Hiking . . . LOTS of Hiking!

With Barbara and Mark (all the way from the UK!) in for a week before the July long weekend, we managed 5 solid days of hiking . . . despite the rain and unsettled weather!  Between rain showers on the Summer Solstice, we had a leisurely stroll along Munn Creek.  We saw that the Yellow Dryas was out in full bloom, along with Lung Wort and the start of the Labrador Tea bloom.  Our resident Grizzly was around – fresh scat and a few fresh digs.  Munn Creek has carved new channels and many trees along the bank succumbed to the flood waters.



Mark . . . and his red shirt

Mark . . . and his red shirt

The next day found us climbing the Berland Ridge in fair weather.  The first kilometer or so of the trail was running with water, but we were able to bushwhack around the worst of it.  We found an abundance of wildflowers on the first open slope – Scorpionweed, Forget-Me-Nots, Potentilla, Indian Paintbrush, Spotted Saxifrage – and the top of the ridge was covered with Mountain Avens.  Several new trees were marked or rubbed on by Grizzlies, and we found a cougar kill (or rather, the dogs found it) on the way back down.

On the Berland Ridge

On the Berland Ridge

David took our guests up the Munn Creek Trail the next day – hiking in rubber boots most of the way!  Much of the Side Hill and Munn Creek Trail were under water and previously dry creek beds were NOT!  We also hiked the Scenic Route to the Viewpoint the following day, dodging rain showers . . .

Mountain Avens

Mountain Avens

With the promise of fair weather, we tackled the Alpine Meadow on Tuesday.  The Avalanche Chute was filled with Early Blue Violets, Meadow Rue and Forget-Me-Nots, and the Moss Campion was just starting to bloom on the rock ledge scramble to the top.  There was fresh Marmot scat (I think) in the cave on the spine, but no fresh evidence of cougar or lynx.  Gorgeous view as always at the top, even though Mt. Robson was still obscured by clouds.

Mark (in his red shirt), Barbara and David

Mark (in his red shirt), Barbara and David

A gentle hike to round out their stay at the ‘Escape, Barbara and Mark joined me on a visit to the Osprey nest.  The Richardson’s Ground Squirrels were cavorting about in the meadow, but we saw no Osprey that day.  Slipping through the ‘elk meadows’ on our way to the start of the Wild Hay River, we did indeed run into some elk!  Sometimes, we just get lucky . . . We were able to sit quietly under some trees and watch the rather large herd (maybe 30 females?) grazing.  The cows knew we were there, and a few females stood in front as sentinels – ‘barking’ every time they heard the click of my pitiful phone camera!

Elk Herd

Elk Herd

I spotted just a couple of calves, but they didn’t venture out into the open.  Then, with a few loud, sharp barks by the lead cow (I am assuming), elk heads came up and one-by-one they slipped rapidly back into the bush.  Something spooked them . . . and it wasn’t us!  I’m thinking ‘Predator’.  Mark is thinking “BEAR”.  A few 360 degree turns on our way back to the car, but we could see nothing.  Once back on the Rock Lake Road, we discovered the ‘spooker’ – young Mitchell, interning for SRD doing a creel survey at Rock Lake this summer, had driven up in his vehicle.  We had a nice chat and learned that he was the one trying to repair the Rock Lake Road . . . BY HAND!

Elk Herd

Elk Herd

Until next time . . . Happy Trails!






A Friend To My Rescue

‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’.  Somebody famous said/wrote that phrase . . . but I can’t remember who.  I consider myself extremely fortunate, even blessed (maybe God took pity on me) to have friends who are able to rearrange their lives on short notice and answer my desperation call for help.



David came in a week after my volunteers unexpectedly had to leave.  He was not forewarned about what he was walking into . . . and probably had visions of a nice, relaxing HOLIDAY.  True to form and in typical “David Fashion”, he merely smiled and said “Sure, no problem, happy to help out!”.  I’m sure David was heaven-sent.

I did have a pleasant surprise for David and his folks, Pat and Josephine, when they rolled in.  Our newly resident (I’m hoping) Grizzly decided to spend an afternoon peacefully grazing on clover, some long grasses and dandelions – right on the upper bench by the trail down to the creek!

Our new resident

Our new resident

I had spent the day running (literally) between baking/cooking in the cookhouse and trying to get the grass mowed between rain showers.  Moving the Ford Escape to its parking spot, I noticed two brown, round “things” poking up from the tall grass.  HOW ODD . . . Sure enough, those brown things turned out to be ears, accompanied by a very large Grizzly head.

Yes, I'm a Grizzly.  Put your eyes back in your head, Laura

Yes, I’m a Grizzly. Put your eyes back in your head, Laura

He looked at me (safely ensconced in my little Ford Escape that I’m pretty sure he could open like a tin can).  I looked at him – WOW, GORGEOUS!  He went back to eating and I just went backwards.  When David, Pat and Josephine arrived a couple of hours later, the bear was still there and we were able to quietly watch him from the back of the pickup.  Although the bear knew we were watching, he showed no signs of aggression and was even comfortable enough to lie down in the grass and have a snooze.

Looking for the best place to nap

Looking for the best place to nap

This bear has been foraging up and down Munn Creek and marking territory, but I’ve seen no evidence that he’s traveled up the little valley behind the cabins to the Hoff Ridge.  He appears to have found lots to eat in the area at the lower elevations, and I’m hoping that he’ll discover abundant food up in the alpine as well.

Rock Lake Road Update:  With drying conditions, the access to Rock Lake is passable.  Alberta Parks still advises against taking a small car into Rock Lake – just in case we get heavy rains again, I suspect.  I’ve received no information on Park’s plans to address the issue.

Until next time . . . Happy Trails!

Rock Lake Access Under Water . . . AGAIN

After over a year of assessing the situation, Alberta Parks (http//www.albertaparks.ca) sent heavy equipment to fix the Rock Lake Road access to Rock Lake and Willmore Wilderness on Tuesday, June 18, 2013.  We passed the fellow working the backhoe and grader on our way to the Osprey nest (the female is sitting, by the way – hooray!).  Surely, I think, surely they’re not going to just push more gravel on the road – like they did last year and have it all end up in the willow AGAIN.  NOPE – this year, in addition to pushing more gravel onto the road, a trench was dug on the north side of the road.  I just shook my head on the way back across the newly gravelled/rather mushy and now ditched road.  May we would get lucky and it wouldn’t rain for the rest of the year . . .

The rain started again late Tuesday afternoon.  And it didn’t stop raining – heavily – until between 2 and 3 a.m. Friday (June 21).  Being curious, I took a drive down to Rock Lake on my way back from Hinton on Wednesday (June 19) with a load of supplies – only 24 hours after the heavy rain had started.  Yep, I think, another inch or two of rain and this new ditch will overflow and Jackson Creek will AGAIN claim the road.

When our guests (a delightful couple from the UK) came in on Thursday, they mentioned that there appeared to be some flooding around Calgary and said they’d heard that the TransCanada was closed, as was the Icefield Parkway.  After reading the alerts and evacuations posted on The Weather Network, I checked the Alberta Parks web site to see alert information for our area.  NONE.  Of course, there was no mention that the Rock Lake Road has been ‘fixed’ either . . . Now, where is that charming Communications Officer when you need her?

Friday (June 21) morning, this is what the Rock Lake Road looked like:flood6




Gosh – looks just like a flooding creek, eh?

And, yes, the thousands of taxpayer dollars are in the willows or on their way to the Arctic.

Are there campers and/or outfitters stranded at Rock Lake?  Most likely, yes.

Ran into two Parks people (Ted, was that you?  If so, sorry I didn’t recognize you – you’ve grown a beard!) parked in the middle of the road by the Munn Creek bridge.  No doubt checking the erosion on the bridge approaches.  The approaches are holding, by the way, even though Munn Creek is rockin’ and rollin’.  MunnCreek2

I was told that Parks was unable to come up with a more permanent solution to the Rock Lake access/Jackson Creek issue due to the Navigable Waters Act – which apparently prohibits man-made ‘interference’ of natural creeks/rivers.  Well . . . hang on now.  Jackson Creek was bermed and channeled (in the 60’s?) presumably to prevent the flooding/access issue we’ve been having?  Wouldn’t it make much more sense to fix the berm that Jackson Creek broke through two years ago and dig out the gravel and downed trees that have forced the creek to re-route and claim the Rock Lake Road?  I was told that this solution was too much bureaucratic hassle.  So, am I to understand that Parks will continue to throw taxpayer dollars into the willows and the Wild Hay River?  Or, perhaps, close Rock Lake and the southern access into Willmore Wilderness because it’s just too much hassle?

When does logic or common sense prevail?  In the words of the Parks personnel . . . “Well, it’s government”.

AND, by the way, there is still no alert information about Rock Lake on the Alberta Parks (http://www.albertaparks.ca/rock-lake.aspx) web site.

Until next time . . . Happy Trails!

More RAIN . . . and best laid plans

Soooo typically JUNE . . . Clouds hanging low and moving UP the valley – never a good sign.  As they say in Alberta:  Only bad weather and politicians come out of the east.


Despite the rather dismal weather, we did get a short hike in on Saturday.  Jennie and Greg returned to the ‘Escape to introduce their two girls to the wilderness – and 2-year-old Avery carried her own backpack on our stroll to the Osprey nest.  Tessa, not yet walking, was content to ride on Dad’s back.  The female Osprey is not sitting on eggs yet, but the nest appears to be mostly re-built and ready.  We didn’t see the male Osprey, but the female was calling and I must assume he was out fetching lunch.

We saw several cow elk crossing the meadow at the Equestrian Overflow on our way back to the car.  One cow was hesitant to leave the trail and I was beginning to suspect she had a young calf (or two) laid up in the bushes just off the trail.  Picking up a couple of large sticks – just in case the cow viewed us as a threat – we quietly eased our way past without incident.

While Jennie, Greg, Avery and Tessa were enjoying a picnic lunch, I went in search of the woodpecker nests we had seen off the meadow last year.  woodpecker1

The poplar that housed the nests last year is lying down across the trail . . . I briefly searched for new nests and saw one poplar that the woodpeckers may be working on, but nothing finished.  One of the woodpeckers made an appearance, but I lost him in the trees and heard no sounds of youngsters clamoring to be fed.

Cheryl and Paul – regulars at the ‘Escape – returned for a much-needed long weekend of R&R after a gruelling tax season.  Content to read and relax in their cozy cabin during prolonged periods of pounding rain, they did manage to get some fishing and canoeing in.  The fish weren’t biting, but they did see a cow moose and her brand-new baby!  Their canoe trip in Switzer Park was fast – partly due to high water levels and partly due to getting caught in a hail storm . . . A hot shower once back at the cabins did wonders for cold bones.

And we now have a certified BAT HOUSE thanks to Cheryl and Paul!  I am hoping that this new Bat House will encourage our furry friends to come in earlier to help out with mosquito control.  I’m also sure the bats will very much appreciate a stable, warm place to roost during the day . . . as opposed to getting rudely dumped on their heads when a shutter is dropped to cool the cookhouse!  BatHouse2

As to Best Laid Plans . . . You were, perhaps, wondering why I’m writing in the 1st person again?  Beth and Ben, my wonderful volunteers, left yesterday to attend to a family emergency.  My sympathies go with them . . . along with my sanity.  Those of you who know me, of course, recognize that my sanity left years ago!  So, I’m scrambling to find helpers on short notice.  Takers, anyone?

In the meantime, my friend David (of ‘Two’s Company’ fame) will return to the ‘Escape on Monday.  Dragging his folks with him for a couple of days.  The last time David convinced his parents to try the ‘Escape, he led them on an ‘unforgettable’ hike to the top of the Hoff Ridge . . . and then ‘sort of’ took a wrong turn on the way down.  David’s father is in his 80’s and his mother doesn’t like heights (although loves alpine wildflowers!).  We will endeavor to make this trip less of a trial!

The Rock Lake Road access to Rock Lake is still holding, despite the rain.  There is water (Jackson Creek) running on the road between George’s horse-holding area and the turn to the Equestrian Overflow.  But, as of last Saturday anyway, the road is still passable with a regular vehicle.  My 3-km trail off the Rock Lake Road is muddy, of course, and the ‘lake’ half-way up the trail looks daunting (but is still solid).  My trail is (apparently) not daunting enough to keep the odd lookie-loo from driving in . . . just to see where the road goes (Why, Rocky Mountain Escape, of course.  Just like the sign says! ).  A Parks/SRD truck pulled in the other day – and turned around at the bottom of the clearing without being polite enough to stop and at least say hello.  Now what was that all about??

Until next time . . . Happy Trails!

Rain . . . and more RAIN

It’s springtime in the Rockies! And that means wet. The typically patchy weather of June has arrived, bringing with it rain, sleet, hail, snow, and the occasional glimpse of sunshine. All of this moisture does have its upsides though: the grass is green, the leaves are out, and the first wildflowers are beginning to emerge. One of our absolute favourites is the Fairy Slipper (Calypso Orchid), a tiny purple beauty.IMG_8603

Despite the weather, our guests have made the most of the mountains. Karen and Judy, local artists from Edmonton, spent their days painting, writing, reading, and generally having a lovely relaxing weekend. Ben and Beth were able to stretch their legs and took two couples on the scenic route to the viewpoint. Luckily, they didn’t get too wet and were able to take in the marvellous view, though with more than a few mosquito bites to itch on the way back! IMG_8605

Naomi and Jason, the honeymoon couple from Manitoba even managed to have a perfectly calm day to canoe on Rock Lake.IMG_2858

We’ve also been down to Jackson Creek to see the new osprey nest. These are the same ospreys as last year, but they are rebuilding since their previous nest blew down during a storm. The nest has doubled in size since a week ago, and it is a fascinating sight to see the ospreys working on it. Hopefully, we’ll see the female begin to nest soon and once she lays eggs, we’ll have about five weeks to wait until the first fledglings appear.  We had a brief visit by an American Red Start, a 2-day stop on his migratory route – and the Common Golden Eyes are paired up and paddling Rock Lake.AmericanRedStart  IMG_2915

The deer family that claims the ‘Escape has home territory – and apparently undaunted by the loss of one of their members to the Grizzly – make a frequent appearance on the clearing and around the cabins.IMG_2973

Laura’s son Chris arrived on the weekend, chainsaw in hand, for the spring wood-run. In our single day of solidly good weather, Laura and Chris managed to fell enough standing dead to last us the entire summer. Talk about a full day’s work! The cabins are now heaped with logs, and Ben and Beth have their work cut out for them in wood splitting. The cabins will certainly be cosy in the rain!

So far, the Rock Lake Road going into Rock Lake is holding up – Jackson Creek hasn’t yet reclaimed the road and the Munn Creek bridge approaches are still intact.  This could change . . . Our 3-km trail is muddy and the “lake” half-way up the trail is a bit deep.  Just that time of year when we park small cars at the bottom until we dry out . . . by October?

Until next time . . . Happy Trails!

Green-up, great guests . . . and a Grizzly

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.!cid_810104235900   1

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!).

3  4

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!


Spring is . . . for the birds

Rotten snow.  Ice.  Mud.  Bloomin’ willows.  And the occasional spring snowstorm to dump half a foot (now over a foot!) of wet, heavy snow.  Time to put away the skis, snowshoes, ski-doo and snowblower . . . and bring out the rubber boots.


Slate-gray Junco


Chipping Sparrow


Varied Thrush


Rosy Finch


Flock of Rosy Finches at one of the feeders

The only redeeming quality about Springtime in the Rockies is the annual return of our migratory songbirds.  The Juncos returned about 3 weeks ago, followed closely by the Chipping Sparrows.  Heard, but not yet seen, is a Varied Thrush with his distinctive bell-tone song.  A lone Starling stayed for 3 days before the resident Gray Jays got the better of him.  A flock of Rosy Finches came in today with the storm.  I know from a past guest, a bird biologist from the U of A, that we’re not supposed to get Rosy Finches up here.  I think a few, perhaps blown off course during a spring storm, told their buddies that Laura keeps the bird feeders stocked up – and now we get a horde of Rosy Finches whenever a sudden storm hits.  I’ve yet to see the big birds of prey return, although I did hear the cry of a Merlin last week.

Animals are on the move, as well.  The White-Tailed Deer family, who bails from our valley when the snow gets too deep, has returned now that snow depth is diminishing.  The deer were nosing around the cabins last night . . . while Leo and Molly (and the cat) crowded me on the bed.  Several Elk walked down the Rock Lake Road last week – as evidenced by fresh track in the melting snow – obviously heading back to Rock Lake.  Wolves are following the elk, of course.  No sign of bear yet this spring, although Black bear may be out and about at lower elevations.  I’ve found no evidence to indicate a new Grizzly has set up residence close to the cabins.  Pity . . . but I am forever hopeful.

The Rock Lake Road is holding up well, thanks to Manitok.  It’s a little soft on the shoulders and slushy/icy in places.  My 3-km trail is good, although common sense or a 4×4 (if one doesn’t have any common sense) is usually needed to come up to the cabins this time of year.

Until next time . . . Happy Trails!

In Like a Lion . . .

The first weekend in March was accompanied by a major winter storm across most of central and southern Alberta.  According to The Weather Network, a strong low pressure system developed around Rocky Mountain House and sucked in the moisture-laden system from the West Coast that had been pummeling British Columbia with heavy rain.  The moisture landed here as snow.  A LOT OF SNOW!  By the time it quit snowing Sunday evening, we had accumulated almost TWO FEET of new snow.


Ski trail to first campsite

Guests throughout February and the Storm Weekend have enjoyed cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in good snow conditions.  Our Australian family built a ‘snow lump’ (hard to pack powder snow!) and treated the resident Snowshoe Hares to carrots meant to serve as a nose.  The youngsters revelled in sliding down the hill on our pull sleds and crazy carpet (oops – TOO fast!).  Mom and Dad must have worn their arms off pulling the kids behind while snowshoeing . . .




Cabin in winter.jpeg

Cabin after a snow dump


The Avalanche Chute

Had a rare treat while grooming trail on Friday – TWO Lynx were on my 3-km trail!  Quickly turned off the machine to watch – one Lynx scampered off the trail immediately, but the other simply sat down in the middle of the trail to watch me.  Of course I didn’t have a camera with me . . . I admired this gorgeous cat for only a few minutes before ‘responsibility‘ got the better of me and I fired up the machine to get going again.

Chris and our guests for the weekend arrived Friday before The Storm hit.  And it snowed.  On Saturday, our guests took off on snowshoe adventures after breakfast, while Chris and I went to cut a load of firewood.  Pam and Heath took the crazy carpet (and Molly) up the Avalanche Chute – look for the video of Pam coming down!  Karen and Bob, Nicole and Steven set off on the Side-Hill and Munn Creek trails.  Leo elected to stay home (old dog that he is).  And it snowed.  Chris and I returned with a load of wood just in time to outfit Pam and Heath with x-country skis for their next adventure on a 7-km loop.  Leo was keen to go with this time around and – never fear – he does know his way home!  And it snowed . . .


Chris breaking trail

It was still snowing Sunday morning and our guests had opted for an earlier breakfast in order to tackle the roads home.  Road reports were not good and our Sylvan Lake and Saskatchewan guests would appear to be keeping pace with The Storm, while our Grande Prairie couple would likely get clear north of Grande Cache.  After pulling out the 4×4 pickup, buried in snow and down to the ice by the cook house, Chris took the lead to forge a path for our guests down my trail and onto the Rock Lake Road.  There were many times when Chris had to stick his head out the truck window to see the road – his windshield wipers weren’t keeping up and his Ford F150 was plowing snow over the hood!


Almost buried . . .

All made it safely out and safely home – thank goodness!  The Rock Lake Road has now been plowed, as  has my 3-km trail (Thanks Manitok!).  We have great snow conditions at the moment, with warm temperatures during the day (-5 to 0 C) and brisk temperatures at night (-15 to -20 C).

Until next time . . . Happy Trails!


IMG_0010I have hesitated writing about Tumble – partly because it may prove to be a long post and not necessarily upbeat . . .and partly because I still tear up every time I think about her life and death. However, I have been reminded several times over the past few months that good friends deserve to be remembered. So, here’s some of Tumble’s story.

Two fuzzy, round Border Collies came to the cabins when they were 5 weeks old. Their breeder, a farmer up north in the Peace Country, said the female was too timid to make a good cow dog and the male . . . well, he was just a dog. Within a couple of days, Chris had named the pups Ruff and Tumble – the male would ram his sister at full speed . . . and she would roll (usually down a slope).

Within a short time, the puppies learned their way around the cabins, discovered that horses were not to be barked at or trifled with (the old mare would cock a back leg, glare over her shoulder and challenge ‘Come on pup, make my day!’), found that touching a wet nose to a hot cook stove HURTS and mischievously hid (not chewed, mind you, just hid) personal items of the log building crew. To be found when the snow melted the following spring: 1 sock, 1 glove, 1 toque and 1 boot (how on earth did one of the crew manage with only one boot??).

The puppies’ first winter was bitterly cold, and we ended up moving back into civilization for a couple of months until the cold eased up a bit. Travelling back and forth between Brule and the cabins when weather permitted, Tumble would get horribly, horribly car sick. Ruff would puke in sympathy. Hoping to spare the van further insult, Chris built a hootchie (similar to an igloo, but with packed snow instead of ice blocks) and the puppies were content to stay ‘home’ alone for a few days at a stretch.

Tumble made decisions that winter and over the course of the following years that her ‘dumber-than-a-post humans’ would eventually come to understand:

  • I will never, ever get into a vehicle voluntarily or willingly (unless it’s during a thunderstorm). Expect to spend several hours to trap me.
  • I am not a PET and I will not wear a collar. I will lose any collar you put on me within minutes, then will slam-dunk Ruff and remove his collar as well.
  • I will not cross unsafe ice. She who does so, despite my blatant warning, deserves to soak her ski boots.
  • I will play “stick” until your arm falls off . . . or I get bored. Then, I will take the stick away and pee on it so you get the message. Please note: It is my job to retrieve the stick, not Ruff’s (I will bite him). Ruff’s job is to pick up the stick at the 5-foot mark where I dropped it for final delivery to your hand.IMG_0005 IMG_0012
  • I can move a black bear off the trail . . . if Ruff drops that dang stick he’s been packing for the last half hour and takes the other flank.IMG_0011
  • I cannot move a Grizzly, even with Ruff’s help, but I will stand between you and said Grizzly until you remember to do the smart thing and back away.
  • I am the lead dog and will scout ahead on the trails and make sure you don’t (blindly, stupidly) run into dangerous wildlife.IMG_0001
  • I will do “camp perimeter” checks several times every night, just to let the resident wildlife know I’m on the job.IMG_0015
  • I take my job very seriously. If you are too busy or otherwise uninclined to take me hiking or skiing every day, then I will go find someone who obviously needs a dog. I’ll come back when I’m done.IMG_0017
  • I understand every word coming out of your mouth and have the option of ignoring you . . . in your own best interests, of course.IMG_0009
  • I am smarter than you, but have infinite patience at teaching slow learners. Leo will prove to be an exception . . .

The Wolves

Tumble’s first encounter with a wolf pack occurred early one morning during our second winter at the cabins. Chris and I were in the cook tent fixing breakfast when we heard Tumble’s BARK-BARK-BARK over by the ravine. A few minutes later, Tumble poked her head through the tent flap and looked at us expectantly. “Hi Tumble. What’s up?”. Tumble darted back out, another BARK-BARK-BARK at the ravine, and her head would poke back into the tent. Six times. “Hey Chris . . . do you think Tumble is trying to do a Lassie routine? Maybe wants us to follow her?” On with the coats and Tumble is dancing from foot to foot (YES, they finally got it!). Dashing to the edge of the ravine, pausing just long enough for her rather S-L-O-W humans to get a look at a lone wolf at the bottom of the ravine. A BIG wolf . . . waiting. Bolstered by her humans, Tumble charged down the slope with Ruff right on her tail. Within striking distance, the wolf lunged towards the dogs. OH NO! Chris and I both grabbed the nearest available weapon (happened to both grab dead branches which would disintegrate on contact with a fly) and started yelling. The wolf did stop his death-dealing lunge, calmly weighed us and his options, then slid noiselessly back into the bush. Calling the dogs back, shaking a bit from the adrenaline rush, there were a few “Oh, wows . . .Good dog, good Tumble, good Ruff . . .Did you see – . . . the size . . . how BIG . . . the eyes . . . that wolf was . . . went for my dogs!” comments. Then the wolves (plural) started to sing. ALL AROUND US. We spent the rest of the day finding fun things to do in the cook tent. The dogs slept inside that night.

The dogs generally preferred to stay outside at night. Unless the wolves were hunting. Or it was bitterly cold and Tumble would pretend the wolves were in the valley.

Tumble was ambushed by the wolves when she was 8 years old, and it would prove to be fatal.

I was taking guests snowshoeing up the little valley towards the Avalanche Chute, and all (by now) 4 dogs were with us. Tumble, with Leo on her heels, took the lead as usual with Ruff and (then) little Molly staying with the people. I had seen the fresh wolf track . . . and ignored it. Only a few minutes away from the cabins, I hear Tumble’s “There’s a dangerous animal here” BARK-BARK-BARK and stopped a moment to listen. She’s moving it, I hear . . . then a yelp like Tumble just stepped on a sharp stick . . . then she cried. And I was running – in big snowshoes in deep snow, with Molly tangled, trying to hide, between my legs. Ruff, bellied out in snow with his crippled hips, was trying to reach his sister, too. We were too slow. The pack leader posed on a small rise, making sure I saw him gazing at me with those steely yellow eyes. Tumble was gone from the ambush site, and we spent the next hour calling her, trying to find her. Losing tracks, we headed back to the cabins. Tumble had almost made it home, played out on the trail within eyesight of the cook house.IMG_0002

I scooped her up, loaded her amongst hastily piled blankets into the truck she hated, yelled brief, disjointed instructions on how to fend for themselves to my poor guests, found my dog insurance documents and put the pedal to the metal to the nearest vet. Hinton was closest, but the vet there refused to come in on a weekend for an emergency, so I made the 2-hour drive to Edson . . . in 1-1/2 hours.

Tumble would spend the next 5 days in ICU with tireless attention by the Edson vets and staff If she survived the first 3 days, with her extensive internal injuries, there was hope she may recover and the vets could operate on day 10 to repair the punctured lung.

Meanwhile, returning at a more sedate speed to my abandoned guests, I spent the next couple of days tracking the wolf pack and learning the story. Maybe even hoping for revenge . . . I had originally accused Leo of being off chasing squirrels instead of helping Tumble. But that wasn’t the case. There were 3 wolves: one that Tumble was moving away from her people, one that was laid down behind a bush to grab her when the lead wolf led her past, and the third one who kept Leo occupied and out of the action. Leo was inconsolable, whining non-stop and looking for his best buddy.

I picked up Tumble 5 days after the attack, and she wagged her tail in greeting and gave me a lopsided smile. The tip of her tail was not shaved . . . Ensconced among blankets and mats in a cabin where the other dogs would not jostle her, Tumble stoically fought for her life. Tumble quit eating the day before she was scheduled to return to the vets for surgery. That night, I stretched out beside my best friend, stroking her paw (the only part of her body that was not brutally mauled) and we talked.

Another x-ray at the vets confirmed Tumble’s fate. Too much internal damage and chances were she’d not survive a minimal chance of a successful surgery. Decision made, turn on the faucets, I’m so very sorry Tumble, and I held my dog’s paw as she died.IMG_0014

I brought Tumble home again. You can’t dig a grave in the winter up here and Tumble’s body wouldn’t keep until spring. So, I loaded her on a sled and Leo and I pulled her up to the Alpine Meadow. Correction: Laura pulled, Leo trotted along behind (for once not dashing off the trail to bark at squirrels). The Alpine Meadow was Tumble’s favorite hike, and I think her spirit lies there still. Leo sniffed her body, and finally quit whining.

I miss her still.

Hectic Holidays . . .

2012 come and gone, and the world didn’t end on the Winter Solstice.  I sat on my rocks overlooking Munn Creek and waited for it . . . rather disappointing, eh?

We’ve had a full house at the cabins over the Christmas/New Years holidays, with guests taking time to celebrate at a slower pace up here.

Katja made a birthday cake for Serge!

Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, tobogganing/bum-sliding and snow-fort-building have occupied our guests during our short daylight hours.   Spending quality time with one’s family and/or partner, away from other distractions, is what the holidays are all about up here . . . At least, that’s what I think!

The finished product

Are we having fun??

In addition to the continued presence of the Boreal Chickadees and Pine Grosbeaks, the Common Red Polls came in shortly before New Years.  Delightful little bird, focused on feeding, and not at all intimidated by the larger Grosbeaks and Gray Jays competing at the feeders.





  The elk have camped out on the clearing by the cookhouse again.  They found salt on Mark’s brand-new truck and were quite artistic with their tongue strokes.  Don’t think there was an inch of un-licked metal . . . At least they weren’t horses.  Horses lick first, then pretend the vehicle is a salt block and chew the paint off.  Elk have another endearing quality:  The Elk Bed.  The Elk Bed is a pawed-out depression in the snow, wherein an elk can snuggle up nice and toasty for a short sleep.  Upon rising, stretching and greeting the day, the elk will promptly urinate and defecate in said bed.  The bed is only used once.  By the elk.  The dogs, faithful Leo and Molly, will discover a recently vacated elk bed and luxuriate in saturating themselves with Eau du Elk.  I also discover Elk Beds . . .although have (so far) resisted the temptation the wear the perfume.  Instead, I drive that blankety-blank ski-doo smack into one.  At the bottom of a hill.  Did I mention that I have a hard time getting the machine to TURN??  Two hours later, after shoveling pee- and body heat-encrusted snow, rocking the machine back and forth, trying to move/slide/lift a 200-lb machine, I still can’t get any traction to climb out of The Elk Bed.  Ooookkkaaaaay.  We have 3 tow slings and 4 ratchet straps.  If that’s not enough “rope” to hook to the hitch on the pickup, parked on good snow at the cookhouse, I have a few bungee cords (they’d work, wouldn’t they?).  Such a relief to see the hood of the ski-doo cresting the top of the hill in the rearview mirror.  Nothing broke, and I didn’t even have to resort to using bungee cords!

Fresh snow before Christmas allowed me to groom and track-set fresh ski trail down to Rock Lake, along with setting 3 ski loops on the trails around the lake.  We haven’t had fresh snow since Christmas, although the trails are holding up well.

Until next time . . .Happy Trails!