Borgeau Lake and Harvey Pass (Friend-venture Part 1) + Mulled Wine Recipe!

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.

Me (centre) and Victoria (right), age 15 at summer camp

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):

  1. Borgeau Lake and Harvey Pass
  2. Bow Hut & ‘The Onion’ & Bow Falls
  3. 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!

The alpine meadow just before Borgeau Lake. Harvey Pass is to the right of Mount Borgeau.

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. 

Lovely streams flow from the tarns at the pass

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:  

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Add a 1-2 tablespoons of raw cane sugar or honey.
  4. Add ½ a fresh orange, cut into thin slices. 
  5. 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!
  6. Pour into a camping mug and enjoy with your friends and family! ❤ 
Matching hats and matching mugs! Cheers to Friendship!

Lighting it up in Peru!

Originally posted on May 30, 2017

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.

My amazing hiking group at Macchu Picchu! Photo Credit: Christina Free

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.

A mother and her three children relax in the “town square” of Llancash. Photo Credit: Christina Free

I 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 candle.

The kitchen at a school in Llancash used to cook meals for the students. Photo Credit: Christina Free

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.

Locally hired technicians work on installing lighting in a school building. Photo Credit: Christina Free

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.

The CPC and LUTW team posing in front of an electrical box installed at a health clinic. Photo Credit: Morgan Smith

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.

Fallon, Les and Ruth complete their practice circuit on our training day. Photo Credit: Morgan Smith

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.

A local woman welcomes me to the community. Photo Credit: Morgan Smith

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!

A young girl does laundry in front of her home. Photo Credit: Christina Free

Installing Power Systems

There 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 power them.

Joanne, Chris and myself working on a solar panel. Photo Credit: Morgan Smith

Then 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!

Les and a young student checking out some selfies. Photo Credit: Morgan Smith

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 all around!

High fives are exchanged after a successful solar system installation. Photo Credit: Morgan Smith

Celebrating with the Community

After 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.

School children in Llancash participating in games to learn about solar power. Photo Credit: Morgan Smith

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.

A young boy from the “9th of October” gives me a high five. Photo Credit: Morgan Smith

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.

The entire LUTW + Capital Power team with the students from Llancash. Photo Credit: Morgan Smith