Sunshine Meadows – Fall Hiking

The first time I visited a ski resort in summer was when I was about 13 and my Mum, my cousin and I went up to Coronet Peak in Queenstown, NZ for a walk. It was hot and dry and I wore a vest top and a mini skirt. (Hey, it was the 90s!) I remember the main building being open but apart from hiking there wasn’t much more to do apart from enjoy the views over Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables.The next time was Whistler Blackcomb in 2016. This time the mountain was geared up for the Summer with mountain biking trails, hiking, the Peak to Peak gondola, lots of restaurants and bars and concerts going on all the time. I admit Whistler is a much bigger resort but I think ski resorts these days offer much more in the way of Summer activities.This week Fergus, our flatmate Kurt and I visited Sunshine Meadows. After skiing all season at Sunshine Village, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to visit the ski area in the off season. It was the beginning of Fall when we visited so there was plenty of snow covering the ground but the trails were mainly snow free and we were able to enjoy the Autumn colours and warmth on the last open day of the hiking season.

Upon arrival, we bought our discounted tickets (due to having a season pass last ski season) for the shuttle bus and Standish chair from guest services. We got on the old yellow school bus along with a swarm of tourists and started up the ski out to the main village.

Travelling up the ski out in a bus made it look a lot steeper than it looks and feels when skiing down it at high speeds after a long day on the slopes. It was also a lot bumpier and at some points I was concerned the old bus would burst a tyre or stop altogether and slide back down the mountain. It was an enjoyable ride despite this and it was great to be up high and look down onto the Black Middle and Lower Canyon runs and of course see the waterfalls and mountain streams, without snow cover.

We hopped on Standish chair which felt a bit odd without skis strapped to our feet but it was great to be heading up the familiar slope again, seeing the ski area to the left of us and the mountain ranges in front of us stretching out as far as the eye could see. It was a tad chilly going up but once at the top the wind died down as we headed out towards the Standish Viewing Deck. This is a large wooden deck situated on the ridge about 400 metres from the top of the Standish chair, the view from the deck is just incredible. You lookout over the whole of Sunshine Meadows, including Rock Isle, Laryx and Grizzly lakes, Simpson River Valley, various mountain ranges and peaks including the impressive Monarch and famous Mount Assiniboine. To the left, the Angel and Divide chairs rise up Lookout mountain with their empty chairs dangling, waiting for the Winter crowds. Its just breathtaking.We quickly started to descend the steep and slippery trail down to Twin Cairns Junction to avoid the crowds, most tourists are not used to walking in snow and we were just as bad, Fergus and Kurt wore Vans, not so good in the snow, I had my North Face Hiking boots on but still managed to slip over onto my knees at one point but that’s just incoordination on my part I think. The view over the Valleys below The Monarch were very autumnal indeed, the oranges and yellows of the Larch trees and the dark green of the evergreens contrasted with the bright white snow covering the ground.We arrived at Rock Isle Junction and carried onto the Grizzly/Laryx Loop trail. En route we passed the beautiful Rock Isle Lake, the most well known and largest Lake at Sunshine Meadows. The lake gets its name from the rocky island in the centre of it where a few trees call home. Behind the Lake, Lookout mountain towered above the meadows and you could clearly see the Divide chair and most of the runs coming off it. They looked much steeper from way down in the valley. Some of the mountain was covered in snow but it was patchy and hard to imaging opening day is only a month and a half away.We carried on down the hill to Grizzly Lake where we were happy to find a few hikers enjoying their lunch. We hadn’t seen anyone for a while and arriving at a lake named after the most feared animal in the Rockies we were a little relieved to see people. Grizzly lake was a different colour than Rock Isle. Rock Isle is bluer and is more out in the open whereas Grizzly is quite sheltered by steep banks and forest. On the far side and head of the lake you could see where the recent forest fires had burnt away the trees in huge areas. The Verdant Creek fire had come very close to the ski resort and during the Summer the lodge was used as a base for the firefighters who were working on fighting the huge fire.Continuing past the lake the trail rose up onto a cliff face and we came upon Simpson Viewpoint. This lookout was probable the highlight of the day for me, the huge Simpson River Valley spreads out before you far into the distance, the different shades of greens in the hills, cliffs and mountains make the valley look even deeper and I was sure I could see all the way to Radium. The most interesting yet sad feature of the valley was the amount of burnt forest there was on both sides of the valley. I’m so glad we had some snow recently so the fires were able to be put out and we were able to visit Sunshine Meadows, it was closed for hiking for a lot of the summer.We walked down the hill to Laryx Lake, the 3rd lake in the Meadows. We were able to walk almost the entire way around Laryx on the stony trail, across narrow log bridges and over the grassy plains. Laryx was quite calm and was sheltered from the wind so we were able to see the reflections of the surrounding mountain peaks in its shallow water which was beautiful. Sat down for a bit and watched a young Chipmunk scurry about looking for dropped food.After a short rest we climbed back up to Rock Isle Lake and at Rock Isle Junction we turned onto the Village to Lake Trail and headed up towards Divide Chair and the runs that come off Stawberry. After stopping at the Rock Isle viewpoint we continued down the path beside the Rock Isle Road green run back to the village. It was nice to actually walk along a ski run we had all been down many times. Being back at the Village when there was no snow was odd, we saw stairs that are usually buried under the snow and paths, roads and signposts that are not normally there, the place looked quite different. Waited for the shuttle bus for around 30 minutes before being informed it had broken down on the way up so we were driven back to the base in a small van. 

It was a great but tiring day and I’m glad I got to experience it before we leave Canada. 

 

 

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Lakes, lakes and Waterfalls

This weekend we took my one of my best mates and former flatmate and his boyfriend, both over from London to some of my favourite places in Banff and Yoho National Parks. 

This post doesn’t contain ellobarate descriptions of the places we went, no detailed accounts of the colours of the lakes or the shadows over the valley from the mountains etc, the pictures speak for themselves in my opinion. 

First we did the 10 minute, short hike to the lookout point overlooking stunning Peyto Lake and the surrounding Waputik Range, Caldron Peak, Peyto Peak and Mount Jimmy Simpson. Photobombed by 2 ladies! Love this photo.Stunning Peyto Lake, amazing colour.One of the best views in the Rockies!

We then headed to the most famous lake in Banff National Park, Lake Louise. Lake Louise is beautiful but it just gets far too busy and I much prefer it in Winter when you can walk across the lake to the Glacier, and it’s far quieter.Lake Louise shorelineLouise Creek

After being turned away from the Moraine Lake turnoff and the overflow parking lot due to it being full we detoured up the Trans Canada to Yoho National Park to visit Takakkaw Falls. It was my first visit to the falls and after a very windey and steep but magnificent drive we arrived at the carpark. It’s a short 10 minute hike to the falls but we decided to scramble up to get a closer look and were awarded with a great view of the 260 metre falls, the creek below and the surrounding peaks.Takakkaw FallsAdam & Gilles Stunning views

Later in the day we finally make it to my favourite lake, Moraine Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Unfortunately we were too Lake to go Kayaking and have a bite to eat at the cafe but climbed the rock pile to get some lovely views of the lake and valleys around it. Not many places compare to this.Adam & IAdam & GillesLooking down the valley towards the highway

Overall it was of my favourite days out sightseeing. I just love taking friends to see these amazing local spots and seeing new places for myself. There is still so much to see here in the Rockies. I cannot wait!

Johnston Canyon – Summer

The other weekend Fergus, 2 of our flatmates, Tate and Kurt and I went to Johnston Canyon for a look. Fergus and I had been to the Canyon in Winter and it was stunning so thought we’d check in outin the  Summer when the water was flowing, the trees were green and the sun was shining. It was really busy so we had to park out on the road but that was ok, it’s not a long way to the start of the trail. 

Walked over the bridge past the lodge and onto the trail proper. There were a lot of people about and most were older and going at snails pace so it took a while to get to lower falls. On the steel walkways we had to stay behind them but managed to pass once we were on the dirt trail again.When we arrived it was very busy at the lower falls and we didn’t feel like waiting to squeeze into the small cave so we carried on up the trail. 

About 200m from Upper falls we diverted off the trail and climbed down a rocky ledge and found ourselves at the waters edge in a big bend in the river. A magnificent waterfall was to our left Anna gentle stream meandered around the huge piece of rock to the right. It is a magical place, like somewhere out of Lord of the Rings. Stayed a while and explored. Carried on to the upper Falls and once there I was a little disappointed, I thought the waterfall was much larger, it definately looks bigger in the Winter when it’s frozen.This time we also went to the viewpoint above the falls, we hadn’t done this as we’d been told it wasn’t very interesting, that is a lie. You really should go to the end. I think it’s worth it.Stopped at the lower falls on our way beck and Kurt and I went in the cave for a look while the others chilled on a bench. A lovely day out. 

Bankhead – coal, trains & amazing views

Bankhead is an old, abandoned coal mining town just out of Banff on the road to Lake Minnewanka. I had know it was there and this week, finally got around to visiting. It’s still very smoky here in Banff due to the wildfires in BC so the views of Rundle, Cascade and the surrounding mountains were limited but it was a great visit all the same. Lower Bankhead is where the industrial area of town was while the residential area was located in Upper Bankhead.

From the Lower Bankhead carpark you descend some stairs to the entrance of the mining shafts that went into Cascade mountain, there were 3, the other 2 being further up the mountain. The entrance was covered when the mine closed in 1922 so you can’t really see where it was but an information board, (these are dotted around everywhere) explains it all for you. 

First you pass the old Lamp House where the miners would collect and store their lamps. If a lamp was missing at the end of the day, there would be a search party sent out for that miner. Following the coal path you pass other structures, machinery, piles of coal deposits and building foundations. Most of the buildings were wooden so only the foundations remain but they looked absolutely huge. The town was bigger than Banff itself in its heyday. The views of Cascade mountain are pretty good from Bankhead, There is so much more coal in the mountain but because it’s in the National Park it’s protected. Some of the concrete building such as the Briquette building are still intact in parts. The compressed air locomotive was used to haul the coal deposits out of the mines. 

The trail is a 1km interpretive loop with adjoining trails that venture off to Cascade Ponds and the lakes. You can find more information about the town, the mine and the other mining towns in the Bow Valley at Ghosttowns.com.

We also went for a stroll around Cascade Ponds, a picnic area at the base of Cascade Mountain. A pretty walk around the ponds gives you stunning views and the water is a pretty green hue due to the weeds, apparently people do swim in there but it was too cold for me. 

Favourite Roadtrip Memories

Looking for dinosaurs in the Badlands, AB  Kayaking in Caliper Lake Provincial ParkMining for Amethyst in Thunder Bay, ONThe amazing sunsets in Sleeping Giant NPExploring Beautiful MontrealSwimming and Sunbathing in Shediac, NBLighthouse trail on Gaspiesie PeninsulaExploring the Maritimes in Nova ScotiaDriving the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton IsExploring Grassy Point in North SydneySeeint Whales and exploring St John’s, NFTracing heritage and hiking on Fogo IslandExploring Gros Morne National Park Ancient Pictographs in Lake Superior.Passing the centre of CanadaThe beautiful Prairies of SK & Manitoba

Moose Jaw – Banff

The very last day of our 2 month long trip wasn’t the most interesting. 90% of the journey was long, straight, flat roads along the prairies. Silos, hay bales, farmers tending to their crops on huge machines, oil drilling sites, small isolated towns, electricity pylons, and the train track were the only sights to see. I think the land has its own beauty though, the colour of the grass and wheat, the patterns and stripes and the contrast of the blue sky is beautiful. There is so much of it. The sky is amazing our here, it reminds me of the song ‘Little Fluffy Clouds‘ by Orb. Have a listen or download it if you are crossing soon. The huge expanse of blue makes you feel really small, it was a cloudless day when we drove through but I can imaging watching a storm brewing out here would be epic.When we finally approached Calgary we felt relieved, the outline of the city skyscrapers in the distance with the Rockies towering up behind it was a welcome sight, not only did it mean the long flats were ending but I meant were were nearly home. We were both tired.we stopped at Walmart do do some grocery shopping and headed West. The weather had taken a turn upon entering Calgary and the Rockies and a bit of rain fell but it was mostly just overcast. We wondered if we would see or smell any of the smoke from the nearby forest fires that had been burning since just after we left. Arrived in a very busy Banff and it immediately felt like we had never left, it was hustle and bustle and full of tourists (it’s a bank holiday weekend so this was to be expected) and it must have taken us close to an hour to get some beers, get our rent from the bank and drop it off at our landlord, Mercy’s place in Otter street and get over the bridge to Lougheed Circle. On arrival we were greeted by our wonderful flatmates who we had missed dearly. They had been preparing a lovely dinner of Meatballs, Pasta sauce, pasta, salad and bread for us as a welcome home dinner, it was just delicious, and great to all sit around the dinner table and catch up.Unpacked the car into our new room which is huge! We have a walk through wardrobe which is twice the size of our old wardrobe and a big ensuite bathroom. We love it! 

Had some drinks, chatted, laughed and watched Wonder Woman. It’s great to be back. 

Icefields Parkway – simply stunning!

We had lived in Banff nearly 9 months before we made it up to Jasper. We had free Glacier Adventure tickets on our Banff Ambassador passes so we had to wait for the long Winter to end before we could make use of them as the Glacier is closed during the Winter. We set off in rain and low cloud and after getting on the Icefields Parkway just after Lake Louise the rain turned to heavy snow and we were only able to get small glimpses of the surrounding mountains through the clouds. Very disappointing.Had a pit stop for petrol and shared a Poutine at Saskatchewan River Crossing which is a complex consisting of a restaurant, diner, gas station, large souvenir shop and motel near the mighty Saskatchewan  River. Tip: Don’t buy gas from here as it is very expensive. We carried on up the road and stopped at Sunwapta Pass to admire the sprawling valley below as the clouds started to clear.Arrived at the Icefields Centre at around 2pm and the Glacier Adventure complex was awash with tourists. We presented our Banff Ambassador passes at the ticket desk and were told the next available tour was at 4:30pm so we had a look around and then went to have a snooze in the back or the car on our new self inflating mattress. At 4:30 we were ushered onto a Brewster bus and driven by a driver with very bad jokes, 5 minutes up to the Ice Explorer bus depot. There, we got off the Brewster bus and onto a huge, specifically designed Ice Explorer bus with wheels taller than me! As it slowly meandered up the road to the Glacier, we passed through a ‘wheel washer’ which was just a big puddle that washes any mud off the wheels before going down a VERY steep hill onto the Glacier. The bus only goes about 30km an hour at top speed.Once on the Glacier there was a small area that your could walk around on that was clearly marked out with signs but a lot of the tourists (mostly Asians) were going over the barriers and climbing up onto the ice to take photos. The poor drivers had to keep telling them to get back to the safe area. I think we were quite lucky really, had we gone up onto the Glacier earlier we would have been rained on and not seen much but as it happened the rain cleared and the sun came out when we were there in the late afternoon. The Athabasca Glacier is one of the six principal ‘toes’ of the Columbia Icefield, located in the Canadian Rockies. The glacier currently recedes at a rate of about 5 metres per year. 

We jumped back on the bus and headed back along the Parkway for a couple of kilometres to the Glacier Skywalk. This is a large U shaped lookout platform towering over the side of a glacial valley. The great thing about it it that it has glass floors so you can look down to the valley floor below. I found it a tad eerie as I don’t particularly like heights. It’s made of thick glass and a type of iron that changes colour over time to blend into the landscape. Along the path to the platform is information about the landscape and wildlife in the area.

After our Glacier Adventure we headed back up the Parkway where we stopped briefly at a roadside waterfall before heading to the town of Jasper. In Jasper we stopped for dinner and a look around the small and very quiet tourist town then made our way to the Hi Jasper where we had a bunk for the night. 

On the drive up, about 20 metres before the hostel we came across 2 black bears, just having a sniff and look at the car in front of us. It was pretty cool but I’m glad I was in the safely of the car. 

The following morning we left Jasper after having breakfast at a roadside diner and fortunately the weather had cleared so we were able to get amazing views of the Rockies all the way back to Banff.

Stopped briefly and had a stroll around the rocks at Horseshoe lake then again for a wander around Athabasca Falls which was nice but there were far too many people there. Also stopped at Sunwapta falls where we saw some rock climbers setting up some sort of Canyon crossing device. Had a few more brief photo and toilet stops along the way and we were just amazed at the sheer scale of the different mountains that stood along the roadside. I’m not surprised this stretch of road is on all the ‘worlds best drives’ lists, it’s just stunning. Massive peaks, glaciers, plaited rivers, semi frozen lakes, thick forest and glacial valleys make for interesting driving.We came across a ‘bear jam’ just before leaving Jasper National Park and had to avoid cars passing 2 coaches parked on the side of the road watching a large Grizzly Bear feeding on roadside flowers. We didn’t stop but I managed to get a shot of him.Out last stop of the weekend was a place I had wanted to visit for ages. It’s in all the tour brochures and posters and is one of the big tourist attractions in the area.

Peyto Lake Is a glacial fed Lake that lies just off the Parkway. After a 10-15 minute walk though Alpine vegetation you reach a viewing platform overlooking the lake and valley. It’s an amazing view and the colour of the lake rivals any in the Rockies. Plus it’s shaped like a wolf which is cool. It was definitely a highlight of the weekend for me.

The Icefields Parkway is an amazing drive, if you ever go to the Rockies, hire a car instead of going on a bus. There are so many places we missed but you would miss so much more being stuck on a bus. Definitely a weekend to remember in my world travels.

The night the sky put on an incredible show….

‘An aurora, sometimes referred to as a polar lights or northern lights, is a natural light display in the sky, predominantly seen in the high latitude (Arctic and Antarctic) regions’
I have see the Aurora Australis only once before as a kid near Tunnel Beach in Dunedin, NZ. I don’t remember it well except I thought it was aliens.

Here in Banff I get alerts from Aurora Watch but the times I have been outside I haven’t seen a thing. Most people go out the Lake Minnewanka and need a special camera to see them with the naked eye.

Last night was different! I’m so glad I was awake to witness this incredible sight. 

At first it was just a green tinge behind Mount Rundle. I was frustrated as I was sure if I went to Minnewanka I’d see more but as Fergus was in Calgary at a gig I was unable to get out there.So I stayed and took some photos using my Northern Lights Photo Taker App and as the time went on the lights got brighter and I could see a definite line right across the sky getting brighter and brighter every minite. I could actually see them moving like ghostly swirls right above me! One bright line across the sky turned into a series of lines and swirls that changed all the time.  It’s really hard to describe, you just have to watch in wonder. This amazing show by Mother Nature certainly makes you feel small and insignificant. 

Something I will remember for the rest of my life.

Tattoo Time again!

I have tattoos, I have quite a growing collection of tattoos now. I started with a small dolphin on my shoulder in 2000 and have since turned that into a half back piece with Cherry Blossom, A Bird of Paradise, a Louis flower, water and wind. I also have the quote ‘when one door closes a another one opens’ so very true.

I have the coordinates of all the places I have lived on my back also, I had this done in Las Vegas on my 30th birthday and lastly I have a large Anchor on my leg to represent my life of travel and me seemingly not being happy anchored down anywhere….yet. 

So I decided to get what they call here in town a ‘Banff Stamp’. Which is basically a tattoo of a mountain, Assumingly very popular in there parts of obvious reasons.

I found a simple design I liked and had it tweaked a bit and opted for it to be placed on my inner, upper arm. A little scary as it’s my first ‘puplic ink’, all the rest is covered 90% of the time. 

I went to JP at Perfect Image in Banff and paid $170 (+tip) for my mountain range and I absolutely love it, it will always remind me of this wonderful part of the world and the memories I have made here.

50 days, 5 resorts and a million laughs…

This is the first time since we started traveling that I have felt really down. I feel like something is missing, something special has ended and there is a void in the pit of my stomach. The ski season is over.​I always knew I would have a wee cry and be upset when the ski season ended and to be honest I was getting a bit sick of skiing and only made the effort to go up if the weather was good whereas at the beginning of the season I would go, rain, hail or shine but I am feeling very sad that I can no longer jump on the bus and head up the mountain for a few hours before work or spend the morning skiing and the afternoon at Trappers having a few drinks or watching a band.2016/17 was such a great season and doing this was the best thing I have ever done and something I have wanted to do all my life. Sunshine Village is a very special place, the staff, many we know personally have made it such a great place to be. From the instructor who taught Fergus to ski to our mate Mitch from rentals, they have all made it a season to remember.Goat’s Eye, Standish, Angel, Wawa, Divide, Teepee and Strawberry are words we used often and everyone knew where you were talking about. In the future these words will always evoke a good memory when they are randomly and most probably very infrequently used. We had our own language up there, one everyone understood.I’m so glad Fergus has enjoyed it too. Back at the start of November he had never even been to a ski resort and I remember laughing at him trying to walk in ski boots for the first time, roll on 7 months and he is nearly as fast as me and is flying over big jumps and down black runs with ease. I’m glad I have been able to introduce the sport I love to the man I love.Slush Cup 89 was the best way to end a cracker season, the sun was out, the tunes were pumping and Trappers was packed full of revellers all wanting to cheers to a great season. It definitely went out with a bang!So today I packed up my boots, wiped down my skis, put them into storage and cleaned out my rucksack of things skiing related and stored them away in a memory box.

Yes, it is sad but we still have another Canadian ski season ahead of us, an amazing Summer full of travel and adventure and we have met some lifelong friends skiing this season at Sunshine.Sunshine village will always have a special place in my heart.