Monday, September 19, 2016

Helicopter in to Mt Assiniboine Lodge

On Wednesday September 14th Margarit and I set out for a long planned trip up to Mt. Assiniboine Lodge.  The lodge is located in a provincial park of the same name, in the alpine backcountry.  It is just over the continental divide on the British Columbia side of the Rockies.  The only way in is to hike 27km or to fly in by helicopter.  As I wanted to take my large format camera, the helicopter was my preference amd that was our selected transportation method.  We had booked and paid for this trip months ago, and as the departure date approached we were both having second thoughts about how we would survive the chaos of getting ready.  My Mom stayed at our place with the three girls and the dogs.  Work is busy for me at this time of year and so it remains a challenge for me to get away.  To make matters worse, my colleague in the office came down with a serious illness and was in hospital before, during and after our trip.  My part time office assistant was left to hold fort for three days and with the assistance of the guys in the shop, did an admirable job.  Today I returned to the office, to deal with all the stuff that needs my attention.
We got up really early on the morning of September 14th.  We were on the road by about 5:30AM.  We needed to drive to the Mt. Shark Helicopter Base south of Canmore.  This base is located just off the Smith-Dorrien Trail, in Kananaskis Country.  We arrived in time to catch our flight at 11:30AM.  Somewhere along the way I must have missed an e-mail or a memo that provided the information for the trip.  I knew we were limited to 40lbs of gear each, but that was about it.  I had no directions to the helicopter base, but knew generally where it was.  We found it, with a little time to spare, but there were virtually no road signs, so it was a good thing I had a rough idea where it was.  As it turns out there was not only a weight limit on gear, but also a size limit...  who knew...??  I had thrown all of our clothing and stuff into a big hockey bag and it was WAY over the size limit.  In a addition to that I had pared my camera equipment down to my view camera, five lenses, filters, meters, darkcloth and 80 ready load film packets.  All that photo gear was in my backpack that weighed in at about 25 Lbs, not including my tripod, which was in the hockey bag.  But even the backpack was a little too big.  The two combined were within our combined weight limit, but the size was obviously excessive.  It turns out that they didn't weigh or question anything, and just flew us right in.
Neither Margarit or I had ever been in a helicopter before.  It was just a short 10 minute flight that passed over the south end of Spray Lakes Reservoir, up the Bryant Creek Valley, and through Assinboine Pass to the Lodge.  The helicopter stayed pretty low through the valley but the views were spectacular.  When we arrived at the lodge there was a beehive of activity.  Staff were unloading us and our gear while re-loading outgoing guests and their gear.  Our bags were all loaded into big aluminum wheelbarrows and taken down the trail to the main lodge building.  We were escorted to our rustic cabin and given a quick outline of the routine that we would follow for the next four days.
The main lodge building consists of a kitchen, dining room, sitting area, and about six small guest rooms.  In addition to this there are eight small cabins available for guest accommodations.  Margarit and I were staying in one of them, called the Terrapin Cabin, named after nearby Mt. Terrapin.  There were other outbuidlings as well, for staff accommodations, storage, etc.  There was a central shower building with three modern showers and a sauna.  
Our cabin had a double and two single beds, a dresser, a table and a couple chairs.  There was a small propane heater, which worked part of the time, and a propane lamp.  There was a small sink with cold running water but otherwise the bathroom was a nearby outhouse.  No electricity, no cell coverage and no internet.  So it was very rustic, but also very comfortable and relaxing.  Meals were served in the dining room and every day there were a couple of organised hikes.  
On this first day, with only the afternoon available to us, Margarit and I went for a walk down along the shores of Magog Lake.  The lake was surrounded by a circle of soaring peaks that included Naiset Peak, Terrapin Mountain, Mount Magog, Mount Sturdee, Mount Strom, Wedgewood Peak and Sunburst Peak.  Mount Assiniboine towered above the others and was immediately across the lake from the Lodge.  The scenery was spectacular and weather conditions were great with warm temperatures and sunny skies.  We enjoyed our stroll and eventually made our way over to the dining room for our evening meal.
The food was exceptionally good and we enjoyed every single meal that we had.  Despite all the walking that we ended up doing over the four days, I suspect that we gained weight.  One of the other guests commented to me that "you paid for the food and they threw in the accommodations".  There was a large communal dining room and all thirty guests seated themselves together.  Over the next four days it seemed that everyone had their spot at one of the tables, and we congregated into the same groups to eat together.  Dinner was served much like at home.  First everyone was given a bowl of soup...then the meal was served on platters and everyone dished out their own portions.  I remember looking at the menu board that first night and thinking that I wouldn't have chosen any of the options.  There was a green salad, a couple of side dishes that I can no longer recall, and baked haddock in a tomato based sauce.  To my surprise I enjoyed everything, and there was more than enough for everyone to eat.  This was followed by a dessert of pecan pie.  I am not a dessert person and do not enjoy eating something sweet after a big meal so I never had any of the dessert items over the four days that we were there.  But everyone else loved all of the desserts and raved about them.
The facility was managed by a really personable guy named Claude, who with his wife and a partner named Andre, did a super job of looking after everyone.  The ten or so additional staff that worked there looked after all aspects of our stay including shuffling gear around, housekeeping, helping the cook in the kitchen, serving the meals, cleaning up after, and even leading the guided hikes.  The staff had the same meals that we did, though it seemed they got all the leftovers and lived off of whatever the guests couldn't finish.  Needless to say there was more than enough to go around.
There was a complete turnover of guests with our arrival and all 29 of us settled in at the same time.  There was a large gang of about 10 women, mostly from Calgary, that made up the largest group.  They were pretty outgoing and boisterous and knew the area well, having had been at the lodge in the past.  There were two or three couples from Ontario, one couple from BC and another from Red Deer.
At our spot at the third dining room table we were with a group of six women, all friends, from various parts of the US including Seattle, Denver and Phoenix.  There was also a single woman from Calgary.  During the course of the week, with so much time spent together, we became friends with almost everyone.  It was a very unique holiday, and most enjoyable.
The digital snapshots posted here with my report were all taken with my iPhone.  Due to weight restrictions it was impossible for me to consider bringing my view camera AND my digital SLR.  The large format film camera won the coin toss and came along on the trip, while my Nikon stayed back at home.  For what they are, these record shots provide a decent overview of what the place is like.
To any of our new friends, made over these few days, who might now be following my blog... welcome!!
Hopefully you will return to find out what Margarit and I are up to in the coming months and years....
I returned to my job today, and really struggled to accomplish anything.  I spent a good part of my day reminiscing about the days spent at Mount Assiniboine, and wishing we were back there.....  In the evening I was compelled to get to work on the film that I shot during our time in the alpine.  I processed a batch of a dozen sheets of Kodak T-Max 100.  On initial quick glance the negatives look pretty good.  That film is currently in the process of being washed and over the coming days will be dried, scanned and posted both to this blog and my Flickr account.  Over the coming winter months I will get to work printing some of the strongest of these images, and will share the results of my efforts....

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