How to safely & responsible watch wildlife in Canada

Safe and responsible bear watching in Canada

Having lived in the UK all my life, seeing a bear was top of my list of things to see in Canada - as it is for thousands of visitors. If you're heading to Canada, or any country for that matter, and are planning to do a spot of wildlife watching, there are a few things you need to bear in mind. 

Since I don't get enough of fangirling about Canada on here or Instagram, I've written a blog post for Canadian Affair all about how to safely and responsibly watch wildlife in Canada - which you can read here

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Ben A’an – our first Scottish peak

View over Loch Katrine from the top of Ben A'an

"What on earth did I pick this walk for?" I thought to myself, as the sun beat down on us and we dragged ourselves up the steep path to the summit of Ben A'an.

We decided to celebrate our anniversary by tackling our first Scottish peak. The weather looked good (slightly cloudy, around 16C - ideal for hillwalking) and we picked Ben A'an (pronounced 'ann', I'm told) because I'd seen it described as a 'mountain in miniature' somewhere on the Visit Scotland website, and had seen beautiful views over Loch Katrine on Instagram. We packed our lunch, took a very quick glance at the Walk Highlands guide and enjoyed the hour and a half drive to the starting point. 

The path up Ben A'an

The path to the peak of Ben A'an, as it heads into the trees

The trail up Ben A'an on a hot, sunny day

The trail begins at the Ben A'an car park; it's owned by the Forestry Commision and costs Β£3 per day to park (coins only, no card reader). It's not a huge car park, so if you're planning to tackle Ben A'an on a weekend, I would get there early. We went on a weekday and arrived about 1 pm and it was almost full then. 

Though the trail isn't signposted (we saw a small sign a couple of hundred metres into the trail), it's easy to follow; you would struggle to get lost to be honest. Put it this way, if I have no problem following the trail, you'll be absolutely fine. 

Within a few hundred metres, you're rewarded with stunning views over Loch Achray and the surrounding area. The trail starts off quite steep and remains pretty steep for the majority of the hike. There are a couple of flat-ish bits, but for the most part, you're giving your calves and knees a good workout on the way up. 

After about 20 - 30 minutes, you'll come across a bit of a crossroads but keep going straight ahead. It's pretty obvious that you don't need to turn off, because if you look left you'll see the path has quite a big gate. Not 100% sure what it is, but it kinda looks like forestry access. 

As you get closer to the top, it looks like the summit is a huge lump of rock and you might wonder how you're supposed to get to the peak. Fear not. The rocky path leads you around the back and to some absolutely stunning views over Loch Katrine, Loch Achray and the Trossachs. 

We sat down on a rock, overlooking Loch Katrine, feeling a slight breeze on our faces and questioned whether or not the view was even real. Obviously, we knew it was; it seemed so vast and on such a beautiful day it was hard to believe it was real. It definitely made the steep slog worth it. 

To be honest, had we researched the walk a bit more and realised how steep Ben A'an is, we probably wouldn't have done it. I'm not going to lie to you, we aren't super fit. We get out quite a bit, but the majority of our hikes are pretty easy. I guess this is a lesson in forcing yourself to do things you think you can't do and pushing yourself. 

The summit of Ben A'an

View over Loch Katrine from Ben A'an

There are a few different spots to sit, perch, enjoy lunch, rehydrate, and take in the view at the top of Ben A'an. Our favourite was not quite the summit, but provided a front seat view over Loch Katrine, which you can see in the photo above.

How long did it take to climb Ben A'an & how hard was it?

It took us about 3 - 3.5 hours to get there and back, but we took it pretty easy (even though it didn't feel easy) and stopped often. You could definitely do it faster if you were fitter.

Once we got to the top, it didn't feel like it had been that hard at all - or, rather, it felt like it was 100% worth it. It is steep and your legs might feel it for a couple of days after; but what's that for the memory of doing it?

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View over Loch Achray from the Ben A'an trail

Tips for hiking Ben A'an

  • Take your time; it's steep so pace yourself, especially if (like us) you're not a regular hillwalker
  • Wear layers & sunscreen; there isn't much shade on the trail at all, so if it's hot you'll probably want to be wearing something thin, but it might be chilly when you reach the top. Also, long sleeves are great at protecting yourself from the sun, too. 
  • Take plenty of water; like I said, it's steep and you'll be wanting that water 
  • Snacks, always take snacks; for the top to refuel yourself for the way back down
  • If you have time, I highly recommend visiting Loch Katrine, too - that car park is pretty expensive, so take more change.

With an ascent of 340 metres, Ben A'an is a good hike if you're looking to explore the Trossachs and are a novice looking for a challenging hike. If you want more information, I highly recommend the Walk Highlands website because it contains all the info you need and you can read reports from people who've done the high. Use your common sense though, and walk to your ability and know when to stop and turn back if you need to. 

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The stories behind my Instagram Top 9 2017

rosie_baillie Instagram top 9

I don’t know about you but I love finding out about the stories behind people’s Instagram Top 9; I kinda feel like they’re nice, heartwarming, fuzzy, reads. So, I bring you the stories behind my Instagram top 9. 

It’s also interesting to note that not one of these photos was posted to my account (@rosie_baillie if you’re not already following) in the past three months, showing how damn stupid the latest algorithm updates are. 

From first glance, we can definitely see my top 9 are all about blues, greens, water, and mountains. Oh, and Canada, duh. Because do I talk about anything else? No. At least it’s nice that I know I’m a broken record.

 

The first photo was taken when I saw the northern lights (obviously) in Iceland with my Mum. It was a dream come true, ticking it off the bucketlist, moment, and I seriously recommend it. If you want to know more, I did write a blog post about seeing the northern lights and the company I went with. 

 

This next photo is actually at least two years old, maybe three now. It was taken the first time I visited Edinburgh, and had a trip out to Loch Awe. Early last year, my sister planned a trip to Scotland and started asking me questions about it, so I started fangirling to her and just had to repost this. 

The third photo is one of my favourite photos of all time; Daz and I at Moraine Lake, our happy place. I love it because it shows off how darn stunning Moraine Lake is, how grand the peaks are, the shade of blue of the lake, the reflection, and it makes me feel something. We’ve got a print of it in our living room, which I can see right now, and every time I look at it I feel fuzzy inside and have to fight off the urge to head over to SkyScanner and book a flight for tomorrow. 

 

As I said in the caption, it just isn’t possible to have too many photos of Moraine Lake in an Instagram feed. Moraine Lake is a funny ol’ place because the weather is very changeable. On the same day this photo was taken, we also had blazing sunshine and snow (at the same time). 

 

Every time I see a photo of Peyto Lake looking beautifully clear and sunny I wonder if those people visited a Peyto Lake in a parallel universe, because this is what I saw. And it’s what happened each of the four times Daz and I tried to visit the lake. Nevertheless, it’s still beautiful, and moodier than me circa 2007. 

 

This is a quaint looking hostel just off the main road through Glen Coe in Scotland. It was one of the first outings Daz and I had since moving up here. I’ve loved Glen Coe since the moment I first set my eyes on it and it was SO nice to be able to show Daz it. 

This is another solid fave of mine from 2017, and it also features Moraine Lake in the background, so it has all the qualities of the best photo ever. I don’t even know what to say about this photo other than it was a perfect day, one of my favourite moments of my life, and there better be a photo appearing in a future ‘Instagram top 9’ of our wedding at the edge of that lake. 

 

I’m actually surprised this photo appeared in my top 9 because I really feel like I’ve taken photos that are a lot better. But, it was posted at the start of 2017, again, the algorithm. This was taken back in September 2016 when we attempted to kayak on a very windy Maligne Lake. I do not recommend it to kayaking noobs, and you can read more about that horror story here

 

I’m so happy that Vancouver made an appearance in my top 9, because that beautiful city worked hard to make us fall in love with it. And we really did. This was taken at the edge of Stanley Park and is a shot looking across the Lionsgate Bridge towards North Vancouver with the mountains in the background. I think it’s a pretty great summary of why we fell in love with Vancouver; all of those things in one view, perfect. 

And, to make it even better we saw our first raccoon a few minutes before we took this photo. Now, that might seem like a bizarre thing to get excited over but we don’t have racoons in the UK! They look so adorable and remind us of the kids cartoon, The Raccoons. 

If you shared the stories behind your Instagram top 9, link me because I wanna see them! 

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Hiking the Consolation Lakes trail, Moraine Lake

Consolation Lakes in June

Consolation Lakes

Sure, you've heard of Moraine Lake; have you heard of Consolation Lakes which is just 3km away? 

Ok, Moraine Lake is pretty damn hard to beat but the 6km return hike to and from Consolation Lakes is beautiful, pretty easy (we saw little kiddies doing it) and is well worth your time. You can go from the hustle and bustle of Moraine Lake, to a peaceful valley after walking through immaculate forest in an hour. Why would you want to skip out on that? 

Sign for Consolation Lakes trail

Snow covered trail from Moraine Lake to Consolation lakes

Snow at Moraine Lake

Snow covered trail to Consolation Lakes

Snow on the trail to Consolation Lakes

The trail starts near the rock pile at Moraine Lake and leads you through stunning forest to lakes surrounded by mountains and glaciers. We hiked to Consolation Lakes on June 21st and to our surprise, there was still a lot of snow and avalanche build up in places, especially near the lakes which make things pretty treacherous. 

As you can see in the photos above, the trail near Moraine Lake to the forest area was covered in snow and had there not been a worn path we would have had no idea where the trail went. Especially where it heads into the forest. Luckily we saw someone come out up the slippy slope from the forest. Otherwise I think we would have given up and thought it was impassable. 

I've seen photos from August time where it seems to have all thawed out; if you're going in June, and maybe even July, take waterproof boots with good grip and ankle support. You definitely need to exercise caution when trying to navigate the snow on the rocks because it's so easy to slip and drop your foot into a crevice; both Daz and I did this. 

It took us just over an hour to reach Consolation Lakes, and the trail was fairly quiet. If that's the case, remember to make noise on the trail so you don't scare any bears that may be nearby. When we arrived, we could barely believe what we were seeing; a stunning meadow, steep slopes, the Quadra glacier, and crystal clear lakes.

Snow at Consolation Lakes in June

Alpine valley Consolation Lakes

Ground squirrel near consolation lakes

We probably spent about half an hour at Consolation Lakes. I imagine you could spent a lot longer there when the snow has all melted, but we dared venture too far over the snow covered rocks for fear of busting an ankle. 

The 6km return hike is easily doable in a couple of hours, so you could easily spent half a day in the Moraine Lake area. As I mentioned earlier, we visited in June (which isn't quite peak season) and it was quite busy. While most visitors don't head to Consolation Lakes, if you want to explore the area when it's quieter get there as early as you can. 

Please remember to pay attention to any trail restrictions. When we first visited last September, we couldn't do this hike because it was closed to groups smaller than four people because it's prime bear habitat. When you're on the trail, make noise to avoid surprising a furry beast, carry bear spray, and know what to do in the event you see a bear

If you're visiting Consolation Lakes early in the season, or even in June, Parks Canada keep their trail report page updated

Ironically, Moraine Lake Road is fully snow covered, closed, and won't be open until June 2018 now - but I really wanted to share these photos with you because I keep forgetting about how beautiful Consolation Lakes were. 

 

Have you ever hiked to Consolation Lakes?

 

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Blazing our own trail to Grassi Lakes, Canmore

The view over the Bow Valley and Rundle Forebay from Grassi Lakes trail

Grassi Lakes is everything you’re looking for in a hike; two beautiful turquoise coloured lakes and panoramic views across Canmore and the mini Mount Rundle range.

The two lakes, called Upper and Lower Grassi Lakes, were named after Lawrence Grassi; an Italian-born climbing guide and trail blazer. He sounds like a fascinating person and was responsible for building many trails in the Canadian Rockies. Could you imagine having that job? I bet he had some amazing stories. 

Grassi Lakes trail more difficult or easy trails

There are two trails up to Grassi Lakes; the “more difficult” route and the “easy” route. Of course, we took the “more difficult” route, because why wouldn’t we? Turns out we ended up making it “even more difficult” because we channeled our inner Lawrence Grassi and blazed our own trail.

View over Canmore and Bow Valley from Grassi Lakes

View over Bow Valley from Grassi Lakes trail

The Bow Valley and Rundle Forebay from Grassi Lakes Trail

It all started well. We followed the trail and were floored by the beautiful views over Canmore and the Bow Valley. And then we came across the waterfall. We took in the views and then tried to figure out where the trail went. It wasn’t immediately obvious but we eventually spotted what we thought was the trail; it was a kind of worn path, in our defence.

After a couple of minutes of pulling ourselves up a bank we realised there was a solid chance we were not on the trail at all. Thankfully, Daz had looked at the trail map at the trail head and knew that if we kept going up we would reach the easier route.

He was right. We did reach the service road, but not after some serious climbing up a very muddy bank, and grabbing onto trees. At some point on the way up, I managed to lose my sunglasses as well.

The view from the top was absolutely worth it, and the colour of the lakes in these photos do not do them justice at all.

Grassi Lakes

Upper Grassi Lakes

Thankfully we found the trail to head back down on and discovered where we’d gone wrong. From the waterfall, the trail went up some steps which blended in to the trees and foliage. While they were a little camouflaged, I have no idea how we missed the steps.

At 3.8km there and back, the trip up to Grassi Lakes can easily be done in a couple of hours. And the harder route really isn’t that hard at all – unless you decide to blaze your own trail.

Have you ever got lost on a trail?

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View over the Bow Valley from Grassi Lakes

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Sunset on the Bow River Loop, Canmore, Alberta

Sunset from the Bow River Loop, Canmore

When we were in Canada, one of our goals was to see an amazing sunset, and Canmore finally provided us with one from the Bow River Loop trail.

We tried hard to chase sunsets but the sky was just not in our favour, over and over again. The sky would either go a darker shade of blue, completely cloud over, or it would rain torrentially.

On our first day in Canmore, we discovered the Bow River Loop, a 20-minute flat walk around the Bow River on the edge of town. As we were sat in our hotel room one evening, we spotted colour creeping into the sky and dashed out to the car and down to the trail.

Red and orange clouds over Mount Rundle, Canmore

Pink clouds at sunset over Mount Rundle

Canmore Engine Bridge

Golden light bathed the mountains and forests surrounding the town and we almost ran down to Canmore Engine Bridge to set up the camera. It wasn’t long until we were treated to a pink, red, and orange display lighting up Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain. I loved the way streams of light seemed to shoot out of the top of the mountain and paint patterns in the sky.

We stood there for a while, taking photos and trying to take in the awe-inspiring sunset, and were pleasantly surprised by the amount of people who started conversations with us. Considering both of us hate small talk, we loved the way people talk to each other on the street.

Everyone has heard the stereotype that Canadians are friendly, and it was true of the majority of Canadians we spoke to. Canadian hospitality has got to rival Southern hospitality because we felt welcomed and at home everywhere we went.

Sunset over Cascade Mountain from the Bow River Loop, Canmore

Canmore is one of our favourite places in Canada. The locals say that Banff is where you go to visit and Canmore is where you live. It’s a fairly quiet little town, about 20 minutes from Banff, on the Bow River with plenty activities to choose from, such as; hiking, kayaking, stand up kayaking, climbing, snowsports, and more.

If you’re ever in the Canmore or Banff area, it is well worth taking a stroll around the Bow River Loop at sunset. The trail in general is well worth a visit in general, whether you’ve got half an hour spare to take in some spectacular views, a few hours, or the whole day; the Bow River Loop connects to other walking and cycling trails, so you aren’t going to be short of things to do.

Sunset over the Three Sisters, Canmore

Where’s the best place you’ve watched the sun set?

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Photographers, quit ignoring conservation signs to get the best Instagram shot

Do not walk off the path at Moraine Lake

One of the joys of photography is getting to share a place, or a feeling, that you love with everyone else; that comes at a cost though when you contribute to destroying that place.

I am not tarring everyone with the same brush at all, but I am fed up of watching photographers, or anyone for that matter, hop over “please stay on the marked trails” signs to get “the best Instagram shot” or one without trees, or plants blocking the view. 

Whether you’re in your home country, or abroad, it’s not uncommon to see signs asking you to stay on the marked trail to protect wildlife and vegetation. Some signs might even explain that it’s humans trampling everywhere which has damaged the area and it needs time to recover. Perhaps the signs need to be bigger because I watched countless people ignore them.

These signs are all over the place in Canada, and by far, the worst place for offenders was Moraine Lake. A few kilometers outside of Lake Louise, the beauty of Moraine Lake is beyond words. It is our favourite place, which makes it even harder to watch people contribute to damaging it.

If you’ve never been to Moraine Lake, let me explain the best view point to you. There is a huge pile of rocks which a path, steps and view points have been built into, which give you a beautiful elevated view of the lake. The problem some photographers seem to have is that there are trees growing in and along this rock pile, which “get in the way” of your view sometimes. So, what do they do? They step off the trail and clamber all down the banks. I saw so many people do it without even hesitating and it made my blood boil. 

It is absolutely possible to get a view of the lake without trees “blocking” the view by staying on the path, and the trees really are part of the environment and part of the view so why are we so into getting rid of them? 

As well as damaging the fragile environment, Daz brought up an excellent point; taking photos from viewpoints off the trail encourages others to do the same to replicate the shot.

Honestly, how many times have you seen a photo and thought, “wow, I’d love to see that view with my own eyes?” I’ve done it loads, and I am always so disappointed when I get somewhere and realise the photographer strayed off the trail to get that shot. That kind of disregard sends a message that it’s ok for others to do the same, whether the photographer realises it or not. We witnessed more than enough people show complete disregard for the protection of the places we visited so people honestly do not need the encouragement.

Our environment is fragile and one of the privileges of photography, for me and others, is that we get to share the beauty of our planet with others and highlight the importance of protecting it. But we’re nothing short of hypocrites if we are doing things as simple as straying the marked trail to get a “better” shot.

Please, stay on the fudging trail because protecting fragile places is more important than Instagram likes. 

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