In mid-July, Victoria, one of my dearest and best friends, and I embarked on our fourth annual friend-venture in the Rocky Mountains. What started out as a casual girl’s weekend camping trip way back when we were rekindling an old and forgotten friendship has blossomed into a celebration of our love for adventure, the mountains, and of course, for each other!
To briefly recap, Victoria and I met when were 15 years old at Crowsnest Lake Bible Camp where we were both in their “leadership” training camp program for 6 weeks. As you can imagine, spending 24/7 with a small group of teenagers out in the wilderness makes fast friends. We stayed friends after summer camp for a couple years, but then life took us in different directions for a while – I moved to the East Coast for university studies, while Victoria had her hands full raising two amazing little baby girls. Fortunately, our paths managed to cross again after I moved back to Calgary for work upon graduation. Since then, she has been a steadfast and true friend – the kind of friend who you know will never judge you and will also love you no matter what, but will also give you the stone-cold, hard truth when you need to hear it the most, but always with a warm hug and a smile.
Ok – so before I get too sappy about our friendship (maybe I’ll save that for another post) – this is really supposed to be a trip report about our summer friend-venture! Our trip boiled down to three parts (which will be written up in three separate blog posts, including this one):
Borgeau Lake and Harvey Pass
Bow Hut & ‘The Onion’ & Bow Falls
Cline Lakes and (maybe) Mount Owen
We really managed to packed it in for this trip (as we do), and despite having to change some plans around (it’s the Rocky Mountains – you always must be flexible and prepared!), we had an amazing time and shared lots of laughs and good times.
Borgeau Lake & Harvey Pass
We started the day with the intent of summiting Mount Borgeau, which is a “easy” but extremely long scramble about 14 km west of Banff. By extremely long, the round trip distance is around 25km and nearly 1500m of elevation gain!
There is a small parking lot at the trailhead which can fill up quickly on weekends. From the trailhead, it is a relatively easy and well-trodden trail for 7.5km up to Borgeau Lake. Although the trail is simple to follow, there is quite a bit of elevation gain just to the lake, around 750m! The trail meanders and switchbacks mostly through forest – the kind of forest that looks like the perfect refuge for a family of bears – so make sure you pack your bear spray and holler “Hey Bear!” every now and then!
Along the way to the lake, there are a couple lovely waterfalls and creek crossings that you will encounter. Lake Borgeau itself is nestled in a lovely alpine meadow, and the real treat was the marmot colony that was scattered all over the large boulders surrounding the lake!
After Borgeau Lake, it is about 2.5km and 300m of elevation to reach Harvey Lake and Harvey Pass. There are a handful of little tarns nestled in the pass before the ridge that you take to reach the summit of Mount Borgeau.
At this point however, what was a gentle rain at lower elevations turned into snow/sleet at the pass, and we were somewhat unprepared for wintery conditions! It was a good reminder that even on a “easy day hike”, to always pack more layers than you think you need (I had an extra jacket and wind layer which helped a lot) and gloves (which I TOTALLY forgot) and a hat (my poor ears were frozen!). The wind was also making things rather unpleasant, so after a few quick photos, we decided to turn around and hike the ~10km back to the car.
If one would want to continue to the summit, the ridge is obvious and easy to follow, but still around 3km away with another 400m or so of elevation. The summit was by now hidden in a large cloud of swirling snow, so we didn’t feel like we were missing out on anything by heading back early.
Finishing our hike earlier than expected however left us some time to play “tourist” in the town of Banff, and we got hand and heart-warming Americano’s from Evelyn’s Coffee bar, and bought matching toques from Monad Sports (really awesome sports gear store in Banff!). I do have to caveat, we didn’t intentionally set out to buy matching toques, we both just have excellent taste in head-wear, obviously.
We rather surprised ourselves when we realized what we initially wanted to be an “easy” hike still clocked us in at nearly 20km 1000m of elevation gain! No wonder my legs were a bit sore… we camped at Lake Louise for the night and found protection from the rain under one of the cooking shelters, where we did some stretching and drank some delicious mulled wine (super half-assed recipe below)!
Camping Style Mulled Wine Recipe:
In a pot, add your spices of choice. I like cinnamon sticks (3-4), cloves (~8-10), star anise (3-4) and a pinch of nutmeg. Toast for 30 seconds over low heat.
Pour 1 bottle of a fruity, dark and full-bodied red-wine into your spice pot. Keep the heat really low! A Merlot, California Zinfandel, or Grenache would probably be a good pick – and don’t spend a fortune; a $10ish bottle will do the trick just fine.
Add a 1-2 tablespoons of raw cane sugar or honey.
Add ½ a fresh orange, cut into thin slices.
Stir together and let warm over low heat for 20-30 minutes – just make sure it never actually simmers or comes to a boil! You want the flavours to meld together slowly and you don’t want to alcohol to all burn off either!
Pour into a camping mug and enjoy with your friends and family! ❤
I’ve always been more of a “wait until inspiration strikes” kind of writer, but travelling in Peru, was such an amazing trip I just had to write about it! I had several incredible experiences that have inspired me to finally pick up the pen (ahem, keyboard) again. From surfing in Lima and eating ceviche by the beach to hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, this was a trip of a lifetime.
Light Up the World – an amazing NGO!
It was one experience in Peru in particular that had the most significant impact on me, and that was my time volunteering with a Calgary-based NGO called Light Up the World (LUTW). LUTW is an awesome non-profit whose focus is on implementing solar energy projects in communities that don’t have access to electricity (you can learn more about them here). Since 1997, the organization has been bringing clean energy into homes, schools and community buildings to off-grid areas in 54 countries. Over the past few years, their efforts have been focused in Peru which has one of the lowest electrification rates in Latin America, where 4-6 million people in Peru (actual estimates vary) currently live without access to electricity.
had never thought much about what it would be like to live completely off the
grid with no access to electricity. For most Canadians, ‘getting off the grid’
typically means getting away for a weekend camping trip in the mountains or a
stay at a rustic cabin by the lake. It’s seen as a break from everyday life, a
chance to escape our cellphones and office computers to get back to nature. But
for millions of Peruvians, living off the grid isn’t a vacation – it is their
everyday reality. And that reality is one where families may need to resort to
using animal dung or wood for cooking. It’s a reality where, to study or do
homework, children must use the dim light of a kerosene lamp or a flickering
Not only do these energy sources pose inherent risks
such as accidental fires, injuries and respiratory ailments stemming from the
inhalation of toxic fumes – fuel sources such as kerosene are a primary source
of greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, these inefficient lighting sources
are extremely costly and families can spend as much as one third of their monthly
income on kerosene or candles! To imagine that people love
to complain about high electricity prices on almost a daily basis here in
Canada! With a reliable, renewable source of energy such as solar power, this
income could be directed to other priorities such as nutrition, business
development or education. Access to electricity is an indispensable enabler for
reducing poverty, improving health and promoting economic growth, which is why
the United Nations made access to affordable and clean energy for all one of
the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in 2014.
Volunteering with Capital Power
My employer Capital Power Corporation partnered up with LUTW earlier this year as part of the corporation’s community investment program. As part of this initiative, Capital Power provided the funding directed towards the solar systems, equipment and staff at LUTW, while myself and several of my colleagues traveled to Peru to meet up with LUTW to install these solar electricity systems in rural communities in the Andachupa region. Our little group of 8 consisted primarily of office nerds (and one former electrician who was our saving grace!) who, until this trip, had likely never even held a pair of wire strippers in hand. Nonetheless, we arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed in Lima, ready and eager to learn all about small-scale solar systems. We were all motivated to volunteer our time, energy and money for the program primarily because of the social impact that we believed solar projects could have, and wanted to have the chance to witness first-hand how communities could benefit from this kind of work. But as the project went on, it became so much more than just about what we could give to these communities in terms of access to electricity.
Kicking things off in Lima
Our first couple days in Lima were spent getting to know each other, team building, and completing an intensive crash course on installing off-grid solar systems. The very first basic circuit we built I short-circuited (by accident I swear!), but by the end of the day we were able to circuit 5 LED light-bulbs in parallel, with switches! My grade 6 science teacher would have been proud, my first year university physics professor probably much less so! Armed with our newfound technical skills (or lack thereof, depending if you are a glass half-full or empty kind of person), we flew to Huaraz and met up with a local LUTW staff and technicians who would help us on the installs and also maintain the systems after we left. We loaded up our trucks full of equipment, then drove another 4 hours to Huallanca, a charming town nestled in a mountain valley at an altitude of nearly 10,500 feet, which served as our home base for the week.
The winding roads to Huallanca
Despite only being around 400 km north from Lima, Huallanca felt like it was oceans away. The views of coastlines dotted with skyscrapers were replaced by mountain vistas, speeding cabs and congested roads were replaced by motor-taxis (reminiscent of the tuk-tuks in Thailand) puttering around on quiet cobblestone streets. Instead of high-end shopping centers, little old ladies sat on doorsteps peddling local fruits, homemade soups and hand-knitted hats. Our group was among the only non-Peruvians visiting the town, and locals often approached us as we wandered the streets, smiling broadly and shaking our hands to welcome us to the community.
The next day, after several people had time to rest
from the long day of travel and recover from some mild altitude-related
ailments (going from sea level to over 10,000 feet can often induce altitude
sickness symptoms including headaches, nausea and fatigue), we were ready to
get to work. We drove about 1 hour on some extremely bumpy country roads (which
did not help those suffering from nausea much at all!) to a community called
the “9th of October”. If Huallanca was oceans away from Lima, then 9th of October was a
completely different world! Small homesteads constructed primarily of scrap
metal and adobe sparsely dotted lush green hillsides. Although I spotted a few
rusty early ‘90s Honda Civics, the preferred mode of transportation seemed to
be either horseback or foot, and bleating sheep outnumbered the local residents
at least two hundred to one!
Installing Power Systems
were four main facilities that we were going to install solar systems at over
the next several days, including a newly built community center, the school and
a health clinic and one additional solar system at another school in
nearby Llancash. The first thing I couldn’t help but notice was the utter
simplicity of these buildings which were supposed to provide the backbone to
the community. Not only did the buildings lack any kind of electrification, but
they lacked almost every other amenity and comfort that we in North America
would typically expect. A kitchen was nothing more than an empty room
with a clay oven fueled by wood. The schools were shabbily equipped with old
chairs and desks reminiscent of a 1900s one room school house at best, or
cardboard boxes used as makeshift tables wrapped in paper at worst. The health
clinic looked like it could have been the set of a medical horror movie – the
maternity ward consisted of a single rusty iron bed, a broken pipe in the
bathroom leaked water 24/7, and the medicine cabinet was poorly stocked with
mostly empty boxes. Ironically, some of the buildings did have a few
modern appliances here and there – such as old laptop computers, stereos and
even a printer! These items were typically either donated or given out through
government programs but sat idly by collecting dust because there was no way to
the work began. It was quite the challenge to go from wiring simple circuits on
a small board to setting up an entire solar system! We did walk-throughs of
each facility with the locals (the Mayor of the town for the community center,
the school teacher for the school and the nurse at the clinic) and they told us
where they would like lights and outlets located and how many lights they
wanted on each light switch. And even after we came up with full circuit
designs and laid out wires, we faced all kinds of other challenges with
installing the systems. It was an endless struggle to try to get nails to stick
in the adobe walls without them crumbling, and a headache to try to screw light
fixtures into water damaged ceilings! Accidentally cutting the wrong wire or
getting our positive and negative wires mixed up were also frequent mistakes
that we had to check (and then double check!). Fortunately, we were lent a
helping hand by a young local boy named Emerson who waited for us to arrive
each morning to help dig holes, fetch tools from the toolbox and screw in
lightbulbs. Although he occasionally was more of a troublemaker than a helper,
especially the time when he pretended to cut himself on a box cutter by pouring
iodine he found in our first aid kit on his hand!
The day after we got the first solar system up and
running at the community center, townspeople were already showing up at the
door with their cellphones in hand eagerly asking if they would be able to
charge their devices! After we finished another install at the medical clinic,
several families stopped by to excitedly check out the new lights and inquire
into whether LUTW would be able to return to install smaller scale solar
systems in their own homes. It was so encouraging to see that positive impact
on the lives of these rural communities was immediately realized by basic
access to electricity – something we in Canada consider one of our most simple
amenities. By the last day of our installations, we were regular pros, and set
up a full solar system at a school that worked without any troubleshooting on
the first try – there were celebratory whoo hoos! and high-fives
Celebrating with the Community
the four solar system installations were completed, we returned to the last
school we worked at in the town Llancash to hang out with the schoolkids for
the day. We put on a short skit about how a solar system works (we even had to
say our lines in Spanish!), played several games that taught the children basic
electrical safety, and showed them how the lights and outlets worked. I’ll
never forget the look on the faces of a group of the students huddled at a
doorway to one of their classrooms now equipped with lighting, eyes wide with
anticipation to check out their new electrical system.
Each child was fundamentally no different than my
nephews or younger cousins who live in first world countries – they love to
laugh and run around outside, they are eager to learn, and are endlessly
curious and inquisitive. This is despite the fact that they have so, so much
less – less materially, financially, and educationally. How many of these
students would even graduate high school? Would any have the opportunity
to receive higher education and secure stable jobs in urban areas? How many
would continue to live in the highlands and work the soil? Would any of the
girls face the hardship of becoming teenage mothers, as is becoming increasingly common in rural areas of Peru? A few lightbulbs obviously cannot
solve all of these potential problems, but even if it can make their future
just a little bit brighter, then it is well worth it.
I want to thank, from the bottom
of my heart, LUTW for their incredibly hard work and for organizing such an
amazing volunteer trip, as well as Capital Power Corporation for believing in
and supporting the work that LUTW does in Peru.