It occurred to me the other day that we’ve never actually explained what it is we do and specifically what the Mountain Legacy Project field season 2009 is all about (besides being really awesome). As you likely already know, the Mountain Legacy Project finds old photos, figures out exactly where these old photos were taken from and then repeats them. Next, our computer wizard Chris Gat, overlays the photos so they line up perfectly with the old ones. Then the photos are pretty much ready for analysis – be it looking at forest encroachment, tree line advancement, glacier retreat, fire history, or human impacts on landscapes.

The old photos that we use are from surveys done around the turn of the 20th century that were completed to map the area. So far this season we’ve been working on two surveys done by Arthur Oliver Wheeler – one in 1898 and one in 1899. As a bit of an aside, A. O. Wheeler was one of the founding members of the Alpine Club of Canada and its first president, which makes it all the more interesting to be following his footsteps 110 years later. The 1899 survey covers a lot of the foothills and the 1898 survey mainly covers ground between the foothills and the continental divide (with a couple on the divide itself). Finishing up the survey was a little tricky as we were left with some more difficult access areas. We had 5 stations that were an incredibly long bushwhack from the nearest road, making the 20+ photos a minimum 2-day trip. Now please, don’t get us wrong, we are not against over-night hiking trips. What do we do on our days off from our job where we hike and take photos? Hike and take photos of course! All of this is just to say that access to these points was a little more difficult. To add insult to injury, when we flew over these 5 stations on the way to other photos spots, we saw that the formerly bare hills (one station was actually named Bare Hills by the surveyor back in 1899) were now completely forested, meaning a helicopter could not get us in and that even if we spent the two days hiking around, all we’d get from the tops of these hills would be photos of the trees three feet in front of us.

The executive decision was made that it wasn’t worth our time to hike the treed in stations, and we would just hover in a helicopter above the trees to repeat the images. Bump in the road number two: you need calm weather to hover. As luck would have it, it was beautiful and clear for a few days in a row, but with crazy strong winds. Flying in a helicopter in 100 km/hr gusts feels kind of like being on the inside of an etch-a-sketch.

Our only other stations left from the two Wheeler surveys were from the continental divide. If winds were bad in the foothills there wasn’t a chance in hell that a helicopter would be landing on the continental divide for us.

A couple of office days and good weather days later, all the 1898 and 1899 photos were filed away in the “DONE” binder.

Mandy repeating a photograph

Now the MLP crew is on to new surveys, from a one James Joseph McArthur. These surveys were completed from further north than the Wheeler stations that we were working on. During our fieldwork we are primarily based out of wildfire fighting camps in southern Alberta. For the past month we’ve been living at the Livingstone Gap firebase, but with this new set of photos comes a new home. We’re back at Elbow firebase, where we spent a week or so when we first got to Alberta. I was pleased with the moving date, as we moved on July 1 which is customarily moving day in Montreal, where I’m from. We spent a week here finishing up the lookout photos (see next section) and spent a good number of days in the office doing all the prep work for the McArthur survey. After locating most of the McArthur photos, we have realised that they are from a bit further north than we had originally anticipated, and will soon be on the move – this time to the Ghost firebase.


In between repeating old survey photos, the MLP crew has taken on another repeat photography task. All of the fire lookouts in the province have sets of panoramic photos from their lookout. They use the photos to help describe exact locations when they see smokes.

 Cover for the Junction Lookout book

Old photo from lookout tower (check out the old car!)


The photos from the lookouts are outdated (check out the old car in the photo!) so we’re taking new ones. Unfortunately, I think that our photos may not be published on large metal plates held together by bits of leather, unlike the old ones.

I love going to the lookouts. So far, all of the people that I’ve met working the lookouts have been really awesome people. Despite what you may expect, they are not all crazy. However, it definitely does take a certain personality to work a lookout. We’ve enjoyed a couple cups of tea now at a slew of lookouts chatting with yoga instructors, psychologists, authors, surfers, substitute teachers and even one woman who raised two kids at her lookout. Repeating some of the photos has been a bit difficult since it seems that every single lookout I’ve been to has changed since the original photos were taken. So it requires us to get a little creative with our tripod placement.


Scott taking photos at Junction Lookout

One lookout called Barrier hadn’t even existed in the original photos; instead there was another lookout halfway down the mountain with a tower.

After repeating the original photos from the original locations (as closely as possible) we have been taking our own 360° panoramas. Because the window frames in the cupolas cut out a bit of the view, much to our enjoyment we have been taking photos from the roof.



Lesley taking photos from Barrier Lookout

View from the Ironstone Cupola

We just finished up the last of the 10 lookouts in this district, so we’ll be back to repeating survery photos soon enough. The photos from the McArthur survey look pretty phenomenal, so the whole crew’s pretty stoked to start taking the repeats. 

That’s all for now. A bientot!

-Winterstopper and the MLP Crew.