June 21, 2017

How Much Depends on the Grizzly Bear?

Here in Banff, grizzly bears are sometimes called "indicator species."  This means that as well as being majestic, beautiful and impressive, grizzly bears reveal something about the health of our park.  

You could sit around a pub with a bunch of conservation biologists talking about this idea for hours, but in a nutshell, this is what it means: if we can keep grizzly bears around, in healthy numbers, then our park is probably healthy enough to sustain most of our other animals as well.

So imagine our delight when we saw this play out at our house this past month, in an absolutely literal sense.  We have a wreath that our sister-in-law Dawn made, with an enamel grizzly bear nestled into it. In May, we noticed that a pair of juncos were building a nest behind the bear. The eggs were layed at the end of May, the chicks hatched on June 9th and 10th, and the young fledged out of the nest yesterday and today.


We've had front row seats from our kitchen window for the whole time, so here's a quick look at the growth of our little family of birds, piggybacking on a grizzly bear!

Mom... or Dad (you can't tell with juncos)
Are you bringing food?
At the start, the chicks were made of mouths more than anything
A dead ringer for Larry from the Three Stooges
Out of the nest, but still looking for handouts!

June 16, 2017

The Year of the Avalanche!

A couple of days ago, I roller bladed up the Yoho Valley Road, the route in to see the famous Takakkaw Falls. After about 4 km, this is what I saw:

The debris covering the road must have been at least 10 metres thick at its maximum, and about 50 metres across. The Parks Canada highway crew had started to dig through it, but it's going to take a lot of work to get the road open.

Looking down the Yoho Valley Road at Mt Cathedral

The winter of 2017 saw an intense avalanche season here in the Canadian Rockies, peaking in mid-March. At the base of the snowpack for almost the entire winter, there was a thick layer of really weak hoar frost crystals. After the heavy snows of March, this layer got overloaded, and really large slides rushed down the mountainsides. Some avalanches ran beyond their historic end points, knocking over trees that were centuries old.

Yoho Valley Road, ten feet off the road surface!

In the last couple of weeks, we've managed to get onto some of favourite trails as they come into shape for the summer hiking season.  The Valley of the Ten Peaks is in very good condition, and the Plain of Six Glaciers trail is now hikeable, even though there are some piles of avalanche debris across the path.  But on almost every trail, you can see dramatic dramatic changes wrought by this winter's epic snowslides.

We'll be showing people the avalanche after-effects all summer, but here's a quick photo review of what came down the mountains between March and May

1. at Sunshine Meadows in early May.

Nadine with our friends Eva and Paul, posing beside a big chunk of
cornice that came down in March

Joel on top of the cornice chunk.

2. The Icefields Parkway on May 4.

Parks Canada did avalanche control to ensure that the road from Lake Louise to Jasper stayed safe. The snow that came down covered the highway to a depth of 15 metres (almost 50 feet) and took a couple of days to completely clear.

Avalanche debris across the Icefields Parkway.
Photo courtesy of Parks Canada

3. The Consolation Lakes Trail, late May.

In 25 years here, we'd never seen avalanche debris across this trail.
This tree used to stand straight up!

4. The Plain of Six Glaciers trail, early June.

One of our guests, Dave, sizing up a centuries old fir tree
that was snapped in half in an avalanche 

Trees like this are very sturdy, so the forces required to break them
are truly impressive

5. The Eiffel Lake trail, last weekend.

At least 5 metres of snow fill the big slide path before Eiffel Lake.

The Valley of the Ten Peaks.