The Most Splendid Place

My oh my what a wonderful range. But before I get started on the Canadian Rockies, I have a terrible confession to make….. I bought a selfie stick. I’m ashamed and embarrassed and I never thought it would come to this, but I really like it. In fact, I can’t use it without a huge shit eatin’ grin on my face.  Don’t worry. You’ll see what I mean.

This leg of the trip afforded many firsts for me:

  • First time sleeping in the back of our car (twice in the last week)
  • First experience using the selfie stick (just wait….)
  • First encounter with a grizzly bear (fucking terrifying and exhilarating)
  • First extensive snow hiking

After a day in Vancouver, where Gates worked and I entertained myself by walking around various parts of the city (Strathcona, Stanley Park) and buying not only the aforementioned selfie stick but also a pair of Merrell Hikers with Vibram sole (I could never have predicted at the time how valuable those grippy, slip resistant soles would be), we headed east on the much anticipated part of our journey to Jasper and Banff National Parks.

On the way there, we checked the weather and learned that we were in for a real curveball…. a blizzard. Not good news when you’re planning on spending the next two nights in a tent. Here we are entering Alberta (notice the selfie stick!)

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On our first night in Jasper, we were met with 30 degree temps and a snowy early morning forecast, so we opted to sleep in the back of the Rav instead of in the tent. This turned out to be quite nice. Wednesday morning there was frost on the windows and a good bit of snow on the ground.  Our first snow plan: visit the Miette Hot Springs. Nope, sorry. The road has been closed due to ice. Plan B: visit the Den Wildlife Museum. Nope, sorry. It’s closed for remodeling. Plan C: drive south in order to at least get a little closer to where we’ll need to be tomorrow night, with absolutely no view of the legendary mountains around us due to snowy conditions and zero visibility. Myyyyeehhhh…… drive those roads at your own risk! So after spending the morning at a coffee shop/driving to a bunch of places that were closed and then sending numerous postcards, we set off on a treacherously icy (at least in this southerner’s perspective) and very slow drive south on Route 93, also known as Icefields Parkway. We saw these guys, though (where’s Santa!?)

We sought refuge at a Wilderness Hostel, where we dropped our bags, hiked a short distance in the snow to Athabasca Falls, and then settled in for the night in our intimate 16 person dormitory with the 2-3 obligatory snorers. But alas, at least we were safe and warm.

Here is some entertaining media from Athabasca Falls

Thursday morning we continued our slow crawl south along the Icefields Parkway with equally low visibility but clearer roads. On our way from Jasper to Banff we stopped and hiked to the Athabasca Glacier, which was frigid cold and really cool. We also got this really great selfie stick photo. That’s the glacier behind us.

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(Don’t you think we should get some Patagonia kickbacks?)

And then we headed into our home for the night, the Moraine Lake Lodge. This is my new favorite place. Maybe it was the two previous night’s accommodations (our car and a hostel), but this place was heaven on earth and a very welcome bit of warm hospitality. Moraine Lake is a less popularized Lake Louise that is situated at the base of the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Like Lake Louise, it has the color of milky turquoise (due to glacial rock dust). Unlike Lake Louise, multiple large tour busses are not unloading into the parking lot.

Now here are more photos than you would ever want to look at of this magical wonderland

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And here’s my man skippin’ rocks again

And me roasting marshmallows in our room 🙂

cc marshmellowsWe had such a lovely evening there (hot bath, crackling fireplace in the room, cozy bed, stunning views) that we decided to extend our stay for another night. During our two and a half days there, the weather cleared up and we finally saw the spectacularly grand glory that is the Canadian Rockies. We scampered up the rock pile beside Lake Moraine, walked the Lakeview Trail, went over to Lake Louise for the “Teahouse Challenge” hike where you hike to two teahouses in one go for a total of ~8 miles – not really that much of a challenge, but the snowy Valley of the Six Glaciers was as awe inspiring as anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. And the tea was fairly good too after covering some mileage. These two teahouses were build by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1901. They have no electricity and all supplies are either hiked or helicoptered in. This is where my Merrells really showed their true worth.

Here are some pictures of that hike

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We also had coffee and a flatbread pizza at The Chateau Lake Louise, canoed on Moraine Lake and debated extending our stay for yet another night.…..

Lake Louise restaurantCC Canoe

Gates canoe……… but reason prevailed and we decided to continue on our journey east to Johnston Canyon campground. I’m not gonna lie, I may have shed a tear upon departing the Valley of the Ten Peaks, but the road must go on. And a famously gorgeous road it is! Route 93 through Jasper and the Trans-Canada Highway through Lake Louise and Banff might very well be the most spectacularly scenic drive, with the majestic and endless Rockies towering miles above. Just driving it was an event in and of itself.

Before we hit the campground, we decided to go for yet another snowy hike to Helen Lake where I came face to face with one of my most recent greatest fears: the Grizzly Bear. Just in case you didn’t know, grizzlies will EAT a human, and the thought of being eaten by a grizzly just about gives me a heart attack. So anyways, we see a massive grizzly on our way to Helen Lake, I’m overcome with fear and a good bit of curiosity, we stop and watch it for 20 minutes or so (bear spray locked and loaded) and then an incredibly brave and idiotic chocolate lab goes bounding after the grizzly and chases it up the hillside. As we continue on with our hike, the memory of the bear looms over me as I anxiously gnaw on my fingernails while jumping in horror at the slightest little sounds around me (mostly squirrels). Luckily, eventually I forget about the silly old bear and focus more on the steep snowy ascent that I’m sure Gates is going to want to scramble up (with me in tow). I often have to remind him that I don’t really like cold weather or snow or icy, slippery surfaces. And he often has to remind me that we’re moving to MAINE. And indeed, this leg of the trip has been an incredible training period for me. By the way, that ascent was worth every foot of elevation.

Gates on top of the world

Gates on top of the world 2

helen lake1And here are some shameless summit selfies

At Johnston Canyon campground we slept in our brand new RV again (aka the Rav)

freezing in Johnston CanyonAnd yesterday we scrambled up to the Castle Mountain lookout where we saw Canadian Rockies for days.

Our last stop before Calgary was the town of Banff.

banffWe pulled in for lunch at the Vermillion Lakes right outside of town, which provided spectacular views of Mt. Rundle looming over us.

Rundle Mountain BanffWe then walked around town and got utterly lost in the sprawling Banff Springs Hotel, which might be the coolest old hotel I’ve ever seen.

Banff hotelOnward through more of the Rockies which turn into cattle land which then turns into the oil and gas city famous for it’s Stampede, which we missed by nearly 2 and a half months. 

Calgary for one day to make some trades, get an oil change and respond to old emails, then onward to Dinosaur Provincial Park and beyond.

Yeeehawww.

– Caroline

Oh, and here are a few selfie bloopers. There’s a learning curve with that selfie stick

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