Month: October 2013

The Road Home – Canadian Rockies 7

The Road Home – Canadian Rockies 7

After saying goodbye to our friends, we headed west to Kootenay National Park. The sun lasted long enough for us to explore Marble Canyon. It’s a deep, narrow canyon carved by a bright blue glacial stream. Quite the sight. The surrounding area was burned by a huge forest fire about a decade ago – you can just see the re-growth starting.

As we walked back to the car after visiting the Canyon, the heavens opened up with rain. So we gave up on the rest of our hiking plans for the day, pointed the car homewards, and arrived home before 6pm. Can’t wait for our next trip!

Saving the Best for Last – Moraine Lake, Banff 6

Saving the Best for Last – Moraine Lake, Banff 6


The original impetus for our Rockies trip was to visit a couple we had met on a cruise ten years ago. Like us, they were focused on travel and very early retirement. They are from Atlanta, but have a rental property near Banff, and had planned to spend a month there enjoying the Rockies in the falls. Fortunately for us, they invited us to spend a couple of days with them. Their property is beautiful – if you need a place to stay in the Rockies, check out Birch Haven. We had a wonderful time trading tips  on the ins and outs of frugal living, investment strategy, and traveling cheaply.

The rain  finally relented, and we set off for an awesome hike near Moraine Lake (another bright blue glacial lake), through Larch Valley. “The Larch”, besides being the punchline of a Monty Python skit, is also a deciduous pine tree – ie it loses its needles in the winter. And, up in the mountains in mid-September, the larches turn bright yellow before they drop their needles. We had a 10+km hike on the Larch Valley trail, with sweeping views of golden trees, topped by a row of 10 mountain peaks. It had snowed the night before – first time this season – so we were treated to bright white peaks.

It was a (here’s that phrase again) a stunningly beautiful hike, the best of the whole trip. Check out the slide show below.

Invalid Displayed Gallery

Traveling in the Canadian Rockies – 5

Traveling in the Canadian Rockies – 5


Though we had absolutely no problems whatsoever, there some things you should beware of when traveling (driving or hiking) in the Canadian Rockies.

The first danger is the infamous Rental RV. We believe that 14.5% of the BC population rented RVs and drove them to the Rockies the exact week we were there, and we offer the following picture as proof. Every third vehicle on the road is an RV. And they all drive slow. And the narrow, twisty roads have few passing zones. (Though, to be fair, Canadians are so polite that the RV drivers will often pull over when they see they have a line of cars behind them.)

Although more of an annoyance than a true danger, the main east/west Canadian railroad threads its way through the Rockies right next to the roads you drive on and the towns you stay in. Simply because there isn’t any other way through these steep mountains. As long as you don’t mind whistles and rumbling every 20 minutes throughout the day and night, it’s not a problem.

Then there are the avalanches. While we weren’t in much danger in mid-September, they can be pretty dangerous much of the year. Every few miles, it seems, there is an “Avalanche Danger” sign. In some sections of Glacier National Park, the avalanches are so frequent that they bow to the inevitable, and build “avalanche sheds”, so that the avalanche will just skid over the roof of the shed, and continue on downwards. To be sure the avalanches don’t get too big, the road crews have mobile howitzers they shoot into the snow building up to trigger a (smaller) avalanche.

Hiking carries its own dangers. Besides black bears and grizzly bears, one must be especially careful during the elk rutting season. And there is always the danger that the glacier you are hiking up to see could calve a huge iceberg into its glacial lake, sending a flash flood over the trail, carrying away everything in its wake (think tsunami, but much colder). And the ever present avalanche danger imperils hikers as well.

Invalid Displayed Gallery


Going up and down mountains brings still more perils. Still more challenges on the steep mountain roads – chain-up areas, runaway truck lanes, steep grade warnings, signs flashing “extreme and changeable weather”, and switch-backs that require large vehicles to back up in order to make the turn.

Still not deterred? Consider the results of an impact with a moose, herd of caribou, or other multi-ton animal. On the upsides, this is an indirect way of learning about which (large) animals are most common in the area you are driving through. . .

Invalid Displayed Gallery

Never a dull moment traveling in the Canadian Rockies…

Yoho National Park – Canadian Rockies 4

Yoho National Park – Canadian Rockies 4

West of Banff, and back across the BC border, is the beautiful and relatively unknown Yoho National Park. “Yoho” is the Cree word for awe and wonder. Besides being stunningly beautiful, it is also home to the Burgess Shale, one of the world’s most celebrated fossil beds.

We stayed at a hostel in the tiny town of Field. It was still raining during most of the visit, but we did manage a couple of excellent side trips during the breaks in the clouds. First stop was Takakkaw Falls, the second highest falls in western Canada, and reachable only through a steep series of tight switchbacks. It’s name comes from the Cree, “it is magnificent”. And it was pretty awesome.

Next stop was the aptly named Emerald Lake, a brilliant green lake surrounded by mountains and glaciers. We hiked entirely around the lake. One one side is a dry micro-climate, the other is rain-forest like. The two sides were completely different in their trees and plants. The dry side was repeatedly overrun with avalanches – as evidenced by the lack of trees on that part of the mountain (which you can see in the picture at the top).

One of the mountains surrounding the lake is home to the Burgess Shale. This site is famous because of its fabulously well preserved fossils from the Cambrian Explosion, a time when life madly diversified. We really would have like to have hike up to it, but it’s an extremely strenuous all day hike up a steep mountain side, and we decided we weren’t fit enough yet. Maybe next year.

Enjoy the pictures of  our Emerald Lake Hike. 

Invalid Displayed Gallery

Previous  Next

Icefields Parkway in the Rain – Canadian Rockies 3

Icefields Parkway in the Rain – Canadian Rockies 3

After  two stunningly beautiful hot, sunny days of sightseeing in the Canadian Rockies, reality set in as the first rainy cold front of the fall season swept in. Unfortunately, this was the day for us to drive down the “Icefields Parkway”, a ~100 mile stretch of (here’s that phrase again) stunning beautiful glaciers and glacial lakes and glacial rivers. The Columbia Icefields, at the continental divide, feed eight major glaciers along the parkway, including one that comes down just about to the road itself, pictured above. One can tour this glacier with a purpose-built bus-like vehicle with huge tires (to prevent it from plummeting into any crevasses that may have opened up). In the picture above, you can see them as tiny ants about a third of the way up the glacier. Given the icy driving rain and wind, we decided to hold off on this tour until our next visit.

We saw a few of the sights between rainstorms, but it was a pretty miserable day…

 

 

 

 

 

Previous Next

Jasper, Alberta – Canadian Rockies 2

Jasper, Alberta – Canadian Rockies 2

We headed out from Vancouver, our first time across the interior of British Colombia, on our way to Alberta. The BC interior is very big, quite mountainous, without a lot of people or towns. Lots of logging. Quite beautiful, but not pristine. Scary signs about sudden changes of weather, chaining up, avalanche zones, falling rocks, beware of bears…. Fortunately, we were traveling on bright sunny 80 degree day and proceeded without a hitch. We spent the night in Tete Jaune, BC at a lovely little motel on the Fraser River, whose owner supplied us with free pizza because the only nearby restaurant had closed for the season.

Next morning, we were off to Jasper, Alberta, a small town in the heart of Jasper National Park, where Scott purchased a polarizing filter that he had forgotten to pack – an expensive mistake but pretty much a necessity for this kind of photography.  Our first stop was Lake Maligne, a beautiful glacier-fed lake about thirty miles away through thick wilderness.  Like most  mountain lakes in the Rockies, this one is stunningly blue or green, because of the “glacial till” in the water – basically flour-sized particles of rock that have been pulverized by the glaciers that feed the lake. We took a boat ride around the lake, including the world-famous view of Spirit Island you see at the top of the page. We just missed seeing a mama bear and three of her cubs at a pond next to the road on our drive back into town.

We stayed at an inexpensive B&B in Jasper — hotel prices, even in mid-September, are very high, so this was a lucky break. Some really excellent restaurants in town – we especially liked Raven Bistro, an innovate, mid-priced bistro right downtown.

Next morning we went on a strenuous (for us, anyways) 12km hike to Cavell Meadows & Angel Glacier. Yet another chance to be gobsmacked – soaring mountains, hanging glaciers, hoary marmots, chirping little pikas, glacial terminal moraines, babbling mountain streams, you get the idea. See the slide show below for our favorite views from the hike.

Despite our exhaustion after the hike, we immediately headed south to Athabasca Falls, a thundering waterfall that has dug its only little mini-canyon.

 

Invalid Displayed Gallery

Previous  Next

Gobsmacked by the Canadian Rockies

Gobsmacked by the Canadian Rockies

At the tail end of our beautiful British Colombian summer, we headed off in our car for a week in the Canadian Rockies, on the border of BC and Alberta. Having seen the US Rockies several times, we thought we knew what to expect. Well, we were wrong!  We were gobsmacked by how stunningly beautiful the whole area is — much more rugged, glaciers everywhere, not nearly so commercialized. Hard to believe we’ve lived next door to this natural wonder for nearly 10 years, and haven’t visited until now.

The instigation for this trip was an invitation we received from a couple we had met in 2002 on a cruise around South America. They own a beautiful rental property in the southern end of Banff National Park, were going to be staying there for a month, and invited us to join them for a few days. We had met them just after we had retired; they were seated at the same cruise table we were at. In an amazing coincidence, they were undertaking a similar retirement/travel strategy as we were. Our get-together in Alberta would be a chance for us to compare notes for the first time in over ten years!

We did a circular tour through the Rockies, visiting five different Canadian National Parks – Jasper, Banff, Yoho, Glacier, and Kootenay. We’ll take you through some of the highlights in the following pages. Here’s the route we took; the northern leg was outbound. You can click on the map to see a more detailed version.

 

Next: Jasper

“Why Americans should not be allowed to travel”

“Why Americans should not be allowed to travel”

(this is an old document Scott recently dug up from his computer)

The following are actual stories provided by travel agents:

  • I had someone ask for an aisle seats so that his or her hair wouldn’t get messed up by being near the window.
  • A client called in inquiring about a package to Hawaii. After going over all the cost info, she asked, “Would it be cheaper to fly to California and then take the train to Hawaii?”
  • I got a call from a woman who wanted to go to Capetown. I started to explain the length of the flight and the passport information when she interrupted me with “I’m not trying to make you look stupid, but Capetown is in Massachusetts”. Without trying to make her look like the stupid one, I calmly explained, “Cape Cod is in Massachusetts, Capetown is in Africa.” Her response … click.
  • A man called, furious about a Florida package we did. I asked what was wrong with the vacation in Orlando. He said he was expecting an ocean-view room. I tried to explain that is not possible, since Orlando is in the middle of the state. He replied, “Don’t lie to me. I looked on the map and Florida is a very thin state.”
  • I got a call from a man who asked, “Is it possible to see England from Canada?” I said, “No.” He said “But they look so close on the map.”
  • Another man called and asked if he could rent a car in Dallas. When I pulled up the reservation, I noticed he had a 1-hour layover in Dallas. When I asked him why he wanted to rent a car, he said, “I heard Dallas was a big airport, and I need a car to drive between the gates to save time.”
  • A nice lady just called. She needed to know how it was possible that her flight from Detroit left at 8:20am and got into Chicago at 8:33am. I tried to explain that Michigan was an hour ahead of llinois, but she could not understand the concept of time zones. Finally I told her the plane went very fast, and she bought that!
  • A woman called and asked, “Do airlines put your physical description on your bag so they know whose luggage belongs to whom?” I said, “No, why do you ask?” She replied, “Well, when I checked in with the airline, they put a tag on my luggage that said FAT, and I’m overweight, is there any connection?” After putting her on hold for a minute while I “looked into it” (I was actually laughing) I came back and explained the city code for Fresno is FAT, and that the airline was just putting a destination tag on her luggage.
  • I just got off the phone with a man who asked, “How do I know which plane to get on?” I asked him what exactly he meant, which he replied, “I was told my flight number is 823, but none of these darn planes have numbers on them.
  • A woman called and said, “I need to fly to Pepsi-cola on one of those computer planes.” I asked if she meant to fly to Pensacola on a commuter plane. She said, “Yeah, whatever.”
  • A businessman called and had a question about the documents he needed in order to fly to China. After a lengthy discussion about passports, I reminded him he needed a visa. “Oh no I don’t, I’ve been to China many times and never had to have one of those.” I double checked and sure enough, his stay required a visa. When I told him this he said, “Look, I’ve been to China four times and every time they have accepted my American Express.”
  • A woman called to make reservations, “I want to go from Chicago to Hippopotamus, New York” The agent was at a loss for words. Finally, the agent: “Are you sure that’s the name of the town?” “Yes, what flights do you have?” replied the customer. After some searching, the agent came back with, “I’m sorry, ma’am, I’ve looked up every airport code in the country and can’t find a Hippopotamus anywhere.” The customer retorted, “Oh don’t be silly. Everyone knows where it is. Check your map!” The agent scoured a map of the state of New York and finally offered, “You don’t mean Buffalo, do you?” “That’s it! I knew it was a big animal!”