Baja’s Other Side
The Destination: On the southern Baja’s Espiritu Santo Island, striking layers of pastel pink, yellow and brown volcanic ash in the desert soil contrast with the whitesand beaches and azure waters to create a magical scene. On land, this is true desert, ruled by iguanas and birds. In the water, it’s diverse, full of corals, fish, sharks and whales. No wonder the waters around the island, northeast of La Paz, are protected within a marine sanctuary.
The Action: While most guided groups that come to the east side of Mexico’s Baja California Sur spend all their time in and on the water, mostly sea kayaking, to Louis Marino of Alpine Interface, the landscape is just as enticing. The itinerary and difficulty of his trips to Espiritu Santo Island vary, but all spend equal time wandering the desert as they do paddling and snorkelling in the ocean. With local naturalists as guides, the hikes are typically themed around the endemic wildlife, like sea lions, iguanas, crabs and sea birds — as well as wandering into the local geography to uncover how the colourful ash arrived here from mainland volcanoes. With temperatures ranging from perfect during the winter to smoking-hot in May, part of each day will be spent on the water learning about why the island is a gathering place for pelagic species like humpback whales and mako sharks.
The Details: December through May departures; from $2,900; alpineinterface.com
Trailing Southern Sourdoughs
The Destination: In the 1890s, prospectors swarmed over the Kokanee Range of BC’s Purcell Mountains, cutting trails across the alpine ridges in search of silver. The white granite peaks eventually yielded 100 mines and attracted thousands of fortune seekers before silver tanked and the region busted. Today, beyond a few ghost towns, like nearby Sandon, the silver boom and the high mountain trails are largely forgotten — except by the mountain goats that graze where prospectors once tromped.
The Action: At the end of an old mine trail, Mount Carlyle Backcountry Lodge embraces the area’s mining history; guides have uncovered an 18-km-long prospector route traversing a nearby ridgeline. With 360-degree mountain views, rolling topography and perfect campsites at alpine tarns, it’s ideal backpacking terrain. But rather than put guests through the rigours of lugging overnight gear, grunting through the elevation gains endemic to the Kootenays, the lodge set up two camps along the route. The trek begins at Idaho Peak; a lofty trailhead. With nothing but a day-pack weighing them down, hikers set off in the tracks of prospectors along the Sourdough Trail, wandering the wildflower-filled ridge to the camps and then to the lodge itself for the final night. The hiking distances are short — five to 10 km — but detours to nearby summits and meadows abound.
The Details: Available throughout the summer; $600; skihikebc.com
Help Study Wolves
The Destination: In southern Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park, the Rocky Mountains shoot out of the prairie with no warning, no foothills. The jarring transition creates ideal habitat for a huge range of species — but two in particular. Elk like the mix of open grassland and forest shelter. A recovering population of wolves stalks through the park, mostly hunting the elk. Then, into the mix comes humanity, who not only once decimated the wolf population but also upset the natural ecology by taming wildfires — a balance we’re now trying to restore with controlled burns.
The Action: This citizen science project pairs volunteers and researchers to better understand the relationship between prescribed burns, elk grazing habits and wolf biology. The goal of the burns is to whittle back invading aspen trees, thereby opening up more grassland to optimize the grazing for elk. But as the wolf population rebounds, they too are drawn to the regenerating areas to prey on elk. Researchers believe the wolf pressure is keeping the elk out of the new grasslands, but they don’t know for sure. That’s where the volunteers come in. Based out of Waterton townsite, the volunteers hike off-trail, through rarely visited parts of the park, studying aspen growth, recording evidence of elk and wolf sign and tracking the shy carnivores.
The Details: 7 to 13 days; July to September; $2,150 and up; earthwatch.org