Between a Rock and Hard Face

So much has happened since my last blog post, it’s going to take a while to catch up. However, onward we go.

Much of our time in Canada has been spent with one eye on a trip out to the Rocky Mountains. I had been lucky enough to get there for a couple of days in August, but that had only been a taste.  At that time – and in fact for most of our time in Canada – Nich (the wife) had been poring through every mountaineering/climbing/exploring book she could lay her hands on. Her membership of VPL (the often misinterpreted acronym of the Vancouver Public Library) had become invaluable to get hold of the various works of Sid Marty amongst others. So as the summer started to wind up, we planned our trip and plotted our route.

A few days before, I had been online booking some flights and noticed that there were some amazing prices, so I rang around the family and managed to persuade the notoriously difficult to please, David Cheeseman Sr (my dad) to come out for part of the trip. 

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David Cheeseman Sr. That tea was from a flask he’d brought with him from ‘ull

He had never been this far away from East Yorkshire in his life so it was great that he was able to get the time to come. He brought along his girlfriend, Vicky, and so our party was made up. Four people to be crammed into a Toyota Matrix (Auris to your Europeans) for the 1300km journey from Vancouver to Calgary via the Okanagan Valley. 

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Dad and Nich beside the rental car

A long, rainy first day driving was briefly interrupted by trips to Harrison Hot Springs and a few waterfalls before we arrived in Osoyoos, a town right on the border with the USA and at the base of Canada’s wine-growing mecca, the Okanagan Valley.  I had never thought very much of Canadian wine and it rarely appears over in the UK so was a bit wary of what this leg of the trip would be like. Thanks to some great recommendations, we found that it really is worth the visit. Great wine and even better scenery.

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Lunch on the patio at the Burrowing Owl winery in the Okanagan Valley.

Of course, being Canada they have some unusual problems. For example, at the Burrowing Owl winery we found out that, in 1996, almost 50 tonnes of grapes were lost to just 6 black bears. 

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Grapes at Quinta Ferreira winery

We moved on through the valley and onwards up to the Kootenay Mountains, which are absolutely stunning. I could try and write a great deal about the stunning scenery you encounter in Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks but it’s easier to just put a couple of photos in. 

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A freight train makes its way through the mountains. The trains are miles long, literally.

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The view from the top of Mount Revelstoke

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Sunset over Glacier National Park

We then spent a couple of days staying at the Kicking Horse mountain resort in Golden. The resort was completely empty but meant that we could easily get around, have a game of golf (I played my best ever round!) and see the Grizzly Bear refuge.  The resort created a sanctuary for two orphaned Grizzlies a few years ago, but only one remains (the other died of natural causes during hibernation).  The bear, Boo, is huge, and luckily for us lives behind an electric fence in his 7.5 acre pen. The thing about electric fences is that it does allow you to get extraordinarily close to one of the most dangerous animals in the world. Boo is now the subject of his keeper’s Masters’ degree in Grizzly bear behaviour and, despite the obvious drawbacks of being in a glorified zoo, seems very happy.  Dad loved seeing the bear and spent the rest of the trip staring intently out of the car window hoping to spot one browsing in the forest.

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You wouldn’t want to meet him in the wild, believe me

So then it was the turn of the Rockies to test the lower
gears of the rental car. If I found it tricky to describe how beautiful the Kootenays are, then I stand no chance with the Rockies. Everything around you is stunning. Huge peaks tear towards the sky topped with snow, the wide valleys and rivers allow the mountains to stand back and display the vastness, water gushes down from glaciers, it takes all your effort to avoid crashing the car as you’re drawn to gawp at it all.  

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A canoe on Emerald Lake. This was a toilet stop. Unbelievable

We drove to Lake Louise and went on a 9 mile hike up to a lookout point called the ‘Big Beehive’ which, surprisingly, looks like a beehive.  The world-famous lake is stunning and even better from the lookout point. 

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Lake Louise as seen from the top of ‘Big Beehive’. That’s the famous Fairmont hotel ‘Chateau Lake Louise’ at the head of the lake

On the way up we traversed the edge of Lake Agnes and stopped when we heard a little ‘Eeep’ sound. Thanks to David Attenborough’s ‘The Life of Mammals’,  Nich and I recognised this as the distinctive cries of a Pika.  These little things would definitely be high on the shortlist of ‘World’s Cutest living Thing (Ever)’.  They live in the rocky moraine piles which lie in the immediate aftermath of a melted glacier. We stopped and observed them for a while as they scrambled around collecting greenery before the onset of winter.  Nich even had the good fortune of a close encounter.

Nich meets a Pika

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A Pika… please watch the video link…it is awesome.

Meanwhile, my dad ventured further up the trail and had a close encounter with a ‘polar bear’ which, on later examination of the photograph he managed to take was revealed to be a mountain goat.

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‘Dad, what did you see?’…’It was a goat in a polar bear suit, I swear’

Following a day in Banff and a night in one of Hosteling International’s excellent wilderness hostels, it was time to drop the old man and Vicky off at Calgary airport and continue the expedition with just the two of us.  Mr Cheeseman Sr had had a thoroughly good time and went home with lots of stories (the one about the golf ball he found which had been chewed by a bear is a classic if you are ever down the pub with him). So it was back through Banff and Lake Louise and up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper and beyond.
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