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Trip report: BC and Alberta

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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Trip report: BC and Alberta

Hello,

I just wanted to follow up upon return from a snap through BC and Alberta. I had posted some questions about my itinerary and took some flack for the long travel days I had scheduled, and I wanted to report on how it turned out. Trip began in Seattle where I spent a night before heading to Vancouver. On the way up, we caught a tulip festival in Mount Vernon that was an absolute explosion of color. We were two nights in Vancouver and fortunately did manage to catch a family of 5 orca on the whale watch we went on. Ironically, we left on the tour just South of Vancouver, but the orca were actually off the coast of Washington 2.5 hours South of where we departed from. This was ironic as I've attempted to see orca off of Washington State before.

From Vancouver, we were headed to the Banff/Lake Louise area, but needed to make some stops along the way to break up the journey. We headed South from Vancouver through the Abbotsford area and stopped for a couple of wine tastings. We were suprised to see the appearance of a lot of the white wines as many poured out as clear as water, no yellow whatsoever. Tasty Chardonnays. We tried to get to Hell's Pass, however, by the time we got there it had closed for the day. That night, we ended in Kamloops which made no impression on me whatsoever. Simply an overnight town. I didn't find anything particularly special about it after a cruise through the downtown area. I know it is tournament city and it is probably more vibrant moreso in the summer or fall, but in any event it didn't warm me. From there, we worked toward Revelstoke. Mind you, these certainly were long drives, but they were scenic so they were tolerable. Revelstoke is a sleepy little town that is the last bastion of humanity before heading East toward Banff. It was cute enough, but man the train traffic was pesty. All night was nothing but the rattle of passing trains and the occasional burst of a horn. Passage through the mountains was fairly unremarkble although it was snowing. I must say all of the roads I saw in Canada were in excellent condition. Presumably, your rather steep taxes help support this.

Banff was a show stopper. Such a pretty community surrounded by mountains in every direction. We had several nice dinners there, as well. One of of our days, we drove the Icefield Highway as far as the visitor's center and back to Banff. It was sunny in the morning and overcast in the afternoon, so it gave us two perspectives on the scenery, which was nice. Majesty. Stunning. Everyone who hyped the necessity to make a portion of that drive was correct. I can't imagine that there is anything further past the visitor's center that isn't approximated to the South, but I could be wrong on that. The blue glacial ice stood out better in overcast conditions than it did in the sun due to decreased glare. The experience at points was somewhat akin to seeing the grand canyon, it is so expansive even after traveling a mile or so you are still seeing a lot of the same real estate. That said, when you make a turn in the road and take in the new valleys and streams it is new emotion all over again.

We did a day trip to Calgary because so many of the parks were closed in late April. Calgary has it's charm in sort of a grungy way. There was a comic con in town, so the people watch was pretty lively. We had a nice Italian meal at a restaurant near the convention center and also stopped for flight tastings at a couple of micro breweries in town. One was Wild Rose, which is also the city of my birth in Wisconsin and the other was Minhas, which had an extensive variety of different beer types they brew. All were quite nice at both places.

Sad to leave Banff, we were headed back to the US via BC. We got recommendations to stay in Fernie and were excited that we were staying there on a Saturday night as I expected there'd be something going on in town. Nope. Quiet as could be. Locals explaned mid winter is more active and during shoulder season not much transpires. From there, we returned to the US via Idaho.

As is always my reaction upon returning from Canada, I reaffirm my affection for Canadians. I'm sure there are Canadians that are jerks, but I have yet to meet one after probably 8 previous visits from East to West. I am pretty well traveled and I always come away impressed with your helpful nature and generosity. Thanks again for being kind hosts.

The expense there was a surprise, however. That was one thing I didn't recall from previous visits, however, my last one was probably about 2002 prior to this one. Man, even a simple, fast food sandwich is going to run you $7-$8 Canadian. That was surprising.

Again, road quality was excellent. Far beyond my expectations from someone who has been dodging potholes and running over bumps all winter and early spring.

I appreciate everyone's feedback...just wanted to check back in to let you know how it went.

Thanks again!

Calgary, Canada
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for Canadian Rockies
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1. Re: Trip report: BC and Alberta

Glad you had a great trip!

There are bad roads around - you just were lucky enough not to drive on them. Up here, the roads are pretty atrocious right now with all the winter potholes that have yet to be filled. Not nearly as bad as last spring, but still not a joy for driving. In general, I find that the provincially and federally maintained roads tend to be in better condition that the ones in the cities. I always marvel that the Icefields Parkway is usually much better than any road in Edmonton.

Happy that you had good conditions on the Icefields - it really can depend on conditions. This winter I had a number of fairly white knuckle drives both on the Icefields and between Canmore and Lake Louise. But they are generally very good at clearing the roads once the snow stops.

Prices for food in general have gone up significantly in the last 5 years, so I'm not surprised things were more expensive than in 2013. Our prices are usually a bit more expensive for retail goods, but for food, I don't find prices out of line with the US.

As a note, I doubt you were seeing any glacial ice. All the glaciers are still under a thick layer of snow at this time of year (other than possibly a few areas too steep to hold much snow). The only glacial ice I've seen since last fall was in one big crevasse that was open up by Bow Hut. There would, however, have been plenty of waterfall ice (frozen waterfalls) along the Icefields.

Ottawa, ON
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2. Re: Trip report: BC and Alberta

Perhaps the price difference has to do with exchange rate changes. In 2002, when the US$ was worth over C$1.50, a $7 sandwich would have cost you about US$4.50. Now, with the exchange rate at $1.10, that sandwich costs you $6.25.

Toronto, Canada
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3. Re: Trip report: BC and Alberta

Good amount of info in your TR....thanks!!!

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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4. Re: Trip report: BC and Alberta

Honestly, I'm not sure if it was glacial ice, but it was blue-put it that way. I presumed that glacial ice based on pictures I've seen of them.

I was glad that scenic pullovers were mostly all clear. Roadside rest areas were not clear about half of the time, much to the chagrin of my wife.

We did catch the "weeping wall"? frozen waterfall along the ice field highway. It was rather poorly marked with a small wooden arrow at the stop on the opposite side of the road. We missed it on the way up and caught it on the way back down. You have to have some stones to ice climb that structure with the potential for large chunks of ice to break away with you. None were climbing during our pass.

I must admit disappointment when we got to Lake Louise and I realized it was snow covered, but at least I can say I walked on water there.

Jasper, Canada
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for Jasper, Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies
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5. Re: Trip report: BC and Alberta

Thanks for the trip report! I'm glad to hear you enjoyed your visit, and that we Canadians are living up to our reputation for being "nice". ;-)

Some of the glaciers "hang" (almost) off the mountains, with a vertical face that doesn't hold the snow, so I do think it's likely you did see some glacial ice. I'm thinking particularly of the Crowfoot Glacier (near Bow Lake), and the Stutfield Glacier, and also some of the Dome Glacier (both near the Columbia Icefields).

ksneds can probably offer more details, because I believe she has mentioned that she ice climbs. My daughter's boyfriend is a climber, so I get to hear a bit about it and to see some awesome photos... I understand that the season ended a few weeks ago; the late season ice is not reliable. Also, in late winter and early spring, the avalanche hazard gets really high with warmer afternoons and the sun's effect on the snowpack, and since frozen waterfalls are often the outlet for some very large drainage basins, they can be very dangerous places to be when the avy hazard is high. But even without avalanches, ice climbing can be dangerous - I knew someone who died in an ice climbing accident quite a number of years ago; he was one of the search and rescue wardens, so hardly an amateur... but stuff happens.

Lake Louise and other glacial lakes at similar elevation typically lose their winter ice in late May or early June, depending on the weather. All bets are off this year... things are definitely behind the usual timing, but it will depend on the weather. There is still a whole lot more snow up high than usual, and one of the lower elevation lakes here near Jasper was two weeks later than usual to lose its ice (which just came off last week and usually comes off before the end of April).

Calgary, Canada
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for Canadian Rockies
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6. Re: Trip report: BC and Alberta

Yes, there could have been some ice visible on the higher angle parts of the glaciers, as I mentioned.

The ice climbing season is pretty much over, other than the alpine ice which 'hangs out' pretty much year round - for instance, on Mt. Athabasca. Though this year, the season has been quite long - we camped by Two O'Clock Falls last weekend and there was so much ice left, we (semi) joked that we should have brought ice tools & crampons instead of our rock climbing gear. There are a few places that are still OK - there was an MCR (Guide) report from someone climbing this past weekend on Professor Falls.

But yes, you do have to be quite careful in the spring, and climb early before the temperatures heat up and elevate avalanche risk. North facing climbs are better in the late season as they're less sun baked and less prone to solar-triggered avalanches, all things being equal. There has been increased focus on getting ice climbers to pay attention to avy risks - not all climbs are in avy zones, but some are quite risky when conditions are right. Cascade Falls just outside Canmore is one such location - we carried avy gear to the base of Rogan's Gully there, but didn't keep it on us as we were in a cold spell when things were frozen down and the previous avy cycle had all but stripped the snow from above the falls. We did however, carry full gear the entire time on Coire Dubh which had a lot of snow.

As I remember, Weeping Wall has some avalanche risk, but the bigger issue there has always been falling ice. There were, I think, two fairly nasty incidents there this with climbers or belayers getting nailed by big ice chunks. Judging the safety of a climb takes experience (which is why it's a good idea to climb with experienced c.limbers until you know what you are doing) - there are clues that can help tell you whether the ice is solidly secured to the rock (including how it sounds when tapped with a tool) and a certain minimum thickness. And avoiding climbing on free-hanging pillars. Usually the quality of the ice tends go before it becomes truly unsafe. However, it's amazing how well ice does adhere and how little you actually need to climb. I've done a bit of mixed climbing, which is increasingly popular, and you go back and forth from rock to ice. I've had one foot on rock and one on ice, and once you get over the strangeness of having a crampon on rock, it's a pretty natural transition.

KRP - I know who you are referring to - he was climbing with Lisa Paulson, right? That was pretty fluke, I think, and I suspect one's odds of dying in car accident are far higher than dying on ice. Injuries more common, but deaths very rare.

7. Re: Trip report: BC and Alberta

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