Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Blog moved to Wordpress

After much frustration over Blogger I've moved this entire blog over to Wordpress.

My new blog can be found at 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Northover Traverse with Mike

Mike has an excellent account of our trip to Northover at his blog here
Pictured above in the clouds is Northover, part of the continental divide east of Kananaskis Lake.  It was one of two objectives for what I hope has become an annual trip with Mike.  

Day One
Picked Mike up in Calgary and got dropped off at the end of the highway.  After organizing our packs a bit we were off circumscribing the north shore of Upper Kananaskis lake.  I was determined to pack as light as possible as our route involved going up a substantial headwall.  For this reason I had only the clothes on my back plus rain gear in addition to a very lightweight sleeping bag and tent. This weight plus stove, food, water, first aid, etc still makes for a pretty substantial load.  This obsessing over weight came to get me later!

After several kms through trees, we gradually gained elevation and made progress up the valley till the headwall came into view.  I love it when from a distance, you can't tell how to get up something!  As imposing as it was, when we were right in it, a weakness in the cliff appeared and we had no difficulty other than hauling a big pack up a steep trail.  Off and on rain harassed us in that in between amount where putting a raincoat on is not much better than leaving it off owing to the sweat generated.  I chose to leave my gear on as we were gaining elevation late in the day so getting wet and cold was worse than wet and warm.  

By supper we gained our destination, Three Isle Lake.  Upon getting the tent out, the rain opened up with pelting hail.  I managed to not have my rain gear on when it hit so I scrambled to get rain pants and coat on while trying to get our tent up in the hail.  We had it set up when we realized that the water was rising quite fast around the tent. "Should we move it?" we asked ourselves?  After much pondering in the hail, we chose to move it several feet over.  

We cooked our food  next to a small grove of scrubby trees. It was the best shelter we could find which was more psychological than physical as it was still quite wet.  While waiting for the water to boil I realized just how wet and cold I'd got.  We ate our slop as it got darker out as I pondered how cold I was going to get tonight.

We ate and got into the tent and I was very aware how much I was shivering.  I began  a horrible process of accessing whether the night was going to be extremely miserable or dangerous. And if it was dangerous, what actions could be taken?  We were a long, long  way from nowhere. I stewed these thoughts over for an hour as I periodically blast heated myself with the stove.  I could tell Mike was not keen to have the stove on in such a small tent.  To tell the truth I only had it on out of desperation but quickly turned it off.  After much thought, I ended up deciding that I was not hypothermic.

I don't know how much sleep I got but perhaps 2 hours spread out over the next ten hours.  Many times over the course of that night I pictured myself at home weighing my pack and throwing out unnecessary items like extra long underwear and my heavier warmer sleeping bag!  At least I was too cold to feel disappointment that the clouds were going to obscure the Perseid meteor shower we had both been looking forward to.

Day Two

Mike awoke feeling much better than me having brought extra dry clothes.  I can't describe how energizing it was when while still balled up in the h.e.l.p position, a bowl of warm coffee and oatmeal was passed into the tent!  My pants were colder and wetter owing to the moist air so I donned my Heli-Hanson rain pants over my bare legs and ventured out into the fog and drizzle.

We decided to go for an exploration up Mt Worthington and get our blood moving.  The flowers really were tremendous as we bushwacked our way up the valley.  With no trail, we stopped frequently to confer on the best route up the hanging valley to the Worthington Col.  

above: Mike at the Worthington Col.

I ventured up the summit ridge by myself for a while while Mike stayed at the col.  I was making good progress feeling invigorated from my newfound body heat generated from climbing.  But the snow was falling quite steadily and the fog started to envelope everything.  When the fog became so thick that I couldn't see more than a couple feet in front of me, I became very concerned and turned around instantly.  I even had to stop briefly as I couldn't see where to go at all.  Very uncomfortable feeling being pinned by fog.  Strangely I've been stopped like this in winter while on skis but it never feels scary like this did.  

The fog broke and I met Mike at the col and we made our way back down to our base camp making attempts to photograph some flowers as we went.  My hands were so cold I had to get Mike to open my granola bar wrapper for me! We got back to camp and made supper in the drizzle and then the sun started to shine through the clouds.  It didn't stop raining though so we looked rather foolish facing the sun with raincoats off holding wet things out as the rain gently fell on us.  At long last though, at sunset the rain stopped and we dried ourselves out.  
above: Mike on the scary part of the summit ridge.  The ridge is just inches wide.

above: Dave is a tiny black dot on Northover with the massive Royal Group behind

Day 3

Woke feeling good so we ate, broke camp and set out for Northover.  Great weather and great terrain.  We gained the top around noonish and soaked in the truly amazing views.  From the 360 degree vantage, the view is more spectacular than the mind can take in.  The precarious ledge overpowers you with a sense of space. It reminds me of the Total Perspective Vortex from Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.  When selecting a trip for Mike's visit, I need to find something that is the right level of challenge.  When he told me that the summit ridge was quite scary, I felt relief! On our way down we found all sorts of fun rock formations to scramble down.  A difficult place to leave as we spied many other good objectives from here.  

Back at camp we shouldered our big packs we had left here  and started back.  Returning home from a trip is always slightly somber. The mind processes the accomplishments and the legs begin to fatigue.  The goal is finished and the next thing has yet to form in your mind other than getting home.  Warmth, food, comfort all take on increased value from the everyday.   

We arrived at evening back at the highway and put on one last pot of coffee on the cook stove as we watched the sun set on the Opal range.  Suzanne arrived at 8:30 just as we finished the last of the coffee -perfect timing.  

Another great trip!  

To see on GOOGLE EARTH our route, follow the link to my SPOT page in my links section and click on Northover.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mankind: a success story.

I thought a separate post on this would end a lengthy exchange in the comment section of an earlier post.  The media and others are trying to convince me that I have much to fear over an increase in temperature.  Lets see what the facts say.

As you can see, fewer people in the post 80's (assumed) warming period are dying of weather related events.  Even if one assumes that the earth's temperature has risen .6 degrees, the mortality statistics clearly show a decreasing relevance of weather on mortality.  The scare stories will not pan out because history shows us they didn't pan out in the last generation.  As a species, we adapted to our environment through a higher standard of living.  Our newfound ability to insulate ourselves from nature's wrath is truly remarkable!  But wait, hasn't extreme weather deaths gone from .03 deaths per million to .82 deaths per million?  True, but lets see how that compares to other death causes.  In the following table you'll find it at the bottom.

When placed in context of actual problems, the scare stories fade into obscurity as the following mortality table indicates.  Just a cursory look reveals some interesting imbalances in the attention they receive from the media. More people died in car accidents than extreme weather events by a factor of 40. Perhaps you are thinking "Oh but in the future when temperatures rise even more, then you'll see the effects!"  As I showed, the world has become more immune to temperature swings not less.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Back from the Bush part nth...

Another summer contract came and went this year. Very early on, I dropped my camera in a river and so I only have a few pictures.

above: me in the Crowsnest Pass Area.

The Weather

Weather dominates life outside and this year was no exception. Snowstorms fell on May 21, which isn't that unusual. But the snowstorms on June 10th to June 17th were fairly exceptional! Much of June was spent between Kananaskis and the Crowsnest pass area of the Rockies where record rainfall flooded rivers and made access very challenging. Our planters had to wade across waist deep rivers before climbing up to many cutblocks. On one particular morning I had to convince the other foremen that it was actually unsafe to send the crew to work. It was the
first time we ever called a day off for weather. Weather has grounded the helicopter and washed out roads causing unexpected days off, but it was the first time I can remember not even going out. But 1 degree above zero in a rainstorm with 50km/hr winds was a situation that I thought would lead to disaster. Having dealt with a hypothermic worker in the past, I really didn't want 40 cases! The day before I completely burned off my eyelashes by getting too close to an emergency warm-up fire I built under a tarp to warm up some people before they made the long trek back to the road. Even in July we had below zero temps that froze the water hoses in our camp kitchen.

Odd Things

I was hauling a large trailer down the highway moving ATVs from Slave Lake to Kananaskis when suddenly one of the trailer tires fell off! After getting control of my truck and trailer and getting safely to the side of the road, I looked to my left to discover a sign in front of a farm road. Highway44 Trailer Sales and Service! They helped me rebuild the bearing and hub (which were badly damaged) and sold me a tire and lifted my rig up with a tractor while I replaced everything! They charged me a pittance and I was on my way. I arrived at our Kananaskis camp at 4:30 am and the ATVs were used to get trees into the new blocks and we didn't lose a day of planting!

above: fixing my trailer while Rose-Mary runs the tractor with surgical precision.

I've seen plenty of odd weather related events and this year was no exception but I really regretted not having my camera during a circular rainbow that lingered for almost fifteen minutes. I pulled this picture off the net but it was pretty similar.

Another odd event involved a jet ranger helicopter we were using to fly the crew. I was
auditing a cutblock I had got into by ATV. The
pilot was flying over me when a warning light came on so he made a landing beside me. Upon discovering that the usual tools with the helicopter were missing, we managed to troubleshoot the engine with the very basic ATV tools I had. He managed to get airborne and made a sketchy flight back to Slave Lake sending another helicopter back out to pull the crew.


There's always a few amazing wildlife encounters among the hundreds of encounters during the summer. This summer I had a close look at a white grizzly bear. It walked right past me with caution but not fear. I flanked it for a little while making noise as I didn't want it to walk into the next block which had our crew working in it. Very stunning creature and quite rare. I really regretted losing my camera the week before! All together I saw a dozen different Grizzlies this summer which seems like quite a few. I was chatting with someone in town about seeing so many grizzlies, they asked how I knew they were different bears? I said they all looked as
different as you and I but I don't think they believed me!

A baby moose charged me while I was waiting to get picked up by the helicopter. I saw it running towards me and when I realized it wasn't go to stop, I scrambled up a pile of fallen trees. It looked at me for a split second then turned around and ran away. Weird.

I had amusing encounter one day waiting for the helicopter. I had to wait a while for a lift as the chopper was busy for at least 40 minutes so I lay down and draped my raincoat over me to be able to nap without getting eaten alive by bugs. I sort of drifted off for a while but awoke to the sound of footsteps beside me. Usually in the bush, if you can hear it, it's not scary. The scary things don't make any noise at all! But as I listened to these footsteps getting closer there was then a loud crash of a tree being pushed over. I thought very quickly that whatever it was, it was big and I should get up! In the second I jumped up and pulled off my raincoat, a black blur wheeled up. A moose was right over me and was doing a 360 turn to escape as I was doing the same! We both ran with equal heartbeats!

Of the many birds I see in the summer, there were two species that I don't often see. One pictured here is the mountain bluebird. The blue has to be seen to be believed. I also saw a scarlet tanager up north which was pretty odd.

The other surprise this summer worth noting was my thoughts on northern Alberta. I was working in the Crowsnest Pass area which I love as it's mountainous and bug free. Due to problems with the nursery, we had to take early delivery of trees up north. This meant starting a couple crews back in northern Alberta so I had to leave this bug free paradise and go back up north in the bugs and swamp to supervise. I really was very disappointed I had to leave.

The first day back I was bashing through understory up to my neck with ten million bugs trying to eat me. My head totally covered but for two eye holes to protect myself from the savage bugs. The humid air choking me, beating me down. But as I breathed in, I realized how good the air smelled. In the mountains, the air is so fresh because the environment is so harsh for life. In the mountains, the air is clean but kind of sterile. Up north in the swamps, life is teeming and you can smell it; flowers, shrubs, berries, trees, grasses, and decay. As the sweat dripped down my back and my foot plunged into some swampy ooze, a smile was hidden beneath my bug-proof face mask. I realized that for how much this place hates me, I've spent so much time in it, it feels like home. Even against my better judgement!