Up early after spending the evening cowering in our hotel room watching a spectacular thunderstorm over the Rockies. Also cowering in fear of getting charged another £9 a pint for cider … still they were very good, the Canadians really seem to have gotten the hang of the frozen glass enhanced drink.
Today we are heading out for a boat trip on Waterton Lake, for more fantastic scenery, and hopefully before the next set of storms hits.
The boat trip has the added bonus of allowing us across the US border (another state – Montana: tick). The border is marked by the (real) monuments below. Apparently if you line the two up, that gives the line of the 49th parallel. Little border nerd fact there. Also of course, it means that we have the opportunity to be in 3 countries today.
Line up for the 49th parallel
Somone really wants to make the border clear
Also spotted a bald eagle on the lakeshore, so another tick on the Canadian fauna list. Still no moose though 🙁
Best not to look too closely at what is being snacked on…
Wonder if the US border people keep this here for symbollic puroses?
Of course we are still several hundred miles from Calgary with a full itinerary to get in post-boat trip.
Next stop, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. This appears to be be simalar to Creswell crags in that the hunting method was to chase the beasts over the cliff edge and then wander down and finish off any that are still alive. I had assumed that hte Head-Smashed-In part of the name referred to the Buffalo, but apparently it comemorates a young,curious brave who wandered a little too close to watch the Buffalo fall. Fail.
Does what it says on the tin
Moving on to our final stop of the day, the Big Rock glacial erratic. Also very much as advertised, a couple of huge rocks dropped here by glaciers rolling over the Alberta prarie. As if to demonstrate the prairie point, the field in front is riddled with prarie dogs. I hope they haven’t tunneled under the erratic, or they may be in for a nasty surprise!
It is indeed a big rock
So what have we learned about Canada in the last two weeks?
- It’s a remarkably friendly country
- The legendary politeness is real
- The country is so stunning that Canadians must be ruined for travel elswhere when it comes to viewing scenery
- Four seasons in a day is definitely a thing
- June is not summer in Canada
Finally, I think that this farmhouse spotted on the way back to Calgary just about sums it up…
Definitely feeling the effects of the rafting yesterday, so probably just as well that we have a day of driving ather than walking today. No chance of seizing up while sitting in a car for 7 hours 🙂
We are taking a long leisurely loop back to Calgary via Waterton Lake, several hundred miles to the south. I’m not quite sure how I was persuaded to take this route back, other than that it is close to to the US border and Ethan’s border geekery has kicked in, but it is a nice drive, through some spectacular and varied terrain, and largely free of roadworks – an unexpected bonus afer the last few weeks.
Obviously we need to stop for sustenance en route and deafult to our go-to fast food of the holiday – A&W and their Beyond Meat burger, the new gold standard for veggie burgers. They have also made root beer acceptable by serving it in iced glasses, which definitely hits the spot when it is 30C oustside.
On the road, we pass Frank Slide. I had no idea what this was as we passed through an area with vast piles of rock either side of the, some of te boulders looking like several tons. Post journey research confirms that this was the site of Canada’s biggest landslide, depositing 121 million tons of rock on the town of Frank in 1903. Ouch.
Approaching Waterton lake, we started to get some quite nasty weather developing. As we circled back towards the Rockies, we watched the lightning stikes with ncreasing trepidation and Ethan’s doom filled meteorlogical prognostications around funnel clouds and mesocyclonic clouds had me ready to turn around and drive like a lunatic away from a forming tornado.
Personally, I think that the weird conditions were caused by a UFO hiding in this cloud…
Having made it to Waterton, against all the odds, we had to deal with the weather conditions, bear warnings, closed roads and extreme apathy blockng our path to the 8 mile hike to the Montana border and back.
Ethan is not happy. We have an opportunity to reach the border by boat tomorrow, but I’m told that it doesn’t count if you don’t set foot on land. luckily we found this by the lake. I think it is just a replica of the genuine monument, but we are claiming it!
Oh yes, and that now makes 7 national parks.
Cramming it in for the last few days. Started on Saturday with another trip to Banff. Lovely place – very pretty, very touristy and not a little infuriating. Our itinerary for Banff was the Cave and Basin (original hot spring), souvenir shopping in town and possibly another attempt at Sulphur Mountain. Well the last of these was, of course, a non starter and the nearest we got to Sulphur Mountain was the sulphury reek at the Cave and Basin.
Parking it seems is not our forte. That said, the great wheel of driving karma did turn in our direction later in the day.
So, back to Banff, via quick views of the Banff Springs Hotel and Bow Falls. Time for souvenir shopping. I find it difficult to distinguish one shop selling tat from another selling the same, but Ethan needs to visit them all. I take to standing outside trying to get some photos. Pretty sure every shot anyone takes contains an image of some taking a shot of something else. Would make an interest network diagram thinks I. Such a geek.
Moving on from Banff, the plan had been to head back towards Kicking Horse and do a few walks there, but we are diveted by Johnstone Canyon. On a previous visit, this had been flagged as closed until te 15th June, but is now miraculously accessible – how can we resist? It is becoming apparent that the random closure of sites is common in Canada – whether due to conservation, avalanche risk or bear activity. You just have to roll with it.
Johnstone Canyon was well worth the visit, but very busy and I could feel Ethan’s anger level rising as he was jostled out of the way of decent views by parties of Chinese tourists. This is beoming a bit of a theme on the trip. I guess all that new found wealth has generated a travelling class.
Yeah that’s right, it’s my viewpoint now
Moving on from Johnstone, we are heading back towards Lake Louise. Getting late in the day, why not chance it? As I said, the parking gods have finally taken pity on us and we found our spot to go and view the famous Lake Louise.
What’s all the fuss about?
Meh. All very scenic and turqoisey, but not overly inspiring. Maybe it was the lighting or the swarms of other tourists but, as we were shortly to discover, a few more miles up into the mountains lies Moraine Lake, which is far more spectacular, albeit a tad chilly…
Moraine Lake – Like Lake Louise, but better
Critters: a few spotted today although no more bears. We have discovered that the only we to summon critter into view, is to not have the camera handy and then to either make a sudden dive for it or grab a phone. This magnificent beast was just wanderng along the side of the road. It’s no moose, but good enough!
What the elk is that at the side of the road?
This less magnificent beast lead Ethan a merry chase, stopping frequently to pose and the move on on just at the wrong moment. How we laughed… at least until one of the locals suggested that you needed to keep an eye out as they like to run up your trouser leg. I think he was joking, but I have seen a lot of workmen with with their trousers taped shut…
Don’t even think about it pal.
Phew, long day … and of course left us with the trips wo Wapta Falls and Hoodoo Creek to get in the next day.
This we duly did. Wapta falls was quite spectacular and you could get pretty close. Note to self, get fully waterproofed before approaching. Ah well, the shorts will try out soon enough. Not so sure about the camera!
From here onto Hoodoo Creek. A nice short walk we are led to believe. Short yes, easy no! It’s only a couple of miles, but all quite steeply uphill, the trail rising by about 1000 feet. I was fine of course, but had to keep waiting for Ethan to catch his breath 🙂
On the way back down, it seemed like a good idea to soak our feet in the creek. Very bracing but has definitely given me pause for thought about going rafting. Having felt how cold that was on my feet, I’m not sure i want to be dipping anything else in glacial waters.
First sighting of a black bear in the wild today. Well I say in the wild, it was on the road down from where we are staying, about a mile from our apartment. A mother and cub which I believe is the combo not to be messed with, so it focused our minds on getting tooled up. Typically, this was the first time that we didn’t have the camera in the car, so only managed a quick phone snap…
…but best to be ready!
Seems like a good day for critter spotting as we bumped (almost literally) into these guys later in the day.
I wonder if I can butt him while he isn’t looking?
But today is about the ascent of Sulphur Mountain – our first decent walk.
Not so much.
After the 2 hour drive to Banff there wasn’t a single parking place to be had near the trail. Well, that’s not strictly true. There was one, but whilst I was being polite and letting the previous occupants manoeuvre out, some (lets say for the sake of argument) gentleman in a pick up shot round and stole it. I was dumbfounded. It seemed very un-Canadian. I imagine that they even have laws about this sort of thing. I looked around for a peace officer to whom I could report a serious breach of parking etiquette, but no luck. Move on Tony, move on…
After a brief pit stop to pick up supplies, we decide to abandon the Banff portion of the day. A Plan B is hatched and we are off to Takakkaw falls. We had planned to visit here anyway and it is on the way back to Kicking Horse.
Pipe dream. Road closed.
Plan C: Emerald Lake. We are nothing if not adaptable. Success! Parking and an opportunity, albeit on a lesser scale, for a walk. I think that the lake lives up to its name. Ethan feels that it should be called Emerald-From-Certain-Very_Specific-Angles Lake. Stickler.
As an added bonus, whilst walking arond the lake we found a trail leading to Takakkaw falls. As the road to the falls sometimes doen’s open until mid-June, this may be our best chance to get there. Its about a 20km round trip. Totally doable!
Consideration will duly be given.
I have clearly made a rookie error. Every time I wax lyrical about the views, they get eclipsed the next day. So it is again as we drive up the remarkably picturesque Icefields Parkway towards the Columbia Icefield.
We are trying to take some photos en route, but not sure they will turn out too well through the bug splattered windscreen. I have to say that I am taking a perverse pleasure in splattering bugs today after they had their way with me yesterday. I have so many bites that I am driving with a very sore balloon head. Little b**tards. I’m having to wear a hat so as not to freak out the locals.
Anyway, back to the drive. It is becoming apparent that, although distances aren’t huge, we may have overestimated our ability to cover ground. The going is often slow due to perpetual road repairs, convoys of RVs and a phenomenon that I have come to think of as slawping – the sudden slow down of the car in front as a spectacular vista hoves into view and the brakes are applied to allow for some gawping. Guilty.
We finally made it to our destination – the Athabasca glacier for a quick stroll. It’s a bit of a shock to the system going from temperatures in the mid 20s to freezing and snowing in the glacier, but totally worth it. Sad that it will not be here for more than another 80 or 90 years. Probably not helped by us tourists traipsing all over it and pumping out lots of hot air in the form of “ooo”s and “aah”s.
From the glacier we are taken to the Skywalk. It seems impossible to book the glacier walk without also booking this somewhat manufactured attraction. Ethan made the good points that
- Two attractions makes the price more palatable and
- Probably adds an extra incentive for people to take the 2 hour trek from Banff.
We scooted around as fast as possible, trying not to get into too many Chinese photo albums and went on our way.The journey back of course was a treasure trove of photo ops, including a chance to see the Rocky Mountaineer train working its way through the famous spiral tunnels. It’s all in the timing.
And talking of timing, it’s time to round of the day with a nice glass of Canadian ice wine.