Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More hiking than riding & new animal sightings.

A couple of rides last week, of which the highlight was my first bear sighting. Thankfully, the young black bear was a couple of hundred of metres away from us at the Nordic Center & we saw it first. We hung around at a distance for a little while watching it before altering our intended route so as to avoid provoking it or its mother. Earlier that evening, Alex & I had rode up the road & come down the Reclaimer a lot more confidently than our only previous ride down that trail. Thursday evening was spent taking both of Alex & Megan's cars to the Mt Shark trailhead in K-Country & leaving one there for us to ride back to Canmore in at the end of our planned hike. Much of the rest of the evening was spent otherwise preparing for our upcoming three-day hike. We were to walk from Sunshine Meadows (over the back of the Sunshine), past Mt Assiniboine & then past Mt Shark to the car. As it's only about six weeks before the baby is due to arrive, this was planned as being the last big hiking outing for Megan & Alex for a little while.

Friday dawned nice & clear & James took us up to Sunshine Village (he works at Sunshine too), saving us a walk up a big hill. Here's what the village looks like out of season:
We were walking by 7.45 that morning & quickly up past where the old Strawberry lift used to be (it's being replaced this off-season with one that was used in the Vancouver Olympics). It was a bit strange walking up ski runs with no snow oblivious to the fact that a few months ago I was skiing down them & then suddenly recognising different parts of the terrain. The trail across the meadows was wide & easy.
As the day was so still, we took a short detour to Rock Isle Lake to have a look - it was worth it.
All along the meadows we were amused by the antics of the multitudes of ground squirrels popping their heads out of their burrows to watch us go by, chasing each other around & generally just running around in an amusing manner. Before long we had a climb up through a few snow drifts (nothing major - definitely not waist deep as Parks staff were advising) & we could look back over the meadows.
Looking the other way, we could see Lake Howard Douglas (foreground) & Citadel Peak (just beyond the lake) & our first view of Mt Assiniboine (largest peak in the centre rear). We next walked up & over Citadel Pass (just to the left of Citadel Peak) - the highest point of our hike (2360m). On the way there, we looked down & eventually saw Citadel Lake (which hid from us for quite some time). We lunched at the top of the pass, with a lot of day walkers also thinking it was a good spot - which it was, the view was pretty good. Alex & I scrambled up a bit higher towards the peak & got a great view down towards where we were camping the first night & further on to Assiniboine. Looking back towards the meadows, one of the small lakes still had a large percentage of its surface in ice. From the pass it was three hours walking (mostly) down to the valley floor to Porcupine campsite. We were all pretty tired, even though it wasn't such a difficult walk - Megan carrying a baby, Alex with a super heavy pack, & me carrying a pack with a tent & sleeping mat in it for the first time & just generally weak & not used to carrying a pack. After the first & only rain all day falling as we put up the tents, the rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing, purifying water (an involved process with the borrowed pump-filter & UV SteriPen), cooking & eating. A bit later on a couple of English guys from Cheltenham wandered in to camp - they had started at Sunshine Meadows a few days ago & were on their way back from (next to-) Mt Assiniboine. They were able to give us a few pointers on the trail ahead - get through the Valley of Rocks before it gets hot & so on - & I was able to update them on World Cup results. It was a couple of days after I said I would come on this hike that I realised I would miss the final, I was disappointed - although it turns out I didn't miss much. We hit the hay early (nine-ish) & I slept very well, only briefly woken by a heavy shower of rain when it was still dark. It was a stroke of genius taking my trusty Air NZ eyemask - as it's only dark at night here from about 10.30 through to 5.00. For most of the first day we crossed over the Alberta - British Columbia border time after time, eventually ending up in BC for the night & the next day & a half.

We got away at about eight o'clock on Saturday morning. It was a climb for thirty-odd minutes away from Porcupine & in to the Valley of Rocks. While we avoided the heat that the guys had had the previous day, it was quite warm & really humid with the overnight rain still sitting around on the foliage. The Valley of Rocks started out rather disappointingly, but eventually the rocks got bigger - but not as big as I expected from various descriptions & not too impressive as they weren't really standing alone. We surprised a moose (the first I have seen) having its morning drink - that was neat; a little later on we also had a good look at a porcupine (also the first I have seen) stationed in a tree after we happened upon it - they are a lot bigger than I expected.
As we got close to Lake Og (a convenient lunch spot), Assiniboine came back in to view again.
From the lake, we had an easy climb up to Og Meadows - which did take quite a while to get through & it's for good reason that that walk is nicknamed the Slog of Og.
It threatened to rain on us as we sat on a big rock & watched the ground squirrels try to get up to us. As soon as we came down off our high-spot, the rain took off. We were by this stage getting close to Assiniboine Lodge & the junctions, & therefore signposts, got quite close together. This was a good sign as we only had about four kilometres to go to reach our campsite at Lake Magog - right underneath Assiniboine. Once again, we reached camp at three o'clock. This campsite was a lot bigger with a cooking shelter, about thirty campsites & a few toilets (that were even cleaned daily & had paper). Strangely, none of the sites gave a good view of the mountains. Once tents were pitched, I was keen to pop across to the lake as the sun had reappeared. I wandered off, leaving the others to relax - as I was feeling rather alone with just my water-bottle, camera & bear spray I took to singing the Philosopher's Song to warn bears of my presence - a song that I realised I knew most of when we broke out in song some time on the Friday. It was a pleasant walk along as far as the trail would take me before I hit too much snow. I was well rewarded too:
Having done fourteen & sixteen kilometres of walking the previous two days, we had 27 km to walk out to the car on Sunday. We were up before everyone else in the campsite - but it wasn't really that early (6.30-ish). There was a bit of cloud around, so no great early morning photos - but here's one of the tent I borrowed off Megan - a macpac to go with my pack & most of the clothes I was wearing, not quite sure how that happened.
After briefly detouring to see what the lodge looked like (nothing special), we had an easy climb up to Assiniboine Pass & then back in to Alberta. Most of the rest of the day was spent walking down hill, first steeply down the valley & then reasonable mildly as we followed the Bryant River. We must have made enough noise playing various alphabet games (first countries, then capital cities, then people of [debatable] historical significance) as although we were in bona fide grizzly country, we did see any. Lunch was before noon again on a convenient bridge, here is the pizza-esque pita bread that was my staple lunch for the trip. We crossed the Spray River & then had our last big steep climb for about an hour - by now we were all pretty tired (Megan especially) & the final gentle decline to the waiting car took a long time. But 57 km & three days later we made it (still can't believe Megan managed all that - what a trooper) - what a great weekend & with excellent scenery, weather & company. (There are quite a few more photos, & even some of me, in Alex's smugmug gallery and also in Megan's.) We saw another moose on the drive out from the trailhead - very cool.

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