Monday, 22 September 2014

Larches and pikas and bears, oh my

The larches are turning, and I really wanted to get up to my favourite place to go see them. I have been to, and written about, Sparrowhawk Tarns before -- here, here and here. But I rarely hit the larches in their peak colour.

Larches are to Alberta what maples and oaks are to Eastern Canada. They are one of the few things that change our green forests to a beautiful colour in the fall. I wish they would last longer; they go from pale green to yellow to gold to gone in a matter of 10 days. Sparrowhawk has a magnificent grove of larches.

We started by picking up our friend Monty at the Canmore Nordic Centre, where the aspens and poplars are magnificent.
Mt. Rundle in the background
As you can tell by looking across from the Sparrowhawk trailhead, fall colour is not the "norm" here.
Still green
About 45 min up, we looked and found the day's first pikas.
Posing for me 
They don't sit still long.
Running away
The fall colours of the bushes on the way up are brilliant.
Looking up at Mt. Sparrowhawk
When the larches start, everything just goes magnificent.
The first of the larches 
A solo 
Larch after larch after larch 
And even more
Groves, looking back towards Read's Tower
We passed even more pikas in this section...
Contemplating life from a rock
...and saw a Clark's Nutcracker rooting for seeds.
On the ground 
In the larch
We emerged from the larch forest and got into the upper basin proper just in time for lunch. We stopped at the top of a knoll, sat down, and started to eat lunch. A few ravens were flying around, making a lot of noise. I followed them and saw something in the distance.
Our lunch view. But there's something there
We pulled out binoculars and saw something large and brown and moving...
Hey, that's a...
...which looked from our distance (of ~500 m) to be a grizzly bear. He was digging and rooting around a lump in the ground, and the two ravens were trying to get him away from whatever he was digging for.
Digging with company 
The ravens won't go away
After a few minutes, the bear lay down on the lump, but the ravens would not leave.
"Go away"
I shot a short movie of him.
Knowing fully well I would lose picture quality, I turned on digital zoom, and continued shooting.
Fuzzy, but
When we got home and looked at these photos, it became clear that this is not a grizzly, but a cinnamon coloured black bear. Ah, well. Seeing him was just awesome.

We left the bear to be (after each taking about 100 photos), and continued into the basin, making a heck of a racket. We passed awesome streams...
A low down creek 
Amazing green next to a creek up high
...tarns with some water in them...
Tarn 1 of 5
...the spectacular basin...
The route up Red Ridge
...hunting camps...
Tables and chairs out of stone
...and just beauty everywhere.
Looking back into the basin
On our way back, we just had to see if Mr. Bear was still there where we first saw him. He was. Lounging.
That's chilled.
The light wasn't nearly as good on the way down, but the larches were still nice.
Lovely colour
We saw more than just bears and pikas today, but not much. We did see the odd chipmunk.
Cute. And eating
What a fantastic day in the mountains. The larches were perfect, seeing the bear was amazing, and of course there were pikas.

And I hiked 17 km, climbing 780 m. Which is why I am now dead tired. Not bad for a guy recovering from a broken leg.

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