Friday, 6 July 2012

2 hikes, 7 bears, many pikas, one day

I reconnected with my friend Amy last week. You may recall me extolling her virtues (well, some of them) in an earlier post. She and her boyfriend Michael are spending their final summer in Banff, love to hike, but lack a vehicle. We love to hike but have a vehicle. So we offered to take them hiking with us.

I decided to start off fairly easily, with 2 shorter hikes in the north end of Banff Park (Bow Glacier Falls and Bow Summit Lookout), both of which I have done before and reported on (here, here and here). It did mean dragging them out of bed way too early (note to self: next time, a later pickup).

On our way up the Icefields Parkway, we saw our first bears of the day. First came a grizzly and a cub. Then came another grizzly. Then another grizzly. Each one came with a bear jam, and in one case, two tour busses pulled off to the side of the road. Fortunately, most folks were staying in their vehicles just watching and so all we saw were bears going about their business unperturbed in the roadside ditch, surrounded by cars -- somewhat like the last time I saw a bear up there.

We first stopped at Num-Ti-Jah Lodge for the Bow Glacier Falls hike. It was blue sky and still, making for very reflective photography.
Looking south along Crowfoot Mountain 
More reflections
Michael took a killer shot that is very difficult to tell the up from the down.
It is in fact upside down
They both enjoyed the raging creek in the slot canyon.
Amy & Michael
The falls were falling. The basin still has snow patches in it, though none are on the trail.
Lots of pouring water
From the point in the photo above, it's tough to make it to the base of the falls without getting your feet a little wet. There are several large waterfalls, and numerous streamlets to cross, some of which flow on the trail.

At the base of the falls, there was a hoary marmot basking in the sunshine...
Solar powered 
Nice front teeth
...and the ubiquitous golden mantled ground squirrels posing while begging.
Obviously fed. But not by me.
We also saw pikas, both closer to the lake near the start of the hike and up in the basin as well. I was really happy for this as I was hoping to show my favourite critter to Amy and Michael. However, I got no photos of them for two reasons: 1) they're too fast, and 2) around this point, my camera batteries died and I also found out my backups were dead too.

We were done at the falls far earlier than I expected, well before lunch. So we snacked, and then the crowds arrived. Up until that point, we were the only ones in the basin. But as we snacked at the foot of the falls, 6 people came into the basin. Then it was 8, then 10, then 12. On our way back to the parking lot, we ran across another marmot right on the trail, plus about 20 more people headed up to the falls.

We stopped for a picnic at Num-Ti-Jah, then drove the 10 min up the road to Bow Summit and the Peyto overlook. Where the crowds got really big, with the parking lot packed and several busses of Japanese tourists all milling around in their "Sunday go to meetin'" clothes (Why do the Japanese dress in suits and dresses to go out into the wilderness? High heels? Pantyhose? Suit jackets?). Fortunately, they go to Peyto Lake overlook then go home. We took the short walk up the fire road to the site of the former fire lookout. We had the hike to ourselves, 300 m from the busiest spot in the park.
My photo. Michael & Amy's camera
On our way up there, we saw two sets of wolverine tracks...
The slow walk tracks
...more marmots, including one running across a snowfield...
Way away, in the top centre
...and more pikas. This is another of Michael's photos.
My favourite dudes
On the way down, we stopped at an overlook for a good view of Peyto Lake...
That water colour is unreal
...and an opportunity for Michael to play mountain goat.
Looks more dangerous than it was
Michael and Amy seemed to like my selection of hikes.
Smiles at the end of a day
On our way home we saw 3 more bears. Michael got a photo of one (so did Karen but hers were blurry).
A moderately large grizzly
All three had bear jams, with over a dozen cars parked for the dude in the photo above. Thankfully, he was ~100 m off the road. The closest one to the road and people was a rather chubby looking black bear who was in the ditch, but his butt was almost on the road, and cars were parked within 30 ft. of him.

I don't often see a bear. Seeing 7 in one day was pretty cool. I was really surprised to see 7 bears in the space of just one 8 km section of highway. I was even more impressed that they were all just going about their business despite being the object of so many paparazzi.

It was also really cool hiking with my friends. Hopefully we can do it again soon. There are other places I would like to show them.

Current Trail Condition Report:

The current Banff Park trail report called the Bow Glacier Falls trail "Fair with muddy and wet sections" (it's been updated today to Fair with a bear warning. Surprise). No, it's actually in good shape. There's a spot near the end of the lake near the start where you have to cut through the forest on a rough path, but it is not muddy. As I mentioned, up in the upper basin near the falls, there is a lot of water that is all of 1" deep, all readily crossed using the bigger rocks to limit exposure. Amy and Michael hike in running shoes (or "trainers", as Amy calls them. She is, after all, British). Neither had problems.

Parks don't report conditions on the Bow Summit trail. The fire road is mostly still snow covered, but there are only 3 places where you have to walk on the snow, none very long. I did them easily without poles, but poles would help. There's a lot of water flowing out the basin area near the lookout, but it's easily crossed.

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