Friday, August 22, 2014

Kayaking with Elks; Brrr; Crumpets, Anyone? “Chubmunk”; “Hey Babe, nice platforms!”

One of our last outings in Banff was kayaking from First Vermillion Lake into a small stream connecting with the Bow River. After launching our sleek boats and pushing our way through some thick seaweed, we got into the nicer part of the lake with massive Mt. Rundle in the background. It was a warm, sunny day, and we enjoyed every minute on the water. Here is Kayak Queen showing off her perfect paddling technique.

The lake was pleasant, but when we headed into this narrow, winding stream, the forest closed in on us like a green curtain. We saw signs of wildlife – tracks of elk and beaver were obvious on the soft mud and sand banks. And then we came to a turn and met some of the locals…

That isn’t a big branch that Suzanne is pointing out to Your Faithful Correspondent - it is a big rack (12 points) of antlers on a bull elk. He is relaxing in the sunshine at the edge of the forest, which is close enough for him to make a quick getaway if some yokel blogger tries to come ashore and conduct an interview or get an autograph. (Hey, just because I had my correspondent’s notepad out doesn’t mean I’d be that dumb!)

Just as we thought that this was the coolest wildlife encounter we’ve had in ages, we looked about 100 feet upstream, and there was an even bigger bull elk in the shadows. Whereas the first (smaller) elk looked at us casually, this big guy seemed frozen, like he was napping with his eyes open. (Hmmm, I have been accused of that behavior as well.) As a card-carrying member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE), I felt a fraternal affinity to my big cousins. 

 This is August, right? While many of our friends around the country are suffering from summer heat and humidity, we are downright COLD up here in the Canadian Rockies. It was about 36F last night (that’s like 2C), and even midday when we were out hiking, we were in fleece, jackets, hats and gloves. Here is My Lovely Bride along the shore of Lake Louise shortly after our arrival Tuesday afternoon, and she’s not wearing a swim suit! You know it’s chilly when you don’t see a single red canoe on the lake. On a sunny day, there will be 20 or 30 of the rental boats out on the water. It has rained every day we’ve been here, but the rain only lasts an hour or so and then the sun will peek out of the clouds for an hour, then go hide for a few hours, and the cycle is repeated. Even the locals are complaining about the Fall-like weather. 

On Wednesday we took another hike, this one up to Lake Agnes, where there is a tea house where you can get a warm drink or some crumpets. (No, Bob, not that other kind of “crumpets”… Shame on you!) The trail up was moderate, with an 11% grade that made it a bit of work. 


There are many religions on our planet, some more friendly than others. It is said that sitting in the silence and looking inward is one of the best methods of self-discovery and worship. We came upon this chipmunk, perhaps in the middle of his Zen meditation and introspection… he was definitely non-hostile.

Lake Agnes is a tarn, which are small lakes that fill the bowls left by glaciers.

On the way down from Lake Agnes, we had a spectacular view of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, the huge 5 star hotel at the far end of the lake. The blue color of Lake Louise is due to glacial till carried in suspension from meltwater from the glaciers themselves. The little dots that look like ants are actually red rental canoes. 

This close-up of a stream’s discharge into Lake Louise gives ample proof of the origin of the lake’s color.

The views of the glaciers that hang on Mt. Victoria (11,761 ft) are stunning. The largest is named Victoria Glacier.    

Near the end of the lake distant from the hotel, Suzanne sat and meditated, recalling one of the events from her new book, Wolf’s Message, when she placed a crystal in the lake to help connect the energetic grid around the planet.  

Two humorous events occurred at the end of our hike, and will close today’s blog post. The first was the sighting of this very well-fed chipmunk, evidently provided excessive handouts by visiting tourists. We named him “Chubmunk”, and Suzanne saucily inquired whether his ample girth is meant to be representative of my own if I don’t increase my running mileage… she can be such a smarty-pants.  

This fashionably-dressed woman was observed violating Hiking Rule #1 – before you leave home, make sure your footwear and socks are appropriate for the trail you’re planning to hike. She was only one mile along a 3 mile trail, and I wondered how her feet would hurt tomorrow, if she kept on going. Well, at least they weren’t stilettos… 

Finally thanks to My Lovely Bride for taking many of these photos and others on the blog... I may have to take her out to dinner one of these nights...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Banff; Up Sulphur Mountain; A Tent with a View; New Friends; Two Mountain Lakes

Our campsite in Alberta’s Banff National Park was in Tunnel Mountain Village 2. That doesn’t sound very “glamorous”, does it? The sites themselves weren’t anything to write home about, being laid out down wide paved roads where you parallel-parked next to picnic tables and electrical outlets (no water or sewer connections). But the up side was this view from our coach, looking at Mt. Rundle, 2,949 meters/9,731 feet.   

Need I mention that My Lovely Bride is an exercise fanatic? I was thinking about sleeping in until noon, until I was rudely awakened with a “Get yer boots on, Lazy Butt, we’re goin’ hiking!” Hiking is one thing, but a forced march up Sulphur Mountain, where most sensible people take a skiers’ gondola up the 45 degree mountainside, isn’t exactly what I had in mind to replace my weekly beauty rest. Here’s the view from the parking lot. For the record, I hadn’t even had my second cup of coffee, but My Darling Drill Meistress showed no sympathy, so up the mountain we went. 

About halfway up the 11% grade, I was wondering if the cardiac EMTs would be able to get to me in time, and MLB was as chipper as could be. Seems she had just found a new way to use her mantra meditation techniques to avoid any fatigue whatsoever. Sometimes I wonder if she was sent to me as penance for sins in a past life.  Smack!  “I’m just kidding, Sweetheart!”  
It was a two hour trek up, but the view from the top of Sulphur Mountain was spectacular. That’s the town of Banff and the Bow River in the valley far below. Luckily I met this lovely hiker who was kind enough to pose for me, even though it was cold and windy up at the summit; she even offered me lunch! 


One of the amazing sights at the summit was this weather observatory, which Norman Sanson opened in 1903. He continued collecting weather data for over 30 years, climbing up the mountain regularly even into his 70s. 


Rudy and Gretchen couldn’t make the hike with us, but we met this cute Dachshund Bailey and his dog mom Whitney, who had taken the gondola up. Bailey sure looks like he is enjoying life.  

As if that hike weren’t enough for the week, I suggested that I might take an overnight backpacking trip up to a remote glacial lake… or was that My Lovely Bride’s idea? Anyway, the next day she dropped me off on the Trans-Canada Highway at the trailhead, and I struck off into the deep woods for a two hour hike. It was a forbidding environment, and I knew that a hungry grizzly waited behind every tree for a dinner of tourist flank steak. I heard a noise, something coming down the trail, and had my hand on my can of bear spray… and there she was… a savage mother grizzly, protecting her cubs? No, it was a twenty-something girl in ponytail and gym shorts doing a trail run, all alone, not even carrying bear spray… Sigh.

I arrived at Taylor Lake and found that the stunning setting lived up to the vivid description provided by Travis, the tourist bureau rep, who had hiked up here recently. Taylor Lake sits in a bowl under Mount Bell, with Panorama Ridge on the northern side of the lake. I set up my tent near the lakeside, with one of the greatest views I’ve ever had from a tent.

Then it was time for another gourmet dinner… freeze-dried beef stew, a handful of peanuts and a glass of Cabernet from my Platypus container. (Okay, so to save weight I didn’t bring a glass, and drank straight from the Platypus, but it added a nice touch of civility to an otherwise pretty boring meal. Freeze dried foods only have one redeeming feature – they are very light weight.)  I thought about listening to music with earbuds during dinner, but I felt that would be sacrilegious, because the only sounds to be heard were the occasional chirps of birds or ground squirrels and the muted roar of a glacier-fed waterfall at the far end of the lake.

I had noticed that there was only one other tent at the lake that night, so I wandered over and met Jean and Natalie, two school teachers, originally from Quebec, but now living and working in nearby Calgary, Alberta. Jean teaches math and science, and Natalie teaches Phys-Ed. We must have chatted for an hour or more until mosquitoes began attacking us; fortunately my DEET bug lotion did the trick and kept most of the biting bugs at bay.

In spite of the fact that Suzanne had dropped me off in the wilderness far from any village, much less town or city, I asked Natalie to take my photo to prove I had actually hiked up to Taylor Lake, and wasn’t carousing at the local Hooters… she thought that was funny, since the nearest Hooters is about a thousand miles away. You may notice that I was not in shorts and a tee shirt; the temp was quickly dropping into the low 40s that night, and this was mid-August.  

I was up before the sun to get ready for a hike farther into the mountains. While preparing breakfast (yep, freeze dried eggs and hash browns with Starbucks Via instant coffee), the first rays of sunlight were lighting up Quadra Mountain in the distance. 

Taylor Lake was perfectly still, and the reflections of the sky, trees, mountains and snowfields, even in this subdued early dawn’s light, took my breath away. I wanted to share the moment with Jean and Natalie, but they were still snug in their sleeping bags in their tent; this being the last week of summer vacation, they would be keeping bankers’ hours today.

The hike up to the next lake only took an hour, even taking time to talk to two mountain climbers whom I met on the trail who were on their way up Mt. Bell, thousands of feet above Taylor Lake. Their route had a 5.3 rating, which meant that they would need the ropes they were carrying.  O’Brien is a small lake, and quite marshy around its perimeter. My Merrell hiking boots and socks were quite wet by the time I reached this viewpoint, but it had been worth the effort to get here. Because the shoreline is either very steep and rocky or swampy, there are no campsites here. 


I arrived back at my campsite and prepared for the hike out, but had to dry out my tent on some bushes, since condensation had built up on the rain fly of my mountain tent during the previous night. While it dried out, I watched the two climbers proceed up Mt. Bell. Here they are on a knifedge ridge with about 700-800 feet vertical to go to the summit. Even though they were about a mile away, it was so quiet and the acoustics were so good that we could hear them talking as if they were just across a large room.

I packed up my gear, said goodbye to Jean and Natalie, and started to head down the mountain to the trailhead, but first, one last photo; and this is why I go off alone into the mountains… here is where I find peace and tranquility...

Friday, August 15, 2014

Going to the Sun; Banff; A Book for TOTFN; Hey, Tubby??? Moose and Elk

One of our last Glacier events was riding the Going to the Sun Highway… on our bikes. We had two options: ride up 3,000 feet to Logan Pass then coast and back down, or wuss out and take the shuttle up (it carried two bikes on the front) and ride down without breaking a sweat. I wish that I could tell you that we did it the tough way, up and down, but my standard of perfect veracity requires me to tell you that we took the easy route. 

Here is My Lovely Bride at the top, ready to launch herself down the steep, narrow and winding road where we kept up with almost all the cars (the speed limit was 15-25 mph, depending on the curves). On one side was a sheer rock wall, and on the other… a sheer cliff with only a short rock wall to tumble over, with a thousand foot drop to hard stuff below. Exhilarating? You betcha!

At the bottom of the ride, we enjoyed a few stops at scenic overlooks of McDonald Creek. This was one of the prettiest spots, with deep blue pools, probably ice-cold with snowmelt from the glaciers far above. 

At another spot, Your Faithful Correspondent enjoyed a few moments of meditative introspection. This would have been a perfect spot to pitch a tent for the night, with the river gurgling just a few feet away. 

“Oh, Canada!” Again? Yep, after calling AT&T and setting up international cell service so Suzanne could continue to give phone readings from Canada, we departed Glacier National Park and headed north through far southeastern British Columbia into Kootenay National Park and then to Banff National Park in Alberta, where we are camped out for six nights. The Canadian Rockies are truly spectacular, and with all due respect to their American counterparts, are somehow even more impressive. Part of the reason, I think, is that there is more bare rock here than in the mountains of the US. Also, the base of the Canadian Rockies seems lower by a thousand feet or so, and the mountains rising above you thus seem taller. 

We had just entered Kootenay NP when this cow moose (Alces alces) casually strode across the road about 50 yards in front of us. Fortunately, we were on a steep uphill and only doing about 60… oh, sorry, that’s km/hr, so about 37 mph… (for some strange reason, our northern cousins use that ridiculous Continental European system of measurements instead of good old English miles and pounds.) The moose then wandered into the woods, probably looking for a nice spot for lunch.

With one cell phone working here in Canada (international roaming is far too expensive to allow us the use of both phones and two iPads), we have some connectivity with “the outside world”. As many of you may be aware (I hope), Suzanne’s latest book, Wolf’s Message, is now out in both Kindle and paperback versions. If you haven’t ordered your very own copy for My Lovely Bride to autograph upon our return to The Villages or other booming metropolis, well, you had better get hot! 

Our good friend Terri of the Frozen North (TOTFN, who is mentioned in the book) sent us a photo of her holding her brand new copy of Wolf’s Message, and I was actually quite surprised that FEDEX had managed to get a copy to her in the wilds of Minnesnowta. In fact, I called the local FEDEX office to find out how that would work. The dispatcher described that to get a real book to Coon Rapids, MN, a Boeing 737 cargo jet would fly the first leg. Then the book would be transferred to a coal or wood-burning train. A Pony Express rider would carry the book for the next leg, followed by a snowmobile driver. Finally, a sled dog team with an intrepid musher would make the final push into Coon Rapids, assuming they didn’t freeze to death. The trip would normally take six weeks, but evidently some early snowmelts and ice dam breakups have fortuitously made road and trail travel less hazardous than normal for mid-August. Thanks, Terri, for your photo… fortunately satellite communications are less affected by the brutal Minnesota weather than sled dog teams. 

Speaking of My Lovely Bride, she has had me on a serious diet and workout schedule today, all because of the generosity of my cousin Jim Abbott and his lovely bride Betty, from Wrangell, Alaska. I should explain… Betty very kindly packed us a load of frozen and vacuum-sealed Alaskan seafood before we left last month, and for the past couple of days I have been enjoying smoked salmon (lox) and bagels with cream cheese and red onions for dinner and lunch, one of my favorite treats. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I have put on a couple of unneeded pounds, undoubtedly due to the high salt content of the smoked salmon. When I did my morning weigh-in the other day, and reported the number to MLB, I got a raucous guffaw, and a “Hey, Tubby, you’d better get your running shoes on!” “Hey, Tubby????” She is in such trouble!!! See if I make her chicken Marsala again!  

Okay, so today I got my running shoes on, and we went for a four miler on Tunnel Mountain, near our campground. The elevation here is about 4,700 feet, and our hilly run was rather tiring. After a very short break, we went for two mountain bike rides… the first was on the Legacy Trail with this view along the shores of First and Second Vermillion Lakes, a lovely area just 4 miles from Banff town. 

Biker Chick here demonstrates the proper method of riding over roots and threading her way between two riverside trees… 

Following the photo above, we had two encounters with girl elks or moose (it’s hard to judge when they are running so fast) in a marshy area. These photos of the second encounter show a shy young lady elk staring at us from the bushes hoping we would simply go away. We know it was a cow because she didn’t have a big rack… of antlers. (That is not a sexist comment, by the way).

Then we rode out a long jeep road and hiking/biking trail past the Banff golf course and along the Bow River… a beautiful remote setting that caused me to think about bears. But the grizzlies (Ursus arctos horribilis - what a great name!) kept their distance and merely sent a lowly coyote to keep us company for a minute or two. It was a good reminder of the wide variety of animal life to be found here in Banff. The coyotes’ bigger cousins, the grey wolf, are here in smaller numbers, but they are usually very shy of humans, for good reason.  

The third wildlife encounter was on our trip home. Here we found a young bull elk (Cervus canadensis) with antlers in velvet. Contrary to some contemporary thought that the velvet is for making the male more “soft, sensitive and seductive” to the female, it is shed each summer.