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Round the World Journey

The Rockies

CANADA | Thursday, 24 August 2017 | Views [219]

I finally got to bed at 1.30 am and woke up early with a groan but when I ventured outside, the view of the mountains was stunning and I was dying to get out and explore.

After coffee with my new found German friend, and having already checked out the hire car and a tourist map, I set off along the Maligne route which took me first to a beautiful wooded canyon where i enjoyed my first fresh air free from the train for 4 days. The road get better and better and started to follow a beautiful clear river along the valley and alongside the mountains.  Eventually i reached Medicine Lake which stretched far into the distance, and beyond that Lake Maligne where holiday makers were enjoying boat crusies and kayaking. I would have joined the kayakers but thought that $50 for an hour was a bit steep.

Back in town, i went back to visit Bobo - the poor black bear who had come into town early this morning and with the encouragement of park rangers to go back home, had instead headed up a tree right next to the Farmers Market.  He was still there some 8 hours later, looking out warily form time to time, but mostly napping.  The rangers think that he will come down during the night - and are hoping that he heads up to the forest and not downtown back towards the river and the rest of his family.  Hopefully pellets will be unecessary and not do any real harm.  I certainly hope that he doesn't head downtown forcing more drastic action.  

The camp site which was futher out of town than i envisaged, albeit on a road with stunning vistas whichever way you looked. Perhaps the best was the sight of some wags sat with a picnic table in the middle of a lake, the water level being just ankle deep across. I lost count of the number of times I stopped to take photos. On arrival, I was a bit peturbed to be greeted by a sign 'welcome to bear country'.  On enquiry, i wss told that the best preventative measure you can take against bears is to lock away all food, and to make a lot of noise. Not much good i thought if you were asleep. So I deciced to sleep in the car - which was like my experience on the train. Fortunately, I had been upgraded to a Focus from a Hyundai Accent so had a bit of legroom.  

The next day i woke up at seven and made tracks to Jasper to pick up a free pass to the Edith Cavell glacier. I had some time to kill before 2pm entry so made my way to a couple of nearby lakes.  The second had idyllic looking canoing and rowing in the morning sunshine so I forked out $40 for an hour.  Kayaks don't suit me and feel un seaworthy so I opted after a couple of trials for a good old fashioned rowing boat. All was fine for half an hour - and I had made it a km or so to the far off other side. Out of nowhere however the wind picked up and I soon found it impossible to make much headway, particularly when the oars came lose.  Fortunatley. I beached up a nearby bank and was helped by some locals to tie up the boat and hitch back to the boat house. As we did, the wind knocked over a couple of trees and at the boathouse, the wind picked up and threw a kayak for 20 yards or so....  

The '4 seasons in a day' weather continued turning to cold and persistent rain as I head up the mountain road to Edith Cavell. The glacier is spectacular although not on the same scale as the ones i saw in Argentina. Although miserable and somewhat nervous of meeting a bear, I deccided to trek up the steepish path to see the wildflower meadow. It was tough going in places but I am glad I did. The flowers have only a short summer season - just 6 weeks - to bloom and seed, and the views back to the glacier and waterfall got better and better. The weather also cheered up a bit and on the way back I saw marmot looking creatures as well as chipmunks.

I took advantage of the Miette hot springs to get a shower since the campsite facilities are basic and lack them.  The hot springs themselves were lovely and warm and the views good. Sadly, the Canadian Rockies are also beginning to contract pine beetle disease and clumps of trees are dying.  The drive between Jasper and Lake Louise or Banff is the famous one - rightly celebrated as one of the most beautiful drives in the world - but the 50km drive from my campsite at Ponchonatas into Jasper is also truly breathtaking. I am storiung the memories which included spotting some mountain goats perched up on one of the cliffs.

By the time i had done my chores in Jasper it was approaching midday when I set off along the Icefields Road and it did not disappoint. The countryside is so unspoilt and the view through the trip up to Columbia icefields were stunning.  I stopped off at a couple of the well known waterfalls as well as several of the pass and other viewpoints. I don't have the words to do justice to the beauty of this place. So many beautifully silhouetted mountains, lakes, rivers - fitting company for the elk, deer, bear, moose and carinbou that grace this extensive area which runs for a good few hundred kilometers.

The Colombia glacier is beautiful indeed although not as dramatic or well preserved as the one I saw in Argentina. The ones in the Rockies are generally receding although still impressive.  I walked up to the glacier and did not feel I missed much by declining to take a bus onto the glacier itself or to pay $60 to walk on it. I decide to skip the $18 camping fee and sleep up in my car in the car park. I wish i had gone further down the mountain since by 1am it was literally freezing and I had ice on the roof. I could do no more than wrap up but got no sleep so I was up early the next day.

I didn't waste too much time in the morning and set off to enjoy a range of view points and lake stops en route to Lake Louise. The vistas were even better - Peyto Lake turqoise blue and gorgeous, Lake Waterfowl equally delightful and more secluded. That was on top of a couple of Falls including Athabasca that were also magnificent. The only blot was missing a speed reeuction sign and getting pulled in to discover i had been clocked at 104km in a 60km zone.  The officer was decent and reduced the fine to a still painful $203 having written I was travelleing at 85km instead.  He explained thqat he had little discretion on speeding tickets but i appreciated his decency.

The lack of sleep meant that I was tired but I couldn't sleep before sunset so made my way up to Lake Louise and then Lake Moraine.  Both are rightly celebrated but more commercialised than the ones i had seen earlier. Both are stunning and I will re-visit before returning to Jasper.

I slept reasonably well with just a few wake ups, in part due to the presence of an electric fence to deter bears which are prevalent, but more because i was so tired.

I found an old school pentecostal church 60 km away in Golden. The pastor and some of the folks were away but I enjoyed the old fashioned worship songs and warm greeting even if the preach went on rather long.  The message was certainly a good and challenging one but just too laboured.  The Yoho Valley itself did not disappoint. A 15km road took me to Takkawaw Falls - a word in Cree which means 'stunning' which is an apt description. They are most powerful in Summer as the glacier that feeds the falls melts. In Winter the falls freeze over. The views along the Kicking Horse Pass and the Yono Valley were again stunning. Pictures will tell a better story than my words.

Another night, another camp, one in Kicking Horse Valley and the next night down towards Banff.  Banff is a commercialised town and didn't appeal not least because I am close to having used up my alloted 1200 car hire kms. The scenery towards Banff, however, was still spectactular and I enjoyed a short walk up to the Johnstone Canyon Falls- or at least the intermediate ones.  The drive back towards Lake Louise was also more than pleasant with some lovely views of the forest clad moutainsides, peaks and accompanying river which flowed next to the train line.

I picked up a Polish girl hitch hiking to Jasper.  She had lived in a few countries and was now working her way in Canada to do some more travelling in S Amercia. So we swapped notes.  Back in Jasper after the spectacular 4 hour drive during which time I made several stops to look at some of the stunning places I had seen first time.

The train journey from Jasper to Prince Rupert takes another 2 days but benefits from an overnight stop at Prince George so there was a chance for a decent night's sleep which I enjoyed. Amazingly the train ran to schedule - and even the guard jokingly admitted that this was the first time since 2014... The train was not as crowded as  I expected - less than half full - and only had 4 or 5 carriages, most of which were for the more expensive touring class who benefited from a panoramic viewing car which we in economy class only got to use for an hour or so.  It didn't really matter, the views pretty much all the way were stunning. So many beautiful lakes, river valleys, mountains and forests.  The scale and seclusion of Canada is hard to get your head around.  

Prince Rupert is a sleepy but pleasant enough port town where in contrast to the heat of inland Canada was colder and wetter. We arrived to a downpour which is not uncommon since it rains for 220 days per year.  Still I enjoyed pottering around the cafes and shops and around the harbour. The museum dedicated to the native peoples was also interesting and I could see parallels with the indigenous peoples of S Amercia. 

The ferry took 16 hours to reach Port Hardy at the northern tip of Vancouver Island but the time sped by as we took in gorgeous views along the Inland Passage. The landscape is largely untouched with just a couple of human settlements along the length of this passage, meaning that grizzly and black bears rule. At one point we went past a river where bears wait for salmon but we were out of luck in viewing them today.  We had more luck with the salmon seeing dozens of them leaping through the shallow waters at one point, observed by a couple of eagles.

I stayed in a typcial, slightly run down american motel on arrival at 11pm at Port Hardy. Fortunately it was close to the moorings. Sunday, I was up early to get a taxi ride into town. The driver used to work as a lumber merchant selling huge red and yellow cedars to the Japanese. I wish i had time to stop and explore the Island - since the nature tours in particular are meant to be stunning. As it was, I had to take the one bus per day down to Nanaimo and over to Vancover. It wsa a public holiday - labour day - so most of the shops were closed but in one town there was a classic car rally with dozens and dozens of gleaming exhibits.  The driver told us to look out for bears and sure enough at one the busiest and most dangerous crossings we saw mama bear with a cub. The driver thought that she had 2 or 3 but we only saw the one.  

The 1.5 hour ferry ride over to Horseshoe Bay, 30 mins from Vancouver was again pleasant afforded good views of the Island and Vancover itself.  The views from the coach into Vancouver looking back towards the coast as sunset were even better. Vancouver is an extremely likeable city given a distinctive air by its long waterfront that extends down to Stanley Park, and the many sea planes that take off to service the Islands. The Chinese influecne is strong - with a high proportion of Asian residents. I cycled down to the Park and then back up through Chinatown where i was surprised by the size and apparent hopelessness of a large migrant population. Drugs seemed to be a problem and I noticed that canabis here is legal. THere are many dispensaries and shops selling the weed.



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