Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Grassi Lake -- October 18, 2009

Grassi Lakes in fall. One last hike before the snow took hold in the Rockies.

Nature photographers will tell you the best days for shooting photos are the overcast days. The gray tones will bring out the colours of your natural subjects so much more. The pools at Grassi Lakes show how true this tip really is:

Looking back toward the town of Canmore, with the clouds hanging low over the valley, yet the peaks visible for kilometers.....

Friday, April 16, 2010

Chester Lake -- September 12, 2009

Strangely enough, I'd only ever hiked the Chester Lake trail when it was fully engulfed in winter -- deep snow, lake frozen over, icicles dripping from trees. So when Dave suggested a fall hike, I jumped at the chance to see such a beautiful place without the usual white touches.

My first real education was midway through the hike. A meadow type plateau on the hike that I'd always assumed was windswept, causing drifts that piled into hills:

Those little hills are actually the ground itself!

Equally awe-inspiring in fall:

I can never get over the colours of fall:

The layers of time.

Finally got to see Chester Lake in its unfrozen glory. We were among the last on the trail this day, and got to see the lake in a calm state, only the odd splash from the fish:

So calm, it was easy to catch the reflection of the mountains surrounding it:

Looking forward to visiting this special place in spring....

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Exshaw Trail -- September 27, 2009

Straying away from our usual haunts, Nat and I took a quick hike down Exshaw Trail, a relatively flat creek bed walk with lots of route finding.

A pipeline was our guide for the first 1km or so. It's not always easy to remember that without the early development of some of our natural resources, a lot of the easy access to our favorite places might not exist:

A reminder that winter was not far away:

The trail was mostly a riverbed, with lots of creek crossings thrown in. The perfect flat hike with a few footing and terrain challenges to keep you on your (often wet) feet.

Come spring, we'll be back to see how we fare with considerably more water running through this creek!

Monday, April 12, 2010

West Bragg Creek Trail System -- Public Review

There's been a lot of chatter both off and online about the Bragg Creek Trail System and the changes proposed by Alberta Tourism Parks and Recreation.

The plan focuses on the area just west of Bragg Creek that is used primarily for cross-country skiing in winter. However the trails are also used by hikers, cyclists and equestrians throughout the summer, despite the fact there is no official maintenance on the trail system.

The province is looking to further develop this trail system in light of this use, to enhance the trails for summer recreation while protecting the delicate watershed.

The Herald has more: Public invites to review trail plan for Bragg Creek

No matter what your recreation of choice is, odds are you'll want to at least review this plan and make your feelings known to the government. There's only a 60-day review, so don't wait. You can submit feedback at

There is also more coverage and information online at Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association.

Beyond just the West Bragg Creek plan, there are plenty of opportunities to stay on top of the planning, maintenance and redesign of Alberta's Recreational areas. Visit the Alberta Parks Consultation/Notification site often for information of what projects are currently in discussion.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Marble Canyon (near Radium, BC) -- July 20, 2009

We'd driven to Fairmont Hot Spring in BC for an anniversary getaway. While the focus of the trip was not hiking, but more of the hot-tub soaking, mini-golf playing variety, on our drive back I wanted to stop and see an old trail I've visited as a child -- probably the first place I ever took hiking photos.

An aside, Highway 93 between Lake Louise, AB and Radium, BC is some of the most beautiful country ever. I'm hoping to get out there for many more hikes this summer.

Marble Canyon is just off Highway 93 in BC, and it's a lovely walk alongside a canyon as the crevice gets deeper and deeper. I last visited in 1985 (or so) and my childhood memories were of a heavily forested walk with amazing canyon views.

The trail starts out as a fast running creek, clear and refreshing on this summer day:

As we turned the first corner, I quickly discovered the trail from my childhood memories was long gone. Instead of the shady forest, we were greeted with the remnants of burnt trees, and the bushy green undergrowth of a forest only a few precious years into rebuilding:

Signs indicated the area had burned in 2003, part of a massive fire that burned over 170 square kilometers of Kootenay National Park -- almost 12 per cent of the total area of the park itself! It had taken a month to contain and extinguish the lightning-ignited fire, and when the fire was out, the Marble Canyon area was almost completely destroyed. It took 4 years of hard work to rebuild the bridges, railings and trails and ensure public safety.

Even the tops of the mountains had burned, leaving the rocky peaks to look like they had "whiskers":

The colour of the water coming from the canyon looked unbelievably fresh and clean:

Crossing over one of the first bridges, the depth of the canyon starting to form:

Looking back at the first bridge:

As the canyon got deeper, the angles became more striking:

Even deeper. The fact the forest has burned away shows that this canyon really does appear in the middle of a field. Even looking from a few hundred feet away, you might not know the earth opened up like this:

It looks like just an ordinary meadow in the mountains:

The trail backed by another look at the magnitude of the area the fire covered. How much different it looked when it was old-growth forest:

Another look at a canyon in the middle of a meadow:

Yes, you do eventually start to get a little intimidated by the height...

As we got further along the trail to the deepest parts of the canyon, water would dribble out of the walls. There was no water visible that high up -- it just seemed to come right from the rocks:

Falls at the end of the trail. The spray from this was pretty great on such a hot summer day:

From here the water is just another mountain stream, winding its way through the meadow. Almost impossible to believe a simple drop off and a small waterfall could create such a magnificent canyon.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Frank Slide Interpretive Centre -- July 4, 2009

Frank Slide Interpretive Centre sits across the valley from the slide, nestled on the edge of the slide path. The Centre recently re-opened after a year's worth of renovations and the displays are much improved. History can often be a tough thing to keep engaging (especially for the younger kids), but they do an excellent job.

The sights and sounds of the slide...

Crowsnest Pass history is fully intertwined with coal mining and there are plenty of displays and artifacts from the coal mining era. When setting the tone for the town of Frank, AB in 1903, it's impossible not to show how the men of the coal mines lived and worked.

Replicated mine shaft:

A very cool little display case showing the layout and design of the mine itself. This was so well done:

The centre is worth the drive just on its own. The history and culture, as well as the true impact of the slide are incredibly well and tastefully presented. I'll be back...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Frank Slide -- July 4, 2009

On April 29, 1903, at 4:10 am 90 million tonnes of mountain rock crashed down on the small mining town on Frank, AB (then in the North West Territories). The slide narrowly missed the main street of town, but still destroyed miner's houses, camping areas and outbuildings for the mine itself. Over 70 people were killed.

I've been driving through this southern Alberta area since I was child -- it's in the far southwest corner of Alberta, only minutes from BC to the west and Montana to the south. The mountain slide and the fan of boulders across the valley have always fascinated me, and as a child I would devour every book I could find on the subject.

(click to view full panorama)

Trapped miners, destroyed rail lines, stories of heroism, stories of amazing chance, it's an amazing historical event.

There's too much history to get into here (and trust me, I could talk your ear off for hours), so if you're interested, check out:
Frank Slide, AB -- When a Mountain Fell On A Town
Alberta Geological Survey

The mountain still "moves", is actively monitored and all those involved say it's a matter of "when" not "if" the mountain will fall again. Hi-tech monitoring means we'll hopefully know well in advance when more of the mountain is about to fall:

Alberta Geological Survey -- Turtle Mountain Monitoring Project and Field Laboratory

On the edge of the slide is the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, our next stop on our journey...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Yamnuska -- June 28, 2009

There's something about Yamnuska that keeps you coming back. Even when you're driving down the highway for the hundredth time, the looming rock face at the entrance to the Rockies is riveting.. no matter how many times you've looked before.

Yamnuska is always about the trail not taken to me. While we'd always known how little of Yamnuska we'd actually seen, on a late fall hike we saw how easy it could be to go to the next level. After waiting through a long winter and late spring, we were ready to see more.

Approaching the rock face:

Around the backside of Yamnuska, in the new (to us) unexplored part of Yamnuska. The trails here are not for the unsteady!

View from the top!

Might be one of the few photos that made my stomach nervous even taking it!

Imagine living up here...(I imagine the hikers drop enough goodies to make it worth while).

Nat and I did not go to the top. Sometimes on the mountain you can feel when things are not lining up well. The trail both up and down was full of loose rock -- probably a result of the recent thaw. Nat's water bottle took a long drop from one of the ledges we peered over. The mountain was busy -- nothing unusual for a Saturday afternoon, but somehow it was unsettling.

We decided to head down, and soon after, well.... I fell.

Fell sounds much more dramatic than it was. It was more like a slide. The ground and rocks beneath my feet started sliding and before I knew it I was heading down the gentle (thankfully!) slope of the backside. Other than a fairly brief flip where I was vaguely aware I was in mid air, there wasn't much to it except my brain saying "Don't land on your head! Don't land on your head!". Upon landing face down and continuing the slide, the mantra changed to "Dig your hands and feet in, grab something, you can't slide all the way to the bottom!". Which is what I did.

My pants were ruined. My brand-new first time out water bottle had a major gash in it. Some kind soul retrieved my poles from further down the slope. My hands were gashed up and there was a lot of blood running down my right leg, but I was fine. My head was fine, my back was fine and I could walk.

Which is more than I can probably say for Nat's poor heart. She had to watch all of this unfold.

Amazingly enough a doctor had seen the entire thing and kindly brought us over to his blanket so he could patch me up.

Safety tip -- out of about 4 first aid kits brought by the group, only Nat's contained the all-important iodine. Check your kits, and don't assume it's there. It will come in handy.

Another great safety tip -- the doctor recommended a bath with baking soda when I got home. I did exactly that and it did an amazing job cleaning out the cuts and scrapes -- even one that was extremely deep. They all healed without a scar -- save for the very deep one, where the skin was completely removed from a pinkie nail's worth area -- and a few weeks later you couldn't even tell I'd tried to slide down a mountain....

Yamnuska is still riveting when I drive by... maybe even moreso.