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November 2020

A Most Canadian Insect

Ice crawler, an insect that lives near snow

If you had to come up with a truly Canadian bug, what sort of qualities would you expect it to have? To me, it would have to be right at home during the long winters, capable of travelling on snow (or under it), and just downright tough.

Enter the ice crawler, AKA Grylloblatta campodeiformis.

I had heard about these insects ever since I moved to Lake Louise. In fact, the first specimen known to science was discovered in Banff National Park in 1913, high on the side of Sulphur Mountain.  Ice crawlers are known to live beside or even right on snowfields. Their happy place? Under rocks or tucked into tree bark, places where they can find and eat small insects and other invertebrates. Oh, and at temperatures of about 0° – 3° Celsius. If it gets warmer than about 10°, they die.

But until yesterday, I’d never seen one. Friends and I were skiing in Yoho park, and came across one travelling along on top of the snow. It was about 30 mm long, just over an inch, and a nice beige colour. None of us had a clue what it was, but when I got home, I wondered, “hmmm, is this the famous ice bug I’d read about years ago?”

Happily, the answer is yes, and I’m jazzed to have had the chance to see another wonderful creature that calls the Rocky Mountains home. And as for its Canadian credentials, how about the fact that it is the official insect of the Entomological Society of Canada?

That’s what I call “cool.”

The Freeze on Lake Louise, Our Local Grizzly Moms, and More…

Guide Joel Hagen at the Great Divide

Great Divide’s Fall Newsletter, 2020

Greetings from wintry Lake Louise. Our snow came early this year, leading to the earliest opening day in the history of the Lake Louise Ski Resort: October 29! And I’m excited to report that I got in ten days of cross-country skiing in October. I never would have thought that possible. A couple of days ago, I skied to the Great Divide, between Banff and Yoho, and my friend Josee snapped a shot for this newsletter.

The Freeze on Lake Louise

Lake Suwa and Mount Fuji. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Yesterday, November 9, 2020, Lake Louise finished freezing over, and was even thick enough for skating on the front half of the lake. I’ve been tracking the “freeze-up” and “ice off” dates for Lake Louise for almost thirty years, and recording them on the citizen science website

But that’s nothing! Shinto priests in Japan have been recording the freeze-up dates on Lake Suwa, in the Japanese Alps, since the 1400s! The date of ice formation has been shifting ever later, and in recent decades, there have been many years in which the lake doesn’t freeze at all. It’s a fascinating record, and shows yet another effect of climate change.

Our Local Grizzly Moms

#142 and one of her cubs in June, 2018, near the shore of Lake Louise. Photo by Joel Hagen.

I’ve watched generations of grizzly bears make their living around Lake Louise, and the last two years have brought both hope and heartache to bear fans in the park. Two sisters, named #142 and #143, were both first time moms in 2018, and that summer a lot of us locals got to see the family in unexpected places, including on a grassy lawn beside the shore of Lake Louise! I’d never seen anything like it, and thousands of visitors enjoyed a scene usually found only in nature documentaries.

But after that joyful start, this year there was tragedy. In the spring, one of #142’s two-year olds was killed by a male grizzly bear, and in early September, #143 was struck and killed by a train.

Locals were saddened by both events, but #142 and her remaining cub had a good summer. My friend Amar Athwal, who is a superb photographer, saw the cub enough times this year to see him go from a skinny two year-old in June to a chunky two and a half year-old in October. He put together this photo collage a couple of weeks ago, and it really tells the story.

#142’s surviving cub, in June, July, August and October, 2020. Photos by Amar Athwal.

If you’d like to see more of Amar’s wildlife and landscape photos, he posts one or two shots to his blog each week.

Free Hikes for our Healthcare Workers

Firefighters from Manning, Alberta, getting some time off in September, 2020. Photo by Ryan Voorderhake.

Covid-19 has has put some groups of people, like healthcare providers, at greater risk, and as a thank you, I wanted to do something special for these brave folks. So all summer long, I offered free hikes once a week for essential frontline workers as a way to say “thank you.” I ended up taking out doctors, nurses, surgeons, firefighters, and hospital volunteers. It was a great experience. The last of these hikes, in late September, was probably my favourite. I led a group of wildland firefighters who had been stationed in northern Alberta all summer. They were enthusiastic about nature, fire history, and our hiking destination, and it was a wonderful and goofy way to escape from Covid talk.

COVID-19 Update

Speaking of COVID talk, here’s how coronavirus is playing out in the park, and what I’m planning for the winter.

The national parks closed during the peak of the first wave, and re-opened starting June 1st. The pandemic shut down my snowshoeing business, and delayed the start of my summer hiking season. From March 15 until the end of the summer, I dealt with the cancellation of almost 80 guided hikes. I ended up leading only 19 trips this summer. Needless to say, it has been a very challenging year.

But outdoor activities have proven to be good therapy for many, and COVID-19 transmission is very uncommon in outdoor nature settings. I have taken many steps to keep my guests safe, like signing waivers remotely, loaning out hand sanitizer for the day, and maintaining safe distances while we hike. My COVID policy is posted on my website.

We’re just a few weeks away from snowshoeing season, which is a perfect outdoor activity in these coronavirus times. I hope you’ll feel welcome here in Lake Louise and Banff National Park, and I warmly invite you to join me for a snowshoe tour.

Be well and stay safe.