Helen Lake and beyond, Banff National Park, 2012

Submitted by Lori S. on

We took a late season hike up to Helen Lake in northern Banff on August 27th. I'll show some of the highlights (to me, that is ;D) in this thread, but a more thorough trip journal can be seen at this link:

Subalpine meadows along the trail, with the perfect spires of subalpine fir in the valley... The most prominent blooming plant is Senecio triangularis, with a few Valeriana sitchensis, Parnassia fimbriata and asters still in bloom; the Castilleja are mostly done in this area but the bracts are even more richly-coloured as they age; a few flowers still on Veratrum viride ssp. eschscholtzii:

And continuing up into the extensive alpine meadows, some Gentiana glauca and extensive mats of partridgefoot, Luetkea pectinata (which I had not noticed before!):

Continuing up into a rocky area, beautiful mats of Tonestus (Haplopappus) lyallii, Castilleja and Erigeron aureus:


Submitted by Lori S. on Tue, 08/28/2012 - 18:49

Looking back, the Dolomites on the left, with Mt. Hector and Hector Glacier, and little Hector off in the distance.  The view is very hazy due to smoke from forest fires burning in the Kootenay in BC:

And looking ahead to what I find to be the most interesting area...

A very few Silene acaulis still in bloom, and heightened colour showing up on various plants such as this Sedum lanceolatum:

Erigeron humilis x2 (please correct me if I'm wrong); Castilleja; Solidago multiradiata;

Silene uralensis in what may seem something of a moonscape to some (but a fascinating environment for alpine plants!):

And speaking of moonscapes...

Submitted by Lori S. on Wed, 08/29/2012 - 10:12

In the previous photo, each of the dark spots on the apparent moonscape (a silty expanse of smaller rock rubble) is a tiny plant of, most commonly, Crepis nana, Silene uralensis, or Saxifraga oppositifolia:

Moonscape or alpine desert?

Amazingly, I found one little Saxifraga oppositifolia still in bloom on August 27th!

A few patches of permanent snow up there, covered in windblown silt) with very concentrated watermelon snow (Chlamydomonas nivalis, green algae) along a melted edge:

Gorgeous colours in a little alpine garden:

Oxyria digyna, with frost-touched colour, and a very floriferous Crepis nana:

Submitted by Lori S. on Wed, 08/29/2012 - 12:16

Saussurea nuda; Draba sp.; chickweed; Boechera (Arabis) lyallii:


A bit of a plateau along the snowmelt drainage, with beautiful stands of cottongrass, Eriophorum sp.:

Epilobium sp., sweet coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus v. nivalis vitifolius), Veronica wormskjoldii and mosses in the wet talus:

Heading down along the drainage:

Along the creek, the pikas have collected stems of mountain beauty (Epilobium latifolium, shown here) and sweet coltsfoot into little haystacks for drying... provisions for the coming winter in their burrows under the snow:

Submitted by Lori S. on Wed, 08/29/2012 - 12:36

Thanks, Cohan!

And in closing, some shots of very intensely coloured Epilobium sp. and Erigeron humilis in the moonscape, and some colour along the trail on the way down:

Submitted by RickR on Wed, 08/29/2012 - 19:02

Everything looks so happy growing up there!

That florifilicious crepis: do they EVER bloom like that "normally"?  I wonder if it could have fasciated...

What was the temperature like up there on Aug 27?

Submitted by Lori S. on Wed, 08/29/2012 - 19:34

Thanks for the comments!
Rick, I'd be inclined to think that it was a "normal" plant though exceptional - I'd guess an older, very well-developed one, within the range of variation for the population.  (See also the Silene uralensis in the preceding shots, that has 13 flowerheads where most have 2 or 3.)  It doesn't look distorted to me, as is usually the case with fasciation.  I suppose it could perhaps be more than one seedling grown together?  If you do a google search, though, you can find some equally floriferous examples.

It was a little over 20 deg C at the highest point of our hike, with a coolish breeze... 30 deg C back in Calgary.