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Trail Updates (7)

Wed, 04 Nov 1998 23:02:36 PST

This is the seventh and last Y2Y Hike update for this year – watch for a note sometime next May after we complete a five-week section by ski north of Jasper. Two thousand wonderful kilometers of the 3400-kilometer trek from Y to Y are behind me now as I pause for the next 4 months to take a rest, make some money, plan, prepare and begin the arduous task of fundraising for next year’s outreach program.

Sept 28 – Oct 26, 1998 Ya Ha Tinda Ranch, Alberta to Jasper 280kms

The round tracks in pure fresh snow, the gleaming lines of brown pellets not yet frozen, and the sharp jagged edges of broken ice told of the caribou that had passed earlier that morning but eluded our eyes for the next three days. It was as though the brisk cold winds that had washed the songbirds south, and had plucked the last leaves from the naked willows and dwarf birch, had also pushed the caribou out of this broad, open country of rolling heather meadows and smoke-colored peaks streaked with winter’s first snows.

It happened early one evening. Freed of the heavy, lurching packs left at a park patrol cabin, we skipped up broken cliff bands aside waterfalls, reveling in our new mobility. Our objective was a high plateau that cradled three lakes below a towering wall of limestone and quartzite. The three lakes, each fed by a different stream and a different glacier, were three distinct colors: dark blue, turquoise and pink.

But it was before we even got to the lakes that it happened: the sight, and then the gentle knocking of two caribou bulls sparring, high on a slope with the gleaming icecap of Poboktan Peak as a backdrop. We were upwind of the two cutting bulls and it wasn’t long before the straining forms stopped, looked and then ran towards us.

A dip in the slope concealed them for a few anxious moments, the pounding of hooves on soft alpine duff drumming through the ground as we dropped to our knees and grabbed the dog. A muffled heartbeat of hooves grew louder and louder until thelarger bull crested and stopped no more than 50 feet in front of us snorting, huffing, and coughing. The dog shook uncontrollably, and Justin’s leg started twitching as I grappled with camera settings in the low gray light. After a few minutes, the standoff was over. Curiosity satisfied, the throaty bull grasped a few clumps of lichen in his rubbery lips and drifted away over the rise.

The ghostly caribou of the White Goat Wilderness and Jasper National Park in snow squalls seem a long way from the herds of antelope in shimmering heat at the base of the Bridger and Big Belt Mountains of Montana earlier this summer. And I must admit, this whole idea of Y2Y, let alone the hike, seemed a little overwhelming back then when I left, with fellow hiker Maxine Achurch, and publicist Justin Thompson, from Yellowstone. But we’ve learned a few things along the way:

  1. ) The line I followed north from Yellowstone along the Gallatins, Bridgers, Big Belt Mountains and then to either side of the Continental Divide up to Jasper is much more intact than I ever imagined. Of the 86 days walking, almost half (40 days) were in legislated wilderness areas or national parks. Another 11 days were in designated roadless areas, 8 days on private lands (some of which are already in conservation easements) and the remainder (27 days) on public lands managed for multiple use. Barriers, although significant (e.g. 8 major highways, about half of which support high and growing levels of intense urban, tourism and industrial development) are relatively localized. Of the 86 days on the trail, there were only 14 where I did not observe evidence of recent grizzly bear activity or the bruins themselves. Y2Y isn’t some pipe dream for the future. It’s mostly about keeping what still exists today.
  2. ) The number, diversity, passion and commitment of people pushing for change in the region is truly inspiring. To all of you that engaged in great conversation, allowed us to sleep in your yards, on your floors or in your beds, didn’t shoot us for asking stupid questions about trapping or ranching, shared your beer, and tolerated Webster chasing your cats, thank you for your hospitality, inspiration and hope.

For each person that is already mobilized and active, we sense there are many more that are willing and keen to participate in an initiative like Y2Y. There are however, a number of key issues that we consistently heard from people along the way that will need to be addressed if Y2Y is to gain the support of a broader constituency. Perhaps the most common message was that Y2Y, as a network, must become much more specific in what it stands for and exactly how it hopes to achieve its vision. Even some broad statements about Y2Y’s stand on issues like grazing in identified connections and transition zones, hunting, and forestry will go far in helping other groups to decide whether or not they would like to become involved. There are some powerful and important groups (i.e. Montana Wildlife Federation) that are interested in Y2Y but demand more specificity.

Given the diverse number of groups that currently comprise the Y2Y network, we expect that this process will be difficult. We also realize that many may perceive “specifics” as a threat to the flexibility and adaptability of the vision to fit a variety of locales that differ in topography, vegetation, and existing and future land use. However, we feel there is an urgency at hand to move beyond the “amorphous blob” to something more concrete. Without it, everyone (member groups and others) interpret what Y2Y is for themselves. The underlying danger is that there is an inconsistent and sometimes false message of what Y2Y will mean “on the ground”. In the eyes of the general public, such unconsistencies and falsehoods may halt and undermine the growing momentum that gives Y2Y so much promise today.

Detailed observations, suggested strategies, potential new alliances, profiles of each community visited and a database of key contacts (media and otherwise) is being compiled by Karsten Heuer and Justin Thompson and will be forwarded to the Y2Y Coordinating Committee in the form of a written report and digital database mid to late December 98. Please contact Kat Wiebe (403) 609-2666 or email her at kataty2y@banff.net if you’re interested in receiving a copy.

Media

More than 90 articles on Y2Y and the Hike ran in local and national media in both the US and Canada over the past 6 months. Most media exposure was in local weekly newspapers throughout the Y2Y region but included national newspapers and magazines, television and radio shows.

Stories about the Hike and Y2Y during this last section appeared in the Rocky Mountain House Mountaineer, Canada’s Globe and Mail, USA’s Sports Afield, the Hinton Parklander, the Jasper Booster, the Edmonton Journal (front page), the University of Alberta Gateway, the Prince George Citizen, the Prince George Free Press, on CBC TV in Calgary, the A Channel in Edmonton, on University of Alberta Radio, CBC Radio in Edmonton, CBC Radio in Prince George, a call-in talk show on CJCI Radio in Prince George and national exposure on the popular CBC radio show  “This Morning”. Mike Finkel, a freelance writer for Audubon magazine joined us for three days between Edmonton and Dunster and may be joining the trek again for the first few days on skis next.

Presentations

Fifty presentations were made to public, government and student audiences in 37 communities between Jackson, Wyoming and Jasper Alberta over the last 5 months.

Presentations on this last section of the hike were well attended – ranging from 21 people in the tiny community of Nordegg to more than 200 in Edmonton. Other public presentations were held in Rocky Mountain House, Jasper, Hinton, at the University of Alberta, in Dunster and in Prince George.

With thoughts drifting elsewhere towards the end of the trip, the organized campaign and release of a report slamming Y2Y by the Forest Alliance of BC put us back on our toes in the communities of Dunster and Prince George, BC – right in the heart of logging country. The report, an incredibly simplistic summary of fearful statistics on job loss and loss of revenue in the BC Forest Industry was based on the completely false assumption that Y2Y would force forestry out of the entire Y2Y study area. The report, and the charismatic spokesperson who released it (Jack Munro) generated some fears that we worked hard to dispel both at our presentations and in the media. Bart Robinson, Peter Aengst and Harvey Locke have also been working hard to dispel some of the myths.

Have a great winter and stay tuned for the first update for next season sometime in May 1999. PHOTOS are posted on our website. You may reach us by email at y2yhike@hotmail.com or leave a message for us by phone (403) 540-6446.

Karsten Heuer (hiker)
Justin Thompson (publicist)
Webster the dog


 
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