Browsed by
Tag: Caribou

Tonquin Valley Surprise

Tonquin Valley Surprise

Submitted by: Tara

Adventure friends are the best friends, and I am lucky to have some gems. Specifically because one of them has a knack for getting everyone organized and booked before you have truly committed to the activity. Last year this resulted in one of the best trips of my life. We were lucking enough to get ourselves booked into the beautiful ACC run Wates Gibson hut in the Tonquin valley. The Tonquin Valley had been on my list for a while, not only because of the amazing views, stunning valleys, and shocking Ramparts (pictured), but because it remains one of the best places to see Woodland Caribou, an at-risk species that I have been working to protect for the better part of two years now.

The trip on labour day long weekend was off to a grim start as we headed out in the pouring rain, on the muddiest trail, with loaded packs (we subbed the volume we saved on tents, sleeping mats, and stoves because of the hut for beer which weighs substantially more.) The forecast was calling for rain, snow and grey skies all weekend. The only thing keeping our spirits up was the promise of the hut and the prospect of drying out our soggy clothes over a fire.
Tara, Grizzly tracks, Tonquin Valley
A night of drying off, good food, and new friends in the hut was what we needed before another day of hiking in the rain. Little did we know nature had a treat instore for us.

We started out the day in a light dusting of fresh snow, which eventually melted into some more mud. As tedious and exhausting as thick slippery mud is to walk in, it provides an amazing glimpse of the other trail users.

It was just before our lunch stop when we got to meet one of the other trail users face to face.

We rounded a corner, about to dip down into a boggy meadow when we were privileged enough to meet a whole caribou family! A peaceful cow, and calf were laying down and grazing, with a big buck nearby.
Tara Caribou Tonquin Valley
The large and stocky animals were not terribly concerned with our arrival in the meadow and let us observe and photograph them (from a respectable distance) without fuss. We got to spend a glorious 25 minutes with them before my friends, who have less motivation to watch wildlife do (in their minds) very little, for hours on end, pulled me away. I fell so fortunate to have met these iconic animals. We are losing them rapidly from our landscape, but it was so magical to see them munching away without much concern for the threats facing their species.

Although I didn’t think the day could get any better than it already had, it was as if the wilderness powers that be were rewarding us for heading out on a rainy cold weekend. The clouds cleared and the sun shone as we reached the valley that held the ramparts, affording us a stunning view of the main attractant to the Tonquin. We ate our lunch sans rain, and it managed to stay clear for the entire evening, allowing us to enjoy one of our very heavy beers under a crystal clear starry sky.

Tara Tonquin Valley
I always leave the wilderness with a smile, but after the surprises on this adventure, you could barely contain my grin.

Caribou in the mist

Caribou in the mist

Submitted by: Liv

2006 was a year of transitions for me. I was in the process of moving from Ontario to Edmonton. I’d just finished my Master’s and was about to plunge into the murky pool of PhD studies. I’d studied caribou in Ontario, and knew that I wanted to continue studying that species. I was between worlds – I’d just left my old world, but my new one had not yet started.

I had a chance to attend a caribou conference in Jasper National Park in early May of 2006. There were presentations, of course, but a lot of it was a chance for the small circle of dedicated caribou researchers in Canada to catch up (as opposed to just reading each other’s papers!).

At the end of the conference, we all boarded a bus to go on a field trip to Medicine Lake. I’m told that Medicine Lake got its name because it’s magical – it often dries up and then fills up again. We were all in high spirits, laughing and reminiscing as the bus bounced down the gravel road.

When we got to Medicine Lake, an eerie mist hung over the muddy flats. The wall of mountains around us loomed like frozen giants. A few of us peered through binoculars, not entirely sure what we were looking for, or what we would find. Then someone shouted “Caribou!”

Like a group of school children we bunched together, taking turns with the binoculars, trying to spot the four blurry figures meandering across the far side of the lake. I fumbled for my camera and zoomed in as close as I could. I could see them! My heart raced. Four stately bulls walked proudly together. If they knew we were there, they didn’t seem to care. They were too busy going about the important business of being caribou. Their white manes stood out against the monochromatic background and their steps were purposeful. Soon, they melted into the trees.

Over a decade has passed since I saw those caribou. I know how lucky I was to see them, for very few caribou remain in Jasper National Park. I hope they’ll be there next time I go to Medicine Lake.