|Enjoying a Bean Bros. coffee along the Spanish Banks|
|View of downtown from Kits Beach|
|Southlands trail on the Fraser River|
|Enjoying a Bean Bros. coffee along the Spanish Banks|
|View of downtown from Kits Beach|
|Southlands trail on the Fraser River|
|On the way down from Plain of Six Glaciers|
Reluctantly, on Sunday morning we left Fernie to head back north and east to Lake Louise/Banff. Although it was out of the way, I had heard such wonderful things about the area and I felt that my cross country adventure would be missing something important if it was bypassed.
We stopped in the ski destination of Invermere, B.C. for groceries and some lunch on the way up, treating ourselves to a sit down meal before heading into a few days of eating on a camp stove in the wilderness. As we drove down the main street, we saw signs for Ray Ray’s Beach Pub, which claimed to have the best view in town. Easily convinced, we drove through the few blocks of the main strip and sat down looking out onto the mountains, a pond with a fountain, and the crisscrossing lines of the railroad track and electric poles. It was an artful view, but perhaps if we had been sitting outside (it had started to rain and was cooler now) we would have seen impressive Windermere Lake. The food was typical Canadian pub food: I devoured a sweet Thai chicken wrap with yam fries and salad, while Nick dined on a beef sandwich.
Lake Louise, Alberta is a tiny village with one main plaza (Samson Mall), which includes a few restaurants, a grocery store, gift shops, and a visitor centre. We spoke to a very helpful woman in the welcome centre, who gave us detailed information on hiking in the area, and where we could find the best vistas for taking photographs. We paid $6 for four litres of water (a forgotten item on our grocery trip in Invermere), and decided not to spend hundreds of dollars on warmer gear in Wilson Mountain Sports. My advice is to do your research on the weather (we were seriously underprepared for the cold mountain air), and make your grocery list and check it twice!
Our first evening was rainy and somewhat miserable. We shivered in weather that went down to 2 degrees Celsius, dreaming of toques, mitts, rain pants, long underwear – all things that were nicely packed away in a container on its way to Vancouver. In a few moments of weakness we considered going home; we were exhausted after the move and the drive and were just too darn cold. However, we steeled ourselves and got geared up for a hike around Lake Louise on Monday morning.
Although you are able to see beautiful views of the lake and mountains from just making your way around the lake, we wanted to do a proper hike to the ‘top’ of Plain of Six Glaciers, which had been recommended to us. The lake water is a turquoise blue and is an absolute complement to the dark, snow-capped mountains that form a curve at its tail end (from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise). Hiking along the shore is light and easy: you can take your time, stop to take photos, say hello to fellow travellers. One of my favourite things about hiking around the world is the number of different languages you hear along the way: Japanese, Chinese, French, Italian, Dutch, German and British tourists walked with us, ahead of us, around us. You feel a sense of global community by sharing in this experience with such a diverse population.
As you move beyond the lake, the trail starts to move upwards and becomes a little tighter; moving into the higher latitudes it is harder to breathe as the air gets thinner. It is a good idea to wear layers for the hike, as you start to warm up with the exercise of getting to the top. However, once you get there and settle in for a few minutes, you will want to layer up against the mountain chill in the air.
At the top, there is a tea house that was built in the 1920s by Swiss guides and still hosts a variety of food and drink today. They helicopter the raw goods and propane (there is no electricity) once a season, while the fresh goods come in on horseback or with the staff almost daily. Make certain you have some cash with you, as a nice, hot tea is a great treat after your 5.5 km hike! We ate our own packed lunch on the upper level of the tea house, enjoying a great view as we took a break from our efforts.
Afterwards, we treated ourselves to the hot springs in Banff. Not a huge space, it still has an impressive view of the mountains, and was a warm 39 degrees. Before heading downtown, we stopped at the Indian Trading Post, where we found toques for $5 (what a deal!) and some Manitobah Mukluks (slippers) to warm my feet on cold winter (or summer in this case) nights. We walked around Banff town, enjoying a coffee from one of the three Evelyn’s Coffee shops along the main street. There is a relatively good variety of stores and restaurants; overall, Banff is an inviting place that I would like to spend more time in.
Our evening was filled with attending to the campfire, drinking Fernie pale ale, and singing Sam Roberts. I’ve never felt so Canadian. It was an ideal end to a cross country trip filled with diverse history, landscapes and people. I love this country.
|Castle Rocks hike|
Fernie is a little known town, but is definitely worth a visit. It has a delightful main street with over one hundred years of history, and includes most of the amenities we are accustomed to in the big city. However, the wonderful thing about Fernie is the 360 degrees of pure mountain beauty meeting you at every corner. It includes a few restaurants, both casual and upscale; we grabbed a quick bite at Big Bang Bagel, one of the many shops on the main strip with a clever name, and found much needed energy for our day hike in the signature breakfast bagel. The town also has some great specialty stores, such as Womb to Grow, a maternity shop run by a doula (a woman trained to help during pregnancy, birth, and after the baby is born).
Our big adventure for the day was a 3 hour hike (return) to Castle Rocks. After twisting around a gravel road for several minutes, we parked on a side road and embarked from there. It is not that well marked for visitors from out of town, but fortunately we had a guide, a good friend from Ontario who purchased a condo there last year.
We followed three trails to get to the top: Roots, Hyperventilation, and Castle Rocks. Roots was mostly flat, wide and easy going as a trail, but it started to get steeper and was one-track after that. In difficulty it was a “Blue” which turned into a “Black Diamond”, the same rating they use for ski trails. For much of the hike we were in the woods, but when we approached Castle Rock itself, a dark orange and grey entity that rises starkly against the blue sky, the trail opened up. The views were magnificent panoramas of mountains with grey tops and green slopes, which lead down into the valley where the town resides. You can see Fernie Alpine Ski Resort, while The Three Sisters rock formation stands out above the rest of the mountains, majestic.
Mountain bikers are known to walk their bikes up the mountain and then bike back down. It seems like a magnificent thing, but much too extreme for my liking! Overall, Fernie is a wonderful place for those who love the outdoors; it is a haven for people who like to hike, bike, camp or swim, and is full of friendly people.
|One of many windmills near the AB/BC border|
Distance: 839 km
Time on the road: 9 hours
Highlight: Crowsnest Pass
We were off to an early start again, but this time we enjoyed the complimentary breakfast at The Holiday Inn Express before hitting the road for Moosejaw, which is less than an hour from Regina.
Moosejaw downtown, although small, holds much history and is charming in its own right. It has connections to Al Capone in the 1920s, the time of prohibition and high crime, and the city also has links to Chinese immigration of the early 20th century; men who were hired to do the dangerous task of building the railroad for the CPR; families seeking refuge from a time of political turmoil in the Far East. The Tunnels of Moosejaw tour covers the history of the town, and although we did not have time to take a tour, we did hear great things about it and at least got to enjoy the black and white photo museum depicting the early days of the town.
The drive was monotonous prairie for a long time, but when we approached the Alberta/B.C. border the view started to shift from wide plains topped with sky to rolling fields framed by the Kootenay mountains. I was somewhat overwhelmed by all of the new things to see: valleys, rivers, windmills upon windmills. Even the hay bales seemed artistically arranged by this point.
We were heading into Crowsnest Pass, a well known area to west coast dwellers, and a beautiful drive most cross country travellers miss because they usually pass through Calgary. However, we were headed south to Fernie, B.C., approximately 30 minutes from the Alberta border.
Crowsnest Pass features winding roads and mountains both green with trees and grey with impressive rock. We paused for a snack at Leitch Collieries in the pass, and learned that the NWMP were stationed there over one hundred years ago to patrol people illegally hiding cattle there on the way to the U.S. It also served as a coal mine, one of the most important resources in the area.
Once we entered B.C., very inconspicuously as the provincial border is not well marked, we paused for a pit stop in Sparwood to witness the World’s Largest Truck. Its tires doubled my height, and oddly enough, it looked like it was even road ready. One thing to note for travellers heading west – most provinces provide free road maps, which vary in specificity, however in British Columbia you have to pay for one!
|The Prairies as we entered Saskatchewan|
After our pit stop in Winnipeg, we embarked on our prairie adventure. Remarkably, for the first few hundred kilometres of the prairies, I really enjoyed the stark contrast to Northern Ontario. I even asked aloud: “Am I the only person who likes the prairies?” The province of Manitoba still has some geographic features to offer – a few minor rolling hills and tree formations, little lakes here and there, probably man-made for irrigation purposes. I discovered beauty in the symmetry of the great wide open; the perfectly spaced electric and railroad poles that look like religious crosses and the endless fields of yellow and green topped with blue skies. The prairies remind me of a Van Gogh painting rather than what I originally pictured as a Nevada highway. Still, I was amazed by what Manitobans refer to as “roads”. Anything off of Highway One was essentially a dusty or muddy or grassy mess, and trucks brewed up dust clouds that followed them like a train as we saw them pull off the main road. One wonders if small cars ever survive this terrain.
At 5 p.m. I looked around at the emptiness around me, the lack of cars, amenities, anything, and thought of rush hour traffic in the GTA. We went a steady 120 km/h the entire distance between Winnipeg and Regina (save a bit of roadwork), and the two lanes were a huge relief from the one lane of Highways 69 and 17 in Ontario.
About 100 km out of Regina I get it. The prairies are long and flat. They last for what seems like forever or maybe they represent what limbo feels like. I acquiesce to all those people who warned me about them.
However, one of the good things about driving west is that you gain a few hours in your travels. We set the clocks back one more hour before hitting Regina, so we arrived there with plenty of time to settle in and go out for a pleasant dinner at The Roof Top Bar and Grill downtown (http://therooftop.ca/). We ate outside surrounded by dark wood features and silvery aluminum table tops; there were two fire pits in each corner of the patio, and the trendy folk of Regina sprawled around them gossiping into the night. The service was attentive and friendly, and the meal affordable. Two salads, two meals (including a 14 oz. prime rib!), a bottle of Lindeman’s Cabernet Sauvignon and a three cheesecake sampler for dessert was under $100. What a nice change from big city dining!
Our sleeping accommodation was the Holiday Inn Express, which was conveniently located downtown close to the bars and restaurants. The room was well-sized, and had a spacious bathroom. We were told we had to pay for parking and I was surprised to hear it was $6. Again, it is always great to find that things are cheaper than you expect. I would highly recommend both the restaurant and the hotel if you choose to stop in Regina on your cross country travels.
Day Four entails more prairie-driving through Saskatchewan and Alberta, and then finally, the arrival into mountainous B.C. Stay tuned for more news!