Canadian Rockies: snow, ice and steam

Again, first the festive stuff:  A belated New Year to all.


I’ve been doing more trekking than usual thanks to a bug which I picked up on the flight and which kept me hotel-bound for a while.  However, unable to just sit around, I went out each day for longer and longer walks on some of the many winter trails, increasingly strenuous as the effects of the bug receded.

A nice easy walk is along the Bow River to the Canoe Basin (deserted now the river is frozen over) and then upstream on Forty Mile Creek on the ‘Fenland Trail’. The Bow is frozen across its whole width at this point but the faster flowing Creek has thinner ice where the two merge, with evidence of at least three people being overconfident and having fallen through.

The Creek still has stretches of open water with many trees fallen across it.  It froze while the level was still high but now it has dropped there are sheets of ice suspended in the air and in the afternoon, when the temperature rises slightly, there are cracking sounds like rifle shots as another section succumbs to gravity under the weight of recent snowfall, followed by an unearthly shuddering sound as the remaining ice readjusts.


The Bow frozen across its width



Thinner ice at the confluence with Forty Mile Creek with holes where people fell through

Another day, with more energy, I followed Forty Mile Creek and used the footbridge to cross it and turn left to walk on the frozen Vermillion Lakes.  Shallow and with very little movement, the ice is always trustworthy on the lakes but following the unusually warm weather (temperatures up to minus 4) I was suspicious of it at first.

It turned out to be as reliable as usual.  Under cloudless blue sky the views across the flat expanse of white to the mountains were cliché breath-taking. As always, close to the edge of the lake it was important to watch out for open water, for two reasons.  First, near open water is where the ice is thinnest.  Second, because that is where some of the best photo opportunities are.

The open water is from thermal springs which emerge from the mountains and flow into the lake.  As they mix with the cold water their effect is diminished but close to the source they create a unique micro-habitat of both flora and fauna.  On the surrounding vegetation the water vapour freezes in microscopic ice crystals.

The largest area of open water is towards the furthest end of the Second Vermillion Lake.  I found it a number of years ago and at that time there was no sign of anyone having visited. Now there is evidence that a local tourist guide is driving visitors here along the Vermillion Lakes Scenic Drive and escorting them down to the photo opportunity.  Which is pretty dramatic.

Push through vegetation beyond the edge of the lake and there is a large open pond directly fed by a thermal spring.  Steam rises off the surface.  Again, this is a unique habitat and I have seen fish and bird life, though on this visit it was too shy to submit to being photographed.


This entry was posted in Canada, Hiking, Landscape, Mountains, Nature, Photography, Weather, Winter and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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