Sunday, October 11, 2015

My Craziest Backpack

Assiniboine reflection in Lake Magog at sunrise.
I think my title sums things up pretty accurately.  I recently travelled to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in the Canadian Rockies and backpacked in 18 miles to Lake Magog.  It was a five day trip, with nothing going as planned.  I had to improvise my plans each and every day.  I believe they call it making lemonade out of lemons, right?

I arrived at the Bryant Creek trailhead parking lot after dark after a full day of driving from Seattle, and nestled in to the back of my Explorer for a well-deserved evening of rest.  Okay, this much went off without a hitch (though the drive itself did not)!

I awoke at sunrise and packed up to hit the trail.  As I descended the path from the parking lot down to the abandoned road that now serves as trail, I pivoted to my left and felt a sharp pain inside my knee.  I knew it wasn't good, and that it would play into my day's travels.

My plan was to hike the entire 18 miles into Lake Magog on this day.  It's a day of just putting one foot in front of the other and looking at it as a "work day", to reap the benefits in the ensuing days.  Unfortunately, I battled knee pain and boot discomfort most of the way.  Strangely, my comfy boots of several years were now feeling too small.  Either they had shrunk or my feet had
grown.  Strange.

The long grind in was everything I remembered it to be, but worse.  The upper portions of the trail near Assiniboine Pass are much deteriorated, with deep, muddy channels.  I later learned that this was due to the floods of June, 2013.

My plan was to snag a spot in one of the Naiset Huts, but I carried a tent just in case.  This was good planning as the huts were fully booked well in advance.  Off to the campground I trudged upon learning the news.

Assiniboine reflection in Lake Magog.
I found a nice open meadow at the northwest end of the campground offering five tent pads.  These pads were in short proximity to the food preparation shelter, bear lockers, and privy.  I selected site #28, just a short distance from another occupied tent pad.  The other three pads were empty.

Upon setting my tent up and getting situated, I headed up to the food prep shelter for some dinner, where I met many other campers.  Amazingly, we all seemed to be from Seattle, and were photographers to boot!  We all chuckled throughout our stay at this fact.

The big plan circulating amongst all this day was to head up The Nub for evening photography.  This night was to be a treat.  Not only was it the Super Moon, but there would be a lunar eclipse shortly after sunset.  Everyone was excited for this, as they should have been, and had their fingers crossed for the cloudy skies to clear (they didn't).  Unfortunately, I just didn't have it in me.  I was tired and sore from the long day's hike in and knew I needed to rest my knee and feet.  Instead I opted to go for an evening walk to simply scout the area and refresh my memory of its layout.

It was a peaceful evening as I scouted several tarns and patches of larches around the lake.  I figured out my plan for the morning and returned to camp shortly after sunset.  I wasn't expecting what awaited me.

I had staked my tent all the way around and placed two large rocks inside the tent to anchor it.  All my food and food related items were stored safely in a bear locker.  All other gear remained in my tent, including all my camera gear.  When I returned to camp, my tent had been completely uprooted from the tent pad and was laying on its side in the grass meadow.

As I got near the tent I could see that the rain fly had a huge, jagged hole in it and the mesh door was ripped open - all up high.  Closer examination found the lone tent pole to be snapped as well, in a place that I could not repair with the repair sleeve due to a connection hub.

All my gear inside was undamaged.  Nothing was ripped, torn or chewed on.  Strange.  What was the draw?

It was dusk and getting dark fast.  I dragged the tent back over to the pad, but couldn't figure out how to makeshift the tent to get me through the night and began growing concerned.  I didn't want to have to roll up in it like a bivy sack, due to what I suspected to have caused this possibly still being in the area.

Finally, I learned that by leaning the rocks against the inside walls of the tent in a certain way, I could manipulate the broken pole to somewhat align.  Everything else soon fell into place after this, and I was ready for a sheltered sleep, as long as the wind did not pick up.  If it rained, I was going to get wet.  And of course, I had an open door policy for any rodents in the area as I had no way of securing the door.  None of these concerns came into play.

I didn't sleep a wink that night.  I heard animals sniffing around my tent several times and turned my headlamp on to scare them away.  Twice it must have been a deer as I heard hooves running off.  The other time was probably a porcupine or other similarly sized creature.  At one point I heard a long snarl of a cat a long ways off in the distance.  It seemed like a wildlife highway out there!

The next morning I enjoyed photography down at Lake Magog, meeting a fascinating photographer named Noel.  We talked a lot and I shared my tent story with him.  He offered me the use of his personal tent for the next couple of days as he was staying in a cabin.  This really meant a lot to me and I was excited that this event was not going to end my stay prematurely.

I then returned to camp and enjoyed breakfast at the food prep shelter.  I shared my story with several other campers and most everyone went down to investigate.  One thought circulating was that one of the curious deer could have snagged its antler in my tent while snooping around and freaked.  This actually began to have credence with me.  It was rutting season after all.

Muddy adult grizzly print on my tent.
I planned to hike to the lodge to report the incident after breakfast, but before I could, Noel and a lodge employee named Rachel arrived.

Together, we went down to my tent to investigate the area.  I hadn't been able to the night before as it was too dark when I arrived at my tent.  Also, the ground was frozen so I assumed there wouldn't be any tracks possible.

They immediately found two fresh digs near my tent, and fresh bear scat nearby.  It was undoubtedly a bear.  But there was a more obvious sign.  After full inspection of the contents of my tent by all, I laid the tent over to show them how I found it.  There, on the bottom side of my tent, were two muddy paw prints.  One from a large adult grizzly bear (pictured above), the other from her cub.

Fresh grizzly dig near my tent.
It was shared with me that their concerns appeared to be coming true.  A year ago at about the exact same time, a mother grizzly with a young cub ripped into a tent in the same area due to food.  They were rewarded for their efforts.  Fast forward a year and I appeared to be a sitting duck for the same mother and, now a year older cub.  The bears had only arrived in the area a day or two ahead of me.

Concern grew and was radioed to the powers that be.  In the meantime, the lodge had a tent they would lend me.  It was, however, recommended that I move to a different area.  They did not find me very argumentative.

Loaner tent from the Assiniboine Lodge.
I hiked to the lodge and picked up the loaner tent.  I returned to the campground to learn campers were being directed to "buddy up".  We all agreed that this was a good idea.

I found a nice site on the other side of the campground, next to a couple of guys from - you guessed it, Seattle.  The tent proved to be much bigger than my one-person, barely fitting on the tent pad.  But I was tickled with it, and appreciative to all (except those dang bears).

Rachel officially closed all the tent pads in the vicinity of where the break-in took place.

After getting everything set up, I went for a walk down to the lake to scout and photograph the larches in mid-morning light.  A short ways down the trail I looked down and noticed something interesting - fresh bear tracks, both mother and cub!  As I neared a vantage point where the trail descends to the lake, I saw the bears foraging in the meadow about 150 yards away.  The mother picked up on me pretty quickly.  Soon they both made their way upslope and disappeared in the trees.  This would have put them in close proximity of the lodge I thought (incorrectly), and I wondered what effect having bears so comfortable around people near the lodge might have on the campground status.

Adult grizzly print.
I enjoyed an evening of photography up on The Nub with some new photography friends, Randall and Brian, then returned to camp in the dark. I slept pretty soundly that night.

The next morning I awoke early and trudged through the darkness to the tarns to catch the reflection of Mount Assiniboine at sunrise.  It was a peaceful morning and the tarns were half ice covered in the sub-freezing temperatures.

Grizzly cub print.
I returned to camp and realized I had to make a decision on the coming days and what I wanted to commit to.  There were signs that the weather was changing and my knees and feet were not getting any better.  I mulled around for an hour or so before finally deciding to go enjoy some coffee while continuing the thought process.

I arrived at the food prep shelter to find that Rachel had assembled the campers to share the bad news; BC Parks had just announced the closure of the campground due to liability concerns.  They were concerned that if another tent incident happened without them acting, there could be legal trouble.  It also goes without saying that they did not want to encourage the mother bear to teach her young to rip into tents.

So their answer to the liability concern?  We were to all move our tents into the food prep shelter for the evening.  You can't make this stuff up.  My exact response was, "You can't write better comedy than this!  Somebody send this scrip into Jimmy Fallon!"

Randall, Brian and myself at the "homeless shelter".
For those not in the know, as hikers you are always taught that, when camping in grizzly bear country, always sleep AT LEAST 100 feet from any food area.  In fact, it is also recommended that you change out of any clothes you ate in as to not have any food aroma on the clothes you wear to bed.

But these were the orders handed down, and Rachel was simply serving as the messenger.

Before I continue any further, I have to praise Rachel.  She was awesome.  She went out of here way on a daily basis for us, bringing us fresh drinking water in a bucket that she collected herself after our water supply was shut down (frozen pipes), and always thinking of our well-being.  She was always trying to make our stay more enjoyable.  For each of my tent moves, she offered to help pack and carry my gear as well.  She even offered to go retrieve the loaner tent for me herself.  She was a remarkable host.

Back to the shelter, which we were now jokingly referring to as a "homeless camp".  None of us were excited about the situation for reasons already stated.  I was literally cooking and eating dinner ~ 2 feet from the entrance to my tent.  Randall and Brian devised a plan to barricade the entrances to the shelter with picnic tables before we retired into our tents for the evening.  This might have slowed the bears down, but I doubt it.

We came down from photography on The Nub that evening to find the trail taped off and official closure notices posted.  They proved a fun obstacle course in the dark.

We didn't sleep much that night.

The next morning the other campers prepared to fly out.  I packed up "camp" and moved down to the Naiset Huts for my final night.  I wasn't overly excited about the move as I enjoyed the privacy and solitude of camping.  Now I would have to share a hut with others.  It would be a different experience for sure.

I got settled into the Fleabane hut, then hurried up to the helicopter pad to say goodbye to all my new friends.  It was a pretty crazy crowd up there and I didn't linger long.

I ventured back to the lodge, where a gentleman named Richard Guy was celebrating his 99th birthday.  He was a well recognized gentlemen to all, for reasons I did not know.  Noel was tickled to have been able to take pictures of him hiking up The Nub the previous day.  99 years old and hiking up The Nub.  Wow!  The Canadian Alpine Club was building a new climbing hut somewhere in BC, and it was to be named after him.  What an honor.

Richard was being offered a birthday present of a helicopter ride around Mount Assiniboine (though he had to be tricked onto it as he would not accept a ride for only himself).

Me at the Fleabane hut.
I ventured down to the lake and found a rock to perch on and just absorb the views for the afternoon.  My mission for the day was to simply rest and prepare my feet and knee for the hike out in the morning.  Besides, sometimes you have to put the camera down and just smell the flowers (or in this case, larches).

Soon a helicopter swooped over me and headed across the lake towards the mountain, and I smiled.  It corkscrewed up and over the ridge, circling the peak at both near and far distances, and even hovered above the summit.  More smiles.

I ventured back and settled into my new accommodations. I enjoyed meeting my new roommates at the cooking cabin, a couple from Canmore who also hiked in.  My new environment wasn't bad as it turned out.  I enjoyed meeting new and different people with different interests.  There is always something to be said for that.

That evening I enjoyed photography at the tarns. Soon the mother grizzly appeared directly across the tarn from me.  She was in her own little world and could care less of my presence, though she was well aware of it.  Soon she was gone and I could hear her down by the lake.  I finished my evening with some star photography near the lodge, capturing the Milky Way directly over Mount Assiniboine.  It was a rewarding evening.

The next morning I returned to the tarns for the best photography of my trip, then beat it back to the hut.  I packed up and said my goodbyes before hitting the trail around 9:00 to hike over Wonder Pass and out.

A mother grizzly and cub had been seen in the vicinity of Wonder Pass in recent times.  There was even a posting of her charging a hiker about a month prior.  But in recent days, hikers venturing to the pass (including myself) had seen nothing, leaving many to wonder if they had moved on.

They hadn't.  About half a mile east of the pass I looked up to the mother and cub grazing on the distant open hillside.  I announced myself and they immediately began descending quickly toward me!  "No, no...I don't need a welcoming committee!", I thought.  I hiked another 50 feet or so and announced myself again.  This time they stopped and looked at me, then continued about their business.  This is when I realized that I was completely out in the open now where they could see me.  I wasn't the first time I called out.

My feet and knees took a pounding descending from Wonder Pass.  This trail too has had several washouts since I last hiked it.  Upon reaching the Bryant Creek junction, I did something I never do due to notoriously weak ankles; I donned my sandals and draped my boots over my pack.  Ah, comfort!

My time hiking the 18 miles into Magog Lake was 6.5 hours.  I thought I could shave about an hour off this time on my way out.  It didn't happen.

It felt good to reach the end of the trail and begin the drive home, with all the memories of my trip in tow.

I am still editing my images from the trip, and wouldn't you know it that my best images were taken on the very last day!  However, you can see images from previous trips to Mount Assiniboine as well as other destinations in my Canadian Rockies Gallery if you wish.

As always, thanks for reading!  And if you are planning a trip into this area in the future, feel free to reach out to me with any questions.  I'm always happy to help.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Fabulous Lupine at Mount St. Helens

Fields of lupine at Mount St. Helelns
Many people flock to Mount St. Helens to witness the aftermath of the devastating eruption of  35 years ago.  This is becoming harder and harder to do with each passing year.  Sure, the obvious signs are there - the "toppless" mountain, logs floating in Spirit Lake, downed trees on opposing hillsides, and scattered galleries of scorched and abandoned machinery.  But this is a much different landscape now than it was twenty years ago.

When I first started visiting Mount St.. Helens in the aftermath of the eruption, it was a stark, gray landscape that offered little more than the somber remembrance of that fatal day.  It was a depressing scene, seeing how all of nature's vibrant life had been destroyed.

Well, guess what?  The vibrance is back and people are taking notice.  One would be hard pressed to even notice the once charred landscape during a summer visit.  Why?  Because the park is alive again with flower meadows rivaling many others in our state.

The obvious place to visit is Johnston Ridge in early July.  Each year I visit this area I see more and more people, as well as photographers.  And for good reason.  This area is easy to get to and offers the parks best showing as seen from the road, in my opinion.

Windy Ridge is a little more difficult for the average tourist to get to due to the length of drive, but hikers and flower enthusiasts know it well.  While flowers can be seen from the road, some of the best displays require a little bit of hiking.

The above image is such a location.  While returning from a hike to the Plains of Abraham, I made a loop trip out of it by way of the Truman Trail.  What I descended to was one of the most intense and aromatic fields of lupine I have ever seen.  The view of the mountain is very unique here.

This image is appearing in a German book, and serves as another example of international interest in our beloved Pacific Northwest.

To view more images of this wonderful area, feel free to visit my South Cascades Gallery.

As always, thanks for looking.  See you on the trail!