Cross-Country, uh, Wrestling?

Back in 2009-2010, we decided to spend two weeks in the Canadian Rockies over Christmas and New Year’s.  On this particular day of that trip, I’d managed to talk Pat into renting cross-country skis.

My logic was simple.  It was about -22 degrees Fahrenheit that day.  We were either going to end up sitting in the lobby of our hotel all day (and it was not the kind of lobby you want to hang out in) or we were going to find something to do outdoors that would keep us warm.

I don’t know of any outdoor activity that keeps a person warmer than cross-country skiing.  It’s the equivalent of going running with trekking poles.  You use every muscle in your body, including some you may not have known you had, and the only time you get a rest is if you happen to go downhill.

Since Pat had never cross-country skied before, we chose a flat, groomed trail listed as easy.  This may not have been the best idea–Pat never got to experience what gliding down a gentle hill feels like.  In fact, I don’t think Pat got to experience what gliding felt like at all–for him, cross-country skiing was more of a wrestling match.

As it turns out, cross-country skiing does not keep a person warm when said person must stop and wait for wrestling spouse to catch up every 5 minutes or so.  And, shocking as this may be, being impatiently waited for every 5 minutes or so does not exactly make the wrestling spouse enjoy his wrestling match more.  This was not one of those activities that turned out to be good for our marriage.

I’m better at being patient when I’m not cold and he’s better at learning a new activity when I’m not around doing it better than him.  The fact that he had never done it before and I had did not seem to make him feel any better.  It certainly didn’t keep me any warmer.

I did my best to pretend I was grateful he was taking so long because it gave me time to shoot.  It also allowed us to see some deer along the trail who didn’t notice we were there, possibly because they couldn’t perceive we were in motion.

The trail was 18K to the lake and back.  We had read that doing the first 5K was well worth it.  If we made it out 2K, I would be surprised.  But it was good we turned around when we did–the sun was already getting low in the sky by the time we made it back to our car.  Days are short up North at the end of the year and the darker it gets, the more bitterly cold it gets.

Pat determined we could have hiked faster and declared that we weren’t going to bother with cross-country skis anymore.  So far, he’s a man of his word.

Christmas in July

Since I got started on our Jasper/Calgary trip yesterday, I started going through the photos from the rest of that trip.  Perhaps because it’s been so hot and muggy these days, I felt a little like having Christmas in July.  I don’t mean one of those silly secret santa things people do in July.  I mean snow, cold, air that reminds you you’re alive every time you take a breath.  So, I dug out some photos from Jasper on Christmas Day 2009.

Jasper has an interesting tradition on Christmas Day.  All the locals (and tourists) go to Lac Beauvert by the Jasper Park Lodge and ice skate.  I suppose it only makes sense that Canadians would have a community skating event on Christmas Day.  But they don’t just skate on a bumpy old lake.  They get out a zamboni and clear a wide path all the way around the lake–a single lap is at least 1 KM.  It seemed more like many miles to me having not skated in many years, but 1 KM sounds more reasonable.  They also clear 2 areas to standard sized hockey rinks and a 3rd area for figure skating.  The figure skating area is usually empty.

We didn’t bring ice skates with us nor did we plan to skate while we were there.  We didn’t know there was any skating in Jasper until we got to know a guy who had moved there from France.  We met him by renting downhill and cross country skis from him several days in a row.  He suggested that we planned to skate on Christmas Day, told us where to rent skates, to make sure to get them the day before, and promised he would be there.  He was a very nice man.

We found the place to rent skates on Christmas Eve.  When I asked for figure skates, they tried to talk me out of them.  I assured them I could handle a toe pick.  When Pat asked for figure skates, they did talk him out of them.  Apparently real men don’t wear figure skates in Canada (or maybe anywhere?).

We headed over to the Jasper Park Lodge in time for a Christmas lunch.  We sat in a restaurant in the huge, open lobby area and looked out the enormous windows thinking we should have stayed there.  Then, we bundled up and headed out to the lake to skate.

Complete with hot chocolate and a bonfire with people toasting marshmallows for s’mores, it would have been a lovely lake scene even without the surrounding Canadian Rockies.  Throw in the Rockies and the families with dogs running beside them and children in running buggies as they skated around the lake, and it became unbelievably beautiful.  It was Normal Rockwell in the Rockies, Canadian style.

And there was the guy we met renting skis, playing hockey with his friends.

I can’t imagine a better way to spend Christmas Day (well, camping in the Everglades was pretty close competition).

Reconstructing History

While in the Canadian Rockies at Jasper National Park several years ago (still shooting with the PowerShot G3), we decided to take a “rest” day by hiking a relatively easy trail to a lake at the base of Mt Robson.  We drove from Jasper Park in Alberta to the Robson Provincial park in British Columbia in about an hour.

When we started out, the sky kept promising rain (in fact, it even sprinkled briefly), but then the clouds would part and a deep blue sky would appear.  When the sun was out, we broke a sweat working our way up the easy, but uphill, trail.  When cloud cover moved in, it was like someone had cranked up the air conditioning and I would get chilled almost immediately.

For most of the walk, the trail ran parallel to a treacherous but beautiful stream swelling with the “spring” snow melt (this was in July).  We didn’t see anyone attempting to navigate the stream, so I’m guessing the water was too intense for even really good kayakers.  It seemed like getting in the stream would be a really bad idea with or without a kayak to me.

When we arrived at Moose Lake, we were further away from the base of Mt. Robson than we expected, but given that Mt Robson is the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, we still had plenty of good views of it, including the glacier nearby.

As I went through these photos from 2005, I discovered an interesting phenomenon.  I believe I was feeling lazy on this particular day not only in choosing an easy trail, but in my shooting.  I notice that the metadata in my pictures indicated I was mostly shooting with a wide-open aperture, with the smallest aperture setting being an f/8.

This was remarkable to me in two ways.  First, this is another thing to add to my list of things I’ve learned–I would not shoot these scenes with that setting today.  Second, it seems like they have much more depth of field than I would expect for such wide aperture settings.  This caused me to look at focal lengths.  They are mostly under 20mm with the shortest being 7mm (if I recall correctly).  Is that even possible?  Assuming my metadata is correct, the extremely short focal lengths are most likely contributing to the extra depth of field.  I assume I was shooting with an open aperture because we were walking in the shade quite a bit, so perhaps there wasn’t much light.

It’s always fun to try to reconstruct what happened 7 years ago based on the evidence collected in the metadata of your photos!

What I do remember clearly about this hike is that Pat and I were quite irritated with one another at the beginning of the hike, but back to laughing together by the time we were ready to return to the car.  Maybe that’s why I love hiking so much–it’s restorative in more ways than one.

Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake takes its name from the Maligne River that feeds it. The river was apparently treacherous enough to be dubbed “malicious,” although it sounds better in French. Located in Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies, it’s one of those places that I had never heard of before I started researching the area while planning our first trip there.

Maligne Lake is a popular destination. The tiny island, Spirit Island, located in the lake is apparently an extremely popular destination among tourists. One cruise to the island states the island “epitomizes the Canadian Rockies.” the island is supposedly one of the most photographed sites in the Rockies.

Whenever I see a claim like that, I have to wonder how anyone knows how often a particular site has been photographed. I didn’t notice any photo detectors going off while I and the boatload of people on our cruise started shooting like mad.

I did however notice a certain calm. I don’t know if it was a case of self-fulfilling prophecy with all the build up, but the place seemed aptly named. There is something about journeying across this lake to see this tiny island that makes the trip worth it, even if it’s been done by a million people before and will be done by a million people after.
Having done our tourist duty by contributing to the Jasper economy by joining a boat tour, we then separated from the crowd and headed up to hike the Bald Hills that were immediately past the lake.

We spent the better part of the day climbing in elevation. By the time we got into the hills, we were starving. At the same time, the temperature was dropping rapidly and a cold wind kicked up. We found a rocky outcropping to shelter us from the wind and quickly learned that not only big, scary predators can be a pest if they’ve been fed. At least today we had only to outsmart the chipmunks.

After a few minutes, they were so bold that we were afraid we were going to get bit. When one actually stopped and nudged Pat with its tiny little paw as if to say, “Hey, feed me!” I started to get more nervous than when we had encountered a bear! I just kept envisioning a finger getting nipped off while we hunkered down on this remote mountain and dying of some horrible illness like rabies.

We did manage to complete our lunch without any injuries, although we did lose a crumb or two. As we walked on, we passed a slumbering yellow bellied marmot soaking up what little was left of the sun. in fact, sunshine came to an abrupt and frightening end when dark clouds rolled in and snow started falling fast. Unprepared to spend the night in a snow drift, we moved out quickly, taking the chipmunks’ last hope for a grand feast with us.

Clutter vs. Hoar Frost

In the process of going through old photos and clearing out the masses of virtual junk that I have collected, I am reminded both of how much I prefer a life uncluttered and how much I enjoy reliving the past.

On the topic of de-cluttering, there was a time when this referred to clearing clothes out of closets, emptying the junk drawer that collects unrecognizable objects that we’re sure we’ll need someday, selling the collection of hobbits or beanie babies, and donating excess household goods.

For us, we started the process of reducing things several years ago.  But having focused for so long on getting rid of physical items, I completely ignored the virtual ones.  My main problem, as you might guess, is photos.  As long as all my images fit on the hardware I already owned, I don’t think of it as clutter.

But having grown my capacity to over 7 TB between old devices, new devices, backup devices, and spare devices, I’m thinking it’s time to start eliminating the multiple copies of the same photo, the really bad images, the slightly different angles of the same thing, the series of 300 shots of the same person making different facial expressions–in short, the crap.

Having cleared out this virtual junk, I find the important memories and the images I’m almost proud of suddenly jumping out at me.  Just as clearing out the 4 potato mashers, the endless collection of useless appliances (useless to me since I don’t cook), and the endless odds and ends that filled our kitchen cabinets made the kitchen a place I didn’t mind hanging out in (because I could suddenly, for example, find the corkscrew when I brought home a bottle of wine), I find myself suddenly having a hard time pulling away from perusing the past.

When I stumble upon photos from one of my favorite places, Jasper, Alberta, I decide to share a few from our hike near Pyramid Lake in December of 2009.

Jasper National Park is located in what I used to think was Northern Canada–until I looked at map.  It is North of Banff, but, it turns out that’s not even far enough North to be Northern Alberta, let alone Northern Canada.

Given that the town of Jasper is located within Jasper National Park, which encompasses a pretty big chunk of the Canadian Rockies, it was far enough North (or perhaps just far enough in altitude) that the high temperature those two weeks of December was -15 degrees Fahrenheit.

When we hiked around Pyramid Lake, we discovered something I’d only read about–hoar frost.  I never actually knew what hoar frost was until after I showed some of these shots to a friend.  If Pat wouldn’t have been with me, I probably would have frozen to death because I was so fascinated with the hoar frost, I would undoubtedly have forgotten to return until it was too dark to see.

I don’t consider these images clutter.

Wishing for Winter

This evening, I take Tisen out for his evening stroll.  We head across the street, dodging cars that refuse to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk with a green walk light.  This is a curious thing about Chattanooga.  No matter how much infrastructure they build to support pedestrians, the drivers still try to run them over.  I frequently end up stopped half way in the crosswalk waiting for the cars who are turning to realize they need to stop.

I usually give up and try to dive in front of a car where there is enough room for them to stop and the driver appears to be at least paying attention to what’s directly in front of them.  It’s a little dangerous, but after several weeks of this, I’ve found a few more drivers are watching for pedestrians and yielding.  Sometimes it just takes an accidental death to get traffic problems resolved.  🙂

Having made it safely across the street, we make our way down the sidewalk.  Tisen spots a strange mix-breed dog coming towards us, about 50 yards away.  Tisen crouches lower, juts his head out level with his shoulders, and his muzzle appears to have shape-shifted into the shape of a wolf’s.  If I didn’t know any better, I would think I was walking a border collie.  When the bizarre mix (he looks like a golden retriever with a pug’s head) gets closer, Tisen lunges with growly barks.  This is a first!  I think perhaps it is due to the strangeness of the dog.  But then we pass a chocolate lab puppy who is being a typical silly, playful pup and Tisen does a complete repeat performance.

I don’t know what changed between yesterday and today to make him behave so differently.  I keep thinking the longer it’s been since he was neutered, the less aggressive he’ll be, but I’m guessing whatever hormonal effect there will be has already happened.  I consider the possibility that it’s seasonal.  After all, we’ve had ridiculously warm weather for at least a week straight now.  Maybe his body thinks it’s spring.

While I am usually longing for spring this time of year, I find myself longing for winter instead.  Not out of hope it might settle Tisen down, but, in part, because it’s harder to appreciate the spring fully when you haven’t gone through a long, cold winter.  And, to be honest, I’m already tired of swatting mosquitos.  I do not want to think about what the insect population is going to be like if we don’t have any more cold weather this year.  I can only hope the bird, bat, and dragonfly populations keep pace.

Since I cannot take any photos of snow and ice, I decide to pull out some old ones.  Here are some shots from the Canadian Rockies in Jasper National Park, Alberta.  The high temperature our first day there on that trip was -15 Fahrenheit.  Now that is winter.