Thursday, February 27, 2020

Elizabeth Parker Alpine Hut - 51°21'26" N 116°20'21" W

There are many beautiful places in the world.  This is one of them.

As part of our year of staying (sort of) in Canada, we are venturing into a few of the places close-by that we have been meaning to get to for forever.  Many, many times we have driven by the turnoff on Highway 1 that leads to Lake O'Hara.  The parking lot twelve kilometres past Lake Louise is as far as anyone can get in a private vehicle.  This being winter, we donned cross-country skis as well as backpacks for the eleven kilometre trek into the lake.

The out-and-back route - click for a bigger view.

Starting with some uphill ...

... and more ...

We only decided to make the trip in a month prior.  Some friends from the running group (Pamela, Grace and Jim), joined us on a Tuesday morning at the trailhead at 11 am.  The fire road is undulating uphill with a solitary picnic bench just past the 5 km marker.  The trail twists and turns through the valley south of Mount Victoria (the one you see at the end of Lake Louise, looking from the Chateau), giving us some awesome views despite the high clouds.  We puffed our way up with Jim and Grace (who had elected to ski in for the day, have a snack, then turn around and ski out before dark) in the lead most of the way.  Upon reaching the lake, there was a ranger's cabin and a day lodge that mercifully had a fire in the stove inside and gave us a spot to warm up and dry out our sweaty mid-layers.  After we rested a bit and had our lunches, we walked the 100 metres to the lake and decided the 3 kilometre loop would have to wait for another day, as Jim and Grace needed to get back to their vehicle before dark.

Pamela, Kate, Jim, Grace and Sean.  Lunch stop and turn-around for Jim and Grace.

Lake O'Hara offers a few levels of accommodation, from tent sites to a dorm-style alpine hut to a $1,000-or-more fully catered lodge (in the summer only).  We chose the hut.

Cheap, but not-so-shabby accommodation

The Elizabeth Parker Hut is run by the Alpine Club of Canada, which operates over 100 affordable hostel-like places to stay for people who like to explore the backcountry.  It has a communal kitchen and dining/gathering area.  The hut has propane lights in the common areas, a wood-burning stove for heating and more alpine character than you know what to do with.  It was built in an alpine meadow half a kilometre back from the lake, nestled at the moment in a snowy dale.  The hut is very popular and securing a spot for a few nights was a coup.

Common kitchen in the main hut

Dining/Gathering area, with dorm sleeping bunks to the right.  Holds eighteen.

Wiwaxy cabin, our much-cosier place.  Maximum of eight visitors.

Sole source of heat.  A good incentive to have enough firewood chopped to last all night.

The first night we shared with a very rowdy group, but found ourselves deserted the next morning as the group left en masse.  Suddenly, it was quiet.  By chance, we had managed to be the only three (Kate, Sean and Pamela) that stayed through to the next night.  Although many trails beckoned us to explore, we were awfully toasty and warm inside the cabin.  As we watched big, fluffy flakes floating down through the panelled glass, we decided to stay put and enjoy the solitude.  Logs were thrown into the pot belly stove and books were pulled from shelves.  The lodge had not one, but two resident guitars, which were put to work by both Sean and Pamela.  Tea was produced and hut slippers were donned.  Who needs to be a millionaire to have your own private backcountry log cabin?

Looking very pleased with herself, isn't she?
Pamela working on a song

Much later that day, other groups began to show up and were appreciative as we had been for the fire that had already warmed the cabin.  Most were from Alberta and BC and had tales to share over the dinner table of other wilderness huts visited and trails travelled.  As the meals finished up and some brought out plastic bladders of red wine, the stories became more boisterous.  When it was discovered that one of the others in the group liked to play bluegrass on the guitar, the cabin's trusty instrument was brought down off its hook and a sing-a-long ensued.  However, good and respectful hut dwellers that we are, the party shut down at 10 pm, in order to let those who were rising early to get some peace and quiet.

The next day, we did some exploring of the area ourselves.  We got to the loop of Lake O'Hara and tromped around the closed-up deluxe cabins.  We were all happily surprised by how quickly we whooshed down the fire road back to the parking lot.  900 metres of climbing on the way up meant for a glorious return, one third faster!

Breaking tracks across the lake itself.

Loop of the lake completed.  What scenery!

By the Ranger's cabin

Time to go.  Goodbye, little log cabin!

Following Pamela out to the trail head
Click on this photo for a panoramic view of Lake O'Hara

Hooray!  The Parking Lot!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Learning Nakoda - 51° 04' 59" N 115° 22' 07" E

The move to Canmore means that some of our closest neighbours live on the Morley Reserve and are members of the Stoney Nakoda First Nations.  Taking advantage of the wonderful resource that it ArtsPlace, we enrolled in a 10 week Stoney Nakoda Language and Culture course.

The course is run by Buddy Wesley who is one of the knowledge keepers of the Wesley Band from Morley.  Stoney Nakoda is an oral language spoken by around 3000 people in Alberta.  In recent years, a writing system has been developed with an alphabet and a series of rhyming syllables.  Unlike English, these are always pronounced the same way.

Vowels are pronounced:

a as in father
e as in cafe
i as in ski
o as in go
u as in blue

â, î, û - nasalized

But the huge challenge is that no structure for learning the language has been developed.  There are no verb conjunctions, dictionaries or spelling protocols. 

It is rather fun to start to recognise words that we are familiar with as Nakoda.  There is a lake outside Banff called Minnewanka.  We now know that mînî means water and wanka means spirit.  So Minnewanka translates as spirit water.  Banff is mînî hrpa which translates as 'dropping of the water' - a nod to the waterfalls around Cascade Mountain.

And of course, language is strongly connected to culture.  Numbers in Nakoda are interesting.  because it is not a culture of commerce, they didn't really need big numbers.  Up to about 20, numbers are quite sensible but then things get a bit out of control.  One million is yawabi tâga which means big count.  152 is obûre wazi tathâm wikchemnâ thaptâ age nûm!

Time is a nebulous concept - things happen when it is time.  This does frustrate the Western psyche and is known derogatorily as 'Indian Time'.  But think about the concept - when is a baby coming? We cannot say a precise time but we can say early May and it will come when it is time.  And when will the leaves open or the river break-up?  Culturally, there has not been the need for 1pm Tuesday 10 May so the language reflects this.

The months relate to the cycle of the moon.  January is wîchorâdu wahîyâba or the Midnight Moon.  May is woya wahîyâba or Vegetation Moon, when things start to grow. It is also the new year due to the new growth.  August is wasasa wahîyâba or Fireweed Moon.  And when the leaves of the fireweed turn red, it's prime time for meat so it is when meat is hunted for the winter.

In Nakoda, you point with your lips and your fingers are used to point at people.  And looking someone in the eye is rude and considered intimidating.  If an older woman screeches Eeeeeh! and points at you without looking you in the eye, we think something is terrible wrong.  But no, she is merely saying hello!  And if you are a man, you are not allowed to speak directly to your mother-in-law instead, you must speak through an inanimate object.  The same holds for a woman and her father-in-law.

And Mum will love this one - she who always watches the new moon to see whether it will be a wet month....  How the new moon sits in the sky is an indication of what the weather is going to be like for the next month.  If the moon is on end, it will be a cold month.  If it is horizontal, it will be a warm month and if halfway, a fair month.

And snow!  Yes, lots of different descriptions for snow:

wapa  - snow
wapach - snowing
wasmâ - deep snow
wasmohâ - into the deep snow
washâgejagen - skiff of snow
îhrpe yach - fallen snow
wapaïja stastach - hard snow that hurts the face
wapâtâtâ gach - big, fluffy snow
wapa ogahnorach - wet snow
wa oyumotatach - blowing snow

And some wonderful pronunciations - tababan is ball and to me sounds like a ball bouncing.  Crow is a an, raven is kari and robin is siksosoga - just like the sounds they make.

And in the Stoney Nakoda culture, there is no need to say good-bye.  You simply leave...