The Canadian Rockies. 16th September - 7th October
So blog three comes to you from the Canadian Rockies! And what a change from Vancouver Island it is. The mountains, the rivers, the trees, the trucks are still here, but on a MUCH bigger scale. When you're on the low ground here, you're already a good 1500 metres above sea level - on the high ground raise that to 2,800-3,000 metres. With that comes much more extreme temperatures. On any one day, you can wake up to -5 temperatures, hit 20 degrees by lunch time and plummet back down to sub zero in the evening. (Come here in the winter and you can easily lower that to -20, and even -40 on some days). And for us, there was also the return to civilisation! The Rockies are hardly what you'd call populated - the towns are small and you can find yourself driving a good hour before you reach one - but when you've been living somewhere with an average population of 4 and zero road access, it might as well have been London.
We did have to work to get here though. Leaving our island placement, at 9am on the Tuesday we reached the town of Golden in the Rockies at 3pm on the Wednesday after 2 boat rides, 2 very long coach rides, one time zone, and very little sleep. The breadth of scenery you get to see on the way though is spectacular, and I'll tell you now that any length of journey you have to take to get to the Rockies is absolutely worth it for what you get to see at the end. Truly this place has one of the most spectacular landscapes we have ever seen - but more on that in a bit.
What bought us to Golden specifically, was our next work placement. Again it was in cabins but these ones were bigger and with a more regular turn over of guests. Golden is just on the edge of Yoho National Park and in easy distance of Banff, Jasper and Glacier National Parks so a popular passing point for tourists and a great base for us to see the area. Our first morning at the cabins was a bit of a shock to the system mind. Part of our work here was to put out breakfast for guests in the morning. All very well you might think, except that the kitchen is outdoors and temperatures here rarely rise above about 3 degrees before 10am. Add to that the fact that Mark and I had barely brought a wooly jumper between us, naively believing it wouldn't be that cold in September, and you have 2 very cold breakfast servers. Luckily, a staple of every Canadian town is a good thrift store, which in an area like this is stocked full of second hand ski jackets and an 'interesting' array of wooly clothing, so we were soon dressed in giant shirts and jumpers, landing with a look somewhere between hobo and lumberjack and also convincingly local. The views from the cabins in the morning were also spectacular, so once armed with a good coat we came to really love those cold brisk mornings. Give me that over a grey English morning any day!
What also made this placement very different was the fact that in low-season it's entirely run by volunteers like ourselves. A bit of a gamble perhaps, but it does make for a very fun work placement. Whilst we were there we worked with other travellers from Scotland, Ireland, Guernsey, Brazil, Germany, New Zealand, USA and Israel, all of whom not only made work a lot more fun but also a lot more interesting as we got a taste of their culture and lives back home. These were the people who made the work go quickly, the dirty sheets more bearable (Let's just say our vaccinations were put to good use), and our evenings and days off so enjoyable. We climbed mountains with them, watched ice hockey, tried to explain the rules of rugby (limited success), drove the wrong way down a highway (bloody terrifying), shared many a beer round the fire and even partook in some table top dancing. Mark will deny memory of the latter, but it most definitely happened!
Undoubtedly though, the thing which will really make the Rockies stand out as the most amazing of trips is the spectacular landscape. The mountains are enormous and snow capped and the lakes are the most beautiful we have ever seen, thanks to the fact that they are fed by glaciers making them the most vivid turquoise colour. Some of the more famous lakes like Lake Louise and Emerald Lake are a little too full of tourists, but if you're willing to work a little and climb one of many mountains above you are well rewarded with far fewer tourists and the most amazing panoramic views.
I won't lie, the first hike was tough...really tough. It takes a little while to get used to walking uphill at that altitude as the air is thinner and you have the combination of brisk cold air and a strong sun beating down on you. But it is absolutely worth it and with each hike our stamina has improved. Perhaps our biggest achievement and consequently also our favourite walk was above Moraine Lake in Banff national park. Initially we aimed to complete the Larch Valley walk, famed at this time of the year because the larch trees you get at the top are all turning a lovely golden colour. It was absolutely stunning at the top but once there we could see way above us a ridge with a line of tiny people on it. It was a long way up but if we made it up there we knew we'd be rewarded with panoramic views of 10 of the highest peaks in the park. After a bit of persuasion on my part we decided to make a go of it. It was a steep scramble with little footpath and most people we passed carried walking sticks but with some determination and plenty of stops we made it. The sense of achievement was enormous and the views were even better than we could have possibly imagined (if a little scary as we saw avalanches being set off on distant mountains). The Canadians we met at the top told us it was one of the best walks to do in Canada, so pretty good for a whim!
Our stay in the Rockies ended with a couple of spare days, which we used to cross the BC border and see a bit more of Alberta. We stayed in Banff itself, which busy as it is, is also vibrant, beautiful and fun. Our reward for hiking there was an evening spent in the natural hot spring pools located at the bottom of one of its major mountains - pure bliss! Another climb had a traditional wooden tea house at the top, which definitely took the award for most scenic cup of tea we've ever had. We also traveled over to Jasper national park to see the glaciers which was impressive, if a little depressing as you saw how much it had receded in just the last 20 years.
So there ends our trip to the Canadian Rockies, and what a great trip it's been. The scenery is the most awestriking I have ever seen and simply never gets boring, the wildlife is great (we finally got to see our grizzly!) and the remoteness of towns makes for some great communities (we even adopted a local pub!) Weirdly though this remoteness wasn't enough for Mark not to randomly come across an old school friend in a tiny town of about 50 houses.
As I sit here in the greyhound station waiting for the coach to our next destination, the okenagan valley, a man walks in and it takes me a few minutes to figure out what's so unusual. Then I realise what it is - the man is in a suit and it's the first I've seen since we left Vancouver, which also had very few suited people. It might seem inconsequential, but I think it actually says a lot about Canadians and what they deem as important. Things are, I think, just too relaxed to care what people wear and what those clothes represent. It's a lovely change and another reason to love the pace of life here.