Thursday, April 27, 2017

Painters & Hikers at Mount Assiniboine

Staying at Mount Assiniboine was a professional photographer who wants no credit for this wonderful photo!

Friend and fellow artist, Patti Dyment, is masterful at organizing hiking/painting expeditions. On other occasions, Bill and I have stayed at the Naiset Huts but, this was the first time we joined her Assiniboine group - August 7th to 10th, 2016. 

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain UNESCO World Heritage Site. At 11,870 feet (3,618 meters) the Matterhorn-like peak is the highest in the Canadian Rockies. I've had the pleasure of painting there a time or two before. Once, along with with Liz Wiltzen and Gaye Adams, I was fortunate to have a decadent stay in one of the lodge's cabins as guests of Sarah Kidner 

On this trip, two of our four days were mostly absorbed by flights. We really had only two full days there. One was exceptionally fine and all of us made the most of it. Sharon Van Essen was brand new to the experience of painting and staying in the back country. For the most part she slipped seamlessly into the program. On August 9th, she and I painted side by side ...  

Sharon and I painted at the lookout nearest the lodge
My finished Mount Assiniboine oil on panel 14" x 11" is available at Webster Galleries 

All back country expeditions are exhilarating and inspirational. Add painting to the mix and they become gloriously enriching.

Accessing Mount Assiniboine by helicopter will always be a huge rush, plus it's a great deal faster. Eight minutes versus eight hours on foot. On the morning of August 7th, at the Mount Shark staging area, we were forced to wait for the clouds to lift before flying could commence. Multiple fights and incredible precision are required to fly gear and visitors out, economically timed with flying visitors and gear in. Lodge guests fly first. Our gang flew last. 

You can walk into and out of Mount Assiniboine, and we have. It's 28kms one way
Enjoying the flight

Flying around the end of the rock wall of Mount Caultley your heart skips a beat while your breath simultaneously catches in your throat because, suddenly, now you can see what we've all come here for - the Queen of the Rockies ...

There she is!

We were a party of eight, which is the capacity of the largest of the Naiset Huts. The huts are self catered, dorm style accommodations. The five cabins were built in 1925 by Alpine Club of Canada founder, A.O. Wheeler. Although some huts have been upgraded, the Aster's interior has not. It's especially rustic. Its two sets of double bunks are pretty narrow. Can you believe eight adults can squeeze in here? Let's just say it was a tight fit ... 

Patti, Sharon and Laura at the Aster Hut
 Yours truly painting the towers, August 8th
This is as far as I got with the Towers before it rained. The painting still waits for me to come back to it.

Our group consisted of four painters and four hikers. For Bill and me there were some new faces. It's a good thing Grant Waddell's warm, easy demeanour stole my heart because he paints altogether too well - if I didn't already love him, I'd hate him. 

August, 8th, Bill and I found Grant painting the shoreline of Lake Magog
Here is Grant with a couple of his precious, little jewels on the porch of the Aster Hut, August 8th

Bill and I hadn't been to Assiniboine since the deluxe Wonder Lodge Cooking Shelter had been built. Prior to it, you had to bring your own stove and cooking gear. Cooking is not permitted inside the huts. Many of the hut porches don't have a roof, so you'd be at the mercy of the elements.

The Wonder Lodge Cooking Shelter makes staying in the Naiset Huts so much easier. Aster hut is seen in the background
Before the song sheets came out, Sharon, yours truly, Bill, Grant, Patti, Laura, Megan and Anne in the cooking shelter, August 8th

It was a surprise to find John Harvie, and his wife Zel, at the helicopter staging area. I was even more thrilled that he remembered me from the late 1980s when we met at a Sunshine Village Art awards banquet. He's a delightful fellow and a consummate watercolourist. It was awesome to visit with them here ... 

John and Zel Harvie

August 8th, after a day of mixed weather the sky cleared and we were presented with remarkable evening light.

The Towers
Yours truly, Anne Walton, Laura Coderre, Megan Morgan and Patti Dyment watching the sundown, August 8th
The Queen at Sunset 

As I am wont to do, in the back country, I slipped out of bed before dawn to see if we might expect a glorious, alpenglow morning. The potential was there and the sky had the right amount of clouds so I went up to the high lookout, in front of the lodge, where I waited for my reward ...

Mount Assiniboine at dawn, August 9th
The day promised to and turned out to be a most excellent one 

Soon I spied some of my bunkmates, including Bill, gradually appearing along the lower trail, so I wandered down to greet them.

Thanks for this photo Grant
Morning mist on Lake Magog
Happy painter at work, August 9th

When Sharon and I had finished painting we dropped our gear back at our hut and, with Bill, wandered toward The Towers. We were on the right side of the creek and waved to Patti painting on the left.  

The Towers
While Bill rock hopped, Sharon and I took off our boots and socks to cross the outlet of Gog Lake

We could see Grant painting the waterfalls, but by the time we reached him he was finished and had packed up.

The grassy trail was soft, it felt so good to have the earth beneath our bare feet

The lure of happy hour came upon us and we all went tripping back down the trail. We passed Patti still hard at work ...

Patti painting The Towers

Patti is quick on her feet and hustled to the lodge right behind us. During afternoon tea (between 4 and 5pm) non lodge guests can purchase beer, wine, tea or coffee and cake at the lodge. Every day most of us made our way to the beckoning happy hour. It was grand to warm up in the dining room on the wet, cold days and wonderful to sit out front on the sunny day ...

Yours truly, Sharon and Patti, August 9th

And suddenly, just like that, the party was over and it was time to depart. On the morning of August 10th it was cloudy and drizzling but there was enough visibility to fly...

The staff work like the dickens to load gear and hustle passengers onto the helicopter 
It's somewhat of a rush to fly this close to the rock wall of Mount Caultley 
Spray Lakes en route to back to the Mount Shark heliport

I have such gratitude for times spent in places like this. The memories of these experiences fill my soul and will stay in my heart, forever.  Thank you, Patti, for making this trip a reality. 


  1. What a wonderful post, Alice. Experiencing the mountains in this manner must be the epitome of mountaineering based on your gorgeous photos. I especially love your photo of the dawn light on The Queen, as well as the creek bed leading to The Towers. How you could keep your eyes open long enough to get a picture of the Mount Caultley rock wall fly-by is beyond me. I'd have had my eyes closed and lips moving in prayer! Fabulous visuals - wonderful read, my friend. xo

    1. You make me need to tell you about a dream I had sometime after my first flight into Assiniboine.
      I was flying in a helicopter with Denise on one side of me and Laura on the the other. I shouted to the pilot that we were too close to the rock wall - I could see our shadow on the wall. Then I really looked at the shadow and saw that there were only the shadows of myself and the girls seated. There was no shadow of a helicopter or the pilot. It was awesome!