Tornado ’87

1 06 2013

When I was 16, I had an Italian buddy I used to fish with. We haunted a small glacial esker 40 minuets west of Edmonton called Lake  Chickacoo where brook trout were reportedly regularly stocked. Our repeated unsuccessful attempts at catching fish in this lake were exasperated by my claim that as a kid, I came out here and ended up eating a lot of fresh caught bbq’d trout.

This is not that story. Rather, this is a recollection of that day. And a short piece on my surprising compulsion to chase violent thunderstorms.

Back to ’87.

My Buddy Steve and I are heading west on the Yellowhead Highway. I just got off work and was anxious to apply some fishing techniques recently gleaned from a somewhat crusty reliable source.

He had a fishy smell.

As we sped past the old CFRN station, I noticed dark green and pitch black rolling low-level clouds ghosting through the top halves of power poles. The sky was a leaden grey popped up in places with streaks of black. A hazy hue of foreboding lay across the landscape.

Immediately after commenting to my buddy Steve on the bizarre meteorological observations, we were hit hard by a hail storm supreme. As we pulled under the fortunately right – in – front – of – us overpass, we gingerly jockeyed for position with all the the other vehicles with the same self preservation instinct.

A number of folk were out of their cars. looking upward and Eastward. Steve and I were anxious to get fishing.

We were both 16.

That evening was the best evening either of us ever had on that miserable pot hole. Neither of us caught and landed a fish, but brother, did we ever get a lot of takers! Maybe 2 apiece!

Such was the early history of trout fishing in Edmonton’s surrounding area according to me.

When we arrived back in Edmonton, we heard the news. It came as both a shock and later a fascination. Even at 16, I still felt a deep pain in my heart for my fellow community citizens who lost so much. Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt added to the inquiry formation, which then evolved into not only a deep respect and understanding, but an enhanced curiosity into tornado evolution.

Last summer I chased a few storms. Here are some of the photos.ImageImageImage

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Thanks Chris

20 05 2010

Andrew and I decided to bag a peak on Tuesday. Rather, Andrew wanted to bag a peak, and he just ended up convincing me to accompany him.

Our initial objective was Prairie Mountain, however as we neared the parking area, both of us noticed that the winter gate had been opened (they do this every year on May 16th, but each year I seem to forget). We both agreed Nihahi ridge, further to the west was in order, even if the thunderheads were building overhead and all the food we had between us was a tube of Pringles sour cream and onion chips.

We didn’t hit the trail head parking lot  until 2pm or so, and had a lengthy stroll through the Little Elbow campground before reaching the actual trail head. 2/3 of the way in, I spotted a dude with a hundred liter pack and a full beard approaching from the west.

Dumbfounded, as this gentleman had the appearance of someone who has been in the bush a while, I stopped and asked him if he had just forgotten something in the car, and simply neglected hygiene for a week or so (the winter gate some 15km east had JUST beent opened).

Chris then went on to elaborate about getting dropped off at the gate in mid February….how the whole area is vacant of humans until now, how he had been tracking cougars, and had stashes of supplies scattered throughout the wilderness. His pack held 50 lbs of library books that needed to be returned, hence the walk-out.

Since I’ve spent a lot of time back where Chris had been living, I asked a few rudimentary questions that quickly verified him as genuine, as opposed to “Crazy bush-man lunatic with an extremely accessible  axe”.

Andrew and I decided to offer sociables to this mountain-man, and found our trip extended another 40 minutes as we sat at one of the campground’s picnic tables and  had Chris blow our minds.

This guy has gotten to know all the local cats, including conservation officers. He shared stories of both unnecessary harassment and enlightened law enforcement practices.  He had been fairly mobile, moving from one place to the next and experimenting with local cuisine. Apparently, rice and certain insects (roasted) is a fine back-country dish.

As Chris described his travels and disclosed solid information on wild berry crops, I thought about my life – long aspiration to be “Bush Man”. This guy was the literal example of the kind of life I’ve dreamed about. Then I thought of my bed. And I realized that unlike Chris, I have 2 kids that I’m crazy about and no wealthy relatives to fund my chronic unemployment.

Inevitably, we exchanged numbers  and went on our way.

Andrew and I reached the summit ridge of Nihahi amid hurricane force winds, and on our way back down, I sincerely found myself appreciating everything that I have. Which at that point included a half full tube of Pringles.





Stealth Skiing

28 12 2009

I think I have discovered an exciting new activity – late night x – country skiing. It’s a pretty simple concept. Either get hopelessly lost while exploring a new area or overestimate one’s performance when getting a late start and by default x-country skiing in the dark is an inevitability.

I have a friend however who’s first date with his now long-term relationship girlfriend (not married but almost) was an intentional outing on skinny skis under a moon – lit night. Yes it sounded romantic but it also sounded pathological when I first heard of it.

My ski/scramble buddy Andrew and I found ourselves in the position of a return trip in West Bragg Creek recently after we had a late start. Our entire darkened  return was downhill…adding to the merriment. I bent a pole on a spectacular yard sale. The city of Calgary was a reddish/gold glow to the East, appearing warm and inviting from our heights in the foothills. At the end of the trail, I couldn’t stop smirking. We ran into someone looking for a group of skiers who, apparently, do this all the time and were just heading out. Madness begets even greater madness.

Andrew and I hit up Shaganappi golf course shortly after…and were getting our skis on just as the sun was setting. Enough ambient light illuminated the tracks for us to ski without serious injury.

We almost skied Hawkridge at night, but arrived too late (we searched for it over 90 minutes..Blackberry crash killed my mobile browser and Andrew has a heavy foot) as I had obligations not at all concerned with such foolishness.  We did return however the next morning…and had a wonderful time skiing in -25c temperatures.  As a side note – when we left Calgary, the temp was -18c. Hawkridge is only 5 minutes from Calgary’s deep south-west. Andrew’s truck thermometer AND the ski lodge thermometer registered -25c. We skied for 90 minutes, scraped the ice off our eyeballs, and saw the temperature hadn’t budged.  It warmed up just as we were getting back to town. The average temperature we noted while driving through town was – 18c. The highest temperature we observed was -15c. A ten degree temperature difference from city to just outside of town. Urban Heat Island Effect is not significant say those who also speak of “simple physics” when expounding on AGW theory ?

Anyway, tonight we went back to Shaganappi. We got there around 23:30 and skied till 1:15. This time I brought a headlamp. It was amazing…. a completely surreal experience and I have much more confidence skiing at night now that I can see the trail and any hazards. My pain allowance is now significantly increased.

However since going full-out at 1 AM means my body wont let me sleep immediately after…here I am at my computer. It’s now 4:21.