Fertility Awareness in the Backcountry

The Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park is considered Jasper's highest and possibly most scenic trail. From start to finish the trail is 44km with at least 25km above the treeline. This guarantees sweeping mountain views. The trail can be completed in one day for (those crazy trail runners'), or in two, three or even four days using designated campsites along the entirety of the route.

Backpacking in this area is popular and requires booking in advance (we booked in January for August 7-9) via the backcountry Canada trail booking site here

In the weeks leading up to the trip, I carefully considered the use of fertility awareness method (FAM) in the outdoors. Although my partner and I have backpacked previously (including the West Coast Trail), this is the first trip where I made the decision to continue observing and recording biomarkers (cervical mucus and basal body temperature). In previous trips, I took a break from charting, but this time I wanted to document the journey.

I began to consider the basics in trip planning with FAM, first and foremost paper charting versus phone app. As you can imagine, every ounce counts. My partner and I always joke, "Gotta save them grams!". Packing around colored pencils and a physical chart didn't seem realistic in particular since I had already planned on bringing my phone. I recently downloaded the new 'Read Your Body' app and decided that would be my primary form of record keeping.

The second consideration was continuing to record my basal body temperature (BBT). It is recommended that BBT should be completed at the same time every day, but with the change in environment and varying waking time, I opted to continue BBT with my Tempdrop device.

I am fortunate to have discovered Tempdrop early in my fertility awareness journey. The Tempdrop is a wearable device that collects core body temperatures while sleeping. It is based on an algorithm that, over time, learns your unique patterns. It is beneficial for those who sleep inconsistently including shift workers, those in the postpartum period, and of course those sleeping in the backcountry. It can store up to 24 hours of data (three nights, eight hours a piece), and it can be synced to the app when internet service resumes.

Since we were trekking for three days, and, two nights, this gave me the perfect amount of time for data collection to continue to use the Tempdrop device.

The third consideration was observing cervical mucus. When you don't have access to a traditional toilet, this poses some difficulties. When checking cervical mucus, you should check throughout the day, at every bathroom opportunity. Not only did we have to use outdoor toilets BUT these toilets were unique. They didn't have a shelter around them...

My plan was to use the toilets exclusively and continue to check with standard toilet paper at every opportunity.

We began hiking the trail on August 7th, 2020 in the late morning. When you book the Skyline Trail, it is recommended that you reserve a shuttle bus. The cost is $35 per person and it transports you from the end of the trail (where you leave your vehicle) to the beginning. You can book the shuttle here. We booked three weeks in advance, and on start day, the shuttle was at capacity. In our case, we hiked from Maligne Lake to Signal Mountain, and I believe this is the better option. The beginning of the trailhead lies at a higher elevation. Once you get past the ridge (The Notch), the views will be ahead, not behind you.

The first day, we left the trailhead and hiked the 12.2km to the Snowbowl campsite. It features eight spots and is nestled in a meadow sheltered by trees with a creek that runs approximately 500 m off the site. It has one, three-seater out-toilet, three picnic tables and a set of bear lockers.

As I used the toilet in the evening, I began checking for cervical mucus on this three-day trip. I used my standard toilet paper and made observations, as I would in a conventional setting. I noticed my first mucus observation of the cycle and noted it accordingly on my app. As I went to sleep, I put on the Tempdrop, as per my regular routine, and set it to record for the evening.

In the a.m., I took off the Tempdrop as I normally would, but did not sync the data. The data was be stored for the time being, waiting to be synced when cell service resumed.

That morning, we experienced a significant amount of rain. We decided to wait out the weather, as we were told it would clear by 10 a.m. At 10 a.m., the rain cleared, and we set out for our next destination. We knew this would be the most challenging day with 18.2km ahead trekking past Curator Lake, over The Notch, and along the Skyline Ridge before descending into Tekkara Campground.

Challenging it was, we encountered four seasons in one day. Amongst the beautiful skyline, we experienced rain, hail, sleet, and snow. I referred to Skyline Ridge as "Misery Ridge," true suffering exposed to the elements. Once we began to lose elevation towards the campsite, we looked back up towards the summit and felt thankful to be past the trickiest part!

We had a snack near the large rock, and watched an extra-large marmot move through the rockfall before finishing the last leg of the day.

When we arrived at Tekerra, after getting a late start, we took one of the last campsites and headed immediately to the cooking area. This area featured a large, fast-moving creek right next to the campsite. There were four picnic tables for eating; one large, bear-proof food locker for storage; and eight campsites.

After setting up tent, eating, and storing our food for the night, - I wandered to locate the house-less toilets. I observed continued fertile cervical mucus and made the record in my app at the end of day.

The next morning, I removed my Tempdrop and we proceeded to take down our tent for the last time. Today would be the "easy" day, with 13.7 km and a mere 700 m elevation decrease. We knew to take advantage of the last of the skyline views, as the final 8 km would be in a tree-heavy area down the well-maintained Signal Fire Road. In our opinion, this is the most likely spot to encounter a bear, so be aware, carry your bear spray, and know how to use it!

I would absolutely use fertility awareness in the future for traveling and/or backpacking trips! If the trip was longer than three days, I would need to consider an alternative option for observing BBT, but in this case, my Tempdrop worked perfectly! It was lightweight and, in combination with mucus checks, provided enough information to accurately chart!

We are already looking forward to booking and completing the next trip on our bucket list (hopefully next Summer Covid pending) the Chilkoot Trail, which begins in Alaska, USA and ends in Yukon, Canada.

More Information

I hope this guide encourages you to both plan a backpacking trip and continue to use fertility awareness no matter where life takes you! Please leave a comment below if you have an questions, suggestions, or recommendations!

To explore some of the products mentioned in this article (and others that I recommend) check out the following links:

Disclosure: Some of the provided links are affiliates, I may receive commission through purchases that are made through the links. The above reflects my honest, unbiased opinion of the product and subsequent recommendation.

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