Saturday, 15 September 2012

Pikas, marmots, ptarmigans and more wow in Sparrowhawk Tarns

It's getting to be an annual event to get up to Sparrowhawk Tarns (the basin of wow) in September. Three years in a row now (2010, 2011 and now) we have headed up at this time. It's still a wow.

Thirty minutes up the trail, we saw our first pikas, and concluded it would be a good day.
Fuzzy and cute
The views up the back side of Read's Tower (and the descent to the circuit we did in 2009) were nice, with lots of fall colour.
The last descent pitch 
Most of the descent route
The route up when the trail hits the rockpile is getting more and more obvious, which is good. The instructions I posted in 2010 remain valid. As soon as we started up the rockpile, we saw more pikas, including this little goober whio just sat and watched us (from a safe distance).
Puffy on a rock
In fact, I spent a lot of time standing staring at rocks looking for movement.
Studying the rocks
The larches up near the lip of the basin are starting to turn. In fact, if my eyes did not deceive me, there were several that were green on the way up in the morning and yellow on the way down in the afternoon.
Okay, the trail kinda peters out in the last push up the rocks. But it's only the last 100 m of trail that's a bit of guesswork.
KC on the last bit 
Looking the other direction
Like last year, we did a big lap of the basin, climbing high up past one of the tarns...
First tarn (and the only one with consequential water) a little waterfall, which in fact was covered in ice.
Ice climbing, anyone?
Looking back. The waterfall is in the little cliff centre left
From here, we worked our way along the east side of the basin, finding fossils...
...a family of ptarmigan...
Very cute. Very friendly
...and more pikas.
Hangin' in the rocks
Looking back. About 1.5 km to the basin's lip
By skirting the basin, we avoid climbing up to the tarns via the waterfall which was dry. The waterfall was dry because the tarns in the back of the basin are dry.
Tarn 1 empty 
Tarn 3 high water mark visible. Scree route up Red Ridge, too
In the photo above, you can tell that the Stonehenge table and chairs that we first found last year are still there, this time with a present.
Note the lower left
That's a baggie of dog food. An ideal thing to leave in the wild, I say.

We skirted the back of the basin, and went high up on the flanking cliffs on the west side under Red Ridge.
Looking back at our route to the east side of the basin 
Back towards the basin lip
Alas, it was time to head down. But the first thing we did was disturb a marmot. We didn't disturb him too much. He saw us...
...ran under a little rock overhang...
...and tried to nap.
Eyes closed
Realizing we wouldn't leave by him boring us to death, after a few minutes, he decided to get up and snack on the grasses.
Post nap snack time
We let him be and within 100 m found another baby marmot, sunning himself and surveying his territory.
Checking me out 
Checking everything else out
From his perch, we saw three Bighorn Sheep running across the basin way below us.
In a hurry. This is huntin' country
It never was very warm Friday, starting at 5° and probably never breaking 15°, and it was windy, too. Still the sun was nice and warm when you were in it. Unfortunately, the descent puts you in the shadow of Red Ridge, making it cool.
Oh, that the trail were 30 m to the right in the warm sun
Just as we got to the base of the rockfall and were about to re-enter the forest, yet another pika yelled at us. He posed for a moment...
Looking cute, but...
..then darted off.
...gotta run!
I ran into some folks today who tried to get up into the basin on Wednesday in the sun, cold and snow. They got only part the way up between the start of the rockfall and the basin's lip since the rocks were so slippery with snow (that and they had trouble finding the trail in the rocks). There was virtually no snow left in the basin Friday.

We took lots of photos of fossils for an upcoming Friends of Kananaskis newsletter so I won't post them here. But it meant we spent a little over 7 hrs to hike the 15.3 km and climb the 835 m. A day well spent, I say.

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