Mountains, Squirrels, and PIKAS

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The travel bug really is a disease and you can only stave it off so long, before you run off to the mountains due to literal cabin fever. (See what I did there? Oh me.) After my travels in New Zealand I found myself prohibitively broke and only recently accrued enough funds to responsibly wander off again. My wanderings lead me to the mountain town of Canmore, currently home to squirreler, mountaineer, wilderness intern, University of California wunderkind, and all-around classy lady Naomi Louchouarn. We first met as field technicians learning how to read the hearts and minds of squirrels in the Yukon, and whenever we meet again it is just the best thing. People who you can freak out at nature with are keepers, my friends.


Naomi at the top of Mt Lady Macdonald

If you’re interested in wilderness-y nature-y excellence as Naomi and I both are, you should check out the conservation initiative Naomi is interning for right now called Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y). The goal is simple to understand: connect and protect the mountainous habitat from Yellowstone to Yukon. It’s a great and worthy cause!

Friday night we met up and reminisced about the good ol’ squirrely times over gratuitous amounts of beer, and the next day we hit the mountains and made our way up Mt Lady Macdonald right on the outskirts of Canmore. Before commencing our excursion, like good scientists we attempted to do our background research, looking online for any hints about what the hike is like/where to find the trail. This is when I happened upon the douchey online ramblings of a would-be mountaineering hotshot named Steve who had attempted this mountain not once, not twice, nay, thrice! For any of you readers who are not big into hiking, let it be known that there is douchery aplenty in the mountaineering/outdoorsy culture. People think they are hardcore and they want you to know it, and Steve is no exception. God, it’s just so perfect that his name is Steve. There must be empirical evidence somewhere that Steve is the easiest name to hate/say in a disdainful way. Flight of the Conchords knows what’s up.

Anyways, we spent some time perusing Steve’s overly-technical, overly-dramatic re-tellings wherein he described being utterly unprepared for a near-bear encounter on the first day he attempted this climb and running back to his car. The next sentences that followed were so FUCKING HARDCORE because Steve, you badass, you:

Two days after, I armed with a spray and a knife. This time I found the correct trail. Reaching the final summit ridge imposed no difficulty.

Clearly, Day One Steve was weak. He was a fool. But no more. Day Two Steve is a changed man. Day Two Steve don’t take no shit. Thus, the saying “don’t be a Day One Steve” was born and used gratuitously for the rest of the weekend. (To be fair, Steve did this hike in the winter which would be a lot harder. But still, goddamnit Steve.)

Mt Lady Macdonald was a lovely bit of type two fun, and I would report more on the hike itself or the views, but let’s be real about what we all want to know: were there cute things. Yes, yes there were. Specifically, we spent a full ten minutes or so freaking out about THIS:


OMGANCIWOIJAPDLMLAKOQP!(_)!O)KDFOJadfoaij20-aofniocaomiznzncsuefinoainaicaoeo1 I CAN’T EVEN.

It’s a pika. And I’m sorry, but whatever animal you think is the cutest, it’s not. This is. We concluded that this amazing amazing critter is the purest representation of “bunny.” Here is a thought experiment to help you understand: Think of a bunny. You may think, what I just thought of is 100% a bunny. That’s where you are wrong. It is only perhaps 90%. A pika is pure, 100%. If bunny were something that could be measured, a pika would consist completely of it. For every rabbit, hare, or what we claim to call a “bunny,” there is a pika within. The pika is the true bunny.

If that made any sense to you, we should probably be friends.

So we saw this pika magnificence on the way up, and at the top we saw all manner of mountainous wonder:


Mountains, just stop. You’re crazy.

Then, on the way down, we met another friend who was habituated as fuck and clearly knew what was up with the rustling of my bag of trail mix:


Overfeed me all your high-calorie foods, human.

A golden-mantled ground squirrel! As wildlife biologists we should officially say, don’t feed the wildlife. Off the clock and off the record, we gave this guy some deluxe salted Trophy nut mix and it was delightful for all parties involved.

The next day, we headed south to Kananaskis and visited some old friends of mine. By now you probably know that when I refer to friends, it is equally likely to be something fuzzy as something human:


Columbian ground squirrels! (Is this post a little too squirrel-saturated? Ah, silly question, there is no such thing.) I worked on these guys in the summer of 2015 and we went to visit this year’s field crew. Unsurprisingly, they are still just as hard to coax into a trap as they used to be. My sympathies with you, Kananaskis squirrel crew! If you are interested in learning more about these adorable yet frustrating fellas, or getting some insight into biology fieldwork, or reading about good beer, I recommend checking out my buddy Danielle Rivet’s blog! She is this year’s head technician and a PhD student at the University of Saskatchewan. Bless her resilience.

And that was my excellent mountain weekend adventure! So good to get out of the city, play with fuzzy things, and trudge up a slope for 4 hours #typetwofun. “Type two fun” is definitely a new favourite in my vernacular after watching the mountain film festival movie Naomi introduced me to called Sufferfest. If you love mountain-y stuff and exhaustion to the point of hilarity, highly recommend. I’m just full of recommendations today! Hey, everyone. Like what I like, okay? Validate my opinions! Apparently I’m in need of this.

Okay, much more travel posting should be comin’ up as I am out of town pretty much every weekend this month, then headed off to BC for a Vancouver Island road trip with the indomitable sisters Charlotte and Lydia Forss, THEN moving to Montreal (?!?!?!!?!) for grad school in the fall. Much is afoot!

Til next time,


Feature photo by Sarah Nason

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I am a wildlife biologist from Alberta, Canada who has also been called a science gardener, a wilderdude, really short, and a rodent discovery technician. Apart from frolicking with animals for science, I have a problem with liking too many other things including writing, photography, and art.

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