Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Campervan: Day 9 - Banff to Boulton Creek (Peter Lougheed Provincial Park)

Fenland Trail
Our morning routine started out as normal. Then we got a knock at the door from a 'Peace Officer' telling us that we were actually breaking the law camping here. Thankfully both ignorant tourist and Canadian leniency worked in our favour and we got away with nothing more than a warning to keep as a memento. While on the run, we went a walk along Bow River and the Fenland Trail which was a trail for spotting wildlife - and runners. Early in the morning seemed to be the only time you actually saw any locals as it was before any of the tourists were awake. From the guides you can tell that there isn't much to do in Banff when one of the top 5 things to do is people watching - but I see what they mean.

The Banff tourist information was one of the major stops on our tour of tourist information centres and it sure was the fanciest. There was a queuing system for both camping and trails and there was even a cinema showing films about the area. However the information we actually received was probably the vaguest of the whole trip.

When we got back to the van we unanimously decided it was already time to leave Banff as everything was either closed or too expensive. We headed south to Canmore which was known to be less touristy but just as scenic. It was a mere 16km away from Banff but the Banff Tourist Information had no information on the place so our next stop was naturally Canmore Tourist information. Canmore, in contrast to Banff, gave us detailed information on both places all over Alberta as well as small local trails in Canmore. People in the town would even stop and give you help even when you didn't ask for it.

We drove on into town and did a walk along the river which showcases some stunning houses, spectacular turquoise water and, eh, a hydroelectric dam. Anne was raving about a French bakery in Canmore so we went there for our lunch and drove up to Quarry lake which was a nice lake and mountain view for our picnic.

After our turkey and cranberry sandwiches we drove up to the Grassi Lakes which were up a steep climb from a vibrant turquoise lake going in a unnatural gradient from green to turquoise then royal blue. We had run out of water by the time we got to the lakes and they looked so cold and temping. There were also several rock faces being scaled by professionals but that didn't stop us from having our own attempts. Other boulders were covered in pictographs drawn on by natives. On the walk back down we gave into temptation and went into the lake which was absolutely freezing - if very refreshing! Dripping wet we walked back down via an easier route and got back in the van after a lovely chat about UTIs.

Our onwards route was a three hour drive through some provincial parks which were pretty uninhabited as we passed more elk and Bighorn Sheep than humans and cars. The scenery was pretty stunning too and wouldn't look out of place in Greenland. It was getting late and we couldn't find anywhere open in the area to camp so we risked a drive further south and then to complete the loop the next day. Most campsites were still closed for the winter but we managed to fill up the water and do a sani-dump adding to our convictions for that day. If that wasn't enough once we got to the campsite of choice it didn't appear to be open but we drove on in anyway. We continued on with the vein hope that someone was about but also with the chance we might get off with another free night. However we spotted some fellow RVs which actually turned out to be the campsite owners so we paid for our first night of camping and had our first legal nights sleep. Disappointingly though we had more facilities last night!

The Campervan: Day 8 - Invermere - Banff

Disappointingly I woke up with all the water still in my ear and decided it might be worth going to a pharmacy to see if they could help. However it was only 7:30 in the morning so we headed downtown to a little bakery next door to the pharmacy and sat eating breakfast and charging all of our devices. I just stared at the clock waiting for 9am and as soon as the clock struck I ran next door. The pharmacy counter was in a a strange discount gift shop with cheap tacky balloons and haircare sets but better than nothing.
Olive Lake

The actual pharmacist just wanted to give me decongestant but the hypochondriac that I am decided I should get antibiotic ear drops as well in case I had an infection. When we got back on the road we headed towards Banff which was to be our base for the rest of my time on the campervan. We drove through the Kootenay National Park which is a small National Park made up of a valley and so was in the shade so many trails were closed due to snow.  However the mountains were still pretty spectacular to just drive past.

Cobb Lake
We did do a few trails though but they were very short. Olive lake being the first which was a very short boardwalk along the corner of a, well olive, lake next to the highway. We also did Marble Canyon which was made up of winding bridges over a gorge and we could see that the trails were getting more geriatric-tourist friendly with fences and railings everywhere. We wanted to go further to the paint pots trail (pools with natural chemicals that the natives used to dye their paints) but again snow stopped that from happening. Our last trail in the Kootenays was the Cobb Lake trail which was a steep drop through some forest before emerging at the lake.

The drive to Banff didn't take nearly as long as expected and so it was time to bid Ryan farewell for a few days. As soon as you drove into Banff you were propelled into a tourist honeypot which was quite scary considering the derelict conditions of the past few days! All the buildings in the town were trying to look authentic and rustic but were failing terribly and all the shops on the main street were either souvenir shops or high-end designer brands. There was an eclectic mix of people in Banff: from old couples in floppy-hats, mobs of Asian tourists and stoner hippy kids in search of freedom in the mountains. But when we walked out of the van unwashed and straight from the wilderness we felt very out of place - Banff was too squeaky clean for us.

We walked around the street and went to Bow Falls which we didn't find greatly spectacular to us but 'Surprise Corner' did prove to have some fantastic views - alas hogged by the Banff Fairmont Hotel. We decided to try and fit in with the tourists by taking some 'fabulous' pictures of the scenery and taking the map out whenever the opportunity arose. Back in town we gathered some supplies before attempting to find our campsite for the evening. In National Parks we were advised to stick to official campsites but being lowlife students we were put off by the $38 daily fee. We headed back down to Central Park and parked up to scout out a site. In the end we decided to say where we were as we parked up next to another campervan - home to George; an Argentinian man who was enjoying the 'excellent wifi' from the library and had decided to stay the night.  We had our revamped Kraft Dinner before we all got on our phones to enjoy the wifi for ourselves -  but in a different way to George of course.

Marble Canyon


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Campervan: Day 7 - Johnston Lake - Invermere

Johnstone Lake

In the morning we finally got to see what Johnston Lake looked like in the sunshine. It was a great little spot - especially since it was a free campsite- but we looked all around the lake and didn't see any turtles!

The Lassier hot springs were a fifteen minute drive away along the highway and then up a spiralling dirt track. These hot springs are the only non-commercial springs in the area but I already knew they were going to be nothing like Tofino! We started by just washing a bunch of our clothes in the river next to the springs and getting some strange looks from the few visitors. Reports were coming back that the pools were uncomfortably hot - they were not wrong. I could barely dip my foot in while Gabby could completely immerse herself - completely opposite situation from the plunge pool and proof heat tolerance is real! I attempted to make toad in the hole for lunch but just ended up with a bunch of raw sausages and scrambled pancakes. I know a poor craftsman blames his tools but that metal frying pan was never going to cooperate!

Apparently I took no photos of Lassier or Twin Lakes...?
After 'lunch' we headed to the Twin Lakes to do some cliff jumping. The directions this time were rather vague and we found ourselves heading on a road up to a mine dodging several logging trucks. We got the feeling we were in the wrong place and would get in trouble as trespassing is a big deal here so we hurried back down again and resorted to our ever faithful gas stations. It turned out we were indeed on the right road but the mine doesn't like people going there while the mine is open. Luckily we were 15 minutes away from closing time.

We drove back up and saw a pick-up truck parked next to a trail littered with beer cans and assumed we must be at the right stop. We met two women with their dog, they wished us good luck for even being able to attempt getting in the water as it was so cold. Twin lakes are made of one shallow lake next to an essentially bottomless lake surrounded by cliffs that conveniently increased in height by 10m - natural diving boards. There was also a rope swing but that was pretty out of bounds for anyone under 6ft.

The hardest thing about cliff jumping is actually jumping off - it is the most unnatural thing ever. The free-falling is also part-shitting yourself and part-adrenaline rush. Then there is hitting the water - you have to makes sure you are like a nail with toes sharp otherwise it's going to hurt. Or like me you will start with a headache and then lose your hearing as you'd got a substantial amount of water in your ears. Gabby's dive was absolutely hilarious- okay she isn't good with heights- as she was hyperventilating from the cold and laughing at the same time creating one of the strangest noises I have ever heard.

The cold was much worse out of the water and so we headed back to the campervan and the pressure in my ear was building up so much I spent the rest of the evening horizontal with my ear against a pillow in a desperate attempt to get any water out. I just moved from bed to bed with a weird tension headache like I had been clenching my jaw for hours. I missed out on dinner and fell asleep in my clothes to save myself from the pain of water trickling back into my ear. I have no idea what the campsite looked like that evening, all I know is that is was the site of a Kayak Rental company in Invermere...

Mountains added for scale. 

The Campervan: Day Six - Golden - Johnstone Lake

For the first time on the trip we were shoo-ed away from our campsite - alas it was in the local swimming pool carpark. We weren't very gutted to be leaving Golden compared to our other stop off points - it's first impressions weren't great and it wasn't as spectacular as the brochures made it out to be. We drove to the tourist information - conveniently out of the town- and parked to have breakfast before the first signs of life so we could see where we could escape to next. The woman inside was actually very helpful at giving us information on trails around Golden and "just fabulous" onward routes for the rest of the campervan trip - the glimmer of hope this place needed!

The rest of the group went to do the Giant Cedar Trail but the antihistamines for my bites made to KO on the bed so I had to pass on that one. After Golden we headed south again towards Radium Hot Springs (unfortunately not the site of a Superhero factory) and stopped at a gas station to see if one of the parks (Bugaboo Park) was open - which it wasn't (surprise, surprise). The woman did point out two waterfalls on the way to the park that were worth a look. We were going to soon realise that tourist information centres are not always as good as gas stations and bars for hints and tips.

Typical of hidden local sites, we had to drive through some kind of ranch and factory site before arriving at a small hidden trail barely visible from the road. The first falls were pretty small in comparison to most we had seen so far but you could get right up to them as well as climb precariously around them. The second falls were a bit further on through another ranch- I still forget that people get excited by cows on the road- but they were much, much bigger. You could still get pretty close to them and you could essentially balance of the cliff face above them. On the way out we met a Dutch family and Gabby tried out her Dutch again after five months without it.

We headed south to Radium Hot Springs which was just seemed to be some touristy hot springs with a town built around them. We stopped at a bar for a drink and planning but ended up staying for dinner. Here we asked the locals for tips on where to go and they suggested the Lessier hot springs which were more natural than the towns namesake. The barmaid also told us about her secret camping spot at Johnston AKA Turtle Lake as well as a place where we could go cliff jumping. She also told me to spread out my change to stop the wasps annoying me - it worked! We sat at the bar and it was quite nice to just sit and socialise for once!

We left for the barmaids campsite suggestion looking for a telegraph pole with "MOM" grafittied on it- it the dark: we were destined for failure. The roadside was also clogged with Elks so we got pretty distracted and inevitably went to far and reached the statue of a Native American. However, the barmaid assumed this would happen and so had also told us that the site was exactly 5km back from this statue which was bang on! Although the sign says "No Entry" and "No Trespassing", this was just a deterrent against unwanted surges of tourists - apparently a common technique in Australia to keep local spots to locals. It was too dark to see what the place actually looked like but it seemed like there was another couple there who had also been at the bar that evening.

The Campervan: Day Five. Trout Lake - Golden

Now the mosquitoes had gone to bed, I could have a look at Trout Lake so Gabby and I went out on a tranquil walk to the toilets - which were quite reminiscent of Kilimanjaro... Trout Lake was another serene lake site but so tranquil that no cars had passed us since we had parked up the van and there were more animal tracks than tire tracks. By the time we had returned Anne and Ryan had gone a morning paddle in a stray canoe, so the rest of us went and did the joyous job of going to the sani-dump. Although we were just dumping dishwater, it managed to regurgitate up all the foul smells from the last batch of visitors from last summer.

Back on the road we headed to Galena Bay where there was a FREE ferry to Shelter Bay across the Upper Arrow Lake. The ferry was identical to the Hoy Head, except that is was free obviously, and almost made me feel the tiniest bit homesick to be on a ferry. It didn't take us long before we landed at another trail called the Begbie trail which was actually mainly for mountain bikes and each section having rather colourful names - Sex on the Beach and 4play being the most notable. The walk itself wasn't really anything spectacular - especially compared to what we were used to- but that's probably because they were for speeding down on bikes not for checking the scenery. There were some guys who were obviously too rich and had too much time on their hands and had a remote-controlled helicopter device with a dslr camera attached to get a photo of the waterfall - optical zoom ain't good enough for some people!

Back on the road we headed towards Revelstoke and the scenery was getting very mountainous - you could almost smell the tourists again. The town of Revelstoke appears to be merely a giant truck stop in the summer although it is a popular ski destination in the Winter. We followed the trend by making a stop at MacDonalds for electronic and human charging. I was amazed to hear BBC Radio 1 being played in MacDonalds here, but not only that; Jameela Jamil was interviewing Passenger - my favourite musician- as his song had got to No. 4! I had obviously missed my favourite musician become mega famous since being in Canada!

Our hope was to do some trails in Revelstoke National Park and Glacier over the next few days but everything we had looked up ended up being closed due to snow - yes, in May. We decided to just stop at the Hemlock Grove trail which was advertised as being an 800m long boardwalk so we assumed it would at least be a bit clear. Alas not, it was still covered in ice! Although the Rockies are a lot quieter at this time of year - it's for a reason! So we completed the trail in our flip flops and aptly renamed it the Flip-Flop Trail and headed back on the road.

Before we knew it we knew it we had already driven through both Mt Revelstoke National Park and Glacier National Park as everything was closed. The drive itself was absolutely stunning with grand vistas and close encounters with Mountain goats but there wasn't much else to do other than appreciate the views. We drove on to the town of Golden which was a bit of a dampener on the stunning views we'd just had. The town appears to be an endless road of garages and motels but the 'real' town was below this highway. The town campsite looked pretty grand (well judging from the toilets) so we decided to camp as close to it as possible without being made to pay anything.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Campervan: Day 4 Kaslo - Trout Lake

Kaslo from above
Although the weather we were getting was much hotter than anything we had experienced in Canada, the nights were still freezing cold and you'd get up just because it was warmer to move around than under the covers. The winds were roaring through the valley straight like it was a natural wind tunnel from the Arctic (it probably is actually) and straight in through our ventilation window even though the skies were blue and the sun was out. We spent the morning running some errands in the town before tackling the lookout trail above Kaslo which was a horrifically steep incline and I huffed and puffed my way up - I am going to blame this unfitness on my short legs, or maybe just poutine. I cursed myself for struggling up this mere 800m climb when 10 months ago I was tackling 5985m with comparable ease. Up-close Kaslo had a bit of a restored-for-tourists pioneer town look to it but from the lookout, Kaslo could easily be shortlisted for one of the best located towns on the planet.

Back in town we did some groceries and continued our tour of Canada's tourist information trail. Alas Kaslo's tourist information was merely a booth at this time of year with some information on local B&Bs. So we left Kaslo in the direction of our instincts which turned out to be much better than using a map. We passed over the Duncan River towards the 'town' of Argena which was another contender for the best located town with grand lake views and beaches as well as an osprey spotting! After another of our stops for the team to top up their tans - or burns- we headed along a dirt track to Fry's Creek Trail. I would go on again about my unfitness and inability to cope with heat but this trail took us to my favourite spot in the whole of Canada - almost mutually agreed within the group.

The trail on the map was long and so we were only going to go as far as we thought we could bare but we met a woman who told us to at least get as far as the bridge and then loop back around the lake-shore. The walk took us through forest which gave us tempting glimpses of the views ahead until we reached the creek. The bridge opened up into a gargantuan crashing waterfall tumbling into the lake before rising back up into the Kootenay Mountains.

We ate our lunch at the foot of the waterfall before heading along the lake shore. Its safe to say we all thought the waterfall was the special treat here but I was more blown away along the lake shore - it was the typical desktop screensaver and a reminder of how beautiful this country can be. There was one particular stop where I would never actually be able to take in at the time how nice it was - let alone do it with justice with words later on!

My favourite spot
We sat and enjoyed our surroundings and crossed some ice-cold rivers which seemed like a good idea as you would burn your feet in the sand otherwise! In Canada you either get extreme heat or extreme cold - no in-between! On the way back we got a chance to go at a slower pace - I think the rest were getting concerned about my purple face- and it was nice to get to chat to everyone without the use of an inhaler.

The drive to the next destination (which was a town called Trout Lake) was along Highway 31 but in Canada that means an endless dirt track (did we mention that we aren't meant to go on dirt tracks according to the contract with the campervan company? What a boring trip that would have been!). We stopped at a bridge over Trout Lake - the lake obviously- and saw huge fish (I assume trout...) eating the few mosquitoes not eating me. It is illegal to fish at certain times of the year in certain places - that is why the fish get so big.

The sun was setting and it all looked very idyllic and we thought that was the cherry on our already pretty perfect day but a bear cub ran out in front of our van just as we left the bridge - both relieved and disappointed that Mamma bear didn't appear too. The town of Trout Lake was like a ghost town or at least solely reserved for holiday homes but I certainly think it should have been called Mosquito Lake rather than Trout Lake. The little buggers made sure I was inside the whole evening! Not that I was complaining much as I was ready to collapse as soon as dinner was done!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Campervan: Day 3 Nelson -> Kaslo

We woke up to sunshine and had our bowls of raisin bran and bananas along the waterfront at the jetty next to the Prestige Hotel - our accommodation for the evening. However this tropical weather didin't last as we drove into the Kootenay Glacier Park which was reccomended by the woman in thr tourise information as it shoud be open in the early season. It was open but about halfway up the windy dirt track we were greeted by solid snow and ice blocking the track. Paul took on the task of reversing the camper back down the track a few hundred meters to a passing place where we could park - just incase someone tried the same as us!

This meant we had to walk almost double the trail length just to get to the start of the trail. The snow and ice was a bit of a pot-luck of footing as the snow wouldn't always hold your weight - perfect when you thought trainers would be fine for a wee trail. My kilimanjaro fitness had completely disappeared as I puffed, panted and sweated my way up the hill. When we reached the top we realised the trailhead was actually where we thought the trail ended. The trail itself had not seen many visitors recently as their were fallen trees and bracken making it more of an obstacle course. At the top of the 'road' there was - what we assume- was a car park but the several feet of snow made it hard to tell and a rather large rock which was our perfect lunch spot. There were views down the mountain valley which made our first hike worth the-well my- efforts - everyone else seemed to be able to run up no bother!

We tried actually following the trail on the way back down but the snow cover made it difficult and most of us scrambled up with soaking feet to the glacial road instead. It took a lot longer to get back to the campervan than I'd remembered - even with the route being a winter slip'n'slide- but we got back on highway 31 to Ainsworth Hot Springs for a well earned soak. however on the way we stopped next to Kootenay Lake and did some lounging - that's all we really do: hike 'n' lounge. It was absolutely stunning here with lakes and mountains - of course the Austrian wasn't as impressed as I was. 

The hot springs were mainly an excuse to shower and the hot springs were just an added bonus. The springs themselves were orginally natural but a artificial pool had been built to accommodate more visitors - the opposite to Tofino but the backdrop was just as stunning. There had been an attempt to rectify the original cave springs by building some cave tunnels which allowed the water temperature to soar to 40°C. In contrast there was a plunge pool of 6°C so you could really feel your blood rush when you got in the hot spring. Paul, Ryan and I had a challenge to see who could stay in the longest and thanks to both my Scottish warm blooded ways and Canadian sunburn I managed to win without that much difficulty. 

After two hours of soaking, splashing and some very pruney fingers we emerged refreshed and much, much cleaner than before. Our next stop was the town of Kaslo which is known as one of the nicest and friendliest towns in British Columbia. It was also en-route where we had our first moose sighting, though as Ryan put it "it wasn't as romantic as imagined." Kaslo was a nice little town along the lake shore of the Kootenay Lake with Mt. Kaslo looking over the town across the lake. After a short drive around the town we parked up on the lakeshore with the most amazing view across the lake as well as free wifi and reasonably fancy pubic toilets. We sat over pour cooked chili dinner using the perks of free wifi after several days to update the world that we were still alive.After having enough of all this technology we went back to old-school camping by lighting a campfire on the beach and toasting some marshmallows under the stars. A car drove up to us and a man wound the window down to shout "Are you local?!"
"Oh well. See ya!"
In retrospect I have a feeling this might have something to do with the "No Camping" and "Do not light fires" signs remarkably close to our camping spot but in friendly Kaslo style they didn't do anything about it.