Mountains and Rocks

I have done several long hikes this season, once the legs are in shape its hard to stop, each day off I want to get out. Long gone the days when I wanted to summit peaks, it’s about the passes now, providing better opportunities for photography. A few weeks back it was time to do Molar Pass, or was it going to be North Molar Pass or perhaps both. When hiking with friends, its at group pace. But if I’m hiking on my own, then I go as fast I can. Only stopping along the way to take pictures, food breaks are reward, only received when I cover a certain distance. As I got to the junction for the two passes, I decided to head north, it was longer and if I felt good on my way back I may cover Molar Pass as well. About 10 kms into the hike, I had left the trees behind and was walking through a beautiful high alpine meadow full of flowers. Missed the prime time for the wildflowers by about a week, still, it was not too bad. With ten-minute break, I headed up to the North Molar Pass. The pass is known for its heavy winds, they were there with cold and received few snowflakes on the way up and on the way down.


At 2590 meters above sea level, it was a cold morning on the North Molar Pass, I layered up and headed back down. Legs were doing well, it looked good for Molar Pass. As I was getting close to the junction point for the two passes, met a familiar face who was heading for camping and climbing in the back country. Soon after I reached the junction point, with no stopping, I was ascending to Molar Pass. Less flowers on this route, but more pika and marmots could be seen and heard. Got up to the pass and then went a little further to reach the high point. On the way back, I saw the picture I wanted to take as I kept count of pika and marmots in my head. With the clouds, the light was great during early afternoon. Found rock garden surrounded by grass and flowers, with the peaks in the distance, I got my picture for that day. Drank some water and headed to the trail head, second food break was going to be few kms from the end on a rock next to small water falls. It was a great day.

Rocks and Mountains 190913 Amar Athwal.jpg

Ottertail Range

Anyone who hikes in the mountains is fully aware of switchbacks and to get to Burgess Pass in Yoho NP, 52 switchbacks needed to be covered over 7.5km.  That was the route from near the Trans-Canada Highway. There was an easier way to get there, but not as fun. The goal was to get to the pass and then hop over to Yoho Pass.  The weather for that morning was the clouds would be moving out and the blue sky moving in. But, the weather forecast in the mountains does not always goes as planned. The rain kept company most of the hike to the pass, with a few small breaks. It was light rain, so the waterproof jacket stayed in the pack. Only breaks along the way to the pass was to take pictures when the light would peak through. One such moment was the view of the Ottertail Range, partially covered with clouds and lit up by the morning light. In the valley below the freight train was heading east, leaving Fields B.C. Its views like this why hiking is a great.

Ottertail Range 190906 Amar Athwal.jpg

Bald Eagle and a Red-winged Blackbird

Still my favourite part of nature is when I get a nice surprise, the more I get out there the more surprises I encounter. I had gone for a drive after dinner, it was a quiet evening, but always good to be out. On my way back, I decided to check out the nearby lakes. On top of a dead spruce tree was an adult Bald Eagle perched. I parked my car to the side, rolled down the window and got a few pictures. Looked at the images, made a small adjustment to the setting and started taking more pictures of the eagle. To my amazement a male Red-winged Blackbird came into the frame, trying it best to harass the much larger eagle away. An adult Bald Eagle can have a wingspan of 2.3 meters and weigh up to 6.3 kg, while blackbird can a have a wingspan of 40 cm and weight up to 77 grams. The blackbird did its best to move off the eagle, the eagle just looked at the bird and stayed perched. I was all excited getting both birds in the plane of focus and could see in the image eagle’s eyes looking at the blackbird. The Red-winged Blackbird had no luck moving the eagle, but I did, getting to see and to get pictures of the small interaction between the two species.

Bald Eagle and Red-winged Blackbird 190823 Amar Athwal.jpg

Red Fox

While driving through the mountains, I decided to stop at a pull-off for a few minutes of rest. I looked straight ahead and saw something coming out of tall grass, it was a red fox. It got onto the concrete barrier and straight walking away from me. I quickly grabbed my camera and tried to get a few pictures. I did not have much luck. But to my surprise it turned around and started walking toward me on the same barrier. This time I had better luck.

Red Fox 190820 Amar Athwal.jpg

Grizzly Bear

The evening I saw this female grizzly and her two one year old cubs, it was a peaceful as it could have been. The whole family was eating in a small open field and the cubs got to nurse a couple of times. Just the day before it was the opposite. During the first year with her first cubs, this female covered a much smaller area, playing it safe. But this year she’s covering more of the area as she did on her own and with her sister and her then famous mother F72.

The day before she was near a campground, strong food smell attracted her to a tent. A camper was inside the tent, she was trying to figure out what to do as she stood on her hind legs with her front paws putting weight on the top of the tent. Luckily for the unaware camper inside the tent, who did not know what was going outside until sounds from other camper’s vehicles and their yelling moved the grizzly and her two cubs away.  The camper, unzipped the tent looked back while standing on his knees. Once seeing what was touching his tent, he put his hand over his heart and was grateful it was only a scare and learned a very important lesson from the bear and Parks Canada. A tent is not a good place to secure your food from wildlife.

Everyone was happy the grizzly and her cubs did not get any human food reward, including the members of the wildlife team that have been looking after the nine year old grizzly when she was a cub herself. Colleagues kept a close watch on her for the next few days. 

The grizzly and her two cubs are having quite the adventures this season. Including one adventure that seem to be pulled right out of the famous Parks Canada’s kid book “A Beary, Berry Good Day”. Always up to something, the large male grizzly M136 near a different campground was trying to go after the two cubs. In the end he was not successful, but was able to scare one of the cub away from its family. The cub was heard crying by a campers at night, but all ended well as the family was back together again the following day. This picture of a peaceful moment was taken last months, since then they had many more 

Grizzly 190816 Amar Athwal.jpg

Black Bear

It seems the black bears are tired this summer being 2nd best. They are out there in force, being spotted regularly in the front country for several weeks now. Colleagues dealing with wildlife calls dealing with young, old and mothers with cubs. Black bears are doing far better and have greater numbers and can be found in far more places across North America. More of the visitors who visit the mountains have seen a black bear already, far fewer have ever come across a brown bear in their life. Brown bears have far smaller range from their historic land they called home. The brown bear here in Banff as many other places is studied, to help them be more successful on the landscape. And when grizzlies are successful on the landscapes, it also means a vast amount of flora and fauna are doing very well on the same land. I always have to remind myself, the black bear does not care that the grizzlies are getting more attention, they only care that they have a place where they can be wild. Here’s a beautiful black bear that was easily moving through an area that needed two prescribed burns to help create habitat that both bears can call home.

Black Bear 190809 Amar Athwal.jpg

Barred Owl

I had gone for an evening drive, came across a large grizzly, separated by a stand of trees. The bear was busy digging for food, a couple of vehicles stopped with a few people trying to get pictures. I slowed down to identify the grizzly and then kept driving. Calling it in when I got cellular coverage, there was a good chance someone was going to get out of the vehicle to get closer. About an hour later I was coming back, when I was less than half a km from where the grizzly was spotted, I saw a large bird cross my path. By the colouring it was an owl, I saw roughly where it went up to perch in the trees to the left of me. I found a spot to pull off, got out of the car and had a good look around me, all was safe. Bear spray within easy reach I headed to see the owl. A couple of minutes later I was looking at a Barred Owl, it was toward the end of the day and it was hunting time for this owl. I backed up, took the picture and we said our goodbyes. On the way home, I located the grizzly again, he was bit hard to see, but I could still see he was digging for food. No one was in the area, I kept driving, no need to attract any attention. He was at home eating and I need to get home to eat.

Barred Owl 190802 Amar Athwal.jpg

Hoary Marmot

We’re in the midst of the hiking season, hiking up for grand views, meadows full of wildflowers and the wildlife that can be found at higher elevation. One of them is the hoary marmot. The largest member of the squirrel family, hibernates most of the year, from seven to eight months of the years. They spent lots of time eating, as they need to live off their fat during winter and also a lot of time spent sitting on rocks and taking in the heat. I got an early start to reach the area where I might be able to see marmots before the light got too harsh. After an hour of strong hiking I reached the place. Sat down and waited for the marmots to start coming out, it did not take long. All together, I saw at least 12 different marmots, heard and saw 3 pikas, one male mountain goat and several species of birds. A very good morning.

Hoary Marmot 190726 Amar Athwal.jpg

Round-leaved Orchid

Another wildflower beauty that's worth getting closer to the ground for. Round-leaved Orchids season has passed in the mountains here, but I enjoyed coming across them on many of my walks and hikes. On one occasion I was trying to take pictures of a bird, but most of my attention was focused on not stepping on these beautiful orchids. In the end the best picture I got was of this orchid flowers.

Round leaved Orchid 190722 Amar Athwal.jpg