The Best Adventures:

Happy and engaged at work. (Photo credit: Eric Higgs)

The best adventures are those experienced with friends.
The best adventures are those experienced with new friends.
The best adventures are those experienced with new friends in unknown places.
The best adventures are those experienced with new friends in unknown places, who will jump in and out of helicopters that transport you and said new friends from station to station, vastly increasing the efficiency of your work.
The best adventures are those experienced with new friends, though without the aid of fossil fuel powered technology.
The best adventures are those experienced with new friends who walk in hiking boots and black long johns.
The best adventures are those experienced with new friends who brave raging rivers, headlamp-guided night hikes, and craggy mountain slopes.
The best adventures are those experienced with new friends who snore in tents at night and need to be poked so that you can get sleep.
The best adventures are those experienced with new friends who crack puns.
The best adventures are those experienced with new friends who can laugh at their own fear of heights, even when tears wind-dry because of said fear of heights.
The best adventures are those experienced with new friends who unquestioningly slop boots through mud puddles the size of Haida Gwaii because of the awareness that boots can always be cleaned and re-waterproofed later.
The best adventures are those experienced with new friends who can fix weather-finicky cameras so you can complete your Mountain Legacy work.
The best adventures are those experienced with new friends who know how to enjoy fruit loops, rice crispies, and almond milk.
The best adventures are those experienced with new friends who have a high tolerance for oatmeal and peanut butter in the morning.
The best adventures are those experienced with new friends that just made your summer.
The best adventures are those experienced with new friends who will edit your account of said adventures, which will be posted on the work blog, at

For a part of this blog, I asked Jenna and Mary to reflect on a number of of things that were brought up in casual conversation. Here follow a few of these memories, prompted by my questions:

Who was your favourite surveyor and why?

Jenna writes:

My favourite surveyor…. That would have to be a tie between Nichols and Nidd. Yes, perhaps this is a classic fence-sitting moment, but l will try to explain. Nichols and Nidd both produced amazing photographs and covered incredible landscapes. Beyond that, however, there are a few contrasting characteristics to their work that just makes a tie inevitable to me.

Stn 16 cairn

Nichols’ Station 16 in the Willmore. He always had the biggest cairns! Jenna’s to its left, and Heike to the right. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

Nidd brings the mystery bar higher than any peaks Nichols may have ventured to – we still are searching for information on who this individual was – even what his (her?) first name was. And as curious as this surveyor made us, Nichols offers an equivalent high level of reliability and mountaineering skill. Scaling ridges and peaks that in many cases were far beyond the difficulty of those that Malloch, Nidd and even Wheeler approached in the work we repeated this summer, Nichols stands out to me as an incredibly skilled climber.

While we often joked about the ‘mountain goat’ finesse that Nichols perhaps drew on during his work throughout the many jagged and dramatic Kananaskis peaks, we nonetheless respected the slightly more rounded (but very steep – “an ankle never forgets”) slopes that Nidd traversed in his Willmore surveying efforts.

Steep Willmore Hillside. (Photo credit: Jenna Falk)

Additionally, both surveyors have left amazing collections behind – Nidd and Nichols produced many photographs with strong compositional quality, with more images than not being worthy of framing in their own right. Nidd had a way of capturing the Willmore and Rock Lake landscapes with what I can only call pragmatic artistry. If the highest point on a ridge wasn’t necessary for capturing the surrounding landscape, it wasn’t always used (which our feet appreciated).

Nonetheless, no matter where the station was along a ridge, Nidd’s photographs were well aligned with features and (we would like to think) showed a certain level of conscientiousness to the overall image, beyond simply covering the landscape for subsequent analysis. Some incredibly beautiful shots!

Mary writes:

My favourite surveyor was James J. McArthur. Although we only resurveyed one McArthur station (Old Buck North), I was drawn to his images of the Front Ranges of the Rockies. I returned to his pictures again and again. McArthur was a fine mountaineer and, arguably, an even better photographer. As the earliest photographer we worked with — images from 1889 and 1890 — I was amazed at both the quality and wonderful composition he produced.

That's a field note book in my pocket -- I am NOT glad to see you!

Mary with the spruce tree in our shot’s way! (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

As well, McArthur, unlike some other surveyors, actually did the work. In 1889 he ascended 43 peaks above 2500 meters and travelled over 650 difficult kilometers in the mountains. He didn’t have an A-Star helicopter to assist! He and his crews had to schlep a 10 kilogram camera and an 8 kilogram transit to the top of every one of those peaks.

Heike writes:

Even though I composed this question, I’d be hard-pressed to choose a favourite. Each surveyor had their own quirks that made them enjoyable, and the landscapes were stunning, too, no matter where we went. Nichols was a mountain goat, as Jenna wrote, and Nidd had mystery on his side.

Mount Robson - West Gate

Heike and Jenna at the entrance of Mt. Robson’s west gate. We were leaving for home, departing from Wheeler’s stations. (Photo credit: Mary Sanseverino)

Bridgland and Wheeler have a planet-sized record of reknown behind them, while Malloch was startling in his multi-locations-per-station approach to photography. And MacArthur, as Mary pointed out, caught images of startling quality, especially when considering the youthful age of photography at the time. We had three of his images: one from 1889, and two from 1890. Absolutely amazing.

What is your most memorable experience?

Mary writes:

My most memorable experience was our last station: A.O.  Wheeler’s Moose Lake Stations looking down into the Red Pass area of the Rainbow Range in B.C.’s Mt. Robson Provincial Park. The images were outstanding (, giving us views into an area that is very seldom travelled, even though the main ridge is just four kilometers from the Yellowhead Highway.

One might ask “Why so few visitors?” I suspect it is the bushwhacking through devil’s club, scrambling up steep scree slopes, navigating slide alder ridges, and route finding in the dark that deters many. We collected some of the finest images of the entire summer that day, but I have never been happier to see highway pavement and traffic as when we burst out onto the Yellowhead Highway at 10:00 pm. I consider Wed, Aug 15, 2012 a day well and truly seized!

Jenna writes:

My most memorable experience was our “Wildhay Incident” as I now fondly call it (now that we are again on the right side of the river). While we had our longest day in Mt Robson Provincial Park for our Moose Lake Stations West #1 and #2, I find the particular feelings I experienced during our Wildhay crossing remain most crisp and imprinted in my mind even against stiff competition in Robson. It took a while for the river level and turbidity to decline just enough for us to see a bit more and cautiously cross.

The sudden downpour. (Photo credit: Mary Sanseverino)

After around 2 hours of waiting, things started shaping up, both for lack of time to wait any longer, and for some good luck and strategic planning. We came together as a team really well and combined forces with a couple hiking there as well (we hope the rest of your vacation went well, Mark and Sarah!), and the five of us made a human chain to cross on the way back to camp. Overall, a solid plateau of stress at the start, an insane rain/hail storm throughout, and a euphoric moment of relief once on the other side. Jumping and sounds of joy may have been involved.

After the rain, looking upstream. Wating for the water to recede. (Photo credit: Jenna Falk)

After the rain, looking downstream. The clouds lifting already. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

What changed your perspective the most? 

Mary writes:

This field season had lots of perspective altering experiences, but, in retrospect, I think the one that affected me most profoundly was the realization that less could be more vis a vis photography. Although this field season was largely devoted to mountain photography, I hardly took any photographs at all. Certainly, we re-photographed over 300 images, and each of those 300 may have required two or three frames — but at most that is 900 images.

Saxifrage of some type? (Photo credit: Mary Sanseverino)

A typical summer of photography would have me taking three or four times that many images. Indeed, my process often has me shooting 20 or more frames of the same thing with very minute changes in aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and framing. After all, it’s digital. As well, I like to do some High Dynamic Range imaging, and this requires multiple shots of the same subject.

White-bark pine or Limber pine? (Photo credit: Mary Sanseverino)

This summer I initially chaffed a bit at not making many exposures, especially in some of the beautiful areas we worked in. But, the practice of patiently examining my surroundings, seeing the image in my mind, and taking a few choice exposures more than made up for enthusiastically banging off many shots. I have been more pleased with some of the landscape panoramas we have produced than with much of my earlier work.
Perhaps Ralph Waldo Emmerson said it best —  “Adopt the pace of nature: Her secret is patience.” I’m going to try and bring a sense of patience to all my future images.
Heike writes:
I had to actively revise my uninformed opinion of the province of Alberta throughout the summer. My early ideas of this province has been shaped by memories of the scary big cities Calgary and Edmonton, tense political jabbing between BC and Alberta’s premiers, and negative media around the tar/oil sands. I had never spent any significant time in Alberta either, except maybe for math camps through the University of Alberta and Calgary way back in Grades 8 and 9.

View from Mt. Worthington. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

Beautiful view. Early mountain impressions in Kananaskis. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

Snow cornice on Mt. Worthington. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

The foothills of the Rocky Mountains were amazing, and seeing them through three different regions was mind-blowing. The images speak for themselves, and the people we encountered were some of the brightest, kindest, and most pleasant. As I’ve mentioned before, this was my best working summer yet, and I can’t believe I was paid to live life so fully.

Amazing!! No matter how many there are, each have their own features. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

And looking down had its treasures, too: upside down icicle-like lichen! (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

What was your favourite station?

Jenna writes:

My favourite station was Bull Creek, hands down. Bull Creek was a Nichols station in the foothills, and it just blew me away.

Miss Rumphius and her lupines (Story and Illustrations credit Barbara Cooney)

The day was perfect, and after the helicopter dropped us off we found ourselves on a gently sloping hill marked by jagged outcrops and the slow-motion uphill march of pines and spruce. Thinking of it now, I see a sharp dichotomy between a little haven seemingly perfectly settled in its current state, and a hillslope so quickly shifting from open meadow towards dense forest cover that our image pair shows quite dramatic change. I could have quite happily stayed lost in lupines for days – we did our best to tread lightly with wide eyes – so many flowers!

The beautiful hillside for the Bull Creek photos. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

Heike writes:

I need to agree with Jenna. I’ve written about this station before, but Bull Creek was gorgeous, and it was too bad there were only 2 images shot here. It was also the best scented station, between the loose-leaved lousewort and alpine lupines that abundantly dotted the mound we photographed from.

Lupines and lousewort at Bull Creek. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

This was also the station where we learned that the tripod could bite. I spent a few minutes bandaging Jenna’s palm where a blister had formed from her skin being squished between the leg and mount of the tripod. Ouch! And this is also where I found a skull with teeth! It was old, as they were cracked, and quite sun-bleached.

What would you recommend to others venturing into the outdoors, about gear? 

Jenna writes:

To summarize, here are two quotes that seem quite fitting:

To walk well, you hike light–light on yourself, light on your budget, light on the land. –MARLYN DOAN, Hiking Light, 1982

You don’t need to get the most expensive gadgets and gear to do it well and with a lightness and freedom – physically and mentally. Nonetheless, there are definitely a few key items where quality is paramount (e.g. backpack – make sure it is strong, light and not rubbing your body!). Other items like a good thermarest (no one likes a Grumpy Gus after sleeping with a kinked back for a week), sleeping bag (mountain nights can still be cold in the summer) (my -7 bag is generally more than adequate for summer work) and boots are essentials I’d say.

Flash Back! MLP 2011 Mt Robson Crew’s impromptu backpack ad (Left-Right: Clare Higgs, Stuart Higgs, Jenna Falk, Ellie Stephenson) (Photo Credit: Chris Gat)

The man with the knapsack is never lost. No matter whither he may stray, his food and shelter are right with him, and home is wherever he may choose to stop. –HORACE KEPHART, Camping and Woodcraft, 1917

In Malloch’s territory. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

Arrange your gear for the essentials, and put more emphasis on those before focusing on the 2nd tier essentials or nonessentials. My favourite non-essential example: the 6-pack “egg suitcase”. It’s a classy piece in bright yellow plastic, but if it’s a space/weight issue, I’d go for the headlamp first if it becomes a Petzl or poached scenario (just kidding…).

Mary writes:

A few things I would have trouble living without in the mountains:

1). Bug spray — and I mean the kind with DEET in it. Apply until your synthetic fabric melts — then you have just about enough on to keep the Yellowhead mosquitos at bay. Only kidding about the amount, but if you are doing detail work (e.g. Photography, climbing, cooking, putting up a tent, knot work, etc.) in the bush, you will find it a bit more difficult to concentrate effectively if you are being chewed upon by bugs than not.

View from the Bighorn Range, towards the First Range of the Rockies. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

2). Several metres of nice, smooth 5 mm rope. Not that hard plastic stuff, but the nice smooth, easy to handle rope from a climbing store like MEC or Robinson’s. To paraphrase Sam Gamgee in Lord of the Rings, “You never know when a nice piece of rope will come in handy.” You can use this rope to extend guy lines on your tent fly, secure something to your pack, or just practice your climbing knots.

3). Bungee cords — really, a girl can never have too many bungee cords.

What piece(s) of equipment were you most grateful for?/What pieces of equipment would you shy people away from?

Some equipment Jenna was very thankful to have were:

1)  Banana suit (i.e. my yellow rain jacket and pants): this wonderful little pair is not only a lifesaver in wet weather, but it provides a smooth surface to slide through undergrowth and dense vegetation with (no catches or tears when bushwhacking), an easy marker for helicopter pick-ups (very bright!), non-chemical bug repellant and wind protection, an instant mood lifter for those longer days (bright yellow pants/jacket – much happier than black/blue/red) and not to mention it’s fashionable side (why walk away from the fun colours once you hit the double digits?).

Looking up the Bighorn Range. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

For those interested in upping their potassium, I’d recommend the yellow rainpants from MEC (if you are petite like Heike and I you could manage their kids’ version – same thing for a lot less). I’m not a raincoat expert but there are several great companies for that including Northface and Arcteryx.

2)  Mammut hiking boots:

Nidd station in Willmore’s Hoff Range (Photo credit: Mary Sanseverino)

I have a pair of Mammut White Rose LTH boots and they were just wonderful this summer. I only had one bad day in Willmore on a very steep slope where repetitive side-stepping was getting to my ankles and the rubbing was quite bad. However, nothing a first-aid gauze donut couldn’t fix! I didn’t have any issues after that. The boots were amazing and very protective for our limestone scree slopes and dense bushwhacking alike. I’ve had ankle issues in the past and the boots secured everything in place, while still giving me flexibility to get up those steeps spots and not feel like I was weighed down unnecessarily.

Heike writes:

There were so many pieces of gear I was grateful for! Where to start?

Earplugs! For the helicopter work, I was so glad I had several pairs of the linked, shaped earplugs. I could tied them around my neck when not in use, and pull them out just as easily, when the helicopter neared for pick-up. They were absolutely indispensable. I only have one pair of ears, and once cilia are damaged, it’s near impossible for them to heal back.

Bug spray. I have never used it before this summer. But I was so glad for Mary’s generosity in sharing her bottle. I’ll quote her from the trip: it really is “better living through chemicals”. I can’t believe how bad the bugs were, a sentiment echoed by one of BC’s park wardens and from Mark Kelly whom we encountered in the Willmore through the Wild Hay incident. Even though I’m still not sure what chemicals are in bugs spray (aside from the DEET), it sure was effective, for at least half an hour at a time.

PS – Jenna has a game for those of you twiddling your thumbs today – how many shots of us holding bug spray have we posted? I bet a lot…

Heike and Mary near Rock Lake as we pause for bug spray reapplication #5(?) (Photo credit: Jenna Falk)

Giant treed-in valley below us, in the Clearwater. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari).

I bought a $3.99 plastic poncho at a gas station in Grande Cache, and my goodness, was it great when I needed it. It was easy to slip on, and tuck over not only myself, but my backpack, too! And it wind-dried remarkably fast.

Sunscreen. I am a rather fair-skinned gal, and didn’t want to look like an oven-roasted tomato by the end of my time in the field. My loving partner did some research and lent me some of the better, non-carginogenic sunscreens around. It saved my skin, for sure! After being outside for hundreds of hours, I can only recount two minor sunburns (one on my nose, cheeks, and one side of my neck, and the other on the tops of my shoulders and backs of my upper arms).

A word about BACKPACKS: it doesn’t matter which brand you buy, make sure it fits! I was so grateful for my big blue pack. It has more than enough straps to cinch down the extra space, not that I had much with all the gear I carted around. But my, the padding on my hips, the strong stays in the back liner, and padding at the lower back, and small pockets on the hip straps – just fantastic! (For those curious, I had Gregory’s Deva 60.)

Looking down the Bighorn Range. (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

A short word about BOOTS: it doesn’t matter which brand you buy, make sure it fits!! I had a pair I’ve had for several years now. Can’t be happier with them. On that note – I can’t stress enough the importance of having them broken in before any kind of extended hike or trip. Walk around in the house with them. Down the street. Through the living room. Mold them to your feet. Anyhow. Boots. Make sure they fit. (Again, for those curious, I had a pair of Montrail’s Blue Ridge GTX, if I read the tag right!)

And… the banana pants Jenna inspired me to purchase. I felt invincible against the rain with those things on.

Lake Abraham from the helicopter. Incredible colour! (Photo credit: Heike Lettrari)

Well, here’s to hoping this blog brought some joy to those who were able to read it, or even just glance through the photos. Wishing you a wonderful glide into fall 2012!