Sunday, 28 August 2011

Rockbound Lake -- with Pikas!

I wasn't planning on doing much today other than continuing the move process, but a friend of mine from Calgary called us up and wanted to know if we were going hiking today. This retirement thing enables us to do anything we want pretty much any time we want, so we said sure.

A prescribed forest fire burn was lit off yesterday in my favourite area of Kananaskis Country and we wanted to stay away from it and the smoke. So we headed into Banff park and climbed up to Rockbound Lake behind Castle Mountain.

The big cirque is pretty well known to the folks traveling the Trans Canada, as it is readily seen from the highway at a popular pull out. See, for instance, this shot from Panoramio. Castle is on the left, and the cirque is in the middle.

The majority of the hike isn't that thrilling (unless you love red squirrels, of which there were dozens). Like Taylor Lake, the start is about 7 km up through a mostly disenchanted forest with limited views. Unlike Taylor, at the top, it gets very good. First, you get to Tower Lake, a green pool at the foot of steep cliffs.
A shallow puddle of loveliness
The trail continues up the headwall at the end of the lake, with pretty views back up the valley.
Tower Lake just glistens
And then you arrive at Rockbound, and aptly named place.
The lake in the front, Mt. Helena at back. The route up is visible.
Eisenhower Tower at the end of Castle Mountain
The rock walls at the end of the lake
The lake actually overflows from time to time, but at this time of year, it drains out of the bottom though underground passages. When it does overflow, it heads down a wicked chasm in the limestone and down the headwall. But it's an easy walk to the crest of the dry waterfall, and this was the best view of the day.
Tower Lake on the right
Looking down the valley 
Smoke from the Buller Creek fire we were avoiding
Our friend Lynn on the edge
Tower Lake and Eisenhower Tower
It's a really popular scramble to climb Mt Helena, the ridge or any of the other peaks in the area (Stuart Knob, TV Peak or Castle Mountain itself) from the basin, and in truth, in the back of my mind I thought we might try one of the them. But it took a lot longer to get the the basin than I was anticipating, so we just spent time enjoying the basin, looking at the way up.
The gully that leads up (real trail in the trees on the right)
On our way down, we got into the shadows of Castle Mountain, and saw the colours on the back.
Prettier than the picture shows
Those big rubble fields on the backside of Castle...
Hmmn... looks like home to...
...were natural Pika habitat, and with patience, we saw a few.
Too shy; they never came that close
It wasn't a great wildlife day from the perspective of seeing wildlife. We only saw a single chipmunk, 3 Pikas, about 100 red squirrels. But footprints? Boy, did we see lots of footprints.
Two cougar tracks on top of each other
Two sizes of canid, two sizes of cat (probably bobcat)
...but the best of all, a HUGE wolf track.
A full 14 cm (5.5") long
It wasn't my intention to go hiking today, but I'm glad we did. This hike is longer  (9.25 km vs Patton & Robinson's 8.4 km) and higher (820 m vs their 760 m, both according to the two altimeters and the two GPSs that I carry) than the books say. One day, I'll return to hoof it up and climb Mt Helena. And I hope that when I do, the weather is as wonderful as it was today.

Thanks, Lynn, for asking us to go hiking today.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Monarch Ramparts Ridgewalk

It has been a busy couple of weeks, and so we decided to take today "off" from the moving, and go hiking. Today was coincidentally "locals day" for the bus trip up to Sunshine Village, with a 40% discount on the prices for the ride. I love the Sunshine Meadows area in the summer, and it's a magnificent way to get an accelerated start on being up high in the mountains. We were up here last in August 2009 and had a great time.

Today, we planned on doing a loop to the Monarch Ramparts. By my planning, it was a 21 km circuit with a 700 m height gain. But I blew it; it was actually a 25.6 km circuit with a 1,130 m gain (I misread Patton & Robinson's book, and lost a 4 km section from Simpson Pass to Healy Pass). We caught the 9 AM bus, and started hiking at 9:30, and just barely made the 5:30 PM bus down.

We ran into a very nice lady on the bus who was solo hiking our route but doing the loop part backwards, and not coming back to Sunshine but hiking down Healy Creek to the Sunshine parking lot. More on this later.

The hike starts with a climb out of the ski area up and over Wawa Ridge, offering views on the way up of Mt. Assiniboine over the ski runs...
Part the way up Meadowlark run
...until you get to the crest of the ridge and get to see "the target" for the day:
The ridge on the left with the slight snow band is the goal
I was surprise that at this point that after climbing 160 m, you get to descend 200 m. Not much in the morning, but going up 200 m made a huge difference at the end of the day. But I digress.

The trail trucks on through the valley finally intercepting the Continental Divide boundary marker at Simpson Pass.
BC on the left, Alberta on the right
The hike was really nice to this point, but from here it really began to get fantastic, wandering through endless high alpine meadows...
Lakes in the high country 
The Monarch on the left, the Ramparts in the middle
...filled with billions (literally) of wildflowers.
Flowers everywhere you look
Flowers, plus The Ramparts on the right, the Monarch centre
The trail climbs up to Healy Pass (nice, but a little bit uninspired and not a "destination" for a day)...
Healy Pass

...and then we started heading down the Ramparts themselves.
Lakes in the valley and easy walking on the Ramparts
This was an amazing place, with awesome views in all directions (including back the way we came, where the route follows under the scree field in the trees in the photo below).
Goat's Eye on the left, Divide on the right
...including an amazing sight: a rock glacier on a mountain that according to my maps has no name in the Ball Range but is the home of Talc (Natalko) Lake.
The rock glacier on the mountain
A close up
The Ramparts have a trail along them that starts at Healy Pass and goes about 1.5 km down the ridge along the Continental Divide. Then the trail kinda dies on the high flats of the Ramparts where a trail isn't needed, and "restarts" to a crappy trail, that is in places a braided and uncertain path on the descent to Eohippus Lake. You pass a bunch of rocks on the descent where I suspect there's a bunch of pikas, but we had no time to look (see below). Pretty soon you're in the basin below the Monarch, one VERY imposing piece of rock.
On the descent. The Monarch, up close and personal
The "trail"/path/flattened grass route leads down to Eohippus Lake (according to my web research, Eohippus was the prehistoric ancestor of the horse who was around 55-45 MM years ago, better known as Hyracotherium). Or it "sort of" leads down to the lake, for the trail kinda just peters out by the lake, and we kinda made our own way for over half a kilometer. The lake itself is nice.
Eohippus Lake under the Monarch
According to official guidebooks and maps, a trail runs from here back to the Simpson Pass trail, and it's an official trail (though at this point, we had walked out of Banff National Park, through Kootenay National Park, and were now in Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park, so what constituted an "official" trail was uncertain). We spent 15 minutes looking for this trail, being attacked by horseflies and deer flies, and found something that was similar to a game trail if you closed your eyes and hoped it to be so. We followed it, and in about 1.5 km of wading in knee deep bug infested grass, suddenly a path appeared.

Now, at this point, we noted that we had but 2 scant hours to make it back to Sunshine to catch the last bus down. All my calculations and my GPS tools both on my iPhone (Ski Tracks and Bike Tracks, both of which I highly recommend) and my crappy Garmin said we had 1:45 of walking to get back. So we put our heads down and hustled.

Hustling in the back country is no fun. All you see is your feet. Views disappear. Animals "get in the way". You don't get a break for water or even to catch your breath. And we had a 200 m to climb back up over Wawa Ridge to get back.

We made it back to the village with 20 minutes to spare. Thank goodness (and this is the best part), Sunshine sells beer in the village, so while waiting for the bus, we had a well-earned cold one, nursing all our sore muscles, which were pretty much every muscle in our bodies.

It was a slow wildlife day. We saw about a million Columbian Ground Squirrels...
This dude let me come within 3'
...a single marmot...
Normally they sit still. He didn't.
...and while we saw no wolves (folks on our bus up reported that there was a family of 5 on the road), we saw their poo.
The card on the top is 9" long
We were yelled at by pikas but none would come out to play. We were told of a grizzly sow and three cubs down at Egypt Lake, but didn't go that far, and also heard of bear at Laryx Lake, but never got there. We heard of big mule deer near the top of Standish Chair, but weren't there either.

If I were to do this hike again:
  • I would NOT "reverse" the direction. I would stick with Mike Potter's route, going Sunshine to Simpson Pass to Healy Pass to the Ramparts. Do NOT go Sunshine to Simpson Pass to Eohippits to the Ramparts to Healy Pass.
  • I would NOT go down the Ramparts all the way to Eohippus Lake.  I WOULD wander the Ramparts down the ridge towards the Monarch, but I would turn before as the trail descended into the trees (and the views went to crap). That's the best part of the trail, and the descent to Eohippus adds nothing but time, distance and problematic trail finding;
  • I would debate the choice between descending at the end of the day to the parking lot via Healy Creek, versus climbing back up and over Wawa ridge to get back to Sunshine. That last 200 m grunt up was painful at the end of a 26 km day. The downside to heading back to the parking lot is that it's an additional 2.5 km of hiking. But it's all downhill. You gotta make the call based on how you're feeling, and where the cold beer is.
This was a great day, but we were wiped out by the distance and height gain. 

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


There's something that amazes me about the moving process. Having moved before, we get real movers (Tippet Richardson, in this case) to pack us. Three very nice ladies packed my whole house in one day. It will likely take us a month or more to unpack. But what is amazing is this:

We open a box. We unwrap the stuff inside (the paper it's wrapped in is called "crush") and put the stuff away. We then put the crush back in the box it came out of. The amazing part? The crush doesn't fit back in the box it came out of. Witness:
Boxes overflowing with crush
We moved 104 boxes. We have probably unpacked 25 at this point. Not yet tackled? The master bedroom:
Wardrobe box upon wardrobe box
The reason? We have a Catch 22. Our new place has only 2 closets, neither of which are in the master bedroom. So we need to buy some Ikea PAX wardrobes to put the wardrobes contents in. However, there isn't room for the PAX wardrobes because the wardrobe boxes are in the way.

Maybe we will just live out of wardrobe boxes for a while.

The kitchen is unpacked. We added all of our old Ikea IVAR shelving to make everything fit. I spent today assembling shelving in the basement. Not stacking it with boxes, just assembling it. And I'm 9 bolts short of being able to finish (how did I lose 9 bolts?).

We still have no furniture. KC took over one director's chair to sit on. We're moving in the furniture from the West Wing, but we need to make space for it first. And as soon as we take it out of the West Wing, our sanctuary won't really be that livable any more, so we're not in a rush to move it over.

Our dining table is covered in items that we don't know where to put as yet. We have dozens of boxes of art we're afraid to unpack as we don't know where it all will hang (we have MUCH less wall space than we used to), and we need to hand some of the stuff from the West Wing, too.

I have a sneaking suspicion we'll be at this moving thing for a while. And we're taking the next two days "off" from moving, heading back to Calgary tomorrow for basketball meetings, and going hiking on Thursday up to Sunshine Village where were were in July of 2009.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Game 2: A Quickie

I caught last nights game against Lamar, but not tonight's. We got pasted by a team WAY better than us. Observations:

  • OJ stepped up. Killer game. When the boy is hot, not even a Div 1 team can slow him down.
  • Tyler's shooting was better. Rustiness was likely the major factor in last night's performance. But note: he's a perimeter player who has been "upgraded" to post because of his size. He's a killer shooting guard. He hasn't got the physical bulk to fight under the net, and these two games proved it.
  • New guy Darius Sconiers (from Arizona) was a lot like Phil Lebongo from Tuesday: active, but not much in the way of results.
  • Phil: Like last night, but with better results
  • Josh O-T: Solid again. I'm pretty sure he will be one of the two full time imports.
  • Matt: For the court time he had, excellent. Foul trouble, though, and we can't afford to lose him to that.
  • Neb: More time, not much more in the way of results.
  • Walker: Again, why? No energy, no results ( I note he didn't even play today).
  • Keenan: Solid.
  • McGuinnes: Still shooting, to no avail. 1 for 6 from 3 point range? Blah. I struggle with this. Why him, and not Trevor Debolt, who is not back after being with the Dinos since 2008? Last spring, when OJ and others were down, I think Trevor played better than Andrew. Perhaps it's obvious why I am not the coach.
  • Daan: On the bench, not dressed.
Tyler & Matt got into foul trouble early, and the Dinos played with a 4 guard offense most of the night. On the bright side, this showed what the guards can do. On the downside, this also showed the Dino's biggest weakness - no depth in the post or forward ranks. We have 3: Fidler, Lekteman & Bakovic.

Ross and Henry were in the house both nights (BTW, "the house" was only about 600 folks, over half of which were from Texas, Tennessee or Edmonton), and both are heading out this weekend. Ross is newly engaged (as of last week). Both are really looking forward to playing with Nijmegan. I wish them both the very best.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Thoughts on Early Season Basketball

I watched the Calgary Dinos men's team play the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (an NCAA Div. 1 team) last night. I freely admit to not being an expert on basketball by any measure, so take these observations with a grain (or rather large lump) of salt.

This is a strange time of year to see a pre-season tournament. The Dinos start league play in late October, 2 months from now. The NCAA boys start in mid November. So they've each practiced, what, 10 times? How would this compare to a tournament played near the end of the seasons? I saw a LOT of stuff last night that could be chalked up (on both sides) to (1) rustiness of not playing competitively for months, and (2) not knowing the new players on your team.

The rules used were a compromise: FIBA rules except a 30 second shot clock (split between the 24 sec FIBA clock and the eternity long 35 sec NCAA clock). The NCAA boys didn't seem to play like they knew the "5 fouls and your out", and the two guys who fouled out seem genuinely surprised.

I don't think the Dinos were playing "out of class" with a Div 1 team. They dug a deep hole with poor shooting at the beginning, but were in the game a bunch in the middle, within 1 twice. The Blue Raiders were better, no question. The better team won. The Dinos "lost" a bit, too, with 33 turnovers, many unforced, and only 8 offensive rebounds (vs 19 for the Blue Raiders). I chalk that up to rustiness. 

However, this tournament strikes me as being more about sussing out your players than being indicative of anything, and to that end, the Dinos certainly gave a lot of people a lot of court time. Only Patrick Walker was in single digit minutes. Early observations of the Dinos 11/12 squad from a fan with no understanding of the game:

  • Impressive were Matt Letkeman (though Matt, work on your free throws) and Josh Owens-Thomas (a new guy)
  • Solid performances from Jared O-J, Keenan Milburn, Phil Labongo (who had a ton of energy if nothing else);
  • Wishy-washy performances from Tyler Fidler and Andrew McGuinness (both with consistently ice cold shooting)
  • Vacuous performances from Daan Wiersum (new guy) & Neb Kuljic, both of whom got good minutes and lots of chances to do something but didn't do much at either end
  • The "what the heck is he doing out there" award to Patrick Walker
We also have Boris Bakovic, rocket hot shooter but who at this moment is in China with the Canadian University team, and Dustin Reading, who from past experience typically ranks at or below "vacuous".

Extrapolating the first game that takes place 2 months before the rest of the season is risky, but I will try: if Backovic can propel us (and I've never seen him play), there's a chance we'll just make the playoffs -- but I doubt we'll do much better than that. However, if Bakovic doesn't keep up his 24+ ppg average, I'm not holding out much hope for the season.

But it doesn't matter. I'll still be in the stands rooting for them anyway. Bring on the rest of the season!!!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

And the big move starts...

My week at a glance:

Saturday: Getting rid of the last stuff.
Sunday: We start collapsing shelves and other furniture.
Monday: We take possession of our new house. Freezer contents move.
Tuesday: We pack the things that can't be shipped by the movers.
Wednesday: Last day to access stuff and prep.
Thursday: Movers arrive to pack everything. Pool table moves.
Friday: Moving van load day.
Saturday: Moving van unload day at our new house.
Sunday: The unpacking starts. It should take until December.
Monday: The new owners take possession of our Calgary house.

And in the middle, 3 basketball games, as the U of C Men's Team plays two NCAA Div 1 teams, the Lamar Cardinals from Texas (coached by the son of famous coach Bobby Knight), and Middle Tennessee.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Wandering on glaciers -- with pikas!

My guests this week really wanted to see (and maybe walk on) a glacier. There is no easier glacier to access than the Old Goat Glacier, who's trail head is just 30 min from my front door. The Columbia Ice Fields with the bus tours are several hours away. The Robertson and Haig Glaciers are big but hard to get to. Old Goat isn't big but it's close.

We have been up in this area several times. I have posted before here and here about how nice and easy the start of this trail is. Today we started early enough to get up to the glacier and wander around it.

The falls, as always, were great.
Lots of water
At least one of my guests was eyeing the cave greedily.
No accessible by any means I know
But the basin was beautiful today.
Looking down the access moraine. Snow field=easy way down 
Looking up from our lunch spot
From lunch, we headed up to the glacier. There's two ways to get there, easily viewed in the above photo:

  1. Stay left. Stay left all the way up the creekbed top the level of the toe then cut right across scree to the glacier's toe.
  2. Stay left to the confluence of the creek and the snow. Cross the creek on ice bridges then climb straight up to the toe.
Some of our party went up #1 and down #2. The others stayed on #2 for the up and down. There's no trails, but aside from the creek crossing, the stone (and even the mud, hard and stable) was good to walk on.
From up above the glacier's toe 
Making it up the ice
Crossing the ice bridges on the way down
The glacier has red algae growing on it, so looks pink from a distance. It's melting, so we were entertained by rockfall all day. The water falling off it removes the rocks and exposes the ice.
Extraordinary ice channels
Glissanding down the glacier and snow fields (or sliding on your stomache on an improvised snow sled, as one of my guests did) gets you down quickly and is fun.
At the start of the big descent down.
One of the many reasons I like this hike is the plethora of pikas and marmots.
My cuties 
This guy came within 5'
Fat dude on a rock
Fatter dude on another rock
I think my guests enjoyed this hike.
The Riddells at the falls