May long weekend brings the start of the summer season along the eastern slopes of the Rockies.
- Poplars are shedding their leaf-bud coats, which promptly get glued to shoes and dog fur
- The first flower appears in the subalpine (the inglorious dandelion)
- New shoots of grass are poking through the drab brown of winter
- Mosquitoes make an appearance. These are the big B52 bombers that are S-L-O-W and heavy enough to feel land on you so you can whack one before she takes her pint of blood
- The migratory songbirds are trilling and chirping, busily establishing breeding territory, attracting mates and selecting the best brushed hair from a molting Leo. (as I’m penning this blog in the cookhouse, a gorgeous male Yellow Warbler was flitting about the poplars just outside).
- The snow has melted (mostly), the shutters are down; summer is here at last!
It has been a month of new arrivals. Not only the summer, but the new volunteers that the busy season brings. In Laura’s unmistakeable words: the “absolute best volunteers I have ever had the privilege of feeding” have arrived. That’s right: it’s Ben and Beth, who have escaped the wastes of austerity-hit Britain to spend a summer in the Canadian Rockies.
May Long also brings a full house to the ‘Escape. Three couples this year, all from the Edmonton area: Mark and Margaret have made the ‘Escape an annual tradition, marking this as their 11th year here (we missed Rebecca, now a young adult who has job and grad commitments . . . although Laura did make extra chocolate chip cookies to send home). Denis and Danielle who tried the ‘Escape for the first time early in May last year and decided to give us another go a few weeks later in the season when an elevation hike may be possible (it was and they scooted up the Alpine Meadow) along with open water for canoeing (Cache and Blue Lakes in Switzer Park where they rounded a bend in Jarvis Creek and spotted a moose!) as well as taking advantage of an ice-free and calm Rock Lake for a few hours of paddling. Trevor and Sheleen were our 1st-timers, learning the nuances of the BIG stove in Cabin #1 and letting Ben take them on the Scenic Route to the Viewpoint hike.
And the arrivals don’t stop there: we might have a new resident grizzly bear! Denis and Danielle spotted a trail of fur as they were on an afternoon walk down to the creek. Fearlessly, they followed the drag marks and fur until they came upon the carcass of a deer. Unsure what had killed the deer (thinking maybe Laura?), they quickly retreated to the Escape. Asking Laura if she killed and drug a carcass down by the creek – and judging by a rather blank, uncomprehending stare, probably not – Denis and Danielle described the kill site and Laura’s thinking “Either cougar or bear“. After a delicious cornflake chicken dinner, a larger group of us (armed with pepper spray and bear bangers) went down to investigate.
We discovered that while we had been eating, so had the predator. From the time when Denis and Danielle found the carcass to the time the rest of us returned to take a look, it had been unburied and half-devoured. Classic Grizzly kill: broken neck, carcass covered with forest duff, faint bear track (this bear is very careful!).
Not wanting to bother this bear too much, we withdrew to let the bear have its space. Back-tracking the following day to learn the story, we found a spot on the south end of the upper bench slope where the Grizzly had laid down – maybe waiting for a deer to run by or maybe just sleeping. Sure enough, a deer obliged and the bear took it with one swipe. Laura says it’s the closest kill-site she has ever found to the Escape. But don’t worry: there have been no recorded grizzly bear attacks on humans in the Willmore Wilderness!
Now could we give you any more reasons to come and visit Rocky Mountain Escape this summer? Rock Lake is open, the hiking trails are (almost) snow-free, and there’s always a chance to see our resident wildlife – plus more trees and wide open space than you could shake a poplar at. Best of all, there’s the company of Ben, Beth, and Laura, as well as the dogs, Molly and Leo, who continue to stoically guard the Escape against all invaders, except for guests.
Until next time . . . Happy Trails!