Friday, July 31, 2009

Swimming hole

For being on an island in the Pacific, the Alberni Valley is blessed with many fine freshwater swimming spots.

Here's my latest favourite. Regular dips have been a necessity lately as the temperatures have been over 35 celsius for more than a week.

This little spot is on Sproat Lake, a 3,800 hectare deep, clean body of water about 10km from town.

It's one of a group of lakes on this part of Vancouver Island that offer a change from the saltwater beaches.

Sproat Lake is home to my kayak, the Martin Mars waterbombers and at least one osprey that I've seen.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Too hot to blog

It really is, too hot to be inside, too hot to be at a computer.

I'll post a pic I've been sitting on and introduce an area I've been reading up on.

Bird intelligence.

I've been following animal intelligence research for years and more recently digging into the work on the smarty pantses of the bird world, the corvids.

This group includes ravens, crows and jays which have long been recognized as clever. Researchers now understand more about their brains.

The size of the avian brain made it difficult to explain their tool use and problem solving skills. Demonstrated behaviour that measures up there with dolphins and primates on the mammalian line.

What scientists, the mammals that they are, have been looking for is a structure akin to our frontal cortex to explain higher level mental function, but it isn't there.

Just about everything on a bird is built for flight and the brain, like other parts, couldn't get all bulky and still allow birds to get off the ground. So the way they've stored their smarts and where they've stored them is different than other animals. But it has been found.

I've read a lot of Candace Savage's writing on corvids and she says everyone has a crow story. I told this to a friend who paused briefly before saying "I don't have a crow story." Then a few minutes later she proceeded to tell someone else's crow story.

What I'd like to know is how the raptors measure up, especially the osprey.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Flora on the trail

The pink flowers in the foreground are mountain heather

growing in the alpine.

Latin name, Phyllodoce empetriformis.

Phyllodoce was a sea nymph in Greek mythology.

"These cheerful bells ring an invitation to high places above the timber line, to those serene and lofty slopes where peace and quiet enter our souls," Lewis Clark, 1976.

The spot of water visible in the distance is the west end of Great Central Lake.

Broad-leaved willow herb

also called river beauty,

or Epilobium latifolium

found on the banks of Drinkwater Creek

poking out of the rocks.

A river beauty indeed.

Indian hellebore

aka Veratrum viride

one of the most violently poisonous plants on the Northwest Coast

which was well-known by indigenous people

who also found ways to use its strength medicinally.

In this area, the Nuu-chah-nulth rubbed the mashed root on sores

or rheumatic areas to stop pain and as a general liniment.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Toads on the mountain

Aside from in my head, I didn't see a whole lot of wild life on the Della Falls trip.

This guy is the most memorable.

This western toad sat right on the trail while I took about 20 photos of it. I had my lens inches from the toad's nose at times. Didn't budge.

First time I've seen this big (up to 15 cm) species. This one was about the size of a large grapefruit.

The British Columbia Ministry of Environment website says western toads can identify predators by recognizing chemical cues they emit.

Makes me wonder if those pheremones signal intention or capability. A human would fall into predator category in terms of capability. If their identification is intention-based it could indicate that I was in an alert, hunting kind of state. Or just-a-hiker-taking-pictures state.

I'd like to learn more about that.

When I went for my evening stroll to the falls, I saw a red-tailed hawk soaring above the canyon where I camped. Always take that as a good omen. A Shuswap woman once told me I had hawk spirit, and I believe her.

I saw a baby Bewick's wren that same evening, near the base of the falls. It fluttered to a boulder just feet from my face and its parents scolded me harshly until I moved out of their range.

I imagine there was more to see, but I had my eyes to the ground a lot.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Love Lake

Okay, I'm a big hero, the Della Falls trails was easy. Ha.

After arriving at camp on day one I set up, ate and had time to walk to the base of Della Falls before sunset.

The challenging hike was up to Love Lake on day two.
The trail climbs steeply up the mountain across from Della Falls to give the best views of the 440m falls.

As I switch backed up the mountain I would spend the next three hours climbing, I looked up to a rock ledge above me and saw a black bear looking down at me.

It was way above me, but I could see it checking me out, the same way I was checking it out.

I stopped, breathing heavily already from the climb, and debated canceling my plan. That left me with few options. The other hikes in the area require climbing gear and there wasn't a peaceful body of water to sit beside and read the day away. I took another look at the bear and continued climbing.

Well, that was it. For the first time in my life, I was scared of wildlife. I treeplanted for 11 seasons and never worried about bears.

On my walk in, I had started a little inside joke with myself. I had seen the scat of a small animal and decided it was wolverine.

I know there are no wolverines on Vancouver Island. I know they are vicious animals. In university I saw a slide show of a moose that a wolverine had attacked by jumping onto its back from a tree and eating it alive over many days as it walked.

Each time I saw animal sign, or felt nervous after that, I would say wolverine and start laughing.

But it didn't work on the Love Lake trail so I started singing. I don't know the words to a lot of songs. Three very different pieces walked me up that steep, treacherous trail waiting for a bear or cougar to jump me from above.

The main number was She'll be Coming Around the Mountain When She Comes. Annoying and appropriate. That was interspersed with bits of Spiders by Moby and Do You Feel It? by the Joe Cuba Sextet.

The Love Lake trail is the place to see Della Falls, and the precious little alpine lake they pour out of, which is Della Lake, not Beauty Lake as I said before.

Beauty Lake and Beauty Falls are just a little way down the valley from Della and almost as impressive.

It's like a ring of snow-topped mountains wrap their rocky arms around this little bowl with a turquoise puddle and just tip it so the stream falls thinly from the edge.

Love Lake was my planned swimming hole. Luckily I knew before I ascended that it would still be covered in ice thanks to water taxi operator Bruce, but it was still a surprise to see a big lake capped with thick ice on a hot day at the end of June.

I sat there looking at the impressive peaks of Mount Septimus and Mount Rosseau (1962m) across the ice and ate, and generally reveled in my well-earned summit.

I didn't feel fearful again after that.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Della Falls trip

The Della Falls trail was not as hard as I expected. There, I said it.

The river crossing did not require rope. It required the use of the muscles in my legs.

It was disappointing to see a damaged bridge in a B.C. Park left dangling dangerously and impassable for a second summer.

Strathcona Park is the oldest in B.C., designated in 1911. It cuts a big chunk out of central Vancouver Island and is mostly accessible from Comox and Campbell River. I hope that this corner of the 250,000 hectare park isn't forgotten as Della Falls draws many visitors each year to the Alberni Valley end of the rugged mountain area.

After crossing Drinkwater Creek, I sat on the rocks patting myself on the back and puffing my chest out, then carried on to a river-side camp site about 3 km from the falls.

I camped at that spot, rather than right at Della Falls, thanks to a tip from Tony Greenfield, author of the recently released Waterfalls of British Columbia guidebook. I interviewed him for a story about his book and he said not to carry the heavy pack the extra distance but to day hike to the falls and Love Lake, which I did, and it worked perfectly.

As I scrambled up the bank to rejoin the main trail, I though to myself 'must remember this spot'. Didn't help. The only problem I had on the trail was finding that crossing spot on my way back out. I lost about an hour, and a lot of energy, going back and forth, looking for the way down.

I felt some urgency because my water taxi would be waiting at the dock on Great Central Lake at a pre-arranged time. I planned for a swim and lounging in the sun, but sweating it up and down a rocky path was eating into that time.

I looked at the dangerous remnants of the bridge three times and saw too much potential for a fatal fall. Eventually I bushwhacked my way down to where I thought the crossing should be and I wasn't far off.

After the crossing, I walked the remaining 11km without a break, which felt like a bit of a feat after two full days of hiking with the big pack. Over the final 7km I had little choice but to motor as the clouds of starving mosquitos were relentless.

I arrived at the dock 25 minutes before my ride. I got my swim in and sat looking back down the Valley. Then Bruce from Ark Resort showed up with cold beer in his restored 1973 motorboat to take me the 45 km across the lake.

Over the three days I logged 45 kms on my boots and I would do that trip again in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Sneak preview

This is really just a tease to let everyone know I survived the journey. Much more to come about Della Falls, the highest waterfalls in Canada, pictured here spilling from Beauty Lake.