After turning the corner on a remote mountain pass north of Glacier National Park, I stop to catch my breath and gaze upon the emerald waters of Ventego Lake — encircled by imposing mountains with Mordor-like names, including Sorcerer, Mystic and Iconoclast. The first thing that hits me is the fierce September wind, which funnels down through glacier-clad peaks and pummels the exposed lakeshore and hardy trees rooted there.
To get here, I have followed a team of ecologists along the aptly named “Heinous Traverse,” a trail that cuts across steep mountain slopes under hazardous rockfall. It leads us away from our temporary home at Sorcerer Lodge — a mecca for backcountry skiers that’s accessible only by helicopter.
These are the lengths ecologists will go to as they work to protect whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), an endangered species that grows high in the mountains of western North America. It is just one small part of a multi-year strategy to restore the trees throughout mountain parks. “It’s conservation at the ecosystem scale, which means we’re focused beyond park boundaries as well,” says Natalie Stafl, a senior Parks Canada ecologist who’s leading the restoration project for Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks. “We know what we need to do, and we know it’s possible. It’s just a matter of getting everyone working together to make it happen.”