CIGP Annual Newsletter 2013
The goal is to provide Dr. Mike Demuth with high-resolution images of the various aspects that make up the Columbia Icefield. These images will be an additional data set for Dr. Demuth to add to his valuable research related to the area.
While at the same time, create a local network to figure out the best way to minimize our impact on this depleting resource and fine-tune any action plans in existence or create one for the local economies of the Columbia Basin to utilize.
The Wilcox Pass shoot was unique for a few reasons. This was a one-day solo journey from my home in Vancouver, WA. I flew from Portland to Calgary on the night of June 15th, 2013. Once I landed and acquired a rental car I drove straight through the night arriving at the Icefields Center at about 0400 hours on the morning of the 16th. I snoozed for a couple hours until the sunrise woke me.
Let me actually back up a little bit, in case you might not be familiar with the Columbia Icefield. The Columbia Icefield is nestled on the borders of British Columbia and Alberta. It is north of Lake Louise and south of Jasper in Alberta Canada.
Why did I choose the Columbia Icefield for this kind of project?
It does involve 15-20 hours of driving depending on route, closures or traffic in some combination with construction and weather.
The first image above shows the entire Columbia Basin. Which for me is vital to my existence, as more than 20 years of my life has been spent living within it. This vital resource is directly fed by the icefields and glacier systems of Southern British Columbia and Alberta along with the Eastern slope of the North Cascades. By contrast, additional water joins the vast Columbia from the seasonal snowpacks and rainfall of the eastern Columbia Basin in the mountain ranges of Idaho, Montana and the Tetons of Wyoming. This area ,however, is almost entirely dependent on seasonal precipitation, only briefly locking the fresh water into a snowpack during the winter months.
The Columbia Icefield resides above Kinbasket Lake near the big bend shown in the Basin image.
As the ice to the north and our more local glaciers melt away we lose our most natural reservoir of our most vital source for life: fresh clean water. The Columbia Icefield is also the main focus of Dr. Mike Demuth from the University of Saskatchewan. His team has been conducting a variety of data collection to better understand what is occurring to the ice. The icing on the cake, the Columbia Icefield is a hydrological apex. That means it feeds three major watersheds: the Athabasca River drains to the Arctic Ocean, the Saskatchewan River drains to the Atlantic Ocean via Hudson Bay and the Columbia River….well that one is the soul of this project. The Columbia River begins at Columbia Lake south of Golden, BC, and winds its way north and then south and finally west to the Pacific Ocean.
The Columbia Icefield Gigapixel Project owes its existence to the inspiration brought about by seeing what James Balog with Extreme Ice Survey and David Breashears with GlacierWorks have done in the regions where they have focused their efforts. The basis for an idea on how to undertake this project was through the experience I had with xRez Studios and the entire Yosemite Pano crew from 2008.
Here is a quote from my Inclined article that ties in well to explain Gigapixel Photography:
“xRez Studio has been one of the pioneers in digital gigapixel photography for the last five years, moving it from academic exercises into a viable production methodology for use in multiple applications and markets, while at a price point comparable to conventional professional photography. Panoramic digital photography has long relied on creating panoramic images by stitching relatively few multiple images together. In the last few years, however, advances in software, hardware, and digital camera capabilities have now allowed possible resolutions into the range of several gigapixels per single image, thousands of times greater than a standard 10 megapixel still image. Resolutions near 300,000 pixels in width are now possible with certain technique and methodology. The resulting gigapixel image is one that has a tremendous range of detail contained, allowing unsurpassed viewing and exploration. This ultimately allows for large prints that show no softening or degradation from size, while allowing intricate detail to be revealed at close inspection via a variety of media.” (See links page for more of this AAC Inclined article.)
These facts resulted with me, alone in my rental car near the Columbia Icefield Center at 0400 hours on the morning of June 16th, 2013, the culmination of a year and a half of work for what developed into the first successful session of the CIGP while only just beginning to unveil the cloak.
I reviewed my two guidebooks that morning as the sunrise sent warmth through my cold windows and cooled bones. Skimming through the pages of Selected Alpine Climbs: in the Canadian Rockies along with the separate book Scrambles: in the Candian Rockies, I homed in on theWilcox Pass area as this would afford me the best options, summit either Wilcox Peak or Nigel Peak for a gigapixel image with a fallback of shooting from Wilcox Pass.The guidebook mentioned that the climber’s trail departed through the trees right behind the Icefields Center, so I went to have a look. I strolled in the morning light behind the Center. The cool breeze wisked the air as I ran out of pavement well beyond the Icefield Center. I cut left off the pavement, thrashing through the wondeful brush wondering if I might meet a local behind the next branch. As the canopy of this mighty forest thickened, selfish tree branches failing to not grant me passage attempted to steal my tripods with every meager step. Yes, I took two tripods.
When it comes to technology you can never be too prepared, right? I also considered this trip as training for the more challenging trips in the future. Those trips that will require me to go light. As I continued through the trees, I knew I was going uphill and that was about all I knew for awhile. I developed a noise-making chant to announce myself to the locals.As the canopy started to open I could see the cliff above. Scanning the terrain I found my gully.
The 3rd and 4th class scrambling was brilliant, with the gear arrangement on my pack not throwing my balance off. This made for an enjoyable approach to the shoot location. I’m certainly not Peter Croft or Alex Honnold, but I still enjoy my conservative versions of soloing. This place certainly dosen’t disappoint with a great view.
I should add something here that goes beyond the scope of this project. After the Wilcox Pass shoot, I drove back for an early morning flight home. Two days passed when Canmore, Calgary and Banff along with most of the southern portion of Alberta experienced major, devastating floods from excessive rainfall. If this had happened a few days earlier….who knows, maybe I would’ve been sandbagging the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.
After my return home I started considering the next objective. I had planned on getting a shot from Parker Ridge and possibly Mount Saskatchewan. Along with hope for others, if I could secure a partner. However, my second trip ended up being solo again. This time I had the long drive from Vancouver, WA, to the Columbia Icefield via Revelstoke and Rogers Pass.
Once I arrived at the Big Bend, I gave serious thought to Mount Saskatchewan. However, I decided to go for the Parker Ridge shoot first. This was going to be a solid view of the Saskatchewan Glacier. It ended up being a stellar view as was to be expected since Dr. Demuth suggested it as a great location to shoot the panoramic of the Saskatchewan Glacier.
The sporadic weather made this site a challenge with equal parts wind, rain and sun all rolled up into an almost 15-20 minute cycle for the first portion of the day. I set up and took down the GigaPan rig three times and moved the location once. I was trying my best to match a shot of the Saskatchewan taken by Byron Harmon.
Parker Ridge will be a great location to monitor changes during the course of the CIGP.
For an idea of resolution, the image above is one frame taken with the 400mm on loan from xRez Studios and the GigaPan Epic Pro from Parker Ridge. I plan to return to the Parker Ridge location to capture an annual record of the Saskatchewan Glacier along with getting to the additional locations of the CIGP. The biggest challenge for the CIGP has been funding. I was able to acquire a healthy amount of funding from an individual willing to support the first season of image acquisition. Despite the lengthy efforts to acquire grant funding last year, none of those options panned out.
I hope that grant funding will occur this year along with print sales of images captured during CIGP 2013. Even a portion of sales through Poulton Imaging, my main photography business, will benefit the CIGP in a small amount.
The other aspect that lacked this first season was having climbing, skiing and photography partners to get to the more remote locations and capture images of areas less traveled. This will be a key component as the project continues as I run out of locations where I’m willing to solo. The good news is that Mount Saskatchewan is back on my potential solo list based on conversions with Paul Zizka during my family trip this last October to the Banff and Jasper areas.
To help the CIGP continue through 2014.
The Changing View of Mount Adams
By Hassan Basagic
New images from Mount Adams are revealing changes to the mountain’s glaciers. Repeat photographs taken over 110 years apart indicate the glaciers there have retreated, similar to the worldwide trend of temperate glaciers. The retreating glaciers are an indicator of a changing climate and the loss of ice effects local stream hydrology, including the Klickitat and White Salmon Rivers which drain from Mount Adams into the Columbia River. Repeat photographs communicate landscape changes in a direct visual manner and also assist in quantifying glacier change.
The repeat photographs above were created by The Glacier RePhoto Project, which seeks to summarize the existing glacier repeat photographic record. The project objectives are to organize historical repeat photographs, their locations, and photographic attributes into a database and acquire new repeat photographs. Repeat photographs have been collected intermittently over the past century. However, the photographs are scattered in various photo collections, archives, and reports, which result in a fragmented view of glacier change. This database maintains glacier repeat photographs and associated metadata, including geographic coordinates, in a single location.
Historical baseline images were collected at Mount Adams by H.F. Reid, who circumnavigated Mount Hood and Mount Adams in 1901. As a geologist, he aimed his camera at the mountains’ glaciers, establishing ‘photo stations’, with the idea that they would be revisited in the future. In late summer 2013, I headed out to relocate the exact positions of Reid’s photographs. I was assisted by a crude map drawn by Reid and coordinates that I estimated from Goggle Earth. Once at the general location, I moved around the landscape to match landscape features in the scene in front of me to those in the historical photographs. Finding the locations required vigilance in aligning landscape features and required navigating through thick brush, steeps slopes, and scrambles on loose rock. Locating the correct position brings a sense of accomplish mixed with anticipation in seeing how the scene has changed. The present scene is then carefully photographed and documented.
One of the resulting photo pairs of Klickitat Glacier shows the retreat of the glacier terminus, and more subtly, a thinning in the upper portions of the glacier (Figure 1). A dramatic loss of ice is visible in another photo pair of Mazama Glacier (Figure 2). In 1901 the scene is dominated by ice and open crevasse. Today, the glacier edge is in the distance and the scene is barren, filled with rock. Changes in alpine vegetation and erosion can be observed in other images. In all, I documented 5 photo stations on Mount Adams. Additional rephotographs of Mount Adams were contributed by local expert Darryl Lloyd. The growing database of images now includes over 1000 images from over 200 photo stations throughout the Cascade Volcanoes, Sierra Nevada, Front Range, and Antarctica.
In addition to the communicative value of the repeat photos, the photo pairs are being used by the Glaciers of the American West project (Portland State University) to quantify glacier change. The historical images assist in mapping past glacier boundaries. A contemporary image from the same location further constrains past glacier boundaries to identifiable landmarks in the present day landscapes, providing an important link to the past. Future plans for The Glacier RePhoto Project are to continue to collecting repeat photographs in other regions to determine how glaciers and the mountain views are changing.
Beneath the Pacific Slope’s Melting Glaciers
Alpine of the Americas Project
Edgardo Le Blond
In the late 1860’s, four committed, intelligent and passionate men led a series of brave groups into uncharted wilderness of the American West. John Wesley Powell took his hodgepodge crew and dropped them into the Grand Canyon. Clarence King surveyed the 40th Parallel beyond the Rocky Mountains. Ferdinand Hayden explored the geological wonders of Yellowstone, while Wheeler explored the desert southwest. Skilled and equipped to methodically search for mineral wealth, these Western surveys captured a unique record of the early American West. By the turn of the decade, the remaining realms of terra incognita in the Western US were the high summits of the Cascades and Sierras.
On 11 September 1870, Clarence King made the very first recorded observations of Mount Shasta’s glaciers. From about 12,269’ on the NE edge of the Shastina crater, King describes the Whitney Glacier as “a fine glacier, which started almost at the very crest of the main mountain, flowing toward us, and curving around the circular base of our cone. Its entire length in view was not less than three miles, its width opposite our station about four thousand feet, the surface here and there terribly broken in “cascades,” and presenting all the characteristics of similar glaciers elsewhere.” That week, four of Shasta’s glaciers were described and most in less detail.
In the following month, Samuel Franklin Emmons, King’s handpicked assistant geologist, continued on to Mt. Rainier. Meanwhile, Arnold Hauge accompanied by Allen David Wilson examined Mt. Hood. These topographical details were collected and combined with a few brief descriptions. This work became the basis for putting Pacific Slope’s terra incognita and it’s glaciers on a map.
True, these mountains had been previously explored, summited, and even loosely described. Yet few of these accounts can be separated from the web of fantastic claims and flowery descriptions too vague to be useful. Apart from the King’s party’s survey points and descriptions rarely exceeding a few lines, what remains for us today are a few photographs. To this day, these government sanctioned photographs remain among the most detailed and objective records we have of the Pacific slope’s early glaciers and landscapes.
Several geologists observed that the Pacific Slope’s glaciers were relics of one or more greater periods of glaciation. At some point, ice enveloped the mountain flanks and reached beyond their current extents, deep into the warm territory several thousand feet below. The evidence was abound in moraines hundreds if not thousands of feet high, rouche mountonees far from the current ice, and deep carved valleys spattered with glacial polish among the infilling sandy meadows and colonizing forests.
When this evidence is compared to the larger ice masses in the Alps, King had to ask the question in the Atlantic’s March 1871 issue, “How and why these glaciers should have perished while the climate is yet cold enough for their existence has become one of the most interesting questions of the finishing-up period of Western geology.” Since observations across the West confirmed that the
temperatures were sufficient for glacial accumulations, King deduced that only one other factor could explain why these glaciers had receded, “dryness.” There was simply not enough snow during the consecutive winters to survive the summer periods to foster accumulation.
Both King’s insights and Powell’s examination of the Colorado River revealed that the American West had been dry for some time. These men stood in the face of claims that “rain follows the plow.” Their efforts would be too late to clarify the misrepresentations for the millions of people following tales of gold and opportunity to populate the West. Despite their tardiness, the great western surveys at last began to provide objective, level headed reports to Congress about the opportunity and the limits found in the Rockies, Sierras, and the desert Southwest.
Four generations of development later, the Pacific slope’s glaciers continue to be the proverbial canary for the West’s impending water problems. We don’t have to look to the Arctic or Antarctic to observe climate change, because the effects are becoming clear in local watersheds. Snow is less likely than a decade ago and precipitation is even more variable. Glaciers continue to recede and even disappear, indicating increased stress on the Pacific Slope’s watersheds. The Lyell glacier in San Francisco’s watershed has stopped moving. Mt. Clark glacier, which heavily inspired John Muir’s theory of Yosemite Valley’s formation, has since disappeared. Many glaciers that once overlooked the Owen’s Valley, Los Angeles’ prime water source, have practically disappeared.
Alpine of the Americas Project (AAP) is continuing to tell the story beneath the Pacific Slope’s glaciers. By providing the tools to conduct simple, repeatable, and useful observations in alpine environments, individuals repeat historic photographs to show how watersheds are changing. From the thousands of useful historic photographs available throughout the Americas, AAP will help individuals capture how glaciers recede, lakes shift, plants colonize, and beetles infest. Each of these photographs becomes an effective communication tool, an example of the broad body of evidence, yet using no words, to illuminate how climate change affects us all in dramatic and subtle ways.
“Ned” Edgardo Le Blond
A L P I N E of the A M E R I C A S, Founder
MBA in Sustainable Management