Posted by: erichiggs | June 18, 2016

Back in the mountains again!

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The 2016 team nearly blown away at Grande Cache–Kristen Walsh, Eric Higgs, Mary Sanseverino, Julie Fortin, Rick Arthur, and Sandra Frey

The Mountain Legacy Project is back in the field for 2016. We are working on a variety of priority repeat photographs along the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies.

The core field team comprises Rick Arthur, our liaison with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, and Sandra Frey and Julie Fortin, both graduate students at UVic’s School of Environmental Studies.

Training began at UVic on June 2nd with a two-day intensive workshop led by Mary Sanseverino on photography, image processing, and repeat photography. We were joined by Kristen Walsh and Rick Arthur at the Elbow Fire Base near Bragg Creek, Alberta, on June 9th. Kristen was team leader in 2014, and spent the 2015 field season conducting interviews with fire tower lookouts for her graduate research project on the cultural experiences of wind. She provided extensive advice to this year’s field team on preparation for all the demands of repeat photography in the mountains. Rick Arthur arranged for hover exit and 2-way radio certification for the team, and guided us through the many dimensions of safety around helicopters and protocols for communications with AAF ground staff.

While the six of us were in the field together we managed several practice photography stations, and attempted a hike to King Creek Ridge in Kananaskis Country, where we were pinned down at the summit by a series of snow squalls. Relocating to Grande Cache Fire Base on June 13th, we were again beset by unsettled weather. On the 15th, the day that Kristen, Mary and I pointed out vehicle west for Victoria, the winds were gusting to 90 kms and the power went out. It was an auspicious beginning to what we hope will be a productive and enjoyable field season. With the hot, dry spring weather that helped to produce the devastating Fort McMurray fire, anything is possible. Fingers crossed.

 

–Eric Higgs

 

Posted by: nclgoodman | September 3, 2014

Season’s end

Well, we’re back in Victoria–a thousand kilometres and a serious road trip away.  The team has spent all day, every day of this past week in the MLP lab entering the hard drives upon hard drives of data we’ve collected (100 stations in all!) into our project database.  It’s quite the change of pace to go from flying around in helicopters and climbing mountains every day to sitting still in the lab, but it’s given us plenty of time for reflection on the amazing summer we’ve had and some of the lessons we’ve learned.  

One fun (and informative) discussion that we’ve had is a review of some of the stations we found the most challenging.  You may think that the life of a repeat survey photographer is all fun and games, but it’s not all amazing hikes and easy stations!  We’ve certainly had several stations that have pushed us to our limits (or at least out of our comfort zones) in a variety of ways.  In no particular order, here are a few of our top picks.

Fisher Peak: This was one of the last stations we did, late in August.  The weather had taken a turn for the worse, with very low cloud and fog.  Flying conditions were poor, but as it was our last chance to attempt this station we went out into the fog anyway, in hopes that the forecast of afternoon clear skies would come true (it didn’t.)  It was a steep, slippery, two-hour scree scramble to the cairn, and although the brief glimpses we could catch through the fog confirmed that it was in fact our station, for the most part visibility was about 20m.  Nicole and Rick bundled up and sat (mostly) uncomplaining) in the cold drizzle for an hour willing the sky to clear in vain before beginning the knee-destroying scramble back.  It was a long and tiring day to not complete a station!

The one and only image taken from Fisher Peak.

The one and only image taken from Fisher Peak. Photo credit: Rick Arthur

Station 530 (near the Jasper Park boundary) was a difficult weather station in a different way.  When Tanya and Kristen were dropped off (by helicopter), the ominous thunderclouds were a safe distance away.  However, the storm came amazingly fast and even though the girls were keeping an eye on the sky the whole time, the storm cell was right on top of them in what seemed like no time at all.  Thunder and lightning filled the canyon they were overlooking, and the air was filled with sparks. The situation was dangerous enough that the two scrambled (as fast as you can in wet steep scree) down the mountain for a full hour before they were safely out of the storm, a situation made even scarier by the total lack of radio comms on the way down.  They were eventually able to get a bump back up and complete the station, but it was a bit of a scary experience!

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A long way down! Photo credit: Kristen Walsh

Another difficult station was the aptly named Obstruction Mountain.  This mountain had nowhere flat, and the only possible landing site was on a snowfield nearly two hours of difficult scrambling below the summit.  Rick and Vladka were rewarded for their troubles with one of the season’s most difficult shooting locations.  The ridgetop didn’t have a flat spot anywhere, and was steep unstable scree down one side and a sheer terrifying drop to the other.  The team tiptoed around the cairn, holding on for dear life!  On the way down the team realized that the winds had changed and that their drop-off point was no longer safe for a pickup, and they had to climb down a different way.  This meant leaving behind some gear that had been left at the drop-off spot to reduce weight for the climb.  Although this gear was later retrieved (thanks to an epic hover-exit into some snowdrifts on Vladka’s part) it was a good reminder that( even with the best mountain pilots) you have to be flexible.

Vladka, precariously perched.   Photo credit:  Rick Arthur

Vladka, precariously perched. Photo credit: Rick Arthur

What have we learned?  There’s nothing we can do about the weather (except watch the sky and be ready to run).  Try not to look down.  Watch where you put your feet.  Don’t trust rocks.  Helicopters are cool.  Helicopters are dangerous.  Just because you’re in vast landscapes doesn’t mean that you don’t need personal space.  The rocks in our historic photos don’t move, except when sometimes they do.  Don’t try and tough out fatigue.  Remember to turn your radio back on when you get out of the helicopter.  Don’t trust rocks!    

What are we grateful for?  We’re grateful for the amazing experience we’ve had, the support we’ve received, and the excellent team we had.  In particular, we’d really like to put out a special thank you to Rick Arthur (Father Fire, Ranger Rick, Grandpa Rock).  Rick was the unofficial 5th member of our team, coming out with us almost every day.  Thanks to him, we were able to field two teams most days while still staying on top of our mountains of processing and prep work.  Rick’s wealth of experience was an amazing resource, and made our lives a lot easier (particularly with respect to logistics, helicopter landing sites, and local geography).  Rick was a mentor to all of us, and always made our days better with his dry sense of humour, wise remarks, fatherly advice, and steady stream of fun facts about fire (none of us will ever forget the 4 characteristics common to fatality fires!).  He also carried the tripod, an awkward and ungainly beast, with constant good humour.  Rick and his wife Nathene showed us some amazing hospitality, and we felt like part of their family for the summer.

Nicole, Rick, Tanya, Vladka and Kristen enjoying a fun day of short rope training and delightful company.  Photo credit:  Brent Davis

Nicole, Rick, Tanya, Vladka and Kristen enjoying a fun day of short rope training and delightful company. Photo credit: Brent Davis

We’re also grateful to everyone else at the ESRD (duty officers, camp managers, cooks, pilots, mountain experts, friendly firefighters), UVic (wise professors and irrepressible coworkers) and everyone we ran into along the way who helped, supported and encouraged us.  It’s been an amazing summer, and we couldn’t have done it alone!

Nested within this exceptional field season has been the completion of my master’s thesis fieldwork, currently titled 130 years of change: an analysis of vegetation patterns and fluvial geomorphology of the Bow and Elbow watersheds.

It was the compelling accounts of last year’s floods (June 2013), when up to 270mm of rain fell within three days, leading to severe debris flows and floods, that led me to a deeper exploration of the processes at play within the Bow and Elbow watersheds.  More broadly, I was keen to undertake a master’s project that would have practical application, linking research with policy.  One of the biggest challenges of our time is, after all, the effective conservation and management of our freshwater.  

Before I jump into my research questions, I thought I would share a particularly compelling passage I recently read in Robert William Sandford’s book, “Cold Matters The State and Fate of Canada’s Fresh Water”:

If we include all the water frozen in permanent snow, glaciers and permafrost, Canada possesses almost 20 per cent of all the fresh water on earth. In some ways, however, this is a highly deceiving statistic. The fact is that because this water is trapped as ice or is found in deep lakes left over from earlier, colder periods in our planet’s history, it becomes available to us only once: when it melts. Water produced by the natural hydrological cycle, on the other hand, renews itself annually. When we subtract that water from out total supply we discover that Canada actually possesses only about6.5 per cent of the water that circulates through the global hydrological cycle each year (…) the water stored in snow and ice in Canada is disappearing far faster than we expected. The amount of water made available to us each year through the hydrological cycle is also changing, as is the ratio of how much precipitation falls as rain instead of snow. While one might not think this matters, it does (…) (Sandford 2012:2). 

In the context of these rapidly changing conditions, I pose 2 distinct questions:

  • What patterns of vegetation change can be detected across the Bow and Elbow watersheds using computer-assisted classification of historical and repeat oblique photographs over the past 130 years? 
  • Are there changes in the form of the Bow and Elbow rivers that suggest an evolution in fluvial geomorphologic processes (i.e. can we detect planform changes on the Bow and Elbow Rivers between 1880 and 2014 using oblique and air photographs)? 

The view from Mt. Lawrence Grassi

The view from Mt. Lawrence Grassi in 1888

I will be using a sample of this summer’s work, as well as that of past MLP field seasons, to address the first question, looking at vegetation change. This will be the first graduate project to use Frederic Jean (post-doc in computer science at UVic)’s recently developed software named P.O.T.A.T.O.E.S. (polygon optimization tool and texture outlining expert system).  This software allows me to map and calculate the percent cover change of different habitat types throughout the landscape – exciting! 

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The same view, now including the town of Canmore, from 2008

The geomorphology inquiry, which will assess channel changes in both the Bow and Elbow, will be based on aerial images, LIDAR data as well as a sub-set of oblique images. There are roughly 20 stations that were completed this summer specifically for my research, as they are third views (meaning the historical photographs had already been repeated in 2008 or 2009, but we returned a third time). The logic behind this is to have a pre and post 2013 flood dataset. I will first digitize channel changes using the aerial photographs and LIDAR data, then explore those changes in greater detail using the oblique photographs. My hope is that the act of combining these different sources, representing a significant temporal period (100+years) will yield interesting results on the evolution of these rivers over the past century.  Naturally I will link my findings, in due time, with their associated implications for watershed management.

And again from 2014

And again from 2014

I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to nest my research within the broader MLP field season, and to have such a great team (Vladka Lackova-Gat, Kristen Walsh, Nicole Goodman, Rick Arthur, Rob Watt, Mary Sanseverino and Michael Whitney) to support me in gathering the photographs from my stations of interest and sharing their thoughts, advice and wisdom along the way. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the following individuals who have been (and continue to be) invaluable mentors: Fred Roots, Frank Duerden, and Matthias Jakob.  I was fortunate enough to meet with the flooding expert group (engineers) for the town of Canmore, and extend my appreciation to them for their time, feedback and willingness to share historical photographs/data.  The same gratitude goes to BGC Engineering in Vancouver, whose team I have and will be working with over the coming months on the digitization of channel changes. 

I would like to extend a special thanks to the Mountain Legacy Project for the opportunity to embark on this field season and utilize the photographs and necessary softwares for my research, as well as Alberta ESRD for their generous direct and in-kind support for the Mountain Legacy Project, which made this field season possible in the first place. 

Finally, I extend my gratitude to Eric Higgs, my supervisor, and Brian Starzomski, for the continuous support since the start of the program. I look forward to seeing how the results unfold, and extend an invitation to all readers to offer any thoughts/ideas/feedback as a comment on this blog post. 

— Tanya Taggart-Hodge

­It’s hard to believe that it’s mid-August already! We wrapped up in Shunda, spent a few days back at the Elbow camp near Bragg Creek, and are now staying in an old ranger cabin at Kananaskis Boundary.

Our last wee­k in Shunda included stations in the White Goat Wilderness and the Siffleur Wilderness.  Also, with the support of Parks Canada we were able to make it into some stations in Jasper National Park, which was very exciting!  We are also lucky enough to be able to spend a day out with Bruce Mayer (ESRD assistant deputy minister) and Hugh Boyd (executive directory of wildfire management) in a burned out area of fire 34, a large 2014 prescribed burn. The shooting conditions were less than ideal due to residual smoke and haze, but such a recent burn was a fascinating environment to be in, especially with so much ESRD expertise to add to the experience. We had a great day with Bruce and Hugh, and we are sure that future generations of MLP with be greatful for Hugh’s enthusiasm for cairn-building!

Another interesting facet of working out of the Shunda camp was getting to work on surveys by my personal favourite surveyor – M.P. Bridgland.  Bridgland was a cofounder of the Alpine Club of Canada and an excellent mountaineer, as the precarious perches of some our stations testify to.  Although following Bridgland around means some pretty intense climbs and scrambles, it’s exciting to be in the footsteps of a famous mountaineer!

Tanya and Vladka on the final ascent to a station in Jasper National Park.  Photo credit:  Rick Arthur

Tanya and Kristen on the final ascent to a station in Jasper National Park. Photo credit: Rick Arthur

Nicole and Kristen in an epic boulder slope on the way down from a station near the Jasper National Park border.  Photo Credit:  Rick Arthur

Nicole and Kristen in an epic boulder slope on the way down from a station near the Jasper National Park border. Photo Credit: Rick Arthur

However, working with Bridgland means the mind game of working with cairns. What are cairns? They are large, obviously unnatural piles of rocks that are built to mark spots. Many surveyors leave them behind to mark their survey locations, and although many of them have been dismantled by generations of hikers in more remote areas most of them are still standing nearly a century later.  Based on the stations we’ve done of his, Bridgland was an ambitious cairn-builder – some of the ones we’ve found are 7 feet tall and 4 or 5 feet in diameter – and due to the remoteness of the area of his 1928 survey almost all of them are still entirely intact. They are great markers and easy to see from the air, which is good.  However, because almost all of the Bridgland stations have multiple locations (facing out in different directions from different sides of plateaus) most of his cairns do not mark the actual spot, and instead mark what he must have thought of as some kind of weighted average of locations.  Trying to deduce from his cairns where his locations might actually have been and what he was thinking when he built that marker required a lot of putting ourselves into his shoes, and for me personally it was really a novel experience to try to put myself so directly into the mind of someone from the past.  

On the rare occasions that cairns are right where the photos were taken from, the cruel irony is that they are right where the photos were taken from.  Taking a photo from the middle of a huge pile of rocks is no easy feat.   When the cairns are too big for us to awkwardly perch over top of (as Bridgland’s cairns almost always are), we are loath to dismantle historic landmarks and so generally settle of having two or three or several locations from all around the edges of the cairns.  Sometimes with cairns you just can’t win!

An uncomfortable Kristen crammed up against the cairn for a good shot.  Photo credit:  Nicole Goodman

An uncomfortable Kristen crammed up against the cairn for a good shot. Photo credit: Nicole Goodman

Another thing I’d like to mention in this post is how nice it is to have been in this forestry community for long enough to be seeing familiar faces as we move around.  Two of the people we ran into in Shunda we were very happy to see, and they deserve a lot of credit for how successful we’ve been over the past couple weeks!

The first is our amazing pilot Paul.  Paul is a fantastic mountain pilot, and without him we would never have been able to land in a lot of the places we needed to go.  Paul always made us feel very safe when we were flying with him, even after he had dropped us off he would always radio us whenever we were anywhere with a difficult climb.  It was a great feeling knowing that someone was keeping an eye on us from the air, especially someone that we liked and got along with so well.

The team and Paul (centre).  Photo credit:  nice mystery Shunda firefigher

The team and Paul (centre). Photo credit: nice mystery Shunda firefigher

The other person is Keith, our cook from the Elbow who was also filling in for a week at Shunda. Keith (and his always-smiling fiancée Lisa-Ann) were always so friendly and accommodating that they really improved our camp experience. They accommodated our dietary quirks, didn’t mind that we were almost always late for dinner, and we always happy to chat at the start and end of the day. They are getting married this fall, and we wish them all the best!

Keith and Lisa-Ann in the Elbow Camp kitchen.  Photo credit:  Nicole Goodman

Keith and Lisa-Ann in the Elbow Camp kitchen. Photo credit: Nicole Goodman

Now that it’s getting into late August, we’re starting to deal with late-season issues such as fatigue, bodily wear and tear, and some colder and cloudier weather. However, we are hoping to get in a few more productive days before starting the journey home!

Waiting for the fog to clear on Fisher Peak.  Photo credit:  Rick Arthur

Waiting for the fog to clear on Fisher Peak. Photo credit: Rick Arthur

Posted by: vladimiralackova | August 11, 2014

Icefield highway and welcome to Shunda Fire Base in Clearwater County

After a beautiful week in Willmore and our last picturesque flight there over glaciers (with Mt. Robson looming in the background) we were ready to move once again. This time we headed to our third location of this summer–Shunda Fire Base in Clearwater area, between Nordegg and Rocky Mountain House on Highway 11.

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Willmore with Mt. Robson in the background.

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Scenic flight over the glaciers.

The last time driving on the Icefield highway we had a rainy day, so we decided to take the same route down south to take advantage of the beautiful sunny day.  We made several scenic stops on the way, enjoying canyons, rivers, and waterfalls, and especially the Colombia Icefields and dominant Athabasca glacier. We even got to walk on the glacier!

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Athabasca river close to Jasper.

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Mighty Athabasca Falls.

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Stairs to Athabasca canyon.

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Black bear just across the highway.

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Jasper Lake.

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Colombia Icefield with impressive Athabasca glacier.

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Impressive and sadly disappearing Athabasca glacier.

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Melting glaciers.

After passing Saskatchewan crossing and heading east, we drove through a burnt area followed by a smoky forest that was still ablaze. It was a great experience for us to finally see fire fighters and helicopters with bambi buckets in action.

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Fire 34 in Siffleur Wilderness Area.

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Prescribed burn from 2009.

Shunda welcomed us big time with a huge thunderstorm, hail and a lovely double rainbow. The weather here is unpredictable (to say the least!) and we can never tell from the morning what kind of storms the afternoon and evening will bring.

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Abraham Lake with a thunder cloud in the background.

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Thunderstorm passing through.

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Shunda welcomed us with double rainbow.

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Getting ready for the storm at our station while waiting for the helicopter to pick us up.

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Hail in Nordegg even caused some damage.

On our first weekend here we had a visitor–Chris Gat, who has been involved with MLP for the last 5 years.  Chris is the developer of our project database and our interactive website (www.explore.mountainlegacy.ca).  He also spent the summer of 2009 on the MLP field crew, so it was great for him to get back into the field with us for a day!  He joined us on one of the more scenic stations over Pinto Lake, with glaciers around and a sheer drop below us.

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Pinto Lake at White Goat Wilderness area on the border with Banff National Park.

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Chris enjoying an amazing view from our station. The drop was pretty scary.

After an excellent introduction day to this area we finally took our first weekend off and (what a surprise) we decided to go back to the mountains for an overnight hike and some much needed time off.

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White Goat Wilderness Area.

We were lucky enough to have helicopter support every day last week and have visited many beautiful stations with glacier views. Seeing how much all of these glaciers have shrunk since the 1928 survey is sobering, and is reminding us how important this work is. This photos are taken only 86 years apart.

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Posted by: nclgoodman | July 30, 2014

A week in the Willmore

What a great week! Tomorrow we are leaving the Entrance fire camp, where we arrived one week ago to begin working on repeating our Miller 1928 survey in the amazing Willmore Wilderness Park.
The week got off to a fun start with a road trip fro the Elbow Camp to Entrance (near Hinton, total distance ~500km). Even though in a cruel twist of fate our road trip day just so happened to fall upon the rainiest and foggiest day of the season so far, we had a great time on our scenic drive! We saw Lake Louise, the Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Icefields, and what felt to this dinner-desiring passenger like hundreds of lakes and waterfalls.

The Athabasca Glacier, impressive even in the fog.  Photo credit:  Vladka Lackova-Gat

The Athabasca Glacier, impressive even in the fog. Photo credit: Vladka Lackova-Gat

Upon arriving at the Entrance Camp we were all very pleasantly surprised by the great food, comfy mattresses, and the big fire pit overlooking the river. However, the biggest surprise was yet to come — a helicopter dedicated to just our team! With the help of our awesome pilot Mark and Nick the engineer we reached a personal best for productivity, completing all 20 of our original Miller stations in just 3 days.

Tanya and Vladka, preparing to shoot.  Photo credit:  Rick Arthur

Tanya and Vladka, preparing to shoot. Photo credit: Rick Arthur

 

Nicole and Kristen smiling for Rick on the way back to the helicopter.  Photo credit:  Rick Arthur

Nicole and Kristen smiling for Rick on the way back to the helicopter. Photo credit: Rick Arthur

Doing so many stations so quickly has left us with huge amounts of processing and prep work in the office so we’ve been extremely busy, but even so we’ve managed a few fun field trips, in clouding a soak for our sore muscles in the Miette hot springs in Jasper National Park.
A note on the Willmore Wilderness – it is a rare combination of stunningly beautiful and entirely devoid of people.

These two dots are Tanya and Vladka.  The Willmore is big!  Photo credit:  Rick Arthur

These two dots are Tanya and Vladka. The Willmore is big! Photo credit: Rick Arthur

The park is closed to all vehicle traffic, so except for one horse camp we didn’t see anyone (either on the ground or from the air) for the whole five days we worked there. I would say that being in the Willmore is like stepping back in time, but it’s more than that – being in the Willmore is a reminder that our entire idea of what time means is small, and that without humans around human perceptions of time are meaningless. It is likely that very few people have been to some of our stations (some of them nearly an hour into the Wilderness by helicopter) since the original surveyors. As Mark (our pilot) commented today, “this is wild country – about as wild as it gets,” and we are all feeling incredibly privileged.

A view from our morning commute.  Photo credit:  Vladka Lackova-Gat

A view from our morning commute. Photo credit: Vladka Lackova-Gat

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More helicopter views. Photo credit: Vladka Lackova-Gat

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The Willmore is beautiful! Photo credit: Rick Arthur

 

Posted by: Kristen Walsh | July 22, 2014

Extinguishing the haze around repeat photography

Although we have been busy bees since our arrival in the picturesque Kananaskis Country, forest fires from nearly all directions (BC to the West, Grand Cache and the NWT to the North and Oregon and Montana to the South) produced a thick haze in the air, temporarily slowing our photography endeavors for the past few days. It has made space for us to catch up on behind the scenes work- processes we thought would be fun to share on our blog.

Vladka Lackova-Gat shooting on a Hazy day

Vladka Lackova-Gat shooting on a Hazy day

The Mountain Legacy Project tracks long-term landscape change through a scientific and inherently interdisciplinary technique called repeat photography. Changes in vegetation growth, glacier retraction or watershed formations (like the case of Tanya’s research) in response to human induced and unprecedented climate change are a few examples of processes captured by repeat photography. So here’s a little snapshot of how we go about repeat photography in our everyday work:

Vladka Lackova-Gat and Nicole Goodman (on the camera). Cairns, a pile of rocks to mark a route, were often used in survey methodology to mark a specific survey location

Vladka Lackova-Gat and Nicole Goodman (on the camera). Cairns, a pile of rocks to mark a route, were often used in survey methodology to mark a specific survey location

Working from historic Library and Archives Canada images of systematic photos taken by Surveyors in the late 1800s to early 1900s in order to map the Canadian Rocky Mountains, we set out, either on foot or in the helicopter, to a survey station (normally found at the mountain top). To locate the survey station, we use a Garmin GPS, affectionately known to the 2014 crew as “le gamin”. Helicopter landings on high mountain peaks often require what’s called a “hover exit” (the helicopter has to maintain full power and usually cannot place both skids fully on the ground), a training that we received this past week. We also got our radio operators certification, allowing us to stay safe and connected throughout our days in the mountains.

Rick Arthur (A.k.a. Ranger Rock) performing a liver hover exit at Frozen Lake

Rick Arthur (A.k.a. Ranger Rock) performing a liver hover exit at Frozen Lake

We've gotten to know some friendly pilots and fire fighters

We’ve gotten to know some friendly pilots and fire fighters

Once we’ve summited or located our survey location, we use a printed copy of a historic image to locate the exact location, height and angle to set up our tripod. Although this process may seem relatively straightforward, centimeters count and a significant amount of time can be spent trying to line up a historic image in a landscape that has experienced a hundred years of change! Alas a good chunk of our time is spent in the mountain peaks. Cold weather or an incoming storm can occasionally speed this process up a little…

[Left to right] Kristen Walsh, Mandy Arnaud and Nicole Goodman lining up historic photos and preparing field notes

[Left to right] Kristen Walsh, Mandy Arnaud and Nicole Goodman lining up historic photos and preparing field notes

Tanya Taggart-Hodge reflecting on our survey station location

Tanya Taggart-Hodge reflecting on our survey station location

We also measure the weather (temperature, wind, relative humidity, altitude, etc) to include in our field notes. These field notes are pivotal to understanding the context the photo was taken and also leave a trail of information for future generations who may want to go back and revisit these spots embedded with legacy.

Kristen Walsh measuring the wind speed; Eric Higgs behind the camera

Kristen Walsh measuring the wind speed; Eric Higgs behind the camera on Forget-Me-Not Ridge

At the end of a day in the field, data entry begins and the preparation of our next days images, route finding, checking weather forecasts, etc. Technical skills aside, yoga has also made its way into our routine, providing ease in those difficult to maneuver tripod shooting positions. Thai massage is in the near forecast too!

Morning yoga at the helipad

Morning yoga at the Elbow fire base helipad

This project is exposing us to some challenging mountaineering situations and solid skills training. Yesterday we joined Brent Davis, an experienced alpinist and ESRD employee, for some short rope training and mountaineering basics (like tying good knots!)

[Left to right] Rick Arthur, Brent Davis (alpine instructor), Nicole Goodman, Tanya Taggart-Hodge and Vladka Lackova-Gat

[Left to right] Rick Arthur, Brent Davis (alpine instructor), Nicole Goodman, Tanya Taggart-Hodge and Vladka Lackova-Gat at the Wasootch Slabs

[Rick Arthur, Vladka Lackova-Gat] The Rocky Mountains are notoriously “easy crumbling”. We will likely be yelling “rock” lot this summer, when throwing loose pieces over the ridge.

[Rick Arthur, Vladka Lackova-Gat] The Rocky Mountains are notoriously “easy crumbling”. We will likely be yelling “rock” lot this summer, when throwing loose pieces over the ridge.

 All in all, repeat photography is providing all crew members with a great skill set, in addition to fun mountaineering skills. We are very grateful.

Refined egg cracking technique

Refined egg cracking technique

Posted by: taggarthodge | July 16, 2014

Our dream job

Sitting in a sparkling blue Bell-407, earmuffs over our heads, microphones at our mouths, hands wrapped tightly around our printed photographs, maps and GPS, peering down at the mountain peeks below – it is hard to believe this constitutes our daily work! Even though we have settled into a groove over the past week, this adventure never seizes to amaze us. For this, and for all of the support that we receive every day, we are extremely grateful.

[From left to right] Kristen Walsh, Mary Sanseverino, Mandy Annand (former MLP member visiting for the day), Vladka Lackova, and Rick Arthur).

[From left to right] Kristen Walsh, Mary Sanseverino, Mandy Annand (former MLP member visiting for the day), Vladka Lackova, and Rick Arthur).

We were delighted to have the opportunity to head into Bears Paw (ESRD headquarters in Calgary) on Friday to be put to work on a very unique task: the making of over 3,000 pancakes in honour of the Bertie Beaver breakfast. While Eric and Mary were phenomenal at sharing MLP’s work with visitors of all ages, the rest of us flipped pancakes for hours, energized by the opportunity to meet a number of ESRD employees with whom we had only communicated by phone or radio to date.

 

Nicole Goodmand on flipping duties

Nicole Goodmand on flipping duties

Kristen Walsh checking on the pancakes, getting ready to stamp over 1,400 visitors (who would have imagined there would be such a turnout!)

Kristen Walsh checking on the pancakes, getting ready to stamp over 1,400 visitors (who would have imagined there would be such a turnout!)

Speaking of communications, we have all become quite accustomed to constant radio check-ins, helicopter call signs and the phonetic alphabet, which I was found guilty of reciting during my sleep on one occasion. “Roger that”, “How on that” and “Wilco” are now part of our everyday vocabulary.

[Left to Right] Tanya Taggart-Hodge and Vladka Lackova flying with the door off; Vladka as the “Station whisperer” and Tanya as the Photographer

[Left to Right] Tanya Taggart-Hodge and Vladka Lackova flying with the door off; Vladka as the “Station whisperer” and Tanya as the Photographer

Monday was a particularly eventful day for both MLP teams. Mary, Vladka and I made our first hover exit on the southwest ridge of Mt. Chester, which we then proceeded to climb (Summit 10,020ft). A thunderstorm rolled in quickly however, forcing us off the summit almost as soon as we’d arrived.

[Left to right] Mary Sanseverino and Vladka Lackova on the Summit of Mt.Chester, thunder in the distance

[Left to right] Mary Sanseverino and Vladka Lackova on the Summit of Mt.Chester, thunder in the distance

Although there were multiple hypotheses as to where the name “Mt. Indefatigable” originated (optimists believing it was linked to hikers never becoming fatigued, whilst pessimists felt it was rather the mountain that never ended), the pessimists prevailed.

[Left to Right] Nicole Goodman and Kristen Walsh on Mt.Indefatigable

[Left to Right] Nicole Goodman and Kristen Walsh on Mt.Indefatigable. Good thing they got a ‘bump’ (helicopter) for this one!

Unfortunately the picture-perfect weather we experienced over the first 10 days has been replaced by haze coming from a number of wildfires in B.C. and Alberta. The work has continued in full force nevertheless, with ML1 at Mt.Kent and Mt. Brock and ML2 at Grotto Mt. and Mt.Baldy yesterday.

Tanya Taggart-Hodge conducting third views on Mt.Grotto, which will enable a comparative analysis of the Bow River from three temporal sets of photographs

Tanya Taggart-Hodge conducting third views on Mt.Grotto, which will enable a comparative analysis of the Bow River from three temporal sets of photographs

 

Kristen Walsh fighting off the deer flies while taking on photography duties on Mt.Kent

Kristen Walsh fighting off the deer flies while taking on photography duties on Mt.Kent

 

 

And if that was not enough action for one day, it was topped off with an encounter with big-horn sheep and a refreshing team swim in Barrier Lake.

Big-horn sheep on Mt.Baldy

Big-horn sheep on Mt.Baldy

 

Jumping in Barrier Lake after a long day of hiking

Jumping in Barrier Lake after a long day of hiking

Posted by: nclgoodman | July 9, 2014

The 2014 field season begins!

photo credit: Tanya Taggart-Hodge

Looking back at our epic route along Kananaskis Ridge

Here we are a week into the 2014 field season, and we’ve already had some great times!  The season began with a two-day road trip from Victoria, with 5 people and an impressive amount of gear jam packed into the truck.  As inevitably happens when people are within inches of each other for hours on end, we all got to know each other a little better (through extensive discussions on important topics such as ice cream, love, and the existential relativism of traffic cones).  Our odyssey ended with a pizza party at the home of Rick Arthur, our main SRD contact.  Turns out that Rick’s pizza oven (wood, fired, and approximately the size of a garden shed) is capable of cooking a pizza in under a minute, so approximately a dozen pizzas were made–a gastronomical challenge for us all!

After our SRD orientation in Calgary the next day, we jumped immediately into starting our first stations.  We began with a few low-elevation stations nearby with the full team (Eric, Mary, Rick, Tanya, Vladka, Kristen and Nicole) all together to start getting a feel for the repeat photography process.  Although these stations were easy to get to–including one we were actually able to shoot from a balcony (image), we really got a sense of the challenges that a century of tree growth can bring.

Photo credit:  Rick Arthur

A balcony with a pretty good view of our Barrier Visitor Center station!

After a few days of trying to line up our images through gaps in trees, we were all looking forward to tackling a higher station, and the next day brought just that for the whole crew after a helicopter drop onto Kannanaskis ridge (image).  Nicole, Vladka and Rick had a similar experience (including some crazy weather conditions and a 600m vertical descent down a scree slope) at Mt Burns the next day.

Photo credit:  Rick Arthur

Clouds to one side of the ridge and clear sky to the other on Mt. Burns

Although aligning the images was definitely a lot easier in the absence of any vegetation taller than a few inches, high elevation stations bring their own psychological challenges.  This is the first serious alpine work that some of our crew has done, so it’s definitely a learning curve in terms of our confidence levels.  However, we’re all starting to feel pretty capable of tacking stations on our own, which is good because Eric leaves in a few days and Mary a week after that.

We’re heading into Calgary on Friday for a pancake breakfast at the SRD office, where we’ll enjoy said pancakes and give a bit of a presentation about the work that we’re doing, followed by an afternoon at the Stampede.  I think we’re all looking forward to finally having an afternoon off (we’ve barely stopped to breathe since arriving), and rectify any packing omissions that have come to light now that we’re actually out in the field all the time.  We’re also looking forward to more amazing mountains, hikes, helicopter rides, and to a whole season of the best job ever!

Posted by: msanseve | July 7, 2014

Come Exploring with MLP

It’s the summer of 2014 and the Mountain Legacy Project has a team in the field!  But, before we bring you posts on adventures from the hills we thought it might be fun to whet your appetites for mountain images with the announcement of our map-based exploration tool: MLP Explorer. The tool is in beta right now, but we thought MLP friends, associates, and followers near and far might enjoy an early viewing.

If you have a moment, check out explore.mountainlegacy.ca and let us know what you think.

Mt. Sir Donald in Glacier National Park.

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