So today I was asked to write a post for our blog as it hasn’t been updated for a day or two, or possibly three or four, or maybe even ever so slightly longer than that. But not much! When I sat down to the computer to start typing up our amazing exploits of the past, er, ever so slightly long period of time, I immediately ran into a problem. What exactly did we do this last while? I mean, I know I was there; enjoying the good life and all the sights, but when I tried to recall anything specific, my mind failed me. I was struck by a spell of nervousness. People would be laughing at me, how could anyone doing this job be that out of it? What exactly has he been doing? Is he comatose? I decided I mustn’t let anyone know, and would try and direct their ire elsewhere. What I needed, was a scapegoat.

I decided to start off on an indignant note: “your usual blog author has been slacking off on the job, and, what’s worse, is making me do the catch up for her!” But then said author pointed out that I have yet to write a single post all year, so who’s the slacker now? Hmmmm. I could see that conversation wasn’t going in a direction I was likely to enjoy and had very little chance of turning around to a direction I would. As such, I took the very next turn I could to divert the conversion; “well, er, something came up, um, heh heh, and I couldn’t, er… Hey, that’s a really cool overlay for your project there! Look at all that, ah, anthropogenic influence.” Phew, lucky save.

Well, scratch plan A. I guess plan B is just to rack my brain and recite everything I can remember. Enjoy.

So after we left Kootenay Park, Chris and Stuart headed back to the Elbow Fire Base for a last week of work before they both finished for the season. The other three of us all took some time off to relax and prep ourselves for a headlong charge at the rest of the season. And what a charge it’s been. On the 17th of August, Stuart and Chris took off to opposite sides of the country, and the girls and I started tackling some images in Banff Park. The three of us moved into the park and were put up in the Tunnel Mountain Campground; specifically, the noisy section. With boisterous crowds in the campsites either side of us, and car speakers blasting out heavy bass hits till 2 am, our sleeping patterns were somewhat interrupted. However, we still flew out from the warden station every morning, tackling first the Ya-ha Tinda, and later some high elevation stations within the Park. Never the less, I’m still tempted to hunt down a certain red Pontiac and redecorate it’s sound system with the business end of an axe.

And now back to our breathtaking end of season charge. With help from Lindsay Glines and Andrew Geary, U of A biology researchers working out of the Ya-ha Tinda Ranch, we were able to complete all of our stations for the Ya-ha Tinda in a single day – even after the old Hasselblad (our camera) decided to seize up on the summit of a peak and we had to fly the new one in. The next day, we tackled a station just off Lake Minnewanka. Tackled it for the second time, and won, just not before going the full three periods and both overtimes with it first. Let me back up a bit and explain.

One day in Banff, we met up with Dan Perrakis, a fire ecologist working for Parks Canada. We attempt to do a station with him on the mountain just off the north-west end of Lake Minnewanka, where there was large burn ten or so years ago. What was predicted to be a short, easy jaunt, ended up being a tiring sidehill slog, in the hot August sun. It culminated in a ridge walk, which became too exposed to traverse, roughly 300 metres from the summit. Naturally, we had to hike up over a vertical kilometre, in the heat, before finding this out. The day was declared enjoyable but relatively unproductive. (Don’t worry, it’s been the only one!)

Mandy roped up and ready for the climb

So when we got a helicopter a few days later, we decided to show that mountain who was boss and land just off the summit. Upon landing the winds were present, but mild; nothing to stop a chopper from landing. We then scrambled over to the summit, which took some time due to an exposed step that required us to harness and rope up before attempting.

Upon reaching the summit, we quickly polished off the station and headed back for our drop off point. There we waited for the chopper, and no sooner had it come into sight, then the winds picked up to 50 km/hr or so. After three attempts to come in and get us, the pilot, Chad, waved bon voyage, and left us to our own devices for getting back down. Three or so hours later saw us sitting beside the Lake Minnewanka marina, kindly asking parks dispatch for a ride back to our truck, parked just outside their office. They were happy to help, and victory was at last ours.

The charge then continued on into the Ghost Wilderness. Mandy and I hadn’t finished the area off, during our stint there earlier in the summer, so we went to wrap up in area. We put our helicopter time to good use and our pilot, Ken Gray, was able to land us at some amazing sites. On the first day he toed the front of his skids into the side of Saddle Mountain to let Mandy and I exit from the hovering helicopter. It was, however, in vain. No sooner had Mandy lined up and found the exact spot to retake the photo’s, that our new Hasselblad (the new camera) chose to stop working. Twenty minutes worth of trouble shooting went by with no noticeable results. A following five minutes of steady threats towards the Hasselblad’s health and continued well being on this planet, also went by with no success. It knew we were full of air and would never actually harm it.

The next day Rick Arthur and Peter Murphy came out with us, as well as Ciara Sharpe (from the MLP ’08 field crew). With all the extra hands we were able to split into two teams: Mandy, Rick and Peter going to Black Rock Mountain as well as a station on the side of Devil’s Head, while Ciara and I returned to Saddle Mountain. Again we got to hover exit onto the side of the mountain and this time returned happily with the repeats. Both crews also got to take photos from the helicopter as it hovered, as two stations were too treed in to land at. It was very successful day and allowed us to wrap up in the Ghost for the year.

For the next week, we flew almost daily out of the Elbow fire base, hitting stations around Canmore, the Goat Range, Kananaskis Country, and the continental divide. We got an average of two stations every day, with an epic four station day up around Canmore. Stuart also came back out with us for a day, upon his return from Ontario, to fly a station on the divide. Well, we flew to the station, but couldn’t land anywhere near the summit so we wound up hiking a ways up the ridge. Next day, Lesley and I flew to stations on Mt. Gass and then Mt. Courcelette. Both peaks are over 9000 feet in elevation, with Mt. Courcelette being a mere 13 feet short of 10,000 feet. Poor mountain; it’s like a kid aspiring to grow up to be 6 feet tall, and ending up at 5’11 and a 1/2. While on the summit, the new camera once again closed itself down and refused to wake up. More trouble shooting and empty foul mouthed threats ensued. After a minute or so, with a sulking beep, it turned itself back on. We took the photos quickly before it could throw another tantrum.

Finally, this past Tuesday we moved back down to the Gap Fire base. There is far less haze around this area then is present further north, and the conditions would be perfect if it wasn’t for the wind. We tried to fly out Wednesday morning towards Mt. Tornado, and were forced to settle with a low elevation station in the Tornado Pass. Even flying in the pass was subject to heavy wind gusts, so we got out of there relatively quickly. For the past two days now the winds have been way too strong to even try and land over there and, as we completed all the stations accessible by foot earlier in the year, we are forced to do office work. Not that it doesn’t need to get done but it would be nice to be out in mountains in such sunny weather.

And that brings us up to date. We are all going to take a bit of time off now and meet up at Saskatchewan Crossing in a few days time. With a little luck the weather will still be nice and sunny up there to make for good photo conditions. And with a bit more luck, there’ll be no thrice cursed wind to keep us stuck on the ground.

Thats all for now folks,

Scott the Sherpa and the MLP Crew

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