Long back from the bush

The summer work season followed on the heels of last season.  Once again, we spent most of our time in the old burned area north of Slave Lake.  By now, the undergrowth has become so dense that the logging company chose to herbicide large parts of the remaining areas to plant.

A huge challenge this year was just finding the cutblocks we were contracted to plant.  By now trees that hadn’t been cut were burnt and fallen to the ground and covered with grass making the outlines very challenging to find by helicopter.IMG_2022

Above: Owner Cal,  crew supervisor, Jen J and myself flying around with maps out trying to make sense of the world.  Once you land, the underbrush obscures everything making it difficult to know where to get the helicopter to drop trees.  I spent much of the summer with a nagging feeling of not being one hundred percent sure of where I was!

For our first camp of the year, we put our entire camp in a sea container during the winter and drove it into our first camp location on an ice road.  Then in spring, we helicoptered in and set it up.  The sea container then gets driven out next winter.  We still have to fly camp out to our next location but it saves us from flying the camp in one way which is pretty expensive.  The Bell212 we flew it out with runs 2,000 dollars an hour.IMG_1967

Above: Our first camp with our trusty sea container.  Not a very picturesque place really. We’re on a forced day off as the helicopter can’t fly in the fog.Screen shot 2014-10-27 at 8.24.48 PM

Above:  I never remember finding so many eggs before.  I could have eaten quite well off these.  The brown eggs on each side are the eggs of the annoying Lesser Yellowlegs, a sandpiper that follows you around all day yelling  like smoke detector.  I nearly broke them out of spite.IMG_2138

Above:  As complex as the boreal forest is, it has some governing characteristics.  One is disturbance and dominance.  Working this massive burnt area for a few years has been an interesting experience to see the waves of colonizers, adapters, infestations, die offs, and emergences.        While the forest is in its transition phase, different things explode and monopolize their new opportunities.  Incidental to these big scale transitions, it also happened to be a peak year for tent caterpillars.  After they ate everything in sight and turned into moths, I watched a swarm of chickadees dogfighting them and devouring them!  Chickadees always seemed cute before, but to see them hovering and hunting like attack helicopters, I had a new found respect for them.  I’m fond of discovering that every year there is some new behavior and sight to see in the forest.

Needless to say the bugs are pretty bad.  They seem to be worse in the burnt areas though I’m not sure why.  Exposed skin was impossible.  I wore socks with the toes cut out to cover the gap between my shirt cuffs and my gloves. The is no escape except in your tent but as my day starts at 5:30am and doesn’t finish untill 9pm, my tent is a mostly a far off vision in a long day filled with crawling black flies.

When the dragonflies come out, it becomes a reason to celebrate!IMG_2208

As much as the bugs can mentally take their toll on you, we’ve learned from experience to keep ourselves as entertained as best we can in the middle of nowhere.  Every end of the shift is some kind of event planned in advance to keep spirits up.  Some of these become annual events.  Last year when the floods trapped us in Kananaskis, we celebrated “half christmas” on June 25th and it was such a hit we brought it back this year.  On June 25, half way till Christmas, we all drew names from a hat and exchanged gifts such as we could muster under a poorly decorated tree.  As tired as everyone was, the gifts were all as well thought out as they were appreciated and generated a few weepy eyes.Screen shot 2014-10-27 at 9.09.08 PM

Above:  Celebrating Half Christmas while a welcome breeze keeps the bugs at bay, a christmas miracle!  Standing at far left with red shawl, Thunder smiles upon receiving a gift from Jon, wearing the white cap.Screen shot 2014-10-27 at 9.17.31 PM

Above: Our annual costume party is legendary.  Tim, dressed as a giant fly swatter, is chasing Joshua, dressed as a blackfly in a spirited performance piece!  More than a chance to let off steam, these events occupy the mind during long hours of toil.

For the most part this year, the weather wasn’t as nasty as some years.  A cold spring and warm summer would be the best description.  A few storms conspired to make life difficult for me.  At one point I had a large crew of 20 people flying deep into the bush during very uncertain conditions.  On the first flight in, the pilot and I played cat and mouse with the fog to try and get in only to have him ask me if I thought we could get out.  If I wanted him to, he would take the next loads of people in but possibly strand them there at the end of the day.  It was a horrible decision to have to make with so little information.  We dropped the crew I had on board into the blocks and flew around a bit trying to make a quick decision.  Things seemed to be deteriorating and based on what weather was coming in, I didn’t think we could get out at the end of the day.  We picked the crew up and returned to the forward staging area.  Highballers don’t like missing days so I felt a lot of pressure to make the right call.

The next day came and we all flew in, had a massive day and just finished up as a huge storm came flying in.  The last crew and myself waited with a bit of horror as the storm hit just as he returned.  We threw ourselves in and pilot Colin pulled up before the door was even closed and fought the machine through the squall.  A few strokes of lightning were dangerously close but after 5 minutes of putting the hammer down, we were in the clear and safely on our way back to the highway.  10407662_10152222329971734_8415291929209661027_n

Above:  An approaching storm complicates an already complex day with 20 people trying to finish 8 different heli blocks.  Days like this are crazy, we woke very early and left at 6:30am and finished at 9pm and got back to camp at 10pm.  Lots of complex logistics to keep everything running smoothly but when it all comes together, it’s a very satisfying feeling.  Photo by Alani.

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Above:  There’s no feeling like the last day of the season!  Thunder’s crew celebrates the last tree of the 5 million tree season season.

As is tradition, for the last night in camp, everyone dresses in formal wear for a really good supper together and for our awards show and variety night.  We actually have rubbermaids filled with dresses and jackets and ties to pull this off.  There’s something terribly ridiculous about seeing people who are normally covered in mud and sweat, in semi formal wear even if a bit creased!Screen shot 2014-10-27 at 10.09.17 PM

Above:  Matty takes the official picture of all the ladies dressed up.  After a gourmet meal we give out a few awards to people both respectful or ridiculous.  Then comes the variety night where people perform songs, poems, skits or performances they’ve been dreaming up all season.IMG_2298

Above:  Our “camp man” Brandon, apart from being one the sharpest wits, is also a pretty effective stage designer for the middle of the bush!  After living in the apocalyptic looking burn all summer, these living conifers looked to us like jewel encrusted pillars of a Persian palace.  He went to great effort to find them and incorporate them into this masterpiece of light and shadow.  The guitar player Jonas, is a young German travelling through Canada who was fortunate enough to bump into foreman Thunder who convinced him to plant trees with us.  He was a natural and seemed impervious to hardship and suffering.  Accompanying him is his fellow greenhorn, Emily who, while not obvious to herself at the start of the season, was also made of a stuff tough enough to withstand anything.  IMG_2301

Above: Thunder reads a tree planting poem she wrote.  I’m not sure what is more impressive, Brandon’s carved podium or Thunder’s gold lame outfit!  IMG_2303

After the performances are done, the evening winds down with a dance party.  It feels a bit like a very strange wedding.  It’s hard to convey how much joy is expressed here, but after months of being away from home, in the middle of nowhere, going tired and thirsty through cold and heat, mud, bugs and every kind of frustration and exhaustion possible, the realization that we now get to reap the rewards creates an explosion of joy.  From here we scatter to all corners of the world to do all sorts of exceptional things.  Though perhaps after a long nap…IMG_2256

 

 

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CBC: bad environmental journalism is indifferent to facts

Yet another boogey man story from CBC suggesting that global warming is causing some Antarctic catastrophe.  If you actually read the study though, it turns out that a computer model thinks that just one small portion of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may increase its speed into the ocean in a thousand years.  (CBC quotes the low guess of one hundred years but the study says it could be thousands!) That’s right, CBC goes from a wild guess by a computer over an irrelevant time period to catastrophe that is explicitly your fault.  What is wrong with these people?  Screen shot 2014-05-13 at 8.24.29 AM

 

 

Above:  Screen Capture from the CBC story which mentions observations but leaves out these observations were then fed into a computer model.

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Meanwhile in the real world,  the exact opposite of these claims is occurring.rss_ts_channel_tlt_southern polar_land_and_sea_v03_3

Above:  Satellites show long term cooling in Antarctica air temperatures! 

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Above: Long term cooling also seen in the ocean surrounding Antarctica see data source here  Falsifies the claim that “warm water is eating the ice”

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Above:  The real story right now is that seasonal Antarctic ice is higher than ever recorded since accurate satellite data became available in 1980 with nearly 1.5 million more square kilometers than the average!!  data source is the MAISE multisensor analized sea ice extent data found here.

So the article claims warm air is warming the water which is melting the ice.  Freely available observational data  found in 2 minutes falsifies every single one of those claims. Air is cooling, water is cooling, ice is growing.

The disconnect between the scare stories generated by computers that might happen hundreds of years from now, and the actual conditions is staggering.  Only in a world where CBC’s funding is taken from me without my consent, can they continue to live in such a fantasy world without repercussions.

Disgraceful.  Every journalist that silently allows this continual nonsense to persist is quickly digging their own grave as the credibility that remains in this profession evaporates.

 

 

 

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Deconstructing another typical climate story

This article came my way from the Guardian and it’s a perfect example of so many similar stories that I see every week.

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from the story:

“Climate change caused by humans has made the likelihood of extreme rainfall similar to that seen in England this winter significantly higher, according to analysis seen by the Guardian.”

It’s unfortunate for Fiona Harvey’s credibility and professionalism that I can spend a minute and a half on the internet to disprove this with observational data.

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Above:  data from the UK MET office.  Observations shows no trend in rainfall

Below:  data from the UK MET office. No increase in large rain events either.

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What about the first part of that sentence?

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Above: Central England Temperature data set shows no warming during peak precipitation months in winter.

So everything Fiona Harvey breathlessly declares in proven false by simple observation.  She claims:

1) (human produced) CO2 is making it warmer

2) warmer makes bigger rainfall.

The above observational data shows neither of these to be the case.

So why does she write the story?  For one, her interview subject is none other than Oxford University.  I suppose that in the absence of any experience in science herself, Fiona assumes that a researcher from Oxford must surely know what they are talking about.  At least that’s how I account for a lack of critical thinking skills.  I guess J school is but a distant memory for her.

The problem arises in two simple words.   “Reasearch shows…”  In fact, the Oxford team is playing with a computer model.  The result of a computer model run is not data nor is it an observation.   A computer model result is a regurgitation of their theory.  The model is programmed with a set of assumptions so the output is only as good as those assumptions.  It doesn’t show you a new phenomenon and it’s not an experiment.  If you don’t understand something complex like regional weather variations, a model will not help you predict anything. Computer climate models only work a few days out because actual climate involves sets of currently unsolvable equations like the Navier-Stokes smoothness equations.  You would have thought that people who grew up in the computer era, would at least know how they work, what they can do, and what they can not do.  My cell phone displays who is calling, provided I enter the contact info for that number.  The phone can’t do that by itself.   It’s pretty depressing that someone who works in a science field doesn’t seem to understand this.  A climate model is more complex than my cell phone but the principle is exactly the same.

After interviewing the Oxford researchers, Fiona would have imagined herself to be pretty presumptuous to check their work.   Except for the fact that it requires no science background to simply ask how the Oxford team tests their computer model to see if it is correct!  As it turns out, their model has no validity test prompting a rational person to wonder why it is even in the newspaper in the first place?  Now the Oxford team will claim it’s been tested, but if there is a process they don’t understand or know about, then the output will be incorrect.  Claiming any validity test is to claim they know all unknowns.  The fact that weather forecasts are only good for a few days is proof of the complexity of the problem.  Climate modelers will say what they do is different but they can’t get around the fact that we don’t understand the processess, and what we do understand involves solving unsolvable equations.  Mathematician Chris Essex says you have to believe six impossible things before breakfast to take climate models seriously.

I hope, but I don’t expect a journalist to undestand good science from bad.  But the most basic questions are missing  here.  Why should I believe the model? Is it actually warmer in the UK? Is it getting wetter if it is indeed getting warmer?  Is one causing the other?If it’s true, how do you know this isn’t natural?  Luckily, I live in an age where I don’t need to trust Fiona, I can check these things myself in a mere minutes.

Looking at the data above, there is no correlation between warmer years and wetter years, and it’s not getting warmer in the UK, and it’s not getting wetter in the UK.  The last obvious question is whether Fiona is

a) lazy and couldn’t be bothered to fact check her assumptions.

b) time pressed and had no time to fact check her assumptions.

In other journalism subjects neither of these would be acceptable conduct.  Now I realize that the place to question the Oxford researchers is from an editorial perspective, not a reporting piece.  However, given that made up assertions are used in lieu of readily available facts, it seems that this is an editorial, just disguised as a report.  Fiona can’t excuse herself by claiming “I only reported what they told me”  She can believe this only if she thinks there is no responsibility to report facts.  I see this constantly in climate reporting where otherwise arcane postulations of researchers are unwittingly passed off as facts with made up nonsense rounding out the story.  This is the mold the CBC uses in their countless, baseless, scare stories.  When a story has no consequences to the reader, I can be more generous but when no one fact checks a catastrophic prediction, you’ve made yourself a moral agent in its dissemination. Once upon a time you were not alowed to falsely yell fire in a crowded theatre.  Yes, budgets and deadlines are tight, but the observations that falsify this story were found in a minute.

Meanwhile in the real world, the RSS satellite temperature data set was updated this week for the month of April.  As always, the media treats real data like the plague.

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Above: No relationship between CO2 and global temperture in the 21st century.  Surely there is a climate story in there?

Here is a science lesson for Fiona.  If you think phenomenon A is caused by B, plot one against the other to see if there is a correlation.  Then investigate whether that correlation implies causation or whether some else could have caused phenomenon A.  In the graph above we have CO2 compared with global temperatures. At higher CO2 levels, there is no commensurate increase in temperatures.  Never mind causation, we don’t even see correlation!  Why did Fiona not ask the Oxford researchers about this.  Why didn’t she take the 55 seconds to pull up some temp and precip numbers for the UK before or after her interview?  Surely just a minute of research would allow her to ask the right questions at the very least.

Like I said, you don’t need to be a scientist to write about this stuff.  But you do need to be a journalist. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Glacier Skywalk

The “Glacier Skywalk” opened today along the Icefields Parkway.  It’s a viewpoint built along the highway overhanging the Sunwapta Canyon. (see brief below)glacier skywalk

Critics of the Skywalk got plenty of airtime on CBC.  While they are entitled to their opposition, I suggest they understand very little of this area.  The biggest degradation of this area is not the viewpoint but the road itself.  The road alters predator prey relationships, animal movement, hydrology and introduces people and noise into an area that would otherwise see none but a few dedicated climbers.    People who oppose the skywalk don’t seem to mind using the road to look at these landscapes.  And therein lies my beef.  They overlook the biggest sin because they use it, but are up in arms over the smallest of sins they have no intention of using.  If you are going to oppose the skywalk, then logically if you really cared about the natural environment, the road itself ought to be your highest priority to eliminate!

That 230 km road could disappear tomorrow for all I care.   It would be a wonderful luxury to stand on Mt Wilcox in August without hearing the distant roar of motorcycles plying up the highway stressing out animals and destroying the solitude.  On the other hand, the Skywalk’s additional presence will be completely unnoticed.  

The people who oppose the skywalk along with 99 percent of the population lacks the knowledge, skill or fitness to travel even 100m away from the road and into the vast protected landscapes on either side.  That isn’t going to change anytime soon.  If the point of the parks is to have preserved land free of human influence, the vast majority of the parks already enjoy this by virtue of the fact that so few can actually venture beyond the highway.  If the purpose is for people to get the opportunity to enjoy in a low impact way the landscape in the park, then this viewpoint does that in spades.   

It reminds me of local Canmore residents who recently opposed a residential development project on the grounds that it would be harmful to the environment.  It never seemed to occur to them that they themselves and their own houses could fall under similar objections! 

No, the Icefields Parkway is yet another example of environmental exceptionalism.  It’s okay to pave a swath and usher in millions of cars and people through a pristine area, but heaven forbid you build a highway overlook!  Sorry, but the real damage was already done.  I have no interest in the Skywalk myself.  My interest in this area is to climb and explore, but there are many ways to enjoy these spaces.  If something comes along that is worse than the road itself, then I will oppose it.

Below:  The world just a kilometer beyond and a 1000m vertical up from the new glacier skywalk.  Pristine as ever!  Perhaps if the environmentalists weren’t such city-folk, they would see how little the skywalk changes anything in these parts.

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Three Glacier Traverse

By chance, Emil, one of our old trip partners (now living in Whistler) had a few days off and came back to Banff.  He was one of the four others I did the Wapta Traverse with so the entire Wapta alumni all got together at the Bear Street Tavern in Banff for a reunion.  Everyone had good news to catch up on but the talk soon drifted to doing a trip while he was here. Randy and Peggy had obligations with their new baby so Hugo and Emil and myself planned a quick adventure.  I suggested a one day marathon of starting in the Spray Valley, climbing up the French Glacier, skiing across the Haig Glacier and climbing up to the Robertson Glacier and skiing back out to complete a circuit.  After some planning and research that evening, Hugo and Emil picked me up at 6:30am from Canmore.  We headed south 45km into Kananaskis Country and set off.DSCN8914Above:  Emil negotiates a creek early in the morning dawn. The avalanche conditions were quite good and the weather looked perfect with blue skies.  The only tricky part besides the long distance was the climb from the Haig Glacier up a very steep 500 foot wall to gain the Robertson Glacier.  We brought crampons and ice axes for this pitch.  This wall is south facing so there is a danger that the sun could make the slope very unstable by the time we would get there.  We discussed the possibility of having to turn around here if conditions were unstable.  DSCN8925 Above:  Emil climbing the French Glacier.  This glacier is very small, with no crevasses and deep snow cover so we are climbing unroped. As always on trips that contain a very difficult crux, I spent plenty of time worrying beforehand.  The wall is so steep that if you fell, you wouldn’t stop without an axe and the skills to arrest a fall.  On the long climb up the first glacier I couldn’t stop focusing on it. I still need to work on fear management.  On the one hand it makes me think of every tiny detail of what could go wrong and how to avoid every kind of danger.  Fear keeps me safe.  On the other hand, it sometimes robs me the enjoyment of where I am.  Emil offered some good encouraging words along the way.  I don’t want to have a lack of fear, but I’d like to be able to be mindful of what can go wrong, take action and then compartmentalize it better.  Perhaps that’s one of the many challenges that keeps me putting myself in these situations. DSCN8931 Above: Hugo climbing up the French Glacier.  Hugo has been working hard as a new electrician and hasn’t had as much time to be active.  This 3200ft vertical gain was getting the best of him and certainly it was a testament to him that he powered up it in spite of his work taking a toll on his fitness.  At least when the weather is beautiful, hardships are easier to bear.  A blizzard can really sap the strength from you even though the distance and elevation are the same. DSCN8935 Above:  On the second glacier, the Haig Glacier, we take a short rest for food, water, and getting our glacier safety gear on.  I love being on these high altitude glacier plateaus.  No trees or life of any kind and the mountain tops jut out so sharply.  It’s just unlike everywhere else in the mountains.  The sun was strong but the snow had yet to rise in temperature so we still had a good window of stability for the big wall.IMG_1875 Above:  Skiing across the flat Haig Glacier on our way to the Robertson/ Sir Douglas Col. In the valley (center of picture) I could just make out the Northover Ridge that Mike and I had explored a few years earlier.  It’s always interesting to see old haunts from new perspectives. Below: From Northover (in August) you can see the Haig Glacier.  The wall forming the saddle between the two big peaks (on the left and center of picture) was the crux.  If you had told me when I took this picture that I would be climbing up that, I would have argued not in this lifetime!DSCN0193 DSCN8938 Above:  We finally arrive at the crux wall.  Emil studies it looking for the safest line.  It didn’t seem so bad now that I was looking at it rather than wondering and worrying about it.  After a short conference, we took our skis off, attached them to our packs and got out the ice axes.  The snow quality was such that we wouldn’t need crampons.  I couldn’t wait to get to the top.  Conditions were safe but getting less so as the day went on. At that elevation and kicking up the steep pitch, it was very tiring but I found myself feeling very comfortable with my axe.  The ice climbing course definitely increased my comfort level but I couldn’t call that climb enjoyable!  IMG_1880 Above:  Last few steps at the top.  Just a few steps behind me is a 50 story drop off but the white of the snow and the lack of any objects for scale or differentiation makes it nearly invisible.  Only the sudden appearance of my tracks gives any hint!  The view from the top was really incredible.  I often see pictures from trip reports where the sky is blue and you can see what you are doing and I harbour a bit of a grudge from many trips with white-out navigations and half seen vistas.  But today, we earned some perfect weather.  We had a big three-way hug at the top and enjoyed some peak identification and snacks.IMG_1882 Above:  Success!  Having won our elevation we got to enjoy dropping on to the Robertson Glacier for a massive downhill run in perfect powder.  The release of safely getting past the crux  combined with the joy of powder skiing in the backcountry had me laughing as I carved my turns down the big face.Screen shot 2014-04-28 at 12.29.38 AM Above: Making turns down a section of Robertson Glacier.  A few thousand feet down and we were in the Burstal Valley with a further 5km ski to join the Spray Valley and the road.  A very long day with lots of elevation made us pretty glad to get back to the car!  An amazing trip and as always, with great people.    Quite a change from Utah and California!

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Canyoneering

Canyoneering is the technical descent of canyons through rappelling or downclimbing. It seemed like a great way to find some solitude in popular Zion.  It also seemed like a great way to really connect to the landscape as you’re pretty much face to face with it deep in the slot canyons.  This is a pretty hazardous activity, so we hired a certified guide to lead us.  Below:  hiking in to the start of the canyon.

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We really liked our guide who was exactly my kind of instructor.  She made sure we  had our safety systems done correctly, but then let us lead and figure out what to do.  We hiked up to the top and then as Bailey said, we would “be a drop of water” and flow down the slot canyon.  The Canyon of choice was “Snake Alley,” a 3a1 rated slot canyon just outside of Zion.  What makes these slots so interesting to travel through is that they have been carved out by water eating through soft rock.  They don’t just go straight, they drop with twists and turns like an intestine in your gut.  Gravity and the canyons do not always line up which makes roped descending tricky.  Gravity pulls you one way while the canyon goes the other.DSCN6379

Above:  The first pitch was a bit unsettling.  After tying the rope into the anchor, I threw it down.  “Did it reach the bottom?” asks Bailey.  If the rope doesn’t hit the bottom, you find yourself  stranded if you rappel down it.  Because the slot twists out of sight, you can’t see the bottom and the weight of the rope makes it difficult to feel if it’s bottomed out.  Using a personal tether tied to the anchor, I venture out into the well and verified that the rope was at the bottom.  And so we descended.

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Above:  With me in the abyss at the bottom belaying Suz off the top anchor, she descends the first pitch. (Bailey’s picture)  Last to descend is Bailey.  Once safely down, we pull the rope through the anchor and coil it up and move on to solve the next problem.DSCN6389

Above:  The canyon here is a few feet wide with a wonderful sand bottom from the eroding sandstone walls.  The next pitch isn’t too big of a drop, more of a smooth ramp with a drop and a right angle turn.  But it is very steep.  If it was safe to descend without rope, it would save a ton of time as there was no good anchor point to tie the rope into. To determine if we could downclimb unroped,  I needed to drop down just a bit and see more of it.DSCN6390

Above:  Bailey suggests Suz braces herself and lower me a bit to check out the pitch.  The rope is running through a friction device called a Pirana (the silver ring between her hands.)  The Pirana allows the rope to feed through, but if I slip, it will grab the rope effectively tying me to her.

I check out the pitch and determined that it was pretty dodgy for us but an expert and experienced climber should be able to downclimb it unroped.  My solution was for Bailey to be the anchor and lower each of us with the rope and then downclimb unroped. That way we wouldn’t need to spend  forever trying to build a safe anchor.  That suited everyone and down we went.DSCN6394

Above: Scrambling through the narrowing slot.  The rough floor of the canyon is creating problems forcing us to press our feet and backs into the walls and  shimmy through above the floor.DSCN6399

Above:  Unroped, we descend a section of the slot by smearing the walls and inching down.  The walls are like sandpaper and really let you stick like a gecko though it tears your hands and clothes up a bit.  It’s exhausting work and after 20 feet of this  I was all in!DSCN6410

Above:  Bailey grabs a picture of Suz negotiating a confounding obstacle, a big rock under Suz feet is stuck in the slot about 5 feet from the bottom.  She can’t go forward as the walls are simply too narrow to squeeze through.  There is a hole directly under her feet but how to drop in it when there is no room to bend your knees?!  This was the one place I felt a bit of panic.  The walls are so luminous that I didn’t feel claustrophobic even through the very earth is nearly squeezing you to death.  But in this problem I found myself realizing that what I was doing wasn’t working and I felt a pang of “oh no I’m stuck” or “I’m going to break something.”  I couldn’t help observing that if something went wrong in here, you would really be in trouble.  No helicopter extraction, no stretcher, no nothing was going to be able to squeeze through and get you.  IMG_1787

Above:  My view of Suz solving the chockstone problem.  Well, she’s partly solved it, she’s on the floor now!  A few more contortions and she got through.DSCN6414

Above: …And Bailey’s view of the same problem.

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Above:  No rocks to kick down each other so on a straight-forward pitch, we make a duel descent down each side of the rope for an amusing photo-op.  Suz used some forethought and threw her pack down first.  I had mine on and I got squished when the slot got too narrow at the bottom of this pitch.

At the end of the day, the canyon spat us back out into the desert.  A magnificent day learning new skills and seeing amazing, hidden places.  Suz loved it as the smile on her face in the picture above demonstrates!  The experience has us thinking about trying some rock climbing around Canmore.

Apart from being an excellent guide and instructor, Bailey was definitely our kind of people and we had an enjoyable conversation as we made the 40 minute drive back Springdale.  I find when I’m talking to people who love mountains, the conversation is always too short.

 

 

 

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Zion

Zion  National Park was a bit of a black hole in my research before we left.  I hadn’t researched any hikes or specific things I wanted to do there.  Suz had researched a bike trip west of Zion and I had seen a few pictures but they hadn’t left much of an impression on me.  We camped at the campground in the middle of the town of Springdale which serves the park in the same way as Banff townsite.  We found the similarities very interesting as Bow Valley locals now turned tourists.  It gave us some insight into why Banff townsite is so popular and what Banff does right.  Anyway, the campground was dreadful by my standards.  Very few campgrounds are to my liking having been spoiled by a lifetime of isolated, backcountry camping.  So it’s a good thing Zion is so beautiful that even camping cheek by jowl didn’t put a damper on things!

The hike we did was up to Angel’s Landing.  It’s the popular must do, like seeing the Eiffel Tower.  Probably not the best thing to do in Paris but you’d feel weird if you didn’t see it. Angel’s Landing is an oddity.  It’s basically a beautiful and easy path made to take people with no experience or skills into a place they have no business being.

Below:  The amazing engineering of the Angel’s Landing path built in the 1920s.  One of the few paths I thought was picture worthy unto itself!

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Above:  The first lookout atop Angel’s Landing.  The most amazing feature of Zion is the scale. Many of the other places in Utah allow you to climb in and around and really get to know the land.  Zion is about human-dwarfing scale that makes you insignificant.  Above the lookout in this picture is a fin that angles up very steeply with thousands of feet dropping down just a few feet on each side of you.  A fixed cable prevents people from falling to their death though a half dozen have died here in the last few years.  If I was presented with an arete like this back home, we would climb one at a time with experienced partners.  But here, people who looked more at home in a mall were all climbing bumper to bumper up this precipice in one giant accident waiting to happen.  Suz was too curious and ventured up a bit but I wanted nothing to do with it, too worried some inexperienced person was going to slip and take me out with them.DSCN8809

Above: Suz has enough and comes back down.  In the end, we were grateful for the path as the lookout really was spectacular.  A similar problem exists here at home.  Around the same time we were in Angel’s Landing, several tourists were snowshoeing at Lake Louise and found an easy path up into an avalanche path and were killed when they triggered the slope.  The wisdom of making it easy for people with no skills to get into dangerous places seems questionable to me.  As Alan Kane says, “if you don’t know what your mountain skills are, maybe you don’t have any.”  I  insist that people must be respnsible for their actions, but I also feel that people with knowledge have a responsibility to do their best to educate the ignorant of  dangers.  It seems like the current Parks information delivery assumes a knowledge level that is too high.  Anyway, enough park policy!

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Above:  As always, scale is hard to judge here but you’re looking at 3000 feet of vertical from top to bottom.  Dramatic is the theme of Zion.DSCN8851

Above:  Back down in the main canyon, we wandered up the Virgin River as it slices through the soft sandstone.  Again, it seems odd to have running water around after spending so much time in waterless canyons, gulches and deserts.DSCN8855

Above:  Setting sun casts some big shadows across a big landscape.  We saw plenty of photographers hauling big cameras and cumbersome tripods around here and for good reason.  We saw some photos in a gallery in nearby Springdale that were simply mind-blowing.

Zion is amazing but the easy access and many tourists had us craving to experience it in solitude.  Hiking guidebook gurus and Canmore elusives, the Copelands, profoundly opined that “Mountains speak.  Canyons listen.”  That certainly seems true to me now.  Suz hit upon the thought of hiring a guide and learning canyoneering.  After our day in the main Zion canyon, we were primed to seek out the hidden realms of Zion.

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Utah part4 Bryce

We set the tent up at Calf Creek, a lovely canyon outside Bryce National Park.  Bryce is quite a bit higher in elevation and much colder too.  We woke up with ice on our sleeping bags and frost on our toques. The thermometer read minus eight.

Not much I can say about Bryce.  The place really doesn’t make any sense.  Nothing could be that pink, white and tangerine coloured.  And yet, there it is.  Impossible shapes and colours that had us hiking around saying “wow” in an exasperated way.  DSCN8690

Above:  View from just below the rim of the canyon at the Sunset Point trailhead.  This section is called, “Silent City.”  We hiked the Queen’s Garden/Navaho/Peekabo trail system that descends into the canyon and winds through the lion’s share of the canyon.DSCN8707

Above:  Descending into the spires.  The place doesn’t seem like it should have such lovely pine trees everywhere but this is due to its high elevation and increased moisture.DSCN8732

Above: The white layers create an illuminating effect in the bordering layers of rock.

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Above:  Bryce has a distinctly architectural quality to it.  Everything looks like a castle or a tower or a wall.  The Paiute Indians who lived near here had a legend that the people who used to live here displeased coyote and were turned to stone.  To my eye it seemed like a city built upon the ruins of another city built upon another city.  

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Above:  “Queen’s Garden”DSCN8754

 

Above:  The “Wall of Windows”   The pinks and whites made this massive fortification look carved out of soap.  The eroded talus slopes make smooth fades of colour and form in contrast to the sharp castellated towers.  This fortress has it all; double drawbridges, windows, parapets, turrets, buttresses, crenelations and barbicans.  I don’t think the National Parks Service will let me fix the place up though.  (See castle terms here.)

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Above:  Sun starting to dip down and cast interesting shadows.  I pulled these 8 pictures pretty much at random from the hundreds I took that day.  Everywhere you wander is amazing and different.  The hike wasn’t physically challenging but we were exhausted after a day of this place.  More of an exhaustion of awe and wonder.  Suz joked about getting to California and sitting on the beach with a blindfold  to give our eyes a rest!

I’ll probably post a few dozen more pictures in an online album but at the moment I find it hard to whittle the selection down to something manageable.

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Utah part3 Westward

Our next bike adventure was up the infamous “Amasaback,” A steep and narrow grind up a few thousand feet of vertical starting from the Colorado River and finishing atop a huge mesa overlooking Canyonlands National Park.Screen shot 2014-04-21 at 11.25.03 PM

Above: Another sign designed to scare you off.  The trail winds up over Suz’s head if you can believe it.IMG_1675

Above:  Suz, at the top of some hard won elevation, enjoys the view a couple thousand feet down.  Scale up here is pretty mind numbing as you are looking 20km to the other side of the canyon!  Needless to say, the ride down was pretty exciting and a bit white knuckley.  Didn’t get any downhill shots and was wishing I had a bike-mounted camera.

Next up was a hike in to Corona Arch, a few kms up from the Colorado River.  Below, Suz climbs up a short, bolted cable section that protects you up a series of cliffs. DSCN8368

 

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Above:  Suz in yellow gives a sense of scale to the alien landscape.  This arch is really massive and in a beautiful setting.  The next day we did some quick hikes in Canyonland National Park just west of Moab.  Click the picture below for a better look. The spot in the photo below is at Islands in the Sky, Utah.  My vote for most evocatively named area ever.

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You can stare at it for an hour and it still doesn’t make sense.  For the curious, there is 8800 vertical feet from the top of the mountain to the Colorado River deep in the canyon!  To satisfy my geological curiosity, we hiked into upheaval dome, a geological mystery.  An odd place with a strange beauty.

One of the places we had researched and wanted to explore was Goblin Valley in the San Raphael mountains on the way to Capital Reef National Park.  It didn’t disappoint and being off the beaten path, we had the place to ourselves.DSCN8471

 

Above:  The rocks in Goblin Valley look as though a fortress and defending army have been turned to stone, then melted, then blasted by centuries of desert sand.  IMG_1702

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Above:  Wandering through the maze of rock blobs.  Click on pics for expanded views.  I mentioned before how Utah’s landscapes appear to have been made by giants.  This place seemed like it was built by giants and destroyed by dragon fire.  It’s also possible that if you wander through here long enough, you will find a bus-sized blob that looks exactly like your own nose.  We spent the afternoon but couldn’t find ours so I can’t verify that.

We continued on our way west into Capital Reef National Park, setting up our tent in Fruita, Utah, population a dozen plus 3 horses.  I’ve had the tent set up in some nice places, but this was ridiculous.  Our camp was in an orchard with white apples blossoms in contrast to the pink, orange and red cliffs, with Fruita’s three horses grazing in the corral next door.DSCN8490

Above:  The view from our tent vestibule!  Fruita is an old Mormon colony now a historical site.  What’s better than camping in a grassy orchard? The farmhouse just out of frame sold us some homemade cinnamon buns for breakfast in the morning!  I think I could live in our 6×4 tent on that spot for a few decades!DSCN8527

Above:  Cottonwood trees stealing water from Fruita’s creek just down from our tent.  The spring buds gave a hoar-frosted look to them.  Amazing contrast with the late sun striking the rocks.  No colour adjustment was done to this picture.  The fact that the creek has running water in it makes this valley unique in southern Utah where most creeks are dry until rain events.  The backroads don’t even build bridges, they merely pave the road right through the creekbeds making them impassable when it rains.  It does prevent them from having the flash floods destroy them a few times a year.

In Capital Reef, our objective was to climb Navaho Knob, a 3000 foot vertical climb to gain a view of the “Waterpocket Fold” and the surrounding area.

DSCN8542Above:  After some steady climbing, the route traces the edge of this cliff for almost a kilometer before the final climb on a Navaho Sandstone tower.  From the top we could clearly see Mt Peale near Moab, a distance of over 180kms!  I keep a strange database at home of what you can see from where in the Rockies.  This one took the cake.

Another excursion we made was into Grand Wash canyon.  We were just exploring and in the canyon there was a sign for “The Tanks.”  It seemed as good a thing as anything and the timing was about right.  Not knowing what the tanks was supposed to be, I had it in my head that it was a big rock feature.  After climbing up a side canyon following some rock cairns, the tanks turned out to be water tanks.  Deeply carved out pools that would hold water from the storms.  I learned later that once upon a time, donkey trains would come up here for water.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid also hid out in these canyons and apparently came here for water.  Certainly, if you had never been here before, you would never stumble upon it by chance given the convoluted terrain.DSCN8510

 

Capital Reef also gave us a great light show.  We climbed up to the aptly named Sunset Point to take in the show.DSCN8614

Above: Perfect light on Navaho Knob, the previous day’s climb.

At this point, our senses were getting overdosed and we would be going to Bryce and Zion in the coming days.  Thanks to Fruita Valley for raising the bar on perfect tent spots and giving me two great sleeps in the bargin!

 

 

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Utah part2

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We woke up from our desert campsite ready to tackle the legendary slickrock trail.  The trail started just a few meters from the tent so we slowly unthawed ourselves and made some coffee and porridge on the camp stove.  The trailhead has pretty imposing signage just in case you still had any confidence left after thinking about this trail for the last month!

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Above:  You can see the “bread-crumb” paint trail showing the way back to the road.  You also get a good look at the undulating slickrock.

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Above:  Suz bails on a climb and pushes the final wall.  Going down steep grades like this tests the skills as there are many bumps, trenches and dips to trip you up.IMG_1642

Above:  A good look at the slickrock as I cautiously approach the rim of a massive canyon.  Below:  The trail in places got a little too close to the lip this canyon for my taste.  Gorgeous to look at while standing still but not to be flying headlong at on a bike.

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This trail’s worldwide reputation seems well-earned. It seems all like something out of a dream.  After scaring ourselves sufficiently, we spent the late afternoon hiking in “Devil’s Garden” on the north end of Arches National Park.

The Devil’s Garden is a place where the sandstone layers have been tilted vertical allowing thin weak layers to erode forming massive fins across the landscape.  Mixed in are towers and blobs of rock all painted a wild orange.  What makes it even more incredible is the junipers, pinyons and cacti scattered about as though placed by a master gardener.  Every square inch your eye falls on is absolutely amazing.  I took several hundred pictures while hiking in and around the fantastic rock forms.  Every turn is a surprise.  The other thing I liked about it was the scale was very human.  Often around here you can find yourself looking at massive walls of uncomprehendable size, or gargantuan volumes of space.  In the Devil’s Garden, you can climb up around and over things and really get to know the land a bit.

Below: Fighting a strong desert wind, Suz and I cross a fin on our way to finding a dozen or so famous landforms. From someone who traverses unknown terrain by map for a living and for recreation, I can tell you that getting lost here is easier than saying “Wow!”

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Above:  “Double Arch” hidden in a landscape imagined by Jules Verne.  DSCN8265

Above: An exploratory scramble.  Suz wanted to have lunch under one of these but for some reason, I found it hard to linger under these massive stone doorways.  I took some ribbing for this but later found out that one of these massive arches collapsed just a few years ago in the night.  My report did little to keep her from poking fun at my spidey-sense.DSCN8184

Above:  “Pine Tree Arch” seems ready to exfoliate a few thousand tons of rock but Suz posed for a picture anyway.DSCN8240

Above: “Navaho Arch”  I loved this spot which was like the ruin of an ancient cathedral whose roof had partially collapsed.  The eroding sandstone leaves a floor of perfect beach sand raked smooth by the wind.DSCN8300

Above: “Private Arch” on our way back through the maze of fins and slots.DSCN8320

Above: climbing over some fins on our way back to the road…Below: There are so many distinct places that seem completely separate and isolated from everything else.  Like walking through an IKEA store with its showrooms of living rooms and bedrooms.  This spot below was its own unique place complete with its own little garden, lighting, loft, patio and yard.  Yet walk 50 yards and it is all hidden, replaced by some other totally different sights and forms.  Click on the pictures for a better view.IMG_1654

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Above:  Hope the car is through here!  Another incredible day!  DSCN8199Above:  We watched the sun set on “Landscape Arch”  the longest arch span at 300 feet and impossibly slender.  After two long days of hiking and biking, we opted to check into a motel for a much-needed shower.  We had been through a bit of a sandstorm in the afternoon that the motel merchants must have colluded in delivering.  So we ate a late supper and retired to the town of Moab.

 

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