What I forgot we did around the tail end of our stint in the Clearwater: HORSE-BACK RIDING!!!
Jenna, Mary, and I went for an afternoon trail ride with the coolest guy: Clayton, and his horses Fox, Steel, Coco, and Kelly! What a fun time! Here are a couple choice photos of us during our time out:

Clayton in the lead with Fox. (Action shot – apologies: it’s a bit blurry!) (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

Mary with her horse, (Blue) Steel. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

Jenna with Coco, the oldest of the three trail horses. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

Heike with Kelly, the wild-but-tamed 7 year old. (Photo credit: Mary Sanseverino)

Steel’s cool saddle! Gorgeous shot by Jenna Falk!

Driving back into the Mt. Robson Provincial Park was accompanied by feelings of uncertainty, anticipation, and sadness. Our time at the Shunda fire camp in the Clearwater had been phenomenal; and remarkable in the similarity of our work completion: a few slow days, of 1, 3, and 4 stations, and then a whopper with 7 to finish our stay. We packed up in a hurry, and then off on the road!

And heading ‘off on the road’ meant that the field season really was coming to a close – the Moose Lake Stations West 1 and 2 being the last we would complete this season – and that close didn’t mean only the end of the field season, but also of the summer. Already the daylight hours are shrinking, the nights become a bit cooler, the stars no less amazing than usual, but the skies are shifting.

We lucked out, being able to take the last camp-spot in the smaller (read: quieter) Robson Rivers campsite near the Visitor’s Centre. We cooked a delicious cream of asparagus soup with dressed up mashed potatoes, and drank powdered skim-milk enhanced hot chocolate. Yuuummy! After a good day’s drive and building excitement, that meal was dee-licious! Especially the mashers.

We put together our backpacks that evening, filling water bottles and setting boots aside so we could get a reasonable start in the morning. After dropping off some spare (read: valuable) equipment to be guarded by the Visitor’s Center, we hit the trail for minutes after 9AM. We had been well-warned by several about the hazard of bears in this part of the Rainbow Range. We would traverse directly through known bear territory, up to the top of the Rainbow Range, travel along it to our station, and then decide on a return-route that made sense.

We dug into the underbrush about 150 meters above the highway, at the top of the Red Pass Rd. gravel pit. In through neck-high huckleberry bushes, firs, striding through calf-height Prince’s pine and taller wild raspberries. You would be right in guessing that I gorged myself on the berries as we passed through them. One of our greatest concerns for this station was the bush-whacking in this first phase, but it proved to be of little consequence at this end of the range. There was ample space between the trees, the undergrowth wasn’t too thick, we saw only one several-days-old bear turd, and made it into the subalpine without incidence. There was a tricky bit of footwork making our way up a few boulder fields – and a few rocks took a tumble in the boot-steps that crossed them:

Mary and Jenna working up a boulder field. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

We took lunch around noon, after hiking up a relatively steep and extended slope, but already the views were starting to open beautifully:

One of the first views down to Moose Lake, gorgeous in colour and the distance! (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

Jenna at our lunch spot! (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

Mary, pausing, pondering the next part of the route, pre-lunch. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

View to the East from our lunch spot. Looking towards the wilder part of the Rainbow Range, which are breeding grounds for mountain caribou! (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

We had to maneuver a tricky rock wall section, but a small vegetated gully allowed passage. I tied our rope to a tree to assist Jenna and Mary on the way up, and it was pretty reasonable going after that point. Here two shots from my ropework, and Jenna’s head popping up the trickiest part as she works her way up:

Ropework! The first time we’ve had good reason to pull it out. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

Jenna on the ascent. Can you spot her green backpack? (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

We continued upward, opening into a short but cute little alpine meadow, where we stopped briefly to enjoy the views, and reapply sunscreen. Here a shot of the still-happy us:

Heike, Mary, and Jenna. The Rainbow Range to the left; Moose Lake down in the valley to the right. (Photo credit: Heike’s camera timer, set by Mary!)

To avoid a short but rather technical climb, we dipped underneath a particularly rocky nob, but got squeezed out of the sidehill gouging after about an hour of very slow going. Our rocky nob:

We scooted underneath this to the left, heading along the Rainbow Range to Moose Mountain, where our stations were. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

I had a small but steep climb to the top of the ridge again, briefly being separated from Jenna and Mary, who had chosen a slightly lower route. The adrenalin was surging at that point, with annoying shakes in limbs, but I was soon joined by Jenna and Mary on the top of the ridge again, where the way was much easier. Seeing a giant cairn, three humps ahead and higher on the ridge also spurred our excitement after a short break.

Turned out the cairn we’d seen, however, wasn’t ours. Moose Lake Stations West 1 and 2 were still 2 kilometres away, and at this point, it was getting on to 3 PM. But, onwards and upwards, and the rest of the climb was relatively uneventful. The ridge passed under our feet, and soon we were pulling out the photos with eagerness, comparing views, deciding which mound must be our station. Here Mary super excited to point out Mt. Robson in the distance! What a view! And good thing we caught this photo, as when we moved on, the closer mountains hid it from sight:

Mary pointing to the East face of Mt. Robson! (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

When we got closer, sure enough, there was a giant cairn in the distance, which was our Moose Lake Station West 1. We passed by the coolest and smallest alpine lake, composed of the meltwater of a bit of snow:

Mary investigating our alpine snow-lake! (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

The cairn was unmistakable. And enormous. We had to deconstruct about a foot of it, though we were loath to do it for 2 reasons: 1. it was a gorgeous cairn, and 2. it was then 5PM already. We shot the 5 fantastic images within 25 minutes, packed up, and headed downwards, which also led us to Moose Lake Station West 2. We decided to cut straight down to the Highway, which had been our other route option, since it was getting late, and the distance was only 3.8KM, and we wanted to pick up that other station anyways.

Here the beautiful pano Mary put together from this station:

Looking into the Red Pass, Mt. Robson Provincial Park

Looking into the Red Pass, Mt. Robson Provincial Park (Photo credit: Jenna Falk and Mary Sanseverino)

An enormous granitic cairn greeted us for the second station. It served as a good seat for Jenna as she snapped the last 6 images. We forgot to cheer and celebrate as we packed up the camera for the last time. Our minds were focused on the steep ridge downwards in front of us, and the route back. We would end up on the Highway, where someone’s good graces would hopefully spare us a 4KM road-walk back to the truck in the gravel pit.

Here, one of the shots from our lower station, which Jenna turned into a thank-you card:

Jenna’s Moose Lake thank-you card, from our Moose Lake Station West #2!

Down we started. Down and down and down. Here a quick shot of a fascinating tree we passed right near the top of the ridge we descended:

An old old pine! Keeper of the ridge. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

We lost 400 meters of elevation in about the first hour. Our second station had been up around 2200 meters, and we needed to get back down to 1060. Knees started to ache, and stopping was discouraged, as their aching got worse once we started up again. We paused for a quick dinner at about 7PM. We were still 1.8KM from the road. We were paralleling a steep creek gully to our right, and as we continued to descend, its quiet roar became louder and louder, until we were quite close to its gully. We left our ridge to travel down to the river, hoping that it would be easier travel than the steep gully sides we were now on. But in the fading light, we reached the river’s edge about half an hour after the sun had slipped behind the western mountains. The dusk was enough light to see all the devil’s club that lined the immediate sides of the creek, and when we made it to the water, we were also able to see the dark trunks and stems of deadfall criss-crossing the stream. Hope faded with every step now highlighted by headlamps. The stream certainly wasn’t going to help us. By this point, it was well after 8:30PM. We were constantly checking the GPS for how much further, what elevation we were at, so we could recalibrate estimates of how much longer we’d be on this non-path.

We were 350 metres from the top of the twinned pipeline when the situation seemed the most bleak. Still three hundred and fifty meters? Jenna took the lead with new resolve, heading left left left, away from our stream gully, which was littered with slide alder and bushy and branchy, and by that point we couldn’t see anything other than what was immediately lit in front of us, which in some cases was only the branches less than a foot from our faces.

This trip certainly takes it for our evolution as noise-makers. My ‘Whoop-woop-woop!’ and Jenna’s “CACAAAWWW!” crow-call mimic and Mary’s stream of songs along the way… there was certainly some mention of sore throats as we belted and beat our way down to the highway after dark.

Jenna led us far enough from the creek that the land suddenly flattened out. We almost couldn’t believe it! Suddenly we had walked another 150 meters. We were so close! We were so happy when we suddenly broke out onto the cleared 20 meters or so of the Kinder-Morgan’s pipeline! We checked the GPS once more, and decided to head straight down for the highway, which from there was another 280 meters. We spilled onto the newer twinned pipeline with about as much joy as we did, crossing the first. And then, we no longer heard the tantalizing sound of vehicles – especially big trucks – driving past on the highway below, but we saw the low/high beams, and the lights that line the body of the big trucks. And then we were there!

We whooped for joy, and hopped out onto the highway shoulder, shining our lights at the first two cars passing us. We had hardly finished our group-hug when we noticed that the first vehicle to pass us had pulled over! Because it was the highway and the van had been zipping along at about 80+km/hr, it had pulled over a ways down the road, but that yellow blinker was still blinking, then the white reverse lights came on, and we started to run for the vehicle! The nicest two people, Stu and Amanda, who had just bought a new dryer that day, checked that we were okay, and after explaining that our truck was parked down the road a ways, they cleared space for us in the back and we piled in with our packs, and off we went, Stu knowing exactly where the gravel pit was, and how to maneuver his van to get us to the truck! What luck! We got to the highway at 10:00, and were at the truck by 10:05. Four kilometers driven on the highway in minutes, while it took us over 4 hours to hike down less than that. Oh, perspectives. Here is the map Mary made of our route (make sure to look at it with the ‘terrain’ setting):

http://goo.gl/maps/2DJFv

Mary had generously gotten us a bed and breakfast for the night, and we showed up at the Dreamcatcher Inn after 10:30PM. The lovely owner had upgraded us to a cabin to ourselves, after hearing our plight, and so we stayed in the Bear-themed cabin. So cute! It was a bit of a shame that we were so tired, and that it was so late by then, as we really just showered and headed to bed. We had a 10 hour drive the next day. One of the last realizations of the day was Jenna’s: that the Spot beacon was missing from her backpack. We checked for it’s green blinking in the back of the truck, and under the truck, and couldn’t find it, so we would look it up on the internet the next day when we had internet access again.

After picking up our stuff from the Robson Visitor’s Centre, and having realized that the Spot must have gotten torn off Jenna’s pack in the rough going near the creek, we piled into the truck for our final and long drive. We made great time, catching the 7PM ferry. All of us were home and snuggled in bed well before midnight.

In the days since arriving back, we’ve had a potluck, during which we all met Jenna’s lovely family, shared incredible food and good stories, and we’ve put several hours in the lab, starting to sort out how to manage the massive amounts of data we collected over the past 7 weeks. We’ve also been through all the camping equipment, have slotted things back into their storage spaces, and have tallied up what’s where. The laundry’s been done, and the perishable camping food has been split up. Now, it’s sorting through the data, and storing it properly before September.

In retrospect, we were absolutely blessed with the kindness of strangers, starting with all the staff from ASRD, Alberta Parks, Bruce Wilkinson of Valemount, the fire camps staff and BC Parks, very few of whom we’d met before (and could only ride on the coattails of the reputation of the project), right up to Sarah and Mark Kelly from our time in the Willmore, to Stu and Amanda from Valemount. Thank-you all again so sincerely. It truly made a difference for our summer field experience.

With that mostly complete, here is our final tally for this summer’s work:

302 repeat images from 90 stations with this break-up per surveyor:
Surveyor:                Images:          Stations:       Region:
G. S. Malloch:        66                      18               Clearwater
A. J. MacArthur:     3                       1                 Kananaskis
M. P. Bridgland:    42                      8                 Kananaskis
Nichols:                   78                     22                Kananaskis
Nidd:                         42                     15                Willmore
Cultural:                    1                        1                 Robson
Lookout Towers:     21                     2                 Willmore
A. O. Wheeler:        19                      3                 Robson

Thimbleberries:      ~25
Huckleberries:        handfulls and handfulls
Raspberries:             ~40
Crowberries:            ~10 (Mary and Heike tried one; Eric ate more)
Soapberries:             ~20 (most eaten by Eric)
Labrador Tea:             1 small bag of dried leaves
Pressed flowers:       ~ 40 (between Jenna and Heike)

Accidents:                 0 major, 1 minor: spilling water from a pot that slipped off the camp cooking stove
Losses:                       1 location camera, 1 spot beacon, 1 sleeping bag storage bag
Wounds:                   1 serious nip from the tripod
Blisters:                    ~5, none serious
Puns:                        ~150 (thanks to Mary and Jenna)
Jokes:                       ~40
Good times:            Every single day…!

We close this blog post with a promise of an upcoming post each from Jenna and Mary, as well as one more from me, which will include juicy little bits from questions such as, “What was your favourite piece of equipment, Mary?” and “What was your most memorable moment, Jenna?” and “What was your favourite station?” This will wrap up the MLP 2012 series of posts!

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