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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Day 1 – Banff to Medicine Hat

Started off quite late as we weren’t picking up our rideshares from Canmore until 10am. Had omlette and Avocado for breakfast, finished packing the car and received our deposit back from our landlord in full! Yippee!!

Collected 2 young German backpackers from The Bear Hostal in Canmore and headed towards Calgary. Chatted about our travels both in Canada and the rest of the world and listeden to music. Dropped them at Calgary airport and collected $20 for the ride. Sweet! Went to the nearest Wallmart where we grabbed a few supplies before heading off to the East.It was rather sad to see the Rockies disappearing into the distance as we drove away, we lived in the mountains so long we were used to having them around us like some sort of comfort blanket. Looking fowards into the distance, all we could see on all sides is flat, we had entered the Badlands.

Drumheller is a pretty cool little place. You don’t even know it’s there until you start going downhill into a huge Canyon of striped hills, it’s almost as if you are entering Bedrock from The Flinstones. They have discovered a lot of dinosaur remains there and have a world class dinosaur museaum, the worlds biggest dinosaur and various dino related hops and eateries. They have definately milked the theme but I think it adds to the charm of the place. We visited the Royal Tyrell Museam and were glad to get out of the car and into the cool airconditioned building to look and fossils, casts and vast displays of dinosaurs from all periods. It was quite interesting to learn how many almost full skeletons of lots of different species had been discouvered in BC and Alberta. The Museam was bigger than I expected so we got round in just under an hour. Carried on and stopped at the ‘Worlds biggest Dinosaur’ for a photo and to grab a few maps from the information centre before driving out to see The HooDoos. Diverted off the main road for a little way to a tiny ‘one horse’ town called Wayne. Went there because my Stepfathers name is Wayne as well as to see the old pub The Last Chance Saloon. The place reminded me a lot of Central Otago in NZ, all the rocky hills, mines everywhere and the old pud looked a bit like the Cardrona Hotel. Grabbed an ice cream and soaked up the atmosphere.Much like the ones in Banff the Hoo Doos are rock formations caused by years of erosion that have created mushroom like shapes in the rock. The HooDoos themselves are surrounded by a fence and viewing platforms but the surrounding areas can be walked/climbed on which is just what we did. It was 7:30 pm by this time and still hot and humid so we didn’t stay there too long.The drive to Medicine Hat was a bit boring, saw some cows, a few trees, a couple of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ towns, some pylons and lots and lots of flat prairies. This was what was expected but I’m not looking forward to 8+ hours of this tomorrow!

Arrived in Med Had and found Anik, our couchsurfing host’s house and had a brief chat before going out to find food at 10pm. Had to settle for McDonalds as we were unable to find any restaurants open. Hit the sack about 11:30 after a big 1st day. 

PANORAMA 

In March, the house packed up and went to Panorama ski resort in BC for a couple of nights. Before I start, let me tell you about our travel buddies/flatmates.

  • Carris – English, beautiful girlfriend of Sean and travel guru.
  • Sean – English, boyfriend of Carris and a mean cook/baker.
  • Kurt – Australian, older brother of Zeke and the maker of the amazing video below.
  • Zeke – Australian, Kurt’s not so little brother and the loudest in the house.
  • Tate – Canadian, amazing at almost every Winter sport and longtime Banff resident.

Through being Banff locals we got lift tickets for $69 a day and accommodation on the mountain for $9 a room! Awesome!

Day 1
Fergus, Tate, Kurt, Zeke and I left early in the day on the Wednesday but found out early on our trip would be longer due to the  93 being closed for avalanche control. We stopped in Lake Louise for a sausage roll before continuing up the Trans Canada through Yoho National Park to Golden. 

 On the way we stopped at The Natural Bridge, a rock formation that spans the Kicking Horse river just past Field. The boys meandered down the path in deep snow and along the side of the icy river to go into the cave under the bridge, it looked wonderful in there but I didn’t want to fall into the feeezing river so Fergus and I stayed on the bridge above.We continued on, beers in hand, music blaring, through the gorge to Golden and on to the 95 to Invermere. Stopped for some Timbits before climbing up the hill to PanoramaAfter checking into the Pine Inn we unpacked and headed down to the store on the old town gondola to get supplies (beer and Yagermister). 

Suituated in BC’s Purcell mountains, Panorama has nearly 3000 acres of terrain, 6 chairlifts and Canada’s largest slopeside hot pools as well as shops, cafes and bars.After a few drinks in our rooms we headed for the T-bar, a bar within crawling distance to our lodge! Had a few beers and played some pool (I kicked everyone’s arse!) and chatted. After a while Carris and Sean turned up (Carris had to work in the morning) and we enjoyed a hilarious game of musical bingo which I was rubbish at and by the end I didn’t know if the game was still on every time a song came on! After that we hit up the dance floor and showed off our dance moves, it was so fun. 

Later on it turned a bit fuzzy, I know I had 3 shoeys (drinking beer out of someone’s shoe) and it was a pretty late and messy night…….

Day 2

After a lovely breakfast of bacon and egg sandwiches cooked in our room on a camping stove by Carris and Sean we warily made our way up to the chairlift a mere 10 metres from the lodge.

Headed right up the very top via 2 chairlifts and started our day.  Started on a mogully black run where there was a lot of stopping, falling over, laughing and general hungover shenanegins. Lost Kurt and Zeke after the second run and found out later they had retired back to the room. It was very icy over the whole mountain which made it hard work but it was sunny so we were rewarded with amazing views of the valley and surrounding mountain ranges. 

Relaxed on the deck chairs up the top at the Summit hut and had coffee. It was a lazy day but most of us skied right up until near closing time. Later in the afternoon we hit the hot pools. The one large and two smaller pools ranging from 35-40 degrees were so relaxing after a day on the slopes despite loud children splashing about and the boys throwing balls and squirting water at each other, it was rather nice. Boys will be boys!There is a free shuttle bus that takes people to and from Invermere nearby so jumped on that and headed down the mountain to town to get dinner. It was a long journey on a windy road, we were tired and some were a bit green round the gills. The bus driver kindly recommended a place called The New Station Pub to us which ended up being very nice. It is right on Lake Invermere and we saw a lovely sunset over the lake and mountains.Had a big dinner as many of us hadn’t eaten lunch. I had the Chicken Souvlaki which was yum! Had a few drinks and walked up to town to look around while waiting for the bus. Not much to see in Invermere. We were even stopped by local security asking why we were loitering around at 10:30 pm in town! We all look like friendly folk, I think….

Day 3

Headed back up the mountain again in the morning, another lovely day but the mountain was still icy up the top. Did a few runs up the top before sticking lower down where the snow was slightly softer. Had lunch and beers (it was St Patrick’s day so Guinness all round) down at the main building and chilled out for a bit in the sun.Did a few more runs up the top and through the park before calling it a day. The terrain was great and the mountain has long, wide tree runs and wasn’t busy at all, it was just a pity the snow wasn’t great but for $69 who can complain really.

Packed up the cars and headed on our way home. Stopped at Radium Hot Springs for a dip before carrying on through the gorge on the 93 to Castle Junction. The road had been closed for avalanche control as I mentioned earlier and we could see why as we travelled through there. There were reminants of avalanches all along the road. Up on the mountains you could see where the snow had fallen and on the road where it had been cleared. It was an amazing piece of roadway and driving over the passes and through the valleys really makes you appreciate the scale and beauty of the Canadian Rockies. I really hope to do the drive again in the Summer as there were so many viewpoints and things to do along the way we didn’t stop at. A weekend I will always remember, thanks guys!

Here is a GoPro video Kurt made of our trip.Muppets go to Panorama

Memories of the tropics…

This evening was the first evening shift I did alone at Brewster’s Mountain Lodge (BML) and with only around 52% occupancy and a handful of check ins it was a pretty slow night.While looking at Google Earth, as one does when they have time to spare and a computer, I stumbled upon Port Douglas. Over the years I have wandered down the streets of ‘Port’ via street view or had a look at the Sheraton Mirage Resort website just to see how its changed or to show someone the beautiful paradise I used to work in.I still feel a hint of sadness that I left such a beautiful place but then I quickly remember why I did so and that was to travel, and travel I certainly did! After leaving North Queensland I have travelled to over 20 countries, spent 10 years in England and now I am on a working holiday visa in Canada.

Its funny how these 2 resorts, one in Tropical Northern Australia and the other in the Canadian Rocky Mountains are so very similar.They are both urrounded by incredible, world renowned areas of natural beauty,

  • Banff – The mountains, lakes, glaciers and rivers
  • Port Douglas – The reef, rainforest, rivers and tablelands

They both rely on tourists to survive after being small industrial towns

  • Banff – First settled in the 1880s, after the transcontinental railway was built through the Bow Valley.
  • Port Douglas – The township was established in 1877 after the discovery of gold at Hodgkinson River.

They both have very dangerous animals living in and around them 

  • Banff – Grizzly/Black bears, Cougars, Elk, Moose
  • Port Douglas – Crockodiles, Jellyfish, Cassowary, Snakes, Spiders, 

When I arrived in Port I was 19, fresh out of collage, a little immature and raring to party! My first job was there, and so were my next 20 or so. I was hired and fired numerous times and wasn’t really that bothered about my job as there was always another around the corner, and if not, the bank of Mum and Dad was there to help out. I did housekeeping, turndown service, waitressing, bar work and worked at a tour desk.I did manage to stay at the magnificent Sheraton Mirage Resort for 3 plus years and was basically running the swim up Ocean Breeze Bar while also working in both the buffet and fine dining restaurants, the bakery, the activities centre, the Cocktail bar and helping with banquets. It was hard work but I really loved working there. I was eventually fired for calling in sick after a night out, the local snooker competition end of season drinks in fact. My F&B manager was also in a team so instantly knew where I had been. Massive fail but I was probably time to move on anyway.I loved living in the tropics, walking down beautiful 4-mile beach to work, sometimes stopping for a dip, sailing to the Low Isles on huge yachts while drinking cocktails and laughing and singing, trips to the Daintree Rainforest for raves and fishing, lazy days sunbathing on the beach and of course all the Sunday sessions with the locals at the Courty Pub.While Port has a population of 4,454 permanent residents, Banff has around 7,584 so is a lot bigger but also due to being in a National Park can’t get a lot bigger due to building legislation whereas they are constantly building new resorts and apartments in Port and in a few years I wouldn’t be surprised if it joined Craigie. (The next settlement)
What is similar about these towns is the lifestyle and the people that come here. Banff is bursting with young 19 year olds, fresh out of collage, a little immature and raring to party! Being the ripe old age of 36, when I walk down the street I see loads of younger people doing what I did all those years ago and have heard stories about people not being that responsible and getting fired from jobs for this that and the next thing. History repeats itself….

Instead of living next to the Great Barrier Reef, its Islands and the Rainforest I am now in amongst towering mountains, alpine lakes and most importantly ski fields, 3 of them in this area and more a bit further away. Heaven!I am so so so excited about finally doing a ski season, not just anywhere, but in Canada, the ultimate ski destination. I look back at my past and yes, sometimes I feel a bit sad thinking about the good times and friends I met back then but then I think of what my future holds, more good times, more new friends, adventure, excitement and fun.I may now be 36 and more mature (just a little bit) but I still have that 19 year old’s passion and drive for adventure, meeting new people and living life to the fullest.

‘Not all those who wander are lost’ J.R.R Tolkein

 

 

The arrival of friends and family

After being in Canmore only a matter of weeks it was time to host our first visitor.  Frankie, our friend from Bromley arrived at the beginning of September from New York and was our first guest. It was nice to still be off work and be able to show her around the area a bit. 

We went up to Norquay Gondola and after a wet and cold ride up and a hot chocolate in the restaurant at the top, the clouds cleared and we could see right up the valley and over the town of Banff. Got some great photos up the top.Fergus and I on top of Norquay Mountain

The weekend she arrived was also the annual Canmore Highland Games so we went down in the afternoon for a look around and some food and drinks. There were lots of stalls as well as a big beer tent and food vans. We watched some highland dancing, pipe bands and Irish dancing which was amazing! Had lots of drinks and listened to the various bands inside the tent. It was a great day and night. Frankie stayed with us two nights before moving on to the hostal on Canmore and then to Hi Hostal in Banff.Frankie, Sheryl and Fergus – Highland Games

On September 19th Kim, also from Bromley, returned to Canmore. She did a visa a few years ago and was here to do a second. I was working when she arrived so left her to explore the town on her own on her first day but later that same day my cousin Susan arrived from New Zealand! I told Kim Susan was arriving around 2pm and funily enough they arrived at my work at the same time! So I sent them off for lunch and a mosey around town before Susan returned to help me close the pet store.   

That evening we all met up for locals steak night at The Wood and a few drinks and a game of pool afterwards. Kim has now moved into a lovely flat in Canmore. 

The following two days Fergus and I had off work to play tour guide to Susan who was on a 5 week tour of Canada and the US. Unfortunately the weather on both days was rubbish and you could barely see the mountains through the cloud and on and off rain. 

The first day we went to Calgary airport to pick up my skis that I had sent over from London and then went up to Spray Lakes to do some wildlife spotting. Didn’t see a lot apart from some Chipmonks, rabbits and a deer. I guess the Bears had headed to higher ground to prepare for hibernation. Susan and I at Spray Lakes

The following day we were up early and headed up to Banff to look for Elk. We had been told they like to hang out at the Golf course so went for a drive around the course loop near bow river and we were not disappointed! We came across a male with a bunch of females and saw another 3 males trying to move in on the pack. They were making weird noises but we didn’t see any fights unfortunately.Elk at Banff Golf Course

Had a quick stop at Bow Falls before carrying on up to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake for a look.Susan and I at Bow Falls

Driving up the road to Moraine Lake was great, it had been snowing up there and small areas of snow lined the roadside. It was quite misty and we felt like we were miles away from anywhere, that is until we arrived at the lakeside lodge and saw loads of tourists milling about!

We climbed the small hill at the head of the lake and from the top, the view, even though we still couldn’t see the tops of the mountains, was amazing! The lake is a stunning blue/green colour and is surrounded by green forest and stunning snow capped peaks.Susan and I at Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake Panoramic

Had a look through the the gift shop at the Lodge before carrying on to Lake Louise. Again, it was crawling with tourists but it’s a very impressive place. The huge Fairmont Hotel stands at the head of the lake looking to the mountains and glacier in the distance. Again, we were unable to see the glacier or the tops of the mountins due to the low cloud.Lake Louise

Had some lunch in the small Lake Louise shopping area before heading back to Banff. Had a look around Banff town before dropping Susan off at her hostal and saying our goodbyes. The following day she got the tour but up to Jasper and we were happy to learn the weather had cleared so she was able to get great views for her trip. 

We are so lucky to have had so many visitors and new arrivals so early in our stay in the Rockies. It’s such a lovely part of the world to share with loved ones.

I hope it continues. 

 Work, work, work, work, work…..

We are now settled and both have work.

So much for the 4-5 months off I told everyone about back in London! We had 3 months off work, which in this day and age is fine with me. Watching your thousands of dollars of savings slowly whittle away is horrifying to say the least. I now wish we had couchsurfed throughout our whole trip but then we wouldn’t have met the wonderful AirB&B hosts along the way, namely our Bremerton friends. 

Hey ho, life goes on and we have to get back to the daily grind. One thing I have to mention is my commute to work. Gone (for now) are the 2 hour, multiple, frustrating train journeys into central London. They have been replaced by a leisurely 12 minute walk meandering through the trees while taking note of the overnight snowfall on the stunning mountains to my office at Howling Dog ToursI am a Reservations Agent/Pet shop attendant. 2 days a week I look after hamsters, mice, fish and lizards and sell pet supplies. Never in my life did I think I’d work in a pet shop, it’s hard work and I don’t like selling the cute mice to people to feed their snakes but I guess we all have to eat. The other 2-3 days a week I’m on the reservations desk replying to tour queries, booking tours and doing general office admin. I’m REALLY looking forward to going on a dog sled tour once the season starts in November! 

Fergus is working at construction /labouring company based in Banff and is doing 50ish hours a week. He will have his muscles back on top form in no time! He is currently working at Cascade Gardens which is at the head of Banff Main Street, the views from there, wow!