Living the Dream
It was a lofty dream of mine for a couple of years to visit the Canadian Rockies. This dream was fulfilled late August 2012. I planned a 4 day trip relatively free of the ambitious and extensive driving routes that is typical of my trips. I mainly stayed on 3 main roads the entire trip while visiting 4 National Parks which all bordered each other. This was the 1st trip in which the majority of the time I did not need my GPS or atlas. The city of Calgary felt just like another US city. One of the main differences is that signs are bilingual (English and French). I really did not need Canadian Currency as credit cards are accepted everywhere I went. I found the people to be pleasant. The general structure and transit system is logical and well organized. To put it plainly this was my easiest trip (logistic wise) that yielded the most reward.
My first stop of the trip was at Lake Louise followed by Moraine Lake. I speak with a fellow photographer while by the Moraine’s lake shore and he proceeds to tell me that the best view of the lake is obtained from the top of a high heap of boulders. He tells me that I would need to scramble up the steep incline to get there. I did not question this as I just read someone’s blog days earlier that lives in the region saying the same thing. What is more I saw someone carefully coming down the boulder heap moment after. I decide to make the climb with my tripod and backpack full of photo equipment. The1st thing I do was attempt to cross some logs that are over an outlet stream. I carefully step on the 1st log trying to keep my balance. The 3rd log sunk a bit under my weight almost wetting a portion of my hiking shoes. The next log I stepped on completely sunk underneath me as I plunge into the cold water up to my stomach. I manage to keep my tripod and camera lifted up to avoid it from getting wet. My back pack got wet but the contents stayed dry. I got a few scratches as a result though. My only sweater and real hiking shoes were now soaked. I undress and redress in the parking lot in the chilly morning as if I meant to take a dip in the lake.
I almost left this destination when instinct told me to walk around these boulders. I then found out to my surprise that there are steps to reach the top of the boulders to obtain the famous and grand view of the beautiful blue Moraine Lake surrounded by multiple high peaked mountains. Okay so the baptism was not necessary but it sure was funny. It did take half the trip (2 days to dry out my real hiking shoes). Fortunately my “water shoes” worked for hiking but I did have sore feet from stepping on rocks with these relatively thin shoes.
I then go to see Takakkaw Falls (one of the tallest in Canada). It was a thrilling experience to hike up near the steep base of this massive outpouring of water and mist. The sunshine was illuminating the flowing mist in what I describe as poetry in motion.
It is now the middle of the day and I am feeling exhilarated about my trip so far. I was looking for a secluded section of river for a quick “shower” because the cabin where I would spend that night has no shower or electricity. I finally find a near perfect spot, but it was a silty glacier feed river. It took me about 20 seconds to take this “shower”. I had reserved a room at the Mosquito Creek Inn for $26 in a shared dorm of over 10 people because there were no private rooms available when I did the booking. I was very happy to find out after my inquiry that there was indeed a private room available for me. I had only slept for 4 hours the night before. The flight to Calgary via Houston was delayed about an hour causing me almost to miss my connecting flight. I had run from terminal to terminal which was quite a distance. I arrive at the connecting gate with time to spare to my relief. After all this I needed some deep rest. I had peace and quite in my little private cabin room with a comfortable bed. The heater did not work so I got cold in the middle of the night. The best thing about this hostel was the location. It was a few minutes drive from beautiful lakes like Bow and Peyto.
The high temperature on the 1st day was about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The highs for day 2 and 3 were in the lower 50’s and night time temps were in the 20’s. A cold front came through bringing scattered rain and snow in the higher peaks. This weather system was the cause for some spectacular sights which amplified the dramatic landscapes. In the morning of day 2 I stopped at a river crossing to behold the changing deep contrasts of dark layered clouds with intermittent morning light shinning through. I then arrive at the trail head for Saskatchewan Glacier and hear some groovy tunes coming from the car that just pulled in. I mentioned my admiration for the tunes to the driver which lead into a conversation. James is a very dedicated hiker / backpacker from Santa Barbara California (one of my favorite towns). We were both born in the bay area near SF. He has seen some of the most incredible wilderness sights in the world by means of long hikes. In this venture of Canada he was to complete over 60 hiking miles. I joined him for 3 of those miles to see the glacier.
Traveling up and the following day down the Icefield Parkway impressed me as one of the most scenic drives available in the world. It is the constancy of massive mountains peaks, glaciers and cascades that was awe-inspiring for me.
At first I was not particularly impressed with the Jasper area. This 1st impression was totally replaced as I spent the evening and following morning exploring. The mountains that seemed ordinary a few hours prior took on a whole new character when a part of the cold front was passing by. The mixture of sunlight and sheets of snow falling created a spectacle the likes I had yet to see. There were numerous snow-bows (not rainbows) appearing almost simultaneously within viewing distances. As I was reluctantly leaving Jasper right before sunset to my hotel for the night, I kept looking back. I decided to take a side road that yielded some decent views of the sky and distant mountain ranges. There was a certain quality (aura) to the light that I have never seen before. It looked like the trees were glowing or emanating light. I felt that this had something to do with being so far north of the equator (farthest for me). Even after the sun set a special glow remained combining with rainbow colors, vermilion clouds, patches of blue sky, deep black of moving storm clouds along with powerful rumbles of thunder.
The following morning in Jasper I enjoyed seeing rich layers of fog floating on lakes and mountain peaks. I drove from location to location seeing how the quickly changing light would play on the fog in vast varieties. At one lake I stood next to the still waters as I watched the thick fog illuminated by direct sunlight. My pure reaction to such a scene and peaceful feeling was to lift my hands to worship of the Creator.
I stop along the Icefield Parkway on my return trip to see a tall mountain cascade named Bridal Veil Falls. I then speak with a couple from Houston that said there is a secret waterfall about 1km’s hike away opposite. The secret waterfall is on the opposite side of the valley to Bridal Veil. I decided to do the impromptu hike. I approached the side of this powerful waterfall shooting out of a mountain. The path became very muddy and slippery. I had made it to the cliff just a few feet away from the roaring falls, but I suddenly realized how precarious a position I had placed myself in. Prior to this I did not want to muddy my hiking shoes (after a 2 day drying period), but now I thought it more important to make all my steps carefully and deliberately. After I made it safely from the muddy cliff, a nervous energy was buzzing in me.
I return to my same private cabin room from day 1. It remained the way I left it. No one stayed in it the night before. This day I would not jump in a river for a “shower” because the cold front had cooled the air a lot. Day 4 was mainly clear blue skies and a little warmer by mid day. This allowed me to see the mountain in yet another light. I returned to Moraine and Louise lakes as in day 1. I reversed the order though. I 1st went to Moraine and it was even more attractive then day 1. The water was calmer this time. I visit the Kootenay National park and return for my 3rd time in the trip to Bow Lake and Peyto Lake. This time the sun was fully shining on the lakes causing the blue water to show forth.
I saw a few bears by the roadside on separate occasions with the assistance of a few hundred fellow tourists that jam up the road to see them. On the last occasion I was standing about 80 km away from a black bear that was feeding on berries. I felt a tap on my shoulder and I turned to see and hear a tall Park Ranger ordering me back to my vehicle. It was the 1st ranger I saw in the whole trip. As I was driving away I saw that he shot a flare to scare the bear away to the tourists’ dismay.
My last hike of the trip was an exploration of Johnston Canyon. The hike traverses alongside a slot canyon with numerous waterfalls along the way. It was an apropos conclusion to a great excursion in the Majestic Canadian Rockies.
Hurricane Isaac or Houston We Have a Problem
Before I went on this journey, there was a storm brewing in the Atlantic. The initial report stated that it may affect Florida. Once I started my adventure in the Rockies I had completely forgot about it. The morning of my departure from Canada an attendant at the airport said to me that the Hurricane was to make a direct hit to South Florida within the day and that my flight from Houston to Miami would be canceled. I mentally prepared to stay a night or 2 in a Houston Hotel. I made peace with this fact but was not happy about it for obvious reasons. This would cause the added expense of hotel and possibly a car rental to my trip. I would be missing work thus adding to the accumulated tasks I already had from 3 business days. The city of Houston looked like a very dull place to be stuck in. There seemed little appeal as far as exploration was concerned. Once the flight from Calgary made it to Houston I casually strolled to the connecting gate for Miami just to obtain the cancelation news and expected reschedule. To my great surprise the sign at the gate read “On Time”. I asked the attendant if that was real. She said that the plane and crew were there and it should be accurate. As I was boarding the plane, a couple was exiting voicing some nervous complaints. A flight attendant at the front of the plane was crying while she was speaking on the phone. She felt that her life was in danger if she stayed on the flight.
I noticed that there were few people on the flight and no one in the back section where I was to be seated. A male flight attendant then matter of factly said as he blocked the aisle “I am sorry sir but we are closed”. I looked at him seriously for a moment when he proceeded to say “just kidding”. After the recent turn of events things had a surreal feel to them. The captain then announced that they will attempt to land in MIA in spite of the inclemental weather. Should the winds and rain be severe they would circle the airport until a favorable window of opportunity. He said that the plane had plenty of fuel to do this and if there was no opportunity they would land in Tampa. He warned that the ride would have strong turbulence toward the end and if we felt queasy about it we were free to get off the plane now. Once the plane was over the Everglades the turbulence began. After about 20 minutes of moderate turbulence the captain landed the plane safely as the passengers applauded. The same flight attendant that was in tears now welcomed us to Miami with a sigh of relief apologetic for her former display. This was one of the last flights that made it to MIA that afternoon before strong winds and rain came. I thought it an interesting finish to what I think was my best trip out of 25 in the last 4 years.