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Reflections on Canada [Jul. 15th, 2008|10:57 pm]
A little time has now passed since I returned from Canada and, as promised, some reflections on my trip.

Canada

Canada is simply an amazing country, as I suspect you'll have gathered from previous entries. I think I was most struck by the scale of everything, from the unimaginable vastness of the country, and how spread out everything is, to the heights of the mountains all around. Ah, the mountains. From the first time I drove over from Calgary towards Banff, and could see the mountains appearing on the horizon, I was almost constantly surrounded by them: in all the national parks, on the roads between them, even on the long drive south to Waterton Lakes there was normally a line of mountains snaking along in the distance. One can almost get too accustomed to sights like this, and on occasion it would strike me - there aren't normally mountains all around me!

So Canada certainly has impressive scale, but it also has beauty. This ranges from the obvious - the breathtakingly gorgeous turquoise of the lakes, the forested mountains receding into the hazy distance - to the far more subtle - landscapes covered in tiny, brilliantly coloured wild flowers. Lakes that seem designed to be set sparkling by the bright sun, surrounded by dazzling, pure white snow. The icy wonderment of the glaciers, covered by pale sky-blue streams of water. Waterfalls thundering down from the sky, their base obscured by shimmering clouds of spray. Golden sunset over the water, and a glittering light-show of stars at night.

Accommodation

In keeping with the YHA hostels I've been to in other countries, those in Canada are of the same high standard. I actually only stayed in four: two for only one night each (Calgary and Banff), Maligne Canyon for three days, and Lake Louise for seven days. The three town hostels were all well equipped and comfortable, but inevitably you get less of a feeling of community when there are large numbers of people there. However, you do get to know the people in your dorm. When I had four days in a row at Lake Louise it was quite interesting seeing the progression of people through the dorm: normally it's me that's only staying one night in a place and just passing through, but this time I was the one who remained while everybody else changed. I was able to pass on, and receive, a number of tips about places to visit, finding that, as normal at hostels, we often had similar outlooks. Quite a range of ages at the hostels - a mixture of New Zealand (where most people were young) and England (where most were older).

By far the most interesting hostel, though, was Maligne Canyon, the wilderness hostel out in the forest. Just four little huts, each with six beds - and it was basically full for the time I was there. I'd had a few concerns when booking this hostel, and indeed it was primitive. But far from being a problem this just added to its character. To be fair, I think if I hadn't been able to use the showers in the town hostel my opinion might have been different, and eating in a cafe in town is perhaps hardly roughing it :) But the atmosphere there was just lovely; because there was no television or other distractions there, people would just congregate, either in the kitchen, or outside at the benches. And we would talk, and watch the sun going down. Hear the wind blowing in the trees above, and the river rushing past beside. Draw imperceptibly closer to the fire for protection against the gathering darkness all around. And fend off determined mosquitoes, and compare our bites! And then to wake up there in the morning, with the lovely soft early light glimmering through the trees, and smell the cold freshness in the air. And perhaps to linger awhile, standing in that clearing in the trees, for a few moments of calm and reflection, before heading off to start the busy-ness and excitement of the day.

My two nights camping were also fun - particularly as this was the first time I'd been camping. It probably helped that I was really tired both evenings, so getting to sleep on the hard ground wasn't a problem! And if my tent can survive three thunderstorms and very strong winds, hopefully it can cope with most things!

Driving

This was perhaps the aspect of the trip that I'd been most concerned about in advance (and which I know certain people continued to worry about!). Once I'd got the car at the airport, I sat in it for a few minutes to sort out my maps and route and so on. And then for a few moments considering what I was about to do, thinking "I actually have to drive this thing now!" But after edging carefully around the multi-storey car park that it was in, I emerged onto the streets around the airport, and on into Calgary down the highway, and never looked back! Except in the mirror :) I was really amazed by how easy it was to adjust to driving on the other side. The only thing that was hard was the usual issue of driving round the downtown of a busy city with woeful signs. I think it would certainly have been harder if I'd been in a right-hand drive car, or in a manual transmission. But the automatic made everything far easier :)

So after the initial worries I actually enjoyed the driving - because when you're on a long drive through a national park, the scenery is significantly more interesting than driving around the M25! Yes, you can't fully appreciate it because you've having to concentrate on the road, but you can sneak a number of glances - and there were always lots of laybies in the national parks where you could pull over to have a proper look. Although there were a number of times when I was just itching to take a photo and there was absolutely nowhere to stop!

It was funny how quickly the north American attitude to driving everywhere took hold - such as when I found myself driving down to the shop in Lake Louise, a three minute walk from the hostel. But everything is so designed for cars, that it does just come naturally. And I certainly couldn't have had the holiday I did without my own car. There were some buses, but the freedom to go places when you want would have vanished completely ("where" would have been less of a problem, although I probably couldn't have got everywhere). A particular example would be the Icefields Parkway, which did have buses/coaches down it. But if they did stop at scenic points, it would have been to their schedule, making a walk or a long sit at any point impossible. And I couldn't be doing with that!

Books

I Was pleased with my choice of reading material, reading all seven Narnia books over the trip (finishing The Last Battle in the departure lounge, which was perhaps not the most auspicious of locations). It's interesting to re-read them as an adult, and as a collection too. Certainly I found that the individual stories of each book became less important, and the overall themes stood out far more clearly, with the Christian message standing out like a silver thread linking everything together, woven through the tapestries of all the separate events. And so even The Horse and His Boy, perhaps often regarded as a weak member of the set, had its part to play, with a particularly moving description of our walk of faith. And the mirrored echoes of creation in the first and last books - just lovely.

I don't think I managed to get any Narnia quotes into the blog posts, as perhaps C.S. Lewis is more given to imagery and simpler descriptions than the quotable wordsmithery of Tolkien (who did feature a few times). But the subject matter was certainly eminently suitable for the holiday, as I went on my own journey through the wonders of creation.

Weather

I was exceptionally lucky with the weather, as I was really perhaps a little early in the year to have justifiably hoped for dependable summer conditions. But for about half the time it was sunny and over 30C - almost too hot! I certainly got through a lot of sun-cream, having to keep on applying it during the day, as I could feel myself burning. But it was so reassuring to have so many days when you didn't have to worry about the weather, and you could just go outside and do whatever you had planned.

The first few days were a little greyer, but without any rain. It did get a little wetter in the last few days, with a thunderstorm when I was at Emerald Lake, which I managed to miss by being in the car. And then several thunderstorms when I was at Waterton Lakes, one of which I was caught out in. Having spent most of my second day at Yoho looking at the sky, I think I was getting quite good at predicting what was coming, and I wasn't that surprised when it rained at Waterton, as it had looked dubious all morning. But I had waterproofs, so what was the fuss? - I dried out! I certainly wasn't going to let the weather affect my plans on my last day :)

Wildlife

Well, I wasn't eaten by a bear. Just by mosquitoes - somewhat less glamorous :) I would have liked to have seen a bear from the safety of my car, but it was not to be. However, I did see: a moose, two elk, lots of deer (just wandering around the campsite), a porcupine, two marmots, and uncountable numbers of those little ground squirrels! I was particularly pleased to see the moose, coming as it did at the end of my last day - so fitting that a sight of such an iconic Canadian creature should bring my trip to a close. After entertaining the crowds simply by the majesty of his presence, he turned and splashed off through the lake, bidding us a silent goodbye, and I too walked away, to begin the long journey back to my home.

Comparisons

A few comparisons of Canada with other places I've visited spring to mind. The first would be the Lake District, and in a sense the area that I saw was very similar - mountains, walks, high-up lakes in the middle of mountains. Clearly everything in Canada was on a bigger scale, and also higher up, leading to the snow, for example. But quite a similar character.

The other comparison would be with New Zealand. Now, I should stress that I obviously only saw a fraction of Canada, and clearly it has far more to offer in terms of different environments, notably the coast. But I'm going to go ahead with the comparison, however unfair it may be. Now, when I was travelling around New Zealand, there was a phrase that kept popping into my head, which I'm not sure ever got mentioned at the time: "That's uncommonly beautiful!". Because everything was. And in that phrase perhaps lies the root of the difference I felt: Canada was most definitely awe-some and a stunning example of nature. But I think perhaps the huge-ness that inspired that awe also made it somewhat harder to relate to the place. While in New Zealand, I felt as though I had come Home. As well as the grandeur and extreme beauty of the landscape, this was somewhere I could feel at one with nature, and for a few precious moments at the most special places, feel perfectly happy.

I think there were other factors too. To me, Canada felt very similar in terms of society and culture to the US (in my very limited experience). Just in little things like the layout of cities, styles of shops and motels, restaurants (with compulsory tipping). And while everybody that I met was polite and helpful, there wasn't quite that natural, genuine enthusiasm that I'd found in New Zealand.

All of which is being a bit harsh on Canada, which is still an amazing place that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting. It's just no New Zealand :)

Stats

Distance travelled: 3000km, roughly 2000 miles
National parks visited: 4
Hostels visited: 4
Photos taken: 1574. Which makes the winner of the photo competition, erm, me, as I guessed 1500 :) But I think I should disqualify myself, so the next closest was David S!

Favourites

Best hostel: Maligne Canyon, for all the reasons above.

Best walk: Sulphur Skyline - it was tough, but the views from the top, of mountains as far as the eye could see, were worth every effort expended in getting there.

Best view not captured in a photo: The line of mountains along the horizon on the drive from Calgary to Banff. Firstly there was no place to stop, but even if there had been, they would have looked tiny in a photo. Their sense of intrigue and invitation would have been lost.

Best national park: A hard choice, but I think it has to be Yoho, for the reason that it struck me as a far more mysterious place than the other parks. Partly this was because I had less time to explore it, but also because its sights are more hidden away. They're not that far apart, as the crow flies, as it's a small park, but they lie at the end of different twisting roads, and so journeying to them felt more like a process of discovery. There's a great deal compressed into a small space, with a number of mountains close together. As you wind between them you feel - what mystery could be round the next corner...

Best place: Bow Lake. A simple, magical spot, lacking the crowds of tourists, but having everything that more famous lakes such as Lake Louise have. I could have sat and watched the sparkle on the deep turquoise water for hours (which is not far from the mark!).

Conclusions

And so let me close with two quotes, which sum up the holiday far better than I could. From a Parks Canada sign by Twin Falls in Yoho: "We mount into precipitous forests and into a great quiet, as if the quiet of cathedrals had somehow been brought into the open air."

And from Lake Louise hostel: "Happiness is not a destination, but a manner of travelling".
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Day 15 - Departure [Jul. 8th, 2008|01:48 pm]
Last night was my last night here, and the second night in the tent. During the evening the wind had been picking up, until it was gusting very hard at times. The tent was well pegged down by now, but it still made quite a racket each time the wind did blow. Somehow I managed to sleep through it though! I did wake up at about 3am, and decided to poke my head out to make sure everything was still firmly attached. It was. I looked up, and, oh, the stars! Here in the middle of a national park, with hardly any street lights for miles around, they were an amazing sight, with the starry clouds of the Milky Way stretching right across the sky, and brilliant specks of light everywhere.

I got up early in the morning, as I had a number of things to do before setting off - packing up the tent, getting everything into the correct bags for the flight, having breakfast. I managed to leave by about 9.30, and set off for the fairly long drive north to Calgary. I'd got a route printed out from Google Maps, that cut across country using a number of secondary highways (a bit like B roads, I suppose). Fortunately it was well signed as well, and I had no problems finding my way.

I went straight through to Calgary, stopping off just before the airport to fill up with gas (that being one of the conditions of the rental). I hadn't known where exactly the car needed to be dropped off, but I just followed signs to the airport, and once there found very good signs all the way through showing where the various rental companies had their drop off zones. For Hertz you just left the car in a long line-up, and then took the keys back upstairs at their counter. No extra charges as I hadn't damaged the car at all!

This left me at the airport four hours before my flight, and check-in hadn't even opened! Fortunately it did quite soon, so I was able to get rid of my heavy bags. Security was much simpler than at Gatwick, just a bag-scan and archway to walk through, none of this taking off shoes nonsense. I had a long time then to wait at the gate, finishing off The Last Battle in the process - all seven Narnia books read! We started boarding at 4.40 (for a listed departure time of 5.35), and we must have been in the air by 5.35, if not slightly before.

The flight was quite a lot fuller than coming out, maybe 3/4 full (as opposed to about 1/4), but I still had two seats to myself. We were served a meal soon after take-off, and a breakfast panini just before landing. During the flight, when we were flying through darkness all the lights were turned off and I tried to get a little sleep. Not particularly successfully, as I wasn't really tired, but I dozed a bit. They also showed two films; I watched the first, 27 Dresses, but not the second - The Other Boleyn Girl - as that was a film I actually wanted to see, and didn't really want to watch it on a tiny far-off screen with sound that's rather hard to hear over the engine noise.

We landed, early, at about 9.10, although it was a nasty landing - lots of dropping through turbulence, and then a bumpy touchdown. Looking around, one could see a number of people surreptitiously hanging onto their seat arms!

A long queue at passport control, and then a long wait for baggage - must have been 15 mins even after getting through security, and then bags came out only in dribs and drabs. Got mine at last, and headed off to catch a train. To Victoria, then tube to King's Cross, where a Cambridge train was about to leave. At Cambridge I couldn't face any more public transport, and got a taxi home, getting in about 1pm.

And from there pretty much straight to bed, for an afternoon nap, and fell asleep just about instantly. I set the alarm for 6pm, by which point I felt quite awake again. Had an evening unpacking, cooking myself dinner, and watching the Wimbledon Men's Final (rather unexpectedly!). And then going to bed at the normal time. And on Monday (and today) I felt fine - have I managed to beat the jet-lag?!

Reflections on the trip coming 'soon'.
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Day 14 - Waterton Lakes [Jul. 4th, 2008|07:42 pm]
Well, I've had a lovely lasty proper day, despite everything the weather has thrown at me - and it has used most of its arsenal too!

I slept surprusingly well in my tent - it was nice to have a room to myself for a chanfge! It was quite cold when I woke up at 5am, but snuggling back into the sleeping bag did trhe trick. And having showers on site is more civilisation than we had at Maligne Canyon hostel!

Some very black clouds in teh sky as I went into town (about a 2 minute walk!) for some breakast, at the same cafe (Zum's) as last night. And jusr after I'd got in, it hailed. That had stopped by the time I'd eaten so, after buying some lunch, I walked back to the campsire, as my walk started from there.

The walk was a climb to Bertha Lake, past Bertha Falls. An 11km round trip, with a 460m elevation gain (quite signivifcant). We clikbed gently to the falls, and then things got a little more serious, witha long set of switchbacks - up hill nearly all the way, but quite gradual.

Bertha Lake is a lovelty little apline lake, and there was still snow on the shore at the bottom of the surrounding moutnains. I'm not sure how, as the walk up had been through very lush plants, feeling almost tropical at times with th sun out. We are, of course, fuerther south here than up at Banff.

I had a little sit tyhere, then started back down again. A few rumbles of thunder in the distance alerted me to get my waterproofs on, and sure enough the rain came soon - and hard. The storm passed very close - strikes within half a mile, one of which hit the hill opposite me in a giant fork.

By the time I got back to the campsite (whjich was where I was going anyway) it was sunny again. My trousers are some clever material, so after a short time in the sun (eating my lunch) I was completelty dry again. So that didn't affect my plans at all.

My other plan for the day was to drive along one of the roads in the NP, the Akamina Parkway, which leads 15km to Cameron Lake. Which I did, and went on a lakeshore walk there. MOre beautiful snowy mountains at the far end of the lake. Quite busy with people on canoes and pedaloes.

Just as I got back to the wstart of the walk - more thunder and more heavy rain, by which time I was safely in a shelter there (some sort of exhibition buildilg about the NP).

That storm only lasted anout 15 mins, not coming as close, and when that was done I went on a very short walk (one km round trip) to Akamina Lake.

Going back to Cameron Lake, it struck me that this was the last thing I would See in Canada. But no! As I was quietely sitting by the lake, word spready around that there was a (female) moose just around the corner. Soon, a fairly sizeable crowd was watching it from a safe distance and taking lots of photos (me included!). It didn't seem at all perturbed by us, calmly having a drink, munching some grass and wandering around a bit in a marshy/lake area just off the car park. An extremelt fine creature, and a very fitting way to end this last day here.

So yes, a lovely day today, with lakes, waterfalls, and moose!

Backj to the campsite, to make sure my tent hadn't blown away. It was in fact trying quite hard to do so, so I pegged it down tighter. Completly dry inside - this has been a good test of it!

Dinner at Zum's - pork schnitzel with mushroom gravy, fries, vegetable and bread roll. Tasty. I'll be using the internet there in a moment (now!) too.

TOmorrow, more driving, as I go back north to Calgary. Shouldn't take more than three hours according to Google Maps, but I shall allow rather a lot more, especially as the Calgary Stampede is happening this week!

Narnia books read: 6.

I was going to say in an earlier post, but it was one of the 3 that got typed very fast. David: you would be advised to take a torch with you when you go hostelling. Not really in case of powercuts, but it can be handy if you're trying to find something in your bag when the main room lights are off because people are sleeping and you don't want to disturb them too much.

Another little competition: how many photos do you think I've taken over the course of this trip? THis is made more fun because I don't know either (as I transfer them off the camera's flash card onto my hard disk backup device at the end of each day, and this can't tell you how many it has on it). I've made my guess, which I'll keep secret of course!

Finally, just to day I sahll post some reflections on my trip sometime after I get back to the UK, when I can think (and type) rather more clearly than when a clock is ticking down money in the corner of the screen. Suffice it to say for now that I've had a simply wonderful time, and seen some amazingly beautiful places. To borrow a word once more from the Cree tribe, who lived in this area: Yoho!
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Day 13 - Drive to Waterton Lakes [Jul. 3rd, 2008|06:52 pm]
If the last blog post got a little rushed and unreadable towards the end, it was because the 30mins vuocher I had was running out (at an internet terminal in the post office in Lake Loiuse), and I'd had three entries to type with it. Hope it made sense anyway!

Yesterday evening I watchewd some Wimbledon for the first time this year. Federer against Ancic. With advert breaks at most changes of ends! (Also not live, clearly.)

In my dorm were the same German couple, and also a couple who I'd met at the Maligne Canyon hostel. What are trhe odds that we should get the same room?!

Very hot during the nught, but I must have been tired as I fell asleep very quickly,. What's the weather been like in the UK/ (Today has been high 20s, low 30s snuny day)

Right, onto today. A final breakfast at the hostel (the waitresses are ghetting used to seeing me down there, and are getting very talktative!) and then it was off. Well, via the bakery and pertrol, oops, gas station.

Today, then, was a dirving day, as I wangted to get to Waterton Lakes NP. If you loko at a map youl'l see this is a fair way from Lake Louise! The most direct route woul dhave been to go back via Banff, almost all the way basck to Calgary and then south. Btu where would be the fun in retracing my steps! Instaed I was giong to go on a loop through British Columbia.

So, first of all through Yoho NP, th way I've gone for the last two mornings, but on past the park to a town called Golden. From ethre, south through pklaces like Radium Hot Springs, Invermere, Cranbrook; then east throyugh Fernie, and finally suoth again through Pincher's Creek before getting to Waterton Village, in teh NP. The drive took basically all day, leaving sometime after 10, and getting here a bit after 5. This did unclude a number of stops for bits of lunch etc.

SOme lovelty scenery to drive through althjough quite diferernty frmo the Rockies area. Lots of hills and rivers abd valleys. Quite English-pastoral in style. Around Pincher's Creek everything became quite flat, and one could see the lineo f the Rockies in the distance. THey grew gradually close, until aupon arrival at Waterton they were all around.

My first stop was the visitor centre, to get a map and check on rtail conditions. And then onto my accommodatrion.

Now, some of you may recall me saying "Oh, I can't go to Waterton, the hostel is fully booked, I'll have to go to somehwere different." Well, I reconsidered, and came up with an alternative solution that still lets me come to Waterton (which I really wanted to do, to get a contrast to the bits of the Rockies further north in Banff).

And the alternative? Camping! I'd reserved a spot at the Waterton town campsite for two nights. I drove in and checked in, and parked in the designated spot. I then pitched my tent in the grassy space adjacent to this. This woruld be my new tent which I carefully collected from home in time, and had brought out as mty second allowed piece of checked-in baggage.

This was the first time I'd piteched this tent other than the practice ion the garden, but all went smoothly! I've got my sleeping bag, whiah miraculously fitted into my big bagpack along with everythjig else.

This will be my first time camping, so it should be a fun expereience :) There are showers and toilets and running water and everything on site, so it's not like being outin the wilderness!

I found a ncie cafe to have dinner at, and it also has internet access, so I'm back tehre now to type this. I hadn't noticed anywhere else in town with internet, so it was a bit of luck choosing this cafe, as I hadn't noticed the internet sign when walking past!

Tomorrow is my only day to explore Waterton NP, so I shall be going on a nice long walk. And then on Satrudaty I shall have to drive back to Calgary and fly home :(

Dist travelled: about 2600km (long way today!).
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Day 12 - Yoho [Jul. 2nd, 2008|05:12 pm]
"Yoho" - a Cree word that's an expression of wonderment, and suyms up this place perfgectly.

Thoday was myt last day to see Yoho NP, and I had a nice lonng walk planned, so I was off early. By 9.45 I'd had a cooked breakjfast, goit supplies for lunch from the LL baklery, drivern to the information ceentre for Yoho and driver to the trailhead carpark.

THe forecast was a little dubious - 40% chyance of rain, and chgance of thiunderstomrs. Not letting this deter me, I wasnted to get as muchg done in the morning as possible.

My walk todaty started at at Takakkaw Falls, and was to be downb the Yoho VBalley, past a number of other falls, to Twin Falls. Takakkwa Falls at the swtart was spectcauilar enough, with a gret volume of water pouring down the cliff. This was a 16km (10 miles) total terup, with 300m ascent. WIth various siude trips, more like 17km.

And this trail realy had everything - mountains all around, a river, a lake, fuve watergalls, and even a tea=room at the end (closed).

It was cloudy when I set ofgf, but quite warm, and no sign of rain. No sign og anyt other people for that matter.

The trail started by going across a flat area, then passed into trees, and winded abouyt and up (and down - I dislike downvill bits on the way out!) and crossed the river severla times on wide brighes (a fast, wide river).

At the halway point we came to Laughing Falls, which you cuoujld view from very ckise uf tyiy didn't mind a bit of spray!

A few bits of sunshine by now., On we climbed, for the steepesyt section of the toue, mostly sticking cvlose to the river. ANd then up some final switchbacks.

At this point, I head a loud rumblking sound. THunder? A jet enegine? An avalanche? Then with a grin I reaslied it was my destination waterfall, and it made that muchg noise, it must be worth serinbg. And it was! Two streams of water falling right off the top of the moubntauin cliff, and falling way, waty down, and thrundering into the river valley velow. Lots of good viewpoints, uincluding some with spray again.

I stopped here for lunch, and it seemed to vbe gteting sunnier. After a while there ity was time for ytjhe return trip, during whicvh it got greyer again.

I took a side trip to Duchesney Lake, which was a nice little spot, and to two more watrerfalls - Poiunt Lake FGalls and ANgels Steps Falls (this was a bviewpoint to falls on the other side of the valkley)

By now it was properly hot and sunny, and still is as I write this beside the Takakkaw Falls. A few more people here now, but still pretty quiwt. I guess Yohjo is less crowded than Banff and Jasper. IT was a different chartacet, which I canb't quite put a finger on. If anything it's ab it smaller, with things closer together, buyt still with moutanins soaring intghe to ythje sky. Feels a bit more homely!

The total trip time was 6 hours, with diveriosns and sopts. A good day's walk!

Well that fdorecasrt was quiter wrong - furtenaly!

Posting this from the post office in town.

Tomorrow I'm off to Waterton Lakes NP, myt lasty destination. May not be internet tehre.

Narnia books read: 5
Dist: 2050km
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Day 11 - Yoho [Jul. 2nd, 2008|05:04 pm]
I woke up in the morning to discover that the power was still not back. APparently there had been a landslide. Strangely tehre was hot water, so I had a shower by torch light,.

Obvviosuly the cafe was not open,m and enither were the shops in the village. SO I had one of my backyup breakfast cereal bars, anbd headede straiught off for the day - to somwhere with power and shop[s!

M<y destination was Yoho NP only 25km from LL. I stoipped at the visitor centre to get a travel map, and got some food from a beighbouriunbg shop. No power problems there. And so a little drive from tehre to Emerald Lake. I was to so two walks tehre - a 5km walk around the lake and, heading off from thius, a climb yo EMerald Basin (9km return, 300m ascent). Emeral Lake was indeed a lovely emerald colour - differnet from the turquoise of the other lkakes. It also had some gorgeous reflections of the surtroudning trees and mouihntains. Tghe lake walk was flat and simple, but the climb to EMerald Basin started pretty steep;y up through the trees, before flattetning out. TYhe Basin was at the end of a valley, slethered on all sides but the south by high moutnains - and so was hot and hu id and full of lush vegeration, qyuite unlike the otyer places I've been. Aklmost having to push through it at times! UIt gad been a hot suny daty at the lake, and was hotter up ghere The traiul ended at a 'natural amphitheatre of hanging glaciers and avalanche paths', which was most spectacular. I sat up there for a bit, and headed backj to the lake (being asked by 3 or 4 people how mucvh further/steeper it was). I had lunch by the lakeshoer and continued rtound back to the start. Just as I got back a few spots of rain started to fall. Now in the forecart there had been wanrings of thunderstoirms, so I headed for the car. SUre enbough the rain soon started in earnest, and there was lightning, at times within half a mile. Having no reason to leace, I devidfed to ssee if I could wait it out, and sati in thec ar reading a history of Canada from the ROugh Guide. THis seemed appropratie, it vbeinfg Canada Dat today! I found out how little i knew about their history. By the time it got to 4.30, wiuth no lte-up, I decided to head home, as any tracks through forest would be so danmp from drips even if it did stop. Very nasty driving, with spray all around. As we climbed over the moutanis back into Banff, lo and belohold the rain stoppedf. I asled at the hjostel and they;d had no tthunderstorm ghere - although it is still overcast. By the way, this was my first truip out of Alberta (motto: Wild ROse Country) into British Columbbia (motto: Beautiful British Columbia). So, I manehged to get my main walk down today, and hadf about 4.5-5 hours walking., I'm glad I was so near the car when the raibn came!. WHen I got back to the hostel the power was backj. Let's hope it stays that way! The cafe was open as normal, with a full menu, and was veyr vbusy. Just two others in my dorm tonight, a German couple. Tomrroiw: more Yoho. Narnbia books erad: 4
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Day 10 - The Icefields Parkway [Jul. 2nd, 2008|04:54 pm]
YEstreday was my lasyt nmight at the wilderness hostel, and it was somehwat quieter tehre. I continued talking to the two Brirts there - Rob hgad done the same walk as me that day - Sulphurt Skyline. Theyve been travelling right actoss from the ast coast, and are 4 weeks into their holiday.

The hostel looks lovely at night, with juyst a few lighted buildings standing along among the trees, with the river rushing past beside.

I gfot a good night's sleep, and lingered a little in the motrninhg before sertting off, as everything was lit by a lovely morning light, and I was loathre to leave the place.

Onwards I went though, bvia the town hostel and a bakery in town, as my goal for the day was toi drive back down the Icefields Parkway to get to LL.

Not a non-satop trip of courfse, as I had a walk planned to Wilcox Pass, desecroibed by ytjhe Rough Guide as 'one of the best walks in tthe nbational patk, let alone the parkway'. This was anm 8km, 335m ascent walk up and along the pass which was used by native people to get through the mounbtains.

The trail started with a steep climb through trees (don't they all?!) but, as we had started hjigher ujp, we hit the treeline sooner, and it was less steepo after that.

The actuial destination, the highest pooint on the pass, was somehwat arbitrary, but it made a good point to stop for lunch! Arbitrary because the views from the whole area around the top of the pass were superb, overlooking 2 glaciers, uincluing the Athabasca whiH I'd walked on - interesting to see ifr fomr a somehwhat differenty abgle!

The area of the pass was delightful apline meadows, with wild flowers, poolls and streams. And some snow still clinging on, bnut fortunately not on the path.

THe whole walk talk about 2.25 hours, plus half an hjour for lunch, making it a good llength activity for the day.

And so back to the drivcing south down the patrkway. I had one more stop along teh way, finding m,yself drawn inexorably back to my favouirite Bow Lake, where I sat and ate the "Bear's Paw" bun I'd got from the Bear's Paw Baklery that morning - cinnamon flavoured with raisins.

I could see a thuinderstorm in the distance (even when I was on the first walk) which I was keeping an etye on, but I mnaneged to miss it. WHen I got back to LL thougf everything was very wet. THe sun is back out now - as it has been fior me all day - another scorcher.

I had dinbner in the hostel cafe, arriving just before it got vbery busy. NOt sure who wiul be in my room tonight. I was the first to arrive, and when I was in there a family arrived, looked rather surprised to see me, hgad a conversation in Frencg, and left again. I saw them later having an argument at REception. IT appears theyu thought they were getting a praivate room. No sign of them when I went back after dinner!

I;m basing myself at LL fgor the nexty few days as I explore Yoho NP, only 20km west of here down the Hwy. I'd been going to stay at Yoho hostel, but it hadn't oped yet, as its access route had been blocked until recently by snow. BNut no matter, thge facilities are better here anyway! SHould be a little less travelling (by car) for tfhe next few days, whjich will save money on gas!

**
Well, there was a bit of excitment later that evening. I was sitting outside reading my book, and popped inside to refill mny water bottle. It seemed a little dark inside, and it turned out there was a power cut, affecting the whole of LL! Some emergency lighting on, and the electronic door locks seemd to be working sitll. ANyway, I went back outside, but, as it got lataer, there was still no power.

THe staff were now handing out green chemnical glow-sticks as, for example, there was no emergency lighting on my dorm's corridot (and no windows). I used tyhis to get to my rooms, and once tehre I could collect myt windup torcg - which I'd brought for the wilderness hjostel, nbot the one in town!

Just before I went to bed even the emergency lights fgailed, and rtgehre were little glowsticks on staircases etyc!

I was joined by two others in my room, a father and daughter from Wales, who were glad to borrow my torch to use the ensuite bathroom!

Dist travlled: 1890 km.
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Day 9 - Jasper National Park [Jun. 29th, 2008|07:41 pm]
"I stand in awe"

Having spent a few days using Jasper as a base for doing nearby things, it was time to have a day actually exploring Jasper National Park. There's no obvious centre as there is (sort of) at Lake Louise in Banff, with walks starting from locations quite a long way apart.

Going back to last nigth thourgh, and there were more Brits in the hostel again, and we stuck together in solidarity againsty the rather large Chinese family that was there. No bonfire, but we still sat outside watching it get dark. And I went into the town hostel again for a showe (the other Brits were much apprecative of me teloling them you couuld do this!)

And so onto my main walk for the day, which will probably also be my most difficult walk of the holiday. The Rough Guide lists best walks in Jasper in categories of easy, moderatae and stenuous, and this fell in the last category :) It was "Sulphur Skyline". Only 10km return, so not that hard, right? Wrong, as you gain 700m of elevation over that quite short distance.

The trail starts at the Miette Hot Springs complex 60km outside Jasper town. The car park was full of people going to the springs, not so many for the walk! Although I did pass quite a lot of people on the trail, as it was indeed popular.

The trails has only become un-snow-bound in the last week, but now it's perfect conditions. And today was a great day again - blue sky all day and very hot (over 30). I've been applying sun cream all day!

The trail starts by climbing up the mountainside through sparse-ish trees (so good views) to Shuey Pass. From there are a series of switchbacks, which take you to the edge of the treeline. After that one final push up above the trees on a stony path, and to the summit of the mountain! This is my fisrt (and probably only) summit here, and it was at an elevation of 2050m, right up around the surrounding peaks. And tehre were mountains on all sides, some close by, some lining the valley that lead off in two directions, with hazy mountains as far as the eye could see.

To borrow a word from the ROugh Guide, the views were "superlative". I might also suggest "awesome" in its proper sense.

Very windy at the top, bur there were some rocksto provide some shelter, and I had my lunch out there, protetcing it from the little Canadian squirrels which were trying (quite hard!) to steal it. I sat there for "about a half hour" just enjoying teh view.

The climb up had taken just under 2 hours, and the path was up all the time - almost no flat sections at all. Well worth it though, as everybody I spoke to at the top agreed. Certainly the best climb I've been on.

Coming down only took about an hour and a quarter, but still had great views.

I had time for something short in the afternoon, so I drove back to Jasper, up the road to the hostel, but continuing on to the end - Maligne Lake, 47km out of town. I just went on a short lakeshore trail on the NE shore of teh lake. Lots of boats out on the water - tour boats and rented canoes. A very picturesque spot.

And then back to town for dinner (breaded veal!) and to use the internet.

This was my last day in Jasper - I'm heading back to Lake Louise tomorrow to explore Yoho National Park over the next few days.

Having seen both, I can't see much difference between Banff and Jasper NPs - they're both amaing. I syppose it's all the same set of mountains, just partitioned into differnet names. Jasper is perhaps a little less developed and more inaccessible, which makes it rather more fun to explore, and not quite as touristy as Banff - I suppose tehre's no one main sight for tourists to get dropped off at in their coaches :)

Distance travelled so far: 1650km, and so now over 1000 miles.

May or may not be an entry tomorrow - depends if Lake Louise hostel have fixed their internet yet!
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Day 8 - The Athabasca Glacier [Jun. 28th, 2008|07:40 pm]
My first night in the wilderness hostel went fine. When it started to get dark the hostel 'warden' lit a bonfire in the central area bwrtween the huts, and we all crowded round. We were full that night, with 24 people from a variety of groups. It felt lovely to be out in the middle of nowhere with the fire for us to huddle round to protect us against the dark.

Thuis morning I set off almost as soon as getting up, as I had various things to do. First, to a garage for gas, then to get a sandwich, then onto the town hostel for a shower (this order being far more convenicent driving-wise).

And then back south for about an hour down the Icefields Parkway tp my destination for the day - The Athabasca Glacier, which I was going for an ice walk on.

The tourists can see it from snow-coaches that travel over the ice, and they're allowed to hop out for a few minutes on a nice tame part of glacier.

I, however, was going on a guided walk. We met in a car park very near the glacier and were given our gear (and got to sign waivers as usual) - walking boots, jackets, over-trousers (for the wind) and gloves. DEspite it being a very hot sunny day, it's always colder on the glacier due to the wind. (In facy it was 30C here today, with 32 predicyed tomorrow.)

We were a group of about 25 with one guide - who has been walking on glaciers for 30 years. We set off at 11, up a short clibing path to the foot of the glacier. The very lowest section of the glacier was covered in snow, which our guide kept testing with a pole to make sure there was solid ice below.

Only a few mins on snow, and then we were up onto the ice. We didn't jhave crampons, just normal walking boots, but because it was snuny the ice was crunchy and therefore walking was fine (they use crampons if it's wet). And so we climbed up the glacier pasuing to look at features such as large holes with rushing water inside (where a creek meets the glacier and pokes through). The whole area was crossed with little streams of pale blue melt-water, which looked lovely against the stark white of the ice.

We had a number of stops on teh way up for commentary, and to catch our breath. We got most of the way up the sloping section, and could see the steps the ice falls down above very clearly.

Harldy any stops on the way down, making a 3.5 hour trip, with abnout 3 hours on the ice. MOre like Fox Glacier than Franz Josef, but possibly even flatter, meaning you could see more views, although it didn't have teh excitement of steps in the ice etc. A fun walk.

Had my lunch there and then headed back to Jasper. Not much afternoon left by now, but time to check out Maligne Canyon, just across the road from teh hostel. A short walk around tehre - and indeed it is a very deep canyon with water rushing through it down below.

A quick pop into the hostel to move down to a lower bunk bed before people arrived (I'd been on an upper one last night, but all those who were in my room were only tehre for that one night).

And now into town for dinner (salmon in Hollandaise sauce with rice and actual vegetables). I'm writing the paper version of this in a bit of a park outside the Parks information centre (where I've been checking trails for tomorrow), and now I'm in tje same internet cafe as yesterday.

In case you didn't see, teh asnwer to teh driving quiz was lane positioning - the tendency is to be slightly too far over to the right, caused, I suppose, by sitting on the wrong side of teh car. ANother strange thing is hill starts, which the transmission handles automatically - where's the fun in that! And also odd is not being able to slow down by changing down gears. But I've got used to iut all now :)

Tomorrow: my one day of doing trails in Jasper itself, and a third and final night in this hostel. Back to civilisation after that!
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Day 7 - The Icefields Parkway [Jun. 27th, 2008|08:46 pm]
[And so on to the real today!]

Today I was moving on from Lake Louise (Although I shall be back, to the hostel at least, later on) and heading north to Jasper. The road that links the two places is the Icefields Parkway, 230km of road all of which is in either Banff or Jasper National Park. ANd what a road it is! It takes one right up through the moutains, and tehre are vuiewopints and walks dotten along teh entire route.

One could spend a long time seeing all tehre is to see, buyt as the road takes 4 hours to drive antywat, one has to choose carefully. And so, as usual, I trusted in the advice of the Rough Guide, and it didn't fail me.

My first sopt, then, was at Bow Lake, for a walk around the lake and up to Bow Glacier Falls.

And, oh, the lake was so lovely. A gorgeous deep-blue-turquoise colour, mountains all around, and hardly and people tehre. I'd go as far as to say it was prettier than LL - cerainly helped by not having that monstrosity of a hotel.

The waslk too may have been my best yet, as none of the walk was in forest, so tyou could see Views all the time. First arind the lake shore itself, eright down beside the water. THen up a bit of a climb beside the river (from the falls) thath leads into the lake. THe trail then emerges onto the moraine left by the Bow Glacier - a field of rtocks. Picking one's way across this to the other side left one standing at the foot ofthe falls, way above at the top of the mountain. Spectacular. And with trhe bonus coming back of more views of the lake.

A note on the weather - there hasn't been a cloud in the sky all day, and lovely and hot too. A perfect day.

The walk was a total of 9km, so shorted than some of recent days, abnd nbot much climbing.

I eventually dragged myself away from the lakeshore, and the peacefu lapping waves, and headed back onto the road. The next stop was only a few km later - a 10 min walk to a lookout over Peyto Lake (described as the best view on the parkway). A brief climb through forest, with the view only unfoling in the last few seconds. And what a view! Peyto Lake gleaming far below, and a succession of lakes leading as far as the eye could see between the snowy mountains.

Sadly it seems *other people* knew theis w as a good view, as there were at times 30 or 40 people crammed onto the small lookout point, waiting their turn (or not) to get to the front and take their photos. WHich ftelt a bit like a conveyor belet - in, take photo, out. I lingered, and for one magical momemnt had the place to myself, before another coach party arrived.

As rge afternoon was by now progressinh I had no firther stops along the rest of the route, as I had a lot of road to cover still. I'll be coming back down this way larer, so will be able to do the other highly recommended walk.

And so to Jasper and the hostel. Not the main hostel in town though, as that had been fully booked when I was doing my booking a month ago. Instead to a YHA "Wilderness hostel" up at Maligne Canyon. This gives you a true Rustic Experience. It's just a few huts in trees beside a river, with no running water (there's a large tank though). Therefore no showers, and an outside non-flush toilet. It does have electricity at least. WE're allowed to use the showers at the town hostel. Anyway, it's a lovely setting, and should be a fun experience. I have 3 nightes there.

I drove back into town for dinner (perhaps not quite in the spirit of the Rustic Experience!) and I'm now in an internet cafe typing all these blog posts. ANd my fingers are now rather tired!

Thanks for all the comments and the emails from family. I've been reading them all!
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