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Canada, part II: Places and things

This is the second post in a series of three, in review of our trip to Alberta and British Columbia. In this post, I'll go over a few more of the logistics and details of the trip, as well as share a lot of pictures. Read Canada, part I: Senses here.

We flew into Calgary, picked up our rental car, and headed for the mountains.

The little mountain town of Canmore, Alberta, where even grocery store parking lots are scenic with mountains towering overhead, served as our "home base" between more remote excursions.

The day after we arrived, we woke up early to drive to the parking lot for Lake O'Hara. This particular area has a very limited visitor quota each day/week/season, so my brother tried for months to get spots for him, me, and Nicholas. And he did! You can hike 13kilometers in, or take a bus in, if you've have a reserved seat. We stayed in the Elizabeth Parker Hut with about 17 other people we've never met. You prepare meals in a shared kitchen, and drink water hauled from the stream (but only after it's boiled, of course).

That same day we bussed in, we hiked up to Opabin Plateau and then up to All Soul's Pass. We experienced snow, sleet, a bit of whiteout, patches of sunlight, and the most beautiful vistas. Between the finicky mountain weather and the photographers (my brother and two other photographers he befriended on a previous trip) we were on the trail for 11 hours. When dusk was nearing, Nicholas and I decided to head back the 5 miles or so back to the cabin, which meant we hiked the last hour or so with only my headlamp (Nicholas' was too dim to be of much use), talking loudly, and gripping the bear spray in fear. I cannot convey our relief when we saw the glowing windows of the Elizabeth Parker Hut. As we walked in, our cabin mates and a warden (like a park ranger) were worried about us and told us they were considering calling Search and Rescue for us! My brother and one other photographer pressed on through a bit of a white out, to prepare to shoot a sunset (in case there was one). So we were of course, finally at ease when my brother hiked up, over an hour later, and jauntily said, "We decided to do some night shooting." The next morning, while my brother got up for sunrise at the same location, we slept a bit longer and then hiked around Lake O'Hara to Seven Veils Falls before catching the bus back out. Although it was a short time there, we loved it. Okay, maybe we didn't love the nighttime hike, but the rest our Lake O'Hara experience felt like a privilege.

We drove back to Canmore for another night and spent the next day or so with bits of restful stuff around town (coffee!) and time with my parents, walking into Johnston Canyon, and after picking up my brother, drives to Peyto Lake (aka snowglobe winter wonderland) and Bow Lake in Banff. Both locations tie with Lake O'Hara for majesty. And I've never been to a place that put me in such a mood for Christmas as Peyto Lake in the snow. My goodness.

After we rested up, did laundry (so many thanks to you, Mom!), we prepared for the next more remote part of the trip: Mt Assiniboine. Nicholas, my brother and I drove to the helipad at Mt. Shark, and then flew into Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park via helicopter. Like Lake O'Hara, Assiniboine is another natural area with a very limited visitor quota, and no accessibility for visitors other than hiking in or via helicopter. And like Lake O'Hara, my brother painstakingly got us spots months in advance. Thank you, Matt.

Once in the park, we stayed in one of the Naiset huts—rustic and cozy, sleeping up to 8 people per hut on bunkbeds, warmed (albeit overly warmed at times for us on the top bunk) with a wood stove.

The weather was foggy, with sleet, rain, and low cloud cover. Nevertheless, we spent much of our time hiking: to the top of Wonder Pass, up to Sunburst Lake, and down to Lake Magog.

In between hikes, we returned to the communal cook house, where there was always warmth, boiling water, and a few fellow Naiset hut residents preparing a meal, having a snack, or waiting for the weather to clear. I even snuck in some knitting time. I loved that there is a sense of camaraderie amongst the hut campers, kind of like camp for adults. Have I mentioned that Canadians are so darn nice? Most were photographers, hoping for fair weather and a clear view of Mt Assiniboine herself, some, just there to hike and see it all for the beauty of it, or do a spot of fishing.

Every day, between 4 and 5pm, Assiniboine Lodge invites anyone visiting the park to come in, remove your muddy boots, and enjoy tea and cake, or beer or wine. This appealed to me so much: the hike up to the lodge, warming up by the fire, the cake (well, sweet bread of banana, pumpkin, and chocolate varieties), a warm mug of tea, and the nice conversation. Someone may lean over and show you a shot they took that morning, discuss the best place to shoot that evening, or talk about their family or their day job. Enjoyment of beauty with others is gives the enjoyment depth. It is a bit like communal worship, after all, as it is the gathering of people in groups to talk admire beauty and stand in awe. I'll write more about that aspect in my next (and final) Canada post.

The weather never completely cleared enough for a clear view of Mt Assiniboine, but it was a treat to be there, "away from it all," as they say. We took a helicopter ride out of Mt. Assiniboine at midday, eager for fresh food and a shower. Later that afternoon, we met up with my parents again, drove to Mt Norquay ski resort (I'd love to see it in winter!), and saw elk and big horned sheep. We made a quick drive around the more touristy, albeit beautiful, town of Banff and saw the Banff Springs Hotel (please google image that if you don't know what it looks like!) and then drove to Vermillion Lakes for a preview of sunset.

One our last day, we walked around Canmore, ate bagel sandwiches and took a drive up the Kananaskis Trail to catch more glimpses of Alberta's beauty before leaving early for the Calgary airport at 2am.

This trip was wonderful. Thanks to the meticulous planning of my mom and my brother, we got to see incredible, once-in-a-lifetime places and see the best of the best (from as far as I can tell). It felt good to have less screen time and more walking (25,000 steps in one day, averaging 13,000 steps a day). And it was so good to spend time with my parents and my brother, playing in the snow, laughing at mildly inappropriate snowmen other people had made, eating burgers together, and admiring God's creation.

A few notes:

  • This time of year in Alberta/BC is just about perfect to see the golden Larch trees (alpine coniferous trees that turn gold and drop their needles) and aspen.
  • Book accommodations fairly far in advance. There are air BnB options as well as cozy suites and condos.
  • Our essential gear for hut- and cabin-based sleeping with day hikes: REI daypack, camelback daypack, quality hiking boots, waterproof shell jacket layered over lightweight down jackets, hats, hiking poles, sleeping bags, water filter (if boiling water isn't possible or convenient), iPhone for pictures, long underwear, wool socks, sunscreen, lip balm with sunscreen, headlamps, and a portable mini LED lantern.

If you've made it to the end of this novel, bravo! Keep an eye out for Canada, part III, coming soon.


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