Friday, August 31, 2007

Icefields Parkway - July 14, 2007

What do you do when the area is setting record-breaking temperatures for the third week running and it's too hot to hike? (Yes there is such a thing).

The Icefields of course!

Despite living in Alberta for my entire life and frequenting Banff as often as possible throughout, I have never been to Jasper. I had never even ventured north of Lake Louise.

D and I always talked about going to the Columbia Icefield, but snow and ice are just not such a novelty around here. We always said it would have to be a blazingly hot day, and a day when we wanted to take a day trip.

Done and done.

(For those not in the know, the Columbia Icefield is an attraction about 2.5 hours north of Banff featuring a large glacier. There are tours right out onto the glacier).

I had one of those guides from the Banff park gates that outlined attractions within the Park, including stops along the Icefield Parkway (Highway 93). This wasn't going to be a hike per se, but hopefully a chance to cool off. It surely wasn't going to be as hot by *glaciers*, was it?


Our first stop along Highway 93 a turnout to view the Crowfoot Glacier. One thing you just can't see here is the thickness of the ice. It's not simply snow sitting on the mountain, it looks to be metres and metres thick, like buildings would get lost in it. The glacier used to have three "toes" (hence the name "Crowfoot"), but over time the bottom toe got "lost" to warming temperatures, and the second toe will eventually suffer the same fate.

Here's a closer look at the glacier itself, and the thickness:

We pulled back onto the Highway and headed to the next "tourist" stop, Bow Pass and Peyto Lake viewpoint. The highway was a little busier than I expected, but not crazy busy. By the time you hit Bow Pass, you are truly in the middle of nowhere: there are no services, no roadside stores, no cell service. Just the beautiful, isolating scenery and the occasional other car.

The giant parking lot for Peyto Lake should have been a clue, so should have the separate road for tour buses. But it just didn't set off any alarm bells.

There's a short hike to the viewpoint. It's about 10 minutes and steady uphill the whole way, so most should be able to manage. There's a sign at the bottom advising travelers to wear sweaters or coats as the top can be quite cool. Considering it was, even here, in the highest road pass in the Park area, still sweltering, D and I laughed the sign off and headed for the viewing platform.

This is not downtown Banff, this was a viewing platform off the highway, 40 km from the nearest town (Lake Louise):

If being in the Parks teaches you one thing, it's multi-culturalism. Just on that platform I heard German, French, Russian and two different Asian languages I couldn't pin down. Even when hiking the most popular trails in and around Banff, you're very likely to hear German or Japanese. I think it's great -- if not a little surreal in the middle of nowhere.

(Clearly, if you're going to drive here, don't do it on a weekend!)

In the end I stuck my camera out and got two shots of Peyto Lake:

On the hike back down I read some of the interpretive signs posted along the way. Being at such a high altitude (2088 m/6849 ft), I expected to see a few different variations of the flowers and plants along the trail. There were a few, but others, like this Indian Paintbrush looked pretty familiar:

One interesting flower was the Western Anemone or Chalice Flower. I only remembered it because it only blooms for a short time in early spring and then goes right to seed. In climates like this one, the growing season is very brief (signs of that were evident along the trail, and many of the interpretive signs explained the challenges). Our odds of actually seeing the bloom were very slim since this area is quite cold right into the summer (so they say... I was still sweltering).

Anyway, the "pods" on these flowers post-bloom actually look quite cool, and they are everywhere:

There was also plenty of Heather. Near the foot of the trail, the growth was very green and low to the ground:

From, our next stop was Mistaya Canyon, another brief turnout off Highway 93, about 72 km from Lake Louise. Since it wasn't listed anywhere else and the turnout had barely a sign, we didn't expect much.

Wrong again. This was the highlight of the drive. From the turnout, the trail leads downhill (for a change). It's a pleasant walk through the forest and you can hear the water long before you see it, but nothing prepares you for how out of the ordinary it's going to be:

That photo is from the bridge spanning the river. The river has carved a narrow, twisting trail through the rock over centuries, resulting in this deep canyon with lots of cliffs and curves.

Here's a closer view of the canyon wall:

It's possible to hike down to where the river enters into the canyon and step out onto the rocks at the river's edge. Only then do you get an idea of how this water could have carved out the canyon... and still is:

Here's a great perspective looking back from the river entering the canyon back to the bridge:

As we sat by the river, watching the water rush into the canyon, it was almost like we could see the water wearing away at the stone. There are potholes and divots that look ready to give way at any time:

Once we hiked back to the car, I was struck by how stinking hot it still was. We were only five minutes or so from Saskatchewan Crossing, which is simply a motel with a convenience store and gas station, but it's the only such creature for hours. I'm itching to spend a few days at the motel and take in all the hikes in the area. I'd need weeks to do them all.

From here were were still a good 40 minutes from the Columbia Icefield, and it was past 4:30, so we opted to call it a day (funny, it never got cooler). We headed back to Lake Louise, only to find it absolutely overrun with people, so we opted for Banff instead. We picked a restaurant with air-conditioning, naturally.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Another Fullerton evening hike - July 13, 2007

During the heat wave, sometimes the evening hikes were the only way to go....

Monday, August 27, 2007

Nihahi Ridge, take two - July 8, 2007

I'd gone on so much about Nihani Ridge that N wanted to give it a try. I'm glad we did -- there's plenty to see a second time round and it's such a great hike.

Trail details are here.

The view from the hike is still beyond words:

Even at the top, covered in shale and with a strong wind blowing a majority of the season, the hardiest of flowers come through:

I can't get enough of this view. As the trail inches toward the top, toward the actual peak that none of us were brave enough to attempt that day (my scrambling skills leave a lot to be desired), more of the range waaaay off in the distance comes into view. There is also a trail that leads along the creek seen along the bottom. One day....:

The ridge itself is very cool, mostly covered in shale and thin sheets of rock pushing up from the mountain:

And finally, the flower shots... all taken on the way down, plus the last one right at the trailhead:

Jumpingpound Creek - July 1, 2007

My second trip around the Jumpingpound Creek was much different than the first. Then, back in early May, only a few signs of summer were poking through the dry brown that was still left over from winter. This time -- I think we managed to hit the trail at its peak.

It wasn't just the wildflowers that made the trail seem completely new -- it was the complete change in the environment of the trail. What had been a snowy view was now sunny and rocky. What had been dry and brown was lush and green:

Shot from a slightly different viewpoint back in May, but the same range:

Same part of the trail back in May:

Along the creek these sort of differences were less notable as the trail had been fairly damp and shaded for the majority of winter and spring, and the only real change was the repair of the broken bridge across one part of the creek. However, that humidity brought something different to the creek as well. This section of the hike was amazing, and this might be one of my favorite photos from July:

Friday, August 24, 2007

Fullerton Loop - June 26, 2007

A couple of days after the Diamond T hike, J and I hit Fullerton Loop for an evening hike, and finished not a second too soon as the mosquitoes became absolutely vicious after about 8 pm.

Fullerton Loop details are here, and it's also been done to death, so I won't go into too much detail here. This hike is a little more shady than Diamond T, so a lot of the moisture was still evident along the creeks and forest portions of the hike. And the flowers were everywhere!

Near the beginning of the trail, on the opposite side of the river. Everything was in bloom as far as we could see.

Right before the trail turns uphill, this little creek runs along the trail. In the early spring months it actually flooded over the trail. Now it looks like a nice, mossy hideaway... until you see the mosquitoes!

Pretty look at the western view of Elbow Valley in the evening.

The wind was hitting the south side of the viewpoint pretty hard. This is another spot where wildflowers just abound, but with the wind blowing the way it was, this was the best I could manage.

Diamond T wildflowers - June 24, 2007

It was a lazy Sunday and D and I hadn't been on the trail for a couple of weekends, so we thought we'd try an old favorite in Diamond T (trail details here). Diamond T is short and sweet, and has frankly been done to death here, so on this hike I focused mostly on the wildflowers growing everywhere. It had been raining frequently that June, and this was just before a lengthy heat wave hit southern Alberta.


(Take a look at the same short in the winter)

Cardio Hill isn't much easier in the summer. You don't slip as much, that's about it.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Old Buck Loop - June 23, 2007

Sibbald Flats - Old Buck Loop - Trail Particulars: From the Trans-Canada highway heading West from Calgary, take the Sibbald Flats turnoff (Highway 68 - Sibbald Creek Trail). Follow road to the Sibbald Viewpoint Recreation Area and turn into parking lot. Trail begins at viewpoint.

This might have been the last hike N and I got in before the big heat wave hit, and in that case, we picked a really good one. This short loop in Sibbald was virtually untouched -- it looked like no one else had taken the trail all season -- and it was lusher and greener than any other hike we'd done this summer.

Of course, it being tick season, that brought a whole new set of issues. A good chunk of the hike was through knee high grassy fields -- pretty much the last place you want to be when tick season starts.

But it was worth it.

We began our hike at the Sibbald Viewpoint overlooking Sibbald Flats. That would be the gorgeous view here (which looked much different a month later after weeks of scorching hot weather). From here the trail leads north, crosses highway 68, and leads to the Sibbald Forestry Exhibit trail. There are a couple of interpretive signs. The trail then leads to the campground. About 1 km in, a trail splits off to the north. That's the trail for Old Buck Loop.

Once you cross that bridge, it's long grass and a very narrow trail for some time. We went first thing in the morning and all the greenery was still very damp from the morning dew. After only a few minutes our pants and shoes were soaked. As with other trails, this path was extremely colourful with the first blush of spring flowers. Old Buck Loop ascends the side of Old Buck Mountain, but doesn't come close to reaching the peak. It climbs a side of it and provides a view towards Moose Mountain. So initially there is not much of a climb on the trail, but once the path turns NE (after winding NW for about 1 km), it's steady uphill for the next 1.5k or so.

Besides the views, there's plenty to see on this lush hike. As the trail ascends it crosses through what could only have once been a riverbed. There is no sign of water here (despite how damp the area feels), and the forest is surely taking the area back over, but it's clear water once cut a swath through many sections of this trail.
Sadly, the payoff is more the accomplishment of making it to the top than any real view. The trail itself doesn't climb high enough to provide any real views, and what is there is blocked by the trees. This is a trail for the solitude and greenery, not the view. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

As the trail descends, it returns to the more meadow-like path. This is actually a nice change from being in the forest -- the scenery is different, and there's a feeling like you're seeing something virtually untouched, something only a few people have been lucky enough to see.

This spot was fully enclosed by trees and hills and made this part of the hike seem very isolated and distant. Usually while hiking, you're looking so far off into the distance -- here you were forced to look right around you and it was very cool.

At this point, our trail also turned into a creek:

A marsh might actually be a better word, as the ground all around the trail was also saturated with water. It wasn't so much the water was running down the trail like on an earlier hike on Jumpingpound Creek. No, this was like the whole ground was soaked and you could only see the water on the trail because it was the lowest point and there was no grass covering it. Since our shoes were already soaked from the earlier part of the hike, N and I mucked through as gently as we could. Messiest hike yet!

Soon after, we were back at the beginning of the loop, just across the bridge from the earlier photo. Wanting just a little bit more of a hike, we treked along the main trail running alongside the Sibbald Lake campground until we reached Sibbald Lake itself.

Old Buck is great for isolation, and wildflowers. For hiking though, it leaves you wanting a little more of a workout and a little more of a payoff. It will likely be worth another loop in the fall, just to see the differences in the scenery.