Monday, October 26, 2009

Kananaskis -- November 22, 2008

Despite living in the shadow of the Canadian Rockies, I can honestly say there are very few days when the hiking conditions are dramatically cold. Even hiking in -20 C weather isn't a huge deal when you're bundled up and moving fast. Tracking through deep snow will burn a lot of calories and the next thing you know, you're peeling the layers off.

The wind is another story, but the odds are pretty good that if the wind and snow are blowing around at -25C, you're not even going to be able to traverse the mountain (or city!) highways to get to the trailhead, let alone hike through it.

This day in late November was a rare occurrence of bitter cold, a strong wind, but next to no snow. Nat and I thought we'd take a gentle hike along Upper Kananaskis Lake, turn off to Rawson Lake, and hopefully stay out of the wind.

We questioned the decision as soon as we stepped out of the car. The snow looks sparse here... that's because the raging wind off the lake had blown it all away from the shore:

This grass didn't grow this way... it's bent over from the force of the wind off the lake:

The wind was also chopping up the waters of the usually calm lake. While it was a little more sheltered here, this wind from the lake caused us more grief on the trail, as the water was blown onto the trail and froze. The result was about half a foot of ice with zero traction. We opted to turn around.

We headed over to the Boulton Creek Trading Post -- a restaurant and convenience store usually busting with activity during the summer camping season. Today it seemed deserted in an apocalyptic sort of way. We found an old ranger cabin, where Nat broke out the chicken soup packed especially for this cold day:

Not sure of the history of this building, still trying to find out. I wandered around while Nat readied the sustenance. You can see the snow was starting to fall:

"Kananaskis Lakes Patrol Cabin" (digitally enhanced to bring out the lettering).

Another structure about 100 feet behind the first. No indication at all what this was for:

Notice the constant photos of the food? And have you seen a better spread while hiking? Nat's awesome.

It was an aborted hiking trip, but a good one. The snow and wind increased, so we got out of there before the roads were impacted. Amazingly, once out of the Rockies, the weather took a major turn for the better. It turned out to be a Chinook, a weather phenomenon we live for during the winter in the Alberta Foothills.

From Wikipedia:

The reference to a wind or weather system, simply "a Chinook", originally meaning a warming wind from the ocean into the interior regions of the Pacific Northwest (the Chinook people lived near the ocean, along the lower Columbia River). A strong Chinook can make snow one foot deep almost vanish in one day. The snow partly melts and partly evaporates in the dry wind. Chinook winds have been observed to raise winter temperature, often from below −20°C (−4°F) to as high as 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F) for a few hours or days, then temperatures plummet to their base levels. The greatest recorded temperature change in 24 hours was caused by Chinook winds on January 15, 1972, in Loma, Montana; the temperature rose from -48°C (-56°F) to 9°C (49°F).

The Wikipedia article is excellent -- even I didn't know Chinook winds in Southern Alberta have caused trains to derail and empty semis to topple, but nonetheless, you can understand why we all celebrate when a Chinook is forecast in January.

That explains the wind in the mountains that day.

There's no mistaking a Chinook as it moves in. The arch is very distinctive in the sky:

A very welcome sight in the dead of winter!!