Saturday, May 31, 2008

Barrier Lake Dam, take 2

I've got more "hooky" photos coming, but I had to post a shot from today's hike.

Less than three weeks ago, I visited Barrier Lake Dam, and took this shot of the late thaw and all the snow that remained despite the warm weather:

Here's Barrier Lake Dam today, 19 days later:

To quote Kramer from Seinfeld... "Mother Nature is a maaaad scientist!"

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Barrier Lake and Highway 40 drivin'

It's been a crazy week here in my world, so it has taken me a while get these photos posted. I hate it when the real world gets in the way.

A couple of weeks ago I was still testing a digital camera, and I wound up playing hooky for the day and going for a drive in the mountains. The weather was just starting to turn nice after a *lot* of late season snow, and now when I look at the photos I can't believe they're only two weeks old....

Anyway, I drove west of the city and took the Kananaskis turnoff at Highway 40. The scenery changes from rolling foothills to the Rocky mountains in the blink of an eye. Only a few minutes and I was at Barrier Lake Dam. I think this is now one of my Favorite Places in the World:

It's so beautiful, but what's amazing is how much snow is still around compared to April of last year. Last year the ice shards from the lake were washing up on the beach and looked just fascinating.

From here I drove further south on Highway 40. It's so stunning there, sometimes it's tough to pay full attention to the road:

I pulled over at Nakiska, one of the ski hills used in the 1988 Olympics.

Right underneath the sign, I found these dried flowers from last season. They must have frozen while still in bloom (I don't remember an early frost, but the weather is a lot more severe out this way). They blended in perfectly with the dried grass, but still kept their form:

Highway 40 eventually goes through the Highwood Pass (at 2,227 meters/7310 feet, this is the highest paved pass in Canada), but the Pass is closed from mid-December to mid-June. I also wanted to make it out to Banff on this day, so I figured it was time to turn around. I found a particularly amazing spot where there were astounding views in all directions. I literally stood in one spot and snapped photos of what was around me.

South -- check out how white the snow at the top is... when clouds were nearby, you couldn't tell where the snow ended and the sky began:

East -- directly across the highway from me:

North -- the snow always looks so crisp against a deep blue sky:

West -- if there's a downside to being this deep in the mountains, it's that you don't see the bad weather until it's almost on top of you. This was another hint that it was time to get back to the Trans-Canada:

That said, it's no hardship to drive out.... amazing drive coming and going:

I'll continue the journey on my next post....

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Grassi Lakes -- May 11, 2008

I was hoping for more practice with the camera I was testing, and Grassi Lakes seemed like a good choice. When you hike it in just the right light, the natural colours of the lakes are stunning.

Grassi Lakes is just outside of Canmore (close to the Nordic Centre), and right on the border to Banff National Park, so yeah, we were expecting to snow (thanks to the incredibly late thaw this season -- or have I whined about that enough?).

However, because the temps were consistently above freezing, the snow wasn't frozen, just incredibly slushy. I didn't think we'd been able to take the path that leads alongside falling water (too frozen), or the stone staircases (too slippy), but N suggested we give it a try and it was no problem at all.

Of course, there was still plenty of snow. I don't think anyone will be using this bench for a while:

The payoff, as always, was great. I got to try the camera out on a number of different things, including those amazing lake colours. These photos don't even begin to do the area justice. A short hike, but just what we were looking for.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Elbow Falls and Beaver Flats -- May 10, 2008

Elbow Falls Day Use Area: From Bragg Creek, take Highway 22 south to the t-intersection. Turn right onto Highway 66. Follow Highway 66 for about 20-25 kms, or until you see the winter gates for Highway 66. Entrance to parking lot is on the south side of the highway, right before the gates.

Beaver Flats Interpretive Walk: Just beyond Elbow Falls along Highway 66. There is a small parking lot on the south side of the highway.

Finally got a chance to get out a little this weekend. The snow is still pretty plentiful in the mountains, but the weather is nice and the snow is slushy and thick. It'll be gone soon. A lot of the highways actually open up today, and the upcoming weekend is a long weekend in Canada. Around here it's the first big camping/hiking/riding weekend of the spring, so it's usually complete chaos in the mountains. Hopefully this year won't be a repeat of last year, when campgrounds were trashed and sensitive wetlands areas destroyed.

Here's a link to a story about what the Alberta government is doing to prepare for this weekend:

Thanks to the irresponsible antics of a few, spring's first great escape will be a weekend long on rules and regulation

Anyway, that's off-topic and hopefully won't need to be brought up again. ;-)

D and drove out to Elbow Falls, mostly for the drive, but also to see what the conditions of the trails were after yet more snow in the foothills. I also had a digital camera I was testing for my real-world job (I'll post a review here once I've reviewed it for the paper -- seems only fair).

To my surprise, Elbow Falls was fairly quiet -- the overcast skies and recent snow were keeping people away, which is too bad, because it was a beautiful day to be outside.

Strategically placed swamps and puddles prevented me from getting any straight on shots of the falls, plus the falls were much weaker than they usually are for spring. I imagine once the real run off begins, that will change:

The Elbow Falls Loop is a short interpretive walk at best. The path is mostly staircases built into the rock, and circles beside the falls area.

Come summer, it will be next to impossible to take a photo without someone in it. Upstream there are fire pits and picnic tables, and it's a very popular spot to spend a day. Which why I rarely see this area during summer.

D and I left the parking lot, walked up to the highway and ducked through the gates. We walked down the highway for about 5 minutes until we hit Beaver Flats, another short interpretive walk N and I did last spring, but D had never seen. (Can you tell we weren't into hiking?).

N and I walked Beaver Flats in April of last year. It's unbelievable to look at the photos, because there was considerably more snow there last weekend and we're already into the middle of May:

One thing I love about hiking while there's still lots of snow near the water is how crystal clear the water is. The trail, the roads, the areas around the water are muddy swamps, but the water looks like this:

Beaver Flats is a short walk along an area essentially created by industrious beavers building dam after dam. What remains here is the result of their work: large pools of water, felled trees, and many many dams. Unfortunately, the snow covered most of the sites, but this dam showed through just a little bit:

All in all, a beautiful walk...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Fullerton Loop -- April 27, 2008

After three weeks of mostly snow (yes, in April! Snow. In. April. Ok, that's the last of the complaining), N and I had passed on a few of our usual weekends. The snow is fun to hike in and a big change when it happens in November or December. By April, it's just a pain in the butt. Especially since the weather had been alternately warming and freezing, you just never knew what was under your feet.

So for only our second hike of April, we stuck to the tried and true: Fullerton Loop. Familiar, yes. But safe. We thought.

The hike started with a bang. The snow was frozen and the tracks of hikers and their four-legged friends were plentiful. Clearly this had been a popular hike over the past few days. So I'm not quite sure how N spotted this among the other tracks:

All I know is that ain't canine and that ain't feline, which leaves one other option for that area. I was a little surprised since it's such a popular path, but the track looked older (there's snow gathered in the print), and there were no more to be found, so we carefully continued on. We're a pretty loud duo on the trail. We've likely scared off more beasts than we care to admit to.

At least now we know what to look for. And it was a lot different from seeing cougar tracks last November.

While I'm hoping this is the end of the snow, the foothills got the moist heavy snow, not the dry stuff we saw in the city. Maybe it's because the temperature was on the way up to about 20C that day, but everything looked clean and fresh and inviting. No, I won't be sorry to see it gone for the summer, but there's something refreshing about a snowy walk in the woods, and this might be the last of it for a while:

I took some time at the trailhead after the hike was over to take a look around Allen Bill pond (or what used to be Allen Bill pond). I hadn't really spent any time looking around since the floods tore up the area in 2005, and there were plenty of birds around to keep me company:

I knew going in that Allen Bill Pond was named for a Calgary Herald outdoors writer in about 1983 (I believe). I didn't know that prior to being a pond, the area had been a gravel pit. Talk about mind boggling!

The pond had been part of the gravel pit, created by diverting part of the Elbow River. When the area opened as a recreational area in 1983, the diversion was sealed off and the pond was created, with the Elbow River running alongside the pond. In 1995 flooding changed the path of the Elbow River, and in 2005 even worse flooding moved the path right into the pond (in fact, the Elbow tore up a good part of the parking lot!). Now the pond has rejoined the river.

This is from one of the signs on the opposite side of what remains of the pond (not my best work, click for a better view):

Nature is amazing sometimes.

(Funny too, it comes right on the heels of reading a discussion about gravel pits over at Sierra Nevada Ramblings -- Geese and Gravel).

All of my wandering and research was conducted under the watchful eye of a lone goose on the far west side of what remains of the pond. He never let me get too close, which makes me suspect his partner was hiding somewhere nearby. The first time I walked by he jumped into the cold cold water, breaking the very thin layer of ice on top:

If you look really closely, you can see the super-thin ice right beside him. The white and grey ice is much thicker.

The rest of the time, he just ran out into the frozen water and walked away from me, leaving perfect little goose prints in his wake:

I wanted a photo of the prints themselves, but I figured I'd antagonized the poor goose enough (plus ice that holds a goose likely doesn't hold a human!), so I let him be and headed back into the city.....

Friday, May 2, 2008

Sulphur Springs Loop -- April 6, 2008

This was probably the last hike we got in before the week-long snow hit (I promise that's the last of my whining). You had to know something was in the air; when I left the house that morning, I couldn't even see 4 houses down:

Of course, by the time I drove past the ski jumps on the west side of the city, I could see blue sky ahead. Strange weather when the city is covered in fog and the mountains are clear as day.