Posted tagged ‘British Columbia’

LOST

January 30, 2013

Perhaps there was a violent storm raging in the northern Pacific. Perhaps the storm came up suddenly, while the little bird was in flight, starting its migration from Kamchatka to Cambodia. Perhaps the creature became separated from a flock and flew down the Alaska and British Columbia coast instead of the northern Asian coast. Perhaps it was exhausted and a bit desperate. We’ll never know.

All we know is that one Red-flanked Bluetail, entering its own personal Twilight Zone, ended up alone in the winter drizzle of a Vancouver, British Columbia, park. An observant person sketched the bird’s coloration and showed the sketch to an expert, and the unusual visitation was confirmed. This tiny bird of the Russian taiga decided to make the best of its wintering grounds, and began daily circling a little territory under the cedars, which included a childen’s playground, two picnic shelters, and scattered logs and brushy islands where it could perch.

Red-Flanked_Bluetail-30-2Showing its identifying colors, this Red-flanked Bluetail is a hemisphere away from its kind

Meanwhile, its arrival spurred a sensation, spread at Facebook and Twitter speed, with birders flocking from all over North America, arriving by plane and car and SkyTrain and on foot, to experience the wonder of this little creature. Some days, there were 60 people at once. The Bluetail was pretty much unperturbed by its newfound celebrity, and went about its rounds regularly, the people following it like disciples following a mystic.

We drove the 220 miles to Vancouver to see the Red-flanked Bluetail on a recent Sunday. At the Canadian border,  the guard asked me the name of the bird when I told him we were going to see a specific bird, and I answered correctly (I think he was trying to trip me up). He let us through, mentioning that they had experienced a lot of people coming north to see it. We drove through busy neighborhoods and ended up in the community of New Westminster, where we entered Queen’s Park. We parked our car, then a local dog walker pointed the way to a small cluster of birders, and we joined them and almost immediately saw the target bird. During the two hours of our visit, there were friendly local Canadians, as well as a man from Georgia and another man from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. One young teen was perhaps the best birder there, with acute hearing and vision and a passion for birds that can lead to a life-long obsession.

Red-Flanked_Bluetail-20The Bluetail constantly twitched its tail, like some of the closely related flycatchers

Later, we ventured to a neighborhood of old homes in Vancouver, where we wandered down a back alley and trained our binoculars on a thicket in a small yard, where there was another rarity: a Brambling. This one had been reported by a kindly homeowner who fed the birds and noticed a strange one among the regular Golden-crowned Sparrows and House Finches. The Brambling is also from Eurasia, and is a bit more common than the Bluetail (which had last been seen on one of the Channel Islands off Los Angeles).

Still another wanderer, a Citrine Wagtail, was observed for a couple of months on Vancouver Island, beginning in November and ending with its disappearance in January. I didn’t get to see that one, but it was as rare as the Red-flanked Bluetail and also attracted human observers from all over North America.

We can all feel sorry for these lost little souls, so far from their kind and their familiar surroundings. Yet we can also imagine them as castaways, trying to keep life going when the going has gotten rough. Sometimes people have been stranded on remote islands by a storm, and they try to make the best of it. Birds can end up the same way, and sometimes evolution can lead to a whole new line of colorful creatures in an unexpected place.

Carry on, brave little Bluetail. I hope you make it home.

I don’t have the ears or eyes or passion to be a great birder, but I admire those who are. One of my favorite movies of all time is the gentle comedy/drama The Big Year, which follows several birders traveling all over the country trying to see as many different kinds of birds as they can in one year. It stars Steve Martin and Jack Black. Both are great in the film, and play the roles with an uncharacteristic laid back charm.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com (just ask me to email you a small version of a particular photograph you like if you can’t find it on the site; my website is not up to date) 

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

YOHO NATIONAL PARK: Fairy Barf and Squirrel Love

October 19, 2010

“It’s all in the details.” We say that about contracts, and it is true in nature as well. The grand landscapes are stunning in Yoho National Park, but the details of the landscape are often entertaining and visually fascinating. Here are a few stories and pictures showing some of those wonderful details from hikes that I and my companions took in the Lake O’Hara area.

We had hoped to see one of three species of ptarmigan on our hikes, but we struck out. On our last day in Yoho, we talked about not seeing ptarmigans, and I said we were more likely to see a grouse along the forested, lower elevation trail we were hiking. Within a couple of minutes, I looked up the trail and there was a Spruce Grouse standing right in the trail! It was a male, painted with bright red eye shadow. This species is also known as “fool hen,” because it is rather oblivious to the presence of people. We pointed cameras at it for nearly ten minutes at close range, and the grouse showed little nervousness about us.

Male Spruce Grouse in the spruce-fir forest of Yoho

The day before our grouse experience, we were hiking on the Opabin Plateau, which is a glacial hanging valley populated with Wolverines, Grizzly Bears, and Zen Buddhists–of which we observed only the latter on our two day trips into this valley. But what interested me? Squirrel sex! A lady Red Squirrel sat

Cute Red Squirrel eating seeds from a cone

demurely on a conifer branch, nibbling at a cone and allowing us to approach close enough to get some nice pictures. She was lovely. Then another squirrel appeared, and began chasing our lady ’round and ’round, up and down and around tree trunks, and dashing over the mossy forest floor. Finally he caught her and they mated. Then another chase. Then he caught her again; this time

Whispering into her ear, while she nibbles on a fir cone

she picked up and gnawed on a Douglas Fir cone while mating, as if bored with the whole act. Then another chase. And another mating. She chewed some more on her cone. My female hiking companions finally got tired of watching animal porn; and from then on they refused to point out any more squirrels to me!

Rated R for implied sexuality

I hadn’t realized that fairies lived in Yoho National Park, but we saw evidence of them all the time. Along the trails were little patches of puke, where fairies who nipped a bit too much on the ambrosia of the Canadian Rockies spilled their guts on the morning after. Actually, these patches of puke are Fairy Barf lichens, with plenty of tiny chunks against a bilious green background.

Fairy Barf lichen, Icmadophila ericetorum

We had seen enough lakes at Yoho to realize that nearly every medium sized lake and tarn contained a resident Barrow’s Goldeneye. These ducks spend the waning autumn days at these subalpine lakes, constantly diving for aquatic

Female Barrow’s Goldeneye on a turquoise lake

insects. In the clear mountain lakes, I could watch the goldeneyes as they swam underwater. In fact, the first time I saw one from above, I could follow its trail underwater by the cloud of silt it stirred up as it swam along the bottom. These ducks were only going to enjoy their Canadian Rockies vacations for a short time, since ice would soon seal all of the lakes and tarns; then they would have to fly to their wintering grounds to the south.

Barrow’s Goldeneye caught in the act of diving

Swimming underwater in a clear lake; the goldeneye uses both its feet and its wings during a dive

Popping to the surface

Faint trails in the bottom of the lake, which I believe were made by diving Barrow’s Goldeneyes

A couple of little birds love this high country; two come to mind. The American Pipit enjoys Canada as much as this American, and spends its time searching for food on the rocky shores of mountain lakes. The American Dipper walks underwater along mountain streams and lakes.

American Pipit, which constantly wags its tail up and down while searching the shores of a mountain lake for insects and plant seeds, in nonbreeding plumage

Juvenile American Dipper resting between underwater sessions of searching a stream for aquatic insects; the dipper is named for its habit of constantly dipping up and down by flexing its legs

An American Dipper who really didn’t want its picture taken, hightailing it away from me

Male Fairies in these woods have a poor sense of direction, and would be too embarrassed to ask a mere human for directions, so they’ve created an elaborate system of maps. I didn’t fully understand the maps, but I’m not supposed to, as I am not a Fairy .

Map lichen showing Fairy trails

A more colorful Map Lichen, Rhizocarpon geographicum

When we visited Yoho, the wildflowers were essentially done for the year. But seed heads of several species could still be found before the falling of autumn snows covered them for the winter. This included the Western Anemone, which is also known as “Hippie Stick” and “Towhead Baby,” and which has a prominent crown of feathery seeds that reminds humans of hair.

“Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen” (lyric from the musical, Hair)

When we ventured above timberline, we would see rodents that looked like oversized chipmunks, except that the face is not striped like chipmunks. These Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels live in burrows under rocks in the high country, and have learned that humans sometimes leave behind bits of crackers and cheese and nuts–or that these big creatures will sometimes hand them free food, often with strange chuckling sounds coming from their upturned mouths.

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel hoping for a handout

We didn’t see any large browsing animals in Yoho, though Elk and Moose are found in the park. The closest we came was seeing this track in the snow, several miles from Lake O’Hara. The details are obscured by the snow, so I cannot say for sure if if was an Elk or a Moose.

Elk or Moose track in the snow, showing dewclaw marks (at the top) which are shown when the large mammal is trotting or running

Below is a gallery of lichen photographs. I don’t recall ever being in a place so rich with lichen diversity. It takes patience to look close and photograph these miniature designs, which consist of a cooperative combination of fungus and algae. I am not an expert at identification of lichens, so if anyone out there in blogland knows more than I do, feel free to identify some of these by genus and species or to correct me.

Goblet Lichens, with the rims of the goblets ringed with tiny ice crystals, reminding me a bit of margaritas

Identification anyone?

Stereocaulon tomentosum

I believe that the taller lichen behind is Cladonia gracilis ssp turbinata

Peltigera neopolydactyla

Identification anyone?

Peltigera sp.

A semi-aquatic lichen photographed on the rocks ringing one of the Morning Glory Lakes; identification anyone?

Finally, we saw a variety of mushrooms on this trip. Rather than try to identify these, I’ll just show them to you for your interest; I especially liked the combination of mushrooms and snow.

This Seattle Mountaineers photography trip into the Canadian Rockies was ably led by Linda Moore. Yoho National Park is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the Canadian Rockies and perhaps in all of North America. For more information about Yoho National Park, go to the Parks Canada web site.

For other entries in my weblog about Yoho National Park, go to Ice, Wolverine,  Early Snow,  Night at Yoho, and Elizabeth Parker Hut.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.



YOHO NATIONAL PARK: Elizabeth Parker Hut

October 16, 2010

Elizabeth Parker Hut has simple and elegant log architecture that makes it a timeless place to stay

As a quiet and introspective kind of fellow, the thought of staying in a hut with 23 other people was scary. But I was won over on this Canadian Rockies trip by two hut experiences; in this story I’ll describe the experience of staying in Yoho’s Elizabeth Parker Hut, where we stayed for four nights.

Four of us shared the hut with an adventure tour group of ten Japanese people, mostly middle-aged, and their two young Japanese-Canadian guides. The Japanese spoke few words of English, and only one of us was adept at learning any words of Japanese, so we depended upon the Japanese-Canadian guides to be translators. They were both friendly guys with a good sense of humor, and had long ago learned to span different cultures with a smile. One highlight was the last night both our groups were together, when one of the guides played 1960s and 1970s American folk songs, so some of us, ahem, older people, knew a lot of the words. The hut was pulsing to the tune of John Denver’s Country Roads, with the Americans singing along, and the Japanese, who didn’t understand any of the words, clapping along. It was great fun!

A Japanese adventure travel group occupied one big table during meals, while our Seattle Mountaineers group took the other

Elizabeth Parker Hut sits in perhaps the most stunning setting in North America, a small subalpine meadow surrounded by towering and shapely peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Originally built in 1919 (with its associated Wiwaxy Cabin in 1912) by the Canadian Pacific Railway to promote tourism to this most beautiful part of Canada, the hut was later transferred to the Alpine Club of Canada.

The ACC was created in 1906, with Elizabeth Parker among several founders. Ms. Parker, a feminist of the time and a fiery journalist who loved the mountains, was adamant that she wanted to see a Canadian alpine club, rather than just a section of the comparable American club. Her patriotism won the day, and the ACC has had a vital presence ever since. In fact, while researching this brief article, I found that the ACC has even expanded into New York’s Adirondack Mountains, where it maintains a beautiful log cabin for members to use as a hut, located on about 100 acres in the Keene area (an old stomping ground of ours).

Towering Wiwaxy Peaks rose prominently above our cabin

For people who stay at the hut, there is a beautiful kitchen, with a full complement of pots and pans of all sizes. We hauled water in buckets from a nearby creek, and one of the morning jobs each day was to boil water in big pots, so the kitchen was always steamy in the early hours. There are propane lights, but before dawn and after dark, headlamps are a must if you want to know what’s cooking. And what’s cooking for Karen and I was our normal backpacking meals. The Japanese ate healthier fare prepared by the guides, including boiled rice, lots of fresh vegetables, seaweed, and fish. It looked and smelled great!

The kitchen is wonderfully equipped, and includes propane stoves so that hikers don’t have to cook out in the elements

Sleeping arrangements are cozy. A giant bunk bed, made for 16 people, stretches across the whole room. Eight people on the top and eight people on the bottom snore in unison after the 10:00 p.m. lights out. The changing room consists of the interior of one’s sleeping bag, which takes a bit of getting used to but is not bad. Heat is provided by an efficient wood stove, so the interior is comfortable, except when the stove is over-stoked and the temperature soars. The climb to the upper bunks is fun, and takes me back to my Boy Scout days of staying in remote cabins. Which reminds me, staying in a hut is a lot like those old Boy Scout outings, except that there are girls in the cabins at Yoho.

Bunks and drying rack shared by all the occupants

After days of hiking in the rain and snow, gear gets pretty wet. In the hut there is an ingenious pully system that raises and lowers two big drying racks, so stuff can quickly dry in the heat at the peak of the cabin. Boots are discouraged in the cabin; we left those at the door and ran around in our stocking feet.

Midnight rambles to the outhouse are a necessary part of hut living; fortunately that gave us a chance to check on the weather. One night it was snowing, another night it was clear and moonlit–a magical experience.

We really enjoyed the company of the Japanese; one of the men called me a “picture master,” and he was certainly the flute master. We loved hearing him play his bamboo flute outdoors, with the notes floating over the frosty landscape …

The flute master on a frosty morning; the flute master writes his own blog at http://keiichiwaseda.blogspot.com/

As I mentioned, Elizabeth Parker Hut was built early in the previous century. Lake O’Hara became a favorite destination of the Canadian Group of Seven painters, who created some of the best landscape paintings of the 20th Century. One of the group, J.E.H. MacDonald, painted an interior of Elizabeth Parker Hut circa 1925; it is interesting to view the painting in comparison to the hut interior now: Lodge Interior, Lake O’Hara (you will need to scroll through a group of beautiful paintings to get to this one).

A blazing fire helps dry our wet boots and clothing

One of the Japanese-Canadian guides, preparing breakfast by headlamp in the predawn

Each day, Cathedral Mountain snags the first and last warm sunlight of the day, providing encouragement to the frosty valley below

Half a dozen of us could easily be preparing meals at the same time

With scenery like Mount Huber outside the hut, it is simply a remarkable place to stay!

Some of our Japanese friends on the last day of their trip

Our group at breakfast; the Japanese group had departed the day before, leaving five of us in the hut for one night

Le Relais Day Shelter is the place where hut dwellers catch the bus back to civilization. In addition to the warmth inside, the shelter sells coffee, hot chocolate, and best of all, huge slabs of carrot cake (I had one most days after hiking). This shelter is half a mile from the Elizabeth Parker Hut.

Elizabeth Parker Hut is surrounded by the stunning mountains of the Canadian Rockies

Visits to the Lake O’Hara region of Yoho National Park are severely restricted by Parks Canada; even day hikers have to take a bus in for the day and their numbers are regulated (42 per day maximum). To make a hut reservation, a good first step is to read the Alpine Club of Canada’s Elizabeth Parker Hut Information. Then review the policies of Yoho National Park regarding Lake O’Hara. This should get you started; remember that demand is high and supply is low, so be prepared to jump on the phone to make reservations at the first moment possible. It will be one of the most memorable experiences of your life.

This Seattle Mountaineers photography trip into the Canadian Rockies was ably led by Linda Moore. Yoho National Park is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the Canadian Rockies and perhaps in all of North America. For more information about Yoho National Park, go to the Parks Canada web site.

For other entries in my weblog about Yoho National Park, go to Ice and Wolverine and Early Snow and Night at Yoho.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.



YOHO NATIONAL PARK: Photography on a Clear Night

October 14, 2010

Elizabeth Parker Hut, established and operated by the Alpine Club of Canada, exudes warmth on a chilly autumn evening

After a day of snow and mostly gray skies, the clouds over Lake O’Hara dissipated as the evening wore on, leaving a startlingly clear sky. Night used to be a time when I would put away my camera and rest. Not any more. Now I love to see what I can capture, so the time of my visual awareness–on a clear evening–can go on for hours.

For this night portfolio, I started by photographing Elizabeth Parker Hut–the log cabin where our group was staying–using a balance of available light, flash, and propane-fueled light emanating from the windows of the hut. Then, as the evening wore on and the stars emerged and the full moon rose over the peaks, I felt a burst of energy and took a surge of photographs in the chilly air. The results were extremely satisfying.

Full moon rising over the mountains, with dissipating clouds

Ice crystals in the clouds show a colorful corona effect as they refract light from the rising moon

Elizabeth Parker Hut is surrounded by high peaks

Cathedral Peak with the Big Dipper above

Snowy Odaray Mountain illuminated by the rising moon

Mount Huber illuminated by a bright moon, with zillions of stars overhead

Fresh snow catches the moonlight reflecting off Odaray Mountain

Mount Huber catches the moonlight

This Seattle Mountaineers photography trip into the Canadian Rockies was ably led by Linda Moore. Yoho National Park is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the Canadian Rockies and perhaps in all of North America. For more information about Yoho National Park, go to the Parks Canada web site.

For other entries in my weblog about Yoho National Park, go to Ice and Wolverine and Early Snow.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.





YOHO NATIONAL PARK: The Day of the Wolverine

October 13, 2010

Wolverine carrying a dead Hoary Marmot

Karen and I were hiking to Lake Oesa, a turquoise gem in a mighty mountain cirque, on our first morning in Canada’s Yoho National Park, along with three companions who were behind us on the trail. We had stashed our gear in the Elizabeth Parker hut, then set out on the trail, first rounding part of Lake O’Hara, then climbing the switchbacks up the trail to a high bench studded with lakes.

At the first viewpoint, we paused to rest after the climb. While gazing out toward a tarn at the base of Yukness Mountain, I saw a large, dark animal crossing a sedge meadow next to the tarn, but within a couple of seconds it disappeared in a willow thicket. Karen caught a passing glimpse. My mind went through the possibilities. Black Bear? If so, it was a small bear, but it moved more nimbly than a bear. Wolverine? We couldn’t get that lucky–or could we? The legs were short, but the body relatively long. We thought through the two options, deciding it had to be a Wolverine.

The Wolverine ascended a steep boulder field

I went back along the trail a few yards and called to our companions that we had just seen a Wolverine. They laughed at my presumed joke and I said, “No, really–you’ve got to come and look for it!”

Anticipating the animal’s movement, Karen and I struggled to climb over rough talus to where we could get a better viewpoint if it continued to move along the base of the mountain. Bingo! We sighted it again. It was moving quickly among the sharp boulders at the base of the mountain. Hand-holding my 500mm lens, I managed to get a lot of photographs in a short time as the Wolverine made its way up through the boulders. It appeared to be carrying something heavy, which we decided was a big, fat marmot. Like a human making the same journey with a heavy pack, the Wolverine had to frequently stop and rest.

Setting down the marmot to rest during the steep ascent

For perhaps five minutes, we watched the Wolverine ascend the steep slope up to the next bench, and it disappeared from sight. Later, we talked to a photographer who was at the first lake on the bench, and he excitedly said that he had seen a Wolverine moving quickly past the lake, heading for higher country. We didn’t see it again, but I consider this to be one of the best wildlife sightings of our lives, since Wolverines are relatively scarce and rare to see.

Karen created video of the Wolverine while I did photography. To see her short video of the Wolverine in action, go to Wolverine Video.

Before I go on, I should mention that I am a Wolverine. Or at least that I grew up in the Wolverine State–Michigan–and graduated from the University of Michigan, where the sports teams are known as the Wolverines. But the namesake animal had not been seen in the state since the very early 1800s–until 2004, when a biologist saw and photographed a lone Wolverine ambling across a farm field in Michigan’s thumb, a most unlikely place to see a fierce predator. Before that, most of the Wolverines in the Wolverine State were furs that trappers to the north brought through the French-named ports of Sault Ste. Marie and Detroit.

Wolverines are opportunistic predators that can take down much larger animals in deep snow, and they are known to dig marmots out of dens. For an excellent synopsis of Wolverine ecology and biology, go to the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web.

From all the days and weeks we spend outdoors, there are a few moments we could never possibly forget. Our Wolverine sighting at Yoho National Park was one of those times, and was the highlight of our trip to Lake O’Hara, which I believe is the most beautiful place we have ever experienced in North America.

The color pattern on the fur is distinctive

The Wolverine was adept at finding its way through the maze of boulders

Wolverines often enter deep into a hibernating marmot’s den to snatch the marmot for a late fall or winter meal

Wolverines have a reputation as fierce predators who can defend their prey against bears and wolves that try to steal a free meal

This Seattle Mountaineers photography trip into the Canadian Rockies was ably led by Linda Moore. Yoho National Park is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the Canadian Rockies and perhaps in all of North America. For more information about Yoho National Park, go to the Parks Canada web site.

For another entry in my weblog about Yoho National Park, go to Ice.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.

 

MOUNT ASSINIBOINE PROVINCIAL PARK: Photographing Unsettled Weather

October 7, 2010

Emerging from the clouds like a dome from Yosemite

Our trip to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada, was planned to coincide with sunny September skies and the glorious gold color of Alpine Larches in the high country. Nature had other plans. Rainy, cold days, and mountains playing peek-a-boo with us were followed by snow. There was little sun.

But, as every nature photographer soon learns, bright sun is boring! I find myself more fascinated with the details of the landscape when I’m not being constantly swept away by fantasic views, and that is just fine with me. I’ll take unsettled weather almost every time, except in those moments when I’m shivering under a pelting rain at a mountain pass, on the verge of hypothermia; then I just might take warm sun.

These photographs represent a portfolio of five wonderful days on the trails near Mount Assiniboine, a peak shaped like the Matterhorn, but which never revealed itself fully on our trip.

An Alpine Larch in all its autumn glory against the turquoise waters of Elizabeth Lake

Alpine Larch is a deciduous conifer, meaning it has needles like other conifers, but they turn color and fall in the fall like deciduous hardwood trees

Wildflowers bloomed late this year, so there were quite a few species still in bloom during our mid-September visit

Purple Asters are my favorite fall wildflower; I photographed this one during a light rain

Dramatic clouds raced across the landscape, throwing brief beams of sunlight across the meadow of Og Creek

Fresh snow and a knife-edged ridge above the meadows of Og Creek

Sun sparkling off the waves on Cerulean Lake, with Alpine Larches and Englemann Spruces along the shore

Waterfall of Magog Creek along the trail to Wonder Pass

We watched at close range as this Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel harvested a puffball from a mountain meadow, then went to a rocky overlook to have his lunch

At higher elevations we encountered this beautiful conglomerate, which had stones several inches across embedded in a concrete-like matrix

A peak floating in the clouds

Rain on the sad autumn leaves of Fireweed and Meadow Rue

Descending down the trail through an Alpine Larch grove from Og Pass

Magog Creek as it emerges from Gog Lake

Each of the lakes appeared to have a resident Barrow’s Goldeneye during our visit

An orange lichen that looked like a logo left by a prior civilization

A sodden cinquefoil at the end of flowering

A sad aster enduring a cold rain

An elegant natural arrangement of spruces and larches along Lake Elizabeth

Clouds among the peaks, signaling a change in the weather; it snowed soon after

A Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel looking fat for winter survival

Golden Alpine Larch, blue mountains

Alpine Larches reflecting in Gog Lake

The magical trail down through the Alpine Larch zone just below Wonder Pass

Ridges of rock briefly revealed by parting clouds

Snow beginning to fall in the meadow of the Naiset Huts

The flakes got bigger as twilight approached

The last morning of our visit, Magog Creek flowed through a fantasyland of snowy spruce forest

One of our beautiful asters enduring an early snow

This Seattle Mountaineers photography trip into the Canadian Rockies was ably led by Linda Moore. Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is a British Columbia park wedged between Banff and Kootenay National Parks in the Canadian Rockies. For more information about transportation to and facilities in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, go to the British Columbia Parks website.

For two more stories in my weblog about Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, go to Grizzly Bears and Staying in a Mountain Hut.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.




MOUNT ASSINIBOINE PROVINCIAL PARK: Staying in A Mountain Hut

October 5, 2010

Our Naiset Hut, the Forget-Me-Not

After a long night, with five of us sleeping in a cramped cabin, one of my hutmates asked: “Seriously, dude, have you ever been tested for sleep apnea?” Snoring and snorting in my sleep is an issue: if not for me, then certainly for people I sleep near. Such is hut living for a few days; it takes a person out of their spacious home and tosses them in with other people for a terribly cozy experience. Yet I would certainly do it again.

Ten of us came to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, which is wedged between Banff and Kootenay National Parks, by helicopter. Yes, hikers do come in on foot, but it is a two day backpacking journey for many, which cuts down the time in the splendid high country. So our Mountaineers group chose a twelve minute helicopter ride to whisk us to the shore of Lake Magog, which sits in the mighty cirque of Mount Assiniboine and a ring of other magestic peaks. The helicopter whizzed past rock glaciers and old burns and several lakes, and zoomed close to an immense rock face, finally setting down in a meadow with a blade-driven blast of snow. From there we schlepped our gear to the Naiset Huts area, about a half mile away.

In this basin there are three lodging choices. For the affluent or those who want to be most comfortable, there is the Mount Assiniboine Lodge, which offers rooms in a small lodge, as well as pleasantly rustic cabins with stunning mountain backdrops (and real sheets!). The lodge serves good meals and provides guide services, though the only toilets are outhouses–pleasant outhouses, to be sure, but outhouses nonetheless. The cost of the lodge and

The Mount Assiniboine Lodge was originally built in 1928 by the Canadian Pacific Railway to promote train travel

cabins is $260 to $420 per person per night for summer rates, as of 2010, and slightly lower during the winter ski season. While we were in the vicinity, a group of dentists were having a conference at the lodge, combined with hours of fly fishing. A small tour group of hardy Japanese tourists also stayed at the lodge. The dentists were busy on their iPhones and laptops during the conference, so there was at least some connection with the outside world. The lodge serves tea at 4:00 pm each day, so those of us who wanted the English/Canadian experience of high tea could at least take a rustic tea in the lodge’s log dining room.

The second lodging opportunity, much less expensive at $20 per night per person and where we stayed, is the Naiset Huts. These are a group of five approximately 13  x 15′ cabins, modeled after trapper cabins of long ago, each sleeping six people on padded bunks in hostel style. Each cabin has a wood stove for warmth, which occupants heat using Presto logs purchased from the lodge. These structures are dark and cramped, but keep hikers warm and dry when necessary. The surprise bonus at the huts is the central cookshelter, which is a beautiful new log cabin, built in

The log cookshelter is an inviting place during a snowstorm, but take off your boots before entering!

2006 by BC Parks. This spacious shelter provides propane lights and a propane stove, as well as a place to get out of the weather or to gather for games or reading in the evening. Again, outhouses are the bathroom choice, but one of them is a wonderful and sweet smelling composting toilet, constructed with aromatic cedar, with a piece of natural artwork on the wall and a glassless window showing the forest and Grizzly Bears outside. Which reminds me: it might be a good idea to carry bear spray on a midnight ramble to the outhouse, given that bears also ramble about at midnight. In early autumn, go easy on the Presto logs, we put one whole one in the stove and soon had the cabin temperature up to about 90 degrees F!

The Naiset Huts were used by a variety of people during our stay, including a German couple who had backpacked in with the idea of camping, but the early autumn snow and cold convinced them to stay inside. There was also a pair of hardy Canadians from Ontario, and our group of ten Americans, among others..

There is a third lodging option, and that is a BC Parks campground about a mile (two kilometers) from the lodge. I didn’t visit the campground, so I can’t comment on its comfort or aesthetics, but I did meet a man who moved from the campground to a hut, during our stay, because a Grizzly Bear paid a visit to his camp. Enough said! But if you only want to spend $10 per night, the campground is your ticket.

Our plan, as a photography group from the Seattle area Mountaineers, was to take day hikes radiating out from the huts. The big advantage of staying in a

Muddy boots from a wet trail

hut, rather than backpacking, is that on a day hike I can carry just my camera pack rather than all the camping gear. This is important, because my camera pack grows heavier with each lens I bring. In addition, when I am tired from backpacking, I am less likely to have the gumption to work for still another photo.

Our group consisted of people who wanted to photograph the park, so we already had a lot in common. The different personalities and backgrounds made for a fun time. There was Barb, already our friend, who celebrated her 82nd birthday during the trip (and outhiked us on the uphill grades!). Her son, Rob, kept us constantly entertained with improvised comedy, such as his rock

Rob enjoying rock radio

Rob on his stone phone; as a primitive communications instrument, it only had eight number keys!

radio and stone phone (see the pictures!). Then there was Elston, who spent his working life as a corporate man and then transformed himself in retirement into a big and burly guy with shoulder length blond hair who looks like a mountain man. I was the dullest one among us!

Members of our Mountaineers group at afternoon tea in the Mount Assiniboine Lodge

On the evening of Barb’s 82nd birthday, a grand cake was prepared, consisiting of ten Hostess Twinkies piled up log cabin style and topped with candles. As the special honoree, Barb enjoyed her Twinkie with 82 wild strawberries gathered during the day’s hike. It was a wonderful birthday!

Mmmmm … Twinkies with wild strawberries!

Karen and I eat simply during these trips, with freeze-dried backpacker meals and instant coffee (ugh!). Our goal is to keep meals as simple as possible so that we can concentrate on photography. Others prepared more elaborate meals, including fried potatoes and meats that made the cookshelter smell

Cookshelter interior

wonderful. In the evenings, some of us read while others played a simple dice game or chatted with the Germans and Canadians. It was pleasant to get out of the cold and into a warm and steamy place (steamy because we had to boil all of our water).

After dinner and reading for a while, we pulled on our boots and walked to the outhouse by headlamp light, then to the hut. We then lit half of a Presto log in the stove, which warmed up the cabin enough to get to sleep. Karen passed out earplugs to anyone who didn’t want to listen to me snore, then we would say our goodnights, as in:

“Good night, John-boy.”

“Good night, Mary Ellen.”

“I love you …”

“You better!”

Our hut had a couple of other inhabitants; we believe that at least two critters lived under the cabin floor in the crawl space. These rodents are also known to biologists as “Bushy-tailed Wood Rats,” but when I called them by that name, everyone seemed to focus on the “rats” part and got squeamish. So I started calling them by the more Disneyfied name of “Pack Rats,” which is more socially acceptable. Every night, the Pack Rats would venture out from the cabin to harvest wildflowers. In the morning, there would be little bouquets of purple asters neatly clipped to a length of about 6 inches, with the flower still attached, stashed on a stump and on bare earth in front of the cabin. We felt like they were leaving us gifts, though they might have simply left the piles hoping that the sun would dry the flowers for winter use. Karen and I celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary on this trip, and purple asters were the wildflowers we gave out at our 1972 “hippie wedding” in Ann Arbor’s arboretum, so the little “gifts” had sentimental value.

We had hippies on our mind during the trip; we learned a Canadian common name for the seed stalks of Western Anemone (commonly called “Towhead Baby” in the US) is “Hippie Sticks,” because the seed head looks like the hair of a 1970 flower child. Great name!  Anyway, getting back to asters and Pack Rats, Karen decided to borrow a couple of purple aster flowers to use as eyes on a snowman she wanted to build.

But then we couldn’t find any snow, until our last night at Mount Assiniboine, when it began to snow steadily. After enough accumulation, Karen and Barb and Eileen made a snow lady that they christened “Hippie Chick,” who had the starry-eyed look of a young hippie woman, with her aster eyes. Purple haze, indeed! Meanwhile, Rob and I were out photographing the snow falling heavily about the lodge and cabins. It was magical.

Detail of “Hippie Chick,” our official snowlady for Mount Assiniboine

By next morning, the overnight 4″ snowfall transformed the landscape beautifully and gave us the opportunity to photograph snowy mountains and trees while waiting for the helicopter, which eventually set down in a maelstrom of whirling snow.

Mount Assiniboine Lodge during a snowy twilight

Our hut, like the others, had short doors suitable only for Hobbits. More than one head was bumped!

Karen at our Forget-Me-Not hut

The Ranger Cabin, now occupied by lodge staff since BC Parks eliminated its back country rangers in a budget cutting move

The lodge cabins have some wonderful rustic furnishings

The lodge has plusher cabins than our huts, and with better views, such as this cabin overlooking Lake Magog and the cirque of Mount Assiniboine

A graceful sign for the Aster, one of the Naiset Huts

The Mount Assiniboine Lodge outhouse sports a satellite dish, making me wonder if the stalls have big screen televisions

Trails lead out in multiple directions from the hut and lodge areas

The Ranger Cabin during an early autumn snowstorm

A rustic interior detail of the lodge

The chefs put out their aprons and kitchen towels behind the lodge to dry

Barb and her son Rob emerge from the helicopter at the end of the trip

The helicopter landing after a commute from the lodge

This Seattle Mountaineers trip into the Canadian Rockies was ably led by Linda Moore, whose love of all things wild in Canada is clearly evident. Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is a British Columbia park wedged between Banff and Kootenay National Parks in the Canadian Rockies. For more information about transportation to and facilities in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, go to the British Columbia Parks website.

For another story in my weblog about Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, go to Grizzly Bears.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.