Yoho Ho and a Bottle at Home

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The waning days of the Canadian expedition were upon us. We studied the maps, looking over our options. The Kootenays had a pretty nice hike along a ridge, though that meant 180 degrees of rock wall. Banff didn't seem to have any very exciting hikes without getting into multi-day treks we lacked time for. And Yoho had the Iceline Trail which seemed a good way to get in some alpine meadows, glaciers, waterfalls, and exercise all at the same time. So we set sail for Yoho early in the morning, encountering the Spiral Tunnels on the way there. These are a series of tunnels in the mountain that essentially spiral down gradually so that the trains can lose or gain elevation without a steep grade. Many trains and lives had been lost on this stretch before turning to the Swiss for a solution and since the 30s it's been working beautifully. As we watched the train reappear above itself and the front of the train cross over the back, we didn't realize we'd be wishing for a similar device on the Iceline trail later that very day.

After arriving in the parking area for Yoho and fixing lunch, it was time to see off. The first stop was Takakkaw Falls, Cree for Magnificent, and that it was. At around noon it was a good time for photographs and Dan and I spent some serious time with our cameras putting off the hike. And then the Iceline Trail was upon us. Most people do not do the trek in the way that we were setting out. Going to Little Yoho via the Iceline Trail meant a very steep ascent to the mountain tops and then an undulating ridge walk before a moderate descent. In contrast, the lower path allows a first day (fully laden, by the way, with all the food) of gradual climb in the shade of the valley floor to the campground at Little Yoho followed by a second day with a moderate ascent and a steep descent. Makes a lot more sense, yes, but for the sake of lighting in our photos we went the path less travelled.

Unfortunately, it didn't make much difference. The skies were hazy from BC Forest Fires which eliminated any great panoramic vistas we may have captured. Additionally, a lot of what we wanted to capture was actually UP the ridge rather than down, meaning we'd timed our hike all wrong. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful hike along what felt like dozens of glaciers at a high altitude in great weather. Not so great for hiking with 20 kilos on our backs, but great in that it was sunny, hot, and aside from the haze, clear skies. We were frustrated repeatedly by inaccurate trail markings, almost all in blatant contradiction to our map which had deficiencies all its own. How this is possible in the age of GPS is beyond me, but this has been a recurring and embarassing theme throughout the national and provincial parks we visited. Nevertheless, while demoralizing to our ego (it only said 5 km, it HAS to be over THIS ridge) we did eventually arrive, 11km later, in Little Yoho.

The campsite was nice and we met some cool people travelling from all over the place, but as the sun went down fatigue overtook us and we were out like the proverbial light. The next morning I woke up earlier than Dan and got coffee, tea, and breakfast going. After a hearty bowl of oatmeal and bananas we pulled up stakes and hiked back out the lower trail, 9km, past Laughing Falls and one of the highlights of the trip. A biiiig black bear, in the woods, no more than 20m from us. Dan heard the crack and held his hand for a stop and we stood listening and looking into the shadows until the shadows moved. I started to open my camera case and Dan looked at me sharply. "What are you doing?!" he asked. "Getting my camera," I impertinently whispered back. It was a waste of time perhaps, but it could have also been an excellent shot. The bear inched towards us and we backed away. It ventured further and we took our leave. But at last, in the middle of the forest, no roads in sight, and we had seen a wild bear. Yoho had delivered what every other park (aside from Jasper, which compromised with a cub near the roadside) failed to deliver.

From Yoho, we stopped at our old campground in Lake Louise for a quick shower then drove up to Banff, picked up a few groceries for today and tomorrow, and set up our camp, unfortunately, at the camp far out of town. It was huge and it was absolutely empty. We basically had 1500 campsites to ourselves. Or at least at first. We did get some neighbours, including a creepy old man with a van that looked like it might have been an accessory to various crimes over the years. Did I consider sleeping with a knife? Yes. But we slept and awoke alive as you may have guessed, with nary a blood-curdling scream the whole night. It was now August 30, the last day. In fact, I was flying home that evening at 9 PM. So we had a pretty relaxed last day. We walked to, and up, Sundance Canyon which was more of a stroll than a hike. And we enjoyed the end-of-summer warmth by relaxing alongside a nice and quiet lake (the name of which I don't remember) while in the car, Dan's computers burnt my photos onto DVDs.

Returning to the city was mostly a relief. It had been a great two weeks, we'd gotten a lot of exercise, seen a lot of beautiful places in Canada, and lived a pretty simple life. It was a great time. But I was happy to be back to civilization, to know that I would be sleeping indoors for the first time in two weeks, with all the comforts of home. As great as it was, we kept up a pretty hectic pace and I was ready for a little sedentary activity. Dan and I went for some pasta at a restaurant near the airport and said our farewells. He was off to the border for Glacier National Park, and I was on a plane for Saskatoon. That is, after a little time in the Chinook Lounge enjoying the sunset, a bag of chips, and the better part of a bottle of wine. Night fell, and outside the garish orange light of the city a vast wilderness awaited.

It was nice to be home. Sept 1 was my birthday and I had a few quiet drinks with some friends after going out to dinner with the family. Sept 3, Franz Ferdinand was in town, and I attended with John, Leona, Kirk, Darren, and Larissa, forced to sell my last two tickets because I don't have enough friends with good taste in music. Too bad, because it was amazing. Such a great show! But ridiculously hot, standing outside after when it was still 25 Celsius, the open doors felt literally like an oven, people escaping drenched in sweat. Larissa soon after left for Mexico again, to work in a resort and probably more importantly visit Julio. And the rest of September and October disappeared in a blur as I prepared for the next big trip: half a year in Central and South America. Leaving October 28.

Yoho and Banff Photos

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