Friday, 28 August 2015

Avoiding the smoke

So this whole "try to post stuff in order" thing isn't working. Catchup is slow. So now you get current events merged with random older events.

The weather this week has been strange. We had cold and snow on Saturday...
Lots of white
...which became warm and sunny on Sunday (meaning the snow was mostly gone by Sunday night). Then on Monday, the smoke from the terrible fires in Washington State and southern BC arrived. At times it was so thick, you couldn't see across the valley. You could stare into the sun because it was just an orange blob.
The sun behind the mountain 
Yes, those are visible sunspots
We were planning to hike Monday but the smoke was so thick and it smelled so bad, we bailed. We were supposed to help the Stewards tear apart illegal bike structures on Tuesday, but there was a health warning out for the air, so Parks cancelled it. We were supposed to do camera work on Wednesday but the health warning was still in place and it was cancelled by Parks Ecology.

So we sat inside, doing very little, for 3 days. I worked on a new album. Karen cleaned. I cleaned. I tried to seal up more mouse holes. Karen sewed. But after 3 days, we had cabin fever. We HAD to go out and do something.

We looked at the smoke forecast and came to the conclusion that by going north we would get out of the worst of it. I looked and decided to drive a bit over 2 hrs north to Parker Ridge, the most northerly hike in Banff Park, on the south end of the Columbia Icefield. A shorter hike of only about 6 km with only about 280 m of height gain, I figured we would only be hiking 2-3 hrs for 4.5 hrs driving, but it was better than nothing.

We left a socked in valley at 9 AM, barely able to make out the mountains on either side in an orange haze. By Lake Louise, it hadn't improved much. By Bow Lake and Bow Summit, it was much better, and we even thought about just heading to Bow Glacier Falls. But we soldiered on. North of Saskatchewan River Crossing, it was better still, and by the Big Hill, there were sheep on the roads causing traffic jams.
Sheep on the side of the road 
Dumb tourists out of their cars
We left the house at 9 and were on the trail by 11:30.
Ah. Basically smoke free.
While you can't see the Athabasca Glacier from here, you can see Mt. Athabasca and it's north glaciers.
People climb that pretty much every day
The view across the valley of the Nigel River valley is nice. There's a long trail up that valley that apparently has good views.
Road 200 m below
The east-west ridge is serious high alpine terrain, windswept and fragile. The popularity of the trail causes people to shortcut it, creating braids that Parks tries to control.
The high windswept stuff
The prize for most people on the trail is the view of the 13 km long Saskatchewan Glacier, the largest outflow of the Columbia Icefield.
Hazy but nice
Parker Ridge is basically flattish. It rises ~100 m in each direction from the saddle the trail heads up. So we wandered up towards the west knoll, which is covered in cool rocks with quartz crystal-filled worm burrows.
Very cool 
Some are more "quartzy" than others
The views from the hilltop are nice.
Lennies over the Nigel valley 
You can easily climb this next hill, too. Look carefully... notes below 
Looking back to the east peak 
Looking up the valley towards Wilcox Pass and the icefields
If you look VERY carefully in the photo 3 above, you can see critters. A herd of sheep was hanging out, with a big ram sheep watching over them.
Three of the 9 
The dude on the ridge 
That spec is the dude
And if you look carefully below the dude on the side of the slope above the snow, you'll see 4 hikers who deviated off the trail to walk around the dude, who was in no mood to give way.

The east knoll looked like fun, so we climbed it, too.
The glacier and it's terminal tarn 
I think someone has been here before 
A barren place 
Looking southwest down the valley 
Mt. Athabasca looms larger. West knoll is the bump on the lower right
And yes, it's fall up here.
Avens turned red 
Willows turning yellow
On our way home, Karen revealed that she had never been to Mistaya Canyon, where the Peyto River drops through a narrow slot canyon, which is a 5 min walk off the highway. Had to stop.
The start of the slot 
In 40 m, the river has dropped 40 m into the 5 m wide canyon
50 m down to the swirling, churning water
On our way home, the smoke started socking in just after Bow Lake. Lake Louise wasn't too bad; Banff was almost okay but stinky -- but the valley near Canmore was orange soup with ½ mi visibility.

Glad we escaped to good air.

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