Following the craziness of Canada Day in Banff, I spent the last 2 weekends getting away from the crowds with some great friends. Firstly down in Invermere, we went biking and swimming in lakes for a friend’s birthday. These lakes are normally bracing to say the least, but with the warm weather we’ve enjoyed lately it’s been more like having your own personal alpine pool to play in!
This weekend I met a friend currently living in Edmonton half way in Jasper. We went backpacking in the Tonquin Valley which is a 43km hike of stunning vistas in wide alpine valleys, with a camp stop overnight at Amethyst Lake. Backpacking has to be up there with one of my favourite activities in Canada, hauling all your gear (tent, sleeping stuff, stove, food, clothes etc) out into the wilderness away from cell service, wifi, 3G, really makes you slow down and take in your surroundings. You notice the birds singing, the flowers and fauna all around you, the loons out on the lake, the incessant buzzing of mosquitos looking for their next meal (me, usually)… But seriously how many people have the opportunity to unplug and recharge in such an incredible landscape?!
This spurs me to my next 6 “things I love about Canada”, up to 12 of my #150for150…
7 – JASPER
Situated 3 hours North of it’s far busier National Park sister town of Banff, the town of Jasper is nestled in a wide open valley with warm mountain peaks soaring high on either side. The railway also runs through this town, so on Saturdays in the summer the town is teeming with visitors after they disembark from their Rocky Mountaineer tour from Vancouver. Even with this influx, the town never feels the same level of busy that Banff is reaching at it’s peak (end of June – end of September).
Streets lines with boutiques and independent cafes and restaurants, bike shops on every corner in the summer which become ski shops on every corner in the winter. Jasper to me feels like what Banff must have been like 10-15 years ago. It retains this more relaxed feel as it’s just that much further away from international hubs than Banff is. The drive to get there up the Highway 93 North has to be one of my all time favourite drives.
8 – Highway 93 North
Known as the Icefields Parkway, every corner and hill crest greets you with another jaw dropping vista of hanging glaciers, interwoven braided river valleys and flora and fauna in every direction. Half way between Banff and Jasper sits the Glacier Discovery Centre, an oasis of civilization in an otherwise wild and deserted landscape. From this discovery centre you can take one of the Brewster-run Ice Explorers right up onto the surface of the glacier.
Hands down one of the best ways to get out and experience the Canadian Wilderness is to take yourself off with a backpack, a good map, good friends, good knowledge (and a guide!) and immerse yourself in the mountains.
When there are no phone calls coming in, no text messages, facebook/whatsapp/viber notifications coming in, emails to write, meetings to attend, social gatherings to get to, when it’s just you and your friends and the pace that you choose to go, that’s when you truly relax and unwind.
Breathing nothing but mountain air and the scent of wildflowers for two days straight, drinking (treated) water from alpine lakes, and hearing nothing but the rush of flowing rivers and birdsong, it does something wonderful to your brain. It’s being proven time and again that the best things for your health, both physical and mental, are exercise and fresh air.
We got these in abundance at the weekend and I feel GREAT!
10. Tonquin Valley
This past weekend was a true Rocky Mountain experience of a lifetime. We set off bright and early as soon as the Edith Cavell Road was open at 8:30am and hiked 22km into the middle of nowhere, to the Tonquin Valley. The majestic Rampart mountain
11. Natural Refrigeration
Sometimes when hiking, if you’re not doing too long or intense of a trip, it’s nice to lug in the extra weight of a couple of refreshing beverages to enjoy once at camp for the night. However, in the long hot days of Canadian summers, after being in a backpack for 8-10 hours said drinks are often warm and not refreshing at all. Fear not! Track down your closest glacier – fed lake or creek, secure the beverage container between a rock or similar, and allow to chill whilst you set up camp.
Voila! Nature’s Fridge.
12. Denim Pine
This phenomena was something I was actually completely oblivious to until this weekend – but it’s SO COOL!
When pine beetle get into a pine tree they lay eggs and gradually choke the tree until it dies. This plague is a huge problem in large areas of BC as they have not had the cold winters lately to kill them off. The outward signs of a pine beetle infested tree are the needles turning orange. What I didn’t realise was that as the outsides turn orange, the insides turn blue! As we hiked out from Tonquin we came across a dead zone, and strewn across the path were fragments of branches with this incredible blue wood!