Friday, December 5, 2008

Mountain Tracking

In the Nelson area I've been getting in some great tracking time. No need to come into town when you can stay on the mountain and trail such animals as cougars and wolverines!

I've had three days of epic tracking and I'll try to give you a very brief synopsis of the highlights. Two days ago after hiking to the top of a 6,000 + mountain we came across some fresh cougar tracks. On our walk we passed the tracks of many animals including marten, deer, elk, snowshoe hare, red squirrels and grouse. We decided to continue looking for some fresher sign and that's when we crossed the trail of a cougar! We followed this animal which we believed to be a female as she moved through the timber in search of her number one prey -- deer. By her movements we suspected she was hunting as she moved in a walk through the mature forests pausing every now and again to look around. In the snow this cat left some perfect impressions and we were very excited to see the detail in the tracks and move behind his silent and powerful predator. We trailed her for over a mile as she moved through this mountain wilderness. What a great tracking experience. The next day we went to a different area and came across a set of wolverine tracks crossing the road. There were some good tracks on the road, but it was quite hard to follow this animal into the forest, where the snow was quite solid and icy and the tracks became very hard to see. I have never had the opportunity to follow these animals before and it was a great chance to learn a little more about this elusive and fiesty animal known as the wolverine. I was amazed at the size of the paws and very curious to learn more about how this animal relates and utilizes the landscape. Wolverines have very large home ranges and tend to cover an incredibly amount of ground in thier travels.

This mountain paradise affords some amazing tracking and equally stunning scenery. We had clear views of the west arm of Kootenay lake and could see the Purcell mountains in the distance. Every time I come back to the Kootenays it makes me remember why I loved living here so much. It's going to be hard to leave, but eventually the wintery Algonquin woods ill be calling me home.

Rocky Mountain Roadtrip

Once leaving Smithers I headed east to Prince George and decided to continue go to Jasper and then head south through the National Parks. It was quite a spectacular drive through the Rockies. The roads were quite slippery and there was quite a bit of snow in the mountains. I travelled through Mount Robson park, Jasper, Banff, Yoho and Glacier national parks as well as Mt. Relvelstoke park. What an amazing landscape these parks entail. Since the weather was pretty overcast I couldn't see too many of the peaks, but you could really feel the rugged beauty of this wilderness landscape. I saw a Bighorn sheep as well as a herd of elk on the drive past countless peaks over the 10,000 ft. range. The columbia icefields was also an amazig area containing the largest glacial deposits south of the arctic circle. The wide and diverse river valley's were perfect wolf habitat with plenty of prey including caribou, deer and elk, while the highlands support healthy populations of bighorn sheep and mountain goat. Rogers pass ws quite the drive as you climb to the top where the highway is protected with a series of 'shelter/barriers' from the ever present threat of avalanches in the winter time. There was a lot of snow up there and very steep drop-offs to the valleys below. There is a huge expanse of wilderness here in this part of the Rocky mountains and I hope to one day return to explore this beautiful area. From Revelstoke I continued south and across the galena bay ferry to the Nakusp area. As I headed over to New Denver and into the Slocan Valley I began to feel at home in an area that I have spent much time in in the past. Soon I was in Nelson and another tracking adventure was about to begin!

Lynx Tracking

While tracking the other day on my friends property near Smithers I came upon some great tracks in the snow. There was a Canada Lynx moving through the firs and aspens in search of its prey -- snowshoe hares. There were many hares located in this area and the lynx, who specificaly targets these animals was on the hunt. It was great to follow the tracks as it stealthily moved through the thick brush in search of it's next meal. I found a lay where the animal had rested briefly as well as a fresh scat containing fur and bones of a hare. The trail that I was on was fresh and this lynx was not too far ahead of me. After a good while trailing this animal I 'let the trail go' and was thankful for the things that I had learned from this cat. The next day I actually got to see a lynx as it crossed the road in front of me. What a beautiful animal, such long legs and super-sized paws that enable it to stay on top of the deep snow.

On my tracking wander I also came across many other animals including coyotes, short-tail weasels, moose, deer and voles. I even found an old moose kill that was pretty well 'picked-clean'. There were a couple sets of coyote and raven tracks around the carcass, but not much left to feed on at this point. It was great day of tracking with the Babine mountains in the background and a great view of the glacier cradled on top of Hudson Bay mountain. It was hard to leave this beautiful place after spending two weeks tracking, hiking, snowboarding and socializing. But eventually I left and headed south via the Rocky mountains.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

First Lines of the Year

Since being in Smithers I've been out Snowboarding four times. Early season hiking was always one of my favorite thing to do and it reminds me how much I miss riding in the mountains! Hiking before the hill opens is a great way to get in shape, enjoy the ski hill with out many people and take in the spectacular scenery that this area has to offer. The ski resort in Smithers is located on Hudson Bay mountain. HBM is a massive moutain that looms over the village. Part of the mountain is blanketed in a glacier and most of it lies above the tree-line. It is quite a sight to behold and creates a very pictureque feel to the area. There is lots of snow up there right now and we have been riding some pretty sick powder lines. The hike up is well worth the ride down, that's for sure. Just a couple more days until the lifts open. Right now there is enough powder for everyone who is willing to walk for it. Snowboarding right now is reminding me of the countless days of riding I've had in the mountains in years past. Bringing up many memories of pow-filled days and hard-core riding! I'm going to try to get in as many days as I can before having to leave this beautiful place. Oh, how sweet it is!

Into the Snow Zone!

Once we left The Charlottes it was about a 7 hour ferry ride back to the mainland. In some ways it was nice to be back on the 'Big Island', although Haida Gwaii is a spectaculat place. Looking forward to doing some Sea Kayaking there at another time. We spent the a day in Prince Rupert where we got some more Crab to bring inland to our friends in Smithers! We also spent an afternoon at the Northern B.C. First Nations museum. It was a great place to learn about the Native Peoples of this area and learn a lot about thier history. There were some amazing artifacts and displays that brought to life the abundant history of this land.

The drive to Smithers up the Skeena river valley was exceptional. The Skeena is a major river that gathers lots of water and power as it flows from its headwaters in the Spastizi Plateau. It is joined by countless creeks and rivers including the Babine, Bulkley and Telkwa rivers. It is truly a first class Salmon and Steelhead river. About 50 km west of Terrace we ran into our first snow and have been in it for the last week. It steadily built in depth as we travelled further in and upland and there was over a foot in the Smithers area. It feels super good to be back in the mountains and this area of B.C. is super spectacular. Big Valley's, Big Rivers, and Big Mountains! It has been a lot of fun exploring and spending time in a true winter playground!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Haida Canoes & Totem Poles

Here's a few shots from the Haida museum at Skidegate. Unfortunately the museum was not open, but we did get to check out some beautiful canoes in the carving shed. They were beautifully carved boats out of one solid piece of cedar. Many different styles, shapes and sizes of boats were here and it was great to see them up close. I would have loved to see one of these boats in the water and have the chance to paddle it. Imagine being in the open ocean in one of these vessels!

Blow-Hole at Tow Hill

Almost forgot to include our walk over to the blow-hole at the base of Tow hill. At mid-tide the water rushes into the rocky shore and comes spurting out of this hole in the rock. It is quite spectacular to watch as the water shoots 20+ feet in the air. At low tide there is not enough water to rise through the hole and at high tide it is under water. This area was rich with life in the tidal pools created by the raising and lowering tides and was a lot of fun to explore. You had to be careful on the slippery rocks and try not to go for a tumble into the chilly waters of the Pacific ocean!

North Beach

North Beach is a beautiful, long beach at the northern part of Naikoon Park. It is a good walk from Rose spit to Tow hill, especially at high tide. We walked part of the way and then camped in and amongst the driftwood on the beach. We had a big fire that night and slept comfortable with the sound of the crashing waves hitting the shore. The next day we continued our walk towards tow hill and it began to get larger and larger as we got closer. There was a small shipwreck on the beach and we stopped to look over this abandoned vessel. North beach is a treasure trove for shells of various bi-valve species and we stopped to look at many of them on our walk. Razor and butter clams, cockles and scallops, to name a few. The tide goes way out here because of the shallow, sandy decline into the ocean and at low tide the water goes quite a ways out leaving lots of room to walk and explore the sandy flats. We found tracks of Herring Gulls and Ravens as they scavenged for food that had washed up on shore. Surfers also know about this beach and come to ride the waves as they break in clean sets. It would have been nice to have a wetsuit and a board! We walked for most of the morning and the early part of the afternoon before making it back to the vehicle. It was a great walk around this loop and we were happy to end our time in Naikoon park in this manner. From here we headed into Masset to look for more seafood and Old Masset to check out the various totem poles located there.

East Beach & Rose Spit

As we left the Cape Fife area we headed North on East Beach towards Rose Spit. It was a beautiful sunny morning, just right for walking on a sandy beach on Haida Gwaii! There were numerous sets of tracks on the beach. The wet sand afforded some fine detail and I took a little time to make some plaster casts. I managed to make some good track casts of deer, mink and raccoon. I could have easily spent all day examining each of these tracks and learning some of the many lessons that they had to teach.

Walking north we could see Rose spit which 'curls' out into the ocean from the tip of Graham island. It separates the East and North beaches and travels quite a distance into the sea. We could see the waves breaking way offshore where they must have been hitting part of the sandbar that is the 'Spit'. We ate some lunch where the trees stopped and again gazed across the water to the Alaskan islands in the distance. At this location we also began to notice many large Scallop shells, unfortunately they were only half shells and did not contain the tastey 'scallup' part. The locals told us that during a north wind many of these large bivalves wash up on the beach and are collected and eaten. We did pick up a few shells that will make a good decoration or perhaps a smudge bowl. From here we changed our direction and began walking down North beach.

Cape Fife Trail

After a few days of hanging out in one place and eating Crab it was nice to get 'on the tail' and explore some new areas. It is a 10 km hike through a beautiful forest of Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedar and stunted Shore Pines passing through the wet bogs of the Argonaut Plain. The topography is quite flat in this area and much of the trail was muddy and even partly flooded in certain areas. It was a however a beautiful walk and the biggest reward was arriving at a clean and well-maintained cabin on East beach at Cape Fife. We knew there was a shelter of some sort here, but did not expect a sweet little cabin with a woodstove, table and bunkbeds. What a score! After firing up the woodstov and getting the cabin warmed up a huge storm blew in with gale force winds from the south east. The sand, rain and wind were pelting the sides of the cabin while we stayed warm and cozy inside. For part of the next day the winds continued to blow fierociously erasing all signs and tracks from the sand dunes surrounding the cabin. The waves crashed into the shore with tremendous force and I felt very thankful for the shelter and protection of the cabin! It was peaceful in this location and provided time to sit quietly and reflect on our trip and life in general. After spending two nights here we headed north on the east beach towards Rose Spit.