Monthly Archives: September 2017
Ferry from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy
The trip on the ferry down the Inside Passage to Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island is going to be a lengthy day on the water. We board the Northern Explorer in Prince Rupert at 6 am for a 6.45 am sail off and are due in Port Hardy at 10 pm, as it turns out we end up being an hour late and don’t get there till 11 pm. It takes another hour to disembark, collect luggage and get to the hotel. Breakfast, lunch and dinner aboard. We have one stop along the way that takes about an hour.
We have had a pleasant day in Prince Rupert wandering around and also enjoyed some Pacific cod fish n chips at the Breakers Pub overlooking the marina area. Port Rupert is a container terminal and is a general export facility to China and Asia. It is actually closer to these markets than Vancouver and Seattle and therefore has a cost advantage.
As we set off it is a cloudy day and the coastal mountains are shrouded in a smoky haze, the islands seaward are clearer. The one dominant feature of the journey is the trees. They cover the steeply rising land on either side of the passage. We pass these trees at about 20 knots for around 400 km. It’s a lot of trees to pass by.
The passage is a waterway for fisherman as well and we see many and varied vessels. At our stop off at Klemtu, a little over half way down the passage, there is a resident whale performing as the vessel is docked.
We see more of these majestic creatures as we move further south. There are a number of red and white light house complexes marking key points along the route.
There is not a lot more to say. The time passes relatively quickly but after the sun sets around 8 pm things start to drag a bit as we start to count down the km to Port Hardy and bed, at the Pioneer Motel. As we are to find out the Pioneer Motel is aptly named.
On the train again
After 10 days in the Rockies we are heading back to the coast on Via Rail Canada’s ramble through northern British Columbia. This is a day and half rail trip to Prince Rupert on the coast, with an overnight stop at Prince George where we all get off the train and head for overnight accommodation. Coming into Jasper to the train station from our cabin there is a whole lot of commotion beside the road. Cars are stopped all over the place in order to view a herd of elks (?), they are females and young ones it seems……….males have antlers, lying in the middle of the river on a gravel bank. Interesting location for a herd of elks to lie around!
Prince Rupert lies just south of the Alaskan border. Part of this route takes us through what National Geographic has labelled one of its 10 great train trips. It is a remote part of the country but the Trans Canada Hwy follows us along the way that was hacked out of the mountains by the railway builders in the early 1900s. We go past Mt Robson, cloud covered, and at 12,972 ft Canada’s highest peak. Many lakes and streams are passed by. We also see our first black bear in the wild, a brief glimpse as the train scoots by. A little later Allthego saw another one but was too slow with the camera, or the train was too fast!
Our stop over in Prince George was brief, just enough time to go to bed and then get up to get back on the train the next morning for breakfast as we headed off to Prince Rupert. While waiting to board the train one of the local First Nations peoples explained the meaning of some of his artwork on display in the Information Centre attached to the station. It turns out that he had been locked up for a few years and had found new meaning in his life whilst inside and was now working at trying to reconnect his people to their traditions as well as live in the ‘new’ world. A story we hear all to much of in Australia with our indigenous people.
We have a couple of nights in Prince Rupert before boarding the BC Ferries ferry that will take us down the southern part of the Inland Passage to Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
I can see clearly now the rain, oops smoke, has gone!
We awoke on our last day in Jasper to a valley full of mist and fog, couldn’t see any smoke. About 10 am the mist and fog had lifted and we had a relatively clear sky and the smoke had almost all gone. So we were off down to the Columbia Icefield to do the Athabasca Glacier Adventure and the Sky Walk. Homealone had already decided to pass the Skywalk opportunity. It is about an hour and half down the road, but we stopped here and there for some clearer pictures of the mountains and the valleys. There are a lot of mountains and valleys and as a result a lot of pictures as well.
We arrived at the Icefields Centre around 12.30pm and found out we had to wait about 2 hours to get a slot on the tour, it was going to be long day as the tours went for around 2.5 hours. So Allthego had an expensive lunch of a very average semi warm burger and chips, Homealone had some luke warm soup and some of the chips. We then watched a documentary type film on the mountains. It was an arty thing. As a young boy this chap finds a small rock on a mountain walk, carries it with him for years and then as a 20s something on a snow shoe hike across a glacier it falls out of his pocket into a crevasse, then many years later as an old bloke he is walking around the mountains and finds the rock again. He puts it in a stream for someone else to find………………great scenery …………a bit mystical…..there was a message to it all I suppose.
The film filled in some time and we set off in the big troop carrier up the side of the Athabasca Glacier, then climbed up a steep track over the side moraine and then down onto the glacier. There was a grader on the ice keeping a track clear for us as we progressed towards the centre. There were about 6 of these big buses, they hold about 50 people. So there were about 300 people on the ice in the roped off area. Homealone had joggers on so she was slipping around a bit on the ice, Allthego’s hiking boots gave a bit more grip but care was still required. An Indian chap in sandals kindly loaned his walking stick for balance. There were a lot of selfie takers in action all jockeying for positions.
You didn’t really see much of the features of the glacier so it was like going for a short walk on a big ice block. The glacier has been retreating since the late 1800s at about 30 m a year, there are various pictures around to prove this. The glacier I think is about 3 km long (will stand to be corrected and will check) so at the current rate it will be gone in about 100 years and probably not impressive in 50. But it has been coming and going periodically over the last 10,000 years or so. Interesting experience being actually on a glacier, but Allthego has been on a bit of hard packed slippery snow before. The Icefields Centre also runs small party trips on the glacier looking at the features to be found there, crevasses, fissures and so on. That would be different.
After this we headed off to the Skywalk. This is one of those high up places hanging over a deep gorge. The Sunwapta River is about 1000 ft below. Now this is selflie taker paradise! Allthego had no trouble getting one of the guides to take a few pictures of himself out on the Skywalk. Pretty good views up and down the valley. Great spot and well done! Homealone had gone back to the Icefields Centre for a cup of tea.
Allthego finished up bout 6pm on the Skywalk and we headed back to Jasper. Going through town we stopped for dinner. Readers will remember the big bull elk from the last blog. Well Allthego thought he would try some Elk meatloaf at the Jasper Brewing Company. Quite tasty with the mushroom and bacon sauce. Homealone didn’t have this and neither of us can remember what she had.
We crawled into bed at the cabin around 11pm. We leave Jasper in the morning aboard the Via Canada train for Prince Rupert out on the coast.
We stayed at Jasper for 3 days. Weather has continued to be good, however the smoke has persisted and for the first 2 days we have ‘pottered’ around the general Jasper township area. Washing duties called and we spent a pleasant hour and half in the towns laundromat. It is an advanced laundromat with structured pricing based on the size of the machines. There are $5, $6 and $7 machines and there are quite a lot of them. While waiting for the washing you can have coffee and cake at the onsite coffee shop. If you are feeling a little dirty yourself you can have a $5 shower at the onsite bathroom, the loos are free. It was quite a busy place.
Our cabin is a little over 50 km from Jasper and located just off the highway to Edmonton. It is up in the hills and looks down a tree-lined valley with mountains towering around us. If not for the smoke the views would have been great. Although the smoky hazy outlook is eerie late in the afternoon.
There are a few hot springs in the Banff/Jasper National Parks. The one at Miette, about 25 km away from our cabin claims to have the hottest flow, having to be cooled from over 50 C down to about 40 C. There are 4 pools at the complex. The real hot one, a less hot one, a cooler sort of one and real cold one. The waters, not unlike all these sort of springs, lay claim to regenerative powers. Allthego had a plunge in the real hot one. It was full of all sorts, including some real hot ones, some less hot ones, some cool ones and a lot of cold ones. After walking around in the hot pond for a while he tried his toe in the real cold one, it was real cold and there was no one in it. One lad did plunge in but got out quick. As for the regenerative powers, other than for looking a bit pink, Allthego noticed no difference in himself from/after the experience.
On the way back from Miette we looked closely along the roadway for wild life having been told that this could be a good area to spot bear. None was sighted. BUT near the junction with the main road there was a big bull elk just grazing away seemingly oblivious to all the stopped cars and onlookers . It was almost as though the Trading Post people, where we had stopped to buy some milk, had him tied up behind their sheds and had brought him out for show in the afternoon. A few intrepid photographers got up quite close but stepped back quickly when the big fellow started coming their way.
In the Jasper township itself there are the usual array of shops of all types, but we have never seen a Grandma shop before. It was full of Grandma stuff. There is a big old Mountain class steam engine on display near the railway station. Built in 1923 it has 6 foot 1 inch drive wheels, carries 10,000 galls of water and 17 ton of coal. It was used on the railway to Jasper. A big beast!
In wandering around the Jasper lakes and gardens we have noticed a thorny plant with small roundish red fruits. They are the Alberta Rose, but we had not seen any flowers; being past the flowering season it seems. But outside the railway station, of all places, we spotted 2 pink flowers….late season bloomer! What a special looking flower display these would make.
Our last day in Jasper draws near and we hope for the smoke to clear so that we can get back down the Icefields Parkway to the Columbia Icefield.
Smoke gets in your eyes
We have moved on a fair bit in our travels and are now at Prince Rupert on the British Columbia coast. Blogging has been a bit slack. This is mainly because our stay in Jasper was in a cabin set up about 50 km out-of-town and the internet unreliable, we have also had some long days out and about. So Allthego has got to get a move on and catch up with the story.
On our last day in Lake Louise we took off up the Icefields Parkway to see some of the lakes just north of the town. On leaving it was noticeable that there had been a considerable increase in the smoke blowing across from British Columbia. The wind seems to have changed direction. The mountains were shrouded in it and the sky was a very pale blue. So in our travel up the road we decided to ‘look down’ and not ‘look up’. We went as far as Lake Peyto which, despite the smoky air, was still a spectacular view and Lake Bow was a pretty spot to stop for lunch beside the water.
We turned around here and returned to Lake Louise. The Lake put on an eerie look early in the evening with sun setting behind the mountain ridge line and shining through the smoky air. Back at the hotel the sun was a red ball sinking behind the mountains.
The next morning we left Lake Louise to move on to Jasper, 230 km up the Icefields Parkway. We passed by some of the sights of the day before, the smoke was considerably thicker. We had intended to stop at the Columbia Icefield, about half way to Jasper, to do the tour of the Athabasca Glacier and then wander out on the Glacier Skywalk. Because of the smoke situation we decided against this and hoped for a clear day while at Jasper so we could come back to it.
Our wildlife sightings took a quantum leap with the appearance of some Mountain Goats beside the road. Still no bears, elks or moose. The goats though put on a good show, like the deer a few days before they seemed to enjoy the gravel beside the road.
Closer to Jasper we stopped by the Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls. Quite spectacular flows of waters through rocky canyons. At the Athabasca Falls it seems that every couple of years someone falls over and gets washed away, no hope. There are a number of plaques on seats around the place recording their passing. Not places for brinksmanship.
We finally reached our cabin accommodation late in the evening and had dinner on the restaurant balcony, gazing into a smoky valley below.
We have left Banff and are now at Lake Louise. This is not far up the road and we chose to follow the Bow Valley Parkway, rather than the main drag. This took us past the Vermilion lakes again and up along the valley beside the train line.
Just south of Lake Louise is Morant’s Curve, a famous photo stop. Trains come around a long sweeping curve beside the Bow River, framed by the mountains behind. We pulled up here and selected a spot for the photo (got to edit out that car and foreground in due course!), only problem was…… would a train arrive and when. A couple of intrepid photographers had beat us to the best position and had their tripod and camera set up. They had been waiting there for 3 hours. Within minutes of Allthego taking up position a train could be heard approaching. The excitement was intense. Around the bend it came, a big freight train. Click, click, click….you could go on for ever. Homealone counted 140 carriages. The last carriage went past and off we went.
Lake Louise was not far off and we arrived around lunchtime. People everywhere. Lake Louise Village is about 25 minutes away from the lake. Other than for the famous old Fairmont Hotel (the one that is in all the pictures) beside the lake there is no other accommodation there. It is all down the road and in the Village. The traffic is a nightmare getting to the Lake.
We settled into our room down in the Village and late in the afternoon headed for Moraine Lake. Moraine Lake is about 16 k from Lake Louise and the traffic is also a nightmare. The park people block the road and only let cars through as cars come out, but after about 4 in the afternoon you can get in fairly easily. It is a wonderful place and you here people say it is actually better than Lake Louise. It is certainly less developed than Lake Louise.
The next morning we went to Lake Louise, it was a Monday so the traffic was a little thinner. Well, what a special place. People everywhere, all taking selfies again. The weather was great, the sky relatively clear of smoke.
The water at Moraine Lake tends to stay blue most of the year whereas at Lake Louise it is now that milky green colour (other times of the year it tends to blue), apparently this is because there is more active glacial action at Louise. The glaciers above the lake grind up the rock into a flour like consistency, this gives rise to the milkiness……….
We had lunch on the balcony at the Fairmont, a burger for Allthego and a steak sandwich for Homealone. A great view.
As to which lake is the best………….all the people, and there were hundreds, crowding around the edge at Lake Louise tended to take away the spectacle of the view. So Allthego votes for Moraine Lake.
Back to the hotel for dinner after a short stop at the old Lake Louise Railway Station. There are no train services here anymore, the freight trains still pass by, and the station has been turned into a restaurant. We plan to eat here one night.