February on the Great Divide, temperature in the -20s C

Beautiful or bleak? Does it make you want to hunker down by a warm fire or put on your skis and go?

Winter in the city can be brutal. It was -30 in Edmonton this morning and barely struggled to -26 this afternoon. Enough wind to freeze your face if it was exposed. At least we’re not shovelling snow or sliding on ice, and our power hasn’t gone out. But wherever you live, Canada has produced a harsh winter, and we haven’t even reached January yet.

I love winter, even in the city. But its real beauty is in the wilderness. Here are some of my favourite memories, some recent, some decades old.

Can there be a more iconic form of transportation than a sled and a team of dogs eagerly pulling you across the land?

Dogsledding in the Tombstones, Yukon

Few animals are more powerful in their beauty than the polar bear. Will we still have them when ice no longer forms in the North?

Polar bear in Churchill

Winter is defined by climate, not the calendar. The photo below was taken in May, but we had temperatures in the -30s. Canada’s highest peak never disappoints in its scenery.

High on Mt Logan

Nor does Baffin Island disappoint. I was there twice. First in 1979 with the Alpine Club of Canada. We had enough light to ski 24 hours a day, and sometimes we stayed out that long.

Full moon over an unnamed peak, Ayr Lake, Baffin Island.

The second trip was a private expedition with my husband and a friend to Auyuittuq National Park. The granite walls and massive glaciers form a landscape worthy of the Norse gods for whom many of the mountains are named.

The land that time forgot.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games. We had the “help” of a snow machine to get to our first camp in Auyuittuq.

Who thought that this was a good idea?

But even bad weather isn’t necessarily bad.

Dais Glacier below Mt Waddington.

Of course, I spend most of the winter in the city, and what I have learned in the wilderness keeps me from hibernating. I’m happy at -40, but when I’m out walking, I understand why so many people hate the season. People who can afford serviceable clothing either don’t buy it, don’t wear it, or don’t use it correctly. Instead of spending an extra five minutes at home to protect themselves, they shiver for 15 to 30 minutes waiting for a bus or walking to the grocery.

The number one error? Not covering the head, neck and face. When I wrote my book on snow camping, I said that we lose 40% of our body heat from the head. That was common wisdom at the time (1993).

Now I saw an experiment a few years ago in which people were stripped naked, placed in a cold room or in cold water, and heat loss from various parts of the body was measured. Turns out, they didn’t lose more heat from the head than from any other place on the body.

I’m not sure what the scientists were trying to prove. When is the last time you saw someone wandering naked down the street in the middle of winter?  (I hope they were treated for hypothermia and frostbite before seeing a psychiatrist.) If you have clothing on all of you except for your head, where do you think you are going to lose heat? And you’ll lose a lot.

So don’t become a cave rat. Bundle up, put a smile on your face, and go for a walk. You’ll feel better and you’ll be able to pity the poor souls who haven’t got the message yet.

For me in winter, there’s really is no such thing as bad weather–only a bad choice of clothing. Now if someone could just tell me how to dress for “hot and humid.”

View from Mistaya Lodge, B.C.

Early Fall in the Rockies

The view from Canmore

The view from Canmore

It was not a good morning for hiking. I ate a leisurely breakfast, read the Calgary Herald, and headed for the Vermillion Lakes as soon as the clouds began to break up. Aside from dawn or sunset, my favourite time to photograph the mountains is when there is a mix of blue sky and dramatic cloud.

I had to be patient, but there was beauty to capture at the lakes.

The gentle colours of September

The gentle colours of September


Sunlight on grass

Sunlight on grass


And then the summits began to reveal themselves.

Fresh snow at summer's end

Fresh snow 


Like ghost ships on a sea of clouds

Like ghost ships on a sea of clouds

And almost as soon as the clouds began to lift, they were gone, replaced by a clear blue sky. Mt Rundle suddenly thrust its summits out of a thick layer of cloud. By the time I got the camera from its case, the cloud had dwindled to a narrow strip.

Mt Rundle

Mt Rundle.

I left the lakes and drove to the osprey nest at Castle Junction. One lone juvenile was there, waiting perhaps for his parents to him bring some food, even though he was fully fledged and now capable of looking after himself.

Home sweet home, but not for much longer.

Home sweet home, but not for much longer. He was gone next morning.

Two hours of waiting brought nothing more exciting than a hop from one side of the nest to the other, and a few soft calls, so I headed for Lake Minnewanka in hopes of finding some sheep or elk. No luck. Aside from birds, the only wildlife I saw during my three days in the area consisted of small rodents.

It was too early for the aspens. Although a few had turned bright yellow, most of the groves were just beginning to change. September is a time of waiting and expectation.

End of summer

End of summer