My “gap year” as it’s called has sadly come to an end – 360 days away and once again I’m back home. For both good and bad.
It’s strange being back for sure, in one way it’s great seeing family and friends again but it’s also so much more boring. After being home for two weeks I’ve enjoyed relaxing in a way that’s not possible when you’re on the road, and I love watching the cricket again.
The last three weeks of my trip I spent with Mum who flew halfway across the world to see me. It really was such a perfect way to conclude my time away. I am thrilled that I got to act as tour guide and show her around the Canadian Rockies for two weeks and then another few days in Hawaii.
I certainly got her straight into adventurous trips…we jumped in a freezing cold lake, crawled into a cave, climbed a couple of mountains, rowed a boat, and did lots of hikes – even encountering a couple of moose.
It’s fantastic that we both share a strong appreciation of nature and she got to discover how beautiful mountains actually can be.
Mum climbed her first mountain, a solid eight hour day
As Hawaii is directly over the flight path home we thought why not stop over for a few days. So we did. We attempted Hawaii’s most famous hike – the Kalalau Trail which is on the north side of the island of Kauai. It follows the rugged Na Pali coastline which made for hard work going up and down, and through slippery mud.
We made it to the first camp after 5 hours which was 10km down the trail – sunset put an end to any plans of pushing on to the beach, another 6km away. Mum was happy about that!
Following that hike we didn’t have much time for anything other than a quick swim in the crystal clear Hawaiian waters and before we knew it we were flying home.
Now that my big trip is over my posts will become a little more sporadic. Whenever there’s an adventurous trip though, you know it will be told on here. My next big trip in mind is cycling the length of New Zealand, Mahalo!
At long last I’ve finally seen the northern lights!
Not just a dim green glow on the horizon (which I don’t count), but the no holds barred version – the full blown overhead real deal. Amazing! The green and red-ish lights flashed across the sky in an unpremeditated manner of madness. There was no pattern to them.
Now the challenge is to try and describe them accurately in words to someone who has never seen them. And that’s a challenge!
Even seeing a photo doesn’t portray them in their right light (excuse the pun). Generally an aurora photo is captured with a 20 to 40 second exposure, and so the colours come across as bold, bright and vibrant.
Seeing all those photos tricked my mind to expect that same level of vibrance, but they just weren’t (at least not this time). If they weren’t moving they would have honestly just looked like wispy, unassuming grey clouds with the faintest touch of green.
And that’s exactly what they did look like when I first spotted the faintest green “clouds” on the horizon.
But boy oh boy when they move they move!
Appearing in the east sky, beams of faded green and red light proceeded to shoot across the sky from random places like a round of bullets. Each shot of light just a little different to the last. Each one swaying and wiggling just a little different to the last.
At one point a battle ensued between red and green – the battlefield encircled by a ring of clouds. It was Harry vs Voldemort. The lights began shooting into each other. It was surreal. Unbelievable how perfect that scene appeared and so quickly disappeared. Sorry to say I can’t tell you who won.
All in all we watched active lights for at least a couple of hours, it was an incredible experience and I’m so grateful I did get to see them at last. Now I can go home satisfied.
It’s now the start of October and a fluffy blanket of snow has tucked the mountain peaks to bed for the looming long and cold winter. The summer crowds are long gone and daily highs are now hovering around 10 degrees.
It’s the perfect time to sit back with a cuppa tea and reflect on what was one busy, adventurous and fulfilling couple of months. Join me in a recollection of events.
When I arrived back in Jasper in late July I wrote down a list of ten trips I wanted to do before summer was out, and blow me down I did them all!
With all my trips, and other trips going on in the meantime, there was always more to plan, organise or just jump aboard and go.
Given I was simultaneously working full time at the hostel there was no time to rest on a day off. My housemate and I pushed each other to do more and more, and on the rare occasion we found ourselves inside on a nice day we certainly heard about it from the other! It was great motivation and I can look back proud at everything I got done.
My Summer To Do List (in order of completion)
Beat Donny’s time of 1:39 up Whistlers Mountain. Check Aug 1 with 1:35.
This trip was just awesome! Great people, great scenery, and so many laughs. We had “paradise to ourselves” for two straight days. Top three trip of summer for sure along with Berg Lake and Mt Temple.
It sounds like everything went as planned right? Don’t be fooled though, it didn’t start out as well as it finished. There were problems. Like waking up…
A big night out for birthday celebrations the night before didn’t help our cause. We could forget “let’s be paddling by 10am”. Just pretend that was never said – we only began paddling at 12:20pm. We didn’t know if we were going to make it! We still had 22 long kilometres ahead of us to get to Coronet campground.
The first couple of hours didn’t get much better either even though our spirits were sky high. We had our first break only a few hundred metres from the start, we were battling into a headwind, and at our first change over break Joel discovered his only jacket was dripping wet. Of course he left his other jacket at home and only had packed a sleeping bag and some food into his huge backpack.
Despite the less than perfect situation we were all as happy as kids in a candy store. Joking about how crazy we were going on a canoe trip while it’s snowing and daily highs of just 5 to 7 degrees. We wanted to check where we were on the map but of course we didn’t know where the map was (when I got home I found it in my pocket).
We knew we had to do two things though. Keep paddling and most importantly keep this canoe the right way up. Capsizing here is no joke. So we did our best to keep near the shoreline out of the way of the tour boats’ wake. Jackie was the expert on this front, us Aussies need serious practice at keeping a canoe straight!
Thankfully the headwind disappeared after the first break and paddling became a soothing and relaxing motion. The sun even came out for a while and everything was just perfect. The mountains were beckoning in the distance, and the blue waters extended as far as the eye could see.
There were a few moments where it looked like the lake just ended, even though we knew it didn’t. It reminded me of how your eyes play tricks with your mind when climbing a mountain. It looks like the summit is just ahead until you get there and find it was just a false one.
Because of the “ahem” map issue, we only found out where we were when we stumbled upon Spirit Island. Somehow we completely missed our bail out option of Fishermans Bay campground, but it was all good. We were going to make it!
We knew the world famous Spirit Island was 15km in so with another two hours of paddling to go we had time to burn baby. A break on the island was in order.
On a side note the reason Spirit Island is famous is because an amateur photographer entered the image into a photo contest, and won first prize, upon which the photo was enlarged to billboard size and displayed in Grand Central Station, New York for a number of years.
Another interesting note is that the island is only an actual “island” for a few weeks of the year when the glacial waters melt and fill the lake. The rest of the time it’s still connected to the land, as you can see above.
From Spirit Island to the end of the lake the mountains loomed all around us. It was a sight to behold and Joel and I both agreed that these landscapes rival the Berg Lake region for sheer dramatic scenery.
We made camp just before dark and enjoyed a fire and warm pasta, which never ceases to do the trick after a long day. Once again, there was no one else around and upon signing the book we proposed the idea “will we be the last ones to camp here in 2013?” Joel volunteered to come back next year to confirm or deny our hopeful suspicions…
The next day we unfortunately had to leave this place and head for home. The weather was cloudier, colder, and snowier today, but not to worry. The “Earlybirds” as we ironically called ourselves can handle any deadline.
Needless to say we got underway later than planned and pulled away at 11am. This time only 2 hours behind schedule – we’re improving!
A few hours of paddling and the weather took a bit of turn. The waves picked up beyond what’s comfortable in a canoe, which lets face it isn’t much, so we pulled ashore and waited it out. Jackie amazingly found comfort sleeping on a tree trunk! We really connected with nature on this trip that’s for sure.
Strangely after this point the waters were almost as flat as a pancake. Brilliant paddling even if the temperature plummeted from a balmy 5 degrees down to a biting 2.8 degrees. Then it started snowing even more. All layers of clothing on!
With one last break and the end in sight we jumped in the canoe for the last time. Within an hour and a half we were back at the dock. Mission complete. Against all odds we had made it.
For all of us it was our first canoe trip. 44km in 15 hours of paddling in less than perfect conditions.
What a brilliant trip team. Thanks for the memories. And remember even if everyone says “you know there’s snow at Maligne Lake don’t you?” it doesn’t mean it’s not worth it!
I’m in my tent huddled in my sleeping bag keeping warm. It’s drizzling as it has been all day. Today I started hiking from Portal Creek trailhead at 9am and arrived at Maccarib camp at 2:45pm, 19km in total. First 9km to Portal Creek campground was through a valley covered by many trees, and beyond 9km was through wide open meadows where I was expecting to see a Grizzly at any moment.
Trail was really muddy and in desperate need of repair. Overall not too big a day. Past a handful of people. Awesome green, yellow and red foliage all around, winter is just around the corner! Cooked up noodles and made a hot cup of tea already, very satisfying. Then since it was raining hoisted my food up the bear pole and crashed. Hope the rain eases so I can go down to the lake and scope out positions for sunrise photos when first light hits the “wall” that is the Ramparts. Excited to get wicked photos. Fingers crossed!
18th Sep – 5am
It’s early and cold but I’m wide awake once again tucked in my sleeping bag. Yesterday wasn’t an enormous day but it was enough to do me in early. I got up at 5:30am and walked half an hour to the lake shore. Turned out I was well and truly early enough since the first rays only hit the mountain tops after 7.
As it usually happens my best photo was unplanned as I was walking back to camp.
After breakfast and packing up I left Maccarib at 11:30am and walked back down the muddy, horse beaten path 9km to Surprise Point. On the way I got lucky seeing a rare species. I turned to my right and woah – two woodland caribou 40m away staring at me.
I just stayed still and watched them for 15 minutes. One even used it’s antlers to tear the branches off a tree. I’m not sure why as it left all the branches on the ground (since found out it might be to remove the fur off it’s antlers to look more attractive). I arrived to the awesome location of Surprise Point at 2:30 and by 5 took a lay down which turned out to be bed for the night. I’ll try for better sunrise photos today, then begin the 17km back to the real world.
19 Sep – 11pm
The sunrise never prevailed through the clouds that next morning unfortunately, but good news is it didn’t rain on me. I gunned it out of there at 8am to get to work by 4pm and ended up doing the 17km in just shy of five hours. 3.5km/h with a heavy pack is solid pace. When I reconnected to the main trail (Astoria River trail) I was so grateful to finally be out of the mud, and hopping over rocks and logs. For a while there I was following some fresh animal tracks but didn’t see any this time.
So how did the Tonquin compare to other similar trips in the area? Straight up Berg Lake and The Skyline are both superior in my opinion.
For me the Tonquin was hyped up to be a magical “Garden of the Gods” experience, but it wasn’t. Yes, the Ramparts are an incredible sight and I know the weather wasn’t perfect (if I was there a few days earlier it would have been 10 degrees warmer) but the fact is the trails are so beat into the ground which just takes up too much focus to avoid sinking ankle deep every step. Your eyes are spending too much time on the ground instead of marvelling at the surroundings.
And how do you compensate for this? You can’t go earlier in the season before the horses have eaten the trail apart because you’ll get eaten alive by mosquitoes and flies. In June and July avoid the Tonquin at all costs! Those marshlands are a mosquito breeding ground heaven.
Am I missing something here? Was this year just particularly bad or is the trail condition just part of the deal? Maybe a March backcountry ski trip is the way to go.
In light of me crossing another two mountains off my list on the 9th and 10th of September it got me thinking about why people climb mountains…
Now I’m not going to try and put such a vast topic into my own words just yet, but I have found some excellent quotes that align with me.
These first three come from the book “Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies” by Kathy and Craig Copeland.
“Though unaware of it, human beings exist on the thin seam of extremes: earth, and atmosphere. Only on a mountaintop does this dawn on us. Only then does it exhilarate us. Our reality doesn’t shift when we climb a mountain, but our perspective does. So be it. If that’s what it takes to open our eyes, let’s climb. But for mere hikers to climb it can’t be just any mountain. The climbing must be merely ascending, not dangling from ropes. And the mountain should be close enough to much bigger mountains, so we can revel in the rewards of climbing without assuming it’s risks. (Pathetic, but true.)” p129
“The desire to explore is bred in the bone. Hiking fulfills that desire for many of us.” p149
“To promote peace, to advance social justice, to foster more soulful living, we need new ideas. But we won’t find them by hunkering longer at the office, behind the newspaper, or in front of the TV. To change the world, we must join it. We must get outdoors where we can see, hear, feel what’s happening around us. The answer is to walk. It can shift your awareness to the here and now. It’s the optimal pace for allowing your senses to appreciate your surroundings. And, by emulating the rhythm of your beating heart, it balances and centers you, inducing clarity and focus. Walking, anywhere, will open you to what really matters.” p152
“One cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: what is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” Rene Daumal
“What is hard to endure is sweet to remember” Unknown
So with those deep thoughts I’d like to leave you with a bit of a photo diary of the last couple of days…
“The Skyline Trail” in Jasper is a premier backpacking trip. Arguably the best trail in the Canadian Rockies! But who needs to backpack it over two, three or four days when you can do it in just one!
It was a huge day of 44km but in hindsight it was easier than I had anticipated. My conditioning for big days is peaking thanks to lots of practice over the last few months.
Our group of four hiked it in the more common south to north direction starting at Maligne Lake. This way saved 500m of climbing. We made the distance in 14 hours, 7am to 9pm, sunrise to sunset, what a day!
It never felt like we were rushed for time either. We stopped to marvel at the landscapes often and took plenty of photos.
This spectacular trail even reminded me of trekking in Iceland by the way the scenery just kept changing constantly.
We even deviated off-trail for four hours while we scrambled up Mt Tekarra which proved more difficult than expected but so worth it.
Tekarra was a mountain that beat me back in early August when I gave it a shot but didn’t make it, time and weather stood in my way. So this was a day of redemption for me as well.
So far September has provided nothing but brilliant weather. The clouds that typified August just disappeared as soon as the 1st of the month ticked over. Let’s hope this weather lingers. It’s perfect!!!
The colours of fall are starting to pop up all around too – the greens of summer morphing into bold yellows, oranges and reds. Awesome. My first “real” autumn is underway.
These photos show snapshots of the day from beginning to end.
Mount Temple is a big sucker, it stands mighty at 3544m and dominates the Lake Louise skyline. In fact it’s the 9th tallest in the Canadian Rockies, so climbing it was a very rewarding feat but certainly not without it’s challenges.
What’s bewildering and yet enticing is how the biggest mountain is actually one of the easiest to summit! It’s sheer cliffs make it look an impossible endeavor but nature worked it’s magic and hidden behind the south west ridge is a relatively easy scramble route.
So with this challenge in mind four of us set off out of Jasper for a couple of days in the hills of Lake Louise. There was Arne (Arn-ee) from Spain, Donny in his homeland Canada, Jakob (Yak-ob) from Czech Republic and Aussie me.
That afternoon before the next day’s climb we “warmed up” around the shores of Lake Louise with the 7km one way Plain of Six Glaciers hike. Thankfully by 5pm most of the 4000 visitors per day were gone.
The last kilometre to the viewpoint was wicked. Glaciers galore and within stones throw of Mt Lefroy and Mt Victoria.
Some carbs before bed, alarm set to 5am and we were set to go bag a peak the next day. Or so we hoped…
Our hearts sank the next morning as we sat around in darkness looking at a sky full of grey clouds and mountains swiped from view.
The weather forecast issued last night was no joke as it tends to be in the mountains…showers.
Donny and I just about called Temple out of the equation to Arne’s extreme dismay but after a pancake breakie and news of a better forecast we agreed to do the hike to Sentinel Pass anyway and see what’s up from there.
8:45am we hit the trailhead at a beautiful cloud covered Moraine Lake. The hike to Sentinel Pass through Larch Valley is premier but it also surprised me how short it was, around 6km and 700m vertical.
There was debate over which one was Temple, until it came into full view and all doubt was dashed.
The word from Banff National Park was there were five grizzly bears in the area, which is the reason they had a minimum group size of four law in place. We didn’t see any of them unfortunately.
Upon reaching Sentinel Pass we had sun and blue skies! It felt amazing and we decided to push on and be willing to turn back at any time if things changed. From here it’s still 2.5km and 900m vertical to the top.
The next incline was straightforward. Follow the trail, stay close, and don’t kick rocks down the mountain. Thanks to Arne we had the route description in hand, and that proved really handy – even if Arne’s rock kicking prowess wasn’t so helpful.
The biggest danger on this mountain is rockfall and yet even knowing that I was surprised at just how loose the ground is. You need to be extra careful and you’d be crazy not to wear a helmet.
The crux of the mountain (hardest part) is really not too bad at all. If your good on your feet and can scramble up rocks you’ll be fine. We took a harder way up by mistake and Arne got stuck there for a bit, but with some help we got him moving again. Not before I kicked a rock down onto his helmet though – whoops.
From here the summit ridge is really close and upon reaching it the views were incredible back down over Paradise and Larch Valleys.
Standing here looking upwards it literally looked like a trail into the sky – where upon reaching the end you’d be given a set of wings to glide off the mountain ever so gracefully.
But no it was just hard heart pounding work up the steepest continuous grade of the whole route. I lost track of time but I think it took about an hour along the summit ridge.
At 3350m – ish we were engulfed in clouds and cold. Progress vertically slowed and I definitely noticed the lack of oxygen in the air, although not nearly to the extent as on Mt Blanc which spirals up to a dizzying 4810m!
Never knowing where the summit was it jumped upon us all of a sudden. We did it!
The summit flag was a welcome landmark. Even if we could only see 20m ahead and had no view we had done it. It was a new experience being engulfed by clouds. We hung around at the top for about 20 minutes before another couple joined us and by then we were feeling the chill and ready to head down.
Descending was really fast and fun sliding through the scree. My hiking pole was invaluable in helping keep balance and take some weight off the legs.
We returned back to Lake Moraine in good time at 4:30pm (total time of 7:45) where I jumped in the lake to complete my brother’s challenge set back in November.
Wooo! Chilly, refreshing and yet so satisfying. I’m sure I surprised a good amount of tourists ha.
This day presented many challenges of leadership, teamwork, and collaboration – and even despite missing out on unbelievable sunny views and the leg work involved to reach the top was not that physically demanding, Temple is one of the most rewarding mountains I’ve ever climbed.
Thanks to Arne, Donny and Jakob for making this day a day to remember.
I’m back in my second home, Jasper, and the mountains are a calling. I’ve sorted myself a job until mid October and right now summer is in full swing. There’s no time to waste! Let me explain…
Summer in the Canadian Rockies is oh so short when compared to seven months of snowy winter. Snow snow go away come again another day.
For people like me who want to walk along ridges and stand in places looking down on mountains, summer only lasts two and a half months. That’s it. Mid July until late September.
Let’s break it down. That’s 75 days. Factor in working five days a week and I’m left with 21 days off. Furthermore consider that one in three days are likely to have some form of precipitation that leaves just 14 days.
14 days of work free and snow free summer days. 14 days…
I’ve made a list of adventures for the summer and one of the big ticket items was a three day backpacking trip to Berg Lake. It’s a hidden gem behind Mount Robson – the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies by a long shot at 3954m, a whopping 3100m above the visitor centre.
Ben and I started our adventure hitch hiking from Jasper. We waited an hour which wasn’t too bad and arrived fresh at the visitor centre at midday.
Our destination was Adolphus campground, still a whopping 28km away with a heavy pack.
The 21km trail to Berg Lake is the most popular in the Rockies, so when we started out we were pleasantly surprised. We only saw a dozen others on the trail all day. We figured as it was the day after a long weekend we hit the jackpot. Ding ding ding.
The first 10km was nothing too exciting. Kinney Lake was the highlight, but pressing on and up the first part of the 800m days elevation gain we were engulfed inside the Valley of a Thousand Falls.
It’s an impressive place. A big wide valley with mountain peaks protruding in the distance and a fair few giant waterfalls cascading down the vertical walls. It reminded me of Yosemite even, and that’s saying something cause that place rocks.
The most awesome part though was witnessing a bizarre stream junction. One stream flowing with brown water and the other blue water. After intersecting there was a definite line separating the two shades for hundreds of metres.
Stretching the legs again the trail turned evil, presenting a steep grade that just spelled out lactic acid. This must have been round about kilometre 12 and over the following 3.5km we gained 450m. But it was worth it.
Up here we glimpsed a rather ferocious looking waterfall – Emperor Falls. I didn’t think too much of it until we branched off the main trail to check it out. Woahhhh!!!
The endless power in this fall was tremendous. Constant, unrelently, loud. I have to say the most impressive waterfall I’ve experienced. It is a showcase of the extreme forces of nature.
What contributed to it’s impact was we could walk right up beside where the water was crashing down. On our hike out we even braved the tame looking mist (which is actually painfully strong) and stood beneath the edge of the fall. It was like being hailed on!
We reached Berg Lake near sunset and it’s just like the postcard. Bliss.
Camping out in Canada is different than in Australia.
Over here it’s all about securing your food away from a hungry bear’s grasp and definitely not keeping food inside your tent. Unless you want an uninvited guest at night. I slept within reach of bear spray to let my mind rest easy.
We cooked our three course meal of pasta, pasta, and rice well away from our tents and hoisted our food bag up a tree. Even at this height it’s a bit low but it’s the best we could do.
It’s off putting to think a mighty bear might be roaming around me while I sleep but I was fine. Slept great after such an exhausting eight hour grind.
The second day we lightened our loads and hiked up another 800m higher and 25km round trip to Snowbird pass. It was really worth it.
This trail takes you right beside Robson glacier. It’s so close and gave me such an appreciation of the size of it, especially when compared to the tiny dots that were people.
On top of that you are presented with a 180 degree view of the Reef icefield upon reaching Snowbird Pass. It’s a great tough day hike, but take note that it’s only open from 1 July onwards.
The last day we spent hiking back out with a good dose of time allocated to swimming in Berg Lake and Emperor Falls. We were so so grateful that the sun appeared after we awoke to mist.
There was no way I was jumping in a biting cold Berg Lake with the sun hiding, or the Falls for that matter.
I said to Ben as we were pacing along the shore feeling refreshed after our swim, “This is just how hiking in the Canadian Rockies looks in guidebooks”.
The sun was out, the glaciers shining, and the water was vivid.
There’s no doubt this is a premier trail and it’s popular for a reason. It presents the most glaciers I’ve seen in such close proximity, plus blue lakes, waterfalls, tall mountains and provides plenty of camping space. Just try to go mid week.
WahhhhhhhhHHH SHOOOOMMM pop pop pop pop pop rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr wahhhhh wahhhhhhhHHH mmmmmmmmmm
The insanely loud noise of an F1 car is impossible to recreate in words but that’s my best attempt at imitating what it sounds like being passed by a 300km/h moving object and braking down to 70km/h in just 100 metres, rounding the hairpin and accelerating back up to 240km/h before it’s whining disappears behind me again.
I’ve watched F1 for the last couple of seasons so it was fantastic to actually be here and experience the sights and sounds for real this time. The sounds are so loud in fact that even if you’re 10 km away you can still hear when the F1 cars are on track!
These so called “cars” have more similarities to a fighter jet than a road car. Some numbers just blow your mind…like 0-160km/h and back to 0 in less than 5 seconds and 0-300km/h in 9 seconds.
Coming to Montreal was also my first venture into a city where English is not the first language. It was strange catching a bus and seeing every ad in French, and listening to everyone around speaking French, but also fun to pick up more and more French words at time goes on.
Bonjour – hello, Merci – thankyou, Seel vu play – please, Oui – yes, Non – no, Bon appetite – enjoy your meal, Ouvert – open, Ferme – closed.
I stayed with a local Montreal couple, Marie and Charles, and they took me on a really awesome tour of the historical Old Port area. Charles is a history teacher and his knowledge is amazing.
Montreal was founded in 1642, a few decades after Toronto. I saw the first bank in Canada, the first building in Montreal, and Victorian, French and British styles of buildings side by side.