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May 2022

30 Years of Golden Eagles, Three Decades in Lake Louise, Fundraising for Ukraine, and more…

bill and joel showing donation cheques for canada-ukraine foundation

Great Divide’s Spring Newsletter, 2022

Happy May from Canadian Rockies. As this photo from late March would suggest, it’s been a glorious winter, but it’s taking a long time for spring to arrive. The leaves should finally pop open next week in Lake Louise, which also marks the beginning of my guided hiking season, on May 30. Speaking of 30, this year marks a couple of three decade milestones, one from the world of nature, and one that’s more personal…

Snowy scene in March

30 Years of Golden Eagles

Golden eagle flying

Golden eagle in flight. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Let’s go back to March 20, 1992. For bird geeks, this is an important date. This is the day that Peter Sherrington and Des Allen discovered, by accident, a hundred golden eagles flying over the Kananaskis Valley. Over the next few weeks, they put in the hours, and realized that thousands of golden eagles were flying over the mountains. I remember getting the call for volunteers that spring, and Nadine & I went down to watch for eagles flying over Lake Minnewanka.

How had we missed such a mass migration? After all, this is a bird with a 2 metre wingspan! The answer is they were simply flying so high that you couldn’t see them with your naked eye. You needed binoculars or a spotting scope.

This spring, the Rocky Mountain Eagle Research Foundation marks thirty years of monitoring the migration of golden eagles and other birds of prey over the Rockies every spring and fall. Sadly, the number of migrating eagles has been in steady decline, but that highlights the value of multi-year studies like this one. They can sound the alarm when wildlife populations change.

Congratulations to Peter and Des, and kudos to all the volunteers over the years.

Three Decades in Lake Louise
I’m celebrating a more personal 30 year anniversary this year. In early May of 1992, I arrived in Lake Louise to begin work as a park naturalist with Parks Canada. I wrote a post on Facebook on the actual anniversary, May 4, and this is what I had to say:

interpretiation staff, 1992.

Joel (top right, dressed as a Scottish mountain goat) and his co-workers in 1992.

“It’s been a privilege to live in this landscape of mountains and nature. I get to take people into the park, and share with them stories of this amazing place.

“Based on a back-of-the-envelope estimate, in the last 30 years, I’ve led almost 2000 guided hikes, walks and snowshoeing trips, and done over 1400 presentations.

“Thanks to the friends and co-workers and guests I’ve met along the way. Thanks to Nadine, who shared in this journey for so many years. And thanks to nature, a true temple that we ought to treat better. It’s a sacred gift, to humanity and to itself.”

Great Divide’s Donation to the Canada Ukraine Foundation

bill and joel showing donation cheques for canada-ukraine foundation

Bill Keeling (left) from Wilson Mountain Sports and Joel, with our novelty sized cheques to the Canada Ukraine Foundation.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February was a brutal act, and the war continues, at the expense of tens of thousands of lives and untold misery. Like many, I wanted to do something about it, so I donated the proceeds of two of my guided snowshoeing trips in late March to the Canada Ukraine Foundation. When my neighbour Bill Keeling found out, he had our local (and awesome) sports store, Wilson Mountain Sports, match the donation. Together we raised $2700 to support humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine.

Ice Melt Date at Lake Louise
It’s been a late spring in the Rockies, which means many of the high elevation lakes are still frozen. Every year, it’s fun to watch the ice on Lake Louise and mark the day when it finally disappears.

The good news: you don’t actually have to be here to see it happen. From the comfort of your armchair, you can pull up the webcam on the roof of the Chateau Lake Louise, and monitor what’s going on! My vote is for June 4. I’ll post the date once the ice comes off.

Art from at Lake O’Hara, and Lake O’Hara Hikes this Fall

Morning, Lake O'Hara, by JEH MacDonald

“Morning, Lake O’Hara,” 1926, by JEH MacDonald

This spring, while visiting Toronto, I got to make a long-awaited pilgrimage to the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg. They have a big collection of works by the Group of Seven, including pieces painted in the Canadian Rockies, and it was such a thrill to see works made in places I know and love. One of my favourites was a canvas by JEH MacDonald, done up at Lake O’Hara. It was luminous and totally captivating.

And Lake O’Hara itself is luminous and captivating. Most of my summer is already booked up, but I’ve currently got lots of availability in the second half of September, during larch season, and I invite you to consider a trip to Lake O’Hara to enjoy the show. If you’re unfamiliar with larch trees, they’re an “evergreen” that isn’t evergreen! They shed their needles in the fall, but before they do, they turn a beautiful gold. O’Hara, a limited access area, has phenomenal larch displays, and I can reserve day trips into the area through the guiding quota with Parks Canada. If you’d like to see this feast for the eyes firsthand, let me know.

Covid-19 Update
After being fully vaccinated in 2021, I received my first Covid booster shot at the beginning of January, 2022. I’ll be eligible for my second booster in July, and am planning to get my inoculation then. Covid has not gone away in Canada, but most of the restrictions have. I still take it seriously, however, and all of my Covid-19 safety measures are laid out on the Great Divide website.

Have a wonderful summer, everyone, and I hope to see you on the trail.