Saturday, September 29, 2007

Grassi Lake - August 26, 2007

Time for an old favorite: Grassi Lake (get all the details here). N had never done this hike and it seemed like a good morning for a drive to Canmore. The weather that had blown in for the Tunnel mountain hike the day before had stuck around, and it was a cloudy overcast day when we reached the Grassi Lake trailhead.

Here was our view of Canmore from one of the earliest viewpoints of the hike:

Compare that to the same view point back in June:

By the time we got to the recreation area around Grassi Lake, we were practically in the clouds ourselves:

However this might have been the only time in the history of hiking that we'd have the entire lake to ourselves. The mistiness and dampening effect of the clouds just made the colours seem brighter and the area seem more isolated. Not something you're going to feel in the height of summer when half of Canmore is there:

We headed down the old forestry road after spending some time looking around the lake. It's a nicer walk down and you miss some of the crowds heading up. It forms a loop and it can be a pain going back the way you came up, especially with the narrow paths and stairs. We passed by this old cabin. It's clearly been in this state for years, but with the rain throughout the night and morning, the logs gave off a woodsy smell that made it seem very fresh:

A little further down the trail, N and I had quite a surprise. I'd long believed there was little to no chance of seeing wildlife on this trail, other than the odd scavenger squirrel, mostly due to the high traffic on the trail. But this lovely misty morning, a pair of deer grazed right along the trail:

The other deer was skittish and ran away, but this one seemed relaxed and kept on eating as we took photos and went on our way.

I've done this hike so often, I never expected to have such a unique experience on the trail that day. A little bit of rain made all the difference!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tunnel Mountain - Banff - August 25, 2007

Banff - Tunnel Mountain. Trail particulars: Once in Banff, take St. Julien Road heading toward the Banff Centre. The trailhead parking is to the left of the road, just before the Banff Centre.

Amazingly enough, this is another "classic" hike D and I had never attempted before. For years I had the tendency to avoid Banff and area. The cost of entry to the Park kept going up, and often the townsite was just too crazy to deal with. This spring I finally realized how foolish it was to completely avoid the Park. We bought a pass and I've hardly been able to stay away since (ok, I still avoid the town on weekends).

This trail might be one of the most popular inside the Banff town limits, so expect to see lots of people. We started mid-day, so there were already quite a few hikers out. The hike is short (2.5 km, give or take), but steep. The payoff is amazing.

And since you're hiking up a mountain, the fun starts almost immediately:

The good news, since the path steers upwards so quickly, it isn't long before you start to see downtown Banff way down below:

This is just a little bit higher. I'd had no idea how flat the area west of Banff was -- or just how much of a valley Banff was in:

Most of the hike is spent hiking a trail on the south or southwest side of Tunnel Mountain. At one point there's a rocky plateau that makes you think you're near the top, but it's not so. The trail simply crosses over the mountain and works its way up from the north or northwest side of the mountain, looking out on the valley towards the highway. But the views here are absolutely spectacular:

This always reminds me how lucky I am to live in this area.

At one point, at the eastern most part of the mountain, the view is of Mt. Rundle, the mountain right beside Tunnel Mountain and probably the most well-known mountain in the area. This is the mountain that looms over Canmore and stands between Canmore and Banff. It always seems to look different depending where one is viewing it from -- Canmore, the highway outside Banff, the hot springs within Banff. It's my favorite mountain in the park, and from Tunnel Mountain we got a completely different view of it yet again:

Very cool and up close from the trail itself.

From here, it's a short walk to the actual summit and the chance to look down upon Banff and marvel at how far you've come in such a short time. There's plenty of room to stretch out and relax in the sun for a while, and many people on the trail did exactly that:

We didn't stay long as rain was threatening and we wanted to get back into town, but definitely a hike worth doing whenever you're kicking around town.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

When hiking is bad for the environment

Found this today. It was interesting to me because N and I had discussed going to Machu Picchu a few years ago:

MACHU PICCHU, PERU — Daily they swarm this mystical city of the Incas where the high ridges of the Peruvian Andes fall away to meet the Amazon rain forest.

The tourists — about 2,000 each day — tramp through the 15th century mountain sanctuary, clog the paths between the stone buildings, scale fragile rock-and-sod terraces.

Now, following Machu Picchu's widely publicized designation as one of the "New 7 Wonders of the World," South America's best known archaeological site is bracing for even more visitors, while just down the mountain, new hotels and restaurants are going up to serve them. But some experts fear Machu Picchu and its surroundings will be loved to death.

Conservationists fear for Machu Piccu's future - Houston Chronicle

The latter part of the story has some discussion on the political measures some countries went through to get their historical sites designated as one of the "New 7 Wonders of the World". Now that designation could lead to the ruin of those same sites.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fullerton Loop - August 15, 2007

(Fullertop Loop trail details here)

Maybe it was the heat of July, but by mid-August, I could already feel summer slipping away. There's still plenty of hiking left in the year, but I have the feeling it won't be long before we see snow on these mountains again....

We'd picked Fullerton for a casual evening hike. I think N and I could do Fullerton in our sleep by now, but it doesn't matter -- it's a chance to get outside. Today we had new company on the path, but only one was brave enough to stick around for the photo...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Cascade Mountain - August 12, 2007

After our Bankhead excursion, D and I wanted to check out a trail that passed along the edge of the airstrip beside the Trans-Canada highway and continued to Cascade Mountain. It turned out to lead to the bottom of the waterfall that is seen running down Cascade Mountain most of the year, and despite being a short (but very steep) climb... it was ultimately pretty anti-climatic:

The best part of the stop? Thanks to the steepness of the trail, the 10-15 minute walk actually gave us an excellent view of the valley outside Banff, looking north-eastward:

And finally, because I always love the look of it, Mt. Rundle from the airstrip:

Ah, the joys of a park pass. ;-)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bankhead - Aug 12, 2007

Bankhead Interpretive - Trail Particulars: At the Banff turnoff by Cascade Mountain, take the turn toward Lake Minnewanka. Continue along this road for about 10 minutes until you see the sign for the Lower Bankhead parking lot (right side of the road).

This excursion isn't a hike per se, but D and I had been looking for a nice change of pace and we'd been meaning to take another stroll around Bankhead.

Now, if you'll excuse me while my inner coal mining and history geek takes over:

Bankhead was established around 1903/1904 near the foot of Cascade Mountain as a coal-mining town. Its main purpose was to supply coal to the CP Rail locomotives. At its peak, Bankhead was bigger and busier than nearby Banff. It was the first town in the region to have electricity. Around 1500 people made Bankhead home.

Unfortunately the coal that was mined from Cascade Mountain wasn't of the quality expected, and tended to crumble, making it poor for burning. To solve this problem, pitch was imported from Philadelphia, and the coal was made into briquettes. An expensive solution, and since the mine's purpose was to serve the railway, not a very practical one.

The coal seams were also twisted and difficult to remove. The deeper the miners went, the more difficult it was to remove the coal. Couple this with a number of miners' strikes, and the mine's fate was sealed. The mine was closed in 1922. Many of the town's structures were moved to Banff.

Lower Bankhead is where the mine operation was and is the area that has been preserved. Upper Bankhead was the residential section of the town, and there is not much evidence left to see.

Try to do Lower Bankhead on a cool day. The whole site still has slack heaps and coal equipment and on those super-hot days the whole area seems to be thick with coal. D and I picked this day because it was overcast and breezy.

When you first step into Bankhead, there's a viewing platform to see the entire area from above. As you take the stairs down to the trail, you first pass by the lamphouse, where the miners used to pick up and drop off their lamps -- one way of keeping track who was still in the mine.

After the lamphouse, the path wanders for a little until you reach what used to be the transformer building. The original building stands, but in what is the only "modernization" of the site, the building serves as an exhibit, with some of the town history, some history on coal mining and the complications in mining that doomed the town.

Beside the transformer building is a selection of some of the original mining equipment, with plaques explaining their uses, such as this "tugger hoist" (used to move coal cars when they weren't hooked up to locomotives).

Beyond the transformer house is where the power house used to sit. All that's left now of this massive building is the foundation:

Even the trail looks be made of coal slack. There is a fork in the trail that leads another 2.5 km to a lake, but we opted to leave that for another day. Beautiful view of Mt. Rundle as well:

Next up was the remains of the boiler house, another massive building left to ruin. Most interpretive signs here have photos of the original structures. The boiler house was used to generate steam for power:

Another shot of the coal path. The entire site is marked with wild rhubarb. There is an interesting story behind this. Chinese coal miners lived behind the slack heaps (leftover coal), and many planted and tended gardens. When the mine closed and the town moved, the rhubarb in the gardens spread, and now it's nearly everywhere you look. The rhubarb was going to seed when we were there and it's easy to see how it spreads so easily. It's amazing to think something planted over a hundred years ago is still taking root and growing there today:

Remember that crumbly coal? Here's the briquette building, where imported pitch was used to try to salvage the coal that wasn't "usable":

Here's a look at Cascade Mountain from Lower Bankhead. Bankhead wasn't the only mine digging for coal in the mountain. Another mining town, Anthracite, also set up near the base of the mountain, about 6k east of Banff (close to where the turnoff is now). That town was vacated around the time Bankhead was established, thanks to flooding and (surprise!) low-quality coal. Nothing remains of Anthracite today.

Next stop along the tour is the mine tipple -- the heart of most coal mining operations. The structure was once 30 feet tall and was considered one of the best in Canada:

Here are the slack heaps mentioned before. These heaps fill most of the eastern part of the site. Even in 100 years, not much has grown over here:

An example of an air-powered coal train from this era. This is not the original Bankhead train, but from the Canmore mine. They were air-powered to reduce chances of explosions in the mine.

It's hard to believe, but the mine entrance was right here, the same spot the stairs are built into.

And what hike would be complete without a flower shot?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Deer Ridge - August 6, 2007

Deer Ridge Loop - Trail Particulars: Trail is accessible from the Sibbald Lake Recreation Area (Just off Hwy 68), and shares part of the Eagle Hill trail. Loop is about 6.5 k and takes about 2-3 hours to complete. Moderate, except for one section of uphill that lasts about 1k.

The heat wave was finally breaking and not a moment too soon. N and I wanted a relatively short but new hike and picked Deer Ridge in the Sibbald area. It was right next to the Old Buck Loop trail. The nice thing about this area is despite the numerous trails and plenty of campgrounds in the area, we never seem to see other people out hiking.

The only word to describe the beginning of this hike is "wet". Fifteen minutes in, both N and I were soaked from the knees down, thanks to a very narrow trail running through waist high weeds and grasses. The trail is similar to Old Buck in that it starts off in a dew-filled field and winds its way around the nearby ridge. With Moose Pond immediately to our left, there was no shortage of moisture in this field.

Eventually the path splits away from the shared trail with the Eagle Hill trail. The trail comes to a junction (thankfully signed) and a gate. Going through the gate means continuing along Eagle Hill (popular with the cyclists). The Deer Ridge trail turns away from the gate, crosses a small bridge, and almost seems to double back the way it initially came.

After a short walk, the trail turns uphill. Be sure to keep an eye out for the orange diamond-shaped trail marker against a tree to your right -- the trail itself seems to disappear into the field and it's easy to miss the right turn uphill.

Some may wish they had missed it. This is by far the most difficult part of the trail, about 1 km of steep uphill climbing. It's a great workout for the legs though and totally worth the effort when you make it to the top.

At the top, look for a wooden bar (used as a place to hitch horses), as this marks the detour to the viewpoint.

At the viewpoint there is an assortment of rocks and surfaces to sit yourself down and enjoy the fruits of your labor, which is what N and I did. The previous shot was of the range to the west of the viewpoint. If you look straight down and a little to the south you get to see the amazing view of the river winding its way through the valley.

The hike down is uneventful, looping back on the opposite side of Moose Pond. One of my guide books indicated there were remnants of a structure from aboriginal sun dances, but we weren't able to see it. Late season flowers and berries were sprouting though, and I snapped a few photos.

Deer Ridge was a great view and that one hill gave us a good workout. This is an excellent short hike, but definitely not for those looking for a full day hike. And if you're hiking first thing in the morning -- prepare to get very wet!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Do you know how to escape from a bear attack?

This is a little late in the season, but after some conversations I've had recently, I figure any time is a good time to know what to do in case of a bear encounter.

It doesn't matter if you hike once a year or once a week, every hiker needs to be aware of what to do in case of a bear confrontation.

The odds of seeing a bear vary throughout the year are actually quite small. I've spoken to forestry students who spent weeks in the wild over a period of years and had only 1 or 2 chance encounters.

Knowing what to do if you encounter a bear is always your best defense. There are a few simple things to remember when hiking:

  1. The first step is prevention. You can greatly reduce your chances of a bear attack by your actions on the trail:

    • Travel in groups and stick together.

    • Talk loudly. Bear bells do not carry far and usually do nothing but annoy the people you're traveling with.

    • Keep your dog leashed and small children close by.

    • Pay attention to your surroundings -- if there are fresh bear diggings, dropping or fresh tracks, don't risk the encounter. It's better to be unsure and cut a hike short than run into a bear.

  2. If you do encounter a bear, remain calm. Most encounters end peacefully. Remember:

    • Stay calm and don't make any panicked or sudden movements. The bear is deciding if you are a threat and will sometimes try to "scare" you off by growling and snapping.

    • Speak softly. Your voice alone may tell the bear you are human and not prey.

    • Back away slowly. Do not run, the bear may consider you prey and you cannot outrun a bear.

    • Stay in your group to appear larger and less vulnerable.

    • Make sure the bear has an escape route.

  3. If the bear does attack, there are two types of attacks a bear will use. They are handled much differently and it's important to know the difference.

    In a Defensive Attack, the bear is likely startled, defending its food or defending its cubs. This is the most likely scenario of any bear attack. If you find yourself in this situation:

    • Use bear spray.

    • If the bear makes contact PLAY DEAD.

    • Fall on your stomach and lie with legs apart and hands crossed behind your neck. This protects your neck and keeps the bear from flipping you. Leave your pack on, as it will provide extra protection.

    • Remain still. Once the bear sees you are not a threat it will leave the area. Bears usually stop a defensive attack within 2 minutes.

    In a Predatory Attack, the bear sees you as prey. If a defensive attack goes on for more than a few minutes, the bear has switched to a predatory attack:

    • FIGHT BACK, do not play dead any longer, the bear now sees you as prey.

    • Try to escape into a building, car, or even up a tree. Use bear spray, your pack, hiking poles, anything you can find as a weapon. Show the bear you are not easy prey.

Predatory attacks are quite rare, but do happen, particularly during feeding season or when there is a berry shortage. Attacks rarely get to this point.

It's important to know what the level of bear activity is in your region. Before hiking, check with local and state/provincial websites for information about the trails and any warnings posted. Bear warnings are also often posted at the trail head, but don't rely on this as your sole method of information.

The thought of running into a bear should not dissuade you from hiking altogether. Like almost anything else, knowledge is power. Be aware of your surroundings, know what to do if you see a bear, and keep up to date on bear sightings and trails closures in the area. No one can guarantee you'll never see a bear, but you can guarantee how to safely survive if you do.

Ford Knoll - midsummer view (July 29, 2007)