Written on July 29, 2020, by Sean Nichols
Adventure coordinator Grace Wark shares her story about a weekend away from it all in the Castle:
It’s 6:34 a.m. and I’m searching for my car keys. I need to pick up Joanna by 7.a.m. so we have enough time to load 50 to 60 lbs of gear, snacks and water into the car, hit the QE2, and make it to the trailhead before high noon. Not the earliest start by backpacker standards, but early enough that we stop at Tim Horton’s for a final boost of caffeine to get us through the day.
This is my first time in the Castle Wildland, and after taking my first and second glances at the dusty red Front Ranges, I can already see what sets them apart from the rest of the Eastern Slopes. These mountains feel shorter, more rounded and almost less intimidating than the towering peaks in Banff and Kananaskis Valley. The east-west ridges of the Front Ranges are stacked like dominoes towards Waterton Lakes National Park. Our valley of choice runs up South Drywood Creek, with a final destination of Bovin Lake. All in, a 20 km round trip with 750 metres of what I would call steady elevation gain.
The first four kilometres of the trail follow the grated Shell Road. Not so far from the road, we can still hear the rumble of active well pads, well-marked with warning signs for passersby. After those four kilometres, the difference between the designated hiking trail and the Shell road is night and day. The echo of well pads is slowly fades into the distance as we clamber up the pathway into an explosion of bright and colourful wildflowers. Diversity here absolutely thrives beyond the reach of road-introduced invasive species and free-roaming cattle. From our collective memory, we spot forget-me-nots, columbines, lupines, sticky geranium, paintbrush and even provincially rare pink Monkeyflower.
Before turning corners or ambling into thickets of willow and dogwood, we find ourselves instinctively shouting “Hey bear!” or “Is there anybody out bear?” (to the tune of Pink Floyd’s Is There Anybody Out There?) to make sure we don’t startle our company. Mountain valleys like these are perfect for an ambling grizzly bear, full to the brim with bearberries and currants, and quiet, save the low roar of the creek, bird calls, and “chirping” Richardson’s ground squirrels.
This area is distinctly different from the Castle Provincial Park lands to the north, valuable in their own way but more heavily trafficked. Here in the Wildland, away from the road and the busy off-highway vehicle trails, these lands have very few signs of disturbance. We were almost shocked to reach the old OHV gate at the top of the trail, as we almost forgot this was once used as a motorized trail. Since the phase-out of motorized trails from this area in 2018, the landscape has already started to recover the large erosion gullies and braided trails from heavy flooding and motorized use.
After reaching the lake, setting up our tent, and recharging our electrolytes, we scramble up the ridge and find the perfect spot to sing Bruce Springsteen’s cover of Mountain of Love (a very specific sponsor request). Perched on top of a bleached old tree in full view of the valley, we were indeed feeling pretty “high on the mountain of love”. How could you not fall in love with the views, the emerald blue lake and choice company provided by a couple other groups of hikers and a chunky beagle named Hoser.
Despite the achy joints, the midnight thunderstorm and the persistent horseflies, there was absolutely nothing that could have spoiled this picture perfect two-day backpacking trip up the Front Ranges. If you have the chance and are able, I would highly recommend a day-trip or overnight hike to Bovin Lake. It was just what I needed to not only recover from my long-stay at home and otherwise busy schedule, but to remind me why we fight so hard to protect the Castle. I invite you to fall in love as I have, and join us in stirring up some trouble to keep it this way. More on that here.
Grace & Joanna
Written on July 22, 2020, by Sean Nichols
Adventure coordinator Carol Ostrom shares her story about an overnight camping trip and hike up the slopes of Mount Tecumseh in the Crowsnest Pass:
On June 8th the clouds spent the day pressing up the western slopes of the mountains that denote the border between B.C. and Alberta. Just as the first campers arrived, as though planned as a greeting, the rain started. “Its nothing,” I reported, “We are in the top of a mountain pass, it will pass.” The rain lasted just long enough for all the campers to arrive and locate a place to pitch their tents. From there it was all sunshine and coming together around the campfire as we put the night to bed.
Dawn introduced another beautiful day as folks crawled out of their tents to be greeted by sunshine, songbirds, and couple of dogs willing to help with breakfast details. By 9 the remainder of hikers had arrived and we headed out with a great mix of local and visiting participants.
Spring was late in coming in 2020, but as a result we have experienced an amazing ongoing display of wildflowers. The vibrancy of nature’s bouquet with reds, yellows, blues and purples was outstanding and everchanging as we traversed several different natural regions and were rewarded with spectacular views.
We purposefully mapped out the hike to stay on private lands, Nature Conservancy lands, or public lands that have limited access. It is increasingly difficult to find a place to quietly recreate as the Crowsnest has become the go-to place for OHVs. About 9 km into our hike we entered the Livingstone PLUZ (Public Land Use Zone) and immediately were witness to a group of OHV enthusiasts who were idling by a sign designating the trail up the side of Tecumseh as closed. After an obvious discussion about whether to proceed, off they roared to tear up the headwaters that well out the side of the mountain. I am pleased our government has finally agreed the trail needs to be closed, now I just need to write letters advocating for enforcement. One small step, one small voice at a time, we can stand up for the environment that sustains us.
It was 11.6 km by the time we completed the loop, with four hundred metres’ gain when we sat at the summit for lunch. The weather was wonderful, the flowers fabulous, and the company was congenial. We can hardly wait to lead another hike next year.
– Carol Ostrom
Dinosaurs and Badlands – a fun “double-header” presentation/hike combining education and exploration!
Written on July 22, 2020, by Sean Nichols
Adventure coordinators Rob and Tjarda share their story about the fun outing they organized in early July:
AWA’s two-part adventure, “Dinosaurs and Badlands”, was held on July 2nd and 3rd, 2020. The first part of this event was an evening slideshow presentation on “The Palaeontological Wonders of Alberta” delivered on-line via Zoom by one of Alberta’s prominent palaeontologists, followed the next day by a hike to the world renowned Albertosaurus bone bed in Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park. The hike portion of this event was fully subscribed with 18 participants, with an additional 15 registering for the presentation only; for a total of 33 participants.
“The Palaeontological Wonders of Alberta” by Dr. François Therrien, Curator of Dinosaur Palaeoecology at the Royal Tyrrell Museum:
This was a captivating presentation on the abundance and diversity of dinosaur fossils found in Alberta. We are one of the top five places in the world for finding dinosaurs. Dr. Therrien explained why Alberta is so rich in dinosaur fossils, which is a combination of three factors: rocks need to be of the right age, that formed when dinosaurs were alive; they need to be sedimentary rocks, which are the only type that will preserve dinosaur remains; and these rocks need to be exposed at the surface for dinosaur fossils to be discovered. Alberta has the perfect combination of all three. Dr. Therrien described the many important dinosaur discoveries made in Alberta over the past 120 years, with emphasis on the Albertosaurus bonebed originally discovered in 1910, the full significance of which only came to light after Dr. Philip Currie of the Royal Tyrrell Museum resumed excavations in 1997. What is interesting is that many of the dinosaur discoveries in Alberta were made not by professional palaeontologists, but by the general public and industry. At the end of the presentation Dr. Therrien answered in depth many interesting questions which added greatly to our knowledge of this interesting subject.
Hike in Dry Island Buffalo Provincial Park:
We had a perfect day for the hike, bright and sunny, and the wildflowers were out in full bloom. The excellent presentation the night before prepared everyone well for the hike. We also had the added benefit of having AWA member Tako Koning, a professional geologist, on the hike to explain the geological features and rocks we saw along the way.
As we walked and scrambled down fascinating badlands, crossing millions of years of geological history, we tried to imagine the lush subtropical forests and flood plains that existed here 70 million years ago during the age of dinosaurs. The park is home to two world renowned palaeontological sites: the Albertosaurus bonebed and Pisces Point. The rock formation at Pisces Point represents the last 900,000 years of the age of dinosaurs. Fossils of freshwater fish found here show that many lineages of modern fish originated in the cretaceous period and survived the Cretaceous–Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction. This is very significant and has drawn worldwide interest. The Albertosaurus bonebed is significant for the large number of Albertosaurus found here. Domination by this animal in a single quarry suggests that these animals were living together as a pack at the time of their deaths.
We stopped for lunch on a grassy bench overlooking the Red Deer river surrounded by beautiful wood lilies and flowering cactus. After lunch we followed a deer trail across a lush wooded coulee before breaking out onto an open plain at the foot of the Dry Island mesa and walked across beautiful grassland and prairie fescue. Our route home took us over the top of Dry Island which offered great views of the Red Deer River meandering through this magnificent landscape with the Buffalo Jump in the distance.
From the positive feedback we received, the combination of a captivating presentation followed by a wonderful hike in one of Alberta’s unique landscapes, was a memorable and thoroughly enjoyable AWA adventure.
Written on June 27, 2020, by Nissa Petterson
With Chris Saunders, on June 27th, 2020
Spectacular views and forest issues
At about 10 am on June 27, 2020 14 hikers assembled on the Powderface Trail ready to start on the path up Jumping Pound Mountain from the west. The weather was warm and sunny, contrary to the day’s weather forecast for Calgary.
We walked steadily uphill through beautiful mature forest, comprising largely lodgepole pine and spruce, with trees of different ages and sizes. At times the path followed clear bubbling streams, and at others there were gaps in the trees to see views of ranges of mountains to the west. After 2.5 km we arrived at the flower-strewn meadows on the west side of Jumping Pound Ridge with spectacular views of Moose Mountain and its various ridges to east. We followed the path through the meadows to the summit, an altitude gain of 417 metres (1,370 feet). After 20 minutes of absorbing the 360 degree views of mountains and prairie at the summit we followed a ridge further east to a meadow where lunch was eaten. A portion of the group took a short excursion further east along the ridge to see an exceptional meadow of flowers, again with superb views in all directions.
After lunch we returned to the summit and set off to the north along Jumping Pound Ridge. The mountains to the west and north, along with the building clouds, made for some spectacular views. However, the destruction of huge patches of forest in the valley between the ridge and the mountains to the west, through clear cut logging was only too evident. Among other things this logging has destroyed the habitat of wildlife, created significant topsoil erosion and silting of streams, and ruined the forest’s delicate filtration system which provides important flood protection. The group asked does the value created from the timber products obtained from the logging in any way offset these losses?
The route continued along the open ridge for a further 3 km with short sections through spruce trees and a climb down a big shaded snow patch. The trail then went back into the forest and descended into the valley through many switchbacks. In one section it passed directly through the devastation of a recent clear cut with no evidence of any replanting. It is clear it will take many years for new trees to grow to replace the forest lost.
As we arrived at the finish point heavy rain started to fall. We had an excellent day with exhilarating views and beautiful carpets of flowers on the ridge and summit. We had also seen at first hand the costs of logging in the area.
Written on June 18, 2020, by Nissa Petterson
with Nissa Petterson, June 18th, 2020
Cat Birds and More!
Did you know that birds can see in the UV spectrum, or that red and yellow shafted northern flickers have hybridized in Alberta’s Foothills and are becoming more indistinguishable as subspecies? Dr. Everett Hanna filled our birding in the Lethbridge Coulee Adventure with fun facts and shared his tremendous knowledge with 12 would be birders and naturalists!
With binoculars in hand, our group set out early in the morning to tour the beautiful pathways alongside the Oldman River, with the river valley greeting us with an orchestra of bird songs. The overcast morning made our chances of spotting and observing birds considerably better. As we meandered down the path, small groupings of pelicans flew above us, as beaver motored alongside us in the adjacent stream.
Over the course of a few hours we spotted nearly 40 different taxa of bird, in addition to learning some sounds and calls of different species, the most peculiar of which may have been the “meow” of the gray catbird. We had hoped to see a rattlesnake cross our path, at a reasonably safe distance, but that was not the case. We did however see a shoot or two of wild asparagus while admiring the sights and smells of the blooming wild roses.
This adventure was a great opportunity to not only to explore the biodiversity of the coulee and to increase our knowledge of native birds, but it was also an opportunity to appreciate and learn more about the importance of Alberta’s urban wild spaces.
Written on June 6, 2020, by Nissa Petterson
with Bob Patterson & Jim Campbell
The ambition of this Adventure was to celebrate Bob’s 65th Birthday with 65 km of self-propelled travel, and what a great day it was! As per usual with outdoor adventures some of the route had to be made up as the team went along.
The Bow River though in flood would have been manageable for two experienced paddlers such as Bob and Jim but rather than risk soggy representatives of the AWA being pulled from the current by the Calgary Fire Department they settled on a early morning paddle across Ghost Lake and back again in Bob’s two person kayak. Remarkably, for almost two hours theirs was the only craft on the lake, and the water was mirror calm. An enchanting first leg to start the day. (14 km)
Next up was a cycle along the Bow River paths on the north side of the river from Bowness Park past the Calgary Zoo to 17 Ave SE, returning on the south side past Harvie Passage – quick snack break here – through the urban wilderness of Eau Claire back to Bowness. We are truly blessed to have such an extensive and thoughtfully laid out pathway system that brings all Calgarians so readily close to nature. A huge “shout-out” to the late Mayor Jack Leslie who resisted the efforts of “Calgarians for Progress” to move the CPR railway tracks and a four lane roadway right next to the Bow River. Can you imagine? (46 km)
The final leg was a fast up and down, and up again run through the trails of the Douglas Fir Trail next to Edworthy Park. Paths reminiscent of wet days on the West Coast Trail were encountered but did not dim the teammates’ spirits and likely even enlivened them. (6 km)
Total distance 66 km – a bonus 1 km as every good Birthday Boy deserves.
Thank you to everyone who donated to Bob and Jim’s Adventure for Wilderness. Your thoughtful generosity far exceeded our expectations. Your cumulative donations provided more than $7,200 to promote conservation of Alberta’s wildlife and wild places.
Be alert – plans are underway for next year!
Written on May 26, 2020, by Grace Wark
Last week, Ed Hergott and crew had a wonderful success in their quest of Getting Dave to the Summit. It was a beautiful day for all and the team safely helped Dave Wodelet, now legally blind, to the Summit of Junction Hill.
After retiring early due to glaucoma, Dave spent some years hiking with the Mountain Manics until it became too dangerous to continue on the difficult terrain that the group frequents. The Manics have missed him greatly, so when the AWA Tower Climb ended and various fundraising efforts were encouraged, Ed suggested to Dave that they could guide him to a summit as a fundraiser. He accepted and the rest is history.
On May 26, the Mountain Manics guided Dave to the Summit of Junction Hill in Kananaskis, with teams in place to scout the trail and rid the pathway of obstacles, provide emergency support if needed, and guide and advise Dave on the journey to the top.
In the end, the group far exceeded their fundraising target and embraced a spirit of camaraderie, volunteerism and adventure that is the core of AWA’s Adventures for Wilderness program. We cannot say enough about what an inspiring initiative this turned out to be.
Written on April 29, 2020, by Sean Nichols
Adventure coordinator Heather shares her story about building bee boxes for Alberta’s native pollinators:
Our family has been involved with the Climb For Wilderness for as long as I can remember. I have been participating and volunteering with the climb since I was in high school back in the ‘90s. It was always a highlight for me to raise awareness with my friends and co-workers about the Alberta Wilderness Association and they were always happy to support me to do the climb by giving generous donations. Back then, climbing the stairs of a skyscraper was kind of a crazy idea! Often I would get asked “Do you climb up the outside?”.
Over the years, the climb evolved including a poetry competition, stairwell painting and even changing venues. Our daughter inspired her classmates, friends and their families to join in the fun and we often had a group of 10-20 people join us to participate in the climb every year. It was a fun and educational event that just always happened.
When we got the news the climb would not be going ahead this year and the AWA was needing to adapt the event – we were shocked. And of course we wanted to know how we could support the AWA as the climb had always been their major fundraiser.
The Adventures for Wilderness was born out of an idea of having people become actively involved in the splendor Alberta has to offer. Building an adventure for Adventures for Wilderness has been an adventure in itself! Our family had been learning about Alberta’s Native Bees and thought maybe this would be a good starting point for an activity where participants could make bee boxes that are appropriate for Alberta’s native bee populations. And it is always fun to do a scavenger hunt so why not incorporate technology and do a GPS scavenger hunt around our coulees in Edgemont? What a fun afternoon that would be – Pollinator Power! But I knew we would need help. Enter Dan Olson – carpenter extraordinaire! We needed a blueprint for a bee box and the materials to make them. He took the challenge and as you can see from the photos, the result is amazing. What bee wouldn’t want to live in one of these?
But as February turned into March a pandemic was sweeping across the world and Alberta. We knew we would have to change the event as social distancing became the new norm. I learned how to use a drill press and a hand router. Dan and I built 48 bee boxes over the course of a few days – keeping our 6ft distance, of course.
The event Pollinator Power! turned into a social distance success. For a minimum $50 donation a hand made bee box would be delivered to your doorstep – with all funds going straight to the AWA! Bee boxes started flying out the door. People are excited to invite native pollinators into their gardens and support the AWA.
Pollinators perform an extremely important job and Alberta’s Native Bees need our help. By putting a bee box in your garden, you are making a difference. Even the smallest yard or balcony can welcome native bees. If you have a bee box in your garden, you can also participate in a citizen science project with the Alberta Native Bee Council to help them gather data. They will even come to your home to collect the nest if your box is colonized. The more bee boxes we have the better it will be for all of Alberta’s native flora and fauna. In fact, as I write this, we only have 17 bee boxes left! We are looking forward to next year, hoping we can go with the original plan of gathering, learning, building and having fun together. But for now, enjoy the quieter world and hear the bees.
Coordinator for Pollinator Power!
Written on March 13, 2020, by Sean Nichols
The enthusiasm and support from 15 friends for the chance to head out on an Adventure made AWA’s Adventures for Wilderness first ever event, Friends-Fish-A-Thon, a tremendous success!
Our adventure started on Friday with a race against time; we boogied to set up our staging area and drill our holes in the ice before the weather socked in and the blowing snow kept us huddled by our fire. By Friday evening, we had 4cm of snow, with more to come. We bunkered down in our tent, hoping to catch some late roving and hungry walleyes. Saturday morning we woke up to -20°C, and welcomed some more friends that popped in for a day visit. We roamed around the lake, drilling holes and using a fishcam hoping to spot some schools of perch, or even just a single monster pike. We also took time to help our friends at Alberta Lake Management Society with one of their citizen science programs, the Winter Lakekeepers Program. We recorded the total dissolved oxygen at various depths of the lake, and took a sample of the water to test Total Phosphorous-all of which help indicate the overall health of the lake. As the day progressed, more snow arrived and some of our friends who couldn’t overnight on the lake had to leave. As the snow continued to fall, we resumed our posts hoping to pair our dinner with a side of fish, and eventually, our efforts paid off! We caught a 26 inch pike on a tip up located outside of the tent. It ended up being the only fish we caught over the weekend, but at least we can say we weren’t completely shut out! The catch rejuvenated our spirits, and we celebrated over a tasty meal. Sunday morning came, and it was time to pack up and head home, however it seemed that Mother Nature didn’t to want us to leave. By Sunday morning, a total of 9 cm of snow had accumulated bogging down our vehicles, in addition to a couple of frozen vehicle batteries. With some shoveling, pushing, and a little bit of kitty litter, we eventually made it out safely – with stories to tell!
Despite the challenging cold weather and some pretty slow fishing, our Adventure for Wilderness made for a memorable weekend, bringing good people together to celebrate a common passion: a love for Alberta’s wilderness.
I want to thank everyone who sponsored our adventure – while there are still some sponsorships coming in – we have already met our $2000 target. We are still hoping more of you might sponsor our Adventure; we are collecting until July 31!
Written on March 10, 2020, by Sean Nichols
We are all deeply saddened to let you know that our dear friend Richard Guy passed away on Monday morning. He was 103 years young.
We will all miss his enthusiasm, his inspiring words and amazing strength for climbing stairs! He knew so many of you who took part in our climbs and we were all inspired by him and his undying love for Louise. He and his team had been busy planning an Adventure for this year and we hope that it will continue in his honour.
Announcements about a memorial are expected in the coming days. Over the years we have saved a number of quotes that were Richard’s and he often said he was one of the luckiest men; not only because of his wonderful wife but because he got to do what he liked. And so a parting word from Richard seems fitting:
“Do what you like, I think that is the important thing.”