By now you’ve probably read about the challenges we face when water RISES over time….dam building sure makes accurate location locating elusive…but water can confound us in just the reverse…when glaciers melt and historic sites vanish into air rather than under water!
Last weekend, with Will in Calgary and Stuart on the coast, Allie and I set out for our first stations alone. First we decided to tackle a station near Banff: one titled “Sanson Peak”. Our map scouting showed a gondola going to the top of Sulphur mountain, and Sanson peak an easy ridgewalk from there. Unsure whether the gondola ride would fit our tight budget, we prepared to hike the trail that switchbacks up the mountain beneath the gleaming gondola.
But lo and behold, MLP ladies get free rides on gondolas from tourist-weary gondola ticket agents intrigued by the wonders of our work (and our authoritative air (me) and charming smiles (allie))! While we zoomed up the mountain we would have climbed, I must admit we gloated a bit, while trying to maintain our hiking faces:
Our triumphant arrival on top turned into a hike along a ridge, then a hike to a nearby peak, then down into the forest, further..further…further….an hour into a steep downhill bushwhack and we were forced to admit our “peak” station was actually a “foothill” station and we were never going to reach it from the top. We trekked back to the top of the mountain, re-entered the stream of tourists lined up for a ride down, and went home not exactly defeated, but a bit humbled. (Will and I just found the station yesterday: it is a fabulous set that shows Banff’s transformation from a one-street town to the bustling town it is today.)
The following morning was a fresh start! We decided to head to Lake Louise to retake two shots of McArthur’s from 1888: one from the head of the lake, in the Valley of the Six Glaciers, and another from the side of the lake. We got an early start and were welcomed by a quiet, turquoise postcard of a location. Our station was somewhere at the head of this valley, in the grey slope off in the distance!
We wound our way towards the glacier valley, and stopped at the famous teahouse near the head of the valley. We shared a pot of tea and plotted our easy hike into what appeared to be a simple, broad, scree valley from which a lovely picture of the lake was taken over 100 years ago.
But, dear reader, scale is a funny thing in a landscape like this: what looks like gravel is actually a boulder field. What appears flat is a series of steep moraines and deep valleys. We found ourselves wandering the head of the Lake Louise Valley in search of yet another elusive station and while it was spectacular, we did have a moment or two of despair:
We heard avalanches breaking from the Victoria Glacier, wind racing through the steep cols, and felt tiny amidst such a dwarfing landscape.
We walked for what seemed like ages, trying to find that magical spot where the photo had been taken. As we clamored up yet another steep slope, Allie made a discover about the “scree field” we were walking on:
….it was actually a rock glacier that took up a majority of the valley. Tunnels through the ice created tiny streams of water that disappeared then reappeared, feeding the lake below. After a few hours of punishing travel, and tricky sighting (it’s especially hard when you only have ONE photo to work with; no triangulation to help you locate yourself!)…WE FOUND IT!
It was incredibly satisfying to find the spot! Or rather the closest spot that still existed. We realized that the original photos were probably most likely taken 30m to the South but at the same elevation. Today, this location is 20m LOWER than it was 100 years ago, because the glacier in its retreat has melted a steep creek-valley.
Our long day ended with a dazed hike through a sea of Lake Louise visitors, including German hikers, glitzy hotel guests, and (I kid you not) a marching band from Phoenix, Arizona (sans instruments). Our tired feet and general delirium resulted in a wise decision to return the next day to complete the station on the far side of the lake.
A less dramatic day followed: we climbed through forest and up a steep scree slope on the south side of the Lake and found our station handily, though we did have to build a horizontal platform for old Hassie (our camera)! Incredible to see the Chateau from that height, and as Allie put it in her field notes, “canoes dotting the blue lake below”….
All in all, a successful all-ladies weekend on the MLP crew!
More again soon….
Ryan “Lima” Hilperts