Posted by: stuarthiggs | December 24, 2011

Better Late Than Never

The return to Victoria, at the end of the summer field season, is always a bit of a whirl-wind.  This year was no exception.  I wouldn’t have guessed, however, that it would take four months before I found time to pull together a summary post.  Remembering them now, in these slow, rainy winter days, our summer exploits feel like a lifetime away.  The preceding blog posts provide plenty of material with which to escape the winter blues.  Ellie’s done a much better job describing our adventures than I could so I wont try to summarize highlights here.  I will, however, share a few more photos and the results from our action-packed, 32-day field season.

All told, Ellie and I drove a staggering 5000 km in our trusty EXPEDITION MAX and covered almost the entire length of the Albertan Rocky Mountains.  Along the way we worked with eight provincial and federal agencies on 12 historical surveys, repeating almost 200 images!


Field Photos:

2011 Field Report:
Coming soon!


Given the size of our crew and abridged field season, this was a huge success.  It could only have been realized with generous help of a large group of individuals.  In particular, this internationally significant work would not exist without Dr. Eric Higgs’ tireless commitment; thank you.

Thanks are also due to Alina Fisher, Rob Watt, Bruce Mayor, Rick Arthur, Dave Finn, Kevin Freehill, Gordon Glover, Bill Tinge and all the SRD Staff we had the pleaure of working with in the Foothills and Clearwater Districts.  In Glacier National Park: Sarah Boyle, Jocelyn Hirose, Greg Walker, Sylvia Forest, Eric Dafoe, Danyelle Magnan, Jacolyn Daniluck, and Nick Phillips; Mt Robson Provincial Park: Wayne Van Velzen and Hugo Mulyk; Jasper National Park:  Kelly Deagle, Greg Horne and Kim Forster. From Library and Archives Canada: Maggie McDonald, Eric Boudreau and Jill Delaney, and from the University of Alberta Libraries: Igor Jakab, Sandy Campbell and Bonnie Gallinger.

Further thanks are due to a number of individuals who contributed to the success of our work this summer.  Specifically, to the PICS funded research team of Jake Fisher (Alberta Innovates), Matthew Wheatley (Alberta Parks), Tory Stevens (BC Parks), Brian Starzomski (UVic) and Alexandra Branzan Albu (UVic).  Last, but not least, our legs are also indebted to the volunteer assistance of Chris Gat, Mandy Annand, Jenna Falk and Clare Higgs.

It was an absolute pleasure to work with everyone involved this year, especially my exceptional crew-mate, Ellie.  I look forward, excitedly, to the future of the Mountain Legacy Project!

— Stuart


Posted by: mlpellie | August 30, 2011

Mt. Robson and Home

I couldn’t leave this season’s blog without an update on our trip to repeat some images from Wheeler’s 1911 survey of Mt Robson Provincial Park. Stuart and I were joined by Chris Gat, Jenna Falk, and Claire Higgs for a 5 day, 75 km backcountry trip up the Berg Lake trail to retake images that overlook the back of Mt. Robson itself. What a trip to end the season on! Our bubble of sunshine followed us, and we managed to do this hike in the nicest weather they’ve had at the park yet this summer. We are counting ourselves very, very lucky. Rather than try to describe all of the trip, here are a couple of notes out of my journal:

Aug. 26th Robson Pass to Tatai Ridge return. We were up at 5:30 (still trying for that alpine start) and were rewarded with our first clear glimpse of the peak of Mt Robson, which has been shrouded in clouds for the past two days. The light was orange and absolutely gorgeous. Wow! We left the Robson Pass campground and headed up the Snowbird Pass trail. Stopped at the lake at the toe of the Robson Glacier and checked out (read: tasted) small chunks of floating glacial ice. From there, the trail turns up a long series of switchbacks to steadily gain elevation and bring hikers above treeline. Saw three mountaineers crossing Robson glacier, descending from an attempt to summit we think. No one has yet this year. Too much snow. As we stopped for a water break we saw an avalanche come down off the peak.

We reached snowbird pass around 12:30. Amazing! Hard to know which way to look: to the south lies Mt Robson, and to the north, the expansive Reef Icefield. Assessed our stations and realized that the one on Lynx Mtn. is inaccessible to us this trip due to snow. Maybe another year, with more equipment and different conditions. Had lunch at the pass, then set out for our remaining station, Ptarmigan Peak. Spent almost 4 hours reaching it via Tikana Peak then a long ridge walk/ scramble south along Tatai Ridge. Reached the station, which is marked by a cairn, around 4:00 and retook photos. Comparison with the Wheeler 1911 images shows that the glacier has retreated dramatically.

Finished up after 6:00 with 12 km return trip still ahead of us. It was made easier by some fantastic boot skiing down several snowfields. Wheee! We stopped for a couple of minutes in the upper meadow to admire the lowering sun on the mountain, then began our real hike out. Re-taped feet, definitely sore, but we’re all still holding up okay. Got back down the scree switchbacks just as dusk fell, stopping part way to dig out headlamps. We made pretty good time from there, gradually becoming little bobbling lights on the trail. We finally arrived back at camp tired and hungry around 10:00 – a full 17 hour day, hiking roughly 25 km and gaining ~ 4000 ft. net elevation. Everyone did so well! Can’t wait to see the photos!

Mt. Robson from Tatai Ridge. Peak furthest left is Lynx, which we weren’t able to reach this trip due to snow.

Since leaving Mt. Robson we’ve made the big turn west towards home. With our extended crew we stopped to complete some photos overlooking the Athabasca Glacier near the Columbia Icefields Centre and redid one image near Rogers Pass in better light. As I type, we are now on the ferry home. We’ll add a quick summary this year’s field season soon, but this is the last post from the field.

It’s been a fantastic month!

Posted by: mlpellie | August 21, 2011

The Windy Willmore

We’re just wrapping up a week of work in the Willmore Wilderness. What a stunning place! We were both humbled by the scale and remoteness of this landscape. For most of the past week we’ve been doing some work in the northwestern corner of the park along Sheep Creek in an area characterized by wide river valleys, forested wetlands, and large alpine meadows (key grizzly habitat).

(photo from Stuart)

There are very few signs of direct human activity here, but lots of other wildlife. We found this impressive caribou antler:

(photo from Stuart)

Even in August, it’s very green. We found out why: rain, low hanging clouds, and winds gusting over 80 km/ hour kept us grounded for much of the week. Luckily we had a comfy camp to come back to at the Grand Cache tanker base. When we did get out for a solid day of field work, we sat out a snow squall just below this peak:

It was beautiful and peaceful. (And chilly! We were glad for our layers and sil tarp). It also gave us a chance to reflect on just how challenging it must have been for the original surveyors to work through this landscape without a map. Even now access is tricky. The weather passed and work went on.

We were glad to have lots of company for our time in the Willmore. Eric Higgs was able to stay for our first several days, and we were all joined by former crew leader Mandy Annand and ecologists Jake Fisher and Matthew Weatley, who are involved in an up-and-coming project to quantify the landscape change evident in these images. We had a great (quite windy) day out! Later in the week Bruce Mayor and Bill Ting, with Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, were able to join us for a fun and productive field day. They brought better weather and a thermos of tea. So it was a great week of guests!

We did manage to get quite a lot of photos done over our 2 or 3 days of good conditions in the Willmore, but didn’t make it to several more technical stations that require sunny days and high clouds.

Stuart and I have now moved down to the Entrance fire base to do some work along the North Jasper Boundary. Yesterday we re-visited three scenic stations right along the park border originally surveyed in 1927. Here’s a heli-shot looking west taken near our third station:

In the background you can see Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Rockies. We’re headed to Mt. Robson Provincial Park next and weather permitting we’ll be repeating some photos that look right up at it.

Posted by: mlpellie | August 12, 2011

Taking Photos While the Sun Shines

Ah, back to internet connectivity. We’ve had a stretch of excellent weather and have been in the field or travelling every day. After leaving the Shunda fire base, Stuart and I spent 4 days in the foothills near High River repeating some illusive images from A.O. Wheeler’s 1899 Irrigation Survey. Over the past winter Rob Watt managed to locate a number of these photo stations by reading through Wheeler’s diaries and triangulating stations from his notes. Even better, Rob was able to join us in the field for several days to lead us to some stations and share some stories. Based on Rob’s work we were able to repeat several stations that MLP crews have struggled to find over the years. We now have photos for Marguerite Lake (aka McCaskill Lake) and Silver Lake (formerly thought to be Nanton Lake).

 Taking azimuths near Silver Lake (photo from Stuart)

After bouncing around between couches and campsites in the foothills  (thanks everyone!) we travelled up to Glacier National Park and have been staying in Rogers Pass for the last four nights. Here we caught up with Eric Higgs, project director extraordinaire (who is currently looking over my shoulder and who is of no relation to Stuart Higgs, self-declared “field lackey extraordinaire,” who is also looking over my shoulder). We also met up with Jocelyn Hirose, a glaciologist who will be using some of MLP’s repeat photos for an upcoming project with the park (stay tuned). We’ve benefited from another stretch of great weather, and have been able to repeat some very scenic survey images from Wheeler’s 1901 work.

From Abbott Ridge looking at Mt Sir Donald and Illecillewaet Glacier

Check out Mt Sir Donald on the left there: That pointy peak is one for the MLP history books, as Stuart and Jocelyn and their exceptional pilot Jaime made the second ever flight to its peak on Wednesday, complete with some reporters watching. But that’s one for Stuart to tell, so I’ll leave it to him for an upcoming blog post. (Stuart, post something about Sir Donald, okay?)

Yesterday we wrapped up work in Glacier N.P. with some lower elevation images. The Hasselblad, our big fancy camera, was acting up, but Stuart and Eric put their heads together to solve the problem. I’ve threatened to post the picture, so had better follow through:


Posted by: mlpellie | August 2, 2011

Takin’ Pics in the Clearwater

Our first week is flying by! Literally – we’ve had two days of helicopter support here and an awesome pilot who set us down right next to our stations, so we have managed to get lots done. Our first day out we were up over 9000 ft. doing two stations near the North Saskatchewan Crossing. We worked fast to try to get photos done before the weather rolled in, but we headed home for the day when it started to look like this:

Stuart was super speedy with lining up and taking photos to minimize the time the camera was exposed to the elements, but once back at the base we realized they had too many rain spots on the filter to use. Alas, we had to return to the same stations yesterday, when the view looked like this instead:

 Wilson Icefield and North Saskatchewan River.

Not a bad day! We managed 5 stations in total yesterday to wrap up all our photos in this area a couple days early. Today we’ve been catching up on office work. Weather permitting, we’ll repeat some Dowling 1904 stations near the Ya Ha Tinda ranch tomorrow then carry on south. Til then,

MLP out

Posted by: stuarthiggs | July 30, 2011

SPOT – Track Progress Function

MLP has a new toy!  This year we’re taking a SPOT personal locator along with us.  This means we have one more tool to call for help with if things go south, and also means that you can see where we go this year with its “Track Progress” function.

To follow us, visit our Spot Share page.

Now I’ll just have to remember to turn it off before we head into town for a stop at the Rocky Mountain House Saloon!


— Stuart

Posted by: mlpellie | July 29, 2011

Return to the field, 2011

Field work for 2011 has begun! After a few months of desk surfing, Stuart and I are very excited to be heading for the mountains.

We made the two-day drive from Victoria to Alberta complete with some supply purchasing, video shooting (forthcoming), geology lessons (for ellie), and mosquito hunting. We are now settled into the Shunda Fire Base near Rocky Mountain House. At this particular moment, we are camped out in the SRD office to get our internet fix. Here is a picture so you can play find-the-mlp-truck with us.

So, what next? For now we are a crew of two, but we’re looking forward to being joined by other project folk, former crew members and volunteers throughout the month. Our immediate plan, subject to weather, changes in logistics, helicopter support, and etc., is to start out the season repeating Bridgland 1927 stations here in the Clearwater district. We scoped some of them out on our drive here, and while it’s snowier than usual for August, it looks good. We’ll let you know!

In the mean time, here is a picture from where we stopped on the Icefields Parkway to pick wild strawberries.

We are off to a good start.


Posted by: mlpwill | September 19, 2010

And they packed up for the winter

Winter arrived in the rockies at the end of August, so it was time for us to pack our equipment and quit work for the summer.

Just like Bridgland and Wheeler, I have headed to Calgary for the winter to make maps after spending the summer season creating images.  I am currently working on a masters in GIS at the University of Calgary, although fortunately I did not have to take a train or horse to get here.

The rest of our crew has headed back to Victoria, and I am jealous because it has already snowed here.

Despite setbacks in the latter part of August because of smoke, snow, rain, and fog, the last week of the month was highly productive.  Clear skies (and major cold) as well as helicopter support from the Rocky District of Alberta SRD, allowed us to squeeze the last few nice days out of the summer.

At the end of the week, we had many volunteers come and join us, including our lab staff and some previous years field crew members.

So on our very last field day of 2010, we sent our new team members to some epic mountain locations, while Stuart, Lesley Winterhalt (of previous blogging fame,) and I stayed behind to prepare the base for our year end get together.

30 people joined us at the base for a cowboy barbeque, sharing of images and maps, and a mountainy good time.  The rain stopped us from going into the field, but we had an interesting indoor session on how we create repeat images.

Despite challenges along the way, including some automotive repair,

it was a highly successful summer.

We took over 900 images this summer.

Thanks to support from so many people this summer, we were able to accomplish heaps more than we had imagined.

It was a fantastic summer with Stuart Higgs and the Surveyors.

(our new band)

We sincerely hope it can happen again next year.

Keep an eye on the website as we upload more images, and a map interface in the works.

Thanks for reading!

Will McInnes

For now, here are a few repeats from this summer.

Mt. Assiniboine from the Nub,  A.O. Wheeler, 1913

Mountain Legacy Project, 2010

Glacier on W side of Assiniboine from Mt. Strom, Wheeler 1913

Mountain Legacy Project, 2010

Looking W from Mt. Strom, Wheeler, 1913

MLP, 2010

Exshaw East , J.J. McArthur, 1890 (East of Canmore)

MLP, 2010

Lake Louise East, McArthur, 1892

MLP, 2010

Sunshine Meadows, McArthur, 1890

MLP, 2010

Radium from Redstreak Mt., M.P. Bridgland, 1922

MLP, 2010

Across Red Deer River, Bridgland, 1917

MLP, 2010

Tent Mt., S of Crowsnest Pass, Wheeler, 1914

MLP, 2010

Posted by: mlpwill | August 18, 2010

A Day in the Life

Posted by: mlpwill | August 18, 2010

Meet the Crew

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