Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Running through the Wilderness

While running this weekend, utterly in awe as I looked across at the sprawling expanse of wilderness in front of me, I thought- "What should I say about this place?" "What can I possibly say?" "How can I put this in to words?" "Should I write about wilderness? Discovery? Wild places?" Slowly, I came around to realizing that the joy of this day was a combination of a few different things. Top of the list was a good ol' fashioned Rocky Mountain High, the elation that I always feel when I'm surrounded by beautiful mountain places, but the runner-up on the list was something I haven't experienced in awhile.

The awesomeness of discovering a new trail.

I've been busy sharing my favorite places and trails with a whole bunch of new friends over the last couple of years, returning frequently to my favorite places. While I love to share my pretty places, I really love to discover new ones. My first summer here, it was one weekend after the other of solo running adventures, discovery and awe of beautiful new places. It's a pretty fantastic thing when you find new crazy beautiful places that fill your brain with such awe and bewilderment of the largeness of it all. Last years trip to Berg Lake comes to mind. This past weekend, also gave me that same juicy feeling deep inside. But I digress. I know most of you come to my blog to enjoy my pretty images and generally these days, I don't have the time to add too many thoughts. But, I've been thinking.

There are a many things that give me profound pleasure, appreciation and joy. One of them is spending time in wilderness and the other is the joy of discovery. Together, it's a combination that leaves me breathless with anticipation. Of more, more, more!


On Friday, I drove up to the Columbia Icefields to enjoy a few days in this incredible place.

After setting up camp, I ran up Wilcox Pass to the cheers of a non-stop train of tourists. Last year, I ran Wilcox Pass and loved this sprawling pass. So this year, I returned to explore. After the tourist train, there was nothing but solitude, a herd of sheep and myself. I took my time, explored and enjoyed. It's a lovely place.


Nap time - it's not always running.

I could barely sleep in my tent, I was so excited for the next day. The agenda for Saturday, was a 82km run in Jasper National Park, the Brazeau Loop. I've been wanting to do this one for awhile - it's a famous multi-day backpack with outrageously beautiful scenery. Mike, Steve and Brenda and I got up and hit the trail by 6:15AM for an early start. We were anticipating a long day on the trail, as none of us had ever been on this trail before.

The morning was incredible. It's a special time of day to be on the trail in the mountains, but it's also the time of day when The Wild Things are active. We crossed many meadows that would make a fine home for Grizzly Bears and we made a whole heckuva' lot of noise while running along.

The first pass we hit was Nigel Pass - a great day hike from the Icefields Parkway. I took a pile of photos, but the dark/light combination was too much for my limited skills with my point and shoot. All of my photos were a bust. Nigel Pass was out of this world! A moonscape of rock and snow and sprawling green valleys in either direction.

After climbing up the pass, we got to run down this valley and cross the river. Early in the morning at the 4-point campground, there were a few backpackers awakening for their day. It turns out, these folks were amongst the only people we would see all day.

Soon, we found ourselves climbing Jonas Pass, a never-ending long pass that was just the gift that kept on giving. It was one of those passes where you thought, "Oh, that must be the top of the pass right ahead" about 2 or 3 times. Fortunately, it was a gradual, runnable grade and it was so frickin' out-of-this-world gorgeous. Simply awesome.

Brenda and Steve

Beautiful Girl


Mike and Steve

Brenda, climbing Jonas Shoulder

Rocky Mountain High


After descending off the shoulder and briefly back into treeline, we popped back out and began climbing to Poboktan Pass. Nigel Pass had blown my mind, then Jonas had massaged me into numbness and now climbing up our 3rd Pass, even more incredible scenery began to unfold. The Brazeau Loop is out of this world.

Mr. Ironleg - Steven Miller

After a kick-ass fun descent down the other side of Poboktan, we hit Brazeau Lake, the Brazeau River and finally some slightly doldrum forest. But it was still enjoyable, my brain and body were starting to get a little fuzzy so I put down the camera for a little while and just concentrated on moving forward. At around 5:30 in the afternoon we came across the only 2 people we saw on the trail all day. Incredible!

While we were in the shade on the East facing slope of Nigel Pass, we climbed up and out of the shade to glorious late day sunshine on the other side.


With the better light, I finally got some nice photos of Nigel Pass. It's a real moonscape of jumbled rock and craggy grey and tan mountains.

We ran fast as we descended across the many "Bear Meadows", creeks and avalanche chutes, nervously joking about it being "Bear O'clock". It was almost 8:00 in the evening. I was starting to lose my voice with all of the noise I'd been making all day. We finally reached the car around 8:40, happy, tired and elated with our incredible day in a new beautiful place. Put the Brazeau Loop on your list, because it's my new favorite trail.

On Sunday, I hit the Helen Lake trail to Dolomite Pass. It's a stunner, with views of Bow Peak, Crowfoot Glacier and all of the places I love to ski in winter. If I didn't already have a new favorite trail, this would be my New New Favorite trail. It's got bang for your buck. A short time in the forest, gets you huge rewards quickly. As such, it's a super popular day hike. Just like Wilcox Pass, I left the tourist crowd gawking at Helen Lake and climbed up and over a saddle, and dropped myself into Paradise. With Cirque Peak looming high above, I went off-trail and had the best run of the weekend, leaping, giggling, skipping across some meadows and scree to the shoreline of Lake Katherine.

Lake Katherine

Lunch-spot with a View

Helen Ridge and Bow Peak

Mr. Marmot

Happy Leslie

On a side-bar, after running 82km of the Brazeau Loop - both Brenda and Mike each had a solo adventure planned for this week. Brenda was off for a 5 day fastpack of the North Boundary trail - with a distance of around 200+km. Mike was also plotting a large, ambitious fastpack of his own - an epic that will take him from Northover Ridge in Kananaskis Country, across the great divide and Mount Assiniboine Region, over the Rockwall in Kootenay NP and end at Field in Yoho NP. I can't wait to hear about their adventures. Even thought I'm totally envious, I am sending them good thoughts and fresh legs. And you thought I ran a lot.

This upcoming weekend is also the Death Race here in Alberta. It's the most popular ultra in Alberta and I've got a few friends making their Ultra debut. Good luck to Ellie, Nicki, Kamren and Phil on the trails of Grand Cache. I've got a feelin' that they're all going to rock-it.


Kaz said...

My God girl, I can't believe you ran 80kms on the Sat and then headed out the next day as if you'd been out for a 10k!

Looks like a cracking weekend! Glad you had fun. I love that feeling when your out in the mountains and you find your self just sucking in the air, the smells, the views in order to replicate it at a time when not there. It is too huge to take in though and you can only take in snippets to take away.

Oh and you're right, nipple and fissure should never co-exist! That made me laugh through the gritted teeth pain!


Chris Barber, said...

Like always, great pictures! I'm moving to wherever you live. You seem to be able to do AMAZING trail runs all the time. I was wondering if I could use a couple of your pictures to rotate on my homepage at Please email me at Thanks and keep sharing your awesome trail runs!

NJ said...

Amazing pics. I am in awe of the wonder you see and your stamina! Looking forward to reading/seeing more of your adventures.

ExtrmTao said...

I want to come back and experience summer in the parks!!

Incredible post and pictures.

Lindsay said...

Hey Leslie,
I found your blog a while back through Jill Homer's blog, and I've been following you along since. I love your pics, your positive (hilarious) attitude, and the fact that you get to play all the time. But this leads me to ask: how do you do it? Do you work? Do you play on weekdays, or are these mostly weekend adventures? And can you please send some of that sunshine over to us in Anchorage? We've been living under rain clouds for faaaaarrrrr too long, and I'm wishing I could transport myself into one of your pics! Have a great day, and thanks for all the inspiration to get out there!

Gretchen said...

Awesome! Beautiful! Sweet! I'm ready for some high-country trail running myself. There aint much better!

Mary said...

Oh my gosh
I have got to come backpack that loop. How serious is the bear situation? I've done plenty of camping in griz country but always get a little nervous..

JeffO said...

Beautiful, wild places! The farther they are, the better it is.

Helen said...

In answer to the questions at the beginning of your post, you describe perfectly all you are experiencing and what your words don't say your photographs tell. What a magical weekend.You leave me in great anticipation of more, more more!!!

Leslie's Keith said...

FYI...Leslie spends her working days sharing her love for our stunning area with visitors from around the world...manning the desk at the visitor information desk in Downtown Banff...she 'escapes' to the trails on her days off to do 'research'!

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