Not a Beach

Unlike yesterday’s post, this one isn’t about the beach.  In fact, it’s pretty much as opposite as it gets from the beach.

Pat and I fell in love with a place called Jasper in the middle of Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada.  After spending a week hiking in the area, we started fantasizing about living there.  We figured before we got too far with this fantasy, we should go back in the winter.

We had flown in and out of Edmonton the first time, so we thought we’d try flying in and out of Calgary this time and return to Calgary a few days before our return home so we could spend New Year’s Even there.

This was the second time we decided to travel over Christmas.  It was the first time we went somewhere where it was -15 Fahrenheit (-26 Celsius) for the high during our whole trip.  (We loved it anyway.)

By the way, if you are considering going to Jasper, I recommend flying into Calgary if it’s summer, but flying into Edmonton if it’s winter.  The drive up Icefields Parkway is beautiful in the summer, but it’s down right terrifying in the winter.  I suppose one might intuitively know that driving up a highway called “Icefields Parkway” in the middle of December could be a bad idea.

We, however, having been there in the summer to see the glaciers, assumed the name referred to the glaciers rather than the actual road.  The Toyota Camry we rented faired far better than one might expect, but we really should have been driving with chains.  It was supposed to be a 5 1/2 drive.  We were about 3 hours late getting to Jasper.

The drive back to Calgary went much better–there hadn’t been any fresh snowfall for days and we left in the morning, driving in daylight.

After spending 9 days in the snow and ice, we thought it would be nice to return to the city, thinking it would be warmer between being further South, at lower elevation, and being made of heat-holding materials.

It’s quite possible it was actually colder in Calgary.

I think it was the wind tunnel effect of all the office buildings, but it might have been psychological.  It’s hard to notice that you’re cold when you’re surrounded by incredible mountains.

We made it to the local bird sanctuary for a little bird watching in spite of the cold and a lack of binoculars.  I even managed to get a few shots.  I was fascinated by the Magpie nests at the sanctuary–they looked like multi-story condominiums.

I struggled to identify what kind of large bird of prey I got a shot of.  At the time, I assumed it was a hawk.  When I reviewed the photos again tonight, I suspect it’s actually a second year bald eagle, but will have to confirm.  I remember thinking it was extremely large for a hawk, though, so it would make sense.

Mountain vs Couch

As much as I love to be active, there’s a part of me that would really prefer to lay on the couch all day.  That part of me was screaming when we decided to try mountain biking for the first time in Jasper National Park several years ago.

Fortunately for me, I was still shooting with my PowerShot G3 at the time, which weighed approximately 1/3 what my current camera with a wide angle lens would weigh.

When the locals we talked to assured us that there was a “super easy” trail just outside of town that was only 10 miles long, I imagined it would take about an hour to cruise around this loop trail.  I planned for us to take it easy, stopping for a picnic lunch by a lake and having a leisurely day.  As we headed out for the trail, I wondered what we would do the rest of the afternoon.

When we got to the trailhead, we found if we went to the South, it looked flat.  If we went North, it was a very steep climb right from the start.  We, naturally, went South.  Of course, after about 100 yards, the trail turned uphill and we began the most painful climb of our lives.  Painful for two reasons:  first, our lungs (and every muscle in our bodies) were burning trying to keep the bikes moving up and over roots, rocks, bumps, and pot holes as we climbed.  Second, we were crawling along at such a slow pace that the plentiful mosquitos were keeping up with us.

When we encountered objects beyond our skill level to get over or around, we fell over.  Once we fell over, we had to push the bike along until we got to a flat enough place to get started again.

I pushed the bike up a hill at a run with my rain jacket on and the hood up trying to get away from the mosquitos.  I’ve been riding bikes a long time.  I’m pretty sure that “riding” doesn’t mean taking your bike out for a run.

After stopping for a quick lunch (due to the mosquitos) in a spot where we could watch loons on a lake, we turned around and started heading downhill back home.  We came to a screeching halt when Pat spotted a black bear peeking at us from behind a shrub.  Eventually, the bear figured out we were humans and took off.  We went on our way singing loudly in the hope of scaring the bear away (anyone who has heard me sing would appreciate how effective this would be).

Then, we out-peddled the mosquitos and discovered how much fun mountain biking is when you’re going downhill!  Much better than laying on the couch.  Going up, not so much.

When at last we arrived back home, over 3 hours had passed in spite of our brief lunch.  We both needed a nap–the perfect time to hit the couch.

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.

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.