Desperation and thievery on the high trail…

…rest assured, all emerged unscathed! Signing off last go around with promises of a tale of desperation and thievery seemed like a bright idea at the time, but not so much now. Oh well, reduce those expectations, and please accept this apology in advance!

Onwards, past the teahouse
Onwards, past the teahouse

The trail up at Agnes Lake continued on past the teahouse (now closed for winter, much to the disappointment of a group of young people – “we should have stopped for a Starby’s” was a wail that rang off the mountainsides – couldn’t help thinking that the surroundings might have made up for that little issue!) Anyway, I took the trail away from the decaffeinated huddle, enjoying how the path hugged the contours of the lakeshore, and a little wary of the blind bends and rises, ever mindful of the slight possibility of a bear encounter.

Like a drum...
Like a drum…

No bears, but I was alarmed by a booming and rumbling as I approached the midpoint of the lake. Was there an avalanche risk? It hadn’t snowed anywhere near enough, so perhaps a small rockslide? Oh, the overactive imagination of the solitary hiker! A quick up and down over a small rise and out onto an open part of the trail soon revealed the cause. A group of teenagers were doing what teenagers outdoors like to do when confronted with a frozen lake – they were hurling small rocks onto the ice to see if it would break. The rocks bounced on the ice, causing it to reverberate and send booms off the wall of mountains circling Agnes. I was listening to the world’s largest kettle drum.

Onwards, around the lake
Onwards, around the lake

Nerves settled, and reassured all was safe, I continued on my way, smiling to myself as the party leaders attempted to stop the teenagers from throwing rocks. They soon passed out of eyesight and earshot, and the path carried on to the far end of the lake, revealing a spectacular view back towards the valley opening, and the mountains beyond.

Looking back
Looking back

I decided to press on up the trail as it switched back and forth, climbing high above Agnes and onto a wide promontory. Pick a direction to be stunned by the views!

Long views...
Long views…

A few steps east, and down to Louise, step to the west and down to frozen Agnes, or south to the six glaciers, or north towards the mountains towering above the ski hill. All of those compass directions are approximate, but you get the idea. Where to look?!

Down to Agnes
Down to Agnes (my poor knees)

Epic stuff, enough to make you want to sit down with a stale cheese roll and try and make sense of the overwhelming scenery. Just shy of 7500 feet up, and time for a well earned lunch (my knees had really struggled on the last part up!)

Lunch above Louise
Lunch above Louise

I was desperately hungry, and at this point I discovered I wasn’t the only one! A camp robber took advantage of my inattention to the cheese roll as I gazed dreamy eyed at Louise, and attempted to thieve it away. That gave me a start, and I was most happy to have been sitting well away from the steep drop. It would have been a dismal end, death by defending a cheese roll, (and I hadn’t finished all of the chocolate bar from earlier…) The bird (a Clark’s nutcracker – I think) was most determined, so much so, I had to clamber wearily to my feet and find another picnic spot.

The culprit (terrible phone photo, taken with jangled nerves)
The culprit (terrible phone photo, taken with jangled nerves)

He followed me for quite a way, clearly an optimistic creature, but my steely eyes and ferocious demeanour eventually convinced him to pick on another hiker. Or perhaps he caught a glance of the cheese roll and decided it could fare better elsewhere. Can’t blame him…

Heading back
Heading back

So there you have it. A fearsome encounter on the high trail, a tale of (potential) thievery, desperation (mostly mine), and disappointment (mostly yours, and maybe the bird), all in a wonderful wilderness setting. Heady stuff, and with the potential for a gritty outdoor adventure movie I shouldn’t wonder.

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Can you see the trail, over the far side, ascending the scree?

I returned to Lake Louise by retracing my steps, excited at the thought of telling Mrs PlaidCamper all about my adventure as we headed home. (I think she fell asleep before I got to the best parts…)

Returning
Returning

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment or share a story – perhaps an exciting wilderness encounter – and keep your guy ropes secure.

Looking for Mrs PlaidCamper
Looking for Mrs PlaidCamper

Snow day! A hint of winter already?

Is it really winter already? No, not according to the calendar, but if you take a hike up high here in the Canadian Rockies, you don’t have to look too hard for a hint of winter (at almost any time of year!)

An early hint of winter
An early hint of winter

Mrs PlaidCamper was presenting at a health conference in Lake Louise last weekend, so I selflessly offered to drive her out there. Good of me I know, and nothing to do with the beautiful and crisp sunny day being forecast, or that I really wanted to hike up and behind Agnes Lake after our postponed attempt a little while back…

A good place to start...
A good place to start…

So while Dr. PlaidCamper entertained the academics, I entertained myself with a solo jaunt away from the scholarly and furrowed brows, and the big words I pretend to understand.

Armed with a stale cheese roll (tasty when you’re hungry), an energy bar (dry and chewy but better than the cheese roll), and a bar of habanero and sea salt chocolate (better by far than anything else in the backpack), I set off up the trail to Lake Agnes. Or is it Agnes Lake? Best do some research on that, and find out more about Agnes.

Heading up
Heading up

The day was about perfect for an uphill hike; too cold not to have a down jacket when standing still, yet sunny enough in and out of the trees to remove the jacket and get warmed up on the move. The icing on the weather cake was the light dusting of snow that had fallen in the early hours. Not a significant amount – barely a few mm – but it was cold enough to prevent it melting in the shade and remain on the ground as the day progressed and I gained trail height. The first winter hint.

Beautiful Louise!
Beautiful Louise!

The switchback trail is pretty short to Agnes, with only a couple of breaks in the trees to allow a view back down to Lake Louise, but those gaps do offer pleasant glimpses of the famed water.

Just shy of Agnes is Mirror Lake, and here was the second hint of winter that morning, an almost frozen mirror.

A frozen mirror
A frozen mirror
Will it be a severe winter? (I ask myself)
Will it be a severe winter? (I ask myself)

I was there at almost the same time a couple of years ago with my brother, and Mirror Lake wasn’t frozen then. Is an early frozen mirror a harbinger of a hard winter I asked? As nobody replied, and I felt a bit foolish talking out loud, I continued sheepishly up to Agnes. It had seemed a reasonable question…

Winter?!
Winter? Delightful!

Agnes was simply delightful! The third and best sign of winter, with an almost totally frozen surface, and light ripples in the snow covering the ice. Or light ripples in the ice covered by snow…

Lightly rippled
Lightly rippled

Honestly, my heart really did beat a little faster – and not just because of the chocolate reward I’d earned here – but for the sheer surprise and pleasure the pristine view provided. It is a beautiful little lake, yet I hadn’t expected it to be as wonderful as it was that morning. I brushed the snow from a rock and sat there, munching and smiling, and likely drooling wet crumbs of chocolate. A few other hikers were present, although none seemed to want to sit near me. I think I must have gotten some grit in my eye, the view did get a touch blurry there.

Agnes is a beauty
Agnes is a beauty

There is more to this wintry adventure, for I wasn’t done with the trail (and there is still that stale cheese roll), but I’ll save that for next time (it was a tale of desperation and thievery as the trail unfolded, let me tease you with that – although seriously, if you have plans of any sort next week, don’t change them!) A teary OldPlaidCamper seems quite enough for this go around. Clearly the cold really can get to a pair of old eyes…

DSCF1527Thanks for reading! As ever, please feel free to comment or share a wintry story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

To be continued...
To be continued…

A tale of two forests…

…in one place! A short piece about the changing environment, and uncovering a forest preference.

DSCN5979
Lakes and forests – marvellous!

We were out at Yoho recently, enjoying a long weekend away from the city. The weather was pretty changeable over these few days, ranging from cold and damp to very cold and heavy rain. The ceaseless drumming of rain upon the cabin roof was initially calming, but we weren’t sorry when it stopped! Cabin fever…

It stopped raining, and the skies started to clear...
It stopped raining, and the skies started to clear…

The grey weather lifted a little, and we made for Emerald Lake, enjoying the sporadic beams of warm sun as the clouds broke up.

Easy walking!
Easy walking!

The stroll (hike is too strong a word for this one) around Emerald Lake isn’t too far, perhaps just shy of 6 km. The fun is in how the view changes when the trail zips in and out of the trees lining the lakeshore, and enjoying how the sunlight brightens the surface, illuminating the water. Mountains appear to shift their bulk as your perspective changes, and cloud shadows race over the slopes.

Familiar territory
Familiar territory

The more exposed side of the lake is familiar alpine territory, the evergreens and undergrowth not too crowded, with open views up the sides and across the water. Following the shore to the end of the lake, you cross an open area of alluvial plain, the sediment of thousands of years being deposited slowly into the water, ensuring it will one day disappear, one little flood at a time. Now that is a long term, yet inevitable event.

The sediment is growing, and the lake slowly shrinking
The sediment is growing, and the lake slowly shrinking

I’m not overly fond of the alluvial plain; it seems a dismal place compared to the majesty of the mountains around. But it is this contrast that lends the vistas their grandeur…so I should be happy really! It is a unique, important, and changing environment. The changes can barely be seen in our brief lifetime, but they are speedy by mountain measures.

Mossy greenery
Mossy greenery

The return portion of the hike is my favourite. We stepped from the plain and back into forest. And such a forest! A complete contrast to the other shore, this forest feels like a coastal rainforest. We were just remarking on the change and how it felt, when we arrived at an interpretive sign explaining the local differences. (If I need a teaching break, maybe I’ll write interpretive signs; PlaidCamper interpretations of the clearly evident…) It’s ten hours or so to the Pacific, yet because of the relative lack of sunshine, and higher rainfall this side of the mountain, the environment really does have the feel of coastal rainforest about it.

A rainforest feel
A rainforest feel

Cooler, darker and much, much wetter overall. The forest floor is carpeted with beautiful moss, and the mushrooms were everywhere.

Another boot test (passed!)
Another boot test (passed!)

The heavy rain left the trail muddy and puddle strewn, adding to that coastal feeling. It only lasts a couple of kilometres, but it is so wonderful, and such a pleasant surprise – especially as landlocked, semi-arid Alberta is just down the road. I think I prefer this side of the lake…not that it is necessary to choose! It’s probably the contrast, and my delight at finding it in such close proximity.

Love this lake
Love this lake

A changing environment to be found in a few short kilometres – this is why we love Emerald Lake. So much to enjoy and appreciate, particularly after a cabin feverish couple of days!

Coastal? Not really!
Coastal? Not really!

Thanks for reading. As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Desert yearnings and a colourful sunset!

I’ll be honest, yearning is a bit strong here, but I like the word. I am missing the desert, a feeling brought on by the green eyed monster when I heard a friend was travelling down to Palm Springs this week. Lucky her, and sorrowful me. Still, being a friend, I did recommend she take the aerial tramway. I know, I am a bad person, but I have used the word yearning in this opening paragraph. Twice now.

Layered landscape
Layered landscape

I was going to share the photos here in the middle of winter, as a warming counterpoint or interlude during what will likely be endless forthcoming posts about snow, snowboarding, snow, snowshoeing, snow, building snow forts, and snow. With photographs of snow. However, my aforementioned jealous streak had me looking at these evening desert shots from the summer, and, having no impulse control, I decided to share them this week.

Steady enough

I took these the evening of the same day we enjoyed the aerial tramway. I’m amazed my hands, knees, and overall self were sufficiently recovered to hold the camera steady enough.

The light fades fast…

We headed into Joshua Tree National Park, just before the fast descending sunset, and managed to pick out several vantage points to enjoy it all.

Glowing

The sky was beautiful, and in the short time it took for the light to fade, we were astounded by the colourful show.

The hush of sunset

Perhaps due to the heat of the day, there were very few fellow visitors nearby, so we were able to enjoy the hush of sunset, to feel the “loveliness and quiet exultation” Edward Abbey refers to at desert sundown. (I’ve been reading Desert Solitaire, marvelling at Abbey’s descriptive abilities, and trying hard to get a measure of his challenging ideas and notions. An interesting person, and perhaps I’ll write more about him later, after further reading!)

So colourful!

Other than cropping these pictures, what you see here is a fair reproduction of that desert sunset – a favourable recommendation for our trusty little red Nikon Coolpix. It’s barely bigger than a credit card, inexpensive at around $90, and has travelled with us for three summers without a problem. I believe it may be idiot proof.

Album cover?

The sunrises and sunsets we’ve experienced at Joshua Tree are wonderful. I know I’ve written this before, but it is at Joshua Tree where I really see how the light can change quickly, and how it is so captivating for painters, writers and photographers. I can imagine becoming rather addicted to trying to capture the light in some form. Failing that, it is an absolute delight to have been fortunate enough to see it.

Captivating

So there you have it! A brief post highlighting a little red camera, a green eyed monster, lots of snow references, and a desert light show we really treasured. I’ve been yearning to write a colourful post…

Widescreen!

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Rocky Mountain Fall (a fast season)

Fall is a fast season in the Canadian Rockies. We were out at Lake Louise in mid September, and there were tiny traces hinting at the end of summer. Last weekend, we were there again, and what a difference a couple of weeks makes!

Distinctly autumnal...
Distinctly autumnal…

There isn’t the largest variety of leaf colour here compared to the vibrant displays of the Eastern woodlands, but a golden larch or brilliant aspen can look quite delightful set against the dark greens of conifers. We set off on a moderate rated hike up to Taylor Lake, hopeful to see the larches that grow along the shores and above the slopes of the lake.

No larches yet, but great views!
No larches yet, but great views!

Now, a moderate rated hike is probably just that to a seasoned hiker, but to an old PlaidCamper who only has easy miles in his legs these days…well, I did make it. I’m moderately fit, can walk all day, but clearly I’m currently conditioned for long flat bits with occasional steeps. Fortunately, this hike starts on the flat (as many do) and then, less fortunately, begins a deceptive climb with inclines that are inclined to be steeper than I’d anticipated. Long steep bits with occasional flats! Honestly, what was I expecting? I’d read the trail notes, knew the elevation, but somehow mentally glossed over the going up part. Must be getting old(er!)

Green!
Green!

The going was better once I’d readjusted, accepting that a hike up to a lake is just that – up. The morning was chilly, particularly down in the low woods, with the sun barely breaking through. The forest floor was mossy and very damp, thanks to heavy overnight rain. Mushrooms had sprouted everywhere, a range of interesting shapes and sizes. The air had that weighty and intoxicating earthy autumnal tang. Wonderful!

Mushrooms everywhere...
Mushrooms everywhere…

We paused to admire the view and munch on energy giving snacks, and to remove layers as the day warmed up. There were quite a number of fellow hikers, but not so many with all the ascending turns that it ever felt crowded. Often, you’d see nobody behind or ahead thanks to the switchbacks. Folks were happy to be out, enjoying the sun, the scenery and their company. A group would sometimes pass at quite a pace, make me feel slow, and then we’d pass them a little later as they paused for a rest and drink break. (I always walked a little faster, and smiled like my legs weren’t feeling it. Childish, me?)

The perfect soundtrack
The perfect soundtrack

For long stretches, the trail was very muddy, which added an extra dimension (who doesn’t love extra heavy boots and the chance to slip in the mud?), and in other places, treacherously slippery logs formed the path, yet it all added to the charming challenge. There are a couple of wooden bridges crossing the stream that the trail follows for large parts of the hike. The splashing and bubbling of the stream is loud, a perfect musical accompaniment to your thoughts, and far preferable to the loudspeakers that some feel the need to carry when out hiking. (I’m not kidding – this year we’ve encountered two groups of hikers playing loud music to deter bears. Is this something new out on the trail? Be safe, carry spray, travel in a group where so advised, make noise, but please, please, please don’t bring your music. I understand the nervousness, and you don’t want a close bear encounter, but loud music isn’t the answer – the forest is the soundtrack!) Alright, calm down PlaidCamper.

Almost there...
Almost there…

We emerged from the forest into a meadow/wetland that signalled our imminent arrival at Taylor Lake. We started to glimpse the golden larches, and splurched (new word?) our way across the wetland toward the lake. It was beautiful! A pristine blue-green lake in the shadow of grey-brown mountains, and golden larches along the shore and up the slopes as hoped for. A fine reward! And there’s a small campground there. Hmm, planning already…

Stay awhile
Stay awhile

We stayed awhile, long enough to eat lunch and enjoy the sun appearing from behind clouds, lighting up the landscape. We scrambled and clambered along the shore a short distance, and found a quiet spot away from the small gathering of happy hikers. There we sat on lichen spotted rocks, reflecting on and taking in all that was around us.

Can't leave yet
Can’t leave yet

It was a reluctant departure, although the thought of an easier downhill return helped. We wandered back down to the trailhead, tired yet content on aching legs, and smiling encouragement at the hikers still on their way up. Not one slip or trip, and dry feet all the way, after a real test for our boots, with all the mud and the wetland at the top.

One last look back
One last look back

I know I pretend to grouch and make heavy weather about the uphill parts, but truthfully, what a great day, with the good fortune to enjoy a splendid trail and become moderately fitter! A chance to catch the fall before the season escapes and we are into winter.

Fleeting fall...
Fleeting fall…

Do you have an enjoyable – moderate – hike for the fall season? Thanks for reading, feel free to comment or share, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Don’t push me! Don’t let me fall either…(this post is not for the faint hearted)

A few weeks ago, we arranged to meet some old friends at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. They have two teenage boys who wanted to ride up and admire the expansive views, at over 8000 feet. So after a very warm morning in the Joshua Tree National Park, we headed to the tramway, looking forward to cooler air and seeing our friends. Being a veteran of many a winter chairlift and gondola, I didn’t give the ride itself much thought – just as well, it turned out. I don’t think I’ll be riding this one again anytime soon…

Did I mention over 8000 feet?
Did I mention over 8000 feet?

It wasn’t a comfortable experience from a space point of view. As a comparison, at Lake Louise the various chairlifts seat between two and six, and the Louise gondolas carry up to six winter padded passengers. Can feel a little crowded with all those layers, but it’s a quick trip, and you’re soon off the chair and hitting the slopes. I can handle it. At Palm Springs, the gondolas are more crowded than a London Underground train at rush hour (that’s more crowded than you’d ever like to experience, and pricier than the Palm Springs tramway – even for a single ticket…) Not too comfortable for me.

It doesn’t help that there is a sign with maximum weight tolerance and maximum number of passengers. I’m sure it was exceeded. It felt like more than eighty passengers. I found myself sitting in the waiting area, trying to average out the mass of bodies. That child and that child combined probably weigh less than the portly gentleman sipping on the gallon of soda, so is that two passengers or three as far as potential cable snapping goes? I know it wouldn’t really be overloaded, right?

That's right! Who'd want to?
That’s right! Good advice. Who’d want to?

We all crammed into the gondola (carriage? conveyance? suspended coffin?), packed tightly, myself about as happy as a sardine in a can. The doors slid shut, I grabbed a handhold, pretending to look nonchalant in front of friends, and the coffin set off. Lurched actually, with a dipping start and collected lift, then slowly spinning and spinning, as we ascended the mountain. Yes! The gondola spins! If you wanted to to hold on, too bad, because the railing you are clinging to is slowly sliding past, and if you don’t let go, you look like you’re propping up a bar, and somewhat worse for wear. Each time the coffin passed under one of the pylons, it dropped alarmingly and caused the entire contraption to wobble and swing from side to side. Cue much laughter and whoops of delight from 99% of the sardines, and ever increasing nausea for OldPlaidCamper.

Big view, lurching stomach
Big view, lurching stomach

I know! OldPlaidCamper, unhappy heading up a mountain? Who’d have thought it? I certainly hadn’t, before we set off. All those other chairlifts and gondola rides on all those other mountains were no kind of preparation for Palm Springs. I tried to take my mind off the drop, the bumps, the screams of delight, (and the sneaky passenger who farted – making a tough to take situation even more difficult – my prime suspect was the portly gentleman…) by letting my thoughts wander.

Treacherous mind. It started thinking about one of my favourite books, “Touching the Void” – which is not one to be considered on such a shaky trip. But that’s how my mind works. Not content with a mountaineering disaster and survival book (a fine read if you enjoy a taut true story), my brain went further AWOL, and conjured up the opening scenes of Sylvester Stallone’s “Cliffhanger” – come on brain, is that really necessary? You’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen it – and if you haven’t, why not? Stallone at his most entertaining, other than “First Blood” (I can’t drive over an iron bridge anywhere without saying “don’t push me!”) That teenage boy never grew up. Sad, I know.

Jelly legs (I've been called worse...)
Jelly legs (I’ve been called worse…)

When the tin can reached the top, I staggered out on jelly legs, grateful for the solid ground and clean air. Oh, was that air ever fresh! Over 8000 feet up, and appreciably cooler than the desert floor below. Far, far below. I continued to pretend I’d really enjoyed the ride, and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours exploring a short trail, the amusingly named Grubb’s Notch Trail. I’ve no idea who Grubb may have been, and won’t Google it, in case the truth is less than the various fictions we came up with. Which can’t be repeated here.

Who was Grubb?
Who was Grubb?

The two teenage boys couldn’t be more different. G is very cautious, very much aware of potential dangers in his immediate surroundings. J is completely opposite, positively revelling in risk, very happy to scamper and frolic as close as he can get away with to edges of rocks and mountainsides – maybe to wind up his older brother? (Yes, it is ok to use the word frolic, particularly after surviving the ride up. You’d frolic too, believe me!) Both boys appreciated the location in their own way, another reminder that young people really do connect with their environment when given the opportunity, and the connecting can be thoughtful or exuberant or both. It was lovely to see.

The views are far reaching...
The views are far reaching…

The promised views were absolutely spectacular, the scenery up top a real delight, and the mild temperature, compared to the summer heat of the desert below, a welcome relief. We were all a little reluctant to leave the summit and make the return trip down. As we chatted on the trail, it turned out most of us were somewhat nervous during the ride up. Apparently, G, the older teenage boy, and a bit of a math whizz, had been calculating our chances of survival as we ascended. He’d come up with a plausible formula. He helpfully shared those increasing survival odds on the way down. Not that helpful, actually. Fortunately, I had an image of Sylvester Stallone, dangling from a rope high on a mountain, and wearing those leather short pants at the start of Cliffhanger, to take my mind off things.

Fresh air and cooler temperatures compared to the desert floor
Fresh air and cooler temperatures compared to the desert floor

A splendid adventure, and I’m so happy we made it back down without incident for all sorts of obvious reasons, but mostly because when I do shuffle off, short pants Stallone is not the last ever thought I want to have…

Quite spectacular!
Quite spectacular!

Oh dear. Magnificent wilderness scenery, an astonishingly beautiful place, and I came up with this. Hmm. Anyway, please do feel free to make a comment or share a story – perhaps about your favourite Stallone movie? (I think I’ve set the bar high!) Have you taken the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway? Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

A desert story about the teddy bear cholla (warning: it’s not cute at all…)

What an irresistible idea and name – a teddy bear cactus! There’s quite a patch of these just off the road in the middle of Joshua Tree National Park. If I remember accurately, it is signposted as the Cholla Garden, and lovely word though cholla is, it’s not as catchy as teddy bear. Imagine! A garden of cacti that resemble teddy bears. Wouldn’t that be cute?

Look at these - aren't they irresistible?
Look at these – aren’t they irresistible?

I’m back to school soon, so maybe I could tell the younger students a story, one with a teddy bear cholla cactus? Yes, a story as told by Mr. OldPlaidCamper…Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin:

Not really teddy bears...
Not really teddy bears…

Don’t believe it, kids. Look at this picture of a cholla cactus. Now look at this teddy bear. Do they look anything alike? No. That’s silly. They don’t look like teddy bears. You can’t hug them. Well, you can, but it’ll hurt. Advertising and branding is mainly about peddling a lie, or stretching the truth to breaking point. Why are you crying? Please stop. I’ll be back next week with another story. Please stop crying.

If I’m unlucky, and the principal finds out, maybe I’ll be reprimanded for crushing the imaginations and dreams of young’uns, but – silver lining – I’ll never be asked to teach kindergarten. (To be serious for a moment, I do believe that kindergarten teachers are amazing, and have one of the toughest – and most rewarding – teaching assignments. I would not be able to do it).

A storm is coming!
A storm is coming!

Back to the cacti. We did visit the Cholla Garden one evening a couple of weeks ago. The day had been incredibly hot – even by desert standards – and darkness was falling as we drove through the park. We could see clouds massing, huge and dark; a storm was building. We jumped out of the car to look at the field(?) of cholla cacti. Quite beautiful. Irritatingly, the only mosquito for miles around honed in on me almost immediately. I dealt with it calmly, by leaping about slapping my head and neck, which seemed to work. I think it fell to the floor, weak with laughter. I snapped a few quick pictures, the ones on this post, and jumped back in the car before the storm was upon us. (Alright, before the mosquito recovered).

A field of teddy bears (use your imagination!)
A field of teddy bears (use your imagination!)

The teddy bear cactus really is a beautiful plant; not cute, but beautiful, and to see whole stands of them in the failing desert light was rather wonderful. An almost otherworldly experience. (Just don’t hug them. Those furry little spines are awfully difficult and painful to remove. You’d be like a bear with a sore head. Or arm).

Beautiful
Beautiful

Have you ever wanted to hug a teddy bear cholla? Of course not. That’s silly. Thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Montana Evening Sky

A brief post this time (thank you, PlaidCamper) following up on those Montana sunsets painted by Charles Russell I mentioned a couple of weeks back.

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One night, there was a storm – very dramatic!

Did I manage to capture a sunset like Charlie? Nope! Not even close, but I sure had fun trying…

We were staying at Little Bear cabin, an old ranger station situated high above Bozeman in the Gallatin Forest. A beautiful location with panoramic views in every direction. I’ll write more about the cabin another time. I know, you can’t wait…

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The views are lovely – you can see a few lights way down in the valley

In almost all the photographs I use in this blog, the only changes I make to the original is an occasional crop (if only you could see the leftovers…oh dear), but I have to be honest and say all the photos in this post have been tweaked and edited. I’ve no idea what I did, but it was entertaining changing the various settings to see what happened. All of which makes me even more appreciative of Charlie Russell’s skills as a painter.

Imagine being skilled enough to paint an evening sky
Imagine being skilled enough to paint an evening sky

As well as the artistic skills, my guess would be you’d have to have one eye open and on the lookout for larger wildlife. There are grizzlies in the area, and we always felt happy to be in the cabin rather than camping.

The big sky was so grand...too large to capture effectively!
The big sky was so grand…too large to capture effectively!

We had a wonderful time sky watching up on the mountain! Time to think, get a sense of perspective, and admire the grandeur of Montana from a mountain top. I’ll leave you with a couple more photos taken from up there:

image

image

Thanks for reading! As ever, please feel free to share a story or a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Route 89 and 89A – north from Flagstaff, AZ to somewhere in Utah

Other than an ocean view, this route pretty much has it all. Mountains, hills, forests, rivers, grasslands, deserts, canyons, plateaus, cliffs, and all in a few hours of driving time. If we’d stopped as often as we wanted to, why we might still be on 89 now. Let’s view it as a swift reconnaissance for future visits…this is a timeless place, and it’ll wait for our return. Here are a few grainy photographs (taken on the move and through a bug splattered windshield) and a few impressions here.

 

It has it all!

 

With all the variety, the weather was changeable – although mostly variations on hot. No complaints though; it’ll be a long winter soon enough above the 49th. The day we travelled, it was pleasantly cool in the early Arizona morning, warmed up across Navajo lands, got rather warm in the open desert, cooled off again on the high plateau, rained on us during and just after our descent, then the heat increased all the way on from there.

 

Blue skies, red cliffs

 

This road is such a colourful route! Sandstone hoodoos and clay soil, cliffs of pink and red strata, coral sands, dark green ponderosa forests, golden hay bales in enormous straw fields, and sluggish muddy rivers at the bottom of deep canyons. The vast skies also played their part in the colour palette. A huge reach from light to deep blue, high trailing wisps of cloud in the upper atmosphere, billowing white puffs gathering over the heights, and ominous heavy greys and hazy purples rushing in from and blotting out distant horizons.

Ominous…

 

Every now and then a few drops would spatter the windshield and you’d look about and up into the blue, wondering where the offending cloud might be. Other times you could see the veils of rain sweeping towards you, almost in touching distance, yet not a drop through the window. There was one mighty downpour that reduced visibility and speed for about five minutes, then bright sunshine soon after. What a joy to be traveling through high country where you can see weather coming – and going.

 

Wonderful setting

 

We had plans, so we couldn’t stop this time and see it all. I had to wrestle with that. Here’s what it sounded like in my head:

Ponderosas! Like them, they’re big.

Mmm, sagebrush.

I wonder what it’s like to be a cliff dweller?

Vermilion. Vermilion. A bit red.

That’s a long way down.

Roadside stalls selling Navajo rugs and jewelry (whisper that to Mrs PlaidCamper – but don’t wake her. Phew, close one!)

Do we have time for Bryce Canyon today? Don’t be silly. Next time.

Is the North Rim higher than the South?

Oh no, we’re in Utah on Sunday – can I get coffee?

Crap! It’s the  I-15 already! Left to Vegas, right to Salt Lake City. There has to be a better way.

No wonder Mrs PlaidCamper has her travel naps…

 

Fresh!

 

Ponderosa pine at 8000 feet smells like, well, ponderosa pine at 8000 feet. Exceptionally good! Deeply refreshing, clean, and as far from those old car air fresheners as can be. Roll down your windows! Sagebrush after the rain is real aromatherapy, and no New Age music, kaftans or essential price tags. The only cost is your time, with a willingness to take the long way round. (I know, gas is expensive, and cars are bad, but don’t be a curmudgeon – I can rain guilt on my own parade later).

It wasn’t open anyway…

 

So if you happen to find yourself in Flagstaff early one morning in summer, and you simply must go for a spin in your lovingly (but not overly) restored vintage pickup, head north on 89, then take 89A towards Vermilion Cliffs. Cross the desert and climb up the winding road to the Kaibab plateau. Carry on into Utah and you could stop off at Bryce Canyon. You won’t be disappointed, and you won’t have enough time to do it all in only a day. But that’s alright; do what we intend to do and make plans for a longer future stay! It’s not going anywhere, and this is a timeless place.

 

Find the time…

 

Who can resist the open road? Have you traveled on 89 and 89A up from Flagstaff? As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story. Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

 

Just add an old pickup truck – maybe one day

All time favourite wilderness movies (#2 in an occasional series…)

Ah, back to this campfire game. (Actually, I wish I was arguing about movies around a campfire, instead of spending this week moving apartments – such fun…)  Anyway, amongst friends and family, the choice this time has divided opinions. I really like it (it’s on your all time favourite list PlaidCamper – of course you like it), but I don’t know that this is strictly a wilderness movie, it’s perhaps more of an action survival flick, or even an eco-horror parable. I’ve seen it a couple of times, and I think it works at a number of levels. The movie? Oh yeah, (this is like a teaser trailer), the movie is The Grey (dir. Joe Carnahan, 2012). 

 Is something hiding in there?

Never mind all that stuff about it working at a number of levels, The Grey stands out for me because of the winter settings, and a fine performance from Liam Neeson. Much of the movie was shot near Smithers, BC, and, as in any good wilderness movie, the settings and weather behave like additional characters, providing greater drive to the narrative. Liam Neeson is suitably grizzled and gruff, entirely believable as a person who has reached the end of his emotional tether, not angry but exhausted, yet girding himself for a final effort to help his coworkers survive their predicament.

I mentioned above that the story could be read as an eco-horror tale. There was plenty of criticism aimed at the film makers for their depiction of wolves. Having survived a terrifying plane crash in a frozen wilderness, the characters are preyed on by a pack of enormous wolves who pick off survivors one by one in a series of gruesome attacks, hunting the humans as they look for a means of escape and a return to civilization. This is a familiar formula to horror/action movie fans, along the lines of the crew being preyed on in the original Alien movie, or the National Guard soldiers lost in the bayou in Southern Comfort. 

 Very grey…

The wolf depiction is unrealistic, particularly the sheer size of the creatures. Really they are designed to represent all that scares many city dwellers when they think about wilderness – wolves as the other or unknown. The movie makers have exaggerated the wolves to heighten audience fears; they’re not making a realistic documentary style statement about wolves. Treat the movie as humans vs. nature, in the tradition of Jaws or Grizzly (you can’t take that one too seriously!) and others in that vein, and you’ll be suitably entertained. Are the wolves simply nature taking revenge on resource greedy humanity? (The characters are oil riggers heading off for some down time away from the drill site). There are many deaths in the movie, and some are as a result of the environment – not all are down to the wolves – is this nature fighting back?

 Nature always wins…

I’ve always enjoyed stories with wolves, or about the mythology of wolves. As an impressionable teenager, I saw Neil Jordan’s movie The Company of Wolves. He was inspired by Angela Carter’s revisionist version of Little Red Riding Hood in her short story collection The Bloody Chamber: “Beware men whose eyebrows meet!” Mine do, although I don’t howl at the moon (often, unless having dealings with lawyers or mortgage brokers – I know, I know, I should let it go). The same impressionable teenager enjoyed The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, the original Wolfman with Lon Chaney, and reading Silver Bullet by Stephen King. Wild creatures lurking in dark places. I was a sensitive boy. So perhaps there is a very loose thread running from those earlier stories I enjoyed through to The Grey, which may explain why I am drawn to it beyond the wintry settings.

I also think that, for an out and out action and entertainment survival film, The Grey has a surprisingly philosophical thread; what does it mean to die, and is the manner of your death and how you accept it a reflection of your life? Is there a time to fight and a time to concede, and can that be graceful? In between the action and horror, there are moments of stillness, where the characters contemplate their mortality and chances of survival. The relatively thoughtful approach raises the movie above cliche and stereotype. 

 Be graceful

Yes, it’s possibly preposterous, macho, unrealistic, and somewhat formulaic – it’s all there for a fan of action: chases, escapes, tough dialogue, a plane crash, fights and confrontations aplenty, and yet…with the added dimensions of beautiful scenery, Neeson’s excellent performance, and an above average script with some depth, I think this is a little better than the usual fare.

I’ve yet to see a wolf in the wild. I’d dearly love to one day, from a respectful distance and with a better understanding of what they are as magnificent creatures in their proper context – and without my teenage impressions! 

So, there you have it – a fairly recent movie, unlike my previous choice (and I don’t think my mother has a crush on Liam Neeson – I’m not asking her – read the post about Jeremiah Johnson), but it’s in my list of favourites because I keep going back to it.

 Beautiful scenery

Have you seen The Grey? Is it as good as I think it is, or is it just another action movie? And what about the wolf depiction? Is it okay to get that wrong in the interests of telling a story? Do your eyebrows meet in the middle?

Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story (or movie recommendation), and keep your guy ropes secure.