Mists and drizzle (and a bear or two)

We’ve heard from various sources that parts of North America and Europe are suffering some extreme heat. My brother returned home to the borders of sultry summer WV and Maryland earlier this week after a great visit with us. Well, we thought it was great, but I swear he was muttering something about Canadian cold weather and asking why he couldn’t have had mist or drizzle, but not mist and drizzle? Is there a distinction? He got to hug a mountie – no photos, I wouldn’t do that to him – and that must have thawed him out a little?

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Mist and drizzle? Or drizzle?

On our various trips out and about, he saw a fair number of black bears from the car. Just as well, because on the bear sightseeing tour we took out of Tofino, for a long stretch of the trip it appeared that bears were not going to make an appearance. My brother huddled inside the bright red Canada hoodie I gave him, looking the picture of happiness (again, not a photo I dared to take) and staring out at the blissfully cool (cold?) conditions we’d been blessed with. OK, it was throwing it down, and a bit chilly with the viewing windows open, but if you won’t wear the proffered toque (he still has hair to worry about) how can you stay warm?

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Where are the bears?

Eventually, bears were spotted and the rain eased enough to get a photograph or two. My brother shot a short video of a bear running along a log to cross a small channel that he’ll enjoy showing to friends and other family. I’ve no video, but here is that bear:DSCF7234

I love heading out on the bear spotting tours – not a patch on an adventure we had a couple of years back with Wayne at Tofino Photography, but always fun, rain or shine. The trees, the water, the mist, the mountains, the bears and eagles, are a delight every time, and a chance to soak up the special atmosphere and sense of place this corner of the PNW has.DSCF7174

Once my brother was safely perched at a bar counter after the bear trip, he was a happy boy. He returned the unused toque, and the rain heavy hoodie that had soaked up a fair bit of atmosphere – it was dripping with it – and asked why we were sitting in a place called Wolf in the Fog? “How would you know there was a wolf? Should be called Is there a Wolf in the Fog? It’s too bloody foggy to really know!”

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Too foggy to spot a wolf? No! Have to come back another day…

He’ll just have to come back for another visit, and we’ll look that much harder. The hoodie will have dried out by then…

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

A gift…

…that we received way back in the summer, and I’ve been saving to share this week.

When I wrote about some of our wonderful summer highlights, I deliberately left this one out, wanting to write about it in the depths of winter, close to the solstice and this time of seasonal sharing.

One July evening, we met up with friend and fellow blogger Wayne, as he had kindly offered to take us along on one of his evening shoots. If you haven’t seen Wayne’s work, then head over to Welcome to Tofino Photography – you won’t be sorry!

dscn6902Wayne was patient as his two “helpers” assisted with moving his Zodiac from the boat shed and down onto the water. I suspect it is all rather easier without our assistance…

dscn6914A new boat for Wayne, it’s maiden voyage under new ownership, everything was fine until it started shipping a little water. Problem solver that he is, Wayne soon realigned the outboard motor to prevent any further water intake, and I stopped eyeing the distance to shore and fiddling with the lifejacket.

dscn6921What an absolute thrill it is to be skimming across the waves (when the swell or waves are light – the choppier water gave our nether regions an unspeakable pounding), zooming up and down channels, past rocky islets on the lookout for wildlife in, on, by and above the water.

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Taken earlier in the day – inner child heaven

Seeing and hearing a floatplane take off and fly overhead from on the water made this little boy laugh. Is it a buzzing, droning, whirring or roaring engine? Maybe all of the above. I love it. Most of us don’t see and hear that everyday.

dscn6923-version-2The further we travelled from Tofino, the fewer signs of human habitation we saw. Salmon farms, a houseboat or two, the occasional dwelling on the edge, and a few boats plying the waters. When the engine was cut and we drifted, gently bobbing up and down, the near silence was magical. A breath of wind, a small splash or two, and it was perfect.

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Remote – fine beer in a fine location, so tranquil – thanks for humouring me, Wayne!

I don’t know the waters, but I have a chart, and the names are evocative. Deadman Islets – now there’s a story, surely? Ask Wayne… What about Strawberry Island?

imageWhat a place to explore! Fortune Channel? Indeed. What a trip we had. Along Browning Passage, through the Tsapee Narrows, past Warne Island, into Gunner Inlet, and being tranquil all the way, this was a fine evening.  Experienced and with an eagle eye, Wayne was quick to spot wildlife. We saw some harbour seals, a few bears, including a mama and clambering cub (so beautiful), and breathtaking landscapes and cloudscapes in the fading light.

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Just caught a shot of the cub – I was so excited! (Mum is disappearing on the left…)

We stopped in Gunner Inlet for a few minutes – snack time – and I’ll never forget the peace we experienced there. The silence carries weight, but it isn’t oppressive. Wild and remote, a gift within a gift.

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Full zoom from the Zodiac, and close enough for me – magnificent!

I’ll keep this short, and let the photographs convey some small measure of our wonderful evening. Wayne is a modest man, preferring to be behind the camera, but I’ll thank him publicly here for what was an exceptional adventure. Thanks again, Wayne! Go check his website! (Allow some time for this, because you won’t want to leave…)

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Quiet

A summer highlight as we cross the winter solstice and start to move towards longer days and what I hope is the promise of further adventure for us all.

Thanks for reading, and all the best for the holiday season!dscn6936

Snowed under? Take a hike!

On the day this piece is posted, there’ll be ten teaching days until the winter break. I won’t count today, because that’ll mean eleven days, and I just can’t handle the truth. Definitely snowed under at work, and it’s been like that for a while, so last weekend we needed to go and find some snow. The real stuff.

Chocolate advice

Meteorologists have forecast a cold and snowy winter for our little corner of Canada, and that prediction has warmed an old PlaidCamper’s heart. Contrarian! A real winter? Yes please! I felt shortchanged by last winter when there were too many Chinook winds and too few flakes. Snow flakes.

As we set off for the mountains last week I was feeling flaky, maybe slightly anxious with my high hopes for some real snow – the bright blue skies and a warm westerly wind didn’t add up to winter. Still, it was the weekend, we’d made our plans, and I’ve tremendous faith in weather forecasters. Also, if I only step on the white tiles (not the blue ones) along the hallway from my classroom to the exit, then the snow will fly. Scientifically speaking, this only works on a Friday afternoon, and I must be wearing my favourite toque…

Put on your favourite toque

The science behind the white tile approach to meteorology is very hard to explain, and I struggle to understand it – it is enough to know that it works every time (except for the times it doesn’t) – and it worked once more last weekend. The deeper we traveled into the mountains, the lower the temperature dropped. By the time we arrived near Louise, reasonably heavy snow was falling, and it continued to snow well into the next day. Yup, it had to be the white tiles.

Fresh

We opted to take a hike, taking delight in leaving fresh tracks across the first snow, all along Baker Creek and down to the Bow River. The snow wasn’t deep, but it was enough to change the landscape and create something new. What a relief to be out in the snow, tramping back and forth along the river bank, and recharging instead of feeling snowed under. Snowed under? No, no, we were under the snow! Winter is almost upon us, a season to embrace, and it’s almost always a perfect time to take a hike. Feels good.

Along the Bow

I’ll keep this short, and, like the snow last week, not at all deep. Thanks for reading, avoid the blue tiles, and have a wonderful weekend! 

Beautiful Baker Creek
Unexpected!

Seals, bears, and bald eagles…

…on a cool morning in the PNW. Another brief post, hopefully uploaded successfully from a motel room somewhere in BC. Have to say, we were pleasantly unplugged for a few days, and haven’t enjoyed tuning back in. The world we share…oh boy. Anyway, here’s a soothing balm from a quiet corner if needed:

We signed up for a morning boat tour, leaving Tofino early on a wet and misty day. Sometimes the rain fell in sheets, sometimes it was a light mist, and sometimes it had stopped raining just before beginning again. No worries – wet it was, cold it wasn’t! DSCF2830We were promised sightings of bears, bald eagles and harbour seals, but to be honest, simply heading up an inlet or two and gazing at the grey-green scenery was more than enough. OK, seeing some wildlife is never a bad thing. Each bear, bald eagle, harbour seal, sea otter, or new angle along the shoreline is cause for excitement. It is a beautiful place to find and then lose yourself, dreamlike if you are so inclined.DSCF2872

I always seem to end up in something of a trance state, head emptying as I fall under the spell of the surroundings. Slowly look left, slowly look right, up, down, and repeat.DSCF2814 Fortunately, my eyes are touch more focused than my mind, and we were able to spot all sorts of wildlife. Regrettably, I’m almost unable to speedily focus a camera, being all overexcited at spotting a bear, and sometimes I forget I have a camera and could take a picture. Between that, the bobbing boat, and having little clue, I’m pretty happy with the pictures.DSCF2895

Anyway, a brief post once more – I’ll let the photographs convey something of the atmosphere. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and please feel free to share a story or leave a comment. Have a wonderful weekend!DSCF2824

(We did enjoy a magical ride in a Zodiac with a friend later during our time in Tofino, and drifted wonderfully close to a few bears – when we get home and I’ve sorted the photos, I’ll share some of that story in a latepost…)DSCF2904

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Elbow woes…mountain misery…

…and an old guy rant. I wasn’t sure about posting this piece, as it is not exactly the usual. I enjoy taking an upbeat and positive approach to OldPlaidCamper, because there are plenty of other places to find a downbeat and negative approach. I try to be an optimist, but was somewhat challenged to find the positive on a recent camping trip. Anyway, be warned, and read no further if you’re after regular PlaidCamper fare…

You work hard enough all week, in a job you enjoy, but when the weekend comes along you might be good and ready to clock off, and get out camping for the weekend. The previous couple of evenings have been spent dusting off the necessary gear, sorting provisions, and tracking down the bear and bug spray. It’s the first time out for camping this year, and the weather forecast says fine. Alright! Into the car, and off to the Elbow Valley in Kananaskis country.

DSCN5572There are a fair number of smallish campgrounds strung out along the valley, so getting a spot on a Friday by heading out early shouldn’t be an issue. First campground, full. OK, moving on. Sorry, full. Will we find a spot? Not looking good, but let’s go on just a little further. Yes! One walk in spot left, and we’ll take it, thank you very much!

Tent up – we remembered how – and coffee on, fire pit prepared, a cold beer for later, and everything is groovy. It’s only a small loop, all walk ins, and no loud music playing, so better than groovy. (I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Big Star and Neil Young recently. What can I say? Groovy!) Tall trees, light breeze, and the faint sound of the river not too far away. A mountain retreat, and peaceful pine delight. Oh yeah.

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Groovy
A little further up from our site, a couple joins another couple, loud welcomes, but why not? It’s the weekend and time to meet up with good friends. Then a group of four joins the first four, and more loud welcomes are exchanged. Gets a little louder, but hey, friends with friends, and on the weekend and all. You’d be pleased and excited, out in the sunshine. Then another couple arrives. And is that another couple? Hold on. An f-bomb is dropped. Ouch! Not necessary. Not cool. But maybe it was a one off, a bizarre ritual designed to establish maturity credentials…Beers are cracked, and why not have a cold one on a warm evening? We intend to. Another f-bomb, then another, and a few more beers. Oh dear. Bombs away.

Hey! Stop with the language! Thank you!

Well, that worked for a short while. After a few more beers, the volume of the conversation went up as the tone went down. On went the music. My earlier plea appeared to have fallen on deaf ears. Did I mention the two unleashed dogs? I’m not bothered if they’re well trained, but these were running all over, and dogs do like to chase squirrels if they can get away with it. They sure were getting away with it. It must be hard to keep an eye on your dog when you’re busy exchanging witty banter, using words that rhyme with itch, duck and hit. Heady stuff.

DSCF0118Writing this is sending my blood pressure up. Just a little. I’m no shrinking violet, and I scowled, glared and stomped my way about. Quiet time, according to the bulletin board, is between 11pm and 7am, so technically, too bad, PlaidCamper. Here are a few gems:

Sara, can you see my dick? (Huh? No. Is it very small?)

A butterfly. A f*#king butterfly. F*#king nature! (Huh?)

F*#king European tent! I hate f*#king European tents! (Huh? Just European tents?)

F*#k me? F*#k you! (I know, isn’t that a zinger?)

Bear bait, bear bait, bear bait! (This was chanted when trash was dropped. How I wished – sort of – for a bear, but that’s not fair on the bear…)

These were the good ones…I could go on, give you more details, but my heart isn’t in it. I’ll simply share the fact that quiet time meant nothing to this particular group. 2am and the jollity finally stopped.

Ok. I’ll be the old so and so, the miserable old fart who simply doesn’t get it. Whatever the it may be. Here I go:

Why? Why bother coming out to a beautiful forested campground located in a stunning river valley flanked by mountains, a place you’ll be sharing with other campers, if you don’t appreciate it? Is it actually a location screaming “get blind drunk and be obnoxious!”? Is it really possible for a group of human beings to be so out of touch with their surroundings? With their fellows? Is it a lack of self-confidence, an inability to express appreciation, or fear, that causes such inane behaviour? The witlessness and callous disregard for people and place was truly astonishing.

I’m perfectly happy to be labeled a miserable old so and so, out of touch or just not with it, but really, is there a need to be so self-absorbed, entitled, and, well…brattish, to the point where you cannot care for the planet you live on? Or the people around you? I don’t get it, this behaviour, and I’m hoping it isn’t a growing trend:

Poor behaviour at Yellowstone

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Witless, crass, moronic, inane, pathetic, depressing, sad, pointless, and why me? So sad this squirrel had to see and hear such poor behaviour… 
I do understand people have differing agendas and ideas about how the outdoors should be enjoyed, but surely it can’t be too hard to see what ought to be acceptable in our treasured natural spaces? There are far worse problems facing our world, but honestly, when you hope for a pleasant weekend, what a disappointment. I’m going to leave the negativity here, I think, and hope for happier camping trips ahead.

Time to get back to being positive. I love camping, and although I enjoy quiet, that isn’t an expectation at a shared campground. I’ve sat by the fire late at night many a time, nursing a beer and smiling in the dark as the flames from other campfires flicker through the trees. I like to imagine all these different campers by their fires, mostly strangers to each other, but, across Canada and the US, joined in a similar delight, connected by the experience of being outdoors on a warm weekend, and appreciating their good fortune. Now, that’s not too hard, or too much to expect, is it?

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At least the weekend ended on a positive note…
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share a (happier?) story or leave a comment – it’s always appreciated – and have a wonderful weekend!

 

Bicycle chains and bear spray

Now that spring has sprung, bear spray is always a must carry item when out hiking. Safety first! It’s important to be prepared, because once you are in wild country, anything could happen. (But why bicycle chains, PC? Have you joined a ’50s motorcycle gang, switching plaid for leather? Read on if you are interested, but no, this isn’t a tale of ruckus and rumbles…)

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Good place for a short hike

Last weekend, we enjoyed a short hike with friends and family around the outskirts of Canmore. The hike was short for a number of reasons. The biggest reason was the way certain members in the party celebrated our reunion after quite some time being apart. Mrs PC’s twin brother, and his best buddy, hadn’t been out to Alberta before, so they made up for lost time by trying as many local craft beers in one Friday evening as is (in)humanly possible. We didn’t even try to keep up. If you were unable to get hold of a pint of Last Best IPA last week, well, now you know why.

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Plenty of trees

So, a few sore heads slowed down our small band of happy hikers. Other reasons for dallying? The pre-teen, M, was on his bike because “walking with old people is boring” and his mother, S, was on her bike because a season of snowboarding had worn out her knees. M. kept disappearing onto side trails, and his mother would head off, find him, and shepherd him back to the main group. Her other son, teenager A, is an avid photographer, enthusiastic to the point where he has to take a picture of everything. Not necessarily a problem, but there are a lot of trees out there. This might have slowed our progress just a little. A’s father, Mr. S, enjoyed exhorting him to “come on A, keep up, there’s another tree over here!” Didn’t work.

Like me, Mr. S is bear aware, and he carries a canister of bear spray on his belt. You never know…although the chances of an encounter were greatly reduced that day by the heartfelt and voluble pleas of the youngest child wanting to know if we could go home now. No.

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Why go home?

Mr and Mrs S live with their two boys quite close to Canmore Nordic Centre, so hiking and biking trails are almost right outside their door, and just above the town. We wandered along forgiving trails, admiring the views across the Bow Valley, the fresh new leaf growth, and feeling apologetic toward the single elk we did encounter. To be honest, I think the elk was ok, had probably seen and heard worse, and in fact looked rather unimpressed. It allowed A to take a photograph or two, and then sauntered off into deeper woods.

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Unimpressed – and grainy

All was well with the world, the fresh air working its soothing magic on those that needed soothing, the younger boy was beginning to understand no means no, and enjoy being out on his bike in beautiful country. Not that he’d ever admit it. The weather was rather cool, skies were overcast, with more than a hint of rain in the air, but not enough to dampen spirits. Then, near disaster struck! The chain on Mrs S’s bike came off! That wasn’t the disaster though. It was the fact she didn’t want to get her brand new gloves greasy putting the chain back on. Truthfully, they were lovely gloves, and perhaps the grease would not have washed off.

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Soothing

Never afraid to help in an emergency, and because my gloves are a filthy disgrace at the best of times, I turned the bike over, reset the chain, and was about to guide it back on, but it seemed we all had to inspect the work. Fair enough. Mrs PC’s twin bent over the back wheel, his buddy along for the weekend bent over the back wheel, I bent over the back wheel, Mrs PC bent over the back wheel, S bent over the back wheel – it was her bicycle after all – and Mr. S bent over the back wheel. Quite a crowd! A didn’t bend over the back wheel – he was taking photos of all the adults bending over the back wheel. I hope he had a wide lens, and I hope he isn’t on FaceBook.

IMG_20160430_154940Anyway, happy that the work was sound, S bent down slightly further and reached across to turn the pedal. PSSSSHT! Huh? What was that? Too many beers the night before? We looked up at each other, a slight frown on faces as we searched for the guilty party.  Then we all staggered back as we inhaled. Yes, it was that bad. No, not that. S had set off his can of bear spray! Fortunately, the cloud avoided a direct hit on all who were gathered, and apart from some of us feeling a touch asthmatic, the only damage was to the back of S’s jacket and jeans. I’ve never seen people leap like gazelles before, but the explosive jump away was quite something.

It was one of those situations where you had to be there to really see the funny side of such a narrow escape, but can you imagine the headlines? Tourists shoot themselves with bear spray just outside of town. No bears were present.

IMG_20160430_140854We laughed until we cried, mostly with relief, and that’s when the closest to real damage happened – S rubbed away a tear or two and discovered he had bear spray on his hands…

I’m very happy to report S is fine now, after much eye irrigation, and there were no lasting side effects. He does still carry bear spray when hiking, no longer on his belt but in a side pocket of his hiking pants. Mrs S wears old gloves when out cycling.

IMG_20160430_155306 - Version 2So there you have it. No rumbles, perhaps a bit of a ruckus, and we’re all a little more careful about where we hang our bear spray canister. Thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment or share a story, and have a wonderful weekend!

Spirited away

I gave myself a little homework to do this week, researching our destination from last week, Lake Minnewanka. A quick visit to ParksCanada uncovered a few interesting facts about this beautiful lake.

The Stoney Nakoda called it “Minn-Waki” which translates as “lake of the spirits” and our brief time there convinced me this is a pretty apt name. Early Europeans named it “Devil’s Lake” and again, if you can imagine arriving the hard way, or catching a tough spring season, perhaps also a reasonable name. Place names are often given for good reasons…Easy to forget you are in wild territory when the modern conveniences of Banff are mere minutes away by car.

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Wild, challenging, chilly

Archaeological evidence uncovered at Minnewanka suggests human activity here as far back as 10 000 years. It is easy to see why. Mountain environments are challenging, but at Minnewanka, in milder seasons, there would be the everyday means to survive. Timber, fish, animals to hunt, and berries and roots to gather would have enabled earlier, knowledgeable, and hardy people to maintain their existence.

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Minn-Waki

Lake of the spirits. I love that! I’m somewhat ignorant when it comes to beliefs held by First Nations peoples, but have some understanding and no end of respect for the spiritual connection many have with the natural world. Given the unpredictable nature of mountain weather, and the size of the lake – it is over 25km long and 2km wide – sudden changes in the weather, particularly if you’re on the water, would have you considering spirits. Is it really so hard to believe that the natural world is teaching us something, whether in fury or on more benign days? We treat the planet as we do, and perhaps the planet responds in kind. Is that simply my imagination?

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The last of the blue skies that day

The day we visited was a cold one, the wind rushing across the ice and freeze-burning exposed faces. The morning had started fine, with blue skies and sunshine, but soon enough clouds were scudding over and amassing, and it was clear a change was coming. Undeterred (but well wrapped up), we opted to follow the shoreline trail at least as far as Stewart Canyon, where the Cascade River feeds the lake. We set off in high spirits that only soared further as the trailside trees afforded some protection from the wind, and the views delighted with each turn in the trail.

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The path itself was extremely icy, and we slipped and slid along, hugging trees because we like to, and because they helped us prevent a fall over the edge. Even with ice cleats, the going was interesting.

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An interesting trail…(this section above the lake was quite forgiving!)

Blinking away tears – must have been the keen wind – it was wonderful to see witch’s hair (or beard?) hanging in abundance from branches. A positive indicator of clean air,  and I can only hope nature’s witches continue to display spirited green defiance and resilience.

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I’m planning a return to Lake Minnewanka when the weather warms up and the ice has melted. There are a number of backcountry campgrounds reachable by canoe, and I would love to paddle up the lake and share a night or two with the spirits. Parts of the trail and campground locations are closed in high summer because this is the prime time for mama grizzlies and cubs to feed on buffalo berries. (Even though I’ve been living out this way for close to a decade, I can’t describe how much of a kick I get from writing phrases along the lines of mama grizzlies and cubs feeding on buffalo berries – isn’t the world great?!) I don’t need to see the bears, and certainly wouldn’t want to disturb their habitat – knowing they are out and about is enough – but a camping and canoe trip before they move into the area is high on my hope list…

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Downstream Cascade, Stewart Canyon

We only hiked a few minutes more past Stewart Canyon, enough to get partial views of the lake below. By then the day really had shifted from benign to more malign, with the increasingly gusty wind throwing sharp crystals in our chapped but happy faces. We listened, took the hint, retraced our steps and were warmed on the inside by our delightful introduction to this spirited lake.

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Upstream Cascade, Stewart Canyon

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share a story or leave a comment – it is always appreciated. Have a great weekend! I’m having one of these:

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Yesterday!