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Wilcox Pass – Jasper National Park

Wilcox Pass – Jasper National Park

Wilcox Pass – Jasper National Park

  • Distance – Return (Where we decided to turn around) – 8 km
  • Elevation Gain – 389 metres

The trailhead to Wilcox Pass is located on the side of the parkway only a few kilometres south of the Columbia Icefields visitor centre. Being a fairly easy hike its a big draw for all the tourist that visit the centre, making it one of the busiest hikes in Jasper National Park. Even on a cold day in September there was a lot of people on the trail, that and the fact that you can hear the cars on the highway below for most of the hike definitely brings down the enjoyment level, but the views of the mountains and the Icefields and the meadow make it well worth the effort.

The hike starts out climbing through a beautiful old-growth forest. Although only a moderately climb it was definitely made worse by the weight of my 500mm lens, and the fact that I had been driving for the previous four or five hours. Once out of the forest the trail opens up above the tree line with an incredible view of the Athabasca Glacier, the visitor centre, the highway, and all of the towering mountains that surround the area. Eventually the trail leads up into a massive wide open alpine plain that goes on for what looks like a couple of kilometres.

I’m not really sure where the actual trail goes or how far of a hike it’s supposed to be, there seems to be a few different descriptions online, although I did read somewhere that you can hike all the way to Tangle falls (another stopping point on the 93) but then you would need a ride back to the trailhead. On this occasion we basically just hiked up to the alpine plain and kept going until we decided to turn back.

One of the main draws to the pass is the Rocky Mountain Big Horned Sheep that frequent the area (hence me lugging my long, heavy lens up the mountain). We were not disappointed, and found a group of large healthy adult Big Horned Sheep feeding and drinking at a watering hole out in the open meadow. We stopped and photographed them for a quite a while (the whole time wishing I had dragged my tripod up along with the long lens) before heading back down the way we came.

Did I mention it was cold and extremely windy out in the open….

Overall a great hike, and well worth the effort, I look forward to going back when I have more time to spend exploring the area.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Scenic Mountain Views, Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Scenic Mountain Views, Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Scenic Mountain Views, Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Scenic Mountain Views, Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Scenic Mountain Views, Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Scenic Mountain Views, Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Wilcox Pass, and views of the Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Wilcox Pass, and views of the Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada

 

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Kananaskis Country

Kananaskis Country

Another great drive down Highway 40 and Spray Lakes Trail in Kananaskis Country, with a rather cute Bighorn Sheep near Galatea trailhead, a Moose in the meadows by Mount Shark, and a somewhat ugly Cinnamon Black Bear feeding on berries near the shores of Spray Lake….

 

Young Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada
Young Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada
Young Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada
Young Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada
Wild moose feeding among bushes, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada
Wild moose feeding among bushes, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada
Cinnamon coloured Black Bear feeding on berries, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada
Cinnamon coloured Black Bear feeding on berries, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada
Cinnamon coloured Black Bear feeding on berries, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada
Cinnamon coloured Black Bear feeding on berries, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada
Springtime in Kananaskis Country

Springtime in Kananaskis Country

I started out in the prairies, watching swallows (which are almost impossible to photography) working on their nest at one of the roadside birdhouses. After that I headed up through Jumpingpound spotting Buffleheads and Goldeneyes in one of the ponds along the way. Next it was a White-Crowned Sparrow (my first), when I stopped to use the washroom at Mount Lorette Ponds.

When I left town the weather was pretty crappy, windy and cloudy, and not very nice, but the further I got into mountains the nicer it got. By the time I made it to the Shark Mountain turn-off on Spray-Lakes trail it was a beautiful spring evening. While there was still snow higher-up, it was great to see the rivers and streams had already thawed and were flowing high with spring melt.

On the return trip I spotted a pair of Grizzlies (mother and cub), walking down highway 40 from what must have been at least a kilometre or two in the distance. Cutting the engine I coasted down the hill doing my best not to spook them, but a winters worth of gravel on the roadway grinding under my tires was enough to scare them off the road before I could get very close. Thankfully I had my long lens and 1.4X on and was able to get some great shots of them crossing the road and climbing over the guard rail.

After leaving the road they climbed down the embankment, and I spent a half hour or so before it got too dark watching them (from a really bad angle) while they fed on new spring growth.

There was an Elk on the hillside about 20 metres behind them, and neither the bear nor the Elk even blinked at the others presence, they just kept on grazing. I found this very interesting, because everyone knows bears are blood thirsty carnivorous that kill everything they see…

 

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)

 

Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)
Barrow's Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica)
Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica)

White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)

Mountains in Spring
Mountains in Spring
Mountains in Spring
Mountains in Spring
Mountains in Spring
Mountains in Spring
Mountains in Spring
Mountains in Spring
Mountains in Spring
Mountains in Spring
Mountains in Spring
Mountains in Spring
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear Cub (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear Cub (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear Cub (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear Cub (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear Cub (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Elk  (Cervus canadensis)
Elk (Cervus canadensis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear mother and Cub (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear Cub (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear mother and Cub (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly Bear Mother and Cub (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Rocky Mountain Big Horned Sheep
Rocky Mountain Big Horned Sheep
Mountains in Spring
Mountains in Spring
Mountains in Spring
Mountains in Spring
Hinton South

Hinton South

After a mostly uneventful day in Jasper I thought that rather than trying to shoot ugly scenery under grey overcast skies I would spend the day exploring the unknown stretch of Highway 40 between Hinton and Rocky Mountain House (I’ve previously driven the stretch from Highway 1, to Rocky Mountain House, and from Highway 1 all the way south to Highway 3 in the Crowsnest Pass and the US border).

As expected it was a long day of driving, with more than a few rather sketchy sections with the highway winding around and in a few cases making use of what must have been little more than forestry logging roads.

The weather was such that there was very little opportunity for any kind of landscape photography, and for most of the day you could hardly see the mountains at all.

I did have a couple of run-ins with some large groups of both Big-Horned Sheep and Elk, which is always fun.

What I found really interesting was how much industry is going on up there, with coal mines and logging operations all over the place.

Overall it was another pretty uneventful day, but I could imagine the drive being a lot more interesting and enjoyable on a sunny summer day.

Rocky Mountain Big Horned Sheep Rocky Mountain Big Horned Sheep Coal Mine Coal Mine Rocky Mountain Big Horned Sheep Elk  (Cervus canadensis) Elk  (Cervus canadensis) Elk  (Cervus canadensis) Rocky Mountain Big Horned Sheep Rocky Mountain Big Horned Sheep Rocky Mountain Big Horned Sheep

Highwood Pass – The Wildlife

Highwood Pass – The Wildlife

As I mentioned in the previous post, I had a great trip out to Kananaskis. What I didn’t really mention is the dozens of Big Horned Sheep, the multiple Snowshoe Hares, the two absolutely beautiful Brown Bears, or the amazing encounter with a mother Grizzly and her little cub.

 

Wild Brown Bears in Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada
Big-Horned…. Bulls!

 

Rocky Mountain Big-Horned Sheep, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Mountain Ground Squirrel in Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Rocky Mountain Big-Horned Sheep, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Rocky Mountain Big-Horned Sheep, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

 
Wild Brown Bears in Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Wild Brown Bears in Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Wild Brown Bears in Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Wild Grizzly Bears, mother and cub, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Wild Grizzly Bears, mother and cub, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Wild Grizzly Bears, mother and cub, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Wild Grizzly Bears, mother and cub, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Wild Grizzly Bears, mother and cub, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Wild Grizzly Bears, mother and cub, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Wild Grizzly Bears, mother and cub, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Wild Grizzly Bears, mother and cub, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Rocky Mountain Big-Horned Sheep, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Rocky Mountain Big-Horned Sheep, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Rocky Mountain Big-Horned Sheep, Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada

 

Snowshoe Hare in summer, Kananaskis Country Alberta, Canada

 

 

Jasper – Day 1.

Jasper – Day 1.

A friend and I took a weekend trip to Jasper. We went in hopes of finiding some bears, or rutting elk, but unfortunately we were a week or two late as the bears had moved up into the mountains, and the Elk rut was pretty much at an end.

We thought we would take the scenic route to Jasper (because Hwy #93 is not scenic enough), so getting up early we headed out past Cochrane and then turned north on Highway #40 (a.k.a. highway #734 or Forestry Trunk Road).

Not to much to say about the drive except it was long slow winding gravel road with lots of ups and downs. It was scenic at parts, but mostly treed in so not a whole lot of views. We did see a few moose, including one nice close encounter with a big bull, but that was about it.

Bull Moose

It was still early morning when got to Ram falls and did the short walk down to the viewpoint. The falls were nice, but the early morning shadow and the low water level made them a lot less impressive than I had hoped for. I think I’ll have to go back sometime in the spring when the river is flowing at full capacity.

Ram Falls
Ram Falls

We spotted a Spruce Grouse on the side of the road near the falls and stopped to chase it around for a while. I’m not sure why, but it looked a bit different than other Spruce Grouse I’ve seen. Could be that it was a male, or a male in breeding plumage, or in normal plumage, or maybe just because of the difference in location, I’m really not too sure, but at the time I was convinced that it was a different bird all together.

Spruce Grouse

By the time we got to Nordegg, he had just about had enough of gravel roads, and so decided to change course and take the David Thompson Highway (Hwy #11) west to Saskatchewan Crossing and Highway #93. Originally we had planned to take Highway #40 all the way to Jasper (apparently it goes all the way to Alaska) but the going was a bit too slow. I had also wanted to see Abraham Lake because I know of a professional photographer that raves about it, although looking back I think all his photos I’ve seen are in the winter when it’s frozen over. It was nice, but not overly exceptional under midday sun in the fall, and we only stopped for a few minutes.

Abraham Lake

While passing by the lake we had a run-in with a herd of really nice lookiing Rocky Mountain Sheep on the side of the highway.

Rocky Mountain Big-Horned Sheep
Rocky Mountain Big-Horned Sheep at Abraham Lake

Quite possible the highlight of the entire trip was a couple of Mountain Goats that we encountered shortly after turning north on the Icefields Parkway (Hwy. #93). They were right up on the side of the road, and we were able to get riddiculusly close before they attracted too much attention and got frightened away by people chasing them around with cell phones.

Mountain Goat
Mountain Goat

Eventually after about 10 hours on the road we did make it to Jasper, and after resting up a bit we headed back out for a bit of exploring. We ended up doing a short walk and taking pictures of the lake and glacier at Mount Edith Cavell. The glacier and icebergs frozen in the lake were neat to see, but what was really impressive was how it had been a warm autumn day in the town of Jasper, but by the time we made it up all the switch-back to the parking lot at the top of the mountain it was fully winter, complete with ice and snow.

Highway #93 near Jasper
Glacier at Mount Edith Cavell
Ice in the Lake at Mount Edith Cavell