Cavorting in Canada
Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
96Trip End Apr 16, 2011
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Our first stop in Canada was the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island. We were hoping to visit some family friends of Sarah’s but unfortunately they were away and instead had arranged for us to get the keys to stay at their lovely house – rather a luxury for two backpackers! Vancouver Island felt incredibly British, particularly as we arrived in typical British autumn weather of drizzly fog
From Victoria we were once more heading north, this time to Whistler resort. We’d been on a ski holiday in Whistler some years ago and were keen to come back to see it in summer and also to try to find one of the best steak restaurants we’d ever been to! The town felt very different without a covering of snow but was still really busy. During the summer months Whistler has some of the best downhill mountain biking in the world and as a result there were still plenty of tourists around. Gordon was chomping at the bit to have a go and was soon kitted out and heading up the chairlift to test his skills. The biking is set up like ski-runs, with green, blue and black runs. After warming up on some easier runs Gordon headed for his first black. At the top of the slope was a sign saying, "Beware, this path contains some knarly jumps, switchbacks, open rock terrain and berrs. For expert riders only." He wasn’t entirely sure what a “berr” was but thought, how bad could it be?
It turns out Berrs are vertical drops in the path, as Gordon discovered when he went over one and found himself very quickly 5 feet lower down with his bike on top of him
All of which left Sarah dangerously unsupervised in Whistler village with a credit card which she was soon giving a work out in a little boutique. Going back to work is going to be pretty hard on us so she figured that some new outfits would help ease her back in. Besides, we had an incredibly generous 46kg of luggage allowance each on the flight home and it seemed silly not to take advantage of it!
From Whistler we headed north and east and to the Canadian Rockies and the town of Jasper. After a full days’ driving to get there we were keen to stretch our legs and headed to the Visitor’s Centre who recommended a couple of walks which we dashed off to do before the weather could turn as it was forecast to do. We’d forgotten that we were once again into bear territory until the Visitor’s Centre suggested that we might want to take bear spray with us as they not only have black bears in this neck of the woods but also grizzlies
The Rockies around Jasper were gorgeous; think pine and beech covered slopes, with the beeches just turning yellow, leading to craggy summits covered with huge glaciers. Our first walk took us on a loop under an overhanging glacier where we saw some huge chunks calving off it and crashing to the valley floor below. After that we decided to head on to the Sulphur Skyline trail as it offered a chance to get to the peak of a mountain. The walk wasn’t too bad but the views from the top were great. We’d been looking forward to another scenic picnic but hadn’t thought about the wind though which was ferocious and cold. We could barely stand up straight and ended up wolfing down our lunch crouched behind a tiny rock which gave a tiny bit of relief from the wind before dashing back down to the very welcome open air hot springs at the bottom of the walk.
Back in Jasper that evening we found a local paper and were leafing through it when we came to an article called 'Massive Bear Chases Man’ (we may be paraphrasing) which was reporting a guide who’d been taking a client up to one of the glaciers when a grizzly started following them
Next morning bear spray wasn’t necessary though as we woke to torrential rain and wouldn’t be walking anyhere. There really was no option except to go for a proper weekend brunch before heading on to our next destination, Banff, three hours down the road. The road from Jasper to Banff leads right through the Rockies under some huge peaks and is supposedly one of the prettiest drives in the world (in fact a Banff climbing guide we’d met in Thailand a year ago and bet us a beer that we’d agree once we drove it). Sadly we couldn’t see much except low clouds with the odd glimpse of mountains. We’ll just have to come back another time to see it and settle the bet!
In Banff, the weather had improved a bit and so we decided that it was time we got our climbing equipment out. We found (with the help of some surreptitiously taken photos of a climbing book sold in the visitors centre) a fantastic wall that was perfectly suited to our abilities: nice and tall, steep and fun but nice big hand and foot holds and loads of different routes up
We then headed south and back down towards the US as we wanted to visit another US National Park we had heard a lot about; Glacier National Park. We had a bit of a surprise when we crossed the border into Montana as suddenly everything was shut down. And dark. And a bit weird frankly. The last town we had crossed in Canada was quite alive and normal really; a McDonalds next to a Travelodge next to a Starbucks kind of place. Then we crossed the border and there was nothing. It was dark. The one petrol station was shut. The shops were shut. There was a big hotel on the edge of park but it was shut up as well. We asked a security guy who was hanging around who said that the only accommodation was at a place called Duck Lake Lodge about an hour away which might be open
The next day we were planning on heading into the park and going for a decent hike up to a lake we had read about until the lady running the lodge mentioned that “the bears were running” this time of year. Then we met another guy who had been walking in the park and turned a corner to find a grizzly with her two cubs on the path 30 feet in front of him. Then, on the road into the park we saw a big black bear not 100m from the road chewing at a carcass. Holy crap but he was big - and they are meant to be the small ones- what on earth would a grizzly be like?
These events, combined with the story from the guide in Jasper (only a few hundred miles away) and Bill Bryson’s stories about bear attacks we had been listening to convinced us that heading off into a virtually deserted, mostly closed and possibly bear-ridden National Park on our own and without any bear spray might be a bad idea. So instead we climbed back into The Tank, turned her back to the snow and ice of Glacier National Park and headed down and out of the mountains to started our 3,000m odyssey across the prairies and towards the East Coast.