On my return trip from Jasper last weekend I saw 6 climbers on the Weeping Wall near the Columbia Ice Fields. Some sites indicate that this is the most famous ice climb in Canada. I thought the pictures are worth sharing. The close-up shot below is impressive.
To really appreciate the skill of these climbers you have to see the photo from the Icefields Parkway. There are six climbers visible in this photo.
I saw an advertisement for the Kahtoola Microspikes in Explore magazine. From the photo I was skeptical that they would stay on your feet because there was no strap crossing over the foot. I used Google to search for a local shop selling the microspikes and did not find one but I saw that MEC sold the Crampons, another product from Kahtoola. From the picture on the MEC site the crampons looked to be a quality product.
I sent an email to Kahtoola and asked if they would send me a set of microspikes to review and within a week or so I had a set in my mailbox. According to the sell sheet they retail for $59 a pair. I tested the microspikes on Prairie Mountain and then wore them for a weekend hiking in Jasper. The microspikes are like Yaktrax on steroids. I have worn out about 5 sets of Yaktrax so far when the rocks cut the flimsy rubber that the steal springs are wrapped around. The microspikes are snow chains for shoes. There is no chance that a sharp rock will cut the chain. In combination with the chain there are three sets of spikes on the toe, ball, and heal that help provide traction.
The microspikes did not fall off or need readjustment and were comfortable. As far as traction, this is the best product I have used. The icy stairs that were part of the Old Fort Trail in Jasper were no problem even with my dog trying to kill me as it rapidly descended.
I also used the microspikes on the frozen river in Maligne Canyon. Again great traction.
The other thing that I like is that the microspikes can be slipped onto your shoes in only a couple of seconds. I find them to be much easier to put on than either the Yaktrax or Stabilicers.
The only problem with the microspikes is that in sections where the trail was covered with unpacked moist snow the chains caused the snow to ball up under your feet. It was a bit annoying but could be kicked off. Where the trail was packed the balling was not a problem. The spikes worked well on the ice in Maligne Canyon. If there is a suggestion that could be made to improve the microspikes it would be the use of carbide steel for the spikes to better grip on cold hard ice. On a warm day the steel being used is more than adequate. Overall, the microspikes are worth every penny and are the best product I have used for improved traction.
I have been buying quite a bit of gear over the last couple of months. I have been getting some pretty good deals from Altrec but unless I have had a pair already so I know the size and fit I like to buy my shoes locally. For gear there is one page worth bookmarking, the MEC Clearance page. Two weeks ago, I bought two pairs of Montrail Hardrock shoes for $29 a pair. The regular price was $129. Tough to beat a deal like that. If you watch the availability, often common sizes are still available in Alberta when the deals appear online. At other locations like Vancouver, the common sizes seem to get snapped up pretty quick. Makes me think that not there are not a lot of people watching the clearance page. Check it out.
If you have not heard of geotagging, it is the addition of geographical data, largely latitude and longitude to a photo. The location at which the photo was taken can then be conveniently displayed through several websites. Flickr, Google Earth and Picaso all feature the possibility to geotag and display photos. A good review of some of the advantages and disadvantages of some of the sites can be found in an article posted on c/net news.
I have been geotagging photos for some time, the problem is that it is very labour intensive. I have heard that there are some cameras that will automatically geotag photos but they are expensive. The websites geotag photos by allowing you to manually select the photo and then select a location from a map. Because the maps of the backcountry on these sites are either not very accurate or detailed it is difficult to accurately geotag a photo with this method. Generally, I have to record the location of a photo from my handheld GPS and enter the data manually. Creating Google Maps with this method is both accurate and relatively easy but time consuming. The result, I only geotag a small portion of my photos.
Sony created the Sony GPS-CS1 which was designed to automatically geotag photos. The product was announced in August 2006 but is no longer available from Sony. Not exactly sure why but some sites seem to suggest that it was not very accurate in relation to location. Sony then launched the Sony GPS CS1KA.
This device, also approximately $100 is now promoted as being compatible with most digital, as opposed to just Sony, digital cameras. The device works by recording time and date information along with actual position wherever GPS satellite coverage is available. The GPS Image Tracker software matches this position data with time and date information corresponding with each JPEG camera image. The images can then be uploaded to the websites. It appears that Sony planned to have the Sony CS1KA in stores in December 2007. I could not find it at Sony.ca and it does not appear to be widely available. If you have a US address you can purchase it through Amazon.
Another option is the GISTEQ DPL700 PhotoTrackr. There is a good review of this product at Richard's Tech Reviews but as you will see, the software associated with this device sounds complex or at least complex enough that I would not experiment with it unless I could buy and return it locally.
The new product that led to this post is not yet available in North America. The ATP Photo FInder was released only recently and is depicted below.
I sent an email to the company but have not yet heard from them. Like the Sony CS1KA, the ATP Photo Finder calculates and records GPS position data and allows you to precisely track the exact location at which and time that your pictures were taken. According to the ATP website, the photo finder works as follows:
Actvate the Photo Finder. After you finish taking pictures, simply insert your SD, Memory Stick or MMC memory card into the Photo Finder's built-in card slot and the GPS data will be synchronized and added to all pictures on the card. Even more convenient is the fact that this is all performed “on the go” without a PC. All you need to carry with you is your digital camera to take the pictures and the ATP Photo Finder to log your location.
Photos GPS tagged by the ATP Photo Finger can be used with any GPS compatible photo software. For example, when used with the Google supplied software “Picasa2”, “Google Earth”, or “Google Maps”, your photos will be shown on an online map, giving you a whole new way to organize, enjoy and share your pictures. Share your pictures and trip route with your friends and family. More importantly, never forget where you took a picture again. You can also use your GPS tagged photos in a compatible GPS navigation system, allowing for features such as choosing your destination and landmarks visually.
There is a short video on Youtube which seems to emphasize that this device is very user friendly. I would like to get my hands on one and test it out. Because the data required to geotag the photos is added to your memory card, it would seem that you could hike across Europe, fill media cards and geotag photos without a computer. That possibility is appealing.
Unless tracked for cross country skiing, most hiking trails are suitable for snowshoeing. Due to the possibility of avalanches in some areas it is important to check with the Visitor Centres for the area in which you plan to snowshoe if you do not have the training to assess and address the risk of avalanches yourself. Because of a lack of snow over the last couple of years in parts of Kananaskis for dependable trail conditions Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is recommended. I like this area because I always get fantastic photos of the valley and surrounding mountains like in the photo below. If you are looking for snowshoe trails close to Calgary, try Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
Peter Lougheed also has several dedicated snowshoe trails which were established for this activity.
Below is a list of these trails and a couple of others recommended by the Visitor Centre in the area in my order of preference. Where I have done a detailed description of the trail, clicking on the title will take you to the hike description.
6.7 kilometers, 280 meter elevation gain, 2-4 hour duration.
3.4 kilometers, 40 meters, 1-2 hour duration.
Sawmill Snowshoe Loop
5.1 kilometers, 121 meter elevation gain, 2-3 hour duration, PDF Map Available.
Hydroline to Elk Pass Snowshoe Trail, 12.2 kilometers, 220 meter elevation gain, 2-4 hour duration. See post for aerial PDF.
Lower Lake Snowshoe Trail, 3.5 kilometers of linear lakeshore trail from either Canyon Day Use or William Watson Lodge, PDF Available.
Marsh Loop, 1.5 kilometer lop from William Watson Lodge, Gradual Uphill and Downhill, PDF Available.
Village Loops Snowshoe Trail, 2 loops totalling 3 kilometers with some hills and viewpoints, starting from Woody's parking lot trailhead, PDF Available.
Highway #40 Snowshoe Trail, 5 kilometers of linear trail from the winter gate, PDF Available.
The trailhead and a snapshot of some of the scenery at the destination is available via Google Maps.