Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Outdoor Ethics Part 2: Planning, Planning, Planning

In case you didn't know, I'm the CoChair of the Friends of Kananaskis. The Friends is a non-profit organization that exists to assist Alberta Parks in the long term management and protection of Kananaskis Country, a 4,000 square kilometre area of fabulous mountain landscapes and parks in Alberta. I also write the majority of content for the Friends' newsletter.

In 2019, I wrote an 8 part series on Outdoor Ethics. I keep referencing it and wish there was a better way to reference it to others, so decided to reproduce that series here.


Part 1 of this series introduced the concepts of Leave No Trace Canada, and noted the 7 principles of Leave No Trace. The first of these principles is “Plan Ahead and Prepare”.
An obvious question is “How can planning ahead and good preparation be associated with outdoor ethics?” The answer: a combination of unexpected conditions and poor planning can have a deleterious effect on people and cause the degradation of backcountry resources.
One personal example: I’m a fair weather hiker, but rain happens (especially thunderstorms). I was out on a trail once in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, still about 5 km from the car, when a storm blew in and it started to really come down. I put on my rain gear and continued, but within minutes, ran into a group of underprepared hikers. No rain gear (they were soaked), and they wearing just shorts with no extra layers (they were cold). In an effort to try to remedy the problem, they had ripped a pile of branches off some trees, tried to build a makeshift lean-to, which wasn’t working as a rain shelter at all (I find a lot of lean-tos in the woods, like the one pictured below).
And this serves what purpose?
They made a fire ring out of rocks, and were in the process of trying to light a fire inside the lean-to. The wet, green branches wouldn’t light, (thank goodness, or they would have set the lean-to on fire and probably the whole forest, too). When the rain subsided, there was now a total mess in the forest right on the trail, of ripped down branches and damaged trees, plus a rock ring. The funny part was, had they done their proper prep work, or known the area, or even known what to do in this case, there was lots of ready, dry shelter areas less than 100 m away against some rock bands.

Another excellent thing to leave in the forest. Common where I live, sadly
Another personal example where the bad planning was mine: I was canoeing with a group from Banff to Canmore, starting at Bow Falls. The start's pictured below.
The falls themselves are behind me
Not 15 minutes after leaving Bow Falls, sweepers (downed trees in the river) in a section of the river we later found was "notorious" capsized all but 3 of our 10 boats. As an upright boat, we rescued half a dozen people (and a dog) and got them to shore. We had extra layers and warm gear, and started to get everyone warmed up. Not being that clear on exactly where we were, someone built a small fire to start drying people out. Turns out we were just ~200 m from the edge of the Golf Course. An hour later, the Banff Park Wardens came by on a jet boat and encouraged us to put the fire out (and destroy any evidence it was there). Folks in our party had to come back a few days later and remove 2 canoes from the river that were wrapped around trees, becoming both hazards and permanent fixtures on the landscape. Had we understood the route and the hazards better, rather than relying on only the party's lead boat to know, avoiding the hazards or even dealing with the dumped boats would have looked a LOT different. “Bad planning” on our group’s part created a rescue situation even though we were prepared to self-rescue, and prevented us from finding easy ways out.
I ran a 6 part series in the Friends newsletter in 2017 on planning and preparedness from a safety perspective. The Leave No Trace principles on preparedness are not focused so much on safety, as the impact that bad planning can have on backcountry resources. The February 2019 Friends Speaker Series talk in Calgary from Matt Muller of Kananaskis Public Safety talked about how rock rescues can require drilling and installing bolts on un-bolted routes – permanent markers on the landscape. Whether it’s building emergency shelters, or being ill-equipped for what our unforgiving mountains can throw at you, there’s a real impact on the ground from unpreparedness. It’s readily avoidable, and when done right, leaves the wilderness ready for the next people to see it in its original state.
One area the Leave No Trace program focuses on in particular is meal planning. From the use of stoves instead of fires, to minimizing food packaging, to packing out what you pack in, even day hikers can Leave No Trace when they eat by just a bit of better planning.
For instance, just because it’s biodegradable, doesn’t mean it should be left behind. Apple cores, orange peels, and sunflower seed or pistachio hulls take at least 6 months and sometimes years to decompose, aren’t attractive on the landscape, and create habituation behaviours in critters like ground squirrels (who bite and carry pests).
In backpacking, planning meals limits your impact, and one-pot meals is the best way to go. Not only do they minimize pots and pans to carry, everything can be made on one stove (instead of a campfire), and they limit the number of utensils needed, as often you can eat with the ones you cook with.
Not mine, but a good set up
I have found bits of every single type of granola/energy bar wrapper in K-Country, too. One suggestion Leave No Trace Canada has is to remove all packaging (where practical) and repackage EVERYTHING in re-sealable, reusable containers before leaving home. Once empty, put the empty bags or containers inside each other and carry them out. A simple, compact solution to the waste problem.
Even dog waste merits planning. Carrying the waste bags is one thing; how do you plan on taking them out? A Ziploc bag that can take all the poop bags safely and without any mess is an outstanding solution; leaving them on the side of the trail “to pick up on the trip back” is suboptimal at best.
Good planning involves knowing your route. When you know where you are going, most (but not all) rock cairns, unofficial tree blazes and flagging tape become unnecessary; creating new ones is always superfluous. I have no doubt that anyone who has spent time in K-Country has found cairns in the strangest of places that don't add any value whatsoever to route finding. The 6' tall tower on Red Ridge pictured below is just one example of an unnecessary cairn that is clearly not "leaving no trace" and offering no navigation value.
This was in 2010
Adding new cairns because "you" think the next person will need them suggests a lack of planning on your part, given the likely thousands of folks who have been there before you and found their way without them. 

Good planning results in minimizing impact on the landscape, whether through reduction of your harm, or reduction of the risk that you’ll need help or run into trouble. We certainly can’t plan for every contingency, and can’t carry everything we need for every potential risk every day. But a good plan can take us a long way, and nature (and the next folks along the trail) will thank us for it.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Outdoor Ethics Part 1: Leave No Trace

In case you didn't know, I'm the CoChair of the Friends of Kananaskis. The Friends is a non-profit organization that exists to assist Alberta Parks in the long term management and protection of Kananaskis Country, a 4,000 square kilometre area of fabulous mountain landscapes and parks in Alberta. I also write the majority of content for the Friends' newsletter.

In 2019, I wrote an 8 part series on Outdoor Ethics. I keep referencing it and wish there was a better way to reference it to others, so decided to reproduce that series here.


Growing up in Ontario over 50 years ago, I spent a lot of time in the wilderness, and some time volunteering with the Bruce Trail Association. The majority of the volunteering I did as a teenager was repairing the damage done by trail users, which included cleaning up the campsites and shelters that were along the trail then (they’re all gone now), fixing broken stiles and gates that crossed fences, collecting garbage, repainting damaged blazes and repairing trees that had initials carved in them. I guess that was the start for me of the concept of Leave No Trace.

I never understood why people couldn’t leave things the way they found them. I got the concept of accidentally dropping a bit of paper, but couldn’t understand folks who neatly collected their trash in plastic bags -- only to leave the bags on the trail (much like dog poop bags today, which is a plague not just in K-Country but around the world as any Google search will show you). The whole idea that “if I carried it in, I could carry it out” seemed pretty intuitive to me.

I wasn’t even a personal fan of fires in the wilderness, even when I went camping or backpacking. Ignoring the fact that it made my clothes smell, it always left ash or charred wood or blackened rocks, which was clear evidence that I had been there. SO many people have random fires in K-Country, especially up the creeks, and leave them as scars on the landscape. The mess below was one of THREE (illegal) fire pits within 50' of this location.
There are ways to build low-impact fires, and that's not it
I used to think: “take only pictures, leave only footprints”. But I now understand that there are a lot of places where even leaving footprints is creating permanent scars on the landscape. And don't get me started on graffiti.

As more and more people recreate in our wild spaces, the concept of the ethics of being in the wilderness is more and more important. Enter the Leave No Trace global movement, and specifically in Canada, Leave No Trace Canada. To quote their website:

Leave No Trace Canada is a national non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and inspiring responsible outdoor recreation through education, research and partnerships. Leave No Trace builds awareness, appreciation and respect for our wildlands.

Many of us have taken a pine cone or rock, veered off the trail to dodge mud puddles, gotten too close to wildlife or tossed an apple core into the woods. While these actions may seem harmless at the time, until we learn to reduce our impact, the quality of our outdoor experiences and the recreational resources we enjoy are at critical risk. Also at risk is our continued access to wildlands as land management agencies sometimes take restrictive action to protect the resources they manage. Unless, of course, education catches up with behavior, and we all learn to leave the outdoors as unchanged as possible by our presence.

I have experienced land managers clawing back access first hand. As just one example, it is an annual occurence for Bruce Trail private landowners to get tired of the mess users make (and I was cleaning up regularly back in the 1970's), and revoke permission for the trail to cross their land, necessitating major trail re-routes. As I noted above, there are no longer shelters or campsites along the Bruce Trail; all were removed because they were being abused.

And if you spend time in Kananaskis, you have experienced it, too. As one example, Mt. Indefatigable’s east ridge used to be an incredibly popular official hike complete with memorial benches. Now there’s this sign posted at the trailhead, and you can't go up the trail without passing it.
I would have thought this was a clear message
Research and collar data clearly shows that grizzlies forage in the summer, and head up there in the fall to den (and later in this series, I'll provide more data on this particular problem area). For the sake of the grizzlies, the trail was decommissioned, and land mangers asked people to respect the trail closure. Has that stopped people going up there? Nope, not at all. Making arguments like “if the grizzlies were there, they would put an area closure in place” or “I’ll make sure we don’t disturb them” or “you could run into bears anywhere”, sadly many, many folks ignore the request and still use that trail.

Another example was the closure of several sections of trail (including a newly built trail) last summer in Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park on the east bank of Cougar Creek in an area referred to as the Horseshoe Loop. The Friends has been heavily involved since 2015 working in partnership with various land managers and user groups (including CAMBA, who is quoted in the linked article) to reduce trail density on the land in that area. Everyone agrees that the trail density is too high. Research (that I help with) clearly shows the deleterious effect that trail density has had, and is having, on wildlife. In the end, the land managers have the final say, and sometimes, actions to protect the land they manage will be taken.

Many places in K-Country are under such pressures, and I don’t see the trend of potentially increasing restrictive actions ending any time soon. Since the Friends is in the education business, enhancing education regarding treading lightly in the wilderness is part of what we need to do.

In this 8 part series, I’m going to use Leave No Trace Canada’s 7 Principles of Leave No Trace to explore ways to minimize our impact as users of K-Country, and how we can keep “A Kananaskis Country of exquisite natural and cultural landscapes enjoyed by present and future generations” – which just happens to be the Friends vision.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

I got a rock

In late September of 2018, Karen took a bath, and when it drained, we had sewage back up into our basement once again (it was about the 7th time it's happened in the last 8 years).

We immediately got in touch with a local plumbing outfit. First we had our septic tanks pumped, then the plumbers came. They poked and prodded and came to the conclusion that we had a plug in the line downstream of Septic Tank #2 on the way to the septic field. The plug was for sure downstream, but where they could not assess. They tried for most of a day to get an auger down the line leaving from Tank 2, but that was an issue. Take a peek into Tank 2:
Note the pipe on the left
Not visible in the photo above is the bell siphon. The Bell Siphon is a simple bit of kit that basically pumps the tank out based on air pressure; find out how one works here. The tube on the left allows air pressure to equalize. Through it, the plumbers pushed an auger, but it's only a 2.5" pipe, and they couldn't get an auger bigger than 1" around the 90° bend that leads to the field. So they managed to drill a 1" hole in a 3" pipe leading to the field. Not great.

We were instructed to dig up the field and install a clean-out that would enable cleaning the pipe all the way back to the tanks, and into the field as well. Until we could do that, we would have to prevent Tank 2 from filling to the point where it would pump out, basically using our septic tanks as a two-tank holding tank. Pump outs cost $350 each time.

We then called Bogdan, our favourite contractor, to get the stuff done, but he freely admitted he had no experience of expertise on septic fields. On advice from neighbours in our hamlet, we contacted a local contracting firm that shall remain nameless, but whom I will call ABC Contracting. Several folks in our hamlet have used ABC for septic tank and field work. ABC said they were pretty busy, but they would try to slot us in soon.

And then it snowed. About 9" (23 cm) fell, and my yard looked like this:
The field is under there 
That's the driveway
We contacted ABC, and they said the snow put them behind (though for the record, that snow was gone in about 5 days). Four weeks (and 3 pumpouts) later -- 4 weeks of perfect fall weather to work -- we were still trying to convince ABC to come help us. By now it was the beginning of November, ski season was starting in 7 days, and the snow had started to return. We finally gave up on ABC and called our hero Bogdan. He was astounded nothing had been done, and within 24 hrs, he showed up with an excavating contractor and the plumbers, and they dug up our yard a bit.
The digging commences
They exposed the line from the tanks to the field...
The pipe. Note how many there are.
..., cleaned the line back to the tank with the 3" auger, added clean-outs going both directions...
Two risers
...and then buttoned it back up.
Two risers, and dirt. They did put the grass back

They would not auger the field. They noted that the pipe section they cut out was +50 years old and so fragile that they risked breaking it. And...

We only had 1 lateral.

The laterals are the part that actually lets the fluid run into the ground. We thought we had 2. In 2012, we unearthed 2 (which you can read about here). But we proved only 1 was now connected, and it was no more than 30' long. That makes it grossly undersized by current standards BUT had worked flawlessly since the 1980's. Hmmmn....

In any case, the plumbers said "You need to replace your septic field".  And they also told us that until we replaced the field, there was no way we could be certain we would not have septic back up problems again.

They told us this on November 6, 2018. There was no way we could do any work in frozen ground over the winter, so Karen spent winter 2018/19 bathless (this despite having the brand new bathtub we installed during our bathroom reno in November 2017 that I started to write about here but never finished).

Instead, in January 2019, we sent out a Request for Proposal to three professional septic contractors. We outlined what our issue was, and asked for a recommendation, a quote and a time frame for a May/June fix (once the snow was gone and the ground no longer frozen).

One (Grayline Contracting) wrote us back. He had reviewed our bid package, and his conclusion was for us to sell our house and move. There was no way he could bring our system to code; we didn't have enough room for a field under today's rules. He couldn't think of a fix we could legally do. Awesome.

We traded notes with another (Titan Water) a few times, but could never get him to give us anything. Not a comment, not a suggestion, not a recommendation, not a quote.

Alberta Septic (who had done a tank replacement for friends of ours in our hamlet) not only spent some time on the phone with me discussing the problem, but actually came to look. And he was from WAY far away, but just so happened to ski at Sunshine every week, so was happy to drop in. We had a long conversation, and I learned a lot. Like the first guy, he warned me there was no way to re-build the system to bring it to code. He gave me three options:

  1. Denude the front of the property of trees. Permanently remove our front deck. Move the gas line to the property boundary. Decommission our basement toilet. Destroy our two concrete septic tanks in place, and haul them away. Change the drainage in the house to lead to a new lifting station to be installed outside. Use a pump to lift the sewage to a 2,500 gal holding tank to be installed in the front yard. Pump the holding tank monthly for the rest of all time ($500/month). Ballpark cost: $100,000.
  2. Remove our driveway (rendering the garage useless). Denude the front of the property of trees. Permanently remove our front deck. Move the gas line to the property boundary. Dig out and remove all the soil in the front yard to a depth of 12' (3.6 m). Replace the soil with gravel and sand. Install a new field that would hopefully fit in the space -- but whether it would fit would have to be determined AFTER the soil had all been replaced (field size is a function of soil takeaway capacity, NOT floor size or number of bathrooms). Ballpark cost: $40,000, if it worked, $120,000 if it didn't and we ended up with Option 1.
  3. Fix what we had. Repairs of systems were allowed, but if we made the laterals 1" longer, we would need a permit and an inspection, and we would fail. Ballpark cost: $10,000
In mid-March, I asked this guy for a quote on Option 3.

He declined to bid.

He basically said that unless we were willing to do it "right", he wasn't willing to band-aid it. He noted he had seen too many band-aid solutions go south, so was no longer willing to just fix things.

We were not willing to destroy all the trees in our front yard, get rid of our deck, move our gas line, or do any of the other things he wanted done. So we were at a bit of a stalemate.

When in doubt, call Bogdan. Together, we hatched a plan using everything I had learned. I spent the next week studying the current regulations of the Alberta Onsite Wastewater Management Association, and the entire Alberta Private Sewage Standards of Practice. I learned about pipe specs, job specs, trench and fill design, sizing, and construction methods. I told Bogdan what he needed to know, and he got the parts from a rural supply shop in Red Deer. He got an excavation contractor in, and we designed a plan to repair what we had, including repairing the connection to the lateral that we had but was no longer connected. We were to start digging in late May.

And on May 7, we started to have sewage leak into our basement through the basement walls.

We immediately went back to using our tanks as pump out. We didn't know what the problem was; we didn't care, as we were 14 days away from work starting, and everything we needed to fix anything was coming. We just had to put up with sewage leaking constantly through our walls for 2 weeks.

May 21st came, and the first thing we found was that the pipe leading from our house to Tank 1 had split. Cast iron, and in place for +50 years, an expansion joint failed about 1' from the basement wall.
That would do it
We dug the whole pipe up and replaced it.
That should sort that out for a bit
Then it was time to attack the front yard.
Field marked out. New risers exposed
By the end of the day, one lateral was dug out & removed.
Nice trench
The next day, the second lateral was dug up and removed...
Two slots
...and a code-specified layer of code-specified size of gravel was added to the bottom.
Add caption
My plan was to get rid of the old soil and gravel, and bring in new. The old stuff was covered in a layer affectionately referred to as "bio-mat". I didn't want my old bio-mat interfering with the new. But... what to do with this gooey pile of dirt with 50 years of crap in it?
Some of it
Neither Bogden nor I knew what to do with it. We couldn't figure out if it was considered bio-hazard waste. Everyone we talked to gave us different info. The local landfill refused to take it; they said they were a Class III landfill, and it had to go to a Class II landfill. We called Calgary's Class II landfill, and they initially said that if we let it dry out, it would be considered clean fill ($10/tonne disposal). But our local landfill wouldn't agree to this, and then Calgary's landfill changed their tune and started calling it hazardous waste. We contacted a hazardous waste facility and they gave us options including putting it in drums and storing it long term ($5,000/drum, plus a permanent storage fee of $20 per month per drum), incineration ($20,000), or transporting it by rail to a Class I landfill (didn't want to ask).

I called Alberta Septic. The kind gentleman not only took my call, he told me I was nuts. He noted that a) it was basically fertilizer, and b) all of his work was in the country with farmers used to dealing with manure. He said just put it back in the ground and it would be fine.

So we did. Then we laid in code-specified pipe, laid down code-specified level, covered it with code-specified landscaping textile, and gently put the soil over top, not tamped down (as per code).
Buried. Note the lower right corner.
One thing we did do was install a code-specified distribution box. This box ensures that fluid coming out of the tanks distributes equally between the laterals. It also offers a way to gain access to clean out the lines if they plug. By code, the distribution box must be accessible from the surface. To do that, we sank a 24" diameter culvert vertically in the ground. Because that leads directly to the lines and gravel we so painstakingly put in, in the photo above, you can see that we temporarily covered it with a garbage bag and wood lid to keep water out.

Then we sodded the whole thing. I thought of seeding, which I did in the back yard (that you can read about here), but that didn't turn out all that well. So sod it was.
First levelled, then topsoil added
The guys did a great job of the sodding operation (didn't get pics of it), and a month later, it just looks great. But...

I have this lovely 24" diameter galvanized steel culvert sticking out of my front yard. I spent all winter with two highly attractive plastic clean-out stacks sticking up, now it's a culvert. What to do about that?

Turns out there's a company that makes things to cover crap like 24" diameter galvanized steel culverts (or septic tank lids, or electrical boxes). It's called Dekorra. They make giant fake rocks that neatly hide crap in your lawn. After some searching, the closest dealer to me that had what I wanted was in Red Deer, about a 2.5 hr drive away. So I drove to Red Deer, and...

I Got A Rock.
Looks fairly real when surrounded by his real cousins
For those of you who were wondering, now aren't you glad you asked?

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Early spring hiking

Now that ski season is almost winding down, my ski posts over at will slow, and I'll be back posting here.


More on that as we progress.

Spring has sorta sprung here, with limited new snow in the valley and temps in the teens (Celsius) some days. That opens up some hiking opportunities that are NOT climbs of my local mountains. Those are still mostly under a lot of snow, and often, subject to unpredictable wet avalanches. My version of mountain climbing generally doesn't start until June-ish.

On the bright side, there are a gazillion kilometres of valley-type trails with spectacular vistas that are cool in my 'hood, and I love the fact that all the "commercial" bloggers ignore most of them. The forecast (which ended up being wrong, as usual) was for sun and warm today, so we decided to start getting our summer hiking butts into shape.

We headed to a little-explored part of Kananaskis Country, the Yamnuska Natural Area. In truth, it's not a Natural Area any more, but is now part of Bow Valley Wildland Park. It's a large area of rolling, glaciated terrain, full of little ponds and lakes, and surrounded on 2 sides by big mountains. Most of the trails in here are either routes to climbing areas, or routes used by local horse outfitters for trail rides (and they are all unofficial and unsigned). And they are NOT well used. We used to have research cameras in here, but it was a waste, as so few folks walked by them.

We started our day at the garbage dump. Yep, there's a Class 3 landfill next to the park, and stuff (mostly plastic) blows out of the place and into the park -- but they have a guy whose full time job is to collect it. It was nice running into him; he advised that the expansion of the landfill changed the trails a bit. That meant the map & trail directions in Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 3, page 125 was wrong.

Following his advice, we followed a weak trail along the new fenceline north, then east, then south, where we intercepted the old trail and could head on our way. We wandered through the "Hidden Valley" area, pleasant (if gravelly) walking near the base of the mountains.
The Hidden Valley's typical trail 
Mt. Yamnuska comes into view
The trail in here was mostly but not entirely snow free. On the bright side, someone had left tracks in the snow, so where the snow was deep (up to 2'), finding the trail and walking in it was easy.
Ice & snow here 
Yam dominates
There are some cool BIG trees in this area, but didn't feel like exploring for them.

There's no height gain of consequence in here, so the walking was fast. After about 90 minutes, we got to our first lake.
Crescent Lake appears 
Looking southwest to Mt. McGillivray 
Looking west to the Goat buttresses, a popular climbing area 
Our lunch view
The ice on the lake wouldn't hold the weight of a stone I threw onto it.

After a peaceful lunch, we continued east a ways, looking for the access to the beaver ponds. Suddenly, "used horse food" started appearing on the trail, and we found a large meadow I bet is used by Kananaskis Guest Ranch to do trail rides to. It's just above the beaver ponds, and a lovely spot for a picnic, I bet. The trail to the beaver ponds was obvious and not where the guidebook said it would be, so maybe there are multiple trails. There are a few large ponds that are very photogenic.
The first sight of the ponds 
At the water's edge 
An interesting perspective to Heart Mountain 
Dead trees have such style 
Looking back at Karen, looking up at Yam
I would like to come back to this spot with Karen's niece Llisa, who is a better photographer than me.

We backtracked to Crescent Lake again...
Still frozen
...went past Hilltop Pond, which really is on a hilltop...
Yates Mountain, with Barrier Lookout on the top
Pretty west view, too
...and descended to Reed Lake, one of the larger lakes in the area.
Dropping down off the hilltop to (frozen) Reed Lake
Not a small lake at all. No, I have no idea about fishing in these lakes.
Around here, "bad things" happened.

Short story, my foot started to hurt.

Long story, I have arthritis. Three years ago, it started to affect a toe in my right foot. That got worse, and made walking painful. In January 2018, I had surgery on my toe to fix the problem. I did one hike, in June 2018, and it hurt like he%& (I never even wrote about that). Turns out that surgery "didn't work" (a complicated story), needed re-doing, and I couldn't hike at all for the entire summer. I had a second surgery in September 2018 to fix the surgery that didn't work. Today was my first "real" hike since that surgery.

And 8 km into this hike, I was almost crippled. About every 50 paces, I got stabbing pain in my (twice operated on) toe. The farther I went, the worse it got. Shit. Here's hoping I can get it fixed, or my hiking in 2019 will be as limited as 2018.

We soldiered on. On the bright side, it was only 3 km back to the car. 

We took a side trip (on a VERY ill-used trail, but at least one marked with a cairn where we started) to yet another pair of lakes, called Twin Lakes.
Two lakes separated by a small isthmus 
The west lake 
The east lake
A quick jaunt between them got us to a powerline, where it was just 1.5 (very painful) kilometres back to the car.

This area is FULL of exploration opportunities. There aren't any "official" trails; there are a small set of ill-used "unofficial" trails, lots of off-trail wandering that can be done to explore things, and lots of cool lakes, fens, springs, bogs and other things to find. We did find a small grove of endangered Limber Pine trees in the Hidden Valley (there are more I am aware of on the west side of the landfill) so tread carefully.

None of these trails are hard. All offer beautiful vistas, solitude (I promise you will basically have them to yourself) and should be on hiker's lists of "things to do" -- especially when the peaks aren't climb-worthy.

What did surprise us was a lack of wildlife or wildlife sign. Aspen forests without elk gnaws, very few poop piles, few tracks, not one squirrel, and only a few interesting birds, like this Three-toed Woodpecker.
Making a mess, as usual 
Very cute
We did see this, and still have no idea who's poop it is. Best guess? Black bear.
Looks like partially digested pine cones
Visit the Yamnuska Natural Area section of Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park. You'll be glad you did. Read more about it on Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis blog here.