upstream high water on the bow

Sitting in the truck at Bow Lake, I was listening to music as I waited for my camera to record a timelapse sequence.

It was sitting on a tripod in front of the truck with nothing else around it except for an inquisitive raven that had walked over to investigate the rhythmic clicking. There were birds singing, a bit of breeze in the trees that carried the chill coming off the still-frozen lake.

It was just past ten in the morning and I had the place to myself. For about 14 minutes.

Then a tour bus arrived and disgorged a pack of sightseers nearly all holding their phones up to take pictures. Followed shortly by a second, slightly smaller bus. Then a couple of vans, a few rental cars. One guy on a bike.

The weather hadn’t looked too promising as I’d left the city about five hours before. Cloud shrouded the mountains and mist filled the valleys but by the time I passed the park gates - no entry fee, yay! - the sun had broken through and there was clear sky in front of me. The last of the clouds shredded against the peaks while the Bow River valley still held patches of mist that glowed blue as the sun skimmed across them.

I was curious to see how the spring runoff was going. The Bow is running high and muddy in the city - kind of like it should be this time of year - but I knew there was still a lot of snow left in the mountains. So I headed up the river to have a look.

I expected the river to drop its level a bit as I rolled upstream but it was still roaring at Banff and when I stopped at Castle Junction, I could see that it was up into the willows along the banks.

The difference was that it was running much less muddy. And I could tell by the lack of debris along the shore that it hadn’t really spilled over the banks yet. I found a patch of morel mushrooms growing within a foot of the current. They wouldn't be there had the river flowed over.

The mist was disappearing rapidly as I took pictures and rolled video and the day was warming up nicely, too. The sun pushing through the fog lit up dew on the bankside trees and grass and glinted warmly off the soft mocha waters tumbling down the river.

But I was unsure of where the runoff was coming from. There wasn’t any snow left in the valley and the few creeks I’d passed had been flowing strongly but nowhere near flooding. There was a lot of snow up high and I could see water cascading off the peaks but why the river was running the way it was, I couldn’t say.

I kept rolling past Lake Louise and headed up toward Jasper. I expected I’d find much more runoff going up this way toward Bow Lake. The valley is steeper here, the elevation higher and the climate colder.

But I was unsure of where the runoff was coming from. There wasn’t any snow left in the valley and the few creeks I’d passed had been flowing strongly but nowhere near flooding. There was a lot of snow up high and I could see water cascading off the peaks but why the river was running the way it was, I couldn’t say.

I kept rolling past Lake Louise and headed up toward Jasper. I expected I’d find much more runoff going up this way toward Bow Lake. The valley is steeper here, the elevation higher and the climate colder.

My timelapse done, I angled my way through the crowd to pack up my camera and then headed down the lake shore. It was swampy and wet among the trees with patches of snow lying in the shade but there were globe flowers and violets starting to bloom. The moss was screaming green and studded with the red leaves of elephanthead - tiny pink flowers in a month or so - nearly covered the shore. Lying there taking pictures, a squirrel startled me as it came out of the bush just a metre away.

Back at the parking area I found the curious raven posing for pictures - and hoping for a handout - among the crowd.

I hopped back in the truck and headed back downstream.

I stopped along the way to shoot little waterfalls and mossy trickles but the traffic was getting thick so I didn’t linger. At Outlet Creek I parked and walked into the forest.

Back here it was quiet, no sound but the rushing water and the freshening breeze in the trees. Calypso orchids decorated the forest floor, lichens hung from the branches. And there was still ice along the banks.

Down the road, a bear jam, with a nonchalant grizzly walking down the Bow Valley Parkway in front of a line of cars. Too many folks for me.

But I still wanted to explore the river so I stopped at Bow Valley Provincial Park.

The river here is wide and slow above the Seebe Dam and, of course, it was running full. The water was muddier here and the current strong. Water birch leaned out over the flow, bits of grass and twigs swept along until they caught on snags.

A hummingbird buzzed by as I was photographing a train crossing the bridge just downstream. Columbines and clematis grew in the forest undergrowth and the air smelled of wood smoke, mud and new leaves.

The river flowed by at my feet, the mighty Bow increasing its flow.

How much more that flow is going to grow, I don’t know. But it will grow.

There’s still snow to melt and the June monsoon to come so the river will continue to rise. Just like it’s done every spring for the last dozen millennia or so.

Runoff time on the Bow. It wouldn’t be springtime without it.

MIKE DREW ON THE ROAD

JUNE 6, 2017

Photographed with the Canon EOS M5 and Canon 7D Mark II with the Sigma 150-600C and Sigma 18-35.

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