Friday, October 02, 2015

If you see Lake Louise, start walking in the other direction

These direction might be a little bit rough. You could probably get away with these type of vague instructions on the prairie without becoming seriously lost. Although death from boredom is a distinct possibility for some. At any rate, the title of this post gives you a pretty good idea how to begin my latest mountain expedition.

As always, I was guided into the wilds by fellow Quester, Dave Aschim. We are starting to have a bit of a mountain legacy: 20092010, 2011, 2014, and now 2015

A map with a rough route drawn on it can be found here.

One more note. I took a series of "geo panoramas" or "photospheres" as Google calls them. If you follow one of the links to Google Maps (I tried to imbed on the site, but failed), it isn't just a static image. On a laptop or desktop PC, you should be able to click the compass or click and drag the image to see an entire 360 degree view. The resolution isn't as good as my DSLR camera, but for now, it is still a better approximation of what being in these locations is like.

If you try to view these on a mobile device, I don't think they are likely to work.

Tuesday, September 15th

There is always a funny juxtaposition when I go to see Dave and Suzanne. For me this will be a once in a year experience. Something to be savoured and treasured. By comparison, this parking lot at the Canmore Nordic Centre, where they regularly run, cycle and ski, is 5 minutes from Dave's house. Even the parking lot view--cars and all--is spectacular at sunset and better than many people will ever seen in their lives.

Also, I'm going to throw a lot of images at you, but they are nothing like actually being in the space. But, let's give it our best shot, shall we?

I drove from Saskatoon to Canmore with as little stopping as possible. I even skipped my usual stop in Drumheller to see Horseshoe canyon. I had some great photos in the badlands at the beginning of last year's trip, but I passed up the opportunities this year in order to make good time. Dave promised to take me on a short training run at the nordic centre, but he was going with a large group and couldn't wait for me if I was late. I made it on time and was put through a punishing, but invigorating 5ish km. I run a lot of stairs, you may recall. However, the differences are more significant than I would have realized. Without getting too technical... a lot of different muscles. I struggled with the cool and light mountain air, but managed to enjoy myself after struggling for the 1st couple of kilometres.

We watched some Star Trek TOS that evening and set out for Lake Louise early the next morning.

Wednesday, September 16th

Below early morning cloud alternates with sun and fog as we begin a long, easy stretch of the day's hike.

We passed some horses waiting in a very muddy paddock early on only to be passed by them (above) repeatedly throughout the journey. They are used for carrying supplies to the historic Skoki Lodge and for destroying the path for hikers, too.
 Even though being in the mountains seems about largeness and grand sweeping vistas, it is often the little things that I find so beautiful. Below, we found a rocky pool amongst a small falls area. The cold had formed an invisible skin of ice right near the grass. Only tiny pellets of snow gave away it's existence.
Beautiful Microcosm
 Above: Ptarmigan lake is behind and ahead, a view from the falls onto the edge of Baker Lake. Our first camp will be at the far end. It has been in the ballpark of 10 km by this point. Not difficult terrain, but my pack weighs in at about 35-37 lbs. My shoulder muscles, unaccustomed to this burden are already complaining and I have several days of long hikes ahead. Here is a photo sphere from the edge of Baker Lake.
Click this link for a 360 degree pano of this area. My favourite of the trip.
 I'm a lot happier once we get to the Baker Lake Campground. I can drop my large pack and explore just carrying my smaller day pack and camera.
I don't know about Dave, but I was pretty cold and tired by the time the sun was sinking below the mountains. But, it's only 8pm. I can't bare to be in the tent for 11 hours, so we kill some time trying to find just the right spot to catch this sunset.
Finally, I lie on my back with my arms crossed in my sleeping bag. Like a vampire. Punished for a lifetime of wickedness, perhaps. Dave and I talk for a long time about past adventures, current endeavours, and the sounds of the mountains. Unable to sleep. Although the design is beautiful and it goes up quickly, the tent is very small. It is hard to respect each others space and still be comfortable. Mostly, I'm cold and I forgot to make a competent pillow from my spare clothing. Won't make that mistake tomorrow. Crystal snow begins to fall, tick, tick, ticking on the nylon fly. The waves on Baker make an off-rhythm lapping against the rocky shore. At some interval I can't predict comes a deep and bubbly "bloop" sound. Air trapped in a small undercut cavern taking exception to the waves ebb and flow. Does it happen every minute? 5 minutes? twice a minute? Rustling in the trees as a creature (or more likely a clod of snow) drops to the ground in darkness... Bloop. Even the mountains couldn't sleep with this endless chatter.

Thursday, September 17th

Even though it snows quite a bit of the night, there is only a dusting on the ground at 7:15am. It is darker than my camera lets on and the sun has not come over the mountains, nor will it for several hours thanks to a thick blanket of clouds.
When folding your Beamers cup, avoid the seam... duh! 
The hike to our next tenting site promised to be a relatively short and easy 5 km. We decided to make a side trip to Brachiopod Mt. before returning to strike our camp and move on. We had a 1/2 hour walk along the far side of Baker Lake before finding the worst possible path through the trees and up into the saddle between Brachiopod and Heather Ridge. At least our misguided path took us by this stunning old larch, below. If you look closely, you might see the woodpecker home about 1/2 way up.
Rapidly Ripening Yellow
The sun was somewhat of a rarity during the morning and my shoulders were aching from the previous day. Consequently, any time the sun came out, however briefly, I was more than happy to drop my pack and take a few photos
Fossil Mt. with a wee bit of precious sun
 The below video is about 1m 30sec of time lapse on my iPhone 5s. You can see just how short lived the sunny patches are. I mention this again, because in addition to making my fingers warm and conducive to photography, the light is critical to creating a sense of depth in the rocks, trees and sky. Without the sun, photos often feel "flat" and boring.

Here is a stop motion video of how fleeting the sun was that day.

We scrambled up some loose rocks and snow and onto one of Brachiopod's sub summits. We didn't have time to gain the true summit and still make our campsite in the light of day. Good thing too, because my ankles were already starting to feel questionable from all the uneven stepping. I would probably have thrown in the towel just 30m from our goal if Dave hadn't had an instinct that we were near the top.
Check out a 360 photo sphere of this spot
I want to have this boulder in my back yard. It has at least 10 interesting climbs on all the different faces. If it had been just a bit warmer, I may have stayed for an hour to try every one.
Going... going...
Pedestrian View... Sigh
After striking our camp we started to head down along a valley that runs between Fossil Mt. and Oyster Peak. Dave seemed to enjoy himself. I found it somewhat pededstrian compared to the stunning views around Baker Lake. Also I was less than thrilled with the mud. It was fun for a while, but I found that I was always looking down to get good footing or avoid deep ruts.

I've read several other accounts of camping along this route and they are all replete with complaints about the clouds of bugs near the lakes. I was surprised to see a fly on the 2nd day. Travelling when it is a bit colder certainly came with some benefits!
Seared into my memory
We got a bit off track. I won't say lost, because we knew precisely where we were. We just had a bit of trouble finding the campground. The creek we travelled beside changes course, constantly weaving and braiding towards the Red Deer Lakes. After getting off the main rutted and deeply muddy trail, we wound up only a few hundred meters off target. But, the brush was dense enough that it took us 1/2 an hour to sort out exactly on what bearing we were off by those few hundred meters.
chop your own wood and it will warm you twice
We spent a significant part of the evening by our merciful fire. I dried shoes, boots, socks, jacket and pants. Dave was certain that I would ruin these articles of clothing on the fire. He must have forgotten that "Caution" is my middle name ;)

Friday, September 18th

 The Red Deer Lakes area was certainly beautiful, but it was pretty far from any real climbing that we were interested in doing. We had planned to stay an entire day here, but decided that we would rather head home and do a separate day trip tomorrow.
Many tracks... Zero bears 
We walked for most of the morning and had to make a sleight detour to drop in on Skoki Lodge. $225/night doesn't sound prohibitive... until you realize that is per person. My family could stay a week for only $6300+tax. Infants stay free :)

The folks running the place seemed nice. We were too early for high tea (which was on the menu board), but Dave had a lucky five-spot on him which was enough for us to share fresh scones and cookies.
Skoki Lodge
 There are so many beautiful vistas in the mountains. The 30 I'm showing you has been pared down from 212 photos I've kept, which has itself been selected from about 500-600 photos and videos that I took over 5 days. If you only follow one link from this post today, make it this photosphere from the slope of Fossil Mt., up above deception pass.
Surreal Colour
I thought about a lot of stories while on this journey. With all the mountain passes and sweeping vistas, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings always come to mind. But, with this particular rock, I just couldn't get Frank Herbert's Dune and Sand Worms out of my head. Dave was very indulgent near the end of a long trip to act as my director and camera man.
Dune-The Sleeper Has Awakened
Does this tree enhance or detract from the Mordor sequence?
Erie clouds and sunlight make for an excellent volcanic eruption

 Saturday, September 19th

I've never seen a moodier day in the mountains. As Dave took me on one of his favourite hikes to the top of Fairview Mt., the clouds raced in and out with repeated abandon. Like a little boy flicking the light switch on and off and on and off...
Below you can see larches in season. Apparently they are still a week or two from fully turned. I've always thought Dave was a little obsessed with these trees. As it turns out, so are thousands of tourists who come traipsing into the woods to see them. We saw a back country ranger on our first night at Baker Lake. He told us we were lucky to have the campsite to ourselves, what with all the "larching" going on right now.

I mock, but actually, I have no photos that do them justice. We walked among a grove of them where we spotted a porcupine up a tree. The sun came out for a moment and the fine yellow leaves practically glowed. Spectacular--but, I'm still no larcher!

On my last night, I was treated to the disquieting sounds of Bugling Elk. It is likely you have never heard this sound. The real show is the male trying to keep 20 females corralled in a baseball diamond 2 blocks from Dave's house. I'll be honest. It sounds a lot more like whining to me. Which, given what I know of the males of my own species, kinda makes sense.

 Sunday, September 20th

Damn if I didn't get the best sunrise of the week just as I was leaving the mountains. Going was already hard enough.

All of my pictures are here: