Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Rock Glacier - August 24, 2008

Rock Glacier is not as hike as much as it is a chance to see some wildlife not normally spotted on your typical hike. Near the Highwood Pass area, the conditions and altitude around the Rock Glacier mean wildlife sees about 3 months of warm conditions, and spends those 3 months preparing for the other 9 months of winter.

The Rock Glacier is exactly what it sounds like -- a slow moving pile of rocks that gradually moves over time. More specifically, it is a scree slope that has water within and underneath. The constant freezing and thawing of the water creates the movement.

A rock glacier on its own really isn't much to look at -- however it's the perfect habitat for an alpine critter called the pika.

At first a pika looks like a squirrel or chipmunk, but it's actually related to rabbits and guinea pigs. They can be spotted by their rounded ears, if you can spot them at all! Their brownish-grey fur makes them tough to see in their chosen home of rock and boulder piles.

Even if you can't see them, odds are you'll know you're among pikas when you hear their "squeaks", which sound suspiciously like a squeeze toy. They use this squeak to communicate, and I swear, to throw off friendly neighborhood hikers hoping to catch a glimpse.

Pikas are busy creatures during summer months -- their favorite diet is dried grass, and they spend their days collecting fresh grass and laying it out in the sun to dry, before storing it away for the long winter. This makes the Rock Glacier a great place to sit back and spot a pika preparing for winter.

As we approached, we saw life right away, but it wasn't a pika. It was a Golden Mantle Ground Squirrel, hoping to cash on friendly humans:

It didn't take long for us to see our first pika. This guy didn't seem to care at all about the humans nearby and just carried out his chores. If you looked away at the wrong time, he'd be across the rock pile and lost to your eye in seconds flat.

Here's a shot of the outside of one of the "dens", complete with grass laid out to dry in the sun:

More pikas in the rocks. Looking at these photos after the fact was a little like playing "Where's Waldo?". Sometimes I didn't know if I'd lost the pika, or if the critter had run out of the frame before I took the shot...

Rock Glacier is not a hike or a walk, but if you're in the area driving around or hiking a nearby trail, it's absolutely worth the stop just to watch a little beast we rarely get to see.


airbeds said...

Great site. I am planning to finally get to the Canadian Rockies this summer and your site will be a very helpful resource for info. The pictures are great.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

I've never heard of pikas so thank you for enlightening me. Small furry creatues are always adorable.

threio said...

great pics of the squirel, :0