Postcards from Kananaskis.

Every year, as the calendar flips from August to September, the flow of tourism that descends upon Canada’s natural wonders retreats back to urban comfort. As the wild returns to the wilderness, so do I for my annual shoulder season adventure. This has become an annual pilgrimage for me over the years. With all the wildfires that have been tearing through western Canada this year, my plans were more fluid than usual…and by fluid, I mean that backcountry plan after plan had to be cancelled due to evacuations and restrictions around the blazes; namely the Kenow Fire around Waterton Lakes National Park and the Verdant Creek Fire around Assiniboine Provincial Park.

Uncertain where the road would lead, my initial landing destination in the Canadian Rocky Mountains was Kananaskis Country, a series of rugged provincial parks in Alberta just south of the more popular national parks (Banff, Yoho, Jasper, and the Kootenay). As chance would have it, when I arrived the daytime highs suddenly plummeted from 30 degrees Celsius to zero and below. The smoke and haze that dominated the Rocky Mountain summer skies disappeared with the heat, and turbulent snowfalls rolled through the valleys for well over a week, which was just fine by me. The wet cold made for tough camping, but our tent was literally the only one around and the shoulder season beauty was ours alone to explore.

Day by day we extended our stay, putting fresh tracks on winter’s first snow. Moments like these are why I first picked up a camera; to record this magical, fleeting beauty as I happen to bear witness to it. It was hard to pull myself away, but after two weeks of this I had stretched my schedule as far as possible and, after dipping down to Waterton Lakes National Park to cover to reopened burnout as part of a larger story on wildfire that I’m working on, it was time to head back across the prairies to Winnipeg.

The imagery I’ve brought home is special and plentiful. I continue to share bits of it on Instagram and plan to use a bunch of it for some magazine articles I’m working on, but here are a few postcards from my time in Kananaskis that I just had to share. These are chosen more to give an idea of the paths we travelled over the time rather than on imagery alone.

Kananaskis Highway 40 - Winter access to paradise

A ribbon of pavement provides wintery access to a truly Canadian paradise.

Mountain sheep on Kananaskis Highway 40

As snow squalls rolled through the mountain valleys, it was just us and the animals.

High above Spray Lakes hiking/scrambling

Lacing up boots, we put some first last tracks on several magnificent summits for 2017.

Snowy summit ascent of Mount Burke

The final push to the summit of Mount Burke, and the abandoned Cameron fire lookout hut atop it. This photo does not capture the gusts of wind swirling around this peak that would knock us to our knees; such is the norm at the top of the continental divide.

Ptarmigan Cirque in WInter

In sheltered valleys, away from the harsh exposure of the mountain ridges, there were moments of peace like those out of a dream. Autumn colors meet winter’s monochrome in this quiet mountain pass.

Aurora Borealis phenomenon "Steve"

Despite many nights spent in the mountains, rarely is it clear enough to do any proper stargazing or northern lights watching, but we did have one night over the three weeks where conditions allowed the viewing of the mysterious Aurora Borealis phenomenon “Steve.”