Saturday, January 17, 2009

Avalanche Danger Extremely High in Western Canada this weekend

While it seems to be cold all over the continent, here in Alberta we're sitting at a balmy 11 C/ 52 F today! (Going up to 13C/55F tomorrow). Even the mountains are enjoying above-freezing temps and I'm sure I'm not the only one planning an outdoor excursion this weekend.

However, while I know we're getting no sympathy from other parts of North America, there are plenty of dangers associated with heading out to our mountain playground in these warm temperatures. Avalanche experts are saying these are the worst avalanche conditions they've seen in 100 years:

From the Calgary Herald:

Klassen, who has 30 years' experience in the backcountry, said he does not recall such a dangerously unpredictable season for avalanche conditions.

The number of major slides released over the past two weeks is "unprecedented," he said Thursday.

Avalanches this season have wiped out trees that are more than a century old. Many slides have run farther and wider than ever witnessed, and some areas have seen more widespread avalanche cycles than ever before.

Full article here: Avalanche Risk Worst in 100 years.

Please be safe this weekend.

*Note: Since this article was written there are now reports of yet another avalanche death in BC. PLEASE be careful if you're heading into the backcountry this weekend.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Notes from around the world wide web -- Link Love

There are some amazing posts from some great blogs I would like to share with the world in general, so I thought I'd throw a little Sunday link love up today:

Session Magazine has a piece on the Mt. Huashan Hiking Trail in China. The photos alone are not for the weak at heart -- I can't imagine actually hiking this trail. Make sure to scroll all the way to the end... the stairs carved into the mountain is intimidating enough, but the trail built onto the side of a cliff has to be seen to be believed.

Four Corners Hikes has a look at Mesa Verde National Park in winter, with some amazing photos of ancient pueblos and kivas.

SectionHiker posted a short piece on why outdoor recreationalists need to pay more attention to dehydration in the winter. After my hike yesterday near Banff, I completely understand why.

Nature Tales and Camera Trails managed some nice shots of a bald eagle in flight. Definitely click on the photo for the hi-res view.

I'm hoping to do these sorts of round-ups weekly, to break up the monotony of everyone having to listen to me. ;-) If you know of a really good blog post that deserves some extra attention, drop me a note in the comments. Also, if anyone is interested in contributing to a blog carnival type thing, let me know.

Happy blogging!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Barrier Lake Lookout - August 17, 2008

Barrier Lake Lookout - Kananaskis: Take Highway 40 to Barrier Dam Day Use Area. Park in lot, and hike across dam to Stoney Trail/Prairie View Trail Junction. Take Prairie View trail.

I've long said Barrier Lake is one of my favorite places in the world, but amazingly, I'd never hiked much in the area. With all the amazing lookout hikes Nat and I had tried in the previous few weeks, this short hike (7.8 km total) was a no-brainer for David and I.

Every hike in this area starts out with a 1.1 km trek across the Barrier Lake Dam. It can be long and sometimes tiring, but the view is stunning.... and that water colour!

Only a half hour or so up the trail there are opportunities for great views:

The colours of the lake never cease to stun me:

The name if the trail leading to the lookout is actually called Prairie View Trail. Here you can see why. I'm always partial to the mountain shots, but looking out over the prairie from the height of the Rockies is a reminder of how varied the area is:

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Moose Mountain - August 10, 2008

I mentioned before the summer of 2008 was the "Summer of Peaks". Moose Mountain was another notch in that belt. Nat and I had attempted it before, but waited a little too late in the season and opted to stop just short of the active fire lookout on top. This time there was no chance of snow stopping us.

Thunderstorms on the other hand are a real risk in the summer. Moose Mountain seems to be a bit of a lightning rod, and its location on the edge of the Rockies means storms can develop in a matter of minutes. There's even a sign posted at the trailhead warning hikers of the high lightning strike risk, and the fact the mountain itself is struck by lightning throughout the season. Yeah, that's what I want to read when starting a hike up a mountain!

The approach to Moose Mountain is a pretty yet nondescript trail through forest and meadow. It's not terribly strenuous, and it's usually used by cyclists. However, there's no mistaking once you begin your ascent up the actual mountain, as you lose the trees and have only barren landscape around you:

As you start the switchbacks up this side of Moose Mountain, you realize you are right on the edge of the Rocky Mountains, and there is lots to see:

After the switchbacks, the trail turns into a bit of a false ridge walk; you walk along the top of one peak, only to dip down and start ascent of another. It's the second ascent along a narrow trail of scale that is not for the faint of heart. That faint line along the ridge and side of mountain? Yeah, that's the trail. You can also see the fire lookout at the peak. We're looking west, but the trail actually winds around to the other sided of the peak to approach the lookout:

Looking down the valley between the mountains makes for a fabulous look at the rock formations:

The Moose Mountain fire lookout is still an active lookout. Someone works here from May until October, and lives in the tiny structure that doubles as the lookout. On top of that, that person will have a few thousand people hiking to his doorstep every summer:

All food and supplies are brought in by helicopter. The landing pad is located beside the lookout:

There is a guestbook to sign, as well as a couple of signs to greet visitors, one official, and one a little more "unofficial":

Nat and I were the first up this particular day, and to our surprise the fire lookout guy came out the greet us (he actually said he could hear us coming from quite a distance... Nat and I are not exactly silent hikers). He was extremely friendly and informative, telling us about bringing his family up for part of the summer (imagine 2 adults and 2 kids under 10 living in that tiny house!), busting illegal campfires, the training required for such a job, past fire lookouts (Nat's father met a lookout at Moose Mountain who played the cello for the hikers who arrived) and more. He also assured us (me) that those dark clouds on the horizon were "unlikely" to contain lightning (but did say he'd had to chase more than one hiking group off the mountain due to incoming lightning storms).

I think a book could be written purely about the people who man the fire lookouts around the globe.

That said - you can't beat the working conditions. This is his view to the west:

We bid the fire lookout goodbye as a number of other hikers were making their way up the trail. This was definitely one of the most interesting hikes yet!

As my closer, here's a panorama shot from the summit of Moose Mountain, stitched together by amazing hubby Dave. Imagine having this as your private view 5 months out of the year! (please click on photo for full-size):