Scrambling up the short-but-steep Clubs Peak, I feel as co-ordinated as a baby elephant. The grip on my travel-light gym shoes is comparable to ballet flats and, thanks to the blustering gales, the yoga-wear I threw on this morning isn’t doing me any favours either. Upon cresting the top – more out of breath than I care to admit – a sense of calm washes over me. Oddly, the wind that almost blew our small group off the trail is nonexistent here. And the view of the Great Divide and Flathead Range? Ridiculous. Over the top. And well worth losing my breath over.
It’s funny how trail chatter stops at the summit. Everyone seems to take a moment to reflect, like a mini-meditation of sorts. Beside me, Heather Davis, a hiking guide and owner of Uplift Adventures, is smiling as if it’s her first time hiking this trail. It’s not of course. She’s been exploring Castle, Alberta’s newest designated provincial park, for years. Now as a full-time guide, Davis’s joy and passion for the outdoors, and Castle in particular, radiate from her, whether she’s pointing out one
Davis started hiking because she was drawn to the mountains. “It’s like a magnetic force,” she says. “Being out here rejuvenates me, grounds me and makes me feel alive.” As a professional agrologist (that’s the study of crops and soil) with a science degree, Davis is well versed in the area’s biodiversity and enthusiastically shares her deep knowledge of the park’s plants, wildlife and history. It seems the more questions you ask, the happier she is, which for newbies, like myself, is a wonderful thing.
As a person who prefers my outdoor experiences to be well marked and paved – gravel is fine – I’m in awe of adventure seekers like Davis who prefer places that, as she says, “feel more remote, less travelled and less tame.” And, encompassing more than 105,000 hectares, Castle is just that. Wild, untamed and impossibly beautiful. Given its sheer magnitude, even the thought of navigating this park can be daunting, which is why Davis created Uplift. Her mantra is that nature should be shared, and the best way to accomplish this is by educating people on how to safely explore southern Alberta’s remote and special places. All of Uplift’s adventures have an educational component. However, if you’re intimidated by unmarked trails and wild lands (and animals), there are special skill-building workshops that focus on hazards, weather, environment, and what and how to pack. Davis’s ultimate goal is to build confidence and community by safely connecting people with nature and the backcountry. “I love teaching and seeing how these courses help others change their perspective on being outside,” she says. You’ll also find a host of guided adventures, ranging from afternoon hikes to introductory multi-day backpacking treks.
If you’re planning a trip to Castle, check out Davis’s top hiking and packing tips for newbies, as well as her three favourite beginner trails in the park.
What makes Castle Provincial Park special? Heather Davis will fill you in on the magnetic force that draws her here.
Don’t be afraid to get outside, and always be prepared. Let someone know where you are going and stick to that route.
Travel in a group, and if something goes wrong, don’t let one experience deter you from trying again. Learn from your mistakes and move on.
Respect the environment and others on the trail, and always pack out everything that you bring in – even food waste.
Bring enough water for the temperature. You’ll consume more on a hot day, so plan accordingly. If you’re hiking with a dog, bring extra water. When it’s hot out, on a full-day adventure, bring a minimum of 3-litres, and 1.5-litres on shorter hikes – no matter the distance.
If you are planning a summit, pack a windbreaker. It can be windy at the top, and as you won’t be as active, you may get a chill. Keep warm and enjoy those vistas.
Learn how to use bear spray and be aware of bears. Castle, like many of Alberta’s national and provincial parks, is considered bear country.
Bring some favourite snacks for the trail, plus a special treat for making the peak. You’ll deserve it after all of that work.
Take a first aid kit, with extra supplies for blisters. As a novice hiker, there’s a good chance you’ll get some hot spots on your feet. Address them before it becomes a bigger problem. You’ll enjoy the hike much more pain free.