Monday, November 11, 2013

Mt. Abbott from the ridge - Glacier National Park

Karen on her way to Abbott Peak
Karen on her way to Abbott Peak - the Illecillewaet Glacier to the left
On Aug 19, 2013, Mike and I joined friends from the Alpine Club of Canada (Vancouver Island Chapter -- yes, we WERE far from our home base) for a fine hike and scramble up and along the Mt. Abbott - Afton traverse in Glacier National Park. This is arguably the most impressive view hike in the Park. One doesn't even have to gain the summit for amazing vistas of the Mt. Sir Donald group, the Bonney Glacier, the Asulkan group, and the Illecillewaet Glacier -- and those are just the leviathans that are right in your face! Take a bit more time and care, gain the the summit of Abbott, and the mountains march on in all directions as far as the eye can see.

Coming down from Mt. Abbott
Coming back down from the Abbott summit
 Views notwithstanding, I particularly enjoyed this hike because it closely follows the footsteps of Arthur Wheeler, who, in 1906, co-founded the Alpine Club of Canada. While I am very proud to be associated with the club he helped found, it is more than Wheeler's ACC affiliation that endears him to me. It is the number and quality of large format photographs he took of mountains in Western Canada that holds my deep and abiding interest. Wheeler had the good fortune to survey mountains in areas I know and love, so it has become a particular pleasure of mine to stand where he stood, re-photograph his historic images, and observe how the landscape has changed.

From 1894 until 1925 Wheeler was, in one way or another, involved in surveying and making maps of Western Canada. In those days photography came to play a major role in mapping the mountains -- traditional rod and chain methods were simply too expensive. Photo-topographical techniques back then involved taking a panoramic series of mountain landscape photos from a control point that offered excellent views of the surrounding area. The cameras used were bulky and heavy, and the images were exposed on 6 x 4 inch plate glass negatives. Wheeler and the surveys he led produced hundreds and hundreds of these plates.

Mary going up Mt. Abbott
Mary going up Mt. Abbott
Wheeler's control station for the 1901 images was
 below on the wide ridge.

Wheeler wasn't alone in the pursuit of making maps with photography in the Canadian west. Indeed, Library and Archives Canada holds over 140,000 glass plates taken from the 1880's up until the 1940's. The images produced by Wheeler and other photo-topographic surveyors of the day are outstanding historical documents. Each high resolution, richly detailed image presents us with a snapshot of what these majestic mountain environments looked like over 100 years ago.

 I have been lucky enough for the past few years to be involved with a dedicated group of researchers at the Mountain Legacy Project ( whose goal is to re-photograph as many of the 140,000 historic plates as possible. Most of my field work has been in the Rocky Mountains -- a truly lovely area -- but not the mountains of my heart. Growing up in Revelstoke BC, with Mt. Revelstoke National Park and Glacier National Park as my playground, the mountains of my heart are surely the Selkirks.

Mt. Abbott and Mt. Afton
Mt. Abbott on the left and Afton in the middle. The Bonney Glacier to the right.
Even though Mike and I enjoy the mountains of Vancouver Island where we live, when our ACC Section announced that one of 2013's mountain camps would be based at the Arthur Wheeler Hut (yup, the same guy), in Glacier National Park, deep in the Selkirks, we jumped at the chance to join in. A week rambling in my favourite mountains was just the way to end a summer spent in the alpine. And, our very first hike of the week was up Mt. Abbott via the ridge.

In 1901, when Wheeler was assigned to survey this area, he would have travelled up much the same route as we did -- making his way out of the interior cedar and hemlock forest into Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir around Marion Lake, and finally up into alpine tundra along the ridge. Wheeler's goal was not the peak of Mt. Abbott. His control point was somewhat lower. He must have selected it because of the spectacular view it commanded. He took images looking south west towards Revelstoke, north towards the Hermit group, and east toward the Sir Donald group. This last image set, shown here, is my favourite -- the differences between Wheeler's 1901 photo and the 2011 repeat are astounding. For example, look at the extent of the Illecillewaet Glacier (on the right in both images) in 1901 compared with 2011 -- certainly a huge retreat.
Mt. Sir Donald in Glacier National Park
Mt. Sir Donald and the Illecillewaet Glacier: A.O. Wheeler, 1901
Mt. Sir Donald and the Illecillewaet Glacier
Mt. Sir Donald and the Illecillewaet Glacier: Mountain Legacy Project, 2011

I was pleased to make it up to Wheeler's Abbott ridge control point, thinking what a march it would have been for Wheeler and his crew as they schlepped 25 kilograms of camera, tripod, glass plates, and survey equipment with them. My own pack was heavy enough! However, Mike and I went on past Wheeler's control point and gained the summit of Abbott after a wonderful scramble amongst huge chunks of granite. Glaciers, neves, icefields, and high ridges opened out in front of us as we ascended. Some in our group continued from the summit of Abbott on to Afton, but Mike and I decided to return back via the main ridge. I had fun scrambling down some of the airy steps I used scrambling up!

All in all an excellent day spent with a fine group of folks in some of the most glorious mountains in the world. I think Arthur Wheeler would have been proud of his legacy -- not only as co-founder of a club dedicated to preserving and promoting Canadian mountain culture and self-propelled alpine pursuits, but as the creator of stunning photographs that let us look back and compare today's mountain environments with those of over 100 years ago. Here's to you Arthur, and to the other mountain surveyors whose work all those years ago informs us so eloquently today.
On Mt. Abbott summit
Karen, Diane, Mike, Krista, Mary, Dave, Frank, and Ken. ACC-VI Section: Our motto is "Come back alive, Come back friends, Respect the land, Have fun, Get to the Top."

Map of our route to Mt. Abbott: 

View Mt. Abbott via ridge in a larger map

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Rendezvous on Mt. Revelstoke

Eva Lake, Mt. Revelstoke National Park
Eva Lake, Mt. Revelstoke National Park
Like almost no place else I know, rambling in Mt. Revelstoke National Park lifts me up, slaps a happy grin on my face, and makes me glad to be able to put one foot in front of the other. Okay, so it's not full of 3000+ metre limestone monsters like the Rocky Mountains, or huge ice sheets like the Jasper Parkway. Indeed, if I drive to the summit and hike back to Miller and Eva Lakes I only put on about 400 m of elevation change over 12 km total. But I get a sense of accomplishment every time I lace up the boots and head for the summit. Maybe it's because Mt. Revelstoke is "my" Park in the way no other place can can be. For me a hike here is more than a day in the hills, it is a rendezvous with memory.
Louie casting from the Eva Lake shore - 1972
Louie at Eva Lake, 1972
Mary at 15  -- Eva Lake, Mt. Revelstoke
Mary at 15 -- Eva Lake, Mt. Revelstoke
Revelstoke is my home town and the Park was my playground. It is a place of "firsts" for me: first place I put on skis - the old Mt. Revelstoke ski hill below the Nels Nelson ski jump; first place I climbed - up in "the Valley" with Bud Stovell and the Revelstoke Secondary School Climbing Club; first place I got well and truly lost - exploring the south eastern slopes with Don Daem. My first real alpine mountain hike was here too: My Dad (Louie), Don, and I hiked in to Miller and Eva Lakes in 1972. I saw my first grizzly in this Park, and had my one and only view of a wolverine in the wild at Lower Jade Lake while on an overnight trip with Mike in 2006. I also charge Mt. Revelstoke with developing my never-ending fascination for photographing BC's native wildflowers.

Mt. Revelstoke Nat. Park: Meadows in the Sky
Meadows in the Sky - summit of Mt. Revelstoke
Established on April 28, 1914, Mt. Revelstoke is Canada's eighth National Park. The good folks of Revelstoke began working on the road to summit two years earlier, but it wasn't completed until 1927. However, a trail to the summit of Mt. Revelstoke was established in 1908. I've been on that hike several times, and I have to admit, one has to be rather "focused" to get it done -- 10 km, unrelenting uphill, almost all in the trees -- but the "Meadows in the Sky" at the top of the trail are glorious.

Swimming at Miller Lake
Miller Lake swimming
I always count a summer with a trip to Mt. Revelstoke National Park as a success. This summer Mike and I had the pleasure of introducing this lovely little gem of a park to Krista, Cedric, and Dianne, friends from the Alpine Club of Canada - Vancouver Island (VI) Section. In late August the VI-Section, of which Mike and I are active members, based a week-long summer camp up in Glacier National Park. The five of us decided to drive down to Mt. Revelstoke and do the Miller and Eva Lakes hike. I can easily say that no one regretted the choice.

 Even though the outstanding displays of wildflowers were past their peak, we still had a stunning day. Miller Lake was the first destination. Needless to say, going for a dip in the aquamarine water was the first objective. Some skinny dipping was included as we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Lunch and sunning on rocks followed in short order.

Jade Lake Pass
Jade Lake Pass above Miller Lake
 Three of us decided to visit Eva Lake and meet up with the other two on the main trail back. Where Miller Lake lies in a talus-sloped bowl, Eva sits up high on a small plateau and commands a fine vista of the area. Both of these lakes have always been popular destinations for hikers and fishers, but Dad always claimed that the fishing was better at Eva.

Dad used to come up several times every summer to fish for cut-throat trout. In fact, it was on the trail to Eva Lake that he had his "Road to Damascus" experience. Dad had a bad smoking habit - two or three packs a day. It never seemed to slow him down, until one day in 1973, on the way to Eva Lake, Dad must have had an asthma attack, or something like it because he couldn't catch his breath. He had to turn around and slowly make his way back to the trail-head. He had his last smoke that day. He always said to me later "Mary, it was up on Mt. Revelstoke that I learned to Hate The Cigarette!"

All in all, a trip into Mt. Revelstoke National Park is sure to provide experiences, views, and adventures that will morph into memories. I know I'm looking forward to getting back there next year -- if I don't do anything else, at least I can rendezvous with another skinny dip in Miller Lake!

 Route to Eva and Miller Lakes:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Footloose on Fairview

Mt. Victoria and area from Mt. Fairview
Mt. Victoria and area from Mt. Fairview
The mountains above Lake Louise are surely some of the most brilliant jewels in the Parks Canada crown: hulking Mt. Temple, ice-draped Victoria, vertical Aberdeen, lofty LeFroy ... the list goes on. Big mountains need big views and it is hard to beat the vistas afforded by Mount Fairview. At 2744 metres Fairview was high enough to get Lisa, John, Mike and me into the alpine on an easy 5.5 km trail and scramble -- although we did have an elevation gain of a bit over 1000 metres when all was said and done. Actually, Mike and John both rocketed up Saddle Mountain on the way down, so they added another 200 metres to their vertical totals.
Mike, Mary, John, Lisa: Fairview summit
Mike, Mary, John, and Lisa on the Fairview summit

The trail (map below) starts off in the trees, but soon shoots out onto meadows and talus slopes below the Saddleback pass. From the pass it is about 1.5 km of steep switchbacks up to the summit -- but the views are indeed fair in every direction. The only down side is that the route is often quite busy. Even though the trail does require a good degree of fitness, the views are so stunning many people are tempted to head onward and upward. On the assent the four of us shared the mountain with about 20 people -- including a large group of older Japanese visitors who tromped along gaily and did not seem to notice how steep the trail was!

Penstemon on the trail
Penstemon on rocky bluffs
We took our time at the top and soon had the wide summit shoulder all to ourselves. Well, almost all to ourselves -- but the fellows didn't complain at all about the other two folks sharing the views with us. As it happened, one of the pair was a buxom young redhead who decided the top of the mountain was a perfect place for nude sunbathing -- Fair View indeed!

The day was stunning and showed the mountains and Lake Louise to perfection. I was particularly pleased that the weather cooperated as John and Lisa only had about a week for hiking in the Rockies. It is all too easy, even in the summer, for the rain and clouds to settle in and dampen even the keenest Rocky Mountain hiker's hopes.

Lunch on the summit
Lunch on top of Fairview - Mt. Victoria in the background
The slopes of Fairview gave us some good alpine wildflowers too: Shrubby Penstemon, Western Anemone, White Dryas, lots of Saxifrage, and Paintbrush galore. Marmots, pikas, ground squirrels, chipmunks, and one porcupine completed the list of animals for the day. I'm sorry to say we had no "charismatic mega-fauna" (bears, cougars, wolverines, etc.), but, as I often say: "always leave them wanting more". Certainly I want to see a lot more of the Rockies!

 Of course, the day wasn't complete without a dip in Lake Louise itself. John and Mike jumped in far from the madding crowd and splashed around in the milky green water. Lisa and I passed on the swim. And, to cap everything off, we decided to visit my favorite lake in the area: Moraine Lake. I know it can be thick with tourists, but the colour - even on an afternoon that threatens rain - will make your heart smile. With the Valley of the Ten Peaks standing guard on the v-neck shoreline, Moraine Lake is a fitting finish to a Rocky Mountain ramble.

Moraine Lake above Lake Louise
Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks

Our Route:

View Mount Fairview in a larger map

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Two-stepping to Tent Ridge

On the west arm of Tent Ridge looking back
Lisa and Mike on the west arm of Tent Ridge looking back at our hike and scramble

Kananaskis Country - what the folks who live in south-west Alberta refer to as K-Country - is the place where the locals go to play. Full of glorious Rocky Mountains, K-Country has all the vistas, views, and trails of the Mountain Parks, but almost none of the National Park tourists.

Mary below the Fist (or Mt. Smuts)
Mary below Mt. Smuts on the ridge high point
Last year, while working with the Mountain Legacy Project ( I fell in love with K-Country, so, when Lisa and John arrived for a bit of Rocky Mountain hiking, I was keen to get out and try our hand at something in Kananaskis. That something turned out to be Tent Ridge (see map below). But, it did take us two attempts to actually get up on the ridge.

The first attempt saw Mike, me, John, and Lisa spend an hour in the car at the trail head waiting for the weather to clear. We didn't exactly waste our time - we played Famous People 20 Questions (pick a famous person - write the name on a piece of paper - give to friend - friend sticks paper on head without looking at it - repeat for everyone playing - everyone asks questions - guess name of famous person stuck to your head). The weather never cleared, so we left for another hike elsewhere.

 The next day was better situated for weather so we headed out again. This time to great success. Tent Ridge is rated as a challenging hike. It is approximately 11 km long, with about 780 metres of elevation gain. It does have a few airy steps where hands on the rock are required.There is some route-finding necessary, however, accomplished hikers and scramblers should have little difficulty. Indeed, all our difficulties seemed to fade away as each step along the ridge offered better and better views. As an added bonus, the approach to the ridge is via a gentle valley trail -- not your typical calf-clamping steep gasper of a trail that MOST hikes in the Rockies present.
Storm in the north over Spray Lakes
Storm in the north over Spray Lakes
If our first attempt at Tent Ridge saw us rained out, our second saw us sheltered from nasty weather. As we rounded the western arm of the ridge huge thunderclouds gathered to the north -- and sped right past us without so much as a drop. Talk about lucky!
Plant photogs
John and Mary taking pictures of plants - Lisa on the ridge line

The ridge presented us with some lovely wildflower shows - new plants, like Bladder Campion, and Autumn Gentian, that I had never seen before. Everyone took turns trying to get good macro photos. John capped off the day by presenting us with a wee dram of good single malt scotch - Springbank from the bonnie Mull of Kintyre on the west coast of Scotland. In fact, the entire west arm of Tent Ridge, with its wide back, sloping down towards a blue-on-blue lake, reminded me a lot of Scotland and some of the grand hill walking we all enjoyed in that fair country.

Our route down off the ridge took us steeply down through lush meadows full of Paintbrush, Arnica, and Saxifrage. We had to exercise a bit of route finding expertise to find our way, but all was accomplished in good time. We arrived back at the trail head just as the first raindrops began to fall. Another day seized traipsing around in the mountains -- I could get VERY used to this!

A toast to the hike
If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you're lucky enough!
John, Lisa, Mike, Mary

Map of Tent Ridge

View Tent Ridge - Kananaskis Country in a larger map

More pictures from the hike: Tent Ridge pictures

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Cruising to Cirque Peak

On the summit of Cirque Peak
Cirque Peak summit: the view looking west
July 29, 2013 : Another day in Rocky Mountain paradise! This time we decided to venture a bit further afield up the Icefields Parkway (see the map below for location). The destination was Cirque Peak above Helen Lake in Banff National Park. And what a worthy destination it was! The day, which was forecast to include thundershowers and rain, was sunny and easy-walking-warm. The bugs, after the correct application of bug-juice, were completely tolerable. The views were superlative. And, the 515 million year old fossils were purely the icing on the cake.
Huge stromatolite reef below Cirque Peak
Huge stromatolite reef below Cirque Peak

 Mike and I joined up with Pat, Doug, and Arianne for this excursion. It was Arianne, a geologist, who put us wise to the fossils in the area. It seems that to the south of Cirque Peak, on the plateau above the Helen Lake pass, is a reef of fossilized stromatolites. Stromatolites are layered structures formed in shallow water by the trapping, binding and firming of sediment by blue-green algae. Stromatolites are probably the earliest lifeforms on earth, dating back to 3.5 billion years ago. The stromatolites at the base of Cirque Peak are not that old - they probably date back to about 515 million years ago in the Cambrian period. More info on the Cirque Peak stromatolites can be found in this interpretive guide to the area.

The hike was a long one - 17 km round trip and a total elevation gain of 1100 metres. The peak itself is just shy of 3000 metres (2993 m). But, it is one of the easiest accessed high peaks in the Rockies. If you can put one foot in front of the other (and repeat for 17 km) this mountain is in the bag. There is a spot of scrambling at the very top, but honestly, the views from the tippy top were no grander than those from a few metres lower down.
Mike and Mary on Cirque Peak
Mike and Mary on Cirque Peak - Bow Glacier and Bow Lake in the background
The views from this peak let us look down on the start of the mighty Bow River. In the last few weeks the Bow has been our guide looking down from the heights at landscapes that are new to us. It is always there to give a point of reference.We've ridden bikes beside it, photographed it, and drunk from it drinking water; after the floods of early July, it is a source of endless fascination and discussion for everyone who lives along its banks.

It was such a treat to see the two glaciers that are its source: the Crowfoot and the Bow. On the top image of this post the Crowfoot is on the left, and the Bow on the right. We'll be seeing more of the Bow over the next few weeks - now I know exactly where it comes from.

More pictures from this hike at Flickr

View Cirque Peak, Banff-Jasper Highway in a larger map

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Queen of the Castle

Mary - Queen of the Castle
Queen for a day: Mary on top of Castle Mountain, views east down the Bow Valley
Castle Mountain from just off the TCH
Castle Mountain is, perhaps, one of the most iconic symbols in the Banff National Park pantheon of peaks. Driving down the Trans Canada Highway visitors see the south west slopes of the mountain rising, like a fortified medieval castle, almost straight up from the valley.

I know I've looked up at it many times and dreamed of standing on top, but always thinking its cliffs and crags were too much for me. Imagine my surprise to find that Castle Mountain has a much gentler aspect: the north / north-east side above Rockbound Lake affords scramblers an easier route to the summit. Well, perhaps "gentle" is not quite the right description - at 28 km round trip and an elevation gain of 1400 metres it is still a bit of an excursion, but Mike and I found it well worth the effort.

Tower Lake
Eisenhower Tower above Tower Lake
The first few km of the trip is a tad dull as the trail ascends through pine and spruce forest. Red squirrels and lovely wildflowers do hold one's attention, but when the first views of the Eisenhower Tower heave into view, sailing above the treetops, the vistas quickly open out. Soon enough we reached Tower Lake, ready to begin the final on-trail push to Rockbound Lake.

Castle was named in 1858 by Scottish geologist and surgeon James Hector. Using common Scottish good sense he named the mountain for what it looked like: a castle. But, with the stroke of a government pen, in 1946 the mountain was renamed Mount Eisenhower in honour of the US general (an soon-to-be President) Dwight D. Eisenhower. Happily, public pressure caused its original name to be restored in 1979, but the tower on the southeastern side keeps the Eisenhower moniker. 

The view from Rockbound Lake gave us a good idea as to what the 2nd half of the route had in store -- limestone galore! We went up and to the right around Rockbound and started a counter-clockwise scramble along the limestone terraces, gullies, and rocks high above the lake. What a day! We walked on ancient limestone laid down under the ocean 530 million years ago. In places the rock was so bright I had to shade my eyes to look at it -- kind of like sunning on a Pre-cambrian beach.
Looking South-east from above Rockbound Lake
Views from the early Cambrian limestone terraces
There was a bit of optimal route-finding to be done in getting to the summit - to say nothing of some scree-slope slogging. But, once there we had some stunning views. While lounging around the top two climbers showed up. They came up the cliffs on the highway side. We chatted for a few minutes and found we had someone in common -- the lead climber knew my sister Janice back in Revelstoke. What a small world.
Pre-Cambrian limestone above Rockbound Lake
Summit views: Rockbound Lake
White-tailed Ptarmigan
Coming down we retraced our steps, enjoying yet more views and the golden evening light. We even came across some White-tailed Ptarmigan. Normally Mike and I would not bother birds like this, whose existence in the alpine is already quite difficult. But, these two walked right out in front of us - less than a metre away. I didn't feel too guilty about snapping a few shots before moving along.

We got back to our car around 8:00 pm that evening, after spending about 11 hours on the mountain. I can say without a doubt that Castle Mountain left me feeling like a queen for at least one day. I give our time on Castle my royal seal of approval.

Map of our route:

View Castle Mountain via Rockbound Lake, Banff National Park in a larger map
More images on Flickr

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A different kind of Eiffel Tower

Pat on the trail to Eiffel Peak
Hike and scramble up Eiffel Peak: Eiffel on the left, Pinnacle Mountain in the middle, Temple Mountain on the left.
Mike and I did our first over 3000 metre peak of the summer: Eiffel Peak in the Lake Louise area, Banff National Park. It was a moderate scramble with a few moves that were made a bit more difficult because of the weather -- nothing like two cold runnels of water running from your hands into your armpits and out your pants to get you moving!

Eiffel Peak is 3084 metres high and affords outstanding views of the Valley of the Ten Peaks (the image that used to be on our - Canadian - $20.00 bill). Temple Mountain, Pinnacle Mountain, and the popular Sentinel Pass are also right in your face on this scramble.
The Valley of the Ten Peaks
Valley of the Ten Peaks
The day started out overcast and cool, and we did get some rain at about 1:00 (just in time for the hard stuff). The trail up was challenging, especially the interminable switch backs up out of Moraine Lake, but once on the mountain the views opened out beautifully. I stopped about once every 100 steps, let my heart rate settle for a moment, and gulped down some water.

Mary on Eiffel Peak - Eiffel Tower in the backgroundWe were a group of six, with Rick, a nurse from Washington state, joining us for the majority of the hike. Doug and Pat - our hosts from Canmore - along with their daughter Arianne and her boyfriend Gijs completed our group. This was a fit group and we moved along smartly. Sadly, I was the caboose on this hike, but I don't think I held the group up too much. And besides, someone has to be last.

This hike and scramble were exactly what I hoped our sojourn in the Canmore area would yield: great views, interesting terrain, some physical challenges, new wildflowers, wildlife sightings, and good times with friends. Here's hoping our Eiffel day will be the start of more to come.

More pictures from the day: Eiffel Peak Scramble.

Map of the route:

View Eiffel Peak via the south east slope in a larger map