The Beauty of Banff

Banff, Banff, Banff, Banff, Banff, Banff, this was what I was repeating to myself over and over again after leaving Jasper National Park. Jasper treated us amazing, and we saw some incredible things but it was time to head towards one of the most well known parks in Canada, Banff National Park. It is also the oldest national park, founded in 1855, because of its natural hot springs. (Spoiler alert: We never found any nor went looking for hot springs)

We were only staying in Banff for a single night, so our plan was to pack in as much stuff as possible as we could. We made sure we started the day off with a bang. Since we were coming from Jasper, we got to drive along Highway 93, otherwise known as Icefields Parkway, and we quickly learned why it was called this. While driving along Icefields Parkway, we could see Glaciers like big ol’ thousands of year old glaciers, and it was insane. It’s hard to describe what it is like looking at a glacier because, in reality, it’s just ice. Yet the magnitude of having such a big block of ice hanging off the side of mountains and seeing where it had retreated, and the amount of force it has by the sheared off mountain faces was something that reminded me to never forget how powerful nature is. This is one of the many glaciers we saw:

Did you really think we were just going to drive past all the glaciers? As of 2014, there’s a new attraction in between Jasper and Banff and it’s called the Jasper skywalk. It’s a massive glass semi-circle that hangs 280 meters above the ground below, attached to the side of a mountain. Forget the CN-Tower glass floor, this is where you want to go if you want to walk on glass floors. Looking down and seeing the rock, river, and trees below makes you feel like you’re walking in the air. We even got to see mountain goats in the valley below! (Sorry no pictures I was too busy taking in the moment)

But all good things must come to an end. We were off to our next activity for the day, hiking at Lake Louise. We had planned on doing another big hike like we did in Jasper, to watch the sunset from atop a mountain, overlooking Lake Louise’s turquoise blue water.  Unfortunately, it was impossible to see the surrounding mountains from the lake because of the wildfires in the area. With the dense smoke, we knew there wouldn’t be a good view so we decided on a different option, a much colder option. We took the trail along the right side of the lake all the way to the far end so we were looking back towards the Chateau Lake Louise. When we got there, we decide to go for a dip in the glacier-fed lake. Now if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll remember I did a polar dip back in February where a hole was cut through the ice on the lake at my cottage and I jumped through said hole into the frozen lake. Having done this I thought I was prepared to handle the water at Lake Louise, but boy was I wrong.

The lake at the edges is shallow, no place to dive in or jump so you have to slowly walk in until you’re just far enough where you can build up the courage to jump. It was tough but we managed and all went swimming in Lake Louise. (How many of you can say the same?) I personally would not recommend it. It was freezing, so cold you couldn’t even scream. It was more like a panic of “holy shit, holy shit, this is cold I need to get out.” But all of this is said in your head, as you can’t manage to move your lips as your survival instinct kicks in and you’re swimming for the edge to get out. But don’t take my word for it, just look at these photos as my proof.

Although we were camping in Banff, as we did in Jasper, it was very different. The campground we stayed at (Banff – Lake Louise) had an electric fence around the entire campground and a slotted bridge as the only way in and out of the campgrounds. This was all in place to keep out the bears of Banff, apparently, there are a lot but we didn’t get to see any.

After seeing Lake Louise, we were told by a friend that we had to see this other lake because it was less touristy, was even more of a turquoise blue and was surrounded by more mountains.  How could we not go see that? We were up early in order to make it to the Lake Moraine before having another long day of travel. It was lucky that we arrived early, taking the last spot in the teeny tiny parking lot that was at the lake (so much for less touristy…). Nevertheless, the lake was much more epic than Lake Louise. Lake Moraine was blue, like really blue, I didn’t even know this shade of blue existed. This is Lake Moraine in all its glory (apart from the haze caused by the wildfire smoke):

This was it; the trip was almost over after seeing Banff.  The only thing left for us to do was drive to our destination and fly home. This journey took us across Canada, covering over 4900km, seeing 5 different provinces over 9 days. This was a trip of a lifetime, and I can’t wait to do again. I hope you too get to make this drive at some point.

 

Hiking in Jasper National Park

Rolling into Jasper National Park was surreal. I think it instantly became my new happy place. Coming from Ontario I’m not used to mountains surrounding me or even being within view. Besides in the few times I’ve been to BC I never really got to see the Rockies, yeah I got to fly over them but being able to actually see them on ground level and gauge the real size was incredible. Just take a look at these epic photos before I go any more in-depth about Jasper National Park.

The above pictures were taken along the Pocahontas Campground Trail, which is where we would stay while in Jasper. Jasper would be the only place on our whole trip (other than our final stop before flying home) where we would spend 2 nights in the same place and boy oh boy was it ever worth it.

Heres a bonus from the trial lookout of the view and Tyler.20170904_201400.jpg

Our original plan had us making another stop in the Prairies, to spend a night in Edmonton. But we realized that none of us had any desire to spend a night in a city, and we really didn’t know what we would do in Edmonton other than see the mall. We did still stop at the West Edmonton Mall, to see the largest shopping mall in North America. We grabbed lunch there and saw the indoor roller coaster, but we had been talking about the mountains since we left Ontario so we decided to keep heading towards Jasper. After all, Jasper is home to the freaking ROCKIES!

Being able to set up camp and know that we didn’t have to take it down in the morning was bittersweet. We definitely took our time in the morning, as we had nowhere we had to be. It was just the surrounding mountains and us. However, since we were in Jasper, we couldn’t just sit around all day so we talked to one of the park staff at the campground and he recommended a trail that was a personal favorite. We were told that we were in for a real treat (and a lot of panting). We were set to climb Sulphur Skyline: a 700m+ elevation gain to a total altitude of around 6600 feet, 8+km loop trail, a hiking time of 4-6 hours, a black diamond rating and epic views from the top.

 

Sulphur Skyline was my first hike in the Rockies and the park staff did not let us down. It was an insanely awesome hike. The trail starts off in a small parking lot used mostly for the hot springs, and those hot springs are presumably how the trail got its name… (from the sulfur smell, commonly keep up). The beginning of the trail is dense forest and the elevation gain was immediate. From the distance that we had to cover, I knew I was really in for it. Halfway through the trail the switchbacks start, steep trail then a 180 turn, steep trail then a 180 turn, and repeat. The switchbacks went on for what felt like forever. Then three-quarters of the way up the trees stop, and the trail opens to rock. We were above the tree line. This was officially the highest altitude I had ever walked to. This is when the real climb started, it was loose rock and it was tough going.

Eventually, we made it to the top. First to make it was Neil, then Tyler and last (but definitely not least) me. We had made it up in an hour and a half, and after all that hiking it was finally time to enjoy the view.

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We stayed for an hour at the top enjoying the view, eating lunch, and taking in the sights and sounds the top of a mountain can provide. Getting down was easy and according to our time check when we reached the car, we found out that it had only taken roughly 3 hours and 30 mins to hike to the top, eat lunch, and hike down. Our completion time beat the estimated hiking time, and we were proud of our modest feat.

We still had lots of time left for activities in the day so we piled into the car and headed towards Maligne Lake and Maligne Canyon. We arrived at Malign Canyon first, and it was one of a kind. The heart of the canyon had the raging Maligne River roaring through it, and it had waterfalls and rapids and narrow sections with bridges you could walk over. There were also sections where you could see huge boulders had ground areas away to be smooth and flat. Maligne Canyon is a must see in Jasper, even if it is a little touristy.

The last item was Maligne Lake and just the drive to the lake was worth any effort to get there. We saw everything from wildlife to mountains (bet you didn’t see that coming), and even where the wildfires had hit earlier in the year.

Jasper was a real treat, and spending 2 nights in the park was definitely worth it. I can’t wait to go back, but for now, it was time to head down to Banff.

Good Bye Pocahontas campground!

 

 

 

Crossing the Canadian Prairies

We crossed into Manitoba sometime late on Saturday afternoon, and we were headed straight for Winnipeg. If you’ve ever driven into Winnipeg, you know that Manitoba is the start of the prairies, not quite full on prairies but pretty damn close meaning it’s the start of getting really flat. It feels like you can see a couple days in each direction you look. The speed limit also increases from 90 in Northern Ontario to 100, probably the best part of crossing into Manitoba.

On our way to Winnipeg, we crossed 96 degrees 48 minutes and 35 seconds, meaning we made it to the Longitudinal Centre of Canada. At first with the increased speed limit, we drove right past it. We didn’t really know where it was, just that it was somewhere on the way to Winnipeg and there were no signs to prepare us for the stop. Regardless, we took the first turn around and went back for the sign. There was no way I was making it to the heart of Canada and not getting a picture with the sign to prove it. It’s pretty surreal knowing that you have equal amounts of Canada to the West and East, and you’re just in the center of the 2nd largest country on earth.

After Winnipeg, we left for the booming metropolitan of Moose Jaw, Sk. The drive to Moose Jaw was boring, nothing but flatness and wheat fields. There were these small shrubby plants and small trees but not much else. The sky and the land meet together at the horizon and you really get a feeling that the world may be flat after all… Maybe flat-earthers are onto something there. You can decide for yourself with these pictures.

Did I forget to mention the best part of driving the prairies was seeing the massive farm combines harvesting all the wheat? The clouds of dust they put up and the bare ground they leave behind really makes you appreciate how central Canada became known as the breadbasket of Canada.

On our third day, we finally made it to our 3rd province of the trip, Saskatchewan. Getting around in the prairies feels like you’re just driving and driving… It is very “dull” in the prairies; there is nothing that really keeps your attention. However, when you get closer to the heart of the prairies, the speed limit goes up again to 110 km/h. I guess police realized that you can see for two days into the distance, and allowed for people to get there a little faster. Fine by me.

The only cool thing we saw on day 4 (while still in the prairies) was this massive valley out of nowhere, with a lake covering the whole bottom. A road/bridge went right through the middle of the lake. It was a random hidden gem in Saskatchewan.

Our plan was to hightail it from Moose Jaw all the way to Jasper National Park, to the start of the Rocky Mountains. It took longer than we thought to cover so much ground but eventually, we made it into Alberta. We started to see glimpses of the mountains, but the Rockies deserve their own post.

But I can’t just leave you hanging, so here’s a view from our first night in the Rockies.

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2000 Kilometers of Ontario.

2 days and 2,000 km (Roughly). That was how long it took just to get out of Ontario. No one told me how long it would take; it felt like half the trip was just getting out of Ontario. As we drove further north, the more we saw of the Canadian Shield and the more appreciation I gained for the province I live in. Yeah, Ontario doesn’t have any big mountains, nor are we on the coast. But what Ontario lacks, it makes up for in sheer beauty and size. This became extremely apparent on this long drive.

But wait what drive am I talking about?

Well, from September 1st to September 9th two friends (Neil and Tyler) and I drove through 5 provinces from Toronto, Ontario to Kelowna, British Columbia. We covered over 4,900 km, camping in national parks, hiking mountain trails, visiting emerald blue lakes, seeing wildlife, and having a damn good time.

Our trusty steed for this drive was a 2016 Scion IM. It was a manual transmission because we didn’t want to get too bored in the prairies. The car was decked out with a whopping 137 Horsepower, which struggled to make it up big hills in any gear higher than third, a full ski box on the roof, one seat in the back as the other 2 seats got folded down to help the trunk carry all of our food/clothes/camping equipment and of course beverages for this 9 day trip.

On Friday, September 1st we made it our goal to leave by 8 am so that we would have plenty of daylight and time to make it to our first nights stop in Northern Ontario at Pukaskwa National Park. This drive alone was over 11 hours and it covered a majority of our Ontario travel. We stayed in national parks as much as we could since Parks Canada was celebrating Canada’s 150th Birthday with free admission to all national parks. This helped to keep costs low (I’m still a student after all).

The drive to Pukaskwa National Park was a major kick-off to the trip. We drove the first 4 hours without stopping to Sudbury where we saw the Big Nickel. This was my first time seeing the Big Nickel and it was also the farthest North I’d been in Ontario. If you don’t know what the Big Nickel is, imagine that small 5 cent coin you rarely use but a million times larger (to be more accurate 9 meters in diameter). Pretty freaking big eh? The best part is that it has heads and tails on it, so if you ever get into an argument with a giant there’s a coin that can be flipped.

After Sudbury, we didn’t have any planned stops or anything specific that we wanted to do until the next day when driving through Thunder Bay. But driving up the coast of Lake Superior (the greatest lake of the great lakes), our minds quickly changed when we came across a lookout on the side of the Trans-Canada highway.  We couldn’t help but stop and take in the beauty of the Canadian Shield on the coast and what seemed like a never-ending lake in front of us. It was just one of those times when the landscape puts you in awe, and you can’t do anything but sit there and appreciate the view before you. This happened a lot on this trip.

After the look-out, it was full steam ahead to Pukaskwa, as we were a little bit behind schedule due to a late start (ensuring we had everything), the long stop in Sudbury, and frequent bathroom breaks. Nevertheless, we managed to make it there just before 9:00 pm, after a rough 13 hour travel day. The setup and cooking were all done by headlamp, which is something we would get a lot of on this trip.

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Pukaskwa was the first ever National Park I’ve visited.

DAY 2

After driving and traveling for 13 hours the day before we treated ourselves to an 8:00 am wake up. We managed to organize and implement a morning routine that took 1 hour most days. We would come to follow this routine every morning when camping, which consisted of breakfast, camp pack up and car re-pack. I would cook breakfast, and Neil and Tyler would take down the tent and pack away the sleeping gear. Unfortunately, day 2 weather wasn’t looking good, moments after we started driving out of the park it started to rain. It rained and rained for 6 hours on and off as we cruised up to Thunder Bay and beyond.

In Thunder Bay, we had hoped to do a hike and see the Dorion Tower, but unfortunately, our schedule didn’t have room for a long hike. We had plans to make it to Winnipeg, where we had our one and the only hotel of the trip booked. Luckily we did have time to visit the Terry Fox monument along the Trans-Canada highway, which is something I’ve always wanted to see.

Past Thunder Bay, there really isn’t any big cities in Ontario. A few places that have populations above 5 thousand, but for the most part, it was trees and rock, lots and lots of both. The Canadian Shield was epic! It was super cool to drive through, to see the blasting lines and how they cut a massive chuck of a hill out for a road. Something I feel that is not very popular elsewhere in the world.

Eventually, we made it Winnipeg, Manitoba by crossing our first province border and even drove over a time zone change. Manitoba we would soon learn doesn’t have much to it… But then again it’s the start of the prairies.

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