The Canadian Dream

Hello, I am the aforementioned Kat (see Harry’s earlier blog post) and I am also a recent Zoology graduate from the University of Manchester.  I found this place while in the midst of a particularly draining university assignment and was in dire need for ‘escape’.  The wonders of the internet brought me to Laura’s website and here I am! Whoever said procrastination was a bad thing?

Rock Lake from above.

Rock Lake from above.

During my studies, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have travelled around the world on various field courses and even managed to bag a year in Seychelles working in sea turtle conservation in the name of ‘Industrial Experience’.  My travels have taken me from paradise islands, to tropical rainforests to the (not-so-dry) African savannah, but Canada has always been on the list, and until now remained unexplored.  I’m very fortunate to have a number of great friends who hail from this wonderful land, and a couple who have swapped the Fish & Chips for Poutine and emigrated to Canada, only to be envied by damp Brits from afar.  My affiliation with these Canadians and imposters alike has meant my imagination has been run wild with stories of the Canadian Rockies and the vastness of this inexplicably big landscape.  I had to come and see it to believe it, and now I’m here I still can’t quite get my head around it.

Harry and I arrived at the cabins late one Saturday and we were greeted by one of the most spectacular light shows I’ve ever seen.  As the sun set over the ever-nearing mountain ridges, staining the horizon orange, thunder clapped above us and lightning danced across the sky.  As soon as the storm lifted, we were left with the resounding silence of the Great Canadian Wilderness.  No cars, no planes, no telephones.   Total Bliss.

Starry Nights - utter silence fills the valley.

Starry Nights – utter silence fills the valley.

Our work here at the cabins is as varied as the guests who come to stay.  From guiding tours along some of the most beautiful trails I’ve had the pleasure to hike; to cleaning phenomenal log cabins; to cooking a beef roast for 11 people on a wood-fuelled agar and collecting drinking water from the local spring – no two days are the same.  Everyday there’s something new to be seen (Harry’s bird list is already encroaching 40 species) and learnt, whether it’s how to distinguish horse scat from bear droppings or just ‘how-not-to-chop-your-fingers-off-when-making-kindling’, each lesson is as important as the last.

Guests enjoying the view as the sun sets on a pleasant August evening.

Guests enjoying the view as the sun sets on a pleasant August evening.

A particular highlight of the last 3 weeks was the hike up to the Alpine Meadow, one of the more challenging hikes on offer here at the ‘Escape.  Unlike Harry, I didn’t spend my childhood surrounded by the serenely mountainous landscape of the Scottish highlands, but rather grew up in a supremely flat town in the middle of England, full primarily of roundabouts.  As a teenager I did start to go hiking more and was blessed with the occasional setting of Snowdonia, Wales. This is where I caught the bug for hiking, but until I started climbing that avalanche chute at the bottom of the Alpine Meadow, I had no idea of what a novice I really was.  The hike was steep, but it wasn’t just the lack of oxygen that made catching my breath so difficult.  With every step higher, the view just got more and more incredible.  Pausing for breath half way up, we were blessed with a stunning aerial display by a Golden Eagle – the first I’ve ever seen.  After a quick scramble to the top, we feasted on a picnic at 6700ft –the highest elevation I’ve ever reached (and probably the most well earned sandwich I’ve ever eaten).  Once we’d well and truly soaked up the view (though no time will ever be enough to do it justice) we headed back down.  We got to slide on our backsides most of the way down, which may well be the most fun a person can ever have sitting down.  The sore feeling in my legs lasted a few days, but the that feeling of awe will stay with me for many years.

A Golden Eagle soars above us, with a wingspan over 2m in length.

A Golden Eagle soars above us, with a wingspan over 2m in length.

Each step higher towards the Alpine Meadow unveils yet another magnificent peak.

Each step higher towards the Alpine Meadow unveils yet another magnificent peak.

Mountains Gandalf! Mountains!  View from the top of the Alpine Meadow

Mountains Gandalf! Mountains!
View from the top of the Alpine Meadow

We’ve had the most incredible introduction to the Rockies and I know this is only the beginning of what’s shaping up to be a series of brilliant pub stories, so I look forward to the next few weeks here at the ‘Escape and all the adventures yet to come!

Leo - the happiest dog in the world.  No blog post could be complete with out a snap of this happy chap!

Leo – the happiest dog in the world. No blog post could be complete with out a snap of this happy chap!

Who's in charge here? Molly.

Who’s in charge here? Molly.

 

Happy Trails!

Two Brits up Munn Creek without a paddle

My name is Harry Martin and I’ve spent the last three weeks learning the ropes as a guide, chauffeur, cleaner and general all round helper here at Rocky Mountain Escape.  It’s been a steep learning curve, getting to know the local trails, roads and wildlife, but I can’t believe how fast it has gone already.  I arrived in Canada shortly after graduating this summer, from the University of Manchester, with a degree in Zoology looking for a way to gain more experience, while seeing an incredible part of the world at the same time. I’ve travelled here with a friend from university, Kat, who was the one who found out about this place, and after getting in touch with Laura passed on the details to me.  Well I couldn’t jolly well say no to an opportunity to spend a couple of months in the Rocky Mountains of Canada could I!  With flights booked we arrived in Edmonton at the end of July to scorching hot weather and blue skies, not a bad welcome really.  A (relatively) short bus ride to Hinton saw us picked up by one of the previous volunteers, also named Laura, who took us up to the cabins for our first taste of proper wilderness.

The view from the top of the Berland ridge – stunning!

Taken on the way up the alpine meadow trail - my first big hike in the Rockies

Taken on the way up the alpine meadow trail – my first big hike in the Rockies

Having spent most summers of my childhood hiking in the Scottish Highlands I thought I was fairly familiar with mountain landscapes and “remote” areas, but boy was I wrong. Everything over here is huge, the landscapes, the wildlife, and the cars of course.  So far I have had a brief glimpse of a black bear on the highway, seen plenty of squirrels, had a moose in the middle of the road in front of me and I can’t forget the birds can I! Gray jays have been a regular feature, and will readily take blueberry pancakes (they’re very fussy) straight from the hand. As a keen bird watcher I have loved getting know the local species, including golden eagles and quite an array of beautiful warblers.

These beautiful birds are gray jays, and are incredibly curious and confiding

Spruce grouse are amazingly well camouflaged and they're instinct when faced with danger is to freeze allowing me to grab this photograph

Spruce grouse are amazingly well camouflaged and their instinct when faced with danger is to freeze which allowed me to grab this photograph.

Everywhere you go you're bound to bump into squirrels - which makes Leo a very happy dog of course!

Everywhere you go you’re bound to bump into squirrels – which makes Leo a very happy dog of course!

This female goldeneye has been seen regularly with her chicks down on Rock Lake - with 4 at the moment lets hope they all make it!

This female goldeneye has been seen regularly with her chicks down on Rock Lake – with 4 at the moment lets hope they all make it!

Undoubtably, a highlight of my time here at Rocky Mountain Escape was the opportunity to get on a horse for the first time for a ride through some spectacular scenery.  A 3-hour ride along the Athabasca river valley provided an incredible backdrop for a complete beginner.  My horse was particularly challenging and required constant control to make sure she didn’t try to overtake the whole group; I’ve always been a fan of jumping in at the deep end. 

Not a deliberate pose believe it or not - I happened to be scratching my head when Kat quickly snapped me in action.

Not a deliberate pose believe it or not – I happened to be scratching my head when Kat quickly snapped me in action.

As a keen wildlife and nature photographer the Rocky Mountains, with their diverse fauna and flora, has meant I’m out with my camera at almost every opportunity.  The photographs accompanying this post have been taken in the past couple of weeks and I hope to get out more soon! With fall approaching the colours along with the breath-taking scenery will surely provide a landscape I can barely do justice.  If you like my images be sure to check out my website (www.harrymartinphotography.co.uk) and/or my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/harrymartinphotography), or if twitter is more your thing you can also find me there (@harrymartin22) – I try to update when I can! Until next…. happy trails!!

A city girl in the Rockies

imageHello, I am Laura, the other volunteer. Yes, three persons, two Lauras, coincidence.

Well, let me introduce myself. I am a 24 years old environmental sciences-student from Spain. I live in the capital city, Madrid, a big city where the only nature we have are the small trees along the street, no big parks, not even parks, just small gardens. How you can imagine, the only animals are domestic dogs, sometimes if you are lucky a street cat. Even with this I love my city – it is so beautiful and dynamic but sometimes is too much, too much people, too much grey, is when I need to escape.

Since I remember I feel attraction to the nature, but living in a big city like Madrid, it is not as easy to go to the mountains for a long period. For this reason, I have been visiting other countries for the past three summers which can offer me what I was looking for – wild nature. I have been in El Salvador, Austria and Norway. Always in small villages with forest around, but it was not easy to find wild animals. For this year I wanted something different, something extreme. I wanted to live the real nature, and what is huger than the wild Canada? When I found Laura’s volunteering offer I couldn’t believe it – was what I was looking for!

I arrived at Rocky Mountain Escape a little over one week ago, and I was a little bit scared about what I will find, as Laura told me that the conditions could be hard.  However, I fully agree with my partner Tobias – she was exaggerating. This is awesome, our loft is much more comfortable than I expected, and I think I never sleep deeper than here.  And the meals…WOW!  They are great! Very tasty and original. Tobias already told all these things, so I am going to give you another point of view – the point of view from a city girl!

Laura and Tobias picked me up in Hinton, approximately one hour by car till the Rocky Mountain Escape cabins.  On the way we had the opportunity to see more wild life than all my other places together. We saw a female fox with her three puppies, they were so cute! A white-tail deer and a mum moose with her little calf, no more two days old, he was all legs, so funny! Now please, imagine what my impression was when after only thirty minutes in the Rockies I have seen all these animals! After that I did not see more big animals (where are you little bear?), but every day I see squirrels playing in my garden, a rabbit running between the trees and new tracks and scats in our road…This is incredible, actually I am living in their environment, in their house, they share with me their wild and amazing environment without asking for something in return. It is beautiful and pure. I am so happy here, every morning I am smiling when going to breakfast, seeing squirrels between dandelions and snowy mountains in the background.

I don’t know how is going to be the rest of my experience, but I have a great feeling. I hope to enjoy more the wilderness, learn more about this ecosystem and get more experience.

Until next time . . . Happy Trails!

A long overdue return to “topside”

Howdy, folks,

I take shelter from our delayed June rains & listen to fat drops of rain patter off the tin roof of the cookhouse.  With Islander Chicken simmering on the stove, I take a moment to reflect on what has been a completely atypical weekend (for me!)  A much needed break from the consulting world had me making the drive out here with one primary objective: a return to Binocular Ridge.

I was trying to recall, with the Boss’ help, when last I’d made the ascent and subsequent ridge walk.  As near as we could both remember, it was 11 years ago (seriously?!).  Back before we had volunteers like Beth, Ben, Anthony, Ellie, Susan, Rachel, Andy, George, Michelle, Tobias, Laura, and many others…back when the “hired hand” was none other than yours truly.

I remember the last trip but vaguely.  I’d taken an energetic young couple up…either on their honeymoon or anniversary.  Though mid-Summer, a biting Westerly wind had me don my kerchief in the style of “outlaw bandit” to keep my face warm during the traverse.  I remember a comment in one of the guest books thanking “…the desperado…” for the hike.

Regardless, when Lady Christine and I broke the treeline yesterday, saw the Berland and Hoff ranges stretch out before us…I knew it had been too long.  Leaving the faint sheep track we’d followed up from the dry creek bed behind, I was able to reaffirm Christine’s faith that I indeed knew where I was going when I spied and recovered a lost pen-launcher & bear banger that Mom had mentioned – just days ago – had gone missing last season.

As always, every 10m of elevation brought a new and greater view.  We took refuge ‘neath a lone, hardy spruce standing as the last sentinel to catch our breath and wait out the first mild hailstorm.  Looking around, we spied Purple Saxifrage, Mountain Avens, & Alpine Lousewort just coming into bloom along the faint sheep trails that would guide us the rest of the way to the top of the grassy knoll.LousewortSaxifrageMount. Avens

Cresting the ridgeline, we took note of the threatening clouds but began our ridgewalk northwards to the bald alpine meadow.  Not long into our traverse, we encountered the last evidence of winter in the form of a huge cornice moulded from the wind & snow.  Christine ventured beneath the overhang to touch the snow like a surfer catching a ‘tube.Christine CorniceIncoming WeatherCirc (2)

We made the summit just as the weather darkened, time enough for a breath and a view before starting our descent.  We slid/scurried/skidded our way down the scree slopes before picking our way down the avalanche chute.  True to its name, there was a rather large slide this year, remapping the bottom portion of the chute – if not opening up the view from the creek bed.  Guests & guides alike should have no trouble finding the start of the trail going up to the meadow now.

Slide

 

As we drifted back into camp, still slightly drunk off the breathtaking views and perhaps a little bit of oxygen deficiency, we both came to the realization that we would need a little more time out here than the mere 2 nights we had originally planned.  So, a quick trip to town to do some laundry and clear our schedules and we are “off grid” for the rest of the week!

Until next time…Happy Trails!Close1

First days of my personal two-month-escape

I’m Tobias, a 23 years old forestry-student from Germany and I will spend the next two months at Rocky Mountain Escape. After finishing my Bachelor degree, I decided to go abroad to get some new experience. Canada was my first choice. It’s been always a dream to me getting to know the amazing landscape which the country is known for.

After making some experiences in logging at a Ranch in British Columbia, I found out that Laura is looking for a volunteer. The description on the internet sounded amazing and it seemed that this was exactly what I was looking for. During my travel from Vancouver to Hinton by bus and hitchhiking, I had the chance to see the different kinds of landscape and ecosystems of western Canada. It was most interesting to me that the changing is that huge within relatively short distances. Of course, the range are not comparable to my European understanding of distance!

Laura picked me up in Hinton. Good for me the first thing we did was the laundry Laura is usually doing on her “town-day”. After some sleepless hostel nights and a couple of days on the road, it was a little bit urgent for me to do my laundry too. Otherwise my attendance wouldn’t be very enjoyable for Laura the upcoming days. The drive through the beautiful backcountry up to the cabins introduced me to this landscape even more with Laura’s narratives about nature, wildlife and the land use by the industrial companies.

When we arrived at the cabins, I was first confronted by something unexpected – snow… After my time in warm British Columbia, I didn’t even spend one thought about the fact that snow awaits me in Alberta. So the first thing I learned about the Rockies is that nothing is more alternating than the weather. Laura showed me my future home which was more comfortable than I expected – against her announcement. In the evening I had my first contact with wildlife – two mule deer decided to make their walk through my “garden”. In the morning I finally realized “wow, you are in the middle of wilderness”. An impressing feeling which is still going-on.

The forests here are not primary or frontier forests, but they have been untouched by humans for many decades. So the boreal ecosystem which has developed through various phases of natural succession is according to the potential natural vegetation. All different phases can be seen in the area. Besides the typical boreal and supalpine forest, which is made up of conifer trees of different ages, there are also parts of younger forest development dominated by pioneer tree-species like willow, poplar and birch. So it is much easier to understand the natural circulation of this ecosystem by watching the environment.

After Laura showed me some parts which are included in the Management of the cabins, the first guests arrived. The couple stayed over the weekend and came mostly for the reason of fishing. So we took them out to Rock lake where they could give a try to catch some trout by canoe. During their canoe trip, Laura took me on a little hike. The trail was amazing and she gave me many interesting informations about the nature and showed me the signs which indicate wildlife. Furthermore, we found some beautiful flowers hidden in the forest like the calypso orchid. IMG_0048

Later she guided me to a fascinating viewpoint over Rock Creek. While we had our lunch, we had a look on the Bald eagles aerie with a little help of the binoculars. There were also some black bears we had some views during the day. I’m sure one of those guys was the black bear which surprised me the day before while I was going to have breakfast.

IMG_0043

 

The meals Laura is offering while the guests are at the ‘Escape are most delicious and surpass even the normal meals. Also her son who stayed over the weekend made a great dinner.

After the weekend I had some time for myself. I decided to discover the area a little bit more. The peak which is located in northern direction excited me since my arrival. So I decided to conquer it. Leo the dog was at my side during the climb to the top. The view from the peak was spectacular. I was on much higher mountains before but the view over the endless wideness of the wildlandscape was overwhelming. It is nice to see that beneath the threatening of natural forests by logging and mining also parts like this still remain.

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I’m looking forward to learn more about the nature at this place and the living within the wilderness.

As an aside – another Laura, hailing originally from Spain, has joined our team!  We’re all looking forward to some great summer hiking and new adventures with our guests.  Until next time . . . Happy Trails!

 

 

WINTER: One of Extremes

In a word . . . unusual.

Extreme Weather -

We were terribly warm in January, which can usually be our coldest month.  Then came February and I learned a new term – Polar Vortex.  We used to just call it an Arctic Cold Front, but a Polar Vortex sounds much more exciting and sexy.  Usually, we can get C-O-L-D for a couple of nights and then warm back up to our typical winter temperatures of -20 C at night and -10 C during the day.  Perfect winter conditions.  Not in February.  Back-to-back COLD fronts hit us and put us into the deep freeze for most of the month.  Wind chills in the -40 C to -50 C range . . . and a balmy high of -30 C when protected by trees and mountains.  It was the kind of cold that freezes exposed skin . . . that had me up every 2 hours for many nights stoking the cook stove and putting fresh Coleman lanterns in the generator box . . . that makes the snow really loud when you walk on it . . . that makes -20 C feel like a heat wave . . . that makes you consider moving to Florida.  On the bright side, we did fare better than the prairies – and those brave souls have my sympathies – and the stars were absolutely brilliant!

Extreme(ly) . . . STUCK -

Two of our guests, who will remain un-named to protect the innocent (Joe, you are not innocent), decided to check out Rock Lake before making the drive home.  Imagine my surprise when two very frosted folks came into the cook house late in the afternoon.  ‘Oh dear . . . where – and how badly – are you stuck?’  Joe put up his hands in surrender ‘It’s all my fault.’  Joe’s long-suffering wife is silent and trying to thaw by the cook stove.  It’s a 14-km hike from the lake to the cabins and the temperature was somewhere below -30 C with the wind chill . . . So Joe calls a relative/friend in Edmonton to make the 4-hr drive out to rescue them.  And I’m thinking . . . hang on, that seems rather extreme . . . we have two 4×4 pickups up here and I have chains . . . surely we can get you out?  So I crank up the generator because my pickup hadn’t been plugged in during the cold snap (and, NO, it won’t start) and jump our repeat guests Paul and Cheryl out of their reverie in the cabin to come out on an adventure with their brand new 4×4 pickup.  Meanwhile, Nick and Ella return from town with supplies for Ella to make traditional borscht.  Nick is coerced into joining the fun and Ella is abandoned in the cook house.  It might have been prudent to show Ella how to light the Coleman lantern . . . or turn on the generator . . . or to maybe come get us if we’re not back by dark . . .

photoJoe’s Ford Escape is stuck in the Equestrian Overflow at Rock Lake.  What on earth possessed you to drive in there??  Well, I thought . . . My first misgivings happened when we turned at the T-junction between the Rock Lake Road and the Overflow.  The snowpack did not feel solid.  Debated – briefly – whether I should stop and tell Paul to park his truck at the junction on good snow.  Didn’t.  Hind-sight is always 20-20.  Plowed on until I could reach Joe’s car with the sling.  My first few attempts at popping him out were showing progress . . . then I slipped off the pack.  No worries, I’ll just put the chains on . . . which, really, should be done before one gets stuck.  Well, I thought . . . that the snow wasn’t that DEEP . . . that chains make you invincible – which may be true unless you dig clean through the pack with the chains, hit sugar snow and high center . . . and that, surely, our back-up pickup could pull me out.

1At dim-thirty, we had all 3 vehicles stuck and I was miserably contemplating having to make the 14-km hike back to the cabins . . . in the dark with no headlamp, somewhere below -30 C, and lots of fresh cougar track.  I can ‘hear’ Chris shaking his head.  However, solely due to Siberian expertise and inventive use of firewood, Nick was able to get Paul and Cheryl’s pickup back on the (relatively) good snowpack.  It was a little challenging for Paul to back up from the Overflow to the T-junction on bad snowpack, but he did an outstanding job.  All 6 of us – after convincing Cheryl that she could NOT ride in the bed – crammed into the pickup for the trip back to the cabins.

Poor Ella – sitting all alone in the cook house, in the dark and likely worrying.  Ella’s borscht was soooo wonderful!  Warmed up frozen bodies right to the toes!  Joe’s long-suffering wife said ‘I still love you, Joe’.

A week later, with balmy temperatures that made the Polar Vortex seem like a bad dream, Joe and his friend Martin returned with a Bobcat to clear the road and retrieve the vehicles.  7Roberta and Cara, repeat guests for the weekend, skied down to Rock Lake to watch the proceedings and drive my (not stuck) Ford Escape back to the cabins.  6A few hours later, and after digging out all that firewood firmly jammed under my differential and axles (everywhere except under my tires!), Joe pulled my pickup free.  11Only a short time later, Joe and Martin drove his now unstuck Escape up to the cabins to let me know before they headed back to the city.  WELL DONE!!

Other News and More Unusual Weather -

March has now arrived with unseasonably warm temperatures – we’ve hit double digits for the past few days!  The snow has gone from powder to sticky, making skiing seem more like ‘shoeing with extra weight attached to your skis.  Repeated snow squalls on Sunday caused whiteout conditions and a few more inches of wet snow (rapidly melting).

A flock of White-winged Crossbills came in a few days ago, after an absence of several years.  I normally only see them in the fall after the spruce produce a cone crop.  They seem to primarily be interested in picking up gravel, although we did have a bountiful spruce cone eruption last year.  CrossbillThe owls have been silent, which is unusual as they normally start their breeding season between mid-February and mid-March and are quite vocal at that time.  Maybe it’s only the Pine Siskins and Chickadees that sing so cheerily while they’re freezing their patutees off?

Still lots of cougar track and wolves are making their presence known (causing absolute bedlam with Molly and Leo on my bed in the middle of the night!).  I saw a lone coyote (partner may have been in the bush) on the Rock Lake Road at the bottom of my trail on my way to town on Monday.  On my way home, a Mule Deer was running down the middle of the Rock Lake Road – oblivious to the fact that my car was stopped directly in her path.  I thought for a moment that I might have a hard time explaining to the insurance company how a line of hoof dents over the top of my vehicle happened . . . But, no, she skidded to a halt about 10 ft before becoming a new hood ornament, stared in confusion (I think) at the obstacle in her way, then did an about-face and the uniquely mule-deer-sproings in the opposite direction.

That very small dot in the center of the road is the deer . . . I don't have a good camera

That very small dot in the center of the road is the deer . . . I don’t have a good camera

When we stared at each other for those brief heart-beats, I noticed her tongue was hanging out. . . . She was running and had been for some time.  Which predator?

The Rock Lake Road and my 3-km trail were plowed on Monday.  Thanks Manitok!  I won’t be taking on guests now for another week so I can catch up on things . . . like SLEEP, bucking up and splitting wood for the cook house, and the myriad of other chores that make for ‘never a dull moment’.

Until next time, and before one gets too old to enjoy it . . . Happy Trails!

IMG

 

A Bit of a Cold Snap

After an incredibly warm Holiday Season and start of the New Year, Old Man Winter came back with a vengeance this past week.  We hit a low of -35 C one night, with the remainder hovering between -25 and -30 C.  Daytime temperatures were actually not bad up here in the mountains – ‘warming up’ (it’s all relative!) to between -15 and -10 C.  Usually calm, sunny days and crystal-clear nights.   I understand from Chris that the prairies did not fare so well . . .

Kelly and Pierre

Kelly and Pierre

Machines – and other ‘moving’ parts like my hands and knees - tend not to like to work when we go COLD.  They all have to warm up before they will even think about starting.  Sometimes, you have to get inventive when you live off-the-grid.  I had an insulated “box” built for the generator before the holidays and when it gets really cold, I can light up a Coleman lantern and stick it in the box for an hour or so . . . rather than drag the generator into the cook house, get the cook stove going and WAIT for several hours before dragging the generator back out.  It works . . . mostly.  Saves my back anyway.  As long as I remember that NOTHING happens in a hurry!

The Wildlife:  We’ve been very fortunate to spot Lynx twice in the past few weeks right on our 3-km trail from the Rock Lake Road to the cabins.  Mark and I saw 3 lynx on our way home from a supply run – what appeared to be a mother and two almost-full-grown kits.  Then Pierre, Kelly and I spotted one lynx – appears to be a youngster – on our way back from skiing at Rock Lake.  Wolves had been conspicuously absent from our area until about a week ago when we found fresh track at Rock Lake.  Today, the wolves came into the Munn Creek valley and were serenading me most of the afternoon (Molly tries to join in, bless her, but her howl is such a pitiful imitation!).

The wolf

The wolf

We’ve seen a LOT of cougar track this year, both at Rock Lake and the Munn Creek valley, and I would love to actually see one.  Elk were in the valley for about a week – creating very artistic (I think!) designs on guest vehicles while licking off road salt.  The elk seem to leave my vehicle along . . . maybe I don’t get out much.

Moose track in the valley, fox track running down the Rock Lake Road, the occasional marten and weasel track, and loads of squirrel, snowshoe hare and mouse tracks.  I did see a Golden Eagle circling the clearing around the cook house (likely trying to find the cat!) a few weeks ago when we were really warm.  Guests told me they saw two different Great Gray Owls on their drive in over the weekend.  The Gray Jays are ever-present and our residents patiently wait for their morning feed of left-over pancakes or toast.  A flock of Pine Siskins has been around for several weeks – both at the cabins and Rock Lake – and are cheerily singing despite the frigid temperatures.  The Pine Grosbeaks have finally made an appearance, although I missed having them around as Nature’s ornaments over the holidays.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

According to the weatherman, tonight is supposed to be our last frigid one for a while – and more snow is on the way!  Just in time to freshen up the ski trails for upcoming Family Day Weekend.

Until next time . . . Happy Trails!

SNOW SEASON

The busy Busy Season is over at the cabins – at least until the Holiday Season – and we’re into Getting-Ready-for-Winter Season.

Our annual Fall Wood Weekend was a resounding success thanks to Richard, Matthew, Elizabeth, Angie, Mike, Iona, Chris and Val and my two faithful volunteers Amy and Nick.

Richard bucking, Amy packing

  Richard bucking, Amy packing

Taking a break, ready to load

Taking a break, ready to load

Iona, Richard, Matthew and Angie

    Iona, Richard, Matthew and Angie

Matthew and Mike

Matthew and Mike

Iona, Matthew and Val

Iona, Matthew and Val

A done deal

A done deal

Day's End.  Well done!

Day’s End. Well done!

Fair weather and long days allowed us to bring in enough firewood to see us through until late winter/early spring.  The only serious casualty was Amy’s pinky finger . . . that decided (of its own accord, of course) to test the power of our new 22-ton hydraulic log splitter.  Splits even knotty wood with ease, so snapping the end of a finger bone was really no challenge.  Life’s little lessons . . .

After the full-on Thanksgiving long weekend, Nick and Amy said goodbye to the ‘Escape, leaving with my THANKS!!! and well wishes as well as with their memories of adventure (and scars to prove it).

Halloween brought the traditional SNOW DUMP.

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And it took me two days of shovelling to clear paths to the cabins.  It also put a temporary end to my outside sanding, although I was able to complete the re-finishing of the window frames in the last cabin.  The windows had an unfortunate encounter with DEET, mistakenly used as a fly spray.  DEET is an excellent insect repellant, although I’m not sure how effective it is to kill flies that always try to find a home in the cabins before winter.  DEET is also very effective in destroying varnish . . .

Repeat guests came in over the November long weekend, and Chris was up helping me get the ski-doo unburied, bucking up some of the log lengths for the cabins and splitting!, splitting!, splitting! firewood.  True to form, the ski-doo is  having issues . . . AGAIN . . . and is now sitting in Gary’s shop awaiting a verdict.

Steph and Tia

Steph and Tia

Elisha, Kate and Olivia

Elisha, Kate and Olivia

We’ve had Chinook conditions for the last 3 days . . . ruining our beautiful snow.  More snow and cooler temperatures are forecast for the weekend, though, so there’s always hope that my sanding will again be put on hold until spring . . .

Until next time, Happy Trails!

Identify this skull?

Amy and Nick, my trusty volunteers, found part of a skull up on the Berland.  Closest I could come to identifying it would be a wolverine or lynx.  Can anyone give me some insight?

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Teeth

Teeth

Side View

Side View

 

Side View

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Views from the top of the Berland Ridge, gorgeous as always . . .

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Until next time . . . Happy Trails!

 

 

 

THE CAVE

The first time I saw The Cave on the rock face of the Hoff Ridge, I wondered . . .

  • Can I get up there without ropes?
  • Is it truly a “cave” cave?  Perhaps deep enough to over-winter bats?  Maybe a whole cavern system running deep into the mountain?
  • What might I find up there?  Hieroglyphics?  Dinosaur footprints – or better, a dinosaur bone?
  • Will I come face-to-face with a cougar or wolverine who is not at all impressed that I just popped in?

With glorious weather and repeat guests Pam, Heath and Rebecca willing to go on an adventure, those burning questions were finally answered this September long weekend.

A headlamp went into the pack (just in case we got lucky), as well as gloves for serious scrambling, along with the requisite extra water, lunches and rain gear.  Carleen and Bridgette, first-time guests from Fort St. John, accompanied the adventurers to the dry creek bed and enjoyed spending the rest of their day soaking in the peaceful quiet of sun-dappled forest.

Now, once one leaves the clearing where the cookhouse is, The Cave is lost from sight.  At the base of the Hoff Ridge, where the little un-named creek splits, the cirque and ridge-line are clearly visible . . . but The Cave is not.  Okay . . . I’ve looked at this cave for years, from all sorts of vantage points – I know where it should be.

So, we’ll take the south fork of the creek, then cut UP a spine and we should have a clear view of The Cave once we clear tree-line.  Right?  A mountain goat would choose a less-steep route . . .

We were rewarded with spectacular views, as always.

Mount Robson is visible in the distance

Mount Robson is visible in the distance

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The Cave was not in sight.  Leaving my trusty helper, Nick, in charge of our guests and investigating an alternative route, Leo and I struck out across the scree.  Molly wisely elected to stay with the guests, watching my painfully slow progress up and across a slope that even mountain goats would avoid.  Leo’s constant whining told me he also was questioning my sanity . . .

Molly standing guard

Molly standing guard

Stopping whenever the scree wasn’t sliding away beneath my feet to reconnoiter my route, I figured if worse came to worst and I missed The Cave, I’d just try for the top of the cirque.  And suddenly, struggling over another rise – EUREKA!!

The Cave

The Cave

Heath, also watching me from the spine, heard my shout of discovery and saw me disappear over the rocks.  Nick’s alternative route-finding ended in unscalable chimneys, sheer cliffs, fantastic drops and fear-of-imminent-death moments.  Pam’s Mother Instinct kicked in and they all decided to have lunch and wait for my (eventual) return.

Pam and Rebecca

Pam and Rebecca

There is actually 3 humans on the flat section of mountain

There is actually 3 humans on the flat section of mountain

Leo and I made the final scramble to The Cave . . . and disappointment.

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It wasn’t really a cave cave, rather just a huge piece of the sloping rock slab was simply missing.  I did slither up the slab on my belly about 10 feet or so, just to make sure I wasn’t missing some hidden passage or opening where the slab met the roof, but no.  Zilch.  Peered at the rock roof, walls, slab – looking for fossils, dinosaur bones, hieroglyphics . . . anything.  Nada.  Well darn.

Found a flat-ish spot to park my bum, fed Leo most of my sandwich to try to stop his whining, soaked in the view and contemplated the best way to go down . . .

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Leo also admiring the view

Leo also admiring the view

Scree-skiing, spider-walking the smooth crevases and I was able to re-join our guests.  Leo didn’t like sliding, so he had to find his own route to the spine.  An uneventful trek back to the cabins and the only fatality was Nick’s hiking boots!

Was it worth it?  Absolutely!  Satisfied my curiosity, scratched that item off the list of “Things to Do, Places to Go” and I don’t ever have to do it again!

A special THANKS to Amy for staying behind and getting dinner ready!

Until next time . . . Happy Trails!