Saturday, October 19, 2019

Horse riding

Hello all! As you may have noticed, it's been a little quiet on the blog and Instagram for a bit. Not quite as bad as last time, but still. Anyway, long story short, I've had an extended bout of mononucleosis, or glandular fever as it is sometimes called. It's taken a while to work out what it is, which has made it a bit tricky to know what to do about it. However, it has given me an excuse to indulge my interest in herbal remedies for things, since there's nothing conventional that really helps with viruses. The upshot of which is that I've been drinking lots of elderberry teas, tinctures and syrups, as well as making a big jar of clove, cinnamon, lemon and rosemary syrup, which is supposed to boost the immune system.

Not sure if this helped much, but it soothes the throat and tastes excellent
Anyway, back to the main topic. Another highlight of the summer- a short horse trek around the Athabasca Trail! It was a bit tricky to take pictures while riding a horse, so I don't have many shots of the trail, but it was a lovely path that wound through the forest and along the ridgeline above the river, giving an absolutely gorgeous view. The horses were (mostly) rather well behaved, and the set-up meant that this is perfectly accessible even for someone who has never ridden before (or hasn't ridden for more than 10 years, such as myself).

By an interesting coincidence, my hat and coat were almost identical to the ones the staff wore.
And the very lovely Shadow wanted a picture too, of course.

Now, you might assume, as I did, that Great Uncle Jack would have primarily travelled by horse. And whilst it seems that this was true most of the time, it would appear that he did experiment with some alternative forms of transport.
Back in Jack's home county of Cornwall, Richard Trevithick had been producing steam carriages from 1801 to 1808, including the famous 'Puffing Devil' of Cambourne. Whether Uncle Jack was inspired by these and started building his own once he was in Canada, or bought one and modified it I don't know, but from scattered references through his notes, it would seem that he travelled for some time on or with a steam carriage called the 'Brazen Angel'. 
His descriptions of it are a bit patchy since it seems he only ever intended these notes for his own reference, and only really when he's making a modification or repair. It gets referenced fairly often, as either 'the Angel' or 'Brazen Angel'

It seems that the original design was something partway between the Puffing Devil and the London Steam Coach, but with an exterior coating of wood and copper, as featured on ironclad battleships of the time, presumably to help it cope with the Canadian climate with less maintenance.
Think of the general design of the steam carriage, but shrink the passenger compartment and make the boiler closer to the size of that on the Puffing Devil, and then have the whole thing tow a wagon of substantial size.

I've collected a few of the most descriptive examples- as you'd expect they mostly relate to modifications and repairs, but I think they give a fairly good impression of the overall construction of the thing. Well, except for the sections that probably involved a higher than usual dose of Piskie Blood, but it should be fairly clear which those are.

The copper cladding is behaving as expected. Greatly reduced issues with corrosion, and no further need for repainting. Very pleased with the decision to mount the firebox and boiler beneath the driver's carriage. Easy to refuel while driving, and keeps everything warm. I have been warned by a local that I may regret this in summer, however. May need to look at adding a fan to the cabin before then. Some issues with slopes and loose terrain, however. Modifications to the wheels and drive system may well be required.


The new broader wheels help considerably with soft and loose terrain. Still having some issues with weight distribution and steering. Need to develop a variant drive train and steering system that will power all wheels simultaneously. Could be quite a challenge.


The device from The Mines appears to be a highly compact and efficient steam engine of some description. I have been unable to dismantle it to ascertain the nature of the mechanisms inside. It appears that when connected to an adequate water supply, and fitted with one of the glowing rods found in the adjacent chamber, it appears to produce a substantial quantity of electricity, rotational motion, and an exhaust of high-pressure steam. The modifications will be challenging, but this will an excellent alternative power source for the Angel, as well as my other devices.


The Radium Engine, which I have named for the town near the mines where I discovered it, has been a tremendous boon. The Angel has a positive surplus of power, now. The absence of pistons has simplified the drive system, and I have now managed to connect it to the steering-wheels as well. I have also taken the liberty of installing a small calliope to use the excess steam, so that I may enjoy musical accompaniment while I travel. It does appear that I have erred in the installation, however. The speed at which the music plays corresponds to the speed of travel. Although interesting, this was not my intention. I shall correct this later, and send off for more music rolls at the first opportunity.

As per usual, the accuracy of some of this is questionable, to say the least. I certainly hope so, anyway. The thought of Uncle Jack lumbering over the Canadian countryside in some sort of steam turbine powered tractor with a miniature organ mounted on the back is quite an unsettling one. Though it might go some way to explaining some of the odd tracks and strange howling sounds reported by some other groups and expeditions, so then again, who knows? I'm fairly confident that he didn't find some sort of nuclear reactor in a mine, though. I'll have to look for the rest of his notes on Radium and the mines.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Icefields and Skywalk

Alright, time for one of the highlights of the trip so far- the Glacier and Skywalk trip! This was a pretty full day, and included a stop-off at the Athabasca Falls on the way to the glacier, as well as lunch at the icefield centre. If you ever find yourself in the area of Jasper, this is an absolute must.

Right, so, first stop: the Falls! These were absolutely beautiful, especially since we were there at just the right time to see some lovely rainbows in the falls.

Another rather delightful spot we passed was Tangle Creek- didn't have time to stop, so just snapped a picture as we passed, but it looks like it'll be worth returning to if I get the time.

We stopped for another photo opportunity just before we reached the glacier. You can see just how thick the ice is on top of the mountain; in places, it's up to 300 metres.

There was also this rather calm raven that I managed to get pretty close to:

Then a buffet lunch at the glacier centre, accompanied by an excellent view:

Then, on to the main event! There's a lot I could say about the discovery and history of the glacier, but I think that this time it's best to let the pictures speak for themselves. (For those that like the historical bits, don't worry! Uncle Jack has a lot to say about the glacier, so we'll cover all of that in a future post).

Finally, the Skywalk! A large concrete pathway that juts out over a canyon, with a glass section part way round. Once again, I think the pictures say it best:

As a footnote, the glacier water was cool, crisp, delicious, and made excellent tea later on.

Right, that'll do for this time, I think. Next time, a bit of history, the wildlife I spotted on the way, and Uncle Jack's notes!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Canoeing and Pyramid Mountain

Hello again! Right, time for a couple of the things I've actually gone and done in the local area. Sometime back in June, I think. Yes, well. Anyway. First, canoeing on Pyramid Lake!

Pyramid Lake is about an hours walk from the main town along a lovely wooded trail that takes you past the stables (more on those later) and the absolutely beautiful Patricia Lake:

The water here is a truly fantastic colour. It varies according to rainfall, which alters the concentration of rock flour, and the angle and intensity of sunlight. I was fortunate enough to have a particularly good day for the colour on this lake, though Pyramid was a little duller. One of the other fun aspects of the terrain is that the varying flow in the different glacial lakes means that the colour of adjacent lakes is rarely quite the same.

And here is Pyramid Lake, under the majestic Pyramid Mountain! And the unusually purple forest. It's really very sad that so much of the forest has succumbed to pine beetle infestation, but it really is quite striking. Not quite as traditional as the deep green of a healthy forest, but quite picturesque.
It was a pretty windy day, which made progressing across the lake a little awkward, but manageable.
Either way, I can heartily recommend this as a way to spend an hour. Or three, if you include the walk. 

And a rare selfie, just to prove it's still me

Now, Pyramid Mountain. According to some of the records I've found, it used to be called Priest's Mountain. I haven't found a conclusive reason as to why, but I suspect it's linked to the same French (or possibly Belgian) Jesuit priest who is supposed to have named Maligne Canyon. Either way, it didn't gain the name Pyramid Mountain till 1859. Great Uncle Jack has some... interesting... things to say about it. For one thing, he always refers to it as 'The Pyramid' or 'The Priest's Pyramid'. I assume that he is simply being whimsical with his descriptions, though it appears that he may have confused himself (aided no doubt by the 'Piskie Blood'). Sadly the passage which deals most directly with 'the pyramid' is rather badly damaged. I've typed up as much as I can, but thanks to the sections rendered illegible by water damage, burns, and what I'm fairly sure are tea stains, what's left doesn't really make a lot of sense. You'll see what I mean.

The pyramid looms over everything, its dark, steep sides marked and broken by... and the passage of time. The peak, capped with bright... reflects the light of ... harsh, and bright, tracking across the land beneath, as... from east to west.
Approaching from the south, by use of ... and climbing equipment, we gained access to the lower... 
...dark hindered our ascent, despite... not the time to explore fully, we pressed on... narrow and winding, with twists and turns that seemed to defy reason...Reached our

And from there it becomes entirely illegible. Interestingly, this seems to be one of the rare occasions that Uncle Jack has actually revisited his own notes, as there's a later addition in the margin:

I had intended to return and restore these notes, as well as to undertake a more thorough exploration, and attempt a translation, with the knowledge I have since gained. Unfortunately, they've gone and put a bloody mountain on top of the thing. I doubt that I shall ever make it back inside now.

As mentioned, I strongly suspect that he has simply confused himself over the years, thanks to the drink and drugs. The alternative, that there is an actual pyramid somehow concealed under Mount Pyramid, is simply silly.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

A small update

Hello all! Sorry it's been a while since the last update, there's been rather a lot going on. I started planning a restructuring of the blog, then got hit with a combination of norovirus, covering for colleagues who were ill, and then recovering from all of that. Suddenly all of August was gone, and I hadn't written a thing.
So, blog plans! I've ended up with a bit of a backlog of things, and am going to have a go at shorter, weekly updates, and alternate between what I've been up to, and going through Uncle Jack's old notes. The exact frequency of which happens when remains to be seen. Might take a while to get all of that setup and ready, but hopefully, that should be starting in a fortnight.

In the meantime, to actually stick to the intended theme of Canadian eccentricities, here are some fancy sweet tins:

And a very nice set of bitters from a Canadian company, with a range of interesting flavours, such as charred cedar, praire rose and mango and saffron:

Also, I've been tinkering with a bit of photo editing. Here are a few updates of older shots- some enhanced, some that now look more like what I could see, but not capture.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Maligne Canyon and a spot of history

One of the very first walks I went on when I arrived in Jasper, back in March, was at Maligne Canyon. Thanks to steep paths and packed snow, I didn't get terribly far and decided to save it till I had been on a longer walk there. Well, since you need to drive or set aside most of a day to walk to the canyon and back from Jasper, that still hasn't happened. However, I did get to repeat most of the route that I did the first time as part of a more recent tour, and the difference that just a few months have made is remarkable.


Here, for example, is the waterfall near the top of the trail as it was back in March.

And here is that same waterfall at the end of June. Just a couple of months and an almost 20-degree rise in temperature makes quite a substantial difference.

Not quite the same shot, but the same bit of canyon. It really is a beautiful spot, and I can't wait to get back and finally do the full walk.

I'm sure that the lighting and colours in the scenery make a rather large difference, but I think my photography has improved a bit too.
Apparently, the whole canyon used to be a part of the underground karst system that connects a lot of the lakes and rivers in the areas, until a glacier ripped the top off as the ice age started to recede. The result of which is that we get this beautiful bit of scenery, as well as a bit of an idea as to how things look in the various other underground channels.
Something I wasn't quite in time to organise when I arrived, but which I hope I get to try in October/November, is walking along the ice floor of the canyon when it's frozen. It looks like it should be a remarkable experience.
Another feature of the canyon are the chockstones, large boulders that have tumbled into the canyon and stuck there. And whilst it may not be terribly dramatic in winter, in summer it provides what I think may be my favourite photo of the trip so far.

The mist from the waterfall provides the perfect backdrop. This is a truly fantastic place, and I cannot recommend visiting highly enough.

As far as I can tell, Uncle Jack never visited the canyon- I certainly can't find anything in his notes about it, anyway. So instead, this seems to be a good time to provide a bit of extra information about the world he lived in and his travelling arrangments.
So, at this point in Jack's travels, it is 1810. Britain is at war with the French Empire under Napoleon. Humphry Davy has discovered chlorine, through experimentation with a voltaic pile, and Lord Byron has swum the Hellespont. At present, these events are held to be largely unconnected.
In Uncle Jack's home county of Cornwall, Richard Trevithick has been experimenting with high-pressure steam power since 1801 and has constructed a number of functioning locomotives. At the same time, belief in pixies and the like is widespread.
Meanwhile, in Canada, David Thompson has set out to navigate the length of the Columbia River. It is this trip that will eventually lead to him being shown a path through the Athabasca Pass in 1811. This was the expedition upon which they encountered the tracks of what David Thomspon argued was a large bear, but was held by other members of the expedition to be either a Sasquatch or a young mammoth. Legend had it that the area near the head of the pass was home to creatures of unusual size, and it was these that Jack had come to investigate. In the words of the great cartographer himself:

Report from old times had made the head branches of this River, and the 
      Mountains in the vicinity the abode of one, or more, very large animals, 
      to which I never appeared to give credence; for these reports appeared 
      to arise from that fondness for the marvellous so common to mankind: but 
      the sight of the track of that large a beast staggered me, and I often 
      thought of it, yet never could bring myself to believe such an animal 
      existed, but thought it might be the track of some Monster Bear.

Recorded in a posting to the IVBC, 1995 Henry Franzoni, Oregon

To that end, Uncle Jack had brought a remarkable array of equipment. I shan't run through the full list of food and clothing, not least because his record keeping is as haphazard as always, but I think this is a good time to mention some of his most used, and most unusual pieces of monster hunting equipment.

Starting with one that's already been mentioned: the voltaic pile and Luminiferous Array. Bearing in mind that at this point the aether theory of light prevails, here's Uncle Jack's description:

By means of an array of movable arc lamps, lenses and mirrors, it is possible to erect not just a boundary of light rays, but a wide variety of Aetheric Constructions, the light being used to affect the flow of aether in a localised area... The result being akin to that ancient principle of the Magic Circle, but affected by means of Science, it is of great value in dealing with Beings and Forces that dwell more in the Aetheric Realm than in the Material... The great limitation is the need for Voltaic Piles to provide power for the lamps, restricting me to mere minutes of operation. Candles or oil lamps may be substituted if necessary, but the reduction in the flow of light greatly diminishes the strength of the aetheric field.

This is possibly the best example of Uncle Jack's approach to this sort of thing. If a 'normal' magic circle works with candles, then one made with arc lamps (recently invented by Humphry Davy) should be better.

UPDATE: I've found the diagram for the 'luminiferous pentagram'!

On another page in the same box there's mention of 'notes damaged in an accident with an arc lamp', of which I would assume this is one, but Uncle Jack also says that all the results and observations survived. Hopefully, those may include the notes regarding his experiments at the tower, so keep an eye out for those!

Sadly he doesn't describe any of the rest of his equipment in any detail, so I have pieced together the rest of this from situational descriptions and passing mentions:

  • The Galvanic Harpoon- This seems to have been a cart or tripod mounted weapon, based on a modified swivel gun. It would seem that Jack added a second iron, along with a pair of electrical cables, each attached to one iron, and to one of the terminals of a set of Leyden jars. The net results being that once the two irons embed themselves in the target, the circuit was completed. Essentially, it was a very early taser- just one that delivered a single, massive shock with a tendency to set things on fire instead of a paralyzing burst. Possibly something to do with why it never caught on. At some point, he seems to have created a shoulder-mounted version as well, but to have limited its use thanks to severe recoil-related bruising.
  • Cold-Iron Blunderbuss- A relatively straightforward piece of equipment, this one. Based on the old folklore of iron being inimical to fey creatures, witches and the like, it would seem that Jack fitted a conventional blunderbuss with some sort of replaceable lining allowing him to load it with iron shot instead of lead- and occasionally even stranger projectiles.
  • Aetheric Carbine- I honestly don't know how this thing was supposed to work. The idea seems to have been to channel a bright pulse of light (provided by a spark cap and a Leyden jar) through an array of crystal lenses (primarily quartz?) in such a way as to create an 'aetheric pulse', capable of stunning and incapacitating a creature 'in direct proportion to the aetheric sensitivity of the beast in question', whatever that means. It seems to be worth noting that even Jack considered this weapon to be somewhat experimental and unreliable.
  • Fulminating Arquebus- This would seem to be Jack's modification of the 1807 scent-bottle lock. As usual, it would appear that he took things a step futher, and developed some kind of fulminate based explosive projectiles. How he made that work I really don't know- the key seems to have been swapping mercury fulminate for some other sort of fulminate. But since he never specifies fulminate of what, exactly, it's a little hard to be sure. Either way, it seems to have had substantial destructive power, and to have been Jack's last resort for when something needed to be killed rather than captured, complete with an array of specialised shells.
Those seem to have been his four most notable pieces of equipment, alongside an array of nets, cages, food and so on- and some rather unusual transportation, which I shall cover in more detail next time. As well as that pyramid I mentioned last time. I haven't forgotten, but decided I should probably cover some of this first.

And so, till next time, here's a tiny wild strawberry: