Posted tagged ‘Mount Assiniboine’

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.

MOUNT ASSINIBOINE: A Grizzly Bear Tale

September 30, 2010


A hard-eyed gaze at the intruders.

On a chilly September pre-dawn, three of us hiked down the dark trail to Lake Magog through a thick spruce forest, intent on photographing dawn alpenglow on Mount Assiniboine and other high peaks in this high cirque of the Canadian Rockies. Ed, in front of Karen and I, was quietly singing “Where oh where is the Grizzly Bear; where oh where can he be?”  We were strung out a bit on the trail, and Ed turned back to Karen and said he saw an animal ahead that looked to be about wolf sized. Karen didn’t see it, but she told me. I stopped and looked into the willows just behind us at this point and clearly saw the rounded shape and grizzled gray hair of an adult Griz. Then I saw a second, which was a cub accompanying its mother. We were too close, so we backed up along the trail, watching as the mother and two cubs crossed the trail where we had just been.

Looking and sniffing across the lake at what may be a distant threat.

The bears ambled closer to Lake Magog, and were perhaps 100 yards from us. Then the mother bear rose to her hind legs and looked intently down to the lakeshore, where we had seen a brace of dentists fly fishing the previous morning. She walked around on two legs, like a gigantic human, gazing in that direction and looking agitated for perhaps ten seconds. At that point she hurried to cover, where she again stood up. Then, apparently satisfied, she returned to the business at hand. With her cubs, she began digging into the ground, going deep to try and extract a Columbian Ground Squirrel from its den. In examining the videos, we can’t tell for sure if she got a ground squirrel, but she may have.

Karen had an emergency whistle with her, so we decided that she should repeatedly give three blasts of the whistle to warn other people in the area to be aware. Three other members of our group soon joined us, and people at the lodge and huts later told us that they had heard the warning whistles.

At one point, the mother Griz stopped, briefly looked directly at us, and got into what looked to me like an aggressive stance, on all four legs, head raised, mouth open, and restlessly moving around a bit while gazing at us. At that point I took out my bear spray, just in case a charge was imminent. But mama Griz decided that our whistles and talk and camera clicking were just some more bewildering human behavior, and she went back to tending her cubs. Shortly thereafter, they disappeared behind some tall willow bushes, and we didn’t see them again.

Later in the day, perhaps two miles up a trail, a Canadian couple saw what we believe were the same three bears, so they had been on the move since our early morning sighting. The Canadians also saw a lone bear during the same hike. I later showed the dental convention participants my photos of the bears, which produced a lot of amazement, since many of them had fished near that very spot on previous mornings. But none had been there during our grizzly experience.  Which leaves the question, what was the mama Grizzly looking at when she was standing on her hind legs? My theory is that she had smelled or spotted the lone bear that was seen later; after all, male bears are a major threat to cubs and a mother bear has to vigorously defend her offspring to make sure they won’t be eaten by a big male. Alternatively, the bear might have seen some wolves, or perhaps a backpacking camper down along the lake. We’ll never know for sure.

When we came to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, bears were on our mind. After all, we had just bought two aerosol cans of pepper-based bear spray prior to the trip. Canada’s parks don’t allow guns and, in any event, pepper spray is almost certainly more effective than a handgun against a fast-charging bear. In the car on the way to Canada, Karen read out loud about Grizzly Bears on her iPhone. We learned that they can eat 250,000 Buffaloberries in a single day (biologists who learned this important fact had to count the seeds in a grizzly bear’s daily output of scat–I can just see Mike Rowe of America’s Dirtiest Jobs taking a Canadian side trip and digging through the still-warm piles!). So, when we got to Banff, we learned to identify Buffaloberries, which we don’t recall seeing before. I even tasted one of these berries, which has a soapy texture and a slightly bitter aftertaste–if I was a bear, I’d move to a place with huckleberries instead. We also learned about bears turning over rocks to look for insects beneath, and about digging sleeping ground squirrels out of their underground nests. In fact, a Grizzly Bear’s big hump on its back contains the muscle attachments that, along with the 2″ claws, gives a Griz its ability to dig fast and deep into stony soil. High in some areas of the American Rockies, bears gather to eat the larvae of moths.

When we arrived in Banff National Park, we observed two Black Bears feeding on Buffaloberries along the highway. One had a blue ear tag, so he was either a bad news bear or a reseach subject. When we stopped to see these Black Bears, it was just like the bear jams of Yellowstone National Park, with people getting out of their cars to try and get photos at close range with point and shoot cameras. Those of us who respect the power of bears stayed safely in our cars.

While hiking near the Assiniboine huts, we encountered a man backpacking with his yellow Labrador, a really sweet dog. He said that the dog had aggressively protected him during three prior encounters with Grizzly Bears. He camped in the campground about a mile away from Assiniboine Lodge that night. But the next night, he moved into one of the Naiset Huts near ours. It seems that a Grizzly Bear had come into camp that morning and unnerved him. My theory is that his dog ATTRACTS Grizzly Bears, leading to these confrontations.

As for the beautiful alpenglow on the snowy peaks? I hardly noticed, with my attention locked like a weapons system on my target, the bears. Alas, it would have been a beautiful photograph. Next time.

I’ll close with one good bear story. A year or so ago, in one of the Canadian parks, a man encountered a bear at close range along a trail, which came aggressively toward him. Fumbling with his can of bear spray, he managed to spray it backwards, directly into his own face! At which point he began screaming and dancing around waving his arms in extreme pain. The now-scared bear thought the guy was totally insane, and ran in the other direction. That is one way to make bear spray effective!

Lake Magog sits in the cirque of Mount Assiniboine.

Bitter and soapy (to humans), Buffaloberries are a critical part of a bear’s diet in the Canadian Rockies. A Grizzly Bear can consume 250,000 of these berries in one day!

Columbian Ground Squirrels are a crucial source of protein for Grizzly Bears, who have massive muscles that allow them to dig quickly into the dens of sleeping or hibernating ground squirrels. On our visit, most of the ground squirrels had already entered hibernation.

Standing on hind legs gives the bear a chance to better sense a threat.

This mother bear had two cubs accompanying her (only one shown here).

A shallow hole, with claw marks, where the Grizzly had been digging and eating the roots of Sweet Vetch.

This impression represents the shape of a rock that had been pried up and tossed aside as a bear searched for insects beneath. It was one of half-a-dozen we saw along a short stretch of trail.

On this rainy morning, the Grizzly tracks soon filled with water.

A deep hole dug to get at a hibernating ground squirrel.

A menacing stance …

We will never forget the morning of the Assiniboine Grizzlies.

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. We flew by helicopter into the park and stayed in the Naiset Huts, while others stayed in the relatively luxurious Mount Assiniboine Lodge or camped in a hike-in provincial park campground about a mile from the lodge.

For more information about transportation to and facilities in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, go to the British Columbia Parks website.

For a primer on Grizzly Bears, go to the National Wildlife Federation website.

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.