Winter comes early

Trip Start Feb 19, 2004
Trip End Jan 20, 2005

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Monday, October 25, 2004

Tuesday 19th October - Jasper
No extra snow overnight despite the freezing conditions. We headed up towards Maligna Canyon in the car - only about 10 minutes away. The ground was covered in 3 or 4 inches of snow nonetheless as we set off along the track. We soon saw fresh footprints in the snow and realised they were bear prints and it wasn't long since one had been around. We also saw different prints which it seems were a cougar's - we did hear that there have been 3 or 4 human encounters with cougars around here in the last couple of weeks. Despite the prints and worries about being confronted by a hungry wild animal we walked on until we realised we were heading the wrong way again! Once on the track alongside the Athabasca river we climbed our way up till we got to the top of the canyon. Along the way we saw plenty of icicles overhanging the water. The canyon had many gushing and quite powerful waterfalls and deep chasms. Amazingly in the winter all the waterfalls freeze over and all around the area is totally silent. At the top of the trail we stopped for a rest and lunch before slip-sliding our way back down the valley. At the bottom there were many elks hanging around. We drove to and walked around Lac Beauvert enjoying the pristine mountains views crunchy frosted snow and crisp autumn air.

Wednesday 20th October - Jasper - Banff
A pretty perfect day for driving (as the sun was shining) through the highway of the Icefields Parkway from Jasper as far as Lake Louise - it is reputedly the 'most scenic drive in the world' and it lived up to it's reputation. We started early and passed some more elk and 'bighorned' mountain sheep (we didn't see any caribou or moose unfortunately). There had been quite a bit of snow in the area and the further we progressed the more scenic it got - it was like driving through a Christmas card with the sun making the snow sparkle, Sue said. We stopped at Columbia Icefields after a bit and walked the trail up towards the Columbia Glacier - the further we walked the deeper the snow got, 8 or 10 inches in places. The woolly hats we bought in New Zealand are very useful right now! We drove on to Lake Louise and parked up. We couldn't help noticing that the cars with Alberta registrations don't have any number plate on the front of their cars - only the back. We walked around the perimeter of the very blue Lake Louise towards a place called '6 glacier view'. We scrambled up a small hill towards the end and slid down the other side. At this point we recognised that if we continued our forward slide over the packed snow we'd slide over the drop and into the lake! So we turned back - moral of this episode is that our shoes are terrible for gripping! All the accomodation in Banff was lined up side by side on the same street which we like a lot as it makes searching so much easier. We bought some wine and beer and then remembered our room has no fridge - not to worry, just leave it outside our window - the maximum temperature tomorrow will be 2C - who needs a fridge ?!

Thursday 21st October - Banff
One look out the window this morning at the falling snow and we decided our king-size bed was much more appealing! We had planned to see some local natural spectacles called the 'hoodoos' but the ground was very slushy and slippy so we decided to stick with Banff town centre. The first thing we saw outside was what can only be described as a 'path clearer', scooping the snow up and shooting it out to the side. The library in Canada always proves to be the place to read email and surf the net - still we didn't find anywhere to stay in Calgary or Chicago in advace. We were in a shop whilst the assistant was busy hoovering the high-up moose and caribou heads. We had to laugh at US Tv continually showing Fidel Castro falling over and breaking his knee - how they laughed (and we did too) ! Someone went to a lot of trouble arranging ice cubes on the floor in the corridor of our motel, so that they spelt 'FAG' (means gay here) - strange but true...

Friday 22nd October - Banff - Calgary
Last night at the Mexican we were eating in, we were served beer and water in jam jars! Derek told the waitress that only wasps drink out of them at home! We had the slight remains of a hangover this morning so the cold blast of outside air was welcome. We hit the road for our final journey to Calgary. The mountains of the last few days were soon only to be seen in the car mirrors. We stopped off at the Canada Olympic on the edge of CCalgary - this is a training complex that is used by Canadian athletes as they bid to become the next gold medallist at a winter Olympics. They had practice runs for the luge (feet first), skeleton (head first) and bobsleigh. Amongst the luminaries we spotted were the actual bobsleigh the Jamaican team used here in 1988 and some video footage of British ski-jump legend Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards (he was crap, remember ?!) ! The best thing we saw was the actual ski-jumps atop of the whole complex - we felt dizzy just going up in the lift! We drove to a B&B we'd liked the sound of yesterday and dropped our bags off before driving 'downtown' to leave the hire car back. The B&B is very nice and it seems every room here has a theme - ours is definitely 'cowboy' with hats and horses everywhere!

Saturday 23rd October - Calgary
Breakfast was served at 8.30 this morning where we met the other 4 guests staying here - all from Canada. 3 hours later we were still at the breakfast table talking to Ken and Alice about everything under the sun. We couldn't believe the morning had passed us by - we didn't mind too much as the snow had started falling heavily again outside. The weathermen on TV in this part of the world are worse than at home it seems - today they had forecast sunshine and 8 degrees. We saw plenty of locals outside clearing the snow from the paths outside their houses - apparently it's the law to do this within 2 or 3 days of snow falling. We caught local transport as far as the hockey stadium to see if we could buy tickets there for the game tomorrow - we couldn't. We went up Calgary Tower for a view of the city as the snow had miraclously disappeared and blue skies were back. We watched 'A Shark's Tale' at the cinema this evening and enjoyed it very much - still not sure why they need all those 'famous' voices for the characters though! We walked back from the train station in freezing conditions and over very slippery footpaths.

Sunday 24th October - Calgary
The penultimate day in Canada for us and this time we escaped from the breakfast table after an hour. We saw the film 'Motorcycle Diaries' advertised in a local cinema listing for a matinee showing so we walked downtown to see it. One thing we've noticed here about crossing the streets on foot is how courteous most cars are to pedestrians - even when there's no crossing around they prefer to stop for you! We enjoyed the film about 'Che' Guevera's youthful travels through South America before he became politicised - we spotted some places we'd been on screen too - Buenos Aires, Valparaiso and Cusco. As the day was still blue we walked on to the other side of town and the 'Saddledome' where the Calgary Hitmen play their ice hockey. The start of the game was more like a cross between theatre and a movie than a sports game. We didn't particularly understand when a foul was a foul and when it wasn't (this was our first ever game remember!). Every break in play for a face-off faded out with a rock song blasting but the crowd remained pretty muted until that old country bumpkin favourite came on - 'Cotten Eyed Joe' ! The toes were a tapping and the feet a stomping (yee harr!) We enjoyed the game a lot and for the record the Hitmen beat the Prince Albert Raiders 2-1. One more thing - they change teams and line-ups so often it's a wonder the referees (all 3 of them) can keep track of it! The loudest section of the crowd were the kids and adults were only roused if they saw the sign 'make some noise!' The 3 twenty minute periods took just over 2 hours to complete.
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