June Crowsnest Pass Trip

In my last post I wrote about Kananaskis Country. From K-Country I drove down the forestry road to Crowsnest Pass. This is a fairly well maintained gravel road, but it was dusty. It was late in the evening, and I wanted to find a place to camp. They say when criminals are on the run, they go somewhere familiar. I’m not aware of any criminal activities I was involved in, but I did the same thing. The trailhead for the Promised Land hike is out of the way, so I drove out there (my poor car) and slept in the car. Now I may just have a little old Honda Accord, but I had a pretty sweet setup with the back seat folded down, my feet in the trunk and my head up by the driver’s seat. My thermarest provided a nice bed, and the fact that it’s an old car means that it had good ventilation without letting in mosquitoes. As far as I know, no one drove by the whole night, and I even slept in till 6:30 or so. The trees shaded my car so the sun didn’t wake me up for a while.

I didn’t have any plans, but I was almost out of water, so I drove down to the Frank Slide. If you turn south just on the west side of the Slide, there is a little gravel road that starts in Frank, goes through the slide, and comes out near Hillcrest. I took this little road and stopped at one of wider areas in the slide. After a little bit of rock-hopping, I got down to the Crowsnest River and sat on a big rock, letting the sun warm my back as it rose, and watching the river flow. The swallows were swooping around, there were some ducks puttering on the slow swampy parts, and then a couple deer came out to join me. They wandered around eating and drinking in the river for a bit, then I stood up to get a better look and they went bounding off. After relaxing a while and filling up my water bottles, I still hadn’t decided what to do with the day. I drove off to the tourist info booth to ask about hikes, and they showed me this brochure with a bunch of hikes on it that I couldn’t have. Grr. But they told me I might be able to get one at the Crowsnest Museum in Coleman. I found one at the museum, and decided to go see the falls on the York Creek.

I have hiked up to the plane crash (the North York Creek hike), but had never seen the falls on the same river. It turns out that the upper falls are a few feet away from the road on the other side of York Creek. The lower falls are also just a short walk, although you can’t get very close to these.

After getting back to the car, I drove out to Chinook Lake, which is a provincial camp ground (along with lake and trail). It looks like it would be a pretty nice place to camp – the sites are somewhat secluded in a thick forest of tall thin pines. It is the standard $14 per night of all (I think) provincial campgrounds. I drove down to the lake, had lunch and read for a while. In the afternoon I did the short easy walk around the lake, which is pretty nice, but nothing spectacular. There is a whole network of trails that go all over the place here. The trails are mostly flat, and not especially exciting, although many of them are groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter.

More coming in bit…

K-Country and Crowsnest Pass

It’s been a week since I travelled down south to Kananaskis and Crowsnest Pass, and high time I write something here. I’ve never been through Kananaskis Country before, so I thought it would be interesting to drive through, and possibly do some hikes. I bought a guide book called “Popular Day Hikes”, which was pretty informative, and did a couple hikes in there. Being the crazy person I am, I left at around 9 in the evening and drove till 2 or 3 in the morning, and slept in the car in a visitor information parking lot in K-Country that had a sign saying it was closed between 11pm and 7am. So I got up at 5 and kept going.

Mornings outdoors are amazing. This is when all the animals are out, the light is beautiful, and everything feels fresh. That and almost no one else is around. So I made a few quick stops at Barrier Lake and Mt Lorette Ponds before starting my first real hike of the trip.

This was the middle of June, so the first hike I wanted to do, Centennial Ridge of Mt. Allan, was closed until the end of June so hikers wouldn’t disturb the young animals (such as goats and sheep), which are still at lower elevations. So I kept going down highway 40, stopping here and there to check out any roadside turnouts. I finally got down to Highwood Pass, which apparently is the highest paved pass in Canada. I parked in the parking lot there and started hiking up to Ptarmigan Cirque. The trail was mostly covered in snow, but the day turned out to be sunny and warm. It is a short, pretty steep hike up to the cirque, and then a pleasant walk around up there. A little stream flows through it, cascading over rocky outcrops (and under snow patches at this point). On the way down some (are they called a flock if they’re bighorns?) bighorn sheep ran up the slope past me.

I kept driving south, and stopped at the Mist Creek turnout to do the Mist Ridge hike. This trail is also used by horses, so it was wide and muddy in places. The first few kilometers were a little boring, through marshes and trees. A while after the trail forks, the trees start to open up a bit and there are some pretty nice views (which are great excuses to take a break). Then you go way down to cross a stream and curse the trail because you know you’re going to have to climb all that way back up again and more. But it’s not too bad, and the switchbacks across flowery and grassy slopes are very nice. Eventually the trail fades out, and you just climb the hill (and climb, and climb) and eventually you get to the top of the ridge. Well, not really the top, because the point you can see off to the north is the south peak. But by this point, the walking is easy, the mountains stretch out in every direction below and beside you, and you’re on top of the world. This part makes the whole trail worth it (not that the trail was that bad). You can walk along the ridge for ages – the north peak is quite far away. This is a great ridgewalk.

That’s my K-Country experience. I then drove down to Crowsnest Pass, but that story will have to wait for another post.

I should say why it’s taking me so long to get around to posting this too. I’m working on an update for the hiking / travel pages – again. (edit – this turned into TravelsAndTrails.com) Something much bigger this time, and I hope I can give you a peek before it’s done, because this one will take a couple months.

Grand Opening of a New Travel Section

Tomorrow there will be a new travel section in place. The trips we’ve taken will all be gone, and in their place will be all the places we’ve been sorted by location. This will make it a lot easier for you to find information about places you might be interested in going to, or just seeing pictures of a particular place. I will probably keep trip information in the blog, so if you want to know, you still can. This is exciting for me, and hopefully useful to you.

(edit – the travel section is now replaced by travelsandtrails.com)

Thoughts on Purchasing an SLR Camera

(…or why I like my Olympus E-1)

There are a million and one cameras out there, and picking a camera to buy can be really exciting and a little scary. It’s hard to know what you want or need, and if you will be happy with your camera and the pictures that come out of it. So to possibly help (or possibly complicate) the process of buying a new camera, I’m going to post my ideas and experience on what makes a good camera. Since I use an SLR camera, I’m going to focus on those, but a lot of this could apply to any kind of camera. (although SLRs provide better image quality and more flexibility than most other cameras)

The camera is simply a tool to capture images, and while this is its only function, a lot of factors come into this.

  • Do you want to be seen carrying it around?

    If you don’t have your camera with you, you can’t take pictures. So how it looks is important.

  • Is is comfortable to hold and carry around?

    Weight and ergonomics are important factors, and can make a big difference when you see that animal on the trail, but your hand was cramping trying to carry the camera, so now you have to dig it out of your pack.

  • Can you get at advanced settings quickly? Do you use them?

    If you change the shutter speed often to capture silky waterfalls, or change the aperture to blur the background, can you change these easily? If you’re shooting a snowy winter scene, can you set the exposure compensation in 2 seconds before your friend skis by you? On the other hand, maybe you hate settings, maybe you always want automatic. Then you should make sure the camera has a great automatic mode (most do these days), and don’t worry too much about access to settings. But beware – you learn as you take pictures and one day you might find yourself wishing you could just change one little thing to get a better picture.

  • What about bad weather?

    Some of the best pictures are taken in bad weather. Spectacular storms, rainbows, and heavy snow can make a good picture great. Do you want to be worried about getting your camera wet or cold? Do you want to shoot from under an umbrella or with a plastic bag over your camera?

  • But I just want amazing pictures with not much effort.

    You will get some. Cameras take good quality photos these days – any camera will. There are some color differences, some capture a little more detail than others, and some have less noise at high iso settings, but most cameras will take pretty good pictures. The main challenge now is getting us to take good pictures, and that sometimes takes effort. I’m always amused when someone sees a great picture and they say, “Wow, you must have a good camera.” Honestly, that hardly matters.


The store salesperson will inform you about megapixels, ISO 1600 shots with no noise, and any other latest whiz-bang (does that date me?) technology a new camera might have. These are things that can be measured, and are easy to spout off without knowing a lot about photography. I believe these should be at the bottom of the list of things you care about when buying a camera. So what should be at the top? That all depends on how you use it.

  • Do you take landscape photos that you want make 3 foot prints of?

    Then you do want lots of megapixels. The more you have, the more detailed your print may be. I say may, because as the number of megapixels goes up, the level of detail doesn’t exactly correspond. It will generally go up to, but the sensor has many factors other than pixel count that affect the amount of detail it can capture. Don’t expect to get much more detail with a 10 megapixel point and shoot than a five megapixel SLR. Why? Because the sensor on the SLR is much larger.

  • Do you want to take pictures of sports games or birds (or your kids who never stop moving)?

    Well, you’re going to need fast autofocus, and long zoom lenses, and you might even want image stabilization. If you can’t focus on a bird before it disappears behind a tree, you’ve lost the shot. And if the bird is just a speck in the distance anyway, does it matter if you get the shot? Long lenses are expensive – can you afford one that will give you decent image quality?

  • Do you want pictures your friend’s band playing at the pub?

    Then low noise at high ISOs might be important to you so your shutter speed can be fast enough so not everything is blurred. You will also want lenses with a large aperture (or low f-stop). Lenses that let in a lot of light are much more expensive.

  • Do you want to take your camera kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, and other places it will be abused?

    This is my category. I don’t ever want to worry about if my camera is safe. I don’t want to worry about it getting wet. I just want it to be there whenever I want it, to get the shot I want. For this you want at least a water resistant camera, if not waterproof. You want something that’s not plastic, so if hits something, the most you’ll get is a ding or a scrape. You want a small camera, so you won’t get sick of carrying around.


I now have the Olympus E-1, which is an old digital SLR. No salesperson would ever try to sell it to you. Its only five megapixels, and Olympus will have a replacement for it this summer. But there are very few cameras out there right now that I would want more than this one, even if I had the money to buy anything.

The settings in the olympus are easy to change. There is a button for almost anything, and you rarely have to change any settings on the LCD. You want to change the exposure compensation – press the button and turn the wheel. You want to change the focus point – press the button and turn the wheel. The ISO – press the button and turn the wheel. Set the timer, change the bracketing settings, its all the same. This makes it very quick to set up for any situation. Now on some cameras, you don’t have to turn the wheel – you just press the button. The problem with this is that it can happen by bumping the camera, so your next few shots might be ruined until you realize you’re using the wrong settings.

The E-1 is water-resistant (and has lots of water resistant lenses for it). People have dropped their E-1s in puddles, they’ve washed them off under the sink when they get dirty. Of course Olympus doesn’t recommend this, but the camera seems to be able to handle a lot. I have taken it through everything from afternoon drizzles to all day jungle downpours. It just always works, and I don’t have to worry about it. It has a metal body, which is really durable. I haven’t exactly dropped it on rocks yet, but I’ve knocked it around a lot, and I’m fully expecting to abuse it more in the future. I want my camera to be able to handle that.

It is also easy to carry around. The E-1 has a large grip which my hand fits into very well. I can carry it in my hand all day and not get tired of holding it. I’m not scared of dropping it because of the rubber grip and the contours of the body that naturally keep it in my hand.

One part I haven’t touched on much yet, which is one of the most important parts is lenses. This will only apply to SLRs. If you buy a camera body, you will probably want to replace it in a year or two. Lenses rarely get outdated like this. Usually, you build up a collection of lenses for one brand, and replace your camera body with the same brand, so it fits all your lenses. So half of your decision to buy a camera should be based on whether that system has lenses you like or not. Generally, spending money on lenses is more important than spending money on your camera. They are much more of a sound investment, and will have a huge effect on the quality of the pictures you take. So I like Olympus in this regard because they have weather-sealed lenses, I can get a zoom range of 28mm to 400mm with only two (very good quality) lenses, both f2.8-3.5 over their zoom range, which is very good. These are also not massive lenses, so they are easy to take on hikes. I don’t want a massive camera bag to lug around with me everywhere.

Size is the one area where I’m not totally happy with the E-1 – it’s pretty big. Now the lenses more than make up for that (compared to other SLR lenses), but I do wish the E-1 was a little smaller. However, I’m not willing to give up good ergonomics for a smaller, lighter body (which would be the case for the Canon Digital Rebel). Olympus does have the E-410, which is a really good, and very small SLR. However, I’m not willing to give up the E-1’s weather-sealed body.

So we finally come to megapixels. The E-1 has only five. That’s old, outdated, and not up to industry standard (which makes it really inexpensive, especially on ebay). But wait a minute. I can print 16″ x 20″ prints that look great. The full size photos are larger than your computer monitor. Why do I need more megapixels? There are possible answers to that question. If I want to print larger or sell photos to stock photo agencies I may need more megapixels. But 5 megapixel images have graced full page spreads in National Geographic. More than likely, you won’t be limited by five megapixels. Sure, I’d take more if all things were equal, but they’re not equal and frankly megapixels are not that important.


Although you need to be comfortable working with your camera body, you need a lot more than a camera body to get good pictures. You need a tripod, you need the right lenses, and most of all you need skill and creativity. Honestly, you will probably be happy with whatever camera you buy, and no matter what you get, it will probably take great pictures. I just want to counteract the salespitch you will likely get at the store, and which has almost nothing to do with taking pictures.

Browsers

Like any self respecting semi-geek, I use firefox (when I’m in windows). So when I redesigned this site recently, I did all my testing in firefox, and it went well. I know IE has weird display glitches with CSS, but those can usually be minimized by keeping your css simple. (heh heh, don’t go inspecting my css now – it’s not *that* clean). So tonight I realized I haven’t looked at my site with Internet Explorer since I redesigned it. So I went peeking around, and it looked pretty good. There were a few little glitches here and there that were pretty simple to fix.

Then I noticed it. The google maps I have in the travel section were not displaying. Weird. Then I go to http://maps.google.com and click on hybrid (or satellite) and what happens? No map. I even went so far as to go to maps help to try to fix the browser. No luck. So has microsoft done something to IE7 so it won’t work with google maps? Even a little browser like konqueror (KDE‘s web browser) works with google maps.

So anyway, if you’re checking out some travel album, and the maps are blank, try using Firefox instead of IE.

More Programming

So my week off is at an end. On Tuesday I start framing for the summer, so coding will be slowing down significantly. On the upside, I’ve already got a lot of coding done. I’ve got the universe, stars and planets being created nicely. There’s a fancy tech tree all set up, and plenty of methods to work with the environment and the tech tree. Next I’ll be working on the user class. Yes, class – I’m doing this in object oriented PHP. I’ve worked with php a lot before but I’ve never used it in the object oriented sense before. I’m enjoying that quite a bit. I like the object oriented nature and I like that PHP is a lot more compact than Java (my other object oriented language experience).

Once we get something ready for public consumption, I’ll post a link.

Online Game

OK, honestly I don’t know much about game development, but despite that, I’m working on a game. Actually, I believe that right now I’m the sole programmer. At least that’s the interesting part to me – Dave is setting up the rules, interface, and general concept. And that’s a ton of work that I’m happy not doing. So anyway, right now I’m working on the database architecture, and will be doing a bunch of programming, probably in PHP, once the database structure is somewhat solidified. If you want to check out the game go to swcampaign.com.

What? A Blog!?

Yes, it’s a blog. Does this mean I’ll be blogging? I really don’t know. I’ll still be keeping the photos up to date in the travel and portfolio sections of the site. I’m planning to organize them according to place instead of by date, which will make it easier to find info about places you might be interested in going to. I’m hoping zenphoto will release the next version soon so I can use sub-albums.

Anyway, this is still a work in progress. At least wordpress and zenphoto are pretty well integrated now. I’d like to get a site-wide search working, but that might mean me writing it myself, and that might mean it doesn’t get done. If you’ve checked out the site in the past, let me know what you think about the new version.