Category Archives: top ten lists

travel related top ten lists, sometimes eleven… call it “new” math

2014 the Year in Numbers

Another yummy gourmet meal in a bag.

Another yummy gourmet meal in a bag.

Every year we have a little get together and go through our website numbers to see what’s driving traffic to the explorer’s lens. Twenty fourteen was a good year for the site; all-time monthly highs, record number of visitors, and views. Thank you for the support!!!

We’ve always wanted to do a year-end site review but figured most folks are not interested in that sort of thing. But… as I was looking at the site’s numbers I got to thinking about ‘our numbers’ in 2014.

Here’s a little about the site and what 2014 looks like in our rearview mirror:

the explorer’s lens site statistics

Users – 5,600

Views – 8,900

Spam messages received – 92,777

Time needed to read spam – 24 days

Top three articles – 4,484 views

    Ten Must See Attractions in Glacier National Park – 2,026
    Hiking Jasper’s Skyline Trail – 1,441
    Ten Free Things to do in Jasper National Park – 1,017

Mountains

Summit attempts – 6 (5 successful)

    Haleakalā (Maui)
    Sulphur Mountain (Alberta)
    Kristínartindar (Iceland)
    Hrútsfjallstindar (Iceland)
    Clements Mountain (Montana)
    Pollock Mountain (Montana) – Weather forced us off the mountain

Days on a glacier – 4

Crevasses fallen into – 3

National Parks

Number of Park visits – 7

    Haleakalā (Maui)
    Banff (Alberta)
    Þingvellir (Iceland)
    Vatnajökull (Iceland)
    Jasper (Alberta)
    Glacier (Montana)

Travel

Miles flown – 38,810

Airlines used – 4

    Air ‘we’re not happy ’til your not happy’ Canada
    WestJest
    Icelandic Air
    Lan

Time spent in airports – 1 day 2 hours 33 minutes

Continents visited – 3

Countries visited – 4

Roughing it

Kilometers hiked – lost track at 300+

Meals eaten from a bag – 27

Nights spent in a tent – 12

Times drenched, chilled to the bone thinking ‘why are we doing this?’ – 3.5

Bears sighted – Too many to count

Most important number

Regrets – 0

Thanks again for a wonderful year and looking for to the adventures 2015 has to offer.

Last Minute Holiday Gifts for Adventurers

It’s the most frustrating time of the year, especially if you’ve got an adventurer – traveller, trekker, backpacker, climber – on your secret santa list. How are you supposed to relate let alone shop for someone who takes great pride in their ability to wear the same clothes for days, eat “gourmet” meals from bags, and delights in sleeping in a tent while claiming ‘it was the best time of my life’?

What adventurers really want

True, adventure-types are hard to buy gifts for but if you follow three simple fundamentals you can put the ‘fun’ back into the fundamentals and the ‘merry’ back into your Christmas festivities. For the adventurer on your list gifts must be:

Practical
As well intended as your gift is, if it doesn’t serve a purpose it will not get used. If the item serves more than one purpose the higher the likelihood of your gift being well received.
Lightweight
Ideally your gift should be lightweight and small. The lighter and smaller the better as these items are often carried over great distances.
Reliable
These people are nomadic souls often finding themselves in the middle of nowhere so your gift needs to be reliable as their safety and well-being may depend on it.

So with Kris Kringle’s arrival imminent Cameo and I have put together a list of gift ideas that match the criteria above – and fit a variety of budgets – that every adventurer would love to find in their stocking or under the tree:

Leatherman Skeletool

Gone are the days of a multi-tool being a heavy chunk of stainless steel with a blade and pliers. Current models are scalable (ie add-on attachments) with sleek skeleton frames inlaid with carbon fibre to improve handling and reduce weight leaving nothing but MacGyver’n goodness.

Leatherman, SOG, and Gerber are leaders in this field. We’ve been using Leatherman products for years and the Skeletool CX is our current favourite.

Nalgene water bottle

There are a number of hydration systems on the market but nothing beats the simplicity of a Nalgene bottle. Cheap, reliable, and unlike hydration bladders, bottles are capable of multitasking – measuring cup, drink mixer, dry storage, PUD (wait for it… you’ll find out), and hot water bottle.

Look for hard plastic BPA free models with ‘widemouth’ MSR compatible tops (allows the bottle to be connected to an approved filtration device).

Buff Headwear

Every traveller should have this item as a Buff checks all three ‘adventure criteria’ off in spades.

It’s a scarf, a beanie, a bandana, a face mask, a sweatband, a wash cloth, a sling… you get the picture. It’s also lightweight and packs down to almost nothing when not in use.

A number of colours, styles, and options – merino wool, fleece, dry-tech – are available.

Outdoor Research Stuff Sack

All this loot has to go somewhere! Compression sacks are great for ensuring every ounce of gear will fit into a backpack.

We find them handy for our down sleep bags. The sack compresses the bag into a smaller packing size while offering improved water repellency keeping our gear dry.

Depending on type sack, they can also be used to haul water, used as a lightweight summit bag, a snow stake to secure a tent, and even a pillow.

Headlamp

Let there be light… From alpine starts to mid-night pee breaks every adventurer appreciates a headlamp.

The most recent additions to these lamps feature USB rechargeable batteries.

We couldn’t find an Amazon Associate with a reasonable offering so we’d recommend visiting your local outdoor retailer. We’ve used a number of Petzl and Black Diamond brands and would recommend either company.

MSR Mugmate

How you bean man? Adventure is fuelled by coffee… Sometimes chocolate… And most definitely beer… But mostly coffee!

If your adventurer also happens to be a caffeine addict – high probability – an MSR Mugmate is a no brainer; a simple reliable guaranteed cup of coffee in the morning.

Maps and Guidebooks

There are two ways to get lost – Not knowing where you are, and not knowing where you are going. Having a map and/or a guidebook makes being lost look prettier!

National Geographic and Gem Trek (Canada) make excellent maps for most National Parks. Check with your local retailers or online for the best selection(s).

In our opinion National Geographic and Lonely Planet are publishing the best guidebooks currently. Lonely Planet books are also available electronically for various readers (ie Kindle, iPad, etc.).

Optimus Long Spoon

My what a long spoon you have… All the better NOT to get food on my hands!

If you’re giftee is the backcountry type they’ve probably eaten a “gourmet meal” from a just-add-water pouch. Stirring the meal with a normal sized utensil results in a serious trail condition called gooeyknucklitis, the inflammation of the hands resulting in them getting covering in macarroni cheese powder. Solution: Longer spoon!

Julbo Sherpa Galcier Glasses

If the adventurer on your list is heading into alpine environs for extented periods of time, particularly glaciated terrain they need glacier glasses to protect their peepers. Julbo is the gold standard and I love my Sherpa’s classic mountaineering look. Purpose built for the mountains they bring out everyone’s inner Edmund Hillary.

Go Girl Personal Urinary Device

Ladies, you too can stand for number one – Do you know someone who’s being singled out because they have to sit down to pee? Are they tired of watching ‘the boys’ write their names’ in the snow? If so this one’s for all the lady adventurers.

You Go Girls!

If you were wondering what a PUD is; now you know.

Gift Certificates

Really… All those GREAT gift ideas listed above and you’re still at a loss? Good thing there’s always the heart warming gift of a cold hard gift certificate.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

The fine print

Links associated with products will open our Amazon affiliate site where purchases can be made.

the explorer’s lens makes a small commission from each sale.  These sales help with the costs associated with maintaining theexplorerslens.com.

As always, your support is truly appreciated. Thank you.

Paved Paradise and put up a Glacier Walk

image of brewster's glacier walk nearing completion - icefields parkway, jasper national park ab

Jasper Park saviour, or tourist gimmick – Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park AB ©theexplorerslens.com

‘Good news everyone’, Jasper National Parks’ saviour, the Glacier Skywalk, is operational! Can someone create a sarcasm font?

On our final Jasper trip of the 2013 season we saw Brewster’s “controversial Glacier Skywalk project” in-the-tin for the first time. And while it’s unlikely we’ll visit this attraction in the near future – it’s just not our thing – I can’t help but wonder what the hell where they thinking?

Thoughts below…

Can breathtaking and free be improved upon?

The current site of Brewster’s Glacier Walk was previously a large parking lot and viewing area that offered a panoramic view of the Sunwapta Canyon and adjacent peaks. As far as views went, it wasn’t the best Jasper has to offer, but for a road side pull out you got what you paid for.

Beginning May 2014, for approximately $25.00, Brewster’s will provide shuttle bus transportation from the Icefield Discovery Centre and offer tourists the Glacier Skywalk experience. The previous viewpoint is now “enhanced” with 200 metric tonnes of steel offering an interpretive walkway and glass floor extension over the canyon.

Twenty-five bucks for a 5 minute bus ride and glass floor.

Here’s the kicker – Despite it’s name, you couldn’t be further from a glacier if you tried!

Build it and they will come!

The Glacier Skywalk is seen as a way to significantly increase Park visitation. More tourists means more revenue, and Brewster’s has proposed a rather rosy future for their roadside attraction.

Here’s the issue; so far this strategy hasn’t worked. Visitation to Brewster’s Glacier Adventure peaked in 1999 with over 600,000 visitors experiencing the Athabasca Glacier via sno-coach tours. Ten years of declining tourist interest has seen the number of visitations reduced by half. Given that the Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefield is considered a marquee attraction, and they are absolutely gorgeous and should be experienced, something is very wrong with Parks Canada and Brewster’s current assessment and/or business model regarding visitor interest along the Icefields Parkway.

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If the granduer of a glacier can’t attract interest a gimmicky roadside attraction, the likes of the Glacier Skywalk, is unlikely to attract sufficient longterm interest to reverse the fortunes of Brewster’s Icefield operations, nor increase visitation to Jasper National Park to any significant degree.

Ten years from now will ‘we’ be left with an aging attraction-become-eyesore that has outlived it’s usefulness? Then again, what do we know?

I don’t think “Ecological Integrity” means what you think it means

This is the Parks Canada Charter as presented on their website:

On behalf of the people of Canada, we protect and present nationally significant examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage, and foster public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure the ecological and commemorative integrity of these places for present and future generations.

Scroll up to the picture at the beginning of this post… One of these things is not like the other!

Just because we ‘Value Your Input’ doesn’t mean We Value Your Input

When nearly every media outlet begins their respective Skywalk coverage with “controversial project” you know something’s fishy.

Parks Canada left a very sour taste in the mouths of those taking part in the Public Consultation process regarding this project. Negative opinion of the project far outweighed positives. Despite the overall lack of support Parks Canada in what can only be described as a ‘this is a good idea how moment’ came up with the following rationale as to why everyone is wrong…

Although the majority of comments reflected a lack of support for the proposal, numbers for or against were not the only factor that Parks Canada considered when evaluating public response. All comments were taken into account when making the determination, but in the end, the consultation process is not a plebiscite. Parks Canada considered the validity, scope and new information presented relevant to the assessment.

The largest number of comments received and the central public debate in the petitions and media against the proposal related primarily to the interpretation of Parks Canada Agency policy and appropriateness. While these comments were well meaning, caring and passionate, they were philosophically in opposition to the interpretation of policy and the determination of appropriateness by the Parks Canada Agency.
To address the concerns related to environmental and social effects (and visitor experience), the project environmental assessment screening report describes prescriptive undertakings for Brewster to mitigate adverse effects and to implement related follow up programs. Parks Canada has identified “desired end results” to guide mitigation and provide additional direction on the intended outcomes. The process and the nature of the concerns have helped to shape, clarify and justify the desired end results.
The analysis of public comment has concluded that there was no nature of concern or new information presented that would prevent the proposal from moving forward.

So, if by “disired end result” Parks Canada meant the Glacier Skywalk has already been decided as a good thing, then yes everyone else got it wrong!

Public Relations 101 – The only thing worse than not listening to your target audience is to marginalize them.

Stop chasing symptoms and tackle the problem

Whether Parks Canada believes the public got the Glacier Skywalk proposal wrong or not is the crux of another debate. Fact is the most vocal voices in the process suggested attractions like Brewster’s Glacier Skywalk are not what Park supporters are seeking to enhance their respective Visitor Experience within Jasper National Park.

The question then becomes, what do we want from our National Parks?

In our opinion plugging round holes with Skywalks doesn’t appear to offer a longterm solution regarding Visitor Experience or Ecological Integrity.