I’m writing the rest of this list from Seattle, where it has just started to rain. This is far from a problem, as the number and quality of coffee shops was not understated. It is a big adjustment from my Canadian experiences, so I want to get the rest of this list down before the caffeine wipes it from my brain.
If you asked me before the tour if I was looking forward to seeing any wildlife, I might have shrugged. This is strange because I got so excited when I saw a bald eagle perched on an tree on the edge of the water in Tofino. How much more exciting could it get?
There is definitely something special about seeing animals in the wild that could actually do serious damage to you. Our driver told us stories about elk charging buses and trains. The rubbish bins are the definition of battening down the hatches, designed to defy bear attacks.
My ambivalence was wiped aside when a grizzly bear was spotted from the bus in Banff National Park. I didn’t get a photo, but one of the guys got this beauty.
He looked perturbed, having been disrupted during a afternoon nap in a sunny spot on the side of the road, but not angry.
From then on, potential animal sightings had our eyes glued to the trees and undergrowth. We were not disappointed. Another grizzly was spotted, as well as a black bear, some elk, a marmot and something that may have been a wolverine or a cat. Two male bighorn sheep blocked the road one day, causing all traffic to move aside while they marched runway-style down the highway. My favourites were the chipmunks and ground squirrels, who were so curious and brave and had no inhibitions about coming right up to see what was in my hand.
(This photo was taken while my camera was temporarily on strike)
4 Mt Edith Cavell
I have a love of the story of Edith Cavell, so was delighted when we took a different route on the way back from Jasper National Park.
While I was reading this sign, an English man pointed out that it had been censored to avoid mentioning that she had been executed by the Germans. I assured him that I had told her story to everyone on my bus, so all sensitivities had gone right out the window.
The mountain was dedicated to her in March 1916, only 5 months after her execution in Brussels. I haven’t checked, but it must be the only mountain called after a nurse. It was previously known as La Montagne de la Grande Traverse and popular among serious climbers. The north face is so sheer that it is hard to imagine that snow and ice can hang on, let alone people.
The eye is drawn to the Angel Glacier to the right of Mt Cavell.
But it is the remnants of the Ghost Glacier below that have caused the most damage.
Early one August morning in 2012, a chunk of ice the size of 1,400 city buses fell from the glacier and into the tarn, causing a tidal wave to go thundering down the valley to Cavell Lake, ripping up the road and carpark on the way. Details on this are provided as you get closer to the glaciers, so the walk back to the carpark is chilling. The damage is still visible and it is easy to imagine the sight of icy water ploughing through the valley, clearing aside trees and rocks as though they were sticks and stones.
3 Paddleboarding on Skaha Lake
I don’t have any photos of paddleboarding, but it left a lasting impression. The lake was calm and the sun was hot, even at 10am, so we were in the perfect place. At one point, I was the furthest away from the shore, paddling towards the middle of the lake. I stopped and stood completely still. All I could see were mountains and water. I felt like the only person in the world. I’d love to do it somewhere like Lough Hyne in West Cork, but I’d say my core would need to toughen up before I try it on the sea, as I’ve seen people in Vancouver and on the beaches of Vancouver Island.
On the entire tour, Banff was the only place we stayed for two nights in a row. It was such a luxury to stay in bed until it was light and not to have rustle around for clean clothes in my rucksack in the semi-darkness.
But we were adventurers by then, so it was impossible to stay still. On the advice of fellow travelers and the story that someone the day before had seen a moose, a small group of us decided to hike up Sulphur Mountain. There was a gondola available, costing $24, but I needed to get my sweat on.
Such is my lack of selfie talent that I look just as grotesque in the before and after shot, but such is life.
It was a good stretch to make it up in just under 2 hours, but well worth the view.
If I’d planned to stay in Banff a few extra days, I would have tried to get up a few more mountains. It could easily become addictive.
On the way down, we decided to stop off at the Hot Springs that gave the mountain it’s name. It wasn’t the refreshing dive into the sea that I needed, but felt good on the muscles.
Finally, a little moment to remember the great group of people I met on the trip. We bonded over long bus journeys, accidental kitchen mishaps, endless nights of snoring hostel companions and various evenings of beer, campfires and music. There was a good mix of nationalities and kindred spirits. By the time we got back to Vancouver, the group was already falling apart, but we will always have the Rockies and Moose Bus memories.
(Thanks Anna and Elaine for the photos)
So that was it for my visit to the West Coast of Canada. It already feels so long ago, sitting here in Seattle with people shouting and cars honking outside the window. But there is much more to come!