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Winter perspectives.

This year, winter in Winnipeg has been brutal.  I have held off on this post for a while now, because the cold is one of those things that you really don’t want to draw attention to, at least while you’re still going through it.  Instead, it’s better to just focus yourself on getting through it day by frigid day, breath by frosty breath.

But – we survived!  I sat on the frozen riverbank just the other morning basking in the sun’s forgotten warmth, and it seriously felt like I was getting a tan at -4 Celsius.

But for all its extremity, winter is also beautiful and should be appreciated.  If nothing else, the contrasting season makes us appreciate the others even more.  The presence of the birds and squirrels;  the smell of the thaw; the feel of the wind on bare skin…these small things are a sensory delight after months of hibernation.

For respite, a lot of people living here follow the birds’ lead and fly south to the Caribbean, to lay on the beach and have a love affair with the sunshine.  Contrarily, I like to rent a cabin in the woods and find a quiet beauty next to the perpetually stoked wood stove.  This year was exceptionally cold, with temperatures hovering between -40 and -25 Celsius, not even accounting for the wind gusting to 80 km/h.  Humbled, through the windows we watched visibility come and go, thankful for our warm little sanctuary.

Desolate Prairie Highway

Who says driving on the prairies always induces yawns?  A road that drifts in and out of view certainly keeps you alert.

Distant island, sometimes visible.

Arrived at the cabin, a distant island fades in an out of view as gusts of wind whip snow up on Falcon Lake.

Ski trail closed.

Despite the conditions board still saying that this cross country ski trail was groomed and good shape, I think the trail was closed for the day.

Sun shadows across windswept ice.

After a day of stormy weather, a high pressure system settled. Despite the rays, the temperature plummeted even further. Notice the trail marker in the bottom right. Also notice the lack of trail amidst the shadows cast across the windswept ice.

Frosty Thermometer

The air temperature reads -35 degrees Celsius at this point. It’s cold out there. And no, that’s not even the lowest we saw the mercury drop.

Icicles on roof

Icy contrast.

Warmth in a coffee cup.

We actually spent quite a bit of time outside, but knowing we could return to a warm and cozy cabin to warm our bones sure helped. A good cup of coffee every day was also part of the thawing-out routine.

Bare footprints in snow.

It was a cold dash to the hot tub on the porch…

Winter hot tubbing.

…but once settled in it was so worth it.

Falcon Trails Sunset Cabin.

Falcon Trails’ Sunset Cabin at sunset. It is nicely nestled in amongst the trees and wildlife.

Outer layers.

A solid outer layer is essential. So is a base layer and something thick in the middle. Getting dressed takes a considerable amount of time in the winter.

Snowshoeing together.

We knew of a shelter on the edge of High Lake, and decided to snowshoe out to it one day. Look, we made it!

Blue jay watching.

Usually there are lots of birds in this area, even in the winter. This year only the larger birds were out though – I think the smaller ones would have blown away had they done the same. Here, a blue jay watches closely through the falling snow.

Snow, on snow, on snow.

Snow, on snow, on snow. Watching it slowly accumulate.

Snow drifts.

Snow drifts form miniature skylines everywhere you look.

A moody sunset.

A moody sunset to bid us farewell.

Northern Lights Vertical

Despite the cloudy horizon, the Northern Lights were still dimly visible.  Their whimsical dancing made me realize just how long it has been since I have seen a good Aurora show on a dark sky.

Northern Lights Wide

A lone cabin on the horizon lit against the sky, also lit.

Stoked wood stove.

And of course, our perpetually stoked wood stove that warmed our hands and dried our clothes many times over these days.

March 26, 2014 - 5:18 pm

Chuck Leibert - Stillness is much appreciated this day.

March 31, 2014 - 1:24 pm

Dimitri Tishchenko - These are beautiful!

April 1, 2014 - 10:05 am

Fran Gropp - How stunning!

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Fuji X100 Camera

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March 16, 2014 - 5:57 pm

Sandy - I would love to see your work on a regular basis. I look forward to it! Thanks David.

March 16, 2014 - 6:18 pm

Sheldon Emberly - Facebook sucks bigtime! Thanks for making your work accessible through a different means.

March 17, 2014 - 7:34 am

Shivaun Berg - :-)

March 17, 2014 - 11:49 am

Patrick - Wicked stuff man, keep it up!

The road to California: Mountains.

Approaching the mountains from the prairie is a unique experience.  Your map tells you that you’re getting close, but after so many hours of seeing field after field drift by it is a bit hard to believe.  Then you begin to see something on the horizon.  Of course you question whether your eyes are just playing tricks on you, but there is a seed of hope that it is more than that.  Once past the doubt, excitement begins to set in as the wall of immense rocks on the horizon continues to grow and grow.  From a distance the sheer immensity of those towering peaks cannot be grasped – in fact, the approaching drive always takes much longer than you expect because, even when you are still 50 km away, it feels like just around the next bend you could find yourself at the base of the mountain range.

Mountains are best understood intimately: exploring nooks and crannies with feet and hands; breathing deeply with lungs and nostrils; watching and listening to how land and weather dance with each other; and surrendering to the wind with all of your senses.

On this leg of our road trip we hugged the east side of the Rocky Mountains as we made our way south, exploring the Crown of the Continent all along the way.  This lofty region draws a line separating the watersheds of North America – so from Triple Divide Peak in Montana, water dropped on different sides will end up in the Pacific, Atlantic, or Arctic oceans.  This also means high elevation, gentle prairies meeting windswept mountains, diverse wildlife, and true wilderness.

Approaching from the east, we came up on the mountains at Waterton Lakes National Park.

First view of the mountains.

First view of the mountains.

The road to the mountains.

The road through the valley.

The first photobomb from a mountain critter.  Think: the little guy who photobombed that couple at Lake Louise (LINK).

The first photobomb from a mountain critter.  Think: the squirrel who photobombed that couple at Lake Louise.  This critter still shoots film.

Colors of Red Rock Canyon.  Sunny days are best for fording your way up the canyon with pants rolled up.  But cloudy days really make the colors pop.

Colors of Red Rock Canyon.  Sunny days are best for fording your way up the canyon with your pants rolled up, but cloudy are best for appreciating the colors.

I

Generally I am not the kind of person to take pictures of wildlife I see along the highway, but these big horned sheep just wouldn’t let us get past.  After slowly following them up the scenic Akamina Highway we snapped this shot out the car window.

The easy start of the hike. Trail conditions hadn

Being early spring, trail conditions were changing so fast at this point of the season that they were a bit of a wildcard.  We didn’t know how far we would make it up this particular trail but this beginning section, dubbed Akamina Pass, was nicely groomed for cyclists.

Feet at Forum Falls.  We were dry up to this point, but as we continued on to Forum Lake from here the trail became snowbound.  Let

Feet at Forum Falls.  We were dry up to this point, but as we continued on to Forum Lake from here the trail became snowbound.  Let’s just say that the spray from these falls was the first of much wetness to come.

Blue sky, white ground.  After a good hour of hiking through deep snow searching for the lake, we found the stream again.  The sun was coming out and avalanches were rumbling around us in the valley.  We decided to turn back for safety, so the little bridge we rested on here was our summit for the day.

Blue sky, white ground.  Sweaty from the struggle through deep snow searching for the lake, we finally found the stream again.  The sun was coming out now and avalanches were rumbling around us in the valley.  We decided to turn back for safety, so the little bridge we rested on here was our summit for the day.  Forum Lake would have been a little further up this way, at the top of this creek.

A short ways from the Akamina trailhead was Cameron Lake.  The docks were just put in and we enjoyed the calm of the lake while trying to dry out our boots (they did not dry for days).

A short ways from the Akamina trailhead is Cameron Lake.  The docks were just put in and we enjoyed the calm of the lake while trying to dry out our boots (they did not dry for days).

Cameron Lake is a good place to sit quietly.

Cameron Lake is a good place to sit quietly.  The road to this area of the park was washed out by heavy rain that devastated Alberta shortly after our visit, and this wilderness was closed for most of 2013.  I feel very lucky that we were able to enjoy it when we did.

Our campsite at the base of Crandell Mountain.

Our campsite at the base of Crandell Mountain.  Note the bird doing a flyby and checking out our rice.

Black bear in campsite

A curious visitor to our campsite.  This black bear snuck up on us while we were making lunch.  We were able to jump in the car just in time with armfuls of food from the table, but he ate the cheese we were unable to carry and proceeded to explore our campsite.  From the car we watched him put his paws up on the tent, which surprisingly didn’t rip, seeing as his claws cut through the water jug on the table.  Oh, and then he decided to climb up on the rental car and pace along the roof for about five minutes.  There was a point when he put both his hind legs on the side mirror right next to me and I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing.  Amazingly the car remained unmarked.  Throughout the afternoon he kept circling back to our site, so we ended up packing up in the rain to relocate.
 
Talking with the park ranger we discovered that this young black bear was likely abandoned by his mother and was just trying to survive on his own.  Unfortunately he was becoming too comfortable around humans and a point was now reached where they were going to have to step in to do something about it.

His and hers, blowing in the wind at our new campsite near the safety of the townsite.

His and hers, blowing in the wind at our new campsite near the safety of the townsite.

Driftwood on the shore makes for great benches.

Driftwood on the shore makes for great benches.

Vimy Mountain looms above the Waterton Lake.

Vimy Mountain looms above Waterton Lake.

Waterton Lake Rocks

The colorful rockbed of Waterton Lake.

Crypts Lake Trailhead Ferry

Access to the Crypt Lake trailhead is across the lake from the townsite.  A ferry drops you off in the morning and picks you up at a particular time in the late afternoon.  Don’t be late or you’ll have trouble getting back to town!  This is a popular trail that was voted best hike in Canada back in 1981.  I’m told it is quite busy in the summer but this early in the season there were only two other couples joining us on the trail that day.

Burnt Rock Falls

The picturesque Burnt Rock Falls.

Dangerous snow slopes over the trail.

Past Burnt Rock Falls, we started to encounter steep and icy snow slopes covering the trail.  The surface of the snow had been melting and refreezing daily under the intense alpine sun, and as such was incredibly icy.  Stepping on the snow would quickly send you sliding down the mountain, and that would most likely be fatal with the exposure on this section of the trail.  The only options were to either scramble around or turn back.

Crypt Lake panorama

Snow covered sections of trail became more frequent as we gained higher elevation, and the difficulty in getting around them increased as well.  Here, I left the trail to scramble up the backside of Vimy Mountain to scout out a better view of the trail ahead.  After getting my bearings I determined that we shouldn’t risk going any further; the snow only got worse and in the distance I could see the final high exposure face, just before the tunnel for those familiar with this trail, was impassable without an ice axe.
 
Sometimes panoramas are best for showing the vastness of a scene. Here, you can see the valley we hiked up from on the right and Crypt Falls in the distance to the left.  This is a huge image and the impact of it is somewhat lost when scaled down, but you can also see a dot of color in the center where we rested, spread out on a yellow sarong.  This was our peak for the day, and the view was something else to behold.

Crypt Falls in the distance.  Crypt Lake is in the basin above the falls.

Crypt Falls in the distance. Crypt Lake is in the basin above the falls.

Looking back over the valley.

Taking in the view of the valley under us to appreciate the ground we had already covered.  The little dots of color (yellow and red) in the bottom left of this image is our little picnic site.  We were only up here for about half an hour, but we made the early season mistake of not realizing just how burnt our skin was getting despite the cool air temperature.

Cooling a well earned beer in the lake.

Cooling a well earned beer in the lake after a long day hiking.  This was the last beer from home, and it was a special one I had been saving: Le Temps Noir by Half Pints.  It is an incredible brew anywhere, but it is on a whole different level when paired with a sunset like this.

Waterton: View from the Bear

We enjoyed our time in Waterton, but after a week it was time to move on.  We planned to return on our way home, but the time had come to cross down into the United States.  Before leaving, we hiked to the top of the Bear’s Hump which gave an incredible view of Waterton nestled in the entrance to the mountains.

Going-to-the-sun Road

The epic Going-to-the-Sun Road that cuts through the heart of rugged Glacier National Park.  It really is amazing that a road through this wilderness was even considered possible, especially considering it was built back in the 1930s.

The immense scale of Glacier

The immense scale of Glacier’s mountains is humbling.

Going-to-the-Sun Road Closed

This road is the only one of its kind in the area, and even so it is closed most of the year due to snow coverage.  Here we are at June 6th and they’re still working to clear the road past Gunsight Pass.  I’m sure that the plowing operation would be a spectacle to behold.

Deer munching leaves.

Deer munching leaves.

Along the road to Many Glacier

Doubling back to Many Glacier campground for the night, we experienced yet another beautiful entrance into the mountains. There is no north-south driving within the mountains here. You have to exit the mountains to the east, drive your north/south along them, and then cut in where you are able. The thing is, every way you come at the Rockies, they are just so beautiful.

Many Glacier Campsite

Our campsite in the Many Glacier region of the park.

Hiking through dead forest

With the lingering snow covering so much of the higher elevations, hike options were rather limited.  At the recommendation of a ranger we left the Going-to-the-Sun Road at the Gunsight Pass trailhead and took a trail to Florence Falls.  There was a lot of dead forest on this hike, leaving us puzzled and concerned.  Later we learned that forest fires are critical for maintaining healthy biological diversity here, and a side effect of humans recently preventing this natural cycle of fire and rebirth is that when a forest gets old, it all dies at once.

Fluorence Falls

At the base of the raging Florence Falls.  With the melt in full swing, the water was flowing strong over the 800 foot drop, to the point where if you went anywhere you could even glimpse the falls you would be soaked by the spray.  Best to have a snack a distance away and just listen.

Scenic Point Switchbacks

The next day: petrified trees cover one side of the mountain as we traverse the switchbacks to Scenic Point.

Single file hikers

Single file hikers.

Loose shale scrambles

Loose shale made for interesting scrambles.

Panorama view of Scenic Point

Panoramic view of Scenic Point. To the left is Two Medicine Lake and campground; to the right is yet another entrance from the prairies to the mountains.

Scenic Point overlook

In the distance, a couple hikers appear as dots at the tip of the overlook.

Mountain flowers

Even at the high elevations, colorful mountain flowers are quite plentiful.

Mountain Goat

After cleaning up in a frigid creek a couple hundred feet off the trail, a mountain goat is herded towards us as it tries to keep ahead of a loud group of hikers behind it.

Sunrise at Two Medicine Lake

Before beginning a long day of driving south, we take a few moments to watch the clouds cast shadows on mountains as the sun rose behind us over Two Medicine Lake.

South through Idaho

After spending some time in the alpine it is time to continue our trip south. Through Montana, Idaha, and into Utah.  Soon enough, the terrain and weather would change dramatically.

Previous: Prairie.
Next: Desert. (coming soon!)

The road to California: Prairie.

This past spring, Adrienne and I embarked on a road trip to California.  We took 38 days to cover a meandering path of asphalt, gravel, and dirt, finding freedom in simply pitching a tent when and where we needed.  Our route took us from prairies to mountains.  Then deserts, the coast, and even a couple bustling cities.  We saw and experienced a lot, but still only scratched the surface of what these places have to offer.

Routinely we would drive a lot in a single day, then set up a base camp and explore outside of the car for a few days.  This balance ensured that we kept our sanity and found time to get off the beaten path a bit, while still making miles towards our distant goal of California.  Admittedly this is the routine of how I love to travel in general.

If you can manage the time I think that doing a trip by car is a very special thing.  Canada and the United States are vast, and when flying from one destination to another you miss all the beautiful transitions and in-betweens.  Driving you get to see the landscape, people, and culture change dramatically every few hours.  It instills a deeper understanding of how all of these things are connected, and of one’s place amidst it all.

Day 0: Preparations.

Day 0: Last minute preparations before hitting the road.  We’re traveling low tech with paper maps, but that doesn’t stop us from doing a bit of research ahead of time for the first leg of the trip.  Spring comes a little later to the alpine regions of the Canadian Rockies, and at this point we were trying to figure out what the snow melt was like so as to choose feasible hikes and even roads.

Our noble steed: the Corolla.

Our noble steed for the trip.  We nicknamed her Mary Ann after the lady at the car rental desk.

The prairie road.

The prairie road.  I love the prairie, but for this trip it was more of an obstacle to overcome than a destination.  A couple long drives started out the trip.

A cow grazing on the horizon.

A cow grazing on the horizon near the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border.

Moose Jaw Campground

Moose Jaw’s River Park Campground during the shoulder season.  It was quiet and the office had a “be back at 6pm” sign hung in the window.  No one came back though, so we helped ourselves to a campsite for the night.

Hiking the Moose Jaw River

Our first hike, at dusk alongside the Moose Jaw River.  A fox followed us along the trail, poking his head over the eroded hill to our left every once in a while to bark at us.  Otherwise it was just us and the ducks.

Windy day for driving on the prairie.

Back on the road, driving against a strong west wind.  This was a bit of a trend over the entire trip; the wind always seemed to blowing strongly against us.

Distant train on the prairie.

Common things seen out the window when driving across the prairie: grain elevators, trains, power lines, picket fences, fields, and lots of sky.

The foothills.

As we enter the Albertan foothills the landscape begins to change…

This was a long trip and even if I posted just one photo for each day it would quickly turn into a really long post.  Instead I have decided to split it up into a few posts; this being the first and more to come in the next week or so.

Next up: Mountains.

February 24, 2014 - 5:01 pm

Shivaun Berg - feels like home