Backpacking

Hiking Up Towards Allstones LakeEnjoying the View of Abraham LakeHaving Supper at Allstones Lake

An eight day backpacking trip concluded our epic August adventure. After learning to do a bit of map and compass work, we set off all together on a sunny hike up to Allstones Lake. Our packs were heavy with food for our 8 day trip. The first part of the hike is well known and the trail well-travelled, so while we could learn how to navigate with map and compass, we didn’t need to. We got to Allstones with time to set up our tarps, filter some water, and make some supper before dark. Our bearhangs (rope systems to hang all our food between trees so bears can’t get at them) took a little longer and we finished them off in the dark with headlamps.

Allstones Lake at Night

Then we all crawled into our sleeping bags under our tarps for what would turn out to be a miserable night. It was clear when we went to sleep, but a storm rolled in overnight and it started raining and blowing really hard. Our tarp was open at both ends and I was sleeping on the outside. My sleeping bag got pretty wet and I got pretty cold. This set the tone for the rest of the trip. The morning dawned, cold, dark, and rainy. We made breakfast, ate, and packed up as quickly as we could.

Cold Wet Morning at Allstones

This was the first day our small group was alone. We were meeting up with everyone else at a pre-determined location on the map. There were no more trails and the trees were thick, making landmarking difficult. To add to this, the clouds were low, and often we couldn’t see any mountains, even when the trees thinned out. The rain was cold and constant, finding a way through all our waterproof layers. We quickly switched from navigating by landmarks to dead reckoning (going a specific compass direction). We tried to gauge our distance by the number of drainages we passed through, but we didn’t know our exact elevation and the number of drainages on the map varied depending on the elevation.

Trying to Navigate

We debated where we were quite a bit, pointing out hills in the distance, and the direction of creeks we crossed. Eventually we got to an open mountainside where we could see more than one landmark at once. We debated, ended up with two possibilities of where we could be, with most of us being pretty sure of one. But on a day when we were all cold, wet, and miserable, with darkness starting to loom, we thought we better be sure. We took out the GPS and confirmed our guess. We were where we thought we were, but we still had a ways to go. We eventually found the right drainage to walk down, followed the swampy, willowy valley, and ended up close to our campsite. We were all soaked, although hiking had kept us warm up to this point.

River Crossing Near Camp

As we got into camp though, the cold started creeping in and we started slowing down. As we tried to set up the tarp with shaking, numb fingers, others in our group searched for less-damp wood with which to start a fire. Nothing was dry. Through chattering teeth, we made sure everyone had their tasks, and we set about doing the chores of the evening. Somehow we managed to get the tarp set up, a fire made, and supper cooked. We changed into drier clothes and tried to warm up.

Trying to Warm Up

By then it was dark, and we needed sleep. We crawled into our sleeping bags and slept extra close that night. Morning came. It was still drizzling, on and off. Most of our gear was wet, but there was nothing to be done about it, so we packed up and headed out. Our route for the day was pretty clear – we would follow a valley through a low pass, and then once the ground leveled out we would head straight north. The day was a little less wet than the day before, our route a little clearer, and our group’s spirits were high. We even saw blue sky for a few minutes before it clouded over again.

Dead Reckoning Through Mossy ForestThe Littlehorn RiverOld Man's Beard

This time we were one of the first groups to camp, and we had a little bit of time to relax in addition to all the evening chores. We got our tarp set up early with drying lines underneath. There was a good gravel bar for a kitchen beside the Bighorn River. The sun came out a bit that evening, and we found out we would have a layover day to dry out our gear. We went to bed happy, if not especially warm.

Cooking Supper

The next day was full of drying gear, learning to identify plants, journaling, and talking with other groups we had barely seen in a few days.

Cooking SupperMorning LightCampfireGroup PortraitTarp ShelterDrying Gear

Then it was time for our small group to head off on our own for a couple days. We picked our route and our campsite for the next night, said goodbye to our home for the last day and a half, and headed out.

Littlehorn and Bighorn Confluence

Despite regular intervals of rain, the fact that there was any sun at all made us pretty happy and the day started out great! We had a long hike ahead of us, but there was a lake at the end of it, and hiking together as a group was a silly and fun affair. At lunch we took off our boots, dried out our feet, and basked in a half hour of sun. It was glorious. After lunch we skipped through meadows, making up songs accompanied by harmonica.

Hiking Through Meadows

However, the meadows turned into swamp. The songs turned to blues. The skipping turned to slogging. The rest of the day was pushing through mossy swamps up to our knees, briefly climbing steep hills only to find we had to go back down into the swamp. We were soooo happy to finally see the lake.

Chad Admiring the Lake

We had a relaxing evening at the lake and slept in the next morning. We woke up to sun for the first time (actually the only time) that trip and water quietly lapping at the shore. We had a leisurely breakfast, packed up, and headed out, changing our route slightly to not lose as much elevation. Crossing the valley above the lake was less swampy than we were worried about. We headed up a south-facing slope of thin pines to gain the ridge and head to our next camp to see everyone again. The hiking was quick and fun, but fallen trees soon slowed us down. It took us longer than expected to get to the next camp, with a steep, mossy decent on the north side of the ridge. After a steeper-than-hoped-for slide down to the river, we crossed and found camp.

Crossing the River

It was really good to see the group again. There were hugs, high fives, and stories all around. For the rest of the trip, we would all hike together. We had a good supper with burnt pudding for desert, which kind of tasted horrible but because it was chocolate and we were camping, it was good.

Pudding Desert!

The next morning we all packed up as a large group and started climbing.

Packing Up

We quickly gained the ridge and had great views. We even got a spot of sun during lunch. But lunch got cut short as clouds started rolling in.

View from the RidgeFog in the Valley

We hiked to another small peak in the rain and fog, and then sat down for an appropriately cold reflection on our trip.

Hiking Through the Fog

After climbing down in a cold, cutting rain, we found another soggy campsite and had a great evening with the group. We had a potluck and skits or songs from each group, and then climbed under our tarps for the last time. The next morning we packed up and bushwhacked out the last few kilometers to the road where a few people hitchhiked back to get a vehicle.

Annoying WillowsCrossing Again

And that’s how it ended, as all trips do, with a “Oh, I guess it’s done. What now?”

Solo Backpacking

Cataract Creek Camp

Before I jump off into my next adventure, I wanted to share at least one glimpse of my last one. I went through three mountain passes in two national parks, camping in a wilderness area in between. It was absolutely beautiful and very quiet besides the soft clucking of a white tailed ptarmigan near my campsite.

For anyone trying to reach me in the next month, I will be out of cell range for the entire month so my next chance to get back to you will be in September.

Taken in the White Goat Wilderness Area.
24mm, f11, 5 seconds

Early Mornings

Still Pool on the Cline River

I’m not normally a morning person, but early mornings while camping are different. The stillness and peacefulness are too sweet to miss.

Taken by the Cline River, AB
12mm, f7.1, 1/320 of a second

A Month of Camping

Camp site Overlooking the Cline River

This last month has been full of trips for me – a couple weeks of backpacking near Abraham Lake and a canoe trip down the North Saskatchewan. They’ve been unusual trips for me though. Instead of the normal peaceful quiet of nature I was in the middle of roaring stoves, surrounded by laughing, yelling, talking, and singing students.

Despite the dramatic departure from my usual outdoor experiences, I really enjoyed these trips and the people who made them what they were. The few nights where I had the energy left to stay up into the night were my little oasis of quiet in these busy and fun-filled trips. Thanks to all my fellow leaders and travelers who made these trips memorable!

Ski Touring Introduction

Molar Meadows Ski Touring

This winter I got my first taste of ski touring and backcountry winter camping! Besides the blisters from borrowed boots, it was incredible and I look forward to many more trips. This trip I fell a lot, so not a whole lot of picture taking happened. I promise I’ll get better at skiing and deliver more photos in the future.

Taken in Molar Meadows, Banff
23mm, f7.1, 1/1000 of a second

Memory and Promise

Banff Mountain Sunset

The prospect of backpacking this summer has me pretty excited. It’s come up a few different ways in the past few weeks and it has me studying google maps, reading trip descriptions, dreaming, and remembering past trips. It’s not the most immediate thing, but it is a familiar thing I can come back to. In a couple weeks I’m going ski touring and winter camping for a few days, which will be new for me. New things come with both excitement and nervousness. But backpacking will be like climbing into a warm sleeping bag, like curling up with a purring cat. This photo is from quite a while ago in Banff National Park. I was looking through some old photos and reliving some old trips.

Banff National Park
32mm, f6.7 1/180 of a second

Thanks for a Great Evening!

Bighorn Sheep Sharing a Ledge in Jasper

Thanks to everyone who made it out on Wednesday night to the St. Albert Photo Club! We had a packed room — I got to meet lots of photographers, and see some familiar faces. I had a great time and appreciated all your comments and questions! Best of luck to all of you in your photography adventures!

Bighorn Sheep in Jasper National Park
210mm, f4, 1/640 of a second

St. Albert Photo Club Talk

Mountain in Jasper Rising Through the Clouds

On Wednesday, Jan 13th (yes – in two days) I’ll be giving a talk at the St. Albert Photo Club. There will be a lot of practical photography advice, plenty of photos to critique and enjoy, and hopefully some inspiration. It will include a lot of nature photography, as that is mainly what I do, and it will also include other photos that I’ve never shown before. This may be slightly embarrassing for me, and hopefully entertaining and educational for you. I hope to see you there!

Jasper National Park, AB
210mm, f4, 1/5000 of a second

Backpacking in Kananaskis

It’s been ages since I’ve been backpacking and this fall I went up to Aster Lake in Kananaskis Country and stayed for a couple nights. It was very quiet and beautiful. I didn’t see any other creatures the whole time I was there, human or animal.

Apparently I need to go backpacking a whole lot more because I found out how out of shape I am. And as I was setting up camp after a gruelling day getting up the mountain, I found out I packed two extra sleeping mats (in addition to my kind of heavy comfy mat) up inside my tent bag without realizing it (they were still packed in there from camping with Anna a few weeks back). Obviously I need to get my act together.

One thing I loved were the replaceable batteries in my phone. Of course there’s no signal up there, but I got to read a few books this way without any extra weight. I’m thoroughly enjoying a Kurt Vonnegut reading spree at the moment.

This photo is one of the many waterfalls on the outlet of Aster Lake, not far from the campsite. The moon was incredibly bright (you can see the shadows cast by the moon, especially on the waterfall).

7mm, f4, 25 seconds