Who of us knew walking would become a thing when this pandemic first hit? Not me. Such a simple act, which has been my balm in Gilead these past nineteen months.
And yet, who of us by this time are not bored to tears with their neighbourhood, having explored every corner of it?
Even me — and I live next door to one of Canada’s most spectacular urban parks.
And so, on this Thanksgiving I am grateful that the stars have aligned and I have a (temporary) change of scenery. I’m in Central Alberta for some weeks, which at the moment is stunning in all its fall glory. There are lots of trails and walks to discover, too. Last Sunday, I spent the afternoon walking around Elizabeth Lake, in the centre of Lacombe.
Here’s some of what I saw.
As has been the case for so many of us, one of the outcomes of this pandemic was me having to adjust my travel plans for 2020. Obviously, postponing a holiday is about as far down on the scale of hardships as you can go during this crazy year, so I really don’t want to give the impression that I am complaining.
But it did mean that the one year I finally decided to spend a longer chunk of time visiting my extended family in Alberta did not happen. Hanging out with at-risk relatives or family who need to be extra cautious because they work in health care would not have been smart.
Instead, I once again made my semi-annual trip to Alberta a quick one, with a whole lot of driving to get there, a few select physically distanced visits once I arrived, and then a whole lot of driving to get back home.
But the long drive was worth it. Seriously. The scenery between Vancouver and Red Deer is so varied; I personally think it rates up there as one of the most scenic road trips on the planet.
And on my way home, I also had one glorious day in Banff.
Who knew Banff was at its best in the fall? If I could guarantee great weather every year, I’d take all my mountain vacations in September.
Since I had only the one day, I planned it carefully. The 7 km hike up to Lake Agnes Teahouse is maximum bang for minimal effort and is a hike I used to do as a kid with my family when we spent our summers camping in the Rockies.
Plus, the trailhead is at Lake Louise, easily one of the most photographed lakes in all of Canada.
The hike up to Lake Agnes starts off with a long steady climb through the forest above Lake Louise, with a couple of spectacular peek-a-boo views of the lake far below. Then comes a series of switchbacks until you reach Mirror Lake. Looming over it is the Beehive.
While stopping to catch my breath, I ducked as a Clark’s Nutcracker skimmed by just inches above my head and took its perch on a tree branch nearby. Only a second later, I overhead a father and son near me lamenting the lack of wildlife.
Look up, I wanted to say. (But I didn’t.)
A kilometre past Mirror Lake is Lake Agnes and its famous teahouse. The lake was named after Lady Agnes MacDonald, wife of Canada’s first prime minister, who visited the lake in 1886. The tea house has been in operation since 1905.
By this point, I’d climbed 400 metres and was pretty much done, but those who have energy to burn can climb the Beehive for a bird’s eye view of all three lakes — Lake Agnes, Mirror Lake, and Lake Louise — that make up the Lakes in the Clouds.
As I drove away from Banff National Park the next morning, the clouds were rolling in and the rain was starting to fall. I had timed my one-day vacation perfectly. And as far as following the directions of my provincial health officer (“fewer faces, bigger spaces”), I had done all right by that too.
And there goes another month.
I took this photo on what turned out to be the highlight of my month: a weekend in Whistler. It snowed pretty much the entire time we were there, and my friend and I pretty much walked out our door with our snowshoes on and were upon this scene within minutes.
And … as quickly as it arrived, the snow is gone (although there is talk of more to come).
But enough about our wacky winter weather. Let me tell you about my first ever winter day hike. A bunch of weekends ago, I was hanging out in Whistler with a bunch of friends. Our plan was to do some snowshoeing, but we had just one problem.
There wasn’t nearly enough snow. (I told you it’s been a wacky winter.)
So the showshoes got left in the car, and we proceeded to trek through the woods in our winter boots.
The hike we chose was a relatively flat and short (3 km) walk to the Whistler Train Wreck. I had heard about this hike only a year or two ago, and had put it on my list of hikes to do, but hadn’t yet had the chance.
The Whistler Train Wreck consists of a bunch of boxcars scattered through the forest by the Cheakamus River. Not that long ago, the only way you could get to the site was by walking illegally along the railway tracks. But train conductors don’t much like that and would report you if they saw you so that the police were waiting for you as you exited the woods.
In 2016, a suspension bridge was built over the Cheakamus River and what used to be an unlawful ramble along the tracks is now a quick and easy hike connecting to the much longer Sea to Sky Trail. The trailhead is on the road to Cheakamus Crossing, a new subdivision of Whistler that served as the Athlete’s Village during the 2010 Olympics.
And how did a train wreck end up in the middle of a forest, you ask? A lumber train heading south from Lillooet derailed here in 1956. The seven damaged boxcars were dragged clear of the tracks by local loggers hired by the train’s owner, the Pacific Great Eastern Railway. Left scattered among the trees in the forest, they’ve remained there ever since.
The sight of mangled boxcars in the forest is a little surreal, to say the least. In winter, even more so.
Here, take a look.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
The photo of daffodils I posted the other week had me thinking back to my lovely ramble through the hills of England’s Lake District. It was a sunny, autumn afternoon a couple of decades ago, and although it had been many years since I had studied English romantic poetry, William Wordsworth’s poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” was firmly imprinted on my brain.
Likely because I was wandering. And alone. And in the middle of the Lake District (aka Wordsworth’s backyard). I believe I took this photo above Rydal Water on my walk from Dove Cottage to Rydal Mount.
I had arrived in Windermere around dusk the evening before and started off that morning intending to walk to Ambleside. All over England are public footpaths, known as right of ways, where anyone can walk, even if the land is private. The delightful thing about these footpaths is you can take a bus or train to the start of the trail, do your walk, and then hop on another bus or train to get to where you need to be.
To my memory, the paths are well marked. However, I was soon confused and turned around and, well, lost. I asked another walker for directions, showing him my tiny hand-drawn map bought that morning at the Windermere Tourist Information Centre for 20 pence. To his credit, he did not laugh, but he immediately pulled out his full-size Ordnance Survey map — at which point my map felt woefully inadequate and I felt like a silly tourist.
This gentleman set me straight, but it was not long before I was once again lost. I gave up on that path and made my way back to the road where I knew I could catch a bus to Ambleside.
After lunch, I tried another footpath and this time successfully found my way from one of Wordsworth’s former homes (Dove Cottage) to another (Rydal Mount). In the end, it all worked out for the better because by cutting short my morning walk I had more time for my afternoon walk — a walk so beautiful it turned out to be one of the most memorable walks of my life.
A walk so beautiful I started reciting poetry to myself. And, believe me, I’m not the reciting-poetry type.
Several of the English Romantic poets lived in the Lake District, so they are also known as the Lake poets. And the Lake District is truly one of the most spectacular parts of England.
Because I was there in autumn — a lovely time of year, for sure — I saw no daffodils. But someday, one day, I hope to go back in April and see me a crowd of golden daffodils.
Cavell Glacier in Jasper National Park is one of the most easily accessed glaciers in all of Canada. It lies at the bottom of Mount Edith Cavell and can be reached by a short (less than 1 km) hike. Cavell Pond was formed from the glacier’s meltwater. It’s turquoise because of all the glacial silt suspended in the water.
I spent every summer of my childhood exploring the Rocky Mountains with my family. The mountains are a pretty spectacular playground for kids, but I don’t think I truly appreciated them until I returned on my own as an adult. Now, I don’t take them for granted. Ever.
If you’ve been to Banff or Jasper, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, put the parks on your bucket list. You won’t regret it.
This view is from the top of Sulphur Mountain in Banff National Park. Take a deep breath: those are the Rocky Mountains you’re looking at.
There are two ways to get to the top of Sulphur Mountain: you can hike up or you can ride up. The hike up isn’t a long one (5.5 km), but it is all uphill (elevation gain of 650 m). The Banff Gondola is a lot easier and a lot quicker. It runs year round and takes you from the Banff Upper Hot Springs to the top of the mountain in just eight minutes. (Those hot springs, incidentally, are how Sulphur Mountain got its name.)
Once you’re at the top of Sulphur Mountain, you have a 360-degree view of the Rocky Mountains.
Dizzying, isn’t it?
I don’t want to overwhelm you, so I’m posting only a photo of the view to the east. That’s the town of Banff nestled around the diminutive Tunnel Mountain in the centre of the photo. Behind Tunnel Mountain is Cascade Mountain, and to the far right of the photo is Rundle Mountain.
Wait? How did that happen?
It’s closing in on the end of September and I am way behind on posting about last month’s road trip to Alberta and back. Waaaay behind.
It’s not like I don’t know what to write about. I may even have a photo or two to post as well.
Here’s one. This is Boom Lake in Banff National Park, which is accessible by an easy 5 km hike from Highway 93. That’s not fog ― it’s smoke from last month’s wildfires in Washington state.
It’s operating at capacity.
I don’t mean it’s super crowded and chock-full of tourists. I mean there is, quite simply, no more room. Every campsite is filled, every hotel room is booked, and the streets of Banff townsite are gridlock by noon, as are the access roads to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
So what solution to the madness does someone who has just driven from Vancouver to Banff suggest to her family?
That they head across the Alberta–BC border to Yoho National Park.
Yoho was created a national park in 1886, just a year after Banff. It’s slightly over 500 square miles, about a fifth of the size of Banff, but it packs just as much awe and wonder ― in fact, its name, Yoho, is a Cree expression of wonder.
Just like in Banff, there is a wide assortment of hiking to do in Yoho, both short day hikes and longer overnight hikes in the back country.
And, just like in Banff, there are photo ops. Gazillions of photo ops.
Here is one. This is Takakkaw Falls. Takakkaw is another Cree expression ― it means “it is magnificent.” (My brother and sisters and I had a lot of fun with the word “takakkaw” back in the last century when we were little kids.)
Here’s another. This is the Natural Bridge, which straddles the Kicking Horse River. I also remember coming here when I was little, and I remember how fascinated I was by the origin of the name “Kicking Horse River.” James Hector named it that after getting kicked by his pack horse. Hector was a member of the Palliser Expedition, a group of men surveying possible routes for the Canadian Pacific Railway. They reached the Kicking Horse River in 1858.
Here’s a look at the Natural Bridge from another angle.
And here’s a closer look at the mighty Kicking Horse River. That’s Mount Stephen behind.
Just down the road from the Natural Bridge is what’s known as the Meeting of the Waters. It’s the confluence of the Yoho River (at left, in the photo below) and the Kicking Horse River (dead ahead). You only need to stand here for a second or two to be overwhelmed by the power of these two rivers.
Turn to the right, and you have this view.
So, here’s my tip of the summer: the next time you can’t get close to Lake Louise, get back on the Trans-Canada Highway and drive another twenty minutes west to Yoho National Park. You won’t regret it.
Today’s photo is of another lake, but this one is much closer to home. I hiked out to Cheakamus Lake just this afternoon. It’s located in Garibaldi Provincial Park, just outside of Whistler.
What a view.