Dawson creek and it’s decision time. Want to go to Jasper and Banff national parks but which way to go??? Canada and British Colombia in particular, are plagued by the heaviest wildfires in years. Vast areas of forests are burning uncontrollable. International fire fighters from around the world are helping but they are fighting a losing battle. Smoke and ash covers vast areas of the country, limiting sight and creating a health hazard and it is the smoke that is causing a dilemma for me.
The nicest route would be highway 97 to Prince George and the Trans Canadian Highway 16 across the Rockies. This is a major scenic route and the most recommended. But the Rockies are shrouded in smoke and there are outbreaks of fire all along the route, so plan B. A happy and enjoyable life is the ability to accept plan B or so the saying goes. So I opted for a happy and enjoyable life…..
Plan B was the 49 to Rycroft in the province of Alberta. The 49 runs through farming land and in a way it was a relief. A relief because when I stopped to eat and get petrol it was normal prices and the people were exceptionally friendly. I guess you just can’t beat country folk.
I didn’t take many photos along the first part, 140 km, Dawson creek to Grand Prairie via Rycroft. Also what was really great was the number of locally grown fruit and veg that was being sold on stands along the side of the road. This continued all the way through the fertile regions of Alberta and BC. Everyday I had fresh fruit and veg.
Grand Prairie….. and the start of the Big Horn highway or Highway 40. What a road. It is well documented on internet https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alberta_Highway_40 our section is the paved section between Grand Prairie and Hinton. It runs through forest area and is used by logging trucks.
It was amazing to drive through here and see how organized the lumber business is. Also, the different types of machinery used. There were a lot of lumber trucks using this highway so stopping for photos was a bit difficult. But the one thing that the photos don’t show are the steep ups and downs of the road, fantastic, a roller-coaster.
Also, the mountains were coming back in a big way, the closer we got to Hinton. Hinton is also the gateway to the Jasper National Park and also the point where we leave the 40 and go onto the 16 and the entrance to the park.
At the park gate you have to stop and show your National Park Pass. This year because Canada was 150 years old the park passes where free for everyone. A really nice gesture from the Canadian government. The downside of this, of course, is that the parks and the park camping sites are full. At the gate, the ranger told me that all the camping sites where full and that I should go straight to Lake Louise. I really wanted to go to Miette Hot Springs so didn’t listen to him. Turned off the road to head up to the hot springs and yep there was a big sign at the camping site saying that it was full. I drove up into the hills a bit and was looking for a quiet spot to put me tent in among the trees as it was getting late.
Just as I was deciding to do that a big black bear walks calmly across the road in front of the bike and enters the forest just at the spot I was eyeballing. Okay, decision made, I ignored the full sign and drove up to the camping site gate and asked the ranger if I could stick me tent somewhere. Guess what, she gave me a spot for the night, it was the invalid’s spot but I had to promise to vacate in the morning. I told her about the bear and she said that she knew and they were keeping an eye on it. That night I slept with the bear spray beside me in the tent.
The next morning it was on to Jasper and the start of the famous Icefields Parkway Highway. Stopped off at the Snaring River Campsite by Jasper, but guess what…, it was full. But they had an overflow area that was also pretty nice.
I bagged a really good spot in the shade of some trees, even had me own little picnic table. Stayed a couple of nights here, used it as a base to explore the area, the camping site that is and not the picnic table, in particular the town of Jasper and the Maligne Canyon and Medicine Lake.
Jasper is a small town with a Visitor’s Center which, like a lot of the Visitors Centers not only offer tourist information but also free WI-FI. This is a super place to check your mail WhatsApp etc. I have to admit it was a nice wee town with some grocery stores, restaurants and petrol stations.
It also had a nicely restored old steam engine, that thing was huge. The town has a kinda alpine feel to it.
The Maligne Canyon formed by the Maligne River originating from Maligne Lake flows underground from Medicine Lake until all the streams meet up at the Maligne Canyon and form a churning mass of foaming frothing water that whittle away the sides of the canyon. The canyon is more than 50 meters deep at certain points and 2 meters wide.
The river received its name in 1846 from a French/Belgium Jesuit missionary who called it “la traverse maligne” after his horse was swept away whilst they were trying to cross the river. There are 6 bridges built across the canyon at different points offering spectacular views of the falls, river and canyon. The bridges are interconnected by a hiking trail. It was well worth a visit.
Another nice little river was right at the camping site, the Snaring River. In the evening when the sun went down it was the background for an amazing light show. I was down there every evening. Whilst going to the watertap I noticed a little Volkswagen van with Dutch registration…… it belonged to Sandra who was touring Canada and the States for 6 months. That evening she popped over with a Swiss couple also in a small Mercedes van who were going down to south America. We had a pleasant evening sharing a mango and a good conversation.
Then it was time for me to move on, time to ride one of the most scenic roads on the planet, the Icefields Parkway.
This is a 232 km stretch of two lane highway winding along the Continental Divide, through majestic rocky mountain peaks, icefields and vast sweeping valleys. It links Jasper with Lake Louise. a run well worth doing.
Stopped off at the Icefields tent only campsite, just across from the Athabasca glacier in the Columbia Icefields. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbia_Icefield This glacier, like all the glaciers on the planet is receding at an alarming rate, at the moment it recedes at a rate of about 5 meters a year. It is approximately 6 km long, covers an area of 6 square km. It is also the most accessible of all the glaciers in the icefields. The camp site was simply fantastic, offered fantastic views of the glacier.
My neighbors invited me over for dinner that night, a really nice couple from the states travelling in a car. They were both veggies and in no time, she whipped up a super meal. I then felt obliged to once again share me mango, we actually mixed it with a banana and some blueberries and made a super fruit salad. The next morning, she made me some French toast from blueberry scones, it was delicious.
That day I hiked my way out to the glacier, a really great hike. It’s not possible to walk out onto the glacier without a guide. There are hidden fissures and holes waiting to trap the unwary. So, I contented myself with just a view from the fence. I must admit though that it was cold, especially at night but it was worth it.
There was a sign by the drinking water, warning people to get their water in the afternoon because it will be frozen in the morning. Camped across from me was a contingent of the British army out on a training exercise in the ice fields.
Time to move on to lake Louis. The Icefields Parkway wounds its way up over the Sunwapta pass, 2055 m, and into the White Goat Wilderness region, well just the outermost tip of it.
These animals are amazing, it is also home to a lot of other animals, bears, mountain lions, grey wolf, wolverine just to mention a few. This whole area is only accessible by foot and is strictly controlled by the Canadian government. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Goat_Wilderness_Area
Then Howse Pass, the Saskatchewan River Crossing where 3 rivers meet. It is also the only place for services in the area, petrol and groceries. Over Bow Pass, 2069 meters and into Lake Louise.
Once again, all the camping sites are full and I have to go to Kicking Horse Pass in Yoho National Park. There also everything was full but managed to get a spot in the Monarch Campground. This turned out to be a fantastic choice, the views of the mountains were just spectacular. Some really good sunsets too.
Met up with a Hungarian couple traveling in a caravan. Zita and Zsolti. Zita was born in Hungary and moved with her mum to the states when she was a kid. Zsolti moved out a couple of years ago after falling for Zita’s charms and good cooking.
Yep they also invited me to eat a few times. Had one of my favorite Hungarian dishes…. Paprika Krumpli.
Monarch was gonna be my base to explore the surrounding area. First stop was Lake Louise which is 5 km from the like named village. The lake is an amazing sight, its original name was Ho-Run-Num-Nay (the lake of small fish) by the Stoney Nakoda First Nations people. The lake is truly an awe-inspiring sight, surrounded by jagged peaks and the Victoria Glacier.
Its water is an intense shade of turquoise, the result of sunlight being reflected from the glacier silt in the water. Glacier silt is formed by rock powder, carried into the lake by the glacier melt water. This is something that had to be seen to be believed. The lake is about 2.5 Km long and 90 meters deep. It is at an elevation of 1,750 meters and is frozen for most of the year.
14 kilometers southeast from the village of Lake Louise lies the Moraine Lake, nestled in the valley of the 10 peaks. This is also a glacier fed lake and is also an amazing vibrant blue color. This is one beautiful lake, it’s only half the size of Lake Louise but somehow, it’s more majestic. It’s featured on the back of the Canadian 20-dollar bill for a number of years. The front part of the lake is full of logs and the sides and back are surrounded by the jagged 10 peaks, waterfalls, forest and rockpiles all combined to assault the senses.
Then to Takakkaw Falls. Takakkaw means “it is magnificent” in the language of the Cree First Nations People and magnificent it is. The falls have what is known as a waterwheel effect. The water drops first down onto a ledge jutting out near the top. It is then thrown back up again before cascading back down again, at its highest point the falls are 302 meters but in freefall it is only 260 meters. Still an imposing height. It is fed by the Daly Glacier in the Waputik Icefield.
Next to the town of Banff. This is a pretty little town surrounded by mountains, it is a resort town catering to the ardent sportsmen/women who relish in the myriad things to do in the area, things like skiing, mountain biking, hiking and hot springs to name just a few. But the nicest thing is the road to get there from Kicking Horse Pass.
The Trans-Canada Highway 1 goes straight there along the Bow River, but parallel on the other side of the river is the Highway 1A or Bow Valley Parkway Highway and this believe me is a much better choice. It is a small road and it winds its way along the river. Past the Johnson Canyon Falls and through some amazing scenery, before joining up with Highway 1 for the final run into Banff. Definitely a must.
Another little detail, the Rockies and the Canadian Pacific Railroad. This is truly a tremendous sight watching the goods trains winding their way up the Rockies, through tunnels and spirals. These trains can be up to 2 miles or just over 3 Km long and they take forever to pass.
The engines are 3,000 horsepower electro diesels built by General Motors, running in tandem with up to 3 engines pulling a train although 8 engines in tandem can also be used, but I have only seen 3, sometimes 1 up front, 1 in the middle and one in the back but more usually 2 up front and 1 in the back. The two you tube videos will give an impression of this. They were filmed in Yoho Park at Kicking Horse Pass. Watch, marvel and enjoy.
Then it was once again, after a rest of 4 days, time to up the tent and move on. I had decided to go to Vancouver Island along the Trans-Canada Highway 1 through Glacier Park, then Kamloops and the Thompson Country and switching to an iconic road, the 99 or Sea to Sky Highway through Whistler.
Sounded like a good plan, only problem was the fires and smoke. Highway 1 was open but the further west I went the more smoke there was. Still it’s an amazing journey. It’s just a pity that the mountains were obscured by smoke. At one stage visibility was reduced to about 50 meters. I wet my scarf and kept it wrapped around my nose.
Unfortunately, I don’t have many pictures of this run. Smoked shrouded mountains are not very photogenic. Along the way I took a small break in Glacier Park and stopped at the Rock Garden and hiked the Rock Garden Trail. This leads you through lichen and moss-covered boulder fields that date back to the last ice age. The trail leads through black and grizzly bear habitat to a viewpoint overlooking glaciers and the mountain barrier of Rogers Pass, well at least it would but they were shrouded in a smoky haze. Quite an interesting little diversion plus the smoke level, at that stage, was low.
Also stopped to wander through a forest of really tall trees, kinda forget the name of them though, but they were definitely tall trees.
Then through 3 Valley Gap. This is a heritage ghost town dating back to the pioneer days of the late 1800’s. In 1862 thousands of prospectors flocked to this region to try their luck. The gold rush was short lived though, but it left behind many abandoned buildings and towns, these are now ghost towns. Then it was onto Sorrento on the shores of the Shuswap Lake where I found a nice camping spot for the night.
Next morning it was back onto the 1 to Kamloops, the road winding its way for the most part along the South Thompson River. Smokey run, but nice. Then by Cache Creek, disaster! Discovered there that the junction of Highways 1 and 99 was closed because of fire, advice was to run down the 1 into Vancouver. Now no way, I had me heart set on the 99, the Sea to Sky and that was
what it was gonna be. The 99 was open from Pavilion so it was a question of a detour of 150 kilometers along the 12 to Lillooet below Pavilion. At Cache Creek they had little maps printed out of this detour which they gave to people wanting to go to Whistler on the 99. So, it was Giddy up and go. Turned out to be a nice wee run, just a shame about the smoke.
It was also extremely hot, 37C. The road ran a bit of the way along a nice wee river called the Fraser River. Then, finally we joined the 99 at Lillooet and Whistler was within reach. Found a nice camping before Whistler and it was a stop for the night.
Whistler, or Skwikw, in the Squamisch First Nations People’s language, is a resort town of just under 10,000 people visited by over two million people annually, primarily for skiing and snowboarding in the winter to Mountain biking in the summer. It’s a chill, peaceful little town.
Then it was a short hop down the 99 to Horse Shoe Bay and the ferry to Vancouver Island, with a stop along the way to visit the Brandywine Falls in the Brandywine Provincial park.
Then Horse Shoe Bay and the Ferry Terminal. Ferries are running to different destinations on the Island at regular intervals. But they were busy and all full. I couldn’t book beforehand because I never know when I will get there. So, it was a question of buying a ticket for the next available boat, which was a 2 hour wait.
The ticket cost something like 41 dollars for a one way to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. The time went quick however as there were a lot of bikes waiting to go. So of course, it was fun time.
So, go make a tea, stretch yer legs and get yourself ready for Vancouver Island and after that the “Crows Nest Highway” to Waterton National Park, ‘cos that is the next episode.
On my Facebook travel page “Ride Live Explore” there are a lot more photos, clicking on the Facebook sign will get you there?. It’s an open page, you don’t need to be a member.