The end of April in the Canadian Rockies: bighorn sheep, elk and moose

Looking at the calendar, its hard to believe it’s already August and it was four months ago now that I went on my big trip to the Canadian Rockies. Our trip to the Rockies was beautiful and energizing, inspiring and inviting. Despite loving the seaside life, there is really something special about the Rocky Mountains. Each time I’ve visited them, I have come away a little bit awestruck. And after being devastated by the death of my beloved cat Sidney, this trip re-invigorated something in me again.

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Crocus blooming in April in Jasper National Park

Not only did I see my very first grizzly bear in a lucky sighting that could not possibly have gone better, but I saw two grizzlies in one day! This is an experience I will never forget. Among glacial landscapes and turquoise lakes, waterfalls and canyons were more exciting wildlife sightings.

I’ve recounted part of our final day in Jasper National Park – our second grizzly encounter. After seeing the second grizzly, we began to make our way back to town from Lac Beauvert when we saw a group of bighorn rams beside the Athabasca River. These were the first rams I’d seen on our trip thus far and their curved horns are incredibly impressive. Before this, I’d only seen ewes and juveniles all the way back in Radium Hot Springs, BC.

 

Now that it is August, it will be rutting season and the rams will battle for mating rights in the autumn. I can only imagine that would be quite a sight to see with their large, powerful horns. But back in April, this pack of rams were living peacefully together.

Not far away along the highway, we also saw elk (or wapiti) before the end of the night. We’d seen many elk around the mountains earlier but I hadn’t yet had a chance to stop and photograph them properly. So this time, we did. Elk are some of the most commonly observed animals in the park and also the most dangerous! Bull (male) elk will attack humans if approached too closely, especially during mating season. They are an important prey species for wolves, coyotes and cougars as well as the occasional black or grizzly bear.

The other highlight of our trip was another big animal sighting…a moose. On our first day in Jasper, we headed out to hike Maligne Canyon and see Medicine Lake on the way. Amazingly, my partner spotted this moose across the river hidden in the brush while he was driving. Immediately, we turned around and headed back to get a closer look.

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Medicine Lake, Jasper NP. Medicine Lake is a geological wonder. The water is so low because it sits over a series of caves and sinkholes, into which the water drains before eventually coming out in the Maligne Canyon.

Sure enough, just on the side of a river, in a most peaceful place surrounded by bare branches and tall conifer trees, there she was. A moose. It doesn’t get much more Canadian than this.

A moose along a riverside in Jasper NP, AB.
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Maligne Canyon, where the hidden waters of Medicine Lake finally re-surface amid the limestone walls of the Palliser Formation.

We watched her ever so quietly from afar while she ate, the rush of the river the only sound in our ears. Nearby, a squirrel scurried among the rocks and pebbles on the riverbank. But to me, all else was still and quiet and all that mattered was this moose, this huge, solitary herbivore alone in the woods. She reminded me of a giraffe the way her tongue wrapped around branches to eat. It’s probably silly, but being a vegetarian, I sometimes feel a little bit of extra love for my fellow herbivores.

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Despite my hopes, I never dreamed we would see a moose. This was, by far, one of my most memorable and cherished wildlife sightings in my entire life. I feel blessed to have been able to see her so peacefully in her natural habitat, wild and free, the very picture of Canadian wilderness. She was so beautiful. I will remember her forever.

 

Observing all the animals we did on this trip was incredible. You can’t help but feel something stir in your spirit in a connection with nature watching animals like these and I feel so thankful to have gotten to see each and every one.

While we are lucky to have been left our national parks thanks to the foresight of our forefathers and foremothers, do we still have that foresight today? Will we continue what was started by Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and Ansel Adams even John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and respect their legacy? I hope so.

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Three mule deer in their native habitat (unlike our urban deer) in Jasper NP

An alpine adventure to snow-capped mountains and glacial lakes

My blog has been a bit quiet lately as I have been away on an internet-free trip to the Canadian Rockies for the last two weeks. There’s not much I find more refreshing than a trip away to the outdoors without internet. To enjoy some peace and quiet and adventure in the mountains.

We saw glacial U-shaped valleys, glaciers, rushing rivers and waterfalls, quiet braiding rivers and wetlands, ice and snow, lakes frozen over with ice and lakes green with glacial silt.

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A lake just outside Golden, BC which lies along the Columbia River in the Southern Rocky Mountain Trench just to the west of the Rocky Mountains.The Rocky Mountain Trench is the longest linear valley in the world.

Where have I been? My partner and I visited the Canadian Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site including Yoho, Kootenay, Banff and Jasper National Parks. The parks all share borders along the British Columbia-Alberta provincial boundary along the backbone of the Canadian Rockies.

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Canada’s four national parks of the Rocky Mountains along the BC/Alberta border. (Map: Parks Canada)

We’d been planning on this trip for some time and when the chance came for us to go, we decided to make it happen. After we took my dream trip across the American Southwest a few years ago and experienced Yosemite at the height of mid-summer popularity (riding packed buses full of people is NOT my idea of a wilderness experience), we figured late April was a prime time to go as it is still considered the off season. (This means two things we love: no crowds and lower prices.)

The trade-off is cooler and more unpredictable weather. For two people who hate temperatures above about 25C, that is just fine with us. However, we wound up striking it lucky. Spring came early this year in the Rockies and it was unseasonably warm all April with most ski-fields closing early.

 

Emerald Lake, Yoho NP, BC still partially iced over in the early spring.

Given my new birding hobby, I was quite excited to see new birds we don’t have on the island. After seeing elk and pikas our first time in the American Rockies, I also knew we could expect to see other amazing wildlife, too.

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Pika (left), elk (right) in Rocky Mountain NP, Colorado, US.

Early spring is an excellent time to view wildlife in the mountains and we had some exciting sightings which I will share with you soon.

Until then, enjoy a preview of some of the beautiful alpine scenery we witnessed.

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The Kootenay River coloured grey-green with glacial sediment rushes downhill near Marble Canyon, Kootenay NP, BC.
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A waterfall in Johnston Canyon, Banff NP, Alberta.
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Part of the 325 square km Columbia Icefield along the Icefields Highway, Jasper NP, Alberta.
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A beautifully crystal clear lake in the Valley of Five Lakes, Jasper NP, Alberta.