Adventures on The Bruce Peninsula, Georgian Bay Ontario

A triptych of essays set in — or on the road to — Ontario’s “sweetwater sea”

georgianbay

Part One: Day-Tripping Flowerpot Island, the Bruce Trail, The Grotto, and Overhanging Point on southern Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula

The Bruce Peninsula in southern Ontario separates the cooler waters of Georgian Bay from the rest of Lake Huron’s “sweetwater sea,” and makes of the Bay an unofficial, sixth Great Lake. It’s the kind of iconic Canadian landscape that drove artists such as Arthur Lismer and the other Group of Seven painters wild.

The rugged, 100-kilometre finger of pine-studded shale and limestone, set amidst the granite and precambrian rock of Shield country, points northward from the rolling hills of southwest Ontario’s farm country, all head-high corn and sulphur-bright canola, through Boreal Shield country and towns with names like Kapuskaping. North north north, to Moosonee and the wetland plains of Hudson Bay and, somewhere way up there, the beluga-backed Arctic Ocean…

Continue reading Adventures on The Bruce Peninsula, Georgian Bay Ontario

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Swiss Alps Photo Galleries: Murren and Gimmelwald (Fourth and Final Gallery)

The Trail to Rotstockhutte

Murren and Gimmelwald from the trail to Rotstockhutte, Switzerland

(Part of an ongoing series of galleries created from photos taken in and around Murren and Gimmelwald in the Lauterbrunnen Velley of the Bernese Oberland, Switzerland. Follow these links to visit Gallery OneGallery Two, and Gallery Three).

As I’ve written previously, in the summer of 2010 I returned to the most memorable spot from my first trip to Europe more than twenty years earlier: the villages of Murren and Gimmelwald above Lauterbrunnen Valley. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it very well with the weather: it rained most of the week I was there, and one morning I walked to the post office through falling  snow. This was early August. On the plus side, a young alpaca watched me pass, eyeing my Gore-Tex longingly. Or hungrily…

On fair weather days I did manage to get out for a few hikes in and around town, including the trail (most of the way) to Rotstockhuette. This gallery, Gallery Four, is mostly pictures from that day trip. I made it most of the way to Rotstockhutte, through alpine meadows and a small herd of cows, but a late afternoon thunderstorm was rolling up the valley from the direction of the hut, and I decided to turn back rather than risk a lightening storm on an exposed mountainside.

I carried two cameras on this trip: The Canon G9 and the original Olympus E-P1. The first PEN model was slow to clear the buffer, had no optional viewfinder and dim LCD, and the settings were easily changed with a bump of the various rear controls. As a consequence, I lost a lot of good pictures. Here are the survivors. For lenses I carried the Lumix 20mm 1.7, and the coveted Lumix 7-14 4.0 wide-angle zoom. Note that the images in this gallery have been processed in DxO Pro X using the HDR Realistic setting and a touch of ClearView to remove haze. The effects look stunning – especially on the screen of my new iMac Retina! Just saying…

The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte The Trail to Rotstockhutte

Swiss Alps Photo Drift: Murren & Gimmelwald (Gallery One)

Murren & Gimmelwald, Lauterbrunnen Valley Swiss Alps

Murren & Gimmelwald, Luaterbrunnen Valley Swiss Alps

In the summer of 2010 I returned to the most memorable spot from my first trip to Europe more than twenty years earlier: the villages of Murren and Gimmelwald above Lauterbrunnen Valley. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it very well with the weather: it rained most of the week I was there, and one morning I walked to the post office through falling  snow. This was early August. On the plus side, a young alpaca watched me pass, eyeing my Gore-Tex longingly. Or hungrily…

On fair weather days I did manage to get out for a few hikes in and around town, including the trail (most of the way) to Rotstockhuette.

I carried two cameras on this trip: The Canon G9 and the original Olympus E-P1. The first PEN model was slow to clear the buffer, had no optional viewfinder and dim LCD, and the settings were easily changed with a bump of the various rear controls. As a consequence, I lost a lot of good pictures. Here are the survivors. For lenses I carried the Lumix 20mm 1.7, and the coveted Lumix 7-14 4.0 wide-angle zoom.

Chamonix the Sublime

Chamonix the Sublime
Chamonix the Sublime

In the summer of 2010, two very cool things happened:

1. R. and I went to London and the Lake District on our honeymoon.

2. I made a return trip, after 22 years, to the two highlights of my first trip overseas at the (coincidental) age of 22: Chamonix, France; and Gimmelwald/Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland.

I’ve already written about the Swiss Alps. In this post, I’m gonna let the pictures do most of the talking, except to say that I hope it isn’t another 22 years before I return… Check out Chamonix the Sublime on 500px.

Banff Part Two: “Red in Tooth and Claw”

Chateau Lake Louise

In the previous post, Banff Part One: Gothic in the Mountains, I referred to the area around Banff as a “wilderness”. And a wilderness it is: this is a landscape of 2,000-plus meter mountains,  glacier-silted rivers, aquamarine lakes, and pine forests – and the big-game wildlife that inhabits them. All this wildness is visible from town, and from the thin ribbons of asphalt that head west, into the heart of the mountains. Take a step or two off the highway shoulder, and all signs of civilization disappear. You feel like you are deep in the backcountry. I can only imagine what it’s like to actually go beyond those wildlife fences, into the wild…

The chance to get up close and personal with Big Nature, brings visitors from around the world: in the three days we stayed in town, we heard French, German, Russian, lots of Spanish, Norwegian (really? not in the WordPress spellchecker?!?), Chinese, and a south Asian language we couldn’t identify (Vietnamese?). But the Japanese were first, and apparently came to stay. Three of the waitresses at our hotel were Japanese, as was the cashier at Safeway. And several shops lining the main street had “owned by Japanese” signs in the windows.

Elk! from the Icefleld Parkway
Elk! from the Icefleld Parkway

And despite the deep wildness of the place, it IS possible to get face to face, or nearly so, with some of those big animals. For our part, we only had two sightings this trip, both from the Icefields Parkway: a herd of elk along a treeline several hundred yards away, and a mother black bear and cub who dodged into the bush before we could get a camera ready.

Others, apparently, have been having much more intense experiences. Back in June, a motorcyclist photographed a wolf chasing him along the Icefields Parkway (though I think he was actually in BC at the time); in July, weeks before our arrival, a cougar took to stalking tourists around Lake Louise – the trail was still posted with a cougar warning when we hiked it at the end of July. And this spring, Parks Canada officials are claiming the first verifiable pictures of Bigfoot, or was it a Sasquatch?

... on the Upper Bankhead Trail, near Lake Minnewanka
… on the Upper Bankhead Trail, near Lake Minnewanka

I guess it’s the price you pay to maintain a natural ecosystem which is still readily accessible to visitors, aka invasive species such as tourists. There are, in fact, fences and — really rather quaint — wildlife crossings along this part of the Trans-Canada Highway. In town and out, garbage cans are bear-proofed. And sections of the park are closed whenever the rangers are concerned about animal activity, especially grizzlies, in an area.

On the Icefields Parkway
On the Icefields Parkway

So there you have it: a picturesque tourist town and scenic highways along which a constant stream of tourists travel from picture-postcard viewpoint to… you get the idea. Meanwhile, all around, for the truly adventurous, an alpine wilderness with a few trails barely scratched into the antediluvian surface awaits on the other side of those wildlife fences…

Read Part One of the Banff blog, ‘Gothic in the Mountains.’

BTW, I have been updating my portfolio of pictures from the Banff trip for Getty Images on flickr. Check ’em out!

Road Closed: grizzly activity

Where Bear?

In over thirty years of camping and otherwise spending time out of doors, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen an animal in the wild bigger than, say, the raccoons and porcupines which infest Frontenac Provincial Park.

 

Index Finger: And this one’s set at a garbage dump, which stretches “in the wild” past credibility really. But I’m desperate. Dad and his girlfriend had rented a cottage for the summer near Huntsville, Ontario. One night we followed local tradition and drove out to the dump to watch the local black bears. Ten or so cars lined up, headlights reflecting on a small mountain of black and green plastic garbage bags while a trio of black bears made a mountain out of a molehill. One dude, a tourist, likely, same as us, had to get out of his car for a closer photo. One of the bears sped straight at him ’til the man locked himself back in his car. The bear, point made, returned immediately to eating. Clearly, this had not been an emotional event for him.

Middle Finger: Once, on an early spring hiking trip in Frontenac, my buddy Tom and I came into a meadow where a fawn was drinking water from a puddle. The fawn, surprised, bolted in one direction. And from an explosion in the undergrowth nearby, whatever had been stalking that fawn – a wolf, perhaps – took off in the other, leaving Tom and I to wonder at just what goes on in nature when no-one’s looking.

Ring Finger: One morning on a canoeing trip in Algonquin Provincial Park, Derek and I followed a great blue heron as it kept one bend ahead of us along a river that snaked its way through mile after mile of tall grass. We came around a bend to discover a moose cow standing ankle deep in the water. She watched us warily as she continued to eat, and our awe turned to consternation as we realized that she had no intention of moving for us, which meant we would have to paddle our suddenly vulnerable-seeming canoe within range of her hoofs on this narrow river. Of course, we made it safely past.

Pinkie: Again not exactly a wildlife story, but once again with Derek, while still hallucinating from the jet lag of a flight from Seoul, Korea to San Francisco, we through our sleeping bags down next to the car in a national forest and tried to sleep as cowbells circled our impromptu camp in the dark, mist-filled forest.

Thumb: This summer, heck just last week, while driving on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, my wife Rumi and I spotted first, a herd of elk eating along a distant treeline, and second,  a mother black bear and cub before they disappeared into the roadside bush.

There have been near-misses, such as the LP-sized pawprint of a higuma Hokkaido brown bear (a kind of grizzly), still crumbling from freshness, on a trail through head-high bamboo grass in a remote, mist-shrouded wetland in Hokkaido’s Daisetsuzan National Park…

And oh yeah: a chamois on a grassy meadow in Murren, Switzerland, apparently startled that anyone would venture outside in a snowfall. in July.

But you get the idea. Despite years of camping, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and otherwise spending time out of doors, I have had very few large game encounters.

All of which is a lead-up to this video, shot by remote camera in Alberta, which shows what I’ve been missing: