The Flower Fed Buffalo
The flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
In the days of long ago,
Ranged where the locomotives sing
And the prarie flowers lie low:
The tossing, blooming, perfumed grass
Is swept away by wheat,
Wheels and wheels and wheels spin by
In the spring that still is sweet.
But the flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
Left us long ago,
They gore no more, they bellow no more:--
With the Blackfeet lying low,
With the Pawnee lying low.
- Vachel Lindsay

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Going Coastal ...

"British Columbia. Beautiful British Columbia."

That opening was the way the previous post was meant to start, but it's kind of good that it was missed off, as it is just as appropriate for the past week or so of our trip.
We're on the coast, after having moved on down from the Whistler area, and it's so good to be by the sea again after months away from salt water. I guess we love the ocean, and the great thing about being on the coast in B.C. is that there are great mountains rearing up out of the Pacific - or, in the case of Squamish, Howe Sound: North America's southernmost fiord.
The day after we arrived in the Sea to Sky corridor, we had another day of sport climbing at Cheakamus Canyon on a little buttress called Foundation Wall. If you checked out the last link you will have seen that 6 climbs are listed; there is now a seventh route in between Real TV and Mystery, an 11a called Mystery TV. (If you're not a climber and you want to know about grading in climbing, you can go here for a general overview, and here for an explanation of the Yosemite Decimal System, which is what I am referring to in the grades mentioned in this blog.) We thought we'd have a go at all seven routes - they are all pretty short - before heading down the road to Squamish. And Di decided that we'd move from left to right. On the third route - a 10d - she had a small slip and tweaked her left shoulder, but pulled back on to the route and completed the pitch. Of course, Di being Di, she insisted on climbing all of the rest of the routes on the wall - although she was sore enough by the end that she decided that she would only top-rope the last (and shortest) climb.
Despite Di's little injury it was a fun morning. There was a guide teaching three novice leaders how to lead safely on bolts, and it was interesting background patter to our climbing. It started to rain lightly just as were were completing our little tick list. Happily, Foundation Wall was only about 15 seconds walk from Big Blue so we didn't get very wet on the way back to shelter. We'd decided to get straight on the rock before breakfast so we enjoyed a great brunch of burritos before firing up Big Blue and heading south towards Squamish. Sure enough, Di's shoulder did get more sore as the day progressed. I thought I'd try to cheer her up with a makeshift version of one my favourite dishes. It turned out pretty good, despite not having some of the ingredients that make it really special. Here's a photo of Paella Big Blue ...

... and another of us sitting down to dinner:

The next morning Di's shoulder was still a bit sore so we decided to have a rest day. Well, we did get a bit of exercise in the form of a walk into town from our campsite in under the Chief, and made our first visit to the excellent Zephyr Cafe. On our walk back to camp we realised that we needed to do some shopping, so drove back into town, and I did my blogging thing while Di gave her brain a little dose of Lumosity.
The next day Di thought that she would be able to climb a bit so we went to Starr Wall on the Malemute to reacquaint ourselves with Squamish jamming. We did three great pitches: High Mountain Woody, Stephanie's Tears and Paul's Crack. Here's a photo Di took of me coming up to the belay at the top of Stephanie's Tears (Di strung the two pitches together into one long, fabulous pitch):

The view of Howe Sound from the top of Starr Wall is pretty good:

This was a very pleasant re-introduction to the polished granite of Squamish and, as Di's shoulder was still a little sore, we decided to stop after just doing the three climbs. 

It was Di's turn to make a game plan for the next day. We were trying to mix revisiting old favourites and exploring new routes while concentrating on quality. Di leafed through the guidebook and found a route called Hairpin on a cliff called The Papoose, which the author lists as one of Squamish's "Top 100". One pundit describes Hairpin this way: "the bulletproof, glacier carved granite is some of the best stone in Squamish". The five pitches go at 5.8, 10a, 5.9, 5.7 and 10a.
This photo of Di leading the first pitch - a long traverse - illustrates quite nicely some effects of glaciation ...

... and here's Di approaching the belay on the top of the second pitch:

As you can see, The Papoose is poised just above the Sea to Sky highway. Hairpin proved to be a wonderfully varied climb and we thought it deserved its rating as one of Squamish's best. Here's what the view north is like from around the middle of the route:

Amongst all this climbing, we've fielded several inquiries in response to our ad on Kijiji to find a new owner for Big Blue. One of the people who responded was Tracey, a lovely lady from White Rock. After a few emails, Tracey and her friend Patty drove up to Squamish the day before yesterday to have a look. She'd been to have a look at a number of other vans and hadn't been impressed much. However, Tracey seemed to like Big Blue a lot, at least enough make an attractive offer - subject to him passing the Air Care test, which needed to happen if Big Blue is to be registered in the greater Vancouver area (up to this point he's always called Vancouver Island home.) Tracey was pretty sure Big Blue would pass: sure enough to pay for the test to be done. We didn't have any idea of how he would go. Although he's a little smelly when you first fire him up on a cold morning, he doesn't blow smoke at all and seems to run pretty cleanly.

Although we we felt we were just starting to get a taste for Squamish climbing again, we were also pretty keen to try to seal the deal. As much as we've become attached to Big Blue, we didn't want him sitting around for a year or two waiting for us to use him again. So, yesterday morning we hiked up to the Bulletheads area early for a quick climb before heading off to North Vancouver, and the nearest Air Care test centre to Squamish. (As an aside, Tracey told us that the B.C. government is planning to phase out the Air Care program in a couple of years, as it has had the desired effect of getting old , polluting clunkers off the road.) We pulled straight in and got Big Blue tested. And he passed! Here's the evidence:

We were over the moon, and let Tracey know right away. She said she'd transfer the agreed 10% deposit today, so it looks like we have a sale. It will be sad parting with Big Blue but it looks like he is going to a good home.

After we did the Air Care test we detoured to a delicatessen in North Vancouver for some special shopping, which will have to remain a mystery until the next post. Then it was on to Horseshoe Bay to catch the ferry to Nanaimo, and the drive north to Comox for another visit with my foks. We were at the ferry terminal by 12:00 but the 12:30 ferry was full. I used some of the wait time to go online and find a place on the island to have a celebratory dinner. I came up with a lovely Italian place in Qualicum Beach called Giovanni's Ristorante. Here we are toasting our (prospective) sale of Big Blue (whoops! I'm still wearing my climbing shirt):

The rest of the drive up to Comox was gorgeous: pearly light across Georgia Strait and the Coast Range. Di wondered a number of times if we should stop for a photo, but we concluded that it was one of those situations where no single image stands out - it is just an overall mood that seeps into your psyche and creates a sense of well being.

And there you have it: going coastal ...

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Chasing Rainbows: Friday to Wednesday

Sorry folks: not many pictures, but lots of action!


We awoke in the van to a beautiful Selkirks morning, parked down by the Columbia River. Breakfast of pancakes, bacon and maple syrup (what else, eh!) then into town to pick up the Revelstoke Rocks climbing guide. As the climbing store wasn't yet open we cooled our heels with an (excellent) coffee at the Modern Cafe. Proceeded to the climbing shop, bought the guide and made our way to Begbie Bluffs to do some low key sport climbing to work out the kinks of a few days of inactivity.  We did a few easy routes (9, 10a, 10b). The 5.9 was a very nice arete, the 10b was interesting - not hard but a bit puzzling and the 10a was the pick of the lot. Then I foolishly jumped on an 11b one-move wonder - a dyno over an overhang - and failed dismally. (This was probably a delusion rather than a rainbow.)
It was getting very hot in the sun by this stage and we felt like we had got back into the climbing groove sufficiently so we stopped, walked back to the van and had a late lunch. To fill in the afternoon we went to the library in town, where Di massaged her brain with Lumosity while I got most of the last blog completed, partly inside and partly parked in the lounge shared by the library and the adjoining swimming pool. Back to Big Blue and dinner and then another hour of free music in the plaza before an early night, with plans to go to Waterworld the next day.


An early start saw us up at the Waterworld access by 8:00. We were really looking forward to climbing at this enticing sounding crag, a "unique and exciting place to climb, all climbs start right out of the deep waters of Revelstoke Lake" and the cliff is 90 metres high.
Sounds like a good start to the day, right? Unfortunately, no, that was not the case. In the guide it says "park well off the road due to passing logging trucks". Well, Big Blue is nothing if not big and WIDE! The shoulder isn't wide and it drops away steeply; we just could not park safely so, disappointed, we headed back to town.
The consolation was that the Farmers' Market was happening and we got some great fruit - including juicy ripe peaches, mmm mmm! - and vegies. Next we walked along to the Revelstoke Railway Museum to see what was happening there, and particularly to view the Salmon Arm Model Railway Club's display. It was fantastic, and reflected the 22 years it has been in development. It was a really intricate model railway including such detail as a group of hobos under a railway bridge cooking their breakfast of purloined eggs - the yolks of which had been painted on with a single hair from a brush. If you're ever passing through Salmon Arm on a Saturday it would be worth stopping for an hour or so to look at it. We were very sorry not to have our grandchildren with us to see the looks of amazement and delight that would have been on their faces.
Back to the Farmer's Market for lunch: a Ukrainian sausage, sauerkraut and about 4 different condiments in a whole wheat - it's gotta be healthy ;-) - bun.
Next it was on to the library again where Di did some more Lumosity training and I finished the blog. We then got the weather report, which suggested the day for us to climb Mt Gimli, one of the big goals for our climbing trip, would be in two days time, and that the weather would deteriorate after that. We decided to jump aboard Big Blue and head south right away so we could get in position the next day. Along the way, Di made the remark that it was a good thing we weren't able to climb at Waterworld, as this would mean we'd get our chance at Gimli. (Stay tuned.)
Once we neared Slocan - the nearest town to Valhalla Provincial Park - we started to look for accommodation as we thought it would be useful to have a shower and a really good rest in a big bed before driving up to the road head for an early night on Sunday, and a crack-of-dawn start on Monday. It turned out that we drove south as far as Nelson because there simply wasn't anything available along the way. At least the drive was gorgeous. Here's the route, via the beautiful Arrow Lakes:

We found a great room with a wonderfully comfortable big bed, and felt well rested when we awoke on:


After a lovely, restful sleep in we opted for breakfast in the hotel, and why not? I had a breakfast burrito to die for - only $9.99 - while Di went for the kiddie's breakfast: one egg and a bit of fruit. We wandered around town doing a bit of shopping before finally meandering out towards Valhalla Provincial Park, home to our objective, the glorious and storied Mt Gimli. 
Carefully following directions in the guidebook, we located the correct dirt road and set Big Blue's trip meter to "0".  We had 26 kilometres to go before the parking area, and where we would start our two hour approach the next morning.
The road - always climbing - varied in condition, but was pretty good at first before getting narrower and steeper at around kilometre 16. Still, the surface was okay if not a bit rocky in places. I noticed a trail of moisture in the middle of the road, but didn't think much more than someone had some sort of water leak, and that they must be not too far in front of us. Then things started getting interesting.
At about kilometre 20 we passed a transit van (not a camper van) parked by the side of the road with "BROKEN/ OIL PAN FU#KED!" written in the dust on the back window. 
Hmmm I thought. That accounts for the moisture in the road. Another 100 metres or so we passed an SUV pointing down the hill. That was a surprise, but no alarms bells were ringing. Suddenly at just about kilometre 21 the road deteriorated badly. Steeper, looser and far more corrugated. Big Blue shuffled to a stop, waiting for directions. I eased on the gas. Big Blue was like a big bull bison at the base of a steep scree slope: full of piss and vinegar, burly and brawny and ready for action but maybe lacking in the light-footedness to skip on over this obstacle. I decided that caution was the better part of valour, especially given the evidence further down the road. Di got out to help steer a middle course, and my heart was in my mouth as I inched carefully back, slowly easing the brake off only to slowly ease it on again - and again - and again. It was an excruciating, slithery hundred metres or so where I wasn't entirely sure we were going to be okay. 
Thankfully, we returned to a firmer footing and found a spot another few hundred metres where we were barely able to get Big Blue's 19 foot length turned around. We eased back down the road a couple of kilometres to where we'd noticed a large pull-out, paused to catch our breath eat a peach and contemplate the universe. It turned out to be a lovely little campsite by a creek, unfortunately somewhat degraded by people who cared less for the beauty in front of them than they should.
There were massive cedars:

This one with Di and Big Blue in the background gives a sense of scale:

The power of plants can be seen in this cedar clinging to the top of a massive boulder:

The vegetation was akin to what you find on the coast, testimony to the coolness of the altitude and the amount of precipitation. Despite it's attractive appearance, I think this is the infamous Devil's Club (note the spiny stems):

Not a plant you want to get tangled up with. Here's a close-up of the fruit:

Okay, we thought. Plans for Gimli: foiled. What next? Di had agreed to consider climbing the 13 pitch route Yak Check on Yak Peak, and we wanted to visit Florence and Eddie, our favourite aunt and uncle in Kelowna so we resolved to head off in that direction. Yep, more driving.  Down to Slocan. Back up to Nakusp. Down to Needles to catch the ferry. By this time our relaxed start to the day was starting to catch up with us. Across the other side we started to look for somewhere good to park Big Blue. We did find just the thing: a discontinued bit of road screened from the highway and easy to level up Big Blue. Then we noticed we were out of propane, and that not only could we not cook dinner but that the fridge wasn't very cold. This was a worry as we had stuff in the freezer that we didn't want to thaw out, so we packed up and headed off again.
Luckily, before long we came to the Goldpanner Campground and Historic Village, where we could hook up to power and get the fridge back up to speed. It proved to be a fairly tiring day: one of disappointment and a dream unrealised. If you want to go to climb Gimli, you would probably be wise to go in a light, high clearance vehicle or a four wheel drive. We think that a Subaru Forester would do the trick, and both vehicles we saw parked by the side of the road should have been able to negotiate the section that stopped us, but who knows what lies beyond. Hopefully, B.C. Parks will do something about the state of the road before long. This is our route for the day, excluding the 50 or so kilometres foray into Valhalla Provincial Park:


It wasn't far from Cherryville to Lumby, the next real town. Di decided to check for a signal and email upon arrival in Lumby and I pulled over to hear her read one from one of our friends in Hobart. Not realising that's why I pulled over, she asked if we'd found somewhere to fill our propane tank. I replied "No, I just wanted to be able to hear you", but then immediately we spotted a place across the road that did sell propane. Excellent luck! While I had the tank filled, Di got out to stretch her legs and discovered an excellent little cafe. Coffee and some excellent chocolate croissants revived our spirits. Di phone Florence, who invited us for lunch. We were pretty happy despite our setback with Gimli, especially with the fridge purring away again as we motored off down the road. From Lumby to Kelowna it was a short cruise and we ambled along, reaching Eddie & Flo's place well before lunch. In the afternoon, Eddie's niece Joyce, who has met all of the rest of my family, dropped by for a chat. She is a prolific traveller, but hasn't been to Tasmania - something missing there, Joyce!
After Joyce's visit, Eddie gave us a tour of greater Kelowna, including a visit to some of the richer suburbs that have sprung up in recent years. It was interesting to hear about how Kelowna has changed from a relatively small town when Eddie and Flo moved there to what is now a city of over 100 000 inhabitants. After our tour of the city we had a great meal at the local sushi restaurant then took a drive to Peachland to see where Joyce lives, perched above the golf course that is begin rebadged as the Ponderosa Golf Club, and redeveloped by Greg Norman and a mob of backers. It looks like a lot of money is being spent there.


In the morning we got up and had breakfast with Florence and Eddie. I had to take another group photo. It's a pity I don't have the one from 7 years ago to put alongside it but here we are:

Nice legs, eh!

Not deterred by our misfortune on the approach to Gimli, we decided to head for Yak Peak to try to climb Yak Check. It wasn't going to be too far, so we stopped off in Merrit to visit one of Di's favourite stores, a western emporium that we've stopped at on a number of previous trips. Saddles, a great range of cowboy boots, shirts and jeans as well as lots of humorous western postcards was what we remembered. Sadly the store is no more. A couple of guys suggested we could try a place north of town along Nicola Lake. Unfortunately, this place just wasn't the same, a big disappointment for Di especially. We headed off towards Yak Peak to have a look at the climb before propping the night about 10 kilometres to the north at the Britten Creek rest area. There was quite a bit of cloud about but the last forecast we'd had indicated a mostly sunny day for Wednesday. When we arrived at the base we were able to only see the bottom 5 of the 13 pitch route, but it looked great. Back up to Britten Creek, dinner and an early night. Here's our approximate route and distance for this day's travel:


Yes, you've got it. Another early start. We were both looking forward to a great day as we'd seen lots of stars when we'd got up in the night to attend to our "toilette".  And, although it was a bit early for the sun, there seemed to be lots of clear sky at the Britten Creek rest area while we were having our breakfast of banana and cinnamon buns. However, in the 10 kilometre drive south and gain of altitude to the Coquihalla Summit the picture changed. The base of the climb is at about 1250 metres, and most of the route was obscured by cloud, and it was windy and COLD! Di had already started to develop a bit of a cold herself, so we made the decision to pull the plug. Neither of us felt like embarking on a long route in the conditions that presented, where we were as likely as not to get rained off. Although it's possible to retreat from the route up to 8 pitches in, after that you're stuck with a bivvy or have to climb out. This day was the only one that had looked reasonable for the next four days, so rather than stick around on the chance that things might change we got in the car and headed off. We both really wanted to drive the route through Merrit, Spence's Bridge, Lytton, Lillooet and Pemberton out to the coast. This area is badged by B.C. tourism as the "Ranchlands and Rivers" and we love to travel through it. Yes, it's farther but a lot more interesting than driving down to Hope across the Fraser delta and through greater Vancouver to get to our destination of Squamish. 
The drive north to Merrit was uneventful, and the weather improved as we dropped down out of the mountains. 
The drive through the scenic Nicola Valley to Spence's Bridge was far too eventful. 
Actually, we almost died. 
About 29 kilometres east of Spence's Bridge, a car B.C. licence number 590 NOX - overtook us on a blind bend just as another car came around a corner towards us. If I hadn't hit the brakes hard and the oncoming car hadn't done the same, you wouldn't be reading this now and there'd be a hell of a mess on the highway. I blasted my horn but it didn't seem to make the slightest difference: the maniac just rocketed off at the same insane pace. We detoured into Spence's Bridge to see if there was an RCMP office there but the only building of a public nature was this old church:

On to Lytton, where we did call into the RCMP station and report the maniac. Lytton is on the junction of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers, a very historic but small settlement. Then it was on to Lillooet, and as we were coming into town Di suddenly remembered us stopping and having a meal at a Greek restaurant on a previous visit. It was time for coffee so we went into town and sure enough the restaurant was still there. Note the name:

Big Blue had done such a good job for the past few days I thought I'd better take a picture of him in repose in Lillooet:

Refreshed, on we went, through to Pemberton and on just south of Whistler to Yak Canyon. We did a great 3 pitch climb called Sacrilege, which the guide gives 4 stars - not quite Yak Check or Gimli but at least it was rock, and beautiful solid granite - and then settled down for the night. Here's the route for this day's travel:

That was yesterday. The culmination of a lot of running around, especially after our long trip to Revelstoke.
We slept very soundly and are happy to now be settled into Squamish Provincial Park below The Chief. This morning we did seven enjoyable pitches of climbing at Check Canyon before the rain came, but that can wait until the next post.

Cheers - and thankful we're still here!
- Doug and Di

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Farewell the Rockies!

Cragging In the Bow Valley

We had a few more days climbing after our last blog post. The first was at Carrot Creek, with Jon Jones and three other folks he was showing the canyon to, as well as Jon Gale and his son Stephen. Carrot Creek is a good little crag to work on your fitness: fairly steep rock with lots of sloping holds! Di and I climbed a 10a, a terrific two pitch 10b called Merlin's Laugh and then a short 10d to finish - which well and truly finished us off! If you're climbing in the Rockies, this is an excellent place when the weather is hot, as the canyon is quite narrow and receives relatively little sun.  Jon Jones has been very busy this season replacing old anchors in Carrot, as well as making the starts of some routes a bit safer.

Next, we had a day with John and Stephen Gale up at Guide's Rock. Although we wanted to have a look at Guide Rock it wasn't the best choice that day, as it was very sunny and hot on the south-facing cliffs and we didn't make the earliest start. Nevertheless, we had a nice time. Here's a shot of Di following a pleasant one pitch 5.8 slab:

We also climbed a 5.9 called Take it for Granite, which sounded great. The first pitch was a pleasant 5.9 slab that was a bit thinner than previous route, followed by a worthless second pitch. It was getting fairly hot by this stage but Stephen Gale was keen to do the 10d to the left called Take It Or Leave It, so I volunteered to belay and follow him. It turned out to be a fantastic, long pitch and made the hike up to Guide's Rock worthwhile.

Back at the car we had a cold beer - thanks to Big Blue's fridge supplies - and then repaired to Stephen's place for a fantastic dinner of barbecued salmon, some wonderful bruschetta and salads, mostly prepared by John's daughter Kerrin who'd had the day off from climbing. Well done, Kerrin!!! Topped off with a couple of good bottles of wine, it doesn't get much better.

Stephen had an extra bed available because John was hangin' out in Stephen's "man cave" downstairs, watching the Olympics on a fantastic king-sized smart TV (I want one of those!) This was great, as we had a nice sleep in with lots of space, then headed off the next day to Heart Creek to go climbing with John, Stephen, Kerrin and Stephen's two dogs Baffin and Ranger. Here they all are at the crag:

We did four really nice routes down at the end of Heart Creek at Bunny Hill and Waterfall Wall, where not a lot of people go climbing as they mostly tend to stop at one of the earlier buttresses. The pick of the routes would have had to be a great 10d (can't remember what it's called and the guide is in the van) that was almost right on 30 metres and fairly sustained in the upper section, with two 10d moves and a 10c bit right at the end. It was a lovely walk back down the creek and and we farewelled John, Stephen, Kerrin, Baffin and Ranger after enjoying a cool beer and a few nibbles. This brought to an end our climbing in the Rockies for this trip.

Back to Calgary

Our friends Izabella and Konrad were very keen for us to come and spend another night with them in Calgary, so we jumped in Big Blue and motored into town from Heart Creek. When we arrived we discovered that Iza had fired up their little sauna for us to relax in before dinner, which was very sweet of her. It was terrific to get a good sweat up and then rinse off with a shower. I wish that I'd taken a picture of us having a lovely meal with Konrad and Iza out on their deck to show you - and evoke for us the great feelings we had sharing some more time with them. We finished up the evening looking at a great collection of photos from a trip they'd had to Mount Robson. I was very keen to try to hike to Berg Lake and back as a day trip after seeing their photos, but Di put her foot down and said that 42 kilometres wasn't going to happen! The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast before pushing off for the Rockies again, while Iza and Konrad went about jobs that needed doing around home (that's all ahead of us in about a month's time, I guess!)
Iza sent Di off with a pair of traditional Polish earrings she said "didn't suit her". Here's Di with them on ...

... and a close-up of one of the earrings:

Meanwhile, Konrad sent me off with a couple of Polish beers, which were excellent, and a fantastic dark beer brewed in Victoria:

Di has still got the earrings, but the beers are all gone!

Lake Minnewanka

We drove back to Canmore and out to Two Jack Lake, where we planned to surreptitiously spend a couple of nights before our friends Mary and Tim arrived from Wisconsin. It was a great little spot, and - like Corral Creek - there was no sign prohibiting overnight parking. This is the view of Mt Rundle from where Big Blue was nestled in for the night:

The next day we had a hike around the side of Lake Minnewanka to the first campsite. It was a lovely way to pass a few hours, apart from the mosquitoes that plagued us at lunchtime. The Banff Dragonboat Festival was happening that day, so we enjoyed the sight of dragonboats slugging it for bragging rights as we set off on our walk. Three hours and 17.5 kilometres later they were still at it!

A Few Moveable Feasts

The next day was a quiet day, apart from a thorough victualing of Big Blue, readying for the arrival of our friends Mary and Tim from Wisconsin. We met Mary back in 1992 climbing (well, truth be told, mostly sheltering from the thunderstorms!) at Wild Iris in Wyoming and have been firm friends ever since, enjoying a cycling holiday with her and Tim - whom she'd met in the meantime - in Tuscany, a couple of visits to us in Tasmania and a rendezvous in Yosemite the last time we were in North America. Mary and Tim booked a night for themselves in Banff and then some accommodation north of Jasper for us to share. Di and I insisted that we would do the catering for their visit, hence the provisions. For the first night we took the easy option of eating at Giorgio's in Banff. Here we all are:

I forgot to mention that Tim is a bit of an architecture buff and insisted on shouting us a drink before dinner at the Banff Springs Hotel, one of the great CPR hotels built as part of the railroad crossing from coast to coast back in the late 19th century. Here we all are out on the terrace, enjoying the evening light:

After our drink on the terrace we poked our noses into a few corners like "Ballroom B" and were suitably impressed.

The next day the drive through the Bow Valley and Icefields Parkway was increasingly wet as we made our way north, so it wasn't very suitable for photographs. It was a pretty long slog given the conditions, but we still stopped here and there to admire the majesty of the Rockies through the precipitation. We were fairly tired by the time we got to where we were going.

However, after a wonderful feed of lamb cooked by Di which we'd got at an excellent deli in Canmore called Valbella - highly recommended! - we all felt a lot better. 

The next day we awoke to a gorgeous day, so we drove south to Maligne Lake for the views and had a walk around Maligne Canyon. Here's a glimpse of the canyon, which is 51 metres deep at one point:

After our gentle hike it was off to visit to another historic Rockies architectural icon, the Jasper Park Lodge, for a drink on Tim. The lodge is in a gorgeous setting and relaxing on the terrace watching the canoeists and paddleboaters on the lake - and the rich people rambling about as if they owned the place - was an entertaining finale to our excursion.

Just as we were driving north back to the Overlander Mountain Lodge where we were staying, we stopped to take a picture of this elk in repose at the side of the highway:

That evening it was my turn to cook, and I decided to assemble a couple of salads and build a salmon risotto from our enormous store of goodies. But before dinner, I presented Tim - who does like his reds - with a bottle of Brunello di Montepulciano to decant. This gesture echoes our holiday in Tuscany with Mary and Tim about 13 years ago. On that holiday we had dinner out in a little town called Castelnuevo Baradenga, and Tim ordered a bottle of Brunello, which we all like immensely. (When Tim placed his order the waiter got all excited, scooped up our wine glasses and replaced them with magnificent balloons, which he polished up in front of us. On this occasion, the front desk was kind enough to supply us with a decanter and 4 good-sized glasses.) It was a lovely moment, and as you can see Tim was VERY HAPPY!: 

After all that it was time for me to start cooking. Here's roughly what I did:
  • made a salad of shredded red cabbage, finely chopped carrot, walnuts with an Asian style dressing
  • made another salad with red and green lettuce, cucumber, red capsicum, cherry tomatoes and olives with a classic lemon and olive oil dressing

Herbed Salmon Risotto

about 2 1/2 cups of Arborio Rice
800 grams or so of fresh salmon - Sockeye, if you can get it ;-) cut into 30 mm cubes
half medium onion, finely chopped
a couple of cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 cup of olive oil
4 cups of good chicken stock
a bunch of Green Onions (Spring Onions down under)
a cup or so of good white wine (plus more to drink while you're cooking) - I used Pinot Grigio
1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese don't overdo it
1/4 cup of sour cream
a loose handful of each of the following fresh herbs: dill, tarragon and basil
finely grated rind of 1 lemon
juice of 1 good ripe lemon

heat the stock to a low simmer
In a reasonably large pot (so you can stir easily and get good evaporation) sauté the onion in the olive oil; add the garlic for a minute or two when the onion is transparent
stir in the rice, coating all grains with the oil
pour in the white wine, stirring until absorbed/evaporated (have a sip or two while you're at it)
start adding the stock, about a cup at a time, stirring constantly (this is why you need your own glass at hand: some say making risotto is boring - not my way) while it is absorbed by the rice
when the rice is nearly done - but just still al dente - gently stir in the salmon, which will break up  into flakes as it cooks
stir in the green onions
stir in the cheese and sour cream
stir in the herbs and 
stir in the grated lemon rind
stir in the lemon juice
grate over and stir in black pepper

Now serve it all up with a smile!

You can be confident that this will go down well: everyone had a second helping. In fact Tim had four and I had three! (There was still some left over, which Di and I enjoyed the next night in Big Blue by steaming in one of our stainless steel bowls inside our big pot.)
After dinner we engaged in two games of Carcassonne, which Mary had purchased especially for our trip together. We had a lot of fun, and Tim was much happier with the network of towns we built the second time around.

We awoke the next morning to another beautiful day. Di and I were poised, ready to cook up a storm for breakfast but Mary and Tim suggested we have breakfast in the main lodge so that we could all relax together. That we did, and then set off for the drive south. Very soon after hitting the highway we spotted a group of mountain goat above some bluffs. Here's one of them:

Our next stop was at the stunning Athabasca Falls, about 30 kilometres south of Jasper. The Athabasca has been named one of Canada's heritage rivers. At Athabasca Falls it rips through a band of Gog quartzite and the effect is stupendous. It's hard really to capture the power of nature at work here, and I wish I'd tried taking a video, but this photo will give you a hint of what's going on:

Back on the road we continued south through the Icefields Parkway, this time enjoying the full benefit of clear skies. Here is a photo of one view along the drive:

Mary took a few nice snaps of Big Blue cruising down the Icefields Parkway. Here's one of the wonderful views early on ...

... and another further south ...

and another with the Bow Glacier in the background ...

We paused on the lakeshore to savour the moment. I took this little snapshot of the textured landscape:

We pulled over just before the end of the parkway to farewell Mary and Tim, who were driving on to Calgary when we turned west towards Revelstoke. It was so grand seeing them again and we are looking forward to the next time we catch up. At Golden we paused for a cup of coffee and sent Matt an email to see if we could co-ordinate meeting up for our planned ascent of Mt Gimli. Another short leg followed before we decided to pull off at a picnic area in Glacier National Park to heat our dinner - the aforementioned leftovers - and a bit of a rest before driving on.  Here's me kicking back with the Squamish guidebook while Di heats our risotto:

We were delighted to arrive in Revelstoke to find live music playing in the Revelstoke Plaza. Here's Sean Ashby in full song:

It turns out that we arrived on the first evening of the four day Revelstoke Railway Days festival, which celebrates 127 years of railway presence in Revelstoke. Each evening they have free music playing in the open air, a bunch of things in the Railway Museum, and a few other events.

While we were sitting listening to some tunes, Di noticed a wonderful little movie house just on our left called the Roxy Theatre:

The Bourne Legacy was scheduled to start at 8:00 just as the music was finishing up. It cost $6 for the old girl and $9 for her younger side-kick - very cheap compared to what we pay Downunder - so it was a no-brainer to spend a couple of hours speeding along with another outlandish American conspiracy theory. (Great chase scene, by the way.)

This capped off a classic Canadian road trip day traversing five - yes, five - Canadian National Parks (in order, Jasper, BanFF, Yoho, Glacier and Revelstoke.) Here's what the drive looks like on Google Maps:

It was about 500 kilometres with lots of mountain passes. A good workout for Big Blue, but he handled it all admirably. And so concludes another chapter of our Northwest Sojourn. We had spent more time and had more fun in the Rockies than we'd originally anticipated, and most of the extra richness is due to the great times connecting with folks. Thanks so much to all of you that have made this part of our trip so memorable!

Adieu from Doug and Di!

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Rockies - Part 3

Four Aces

The "four aces" are four consecutive days of excellent weather and fairly intense activity - at least as far as a couple of old duffers like us are concerned -  at the start of August.

The Ace of Hearts: Plain of Six Glaciers, or: "The Tea House Walk"

Di had wanted to walk to the Plain of Six Glaciers and visit the tea house there since we since spent the year of 1992 in Canada (she's a great tea drinker as well as a pretty fair walker, is our Dianne) and hung around the Rockies for a couple of months. She finally got her wish one day as we set off from the parking lot at Lake Louise. It's a pretty lovely spot, and we were both pretty happy to be back. Here's a view of the lake:

It was a bit of a cloudy day, so the views weren't quite as stunning as they are when the sky is that absolute blue colour. Here's Di at the lake, out in front of the Chateau Lake Louise (you'd never know the place is teeming with tourists, would you?):

We waded through the throngs to the other side of the Chateau where we spotted this fellow old duffer who seemed interested in the heights but was just a little less mobile than us:

As we made our way around the lake to the start of the trail we enjoyed these modern-day voyageurs proudly flying the Canadian flag in the traditional Canadian canoe (note the high bow and stern):

It's 5.5 kilometres from the Chateau to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. I didn't get a photo of the tea house myself because of the numbers of people swarming around it, so here's one I found on the Net:

We decided we couldn't pass up the opportunity to take a small bite on the balcony with Mount Victoria looming in the background:

If you walk past the glacier for another kilometre or so, you get a great view of Abbot Hut, the second highest habitable building in Canada, which sits atop Abbot Pass at 2925 metres:

When we worked at Lake O'Hara Lodge, which is on the other side of the pass, in September 1992, we walked up to and spent a very windy night in the hut and climbed Mt LeFroy the next morning before going down to work the lunch shift (it was hard to take work seriously that afternoon after such an exhilarating time in the mountains.) Here's a photo of the hut from close up:

And here's a long view looking back at Lake Louise from in under Abbot Pass:

On the return journey we detoured past Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes, which hang like jewels above Lake Louise. Here's another view of Lake Louise from early along the Mirror Lake trail ...

... and here's a panorama of Mirror Lake:

Lake Agnes, which lies above Mirror Lake is home to the Lake Agnes Tea House.  Lake Agnes is much closer to the road head, so it was more crowded and we didn't bother taking a cup of Lipton's there ...

... but we did pause long enough to enjoy a view of the lake:

All up, Di calculated that we walked about 17.5 kilometres that day. I forget what the total elevation gain was, but we did go up and down a bit. Anyway, it was a great day out although Di did complain that I walked uphill too fast! Despite that, this day out gets nominated as "The Ace of Hearts" because Di will probably hold it as one of her fondest memories on this trip.

The Ace of Spades: True Grit

The second of our four somewhat frenetic days saw us undertake the wonderful Rockies classic climb, "True Grit". I'd been keen on trying this climb for a long time and why not, with such a name! It is situated on the east end of Mt Rundle - affectionately known as EEOR which, along with Ha Ling Peak and the Three Sisters, dominates the skyline above Canmore.
Why the "Ace of Spades" you ask? Probably because - from my point of view at least - it trumps the other three in that it was the best of the four days, and maybe the best climb we've done on this trip so far. Although not as long as a couple of other routes we've done, it was by far the most sustained and satisfying. In fact I admit that I found it rather intimidating, probably because the nature of the climbing was quite different from anything we'd done recently and it took a bit of time getting used to the rock. The pitches are rated 5.10b, 5.10a, 5.10c, 5.10a and 5.10b so it doesn't let up. True Grit, established in 1990, was the first multi-pitch sport climb put up in the Bow Valley and was controversial at the time but has become a mega-classic. As such, in places the route has become a bit polished as limestone is wont to do.
Unfortunately in my preoccupied state of getting ready for this challenge I forgot to bring the camera! However, here's a photo of what the route looks like from the top of Ha Ling Peak ...

... and here's a topo of the route from Kevin MacLane's guidebook Canadian Rock: Select Climbs of the West (True Grit is route #3, and I've added a note to pitch one showing the 10b move that Kevin hasn't got in his topo):

One nice thing about this route is that once finished the descent involves a series of rappels rather than a long, dirty, loose scree slog or a long, arduous and convoluted walk off, both of which seem to be the more common for many of the longer routes in the Rockies! As I said, I found this climb a bit intimidating but it was great to get to the top, and in relatively good time. Di was a lot cooler about it all than I was, but she just had to lead the two 10a pitches! As an aside, the route just to the left of True Grit - Parallel Dreams (what a name, eh!) would be a great climb to do as well, but you'd want to be climbing a lot better than we were when we did True Grit: it's generally regarded as 5.11a (although Kevin MacLane gives it 10d) and is a fair bit more sparsely adorned with bolts. On the day, the climb we chose was certainly an adequate and memorable challenge, and will remain one of the highlights of this trip: pity about the lack of photos, eh!!!

The Ace of Diamonds: Ha Ling Peak

We both thought a hike would be a good way to follow up True Grit, as it was another beautiful day in the Canadian Rockies. The walk up Ha Ling Peak coincidentally starts from just across the road where we were hanging out in Big Blue: the Goat Creek car park. By this time we'd spent a number of peaceful nights (after that first night when Dudley Do-Right had moved us on from the streets of Canmore and we found ourselves up at Goat Creek) there and had wondered where so many people were walking to as there is no sign marking the start of the route up Ha Ling Peak. Once we'd worked it out it made sense: the views - especially down towards Canmore - are sensational. It's fantastic to see the range of people who make their way up what is a rather steep and, in the upper sections, loose, trail. 

This view of the peak after we got back from climbing True Grit was the final inspiration for our walk the next day:

It's a pretty peak, isn't it? It's only about 15 minutes drive to the start of the hike from downtown Canmore, so no wonder it's popular. The walk itself initially winds its way up through forest, gradually steepening, before breaking out onto a rocky shoulder. Here's what Canmore looks like from the top:

Here's another view across at EEOR (I've put a circle in where a number of climbs ascend) and down to the Spray Lakes Road (if you look closely you can see cars of climbers who have walked down to the Grassi Lakes climbing area):

It was amusing to see that it wasn't just folks that were enjoying the view down to Canmore. This thing that looks like a doormat is actually a marmot. It was hanging out right on the edge catching some rays and I swear it was looking down at the town ...

... but it could just as well been watching out for climbers, as a number of routes ascend Ha Ling Peak, most notably Ha Ling Northeast Face and Sisyphus Summit. These both finish pretty much right at the top of the peak where this little guy is hanging out - in fact he seems to have his home right there as he disappeared into a hole whenever anyone came too close or moved suddenly.  Here he has just popped out of his hole again after being disturbed before returning to his prone position overlooking the precipice:

A self-portrait shows it's not too arduous of a walk up:

So, why the "Ace of Diamonds"? Just look at the weather for starters, let alone the easy access and terrific views. On top of that, after a leisurely breakfast we were back in time for lunch!

The Ace of Clubs: Tower of Babel

Much to my surprise, after we'd had lunch and a bit of a relax Di suggested that we climb the Tower of Babel the next day. One of the medium length multi pitch routes that I'd identified as a good objective before we left home, the Tower of Babel promises a short approach - 600 metres from Moraine Lake - and fantastic views towards Mt Temple (click here to see photos from our walk up this magnificent peak in September, 1992) as well as relatively good rock, being the same quartzite that is found at the popular climbing area at the back of Lake Louise. I sure wasn't going to argue!
So, that afternoon found us meandering up the Trans Canada Highway and turning off to the Bow Valley Parkway just past BanFF to our place of residence for the night, which would put us only a short drive from Moraine Lake and the start of our approach to the Tower of Babel. After the Plain of Six Glaciers hike we'd returned to Canmore on this road because we wanted to revisit it and enjoy a more relaxed alternative to the TC Hwy. It's a rarity not to see wildlife on the Parkway, and sure enough there were a number of elk grazing alongside the road. 

Just south of Lake Louise we'd noticed a great little picnic area called Corral Creek, with no signs banning parking overnight, so this is where we were headed. An added bonus was this view of Mt Fay, taken from just behind Big Blue:

The next morning saw us make a reasonably early start. We arrived at Moraine Lake, parked and headed out on the trail. As the guide book promised, the Tower of Babel was close - in fact in plain view from the parking lot, and for the first five minutes or so the walking was great. But soon we were on the scree. Here is the Tower from just after leaving the trail:

Here we go again, we thought. Up three steps, down 2. Actually it wasn't that bad compared with some of the other approaches we have had but it was a bit demoralising after three fairly active days to have to start a multi pitch climb with yet another scree slog approach. It probably took 45 to 50 minutes compared to the 30 to 40 minutes the guide book suggests. Here's another shot zoomed in a bit showing roughly the line of the route, with the green dashes showing the traverse along a small ledge to where the climb started:

We had a bit of a discussion about where the route actually started but that didn't last long - thank goodness! ;-) - and soon I was grappling with the first pitch. It was only 5.7 but it did make me stop and think. At least the rock on the technical bit at the start was solid, unlike the rest of the pitch. Di's first pitch, which supposedly had a 5.8 move on it, started out with about 5 metres of wheatbix, but then turned good and solid as soon as the technical climbing started. This became a bit of a pattern: mostly good rock interspersed with some real rubbish that was generally easier climbing.  We were a little conscious that there was a fairly high probability of a thunderstorm later in the day, so we were trying to move reasonably quickly, but still being careful with the bands of loose rock that kept appearing. Taking photos wasn't high on the agenda, and getting good shots wasn't very easy anyway due to the climb being broken up by ledges and dodging around corners, especially early on. In fact I only took one picture en route; this is Di nearing the belay on pitch 5:

 We became stuck behind a party of three who had taken the alternate start a little way up the descent gully.  After waiting at the start of the last pitch for over an hour it was good to start climbing again especially with cloud starting to build up around us. It was quite warm by this stage but there was little wind so we weren't overly concerned. The final pitch proved to be the best of the route. At 50 metres it was the longest and also the most solid, as well as proving to be the most sustained in terms of quality of climbing. 

It's always good to get to the top of a climb, but this was especially the case with the Tower of Babel. A spacious platform of very solid rock greeted us. Di had been rather unsettled at times by the loose rock (she got the worst of it) and her initial reaction seemed to be one of relief rather than bliss ...

... but she soon started beaming:

And no wonder, when one discovers what antics people had been up to. This lovely intricate cairn is the first real sign of the games people have been playing on top of the Tower of Babel on sunny days:

Here's another one - large but not quite so beautifully put together - with its little brother standing by:

Of course, there were great views from the summit. Here's Consolation Lakes out behind the tower, with Mount Babel looming above on the right ...

... and Moraine Lake below us on the other side:

Presiding majestically over all stood Mt Temple:

But wait, there's more! Back to the summit shenanigans. Someone had constructed a whole lounge room, consisting of a couch, TV, bookshelf and coffee table. Here's Di kicking back watching TV (if she looks a bit peeved it's because I've got the remote):

She was having so much I thought I'd join her:

We were told by the other guys that we ran into on the climb that the Tower of Babel is used by guides to take clients up (this was borne out by the belay stations that had been installed on the last 5 or so pitches), so perhaps it has become a bit of a ritual to add to the fun when an ascent is made. They also told us that they'd come in from the side rather than doing the direct start because there was less loose rock. Hmmmm .... I'm still glad we did the first pitches as there was some good climbing there and it felt more like we'd done the whole route.

Okay, so we're up; now we had to get down. A couple of people had told us that the descent gully "isn't as bad as it looks", so we were tentatively encouraged. This is what the top quarter or so of the gully looks like from below ...

... and this is looking down at the rest of it:

You know, people were right. It wasn't as bad as it looks but we were still careful. However, as with most scree there was a bit of give here and there but nothing goes very far. We took it easy as we aren't that familiar with such conditions, coming from the Land of Solid Rock

Back at Big Blue it was beer o'clock. The build up of cloud and the few claps of thunder we heard while on the summit turned out to be a false promise: we only had a few drops of rain while drinking beer. Oh yeah, we also had a sandwich, then pottered off back to Corral Creek where we both had a nice cooling and cleansing dip before dinner.

And the "Ace of Clubs"? Well, by the end of four consecutive days of strenuous exercise we did feel beat up enough for two whole days of relaxation afterwards. Besides, it's the only one left in the pack!