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Great Divide’s Spring newsletter, 2020

Greetings from self-isolation in Lake Louise. Our little town is very quiet, and the locals are waiting patiently for spring to come. Now that it is May, the snow should disappear from town in the next few weeks, and we can all look forward to life returning to our frozen Lake Louise world.

COVID-19 Update

In mid-March, with the declaration of the Coronavirus pandemic, things ground to a halt here pretty quickly. The Lake Louise Ski Area closed, as did almost all local hotels and businesses. Even the Chateau Lake Louise is shut down, which hasn’t happened since WW II. We currently have only essential services open, and Parks Canada is urging visitors to stay home until the park can safely re-open.

For the summer season, I am accepting bookings for guided hikes starting June 1. If necessary, I will delay the start of my hiking season. There will be no penalties for reservations cancelled due to COVID-19. I will post updates on Great Divide’s website as the park and the province of Alberta begin to re-open.

I am in awe of the healthcare workers who have taken on this crisis with such dedication, especially in the hard hit areas. And the essential workers have also earned my admiration. Kudos to all of them.

Snowshoes for Horses!

Have you ever heard of glacial archaeology? Researchers in this field search near melting glaciers for artifacts revealed by disappearing ice. Last month, archaeologists working in Norway published their latest findings from Lendbreen Pass, northwest of Lillehammer. During the 2019 summer field season, along with clothing and arrows, they found a horse snowshoe.

Yep, a horse snowshoe.

Horse Snowshoe. Photo by Espen Finstad,

It hasn’t been dated yet, but other finds, including horse shoes and the preserved remains of packhorses and horse dung (!), proves that horses were used to cross the pass for centuries, maybe even millennia. As a snowshoe guide, I was delighted to learn that there were horse snowshoes. I also feel a strong sense of connection to this story, as my dad’s family is Norwegian, and one of the archaeologists involved in this project, Jamie Barrett, has been a friend of Nadine and her brother Mark since they were kids.

For more, visit the Secrets of the Ice website.

A Favourite Nature Book for 2020: Wildlife and Habitats by Susan Morse

Two of my snowshoeing guests this winter sent me this book (thanks Cynthia & Milo), and it has been great fun to read.

The writer, Sue Morse, is one of North America’s most celebrated animal trackers, and founder of Keeping Track. She’s got an eagle eye for finding evidence that animals have left in the landscape, and this is a collection of her tracking essays, published over the last 20 years. It’s full of captivating stories and beautiful photos (all taken by her), and has answers to questions I’ve been asking for ages.

For example, here in the Rockies, I’ve seen lots of trees with their bark peeled off by bears, and I’ve often wondered which teeth the bears use to scrape up the yummy cambium layer. So what does Sue Morse do? She takes a bear skull replica around to the peeled trees, and matches up the teeth with the scrape marks to show that bears use their lower incisors to get at the sweet cambium!

This in an engaging read and an invaluable reference if you like to look for signs of wildlife. Pricey but worth it. Available only at Keeping Track’s online store.

How Much Snow is in Them Thar Hills?

It’s been a winter to remember, and many locals have declared it “one of the best snow years I’ve ever seen!” But memories are fickle, and it’s tough to remember what the snow was like two years ago, let along 12 years ago. So if you really want to know how much snow is out there, you need to find a weather station that records how much water is trapped in the snowpack.

The black line shows this year’s snowpack, measured in “snow water equivalent” (SWE). The green line is the average, and the grey bar shows the range of snowpack over the last thirty years.

There’s just such a weather plot near Skoki Lodge, tucked behind the Lake Louise Ski Resort. The plot reports the “snow water equivalent” (SWE), and it’s currently at almost 140% of the longterm average. When this snow melts this spring, it will flow into the Pipestone River, which runs right past the village of Lake Louise.

I can attest to how much snow is out there, because yesterday I was cross country skiing on almost 2 metres of snow!

There will be big water in the rivers here this spring! If you want to see the snowpack for yourself, you can see it online, updated in real time.

Joel at Halfway Hut, on the ski trail into the Skoki district, on May 1, 2020. That’s a lot of snow!

May your spring find you healthy and safe.