About 40 years ago during our trip to the national parks in the Canadian Rockies, my wife and I rented a cabin off the main highway in the small town of Spillamacheen. Yesterday, we drove 40 miles to see if that cabin was still there.
Along the way on Highway 95S, we noticed some unexpected scenery. Highly elevated rolling hills blanketed with bright green fir trees extended all the way to Spillamacheen. I didn’t know if any scenic wonders would greet us elsewhere until at one point and then at a few other locations, I did a double take: I glimpsed towering mountain peaks behind some of the shorter hills. That awesome scenario reminded me of a phenomenon in our Alaskan cruise for our 25th wedding anniversary. On the way to Juneau on cloud-covered days, we saw a continuous series of glacial mountains. On the way back to Vancouver on a clear day, we were flabbergasted to see higher glaciers behind the ones in the front row.
Once we got to Spillamacheen, (if you blink while driving, you have already passed it), we soon located a few cabins, one of which we probably had stayed in so long ago. My wife was as overjoyed to see our old haunt as she was in revisiting her favorite mountain/lake view, Lake Louise.
In one of the two restaurants in Spillamacheen, the manager, a former ecological designer and now a beekeeper on the side, regaled us with a history of his travels and in between, mentioned a few things about the evolution (or in this case, the devolution) of Spillamacheen. There were once about 100 people living there, with a school up the street—I told him that as we entered the town, I had noticed two streets with the word school in them. Now he informed us that that school no longer exists. In fact, and this was the kicker: even though the town caters to lots of extreme-sports tourist adventurers who pass by during high season, the town itself is comprised of only ten people.
Then my wife asked about Bugaboo Provincial Park. The owner related that there was a gravel service road that extended to the top of incredibly inspiring mountains. For convenience and for minimum damage to our rental car, I had hoped that the road would have been paved.
Driving up to the peak on a switch-back gravel road is my idea of extreme sports, my personal bugaboo.
Alberta’s Emerald Lake is a Gem
My wife and I tremendously enjoyed our three-mile walk around Emerald Lake. Dense tree cover often obscured the glacial lake during the first half of our trek through exposed roots, muddy patches, and loose gravel. But when there was an opening, we spied variously enchanting vistas. At one spot, we were regaled with a choreographed mountain scene that reminded us of iconic Lake Louise: a queenly snow-encrusted glacier lodged between two muscular mountains that served as her body guards.
Mid-way through the trail, as we entered a panoramic clearing, we got an even closer look at this same splendid grouping. Other sights were alluring as well, sights not visible from the entrance to the lake: to our right was a waterfall slinking down a distant mountainside; and we walked further on, we saw a series of partially covered mountain peaks emerging to our left. And all around us was the crystalline turquoise lake that brilliantly reflected a cobalt sky interspersed with pure white clouds.
The wide second half of the trail was much easier to traverse than the first half, and it afforded us a continuous view of the lake as well. After a while, just before we returned to the lake entrance, the road narrowed, and the tips of trees on either side of us almost embraced, a fitting ending to our uplifting tour of the lake.
The Falls are Uplifting
Takakkaw Falls, in Yoho National Park, BC, was the first venue in our sightseeing today. Not as massive as Niagara Falls but seven times higher than it, Takakkaw Falls is a masterpiece: Impeccably white glacial water spurts from the lower chambers of Mt. Daly and smashes against the cliff crags so furiously that some of the water loops upward before finally cascading into the river below. Waves of mist flutter in all directions like angel wings.
The Cree nation called the waterfall Takakkaw, translated as “it is magnificent.” I was so stirred in its presence that I felt like devoutly addressing the waterfall as “Your Magnificence.” Is it any wonder that the glacier at the entrance to the Takakkaw Falls is named Cathedral Mountain?
Later on in the afternoon, my wife and I drove to nearby Lake Moraine. At first, I was wowed by its sensuous color: aqua-marine. But without warning, some of the lake began to turn pale, a bit dingy. Nothing like that ever happened when we were at its sister lakes Emerald and Louise. Another let down for me were the glacial mountains surrounding Lake Moraine. What little snow remained on the peaks was dirty, the scant vegetation was dreary, and the mountains themselves looked menacing. The mid-section of one of them resembled a hippo’s face distorted by a gruesome smirk. When I blinked, I saw instead the gaunt face of a beast similar to that of the treacherous Scar in The Lion King. Another companion mountain had a huge festering protuberance on its side, a boil that needed to be lanced.
I was in a bit of a funk until my wife (when doesn’t she rescue me from downbeat thoughts?) told me to turn my head high to the left. My arthritic neck slowly responded. When I did so, I saw a delicate waterfall drifting out of a peak topped with pure feathery snow. It was a precious sight that counterbalanced my negative impression of Lake Moraine.
No Ride to Lake O’Hara
No matter how rocky the road, my wife loves to search for obscure mountain lakes. Yesterday, she found out that a bus makes daily trips to Lake O’Hara from an otherwise inaccessible trailhead. Because reservations were needed, we drove to the nearest visitor center (at Lake Louise) to obtain one for the next day. No such luck. According to a national park employee, there are no slots left for the bus ride. In fact, reservations were completely booked 10 minutes after they had gone on sale three months earlier. And this was the reason: “boutique hikers” flock to explore trails leading from Lake O’Hara. He then explained that he used the word boutique because the national park service has smoothed out all of the hiking trails to make them easier to traverse. These trails are still somewhat steep, but there are no longer any impediments like elevated roots, uneven rocks, or loose gravel.
Sounds like a perfect outing for me at Lake O’Hara, even though I would have turned scarlet if anyone had exposed me a boutique kind of guy.
Our Day Trip to Kootenay National Park
Kootenay National Park is about 80 miles long on Rte. 93. Although we didn’t do much walking, we took advantage of every overlook and got close to most of the main attractions from south to north (Numa Falls was blocked off; the bridge was washed out): Sinclair Canyon, Redwall Fault, Olive Lake, the Kootenay valley viewpoint, and Marble Canyon.
Before we even drove a mile, the enormous scalloped cliffs of Sinclair Canyon (unbelievably not marked by any road signs or any plaques within the overlook) loomed over us on both sides of the highway. Rollicking water spilled into the deep canyon. Beside one area of the overlook, tiny but hardy fir trees somehow managed to cling to the smattering of soil on the canyon ledges. The pillars of Sinclair Canyon, although on a much smaller scale, reminded me of the one in Utah’s Canyonlands that years ago thrilled my wife and me.
From the overlook, a sidewalk led to another scenic wonder, Redwall Fault, the only bright-red cliffs we have seen in the Canadian Rockies. They aren’t as extensive as the ones in Sedona, Arizona, but they “burn with a gem-like flame.”
Olive Lake is a very comfortable place to commune with nature. The coloration is soothing, the water is exquisitely transparent, and the mountains surrounding the lake are completely robed in emerald-green fir trees.
The Kootenay Valley Viewpoint offers a panoramic swath of massive grey mountains that contain glacial peaks that seamlessly flow into one another. At the edge of this majestic scene, a forest fire had defoliated thousands of spruce trees. Their white spear-like skeletal remains, however, have defiantly survived.
Marble Canyon, the last attraction we visited, is not as impressive as Sinclair Canyon, either in height or magnitude or waterfall velocity. But it has a couple of features its big sister canyon lacked. On the way to the waterfall, I was a bit clammy from the late afternoon sun. Once I approached the waterfall, however, I felt as if I were inhaling refreshingly cool purified air. Another plus awaited me as I started back to the trailhead. I looked up and saw two unusual mountain peaks. One had many delicately recessed chambers carved into its border. Another one had elongated tubular rocks that looked like organ pipes.
Just as we left Kootenay National Park, we entered Banff National Park. In the distance, we saw a formidable array of flat-top peaks in the distance. They looked like battalions of battlements. As we found out later, this cluster is appropriately named Castle Mountain.
It was too late in the day to dwell any more in Banff National Park, so we drove back to our own tucked-away condo castle at Palliser Lodge.
Lighthearted Observations at Golden
Every time I look at one section of a mountain peak readily seen from downtown Golden, I envision the bold outlines of two identical faces joined back to back like the mythical god Janus, from whom we derive the month January because he looks backward (to the previous year) and forward (toward the new year). Perhaps I’ll put in a request to rename the mountain Janus, especially because I’d love to see mounds of drifting snow on the peaks in January, even if I could no longer then reflect on the faces of Janus.
Another delightful back-to-back situation occurs in the elevator at my lodge. High up on both sides of the elevator door, there are two triangular metal casings joined at their bases and outlined with 10 dots. The upper portions light up when you go up, and the lower ones are illuminated when you go down. But whether the elevator goes up or down, four laser-like rays stream out of the dots on the light casings and then playfully crisscross along the top half of the elevator. For some reason, I enjoy gazing at this wondrous minor spectacle. I do so only when I have a need to use the elevator. But who knows? I might take the elevator just to see the laser show.
There is a third set of conjoining twos that fascinates me. At the pub where I frequently order calamari (sometimes spelled kalamari), the washroom has a counter with two sinks. The one on the left directly faces you. That’s normal enough. But the other one to its right is perpendicular to it. So if two people are using the sinks, and the person on the right happens to look straight ahead, he sees only a profile of the person on the left, but if the person on the left turns to the right, that person sees the complete face of the other person.
Staying within town has its arresting moments. A lot of them come in twos.
Perspective, Perspective, Perspective.
Today, my wife and I got up early to drive up to the summit of Mt. Revelstoke in Mr. Revelstoke National Park, BC. We figured that we needed lots of time to handle the lengthy drive to the Park, to navigate the 10 miles of switchbacks plus the obligatory stopping at overlooks, to wait up to 20 minutes for a park vehicle (a “navette”) to take us to the summit itself, and to stay as long as we wanted once we got to the top of the peak. Well, we miscalculated the last part.
Everything went fine at first. We had little traffic to contend with from Golden to Revelstoke. The switchbacks weren’t hard to maneuver, and the first and best overlook was a terrific tableau of the sun-drenched glacial mountains, the sparkling blue Columbia River as it snaked along its waterways adjacent to historic railway tracks and burnished bridges, and the tapestry of the quaint town of Revelstoke. When we parked, the navette soon came to escort us to the 6,300 foot summit.
The grandeur of the other glacial peaks surrounding Mt. Revelstoke notwithstanding, we (particularly my wife) were so pestered by bees and flies that we had to prematurely leave, or should I say escape, the summit.
My poor wife, always a bug magnet, furiously swiped at the swarming insects with her hat and with her walking stick, killing at least one biting fly in the process. In another life, perhaps she was a samurai warrior. But her efforts were futile; I wasn’t doing much better warding off my own attackers. After managing to take a few photos, we both raced back to the relative safety of the enclosure where we in a few moments got onto the navette. Once we were released to the parking lot, we both hurled ourselves into the car and sped off down the mountain with the AC blasting and with gasps of relief.
By the way, the navette driver on the return trip from the summit explained that the insects today were negligible. Sometimes they were so densely packed that you literally inhaled them if you didn’t wear a net over your face. I guess everything is relative, but our experience was bad enough.
At one point, my wife tried so hard to shake off some flies biting her legs that she kicked up her heels as if she were the Lord of the Dance. But she met her match with the Lord of the Flies.
ODDS AND ENDS
What’s in a name? A Reelsboro, NC, man was recently arrested for possession of a variety of hallucinogenic drugs, primarily pot: his last name is Roach. There is a Mt. Moloch, near Revelstoke National Park, BC. How ominous: Moloch was an ancient pagan god of human sacrifice. And close to Mt. Moloch are two glaciers appropriately called Dismal and Fang. Further east in Banff National Park, Alberta, is a body of water called Lake Magog. According to the Book of Revelation, Magog is one of the main enemies of God in the end times.
An unexpected pleasure: There are plentiful outdoor washrooms (that is the term universally used to designate toilets no matter where they are located) in the Canadian Rockies’ National Parks. These facilities are solidly built (log-cabin style), have abundant toilet paper, look clean and smell clean, and have hand disinfectant dispensers.
A bit absurd! On the Canadian highways, signs warning motorists to be on the lookout for wildlife (deer, elk, caribou were pictured) don’t make much sense. If you are going at least 100 kilometers (60 miles) per hour, how can you possibly steer clear of these large animals? I saw one written sign (no picture, just words) at the beginning of Revelstoke National Park stating that there might be amphibians on the road. Because amphibian might refer to anything from alligators to frogs, I wasn’t sure what to avoid hitting.
Right time? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have (at least on all major thoroughfares) a sign indicating that you are now entering a different time zone? My wife loves Indian food. Yesterday when I asked the manager of an Indian restaurant when she opened, she said four o’clock. I then pointed to my watch. It was already four o’clock. No, she replied. It was three o’clock. No, I replied. I tried to convince her otherwise, but she persisted. Then it hit me: oops! The time zone had changed, even though I was still in the same Province, British Columbia, when I started my trip in Golden and when I stopped at Revelstoke. I apologized and relayed the sad news to my wife.
As I was driving many miles along the highway the other day and tried to use the brake, my foot wouldn’t cooperate. Although I found it hard to put enough pressure on the pedal to make the car stop, I managed to pull over. When I got out of the car and took my first step to the passenger side, my leg buckled from searing pain. I have had leg cramps before, but nothing this severe. I had to inch my way back into the car. After rubbing my taut calves, my wife assured me that I probably had a short-lasting charley horse, so I shouldn’t be too concerned. I wasn’t so sanguine. Perhaps I was having a phlebitis attack or maybe even a blood clot.
But then I realized that the source of my trauma might well be the excess potassium chloride from the sodium-free “salt” that I had added to my luncheon treat, otherwise bland pea soup. Sometimes, when I use that substitute salt, my face gets a bit flushed and tingly. Earlier in the day when I was driving, I felt that my face was extremely pinpricked, but not to worry. It was a harmless reaction. Now I theorized that I had potassium poisoning. As long as I put no pressure on my feet, I was fine. But I dreaded getting out of the car.
Fortunately, the next time we stopped and I tentatively stepped out of the car, the pain relented. I was even able to walk a little with only slight discomfort. And when we got back to our home base in Golden, I was back to normal.
Down the road from our condo is Kicking Horse Lodge. That’s where I like to permanently house my charley horse.
These are great, Schlomo, as always! I want to go to Banff so badly!
The rental car mixup is funny. We went to Northern California in August and I did the same thing with a white Chevy. Can’t remember the model. But they both had Texas plates. I assume they were both rentals from the airport.