine Lake is a gem. It drains every winter, and fills again in the spring.

Unfortunately, at the moment the water has filled quite high. We are unable to wander around the shoreline. Still though, it provides a great backdrop for a picture.



And here's a little photo session to promote my book, Disconnected: The Broken Path. Seriously though, if you'd like to support my writing, please order a copy. Ages 10-14, Good for adults too. 


Now back to the trip.

We manage to find parking at a (swimming) lake this time. It takes about 20 minutes of circling the parking lot. Of course, it is a Saskatchewan-plated vehicle that pulls out to allow us entry. Saskies need to stick together. And this brings us to Edith Lake. There is shade, and a small area to swim. We jump in the water, cool off, and then feel dry and hot again within minutes. 


We go to the town of Jasper to shop, but it is too hot. Ben doesn't like being in the sun. There is very little shade at 3:30pm in the town.

Tradition. We get this picture every single time we come.

And a jumping pic. Only the actual jumping pics are too blurry.

I see this at our campground. Some guy re-did a garbage truck. You have to respect that.

Playing cards

The morning of Day 5 starts normal enough. It is cold. We have a nice leisurely breakfast. Our plan is to pack up camp, do a little hike, a swim, and then go to our next location.




But how quickly things change. I look at the weather and see that the next day might have thunderstorms. Long story short, there is a chance that this particular day is our last opportunity to do something hard.

Something hard? The entire trip is hard! Fun, yes. But hard. In fact, it might be the hardest week of my life! Well, we (ahem, I) decide to make it still harder. This is an epic failure in the making.


We climb Edith Cavell...again. Repetitive, I know. Just 48 hours after saying farewell to this place, we are back. Our legs are feeling it, and the climb is harder this time. But we go on, and it is fantastic.

So what's the problem?

The problem is you still have to come down from the mountain. And anyone who knows will tell you, this can be harder than going up.

We take a final picture at lookout point 2, and start heading down, when our 8-year-old begins hobbling. His knee is hurting. Quite a bit. It hurts to put pressure on it. I think he has hyperextended it.

I carry his bag and he leans on me while we slowly, gingerly, make our way down. Suddenly, and it does feel like it is sudden, the heat starts scorching us. 34 degrees and all. With miles to go down on a treacherous path. And very little water. The baby is overheating. Everyone else is too. Heat stroke is coming. Still we are miles away, at the top of a mountain.

It is some of the toughest hiking you can imagine. It is far worse knowing we have little kids with us. At one point I debate leaving them in a shady area and going down, and up, to bring more water. This might kill me.

As thoughts of needing a rescue helicopter flood my mind, the kids keep moving. Those tough, tough kids. That and some answered prayers. We make it down. We are spent. Dehydrated. Exhausted. The kids have headaches. Our faces and necks are burnt. Ben is a furnace. 

The moral of the story? Start earlier in the day! Well...that would help, but the real moral is to not be greedy. We had a great hike two days earlier. We (I) should know when to be satisfied.

So what to do the rest of the day? We need to be careful or the hospital will be busy. As it is, I see a rescue helicopter coming back from Edith Cavell a couple hours after us. I think maybe heatstroke got someone there, way up top.

We decide to go back to the Miette river by the 6th bridge. There is a shady little area to sit in. We run in, soak ourselves, sit in the shade and relax, and then do it again. We do this for hours. Joseph (10) is getting restless to move on, but safety first. We cool off, drink several bottles of Powerade, eat salty chips, and rest.

After we drive to our new campground (Whistlers). It is time for... Glamping! (Glamorous + Camping = Glamping). More on this later. We shower, then head to town for some ice cream.


The night makes me reflective. We are lying in an oTENTik. It is half cabin, half tent. There is no electricity or water. But it feels luxurious when camping. It is clean. The kids love it. I prefer a tent. So do they. But deep down we know that we need this break.


I think about what it means to do hard things. The best things in life are hard. Heck, we're living it on this trip. But there is a breaking point for hard. Today we reached it, and then some. We went too hard. Yet I can't help but wonder. Life back home is hard, but in a different way. It's hard with work, stress, politics, covid-policies, and so on. Meanwhile, this life is hard just from physical exertion and focusing on the next task at hand. It is a good hard. A peaceful hard. The hard that makes you sleep well at night. It is a type of hard we are missing, and yearning for, in our life. Oh to live a simple life in a cabin in the bush.

The moon is nearly full. The night is calm and cool. The freshness of the air cannot be described. I feel like the past three days are momentous. We have done what is hard, and made it through. And for the thousandth time on this trip I say, "Delight in the Lord and He will give you the requests of your heart."


Day 6 is our last full day in Jasper. We decide to climb Edith Cavell again!

Just kidding. We do our awesome morning routine of a fire, oatmeal, and watching the sun rise. But there are thunderstorms in the forecast. We look over to Edith Cavell and it appears to be in the thick of a storm. Same to in the north by Pyramid Mountain. And where we are? Nothing. Not yet.

We take the open window and run with it. There's a hike that's been on our minds for a year. Old Fort Point. Only 4km, but listed as moderate due to a near 200m scramble up. Hopefully we make it before any storm comes.

And we do. There's almost no one around (is there a bear around that we don't know about?). Actually, many of the best things in Jasper do not have others around. If the thing is hard, that is. Tourists do easy lakes and views. But the gems are for those who go out (often early) and get them. Old Fort is a gem. 5 out of 5.


And there are red chairs to enjoy the 360 view.

This boy has done a lot of mountain climbing in his 2 years of life.

Say it on one...two...three... "Awwwww!!" 
That's Edith Cavell behind us, btw.

At the actual Old Fort point we meet this couple. They are Canadians teaching in Cairo, Egypt. Very interesting folks. There are many interesting people we met overall. I'm glad the border is open. On the trip we met folks from New York, Colorado, Oregon, Egypt, Netherlands, Mexico, Paris, and Spain. Well, Becca does most of the meeting. I think on our next trip we'll have a competition to see who can meet people first from different parts of the world.

It turns out that the Cairo-couple dabbled at photography!

Apple wrap time! *Groans from all the kids*

Right next to Old Fort is Lac Beauvert. On the other side of the lake is the Jasper golf course and the snooty Fairmont Lodge. But on our side there is wildlife, funky trees, and even scuba divers.

Cutie pa-tootie.

The lake is over 60ft deep! These guys said so. They're prepping for a diving expedition in Antarctica.

Did I mention you should buy my book?

The weather has cooled off. It's in the 20s! "A whole new world..." We head to town to do our actual gift shopping now. Then to the campground for plain taco wraps. We end up eating 50 wraps in a 5 day period.

Bath time. Lots of baths for this kid to cool him down. Whatever works.

The night is young! And so are we! *cough* We take a little drive south to Athabasca Falls. It's evening, and almost abandoned. Perfect! 


Better than the falls, I think, is the basin below. It's just a beautiful place to hang out, throw some rocks, and discover.


It's also a great place to pee. Really. Cause Becca goes to the bathroom up by the parking lot. She rants and rants about how dirty the bathroom is. The fumes almost make her pass out. We'd never see her again! But oh... the pee down stream of the falls is much better. Boys are the best. 


* * *

"But our back is to legends and we are coming home. I suppose this is the first taste of it. There is a long road yet," said Gandalf.

"But it is the last road," said Bilbo.

* * *

Day 7 begins. Today we start the long journey home. But first, one last campfire at breakfast. This time we make bread on a stick, and, ahem, a few roasted marshmallows.

oTENTiks. Cheaper than a hotel. Way better than a hotel. But I miss tenting.


What to do on this final morning? We discuss walking the 5km around Lac Beauvert. But the themes of our trip are "Hard" and "Repetitive." Plus, we want a view to say goodbye at!

We go back to Old Fort. It's a stunning morning. The hike is just perfect. We stay at the top point for a long time, soaking in the experience. 

We come down, eat more apple wraps (this time at Edith Lake), and then start driving away from Jasper. John Paul cries almost the entire way to Edson. It is sad leaving. He even refuses an ice cream cone in Edson.

Edmonton comes. Why, oh why, must Edmonton be on the way? The juxtaposition is too much. I stop in at the West Edmonton Mall. I'm not sure why. I know our daughter has hiked her legs out, and is a little more inclined to other activities.

The mall feels overwhelming. The noise, lights, and air. The kids eat supper there. I can't eat. We go to a hotel. The West Travelodge. It's garbage. Our tent is probably cleaner. The laundromat there is down. We try washing some undies and socks in the tub. The tub won't drain. Bah!

Day 8 we swim before leaving. Actually, we waterslide. Then we make a brief stop at a Cabelas (b-day gift for someone) and a stop at Timmies to see Becca's sister one last time. 

We are driving home now. Jude (2) is done. He is tired and flipping out. In Lloydminster we stop for our last meal of apple wraps. I decide to find a different park to eat at. After 20 minutes of meandering, we end up at the same park we always eat at. Repetition is good.

The drive to Saskatoon is gut-check time. But we make it. We pull in at the acreage of some friends we haven't visited in nearly eight months. We camp in their basement. There acreage and friendship is the perfect transition between the mountains and the "real world" we are returning to.

Day 9 we get up early and go to the 8am traditional Latin Mass. After we (but not Becca) pick up some Timmies' bacon and eggers and drive home. Seriously, the food tastes amazing! I mean...it's not apple wraps! On we drive. At noon we pull into our little driveway. We did it. We made it through.

Ben starts screaming. He cries and cries. Just like that. He loved the mountain air. It was nothing short of miraculous. He was a champ all week. But now, both mysteriously and expectedly, he returns to his colicky ways. Maybe we should move out to the mountain?

* * *

From our theme song for the trip. Untamed by Eddie Berman:

We'll know we were alive once

And at least for a moment untamed

For a moment. Only a fleeting moment. Untamed.

The hard life is not the bad life. Not if it's the right kind of hard. 

With five little kids, we have done it. We have overcome colic, diapers, heat, cold, travel, a cramped van, flavourless food, ceaseless work, hurt knees, meltdowns, and exhaustion. By the grace of God, we have done it. And in return we are renewed.

We know now what it means to delight in the Lord.



* * *



Thanks for reading. If you wish to see videos from our trip, here they are:






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