Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Africa 2010 Calendar Available Now!!

Just put together a Lulu calendar with images from my last trip to Africa, featuring some of my favourite portraits of amazing people I met along the way.

It's a little late to order for Xmas (sorry) but not for New Years!!!

I make a little bit of money off each sale. Proceeds go toward the Buy Bubba A Beer Fund, a very worthy cause, for the next trip.

So, if you need to instantly beautify your wall, or are getting tired of the flimsy local garage freebie calendar you get in the mail every year, or just need a swell calendar for the New Year, buy the Africa 2010 calendar here.

Thanks for your support!!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Autumn on the Canadian Tundra, Part 4. Added bonus: Movie Review of Twilight: - Stick A Fork In Me Now!

Autumnal poplar trees in Fish Creek Park...

Movie Review: Twilight.

[Ed. note: In a feeble attempt to stay "hip" with the kids these days, I decided, clandestinely, to sign out a library copy of the mega-hit movie Twilight (I'm probably the first male patron of the Calgary Public to do so). Here entails my review of the movie Twilight...]

Where was Vincent Price?

If I was a vampire, would I be very very scary. Or, my sexiness hinder my ability to scare.

If you went to a smack down involving a vampire, would you bring A) a wooden stake or B) a purse-sized can of pepper spray?

Would a 200 year old vampire dating a high school girl be considered a dirty old vampire...?

What's scarier, a blood sucking vampire or being stuck in high school for eternity?

Bella (the female protaganist): "I know you're a vampire but can I just hang out with you?" What the hell? Give my head a shake...

Nothing like a diamond encrusted vampire. Am I right ladies?

Was that two hours of my life I can't get back?

My viewing of Twilight conjured up more questions than the scene of Tiger Woods' fender bender...

On a serious note, if I may, the movie was ok.

I think I understand why the ladies go ga-ga over this movie. Maybe not...

The love story between Ed the Vampire (the undead male protaganist) and Bella (the enamoured high school junior) was sickly sweet.

The only disturbing aspect of the relationship was the ease in which she fell for him. For crissake, Bella, the guy's a vampire... you were more stoic than he was... If you can't get a case of the heebie jeebies over that fact, I can't help you dear.

Something was certainly missing in the equation.

Did I mention the cast, particularly the assorted vampires, was really sexy?

Brief suggestions for the next installment of the Twilight series: way more bloodletting, scarier vampires, at least one blood curdling scream, less brooding, tighter editing, some humour, and even more sexiness.

In other words, I want to be scared if there's a sequel.

Crissakes, it's vampires were dealing with...

Rating: 3 overdue fines out of 5.

If you see Twilight on the shelf, sign it out for sure. If not, don't waste a valuable spot on your holds list.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Autumn On The Canadian Tundra...Part 3. Added Bonus: An Autumnal Haiku.

Autumnal Haiku...

A fleeting zephyr...
Dead leaves flutter in free fall
to detrital Hell.

Peruse more poetry at Haikus From Hell...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Autumn On The Canadian Tundra...Part 2 or Juizhaigou or Bust?

Random leaves on the floor of Fish Creek Park. How many different tree species can you spot?

I was researching potential destinations for the upcoming trip when I came across a place called Juizhaigou National Park, a jewel of a place located in northern Sichuan Province, China.

I vaguely recalled this place was the subject of a recent National Geographic article.

As I browsed through some of the beautiful online photos of Juizhaigou's emerald, azure blue mountain lakes and broad cascading waterfalls, I thought to myself, 'Damn, I've got to go there".

Indeed, further research revealed that Juizhaigou was a UNESCO Heritage Site!

That really piqued my interest.

Sign me up now!!

That was until I read this brutally honest commentary in what seemed like a Chinese tourism website:

"Jiuzhaigou is a picturesque place without doubt, but we will NOT recommend it as one of China's top destinations for independent backpackers.

First, the entrance ticket Y310 [ed. note Y310 is approximately 45 USD] is too expensive. Secondly, the place is so crowded with Chinese tourists in holidays, they are very undisciplined and usually huddle and chat everywhere. The noise murders the natural beauty."

Wow, that was kind of a buzz killer, eh?

Hmmm...chatty crowds of Chinese tourists...their noise murdering the natural beauty.

That last line had me laughing. I envisioned really loud Chinese people playing mah jong on tables set up in the woods.

All in all, I'm not surprised that this place is inundated with native tourists. It's only natural. I witnessed the same phenomenon in Lhasa. It's like Americans flocking to the Grand Canyon. .

Should I go to Juizhaigou or not?

What other places have you gone where the tourists murdered the natural beauty with their noise?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Autumn On The Canadian Tundra...

Stand of poplars in Fish Creek Park...

Well, I think autumn this year in Calgary lasted about five days...

One day in September we were basking in 30 Celsius temperatures. The next day we were huddled around the kitchen stove, drawing on its life-giving heat, as arctic winds blasted across the tundra.

The autumnal photography took a hit as a result.

The extreme cold killed off a lot of the foliage prematurely. Instead of leaves gradually changing from summer greens to autumn golds and reds, they just died, yielding shades of black.

Those leaves that reached xanthophyllic bliss were blown away by a couple of strategically placed windstorms.

Beauty is fleeting at best sometimes.

Enough of this whining...

I better post some pix I took in Fish Creek (some from this year and a few from other years) before the real big snows fly this winter.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hiking the Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park - Day 5 - Judgement Day Or Final Recall...

On the fifth and final day of the trek we woke up to beholden this brilliant view of Helmet Falls.

The final segment from Helmet Falls to the Paint Pots at Highway 93 was pretty much straightforward. Absent were the dramatic ascents and descents of the previous days. Instead, we trekked along a relatively flat trail, through an dense rainforest, along Helmet Creek.

Bunchberry or Dwarf Dogwood (Cornus canadensis) growing close to the forest floor.

Equisetem sp.?

Oh how I miss the taste of cool clear water from a bubbling mountain stream.... Mmmm...

The trail did undulate occasionally. When it did, we were treated to good views of the creeks and valleys surrounding us.

Looking towards the Paint Pots... About 3 km from the Pots, the peace and quiet of the backcountry that I had grown accustomed to was broken by traffic noise on Highway 93. How sad...

Tourists making wishes at one of the ochre-tinted Paint Pots. So strange to be back in "civilization". Very few of them walk beyond this point...A blessing in disguise...

The greenish water resulted from mixing of water from a nearby stream with the springs feeding the Paint Pot.

Ferrous Oxide accumulating on the edge of a Paint Pot.

A particularly brilliant accumulation of ochre.

An ochre swamp.

Ochre intermingling with clumps of green algae making for a surreal landscape...

1.2 km down the trail from the Paint Pots was the end of the trek.

Rockwall FAQs.

Q: Would you hike the trail in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction?

A: It doesn't matter. However, if you want a more difficult first day, start at the Floe Lake end and walk clockwise. Conversely, you can ease into the whole matter by hiking the relatively flat terrain on the Paint Pots end (and then have a double climb to the Tumbling Creek campground the next day). Either way there are giant climbs and knee breaking descents.

Q: How do I book the cabins?

A: You can't. Period. You as normal folk will have to book spots in the campgrounds along the way.

Q: If you were to re-do the hike what would you do differently?

A: I'd definitely go back in the Fall. The Tamarack Larches in this area must look spectacular during autumn when their needles turn colour. Also, if you are trek during high flower season (August), I'd take a macro lens to take pix of those purdy blossums.

Q: Logistically, would it be difficult to hike the Rockwall trail solo?

A: Yes. I only see a slight problem with transport from the trail finish to the trail head. Using two cars is most convenient. However, you can always grab a hitch. Better chance of this happening at the Paint Pots parking lot (more traffic). Or, you can get friendly with your fellow hikers and arrange a ride.

Better yet, stash a bike in the woods and ride back to car at the other end when you are finished.

Q: Was hiking the Rockwall worth the effort?

A: Without a doubt this hike must be one of the premiere multi-day hikes in the Canadian Rockies. The hills are steep but the pay off in terms of scenery (eg. flower-filled meadows, soaring peak) will be inexhaustible. The campgrounds were packed but hiker traffic was sparse out on the trail.

I definitely recommend this classic hike in the Canadian Rockies.

Q: Did you see any bears?

A: Nope. Wish I did though. We were definitely walking through bear territory. Every avalanche slope along the way, and there were many of them, I was looking for them bears. The closest I got to seeing a bear was kaka (poop) on the trail.

Q: Can old folks handle the Rockwall?

A: Yes, I survived the Rockwall. Tip of the day: use walking sticks.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hiking The Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park (British Columbia) - Helmet Creek Patrol Cabin.

The butt end of the massive limestone wall we followed from Wolverine Pass to Helmet Creek looms over the cabin on an early morning...

One of Bambi's relatives (Mule Deer or Odocoileus hemionus) makes an appearance outside the kitchen window. This is better than Planet Animal TV!!

Who needs a mirror to shave when you're after the Grizzly Adams look?

I'm really not into card games but I did manage to play many hours of "sol" a game invented by my friend Ahmed (left). Action was pretty tense during the games. I couldn't understand why they were laughing at most of my strategies.

The stove where I cooked up the ten pound pasta for dinner. It was kind of gross. I should have used more water. That would have dissolved some of the big lumps of soup mix. Well, you live and learn, eh. There was enough leftover for the second night. Thank god for that because all I had left in my food bag were 3 Sapporo Ichiban.

I love these cabins. They were full-on, full service...I could live up here for a couple of weeks.

Well, step right in...

Some kind of groundsel (Senecio sp.?), I think.

Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) growing out by the shed...

Step up and I'll read your fortune... Ok, this isn't a Zoltan booth. It's the loo. I bet you knew that already. Looks kind of dilapidated but it's really nice inside...

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Hiking The Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park (British Columbia) - Day 4 - Bubba's Day Off At Helmet Falls...

Day 4 on the Rockwall Trail was a well deserved day off. Not much planned other than sleeping, eating, drinking, playing card games... and visiting the nearby fantastic Helmet Falls.

Early morning at the Helmet Creek Patrol Cabin... Flora was extra lush because of torrential rains the night before. I felt bad for the backpackers hunkered down in their tents in the adjacent campground... BTW, that was Helmet Falls in our backyard...

It took a half hour leisurely walk through the riverine forest to reach the Falls.

Ahmed admiring the Falls. It looked from here that the Falls took a single plunge off the headwall...

But in fact the Falls was composed of two tiers, plunging 352 meters (1,155 ft) to the valley floor.

Tiny-looking Larry's preparing for his close encounter with the Falls.

For the last 72 hours we were treated with mindblowing vistas, but to end the trip with Helmet Falls was tremendous. The spray coming off the Falls was a bit cool, but we managed to lunch up here.

The upper tier of the Falls.

The ubiquitous Western Chipmunk (Eutamias minimus) nibbling on fireweed on the meadows below the Falls. Fauna-wise, we also observed Mountain Goats gracing the bluffs surrounding the Falls and two Golden Eagles soaring overhead.

From the Falls, we looked eastwards, down the valley towards the Paint Pots and Highway 93.

Tips of the Day...

Don't play the CIA-inspired torturous game of who-can-keep-their-feet-in-the-ice-cold-stream-the-closest. Only fools do that.

Don't carry 4 tins of pink salmon for more than 8 hrs while walking over extremely rough terrain.

Don't assume 3 grown men can chow down 10 pounds of salmon mushroom pasta in one sitting.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hiking The Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park (British Columbia) - Day 3 - From Heaven to Hell and Back Again...

I saw the Milky Way the previous night. It was brilliant.

It was lights out early on that 2nd night. I had no problem getting to sleep as I fell into a deep deep slumber (accompanied by purportedly loud breathing) exhausted by the rigors earlier that day.

We awoke to this splendid scenery the next morning. Little did I know there was a glacier hanging around the neighbourhood. Did you catch the joke? Hanging glacier? Ok, my bad... no more geomorphological jokes.

After an extended breakfast (the usual 3 packages of instant oatmeal), we slowly made our way up the meadows of the Rockwall Pass. The cabin is just behind the forest in the background. If you look closely, the trail is on the right edge of the photo. Looks like a posse is after us.

With in minutes we reached the Wolverine Pass junction. The Pass was to the left. The sign said 0.5 km but I doubt is was more than 100 m away.

The summit of the pass demarcated the Kootenay National Park boundary. Remarkably, it was the only passage leading westwards along the Rockwall.

Larry and Ahmed soaking up the scenary on the summit ridge.

Looking westward from Wolverine Pass. Plenty of clear cutting in the valley to the west. It's amazing how these types of developments encroach so closely upon the national parks.

Looking east towards Rockwall Pass and Banff National Park in the distance.

Looking back south towards the now dwarfed Wolverine Cabin.

More wildflowers on Rockwall Pass...

The meadows beyond the cabin seemed to stretch onwards for at least a couple hours. Glorious walking...

Ahmed checking out the massive western limestone wall that dominated the scenery the entire way to Helmet Creek. Between the wall and the alpine meadows was an equally massive glacier-with-no-name.

Eventually, we would take the plunge down towards the glacier-with-no-name. We would stop here for lunch.

After lunch we mounted the spine of the lateral moraine which took us down to a small lake at the foot of a terminal moraine. From that point, the trail climbed skyward taking us right over the tree covered mountain in the background.

The final big climb...

Nearing the summit... Once reaching the peak, we'd finish off the day with a last knee busting 435 m descent into the Helmet Creek Valley.

Most of the descent was through old growth forest but there was the occasional glimpse of spectacular Helmet Falls.

Larry making his way across the bridge to Helmet Creek Cabin...home sweet home for the next two nights...