Saturday 29 August 2020

Heron Bonanza!

I have been out a few times the past week to check my favourite local spot for birds, and had a great time watching and photographing the egrets and herons in the marsh.  Below are a few of the shots I got that were halfway decent.  The first image below is my favourite - the setting sun cast a pinkish hue onto the clouds and the egret as it loped slowly past me.

American Bittern was new for my 5MR this year.

Great Egret

Green Heron

American Bittern

Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons


Saturday 22 August 2020

Height of the Rockies Backpacking Trip Report

Despite the ongoing global pandemic, the annual 2020 backpacking trip was to continue come 'hell or high water', and we got a bit of both in the Height of the Rockies Provincial Park in B.C this past week.  Originally we had planned to visit the Yukon this year, but since the territories still require a mandatory 2 week quarantine upon arrival we had to adjust our plans accordingly.  

On Thursday of last week, Mike and I flew into Calgary without our usual trail companions, as Kyle and Jensen had family obligations.  We arrived in the mid-afternoon with the goal of picking up a few supplies before hitting the trail the next day.  We managed to track down all of our items including bear spray, but bear-proof bear barrels would not be found.  Undeterred, the next day we drove the 2 hrs to the trailhead in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Alberta where we parked to begin our 6 day trek into B.C and the wild Height of the Rockies Provincial Park.

Bear warning signs greeted us as we pulled into Peter Lougheed, and we were happy we had managed to get some bear spray just in case!

More bear warning signs on our actual trail reminded us that we were indeed in the home of the mighty Grizzly.

The trail through Peter Lougheed P.P was in excellent shape and we made great time until we hit our first high pass that we had to scale.

Along the way we had sightings of various small mammals including ground squirrels, Pikas, and a drowsy Porcupine lumbering along the trail.

We arrived at the top of the pass and Three Isle Lake around lunch time.

After a brief rest at this lake we crossed the border into B.C and Height of the Rockies P.P.  This park is the rugged sister of Peter Lougheed, and we saw hardly a soul from the time we entered until we exited several days later.  

Around 4pm we arrived at Beatty Lake, our rest spot for the night.  The emerald waters of the lake were a welcome sight for a pair of weary hikers!

While planning this trip I anticipated that the first day would be the hardest and that day 2 would be considerably easier.  Boy was I wrong!  If we had known what was ahead we may not have dared venture far from Beatty Lake.  Hindsight is 20:20 as they say, and for the night we enjoyed the false comfort that the worst was behind us.

The next morning we started the long descent, 2000ft down into the Palliser River valley.  The trail, if you could call it that, wound steeply down the talus and scree shoulders of the mountains into the very heart of Height of the Rockies.  The steepness of this slope is lost in the photos, which tend to flatten the grade.

After a long descent we had nearly arrived at the lowest elevation of the Palliser River and its junction with Leeroy Creek.  As we were about to make our final descent I noticed a brown speck moving on the far hillside and after putting my telephoto lens to my eye I spied a Grizzly Bear strolling through a meadow foraging for berries.  I snapped a few pictures and we gave it plenty of time to leave the area before venturing down in its direction. Unfortunately (fortunately) it was far away and I was unable to get great photos.  The photographer in me wanted to get closer photos, but I could hear Caitlyn's voice in my head ("don't do anything stupid, you have a baby on the way!").

Once on the trail again we were greeted by a massive steaming pile of berry filled bear droppings, and we pulled out our bear spray with the safety off just in case it hadn't left the area.  I must say it was a bit unnerving walking along the berry lined trail with dense brush on each side.

The next 5 hours were the most challenging of the trip as the trail was in bad shape and extremely steep, going on and on until we were as exhausted as we've ever been.  My fatigue was amplified by the fact that I brought my massive camera/lens setup for this trip.  I began to feel like Frodo Baggins carrying the one ring to Mount Doom, as it was a heavy burden upon me.  Finally we arrived at our destination at Back Lake, where we planned to stay for 2 days to rest up. 

The 3rd day was planned to be a rest/exploration day and we decided to hike up the slopes of some of the nearby mountains.  The views from on high were amazing!

Getting up was steep but not too problematic, however, getting down somehow turned into a dangerous situation as we nearly got 'walled up'.  I have never experienced this before and it was actually quite frightening.  You think you know the way down and you end up making some poor decisions and before you know it, it is as dangerous to go back as it is to go forward.  In a couple of spots we were clinging to the rock face navigating downwards to get to safer areas.  Watching the loose rocks fall and tumble hundreds of feet down before exploding against larger rocks raised what few hairs I have left on my head.  Thankfully we both made it down, vowing to never again do something so stupid!

The next day we actually took it easy and did a short hike across the border into Alberta to Banff National Park.

White-crowned Sparrow

Spotted Sandpiper

Unfortunately, the bugs were bad, and I saw more horseflies in these few days than I have seen the rest of my life combined! Check out Mike's pant legs!  We were harassed relentlessly and eventually retired to the shade of our campsite where we made sport of killing them, as many as 4 in a single swat!

B.C boundary marker

I found a charismatic American Dipper that was quite obliging in letting me photograph it.  I hoped to see it dive into the water, but it was content to sit on its mossy rock.

This is one of my favourite shots of the trip.  Mike tending the fire, our tent in the foreground and the glassy lake reflecting the towering mountains in the background. 

The next 2 days we were on the trail again and opted to try to get over the North Kananaskis Pass instead of going back up to Beatty Lake since it was so brutally steep.  

I am not sure that this route was actually any better, as we lost the trail towards the top of the pass and ended up scrambling up a washout that was also incredibly steep.

Our efforts were rewarded at the top of the pass with amazing views of a glacial lake and nearby glacier perched among the mountain peaks.

Once again back in Alberta, we found a spot to camp among a copse of spruce trees beside a lively little stream.

Our final day out on the trail was long, but mercifully down hill.

Warbling Vireo

We arrived back at the car quite sore and exhausted and promptly drove into Calgary to gorge on Mucho Burrito. 

The trip was definitely harder than expected (I know, this is a bit of a cliche by now right?), and we certainly didn't account for the insane numbers of biting insects.  However, it was a true vacation in that I never thought of the worries of life once.  The strain of hiking on the trail has a way of purging our minds of everything except the present, and the far off echoes of the real world are unable to reach into the deep mountain valleys where we were hidden.  All energy is spent on the now and the immediate obstacles and suffering you are experiencing. 

With a little one on the way I am not sure of the next time I will be out into the mountains, but I look forward to getting back out sometime soon, and one day sharing this glorious world with her.