It’s hard to believe that it’s mid-August already! We wrapped up in Shunda, spent a few days back at the Elbow camp near Bragg Creek, and are now staying in an old ranger cabin at Kananaskis Boundary.
Our last week in Shunda included stations in the White Goat Wilderness and the Siffleur Wilderness. Also, with the support of Parks Canada we were able to make it into some stations in Jasper National Park, which was very exciting! We are also lucky enough to be able to spend a day out with Bruce Mayer (ESRD assistant deputy minister) and Hugh Boyd (executive directory of wildfire management) in a burned out area of fire 34, a large 2014 prescribed burn. The shooting conditions were less than ideal due to residual smoke and haze, but such a recent burn was a fascinating environment to be in, especially with so much ESRD expertise to add to the experience. We had a great day with Bruce and Hugh, and we are sure that future generations of MLP with be greatful for Hugh’s enthusiasm for cairn-building!
Another interesting facet of working out of the Shunda camp was getting to work on surveys by my personal favourite surveyor – M.P. Bridgland. Bridgland was a cofounder of the Alpine Club of Canada and an excellent mountaineer, as the precarious perches of some our stations testify to. Although following Bridgland around means some pretty intense climbs and scrambles, it’s exciting to be in the footsteps of a famous mountaineer!
However, working with Bridgland means the mind game of working with cairns. What are cairns? They are large, obviously unnatural piles of rocks that are built to mark spots. Many surveyors leave them behind to mark their survey locations, and although many of them have been dismantled by generations of hikers in more remote areas most of them are still standing nearly a century later. Based on the stations we’ve done of his, Bridgland was an ambitious cairn-builder – some of the ones we’ve found are 7 feet tall and 4 or 5 feet in diameter – and due to the remoteness of the area of his 1928 survey almost all of them are still entirely intact. They are great markers and easy to see from the air, which is good. However, because almost all of the Bridgland stations have multiple locations (facing out in different directions from different sides of plateaus) most of his cairns do not mark the actual spot, and instead mark what he must have thought of as some kind of weighted average of locations. Trying to deduce from his cairns where his locations might actually have been and what he was thinking when he built that marker required a lot of putting ourselves into his shoes, and for me personally it was really a novel experience to try to put myself so directly into the mind of someone from the past.
On the rare occasions that cairns are right where the photos were taken from, the cruel irony is that they are right where the photos were taken from. Taking a photo from the middle of a huge pile of rocks is no easy feat. When the cairns are too big for us to awkwardly perch over top of (as Bridgland’s cairns almost always are), we are loath to dismantle historic landmarks and so generally settle of having two or three or several locations from all around the edges of the cairns. Sometimes with cairns you just can’t win!
Another thing I’d like to mention in this post is how nice it is to have been in this forestry community for long enough to be seeing familiar faces as we move around. Two of the people we ran into in Shunda we were very happy to see, and they deserve a lot of credit for how successful we’ve been over the past couple weeks!
The first is our amazing pilot Paul. Paul is a fantastic mountain pilot, and without him we would never have been able to land in a lot of the places we needed to go. Paul always made us feel very safe when we were flying with him, even after he had dropped us off he would always radio us whenever we were anywhere with a difficult climb. It was a great feeling knowing that someone was keeping an eye on us from the air, especially someone that we liked and got along with so well.
The other person is Keith, our cook from the Elbow who was also filling in for a week at Shunda. Keith (and his always-smiling fiancée Lisa-Ann) were always so friendly and accommodating that they really improved our camp experience. They accommodated our dietary quirks, didn’t mind that we were almost always late for dinner, and we always happy to chat at the start and end of the day. They are getting married this fall, and we wish them all the best!
Now that it’s getting into late August, we’re starting to deal with late-season issues such as fatigue, bodily wear and tear, and some colder and cloudier weather. However, we are hoping to get in a few more productive days before starting the journey home!