Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 16 September 2017

A Canadian Adventure - Day 44

Friday 15 September 2017

Sparrowhawk Tarns

My old university contemporary Peter, and his friend David arrived from Calgary at nine o'clock. After a brief pause for refreshments a day off for Charlie was declared and we all jumped into David's Mazda.

The Highway 742 road to the Kananaskis area is a gravel track from the outskirts of Canmore and when we reached the Sparrowhawk picnic area after a rainy/snowy journey of more than 20 km we found the access gate to be locked. It's the end of the season. So we parked by the gate and headed up to the tarns along a good forest path.

The rain turned to sleet, then snow, then it stopped. It was cool. Conrad has correctly observed the change of season, but we seem to have moved from summer directly to winter. You'll note the snow over about 2000 metres in today's pictures. Our there and back route started at 1750 metres and reached a high point of about 2350 metres, from where we could just about see one of the five tarns (fourth picture down). The rest were hidden away in nooks and crannies that we decided not to visit, given the snowy conditions and the rough terrain.

Nobody else was on this trail today. Great! At times the path was obscure and hard to locate under the snow. David's GPS tracking came in handy on the descent when we encountered a mystery stream crossing.

A fair proportion of the walk was above the tree line, with lots of mountain views both above the tarns and in the other direction beyond Spray Lake Reservoir where we'd parked. Recent snow had given some of the mountains a white fringe.

Some squeaking pika entertained us, but not as much as the cheery chipmunks who seemed to be preening each other, getting ready for a party. There was no sign of any Pilated Woodpecker, but one did land on a tree trunk a couple of metres from us yesterday, down by the creek.

It brightened considerably during our descent on this cold day, but by 3.30 we were back at the car and ready to move on to the Bow Valley Motel Tea House (Room 32) in Canmore.

Peter and David were duly waved off, with thanks for choosing a perfect walking route for today's conditions.

Sue and I adjourned to The Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company restaurant for shared salads and pizza of a very high quality. Nice beer too.

10 km with 600 metres ascent, in 5 hours.

Friday, 15 September 2017

A Canadian Adventure - Day 43

Thursday 14 September 2017

Prairie View Lookout Hiking Trail

A drizzly morning found us, on our 15th wedding anniversary, taking advantage of the most convenient laundromat in the world. It's attached to the motel building and is a fifteen second walk from our rooms. It's amazing how much laundry you can find when you try on a trip like this (well, we have been camping for 13 of the last 15 nights).

In between those short walks dealing with laundry we managed to devour a shelf load of chocolate croissants and a whole heap of blueberries and yogurt.

Then it was time for coffee. The coffee machine works well and is re-supplied with ammunition every day. It's like one of Al and Hazel's.

A trip to the visitor centre followed, and some advice was taken. The weather further south may be a bit better, or so we were told. So a 45 km drive ensued, taking us to the start of a walk by Barrier Lake, no longer in the Rockies. It was lunchtime,  so we enjoyed our goats cheese and tomato buns, boiled eggs, crisps, etc in the car before setting off on the circular walk at 1 pm.

Most walks in this area are 'there and back' efforts so it was good to walk a circular route. The track rose gently through trees for some time, after 5 km reaching a high clearing on a sharp ridge with good views.

A bit further along the ridge we reached our high point of about 1900 metres, with fine views towards ... prairies. But with cloud laden mountains still in view closer to home.

The rest of the circuit was along delightful woodland paths with intermittent mountain views. And it didn't rain. Excellent. Not many flowers apart from lingering bellflowers, but plenty of difficult to identify birds and squealing squirrels. And a squealing Sue when a large lump of melting snow found its way down her neck.

We saw five people all day.

After the easy drive back to Canmore we topped up with supplies, went for a quick bimble by the creek, and enjoyed a lazy evening at home with some rather tasty provisions and a nice bottle of wine.

Apart from the first picture, today's images were all taken during our excellent little walk. Unfortunately we did not record the lovely Canmore sunset.

Hic .... zzzzz

14 km with 550 metres ascent, in 4 hours, and 4 km in 22.40.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

To Banff and Canmore

Just a short entry to add a few photos from Day 42. Blogger only accepts a limited file size by email, so twelve low resolution pictures - as in the last posting - is about the maximum.

There was a deep contrast between our two journeys down Highway 1 to Banff. The first, a few days ago, was completed in thick smoke and stifling temperatures, finishing at a comfortable campsite. The second was in rain, at 6°C, and finished at a comfortable motel. The campsite would have been a miserable place then.

The Jump Start café in Banff was in need of air conditioning on our first visit - the heater was on when we revisited it.

On our first visit no mountains were visible due to smoke. Second time round they were largely obscured by cloud, but the smoke was either highly diminished or even completely gone.

The photos:

• A final view of Lake O'Hara in the rain on Day 41
• The Rockies from a rainy Highway 1
• The Bow River at Banff - two pictures from the same spot
• Dracula's Castle at Banff
• Sue explores the underground passageway from Transylvania 
• A view from outside our motel 

Happy Days

A Canadian Adventure - Days 39 to 42

Sunday 10 September 2017

Lake O'Hara - Day 1

We woke at the Firewood Hostel in Field to drizzle from a sky with blue patches, and a view of mountains. The drizzle soon subsided, revealing a smoke free vista. Whoopee!

We were booked on the 10.30 bus into Lake O'Hara. The journey went smoothly for those like us who had arrived early, despite one of the old school buses having broken down and needing an engineer from Calgary. By 11 o'clock we were 11 km along the dirt road and at the campground up at 2000 metres. Sue disappeared off and chose site 17, and we were given an 'etiquette' briefing by Park Warden Maggie. Other buses took people to some lodge cabins and to an alpine club centre.

The tent was up in the woodland campsite by 11.30, and by 11.45 we were enjoying coffee and carrot cake at Le Relais, who also sold us a very useful map.

Then a delightful five hour stroll took the following route from our starting point of 2000 metres:

Lakeshore Trail clockwise > Seven Veils Falls viewpoint > East Opabin Trail > Cascade Lakes > Moor Lakes > Hungabee Lake > Opabin Plateau > Opabin Lake (2285 metres) > Opabin Highline Trail > Opabin Prospect (one of many brilliant viewpoints) > West Opabin Trail > Lakeshore Trail to Outlet Bridge and back to camp by the eastern path.

The views throughout were great. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth pictures are examples, but this phase of our trip should eventually be recorded in a separate slideshow.

Wildlife included a pair of American Dippers, diving ducks that we think may be White Winged Scoters, and a very fat Hoary Marmot.

The bluey green lakes were a contrast to yesterday's putty coloured river, but the paths were manicured as in most of the popular places over here. Given the popularity of this destination it possibly needs to be heavily managed. Nobody seems to find bookings easy, and they were impressed that Sue had managed it from the UK.

We were back at camp before 5 pm, and soon set about our usual four course camp meal with added muffins. All cooking is done in a general area of picnic tables, both outdoors and under a shelter. We got the last of the sun on an outdoors table that we shared with Roger, a cameraman who lives in Canmore and had come in for just one night thanks to a cancellation.

By 7.30 we were back in our tent for what was expected to be a cool night, with a number of campers (not us) showing concern over the adequacy of their sleeping bags.

It's Very quiet here, with just the sound of a river through the forest to lull us to sleep very early.

10 km with 400 metres ascent, in 5 hours.

Monday 11 September 2017

Lake O'Hara - Day 2

Sue's diary entry for today was written whilst I was chatting with Dan and Janice, an American couple who were also staking at Fireweed. Here it is:

'A wonderful day of clear blue skies, glistening lakes, autumnal larches and clear mountains. The Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit was today's objective, given the good forecast. Although we were awake around 7.30pm, we stayed cocooned in our sleeping bags until 8.15am. The clear morning wasn't as cold as we expected, and it didn't take long to brew a cup of tea and eat a Nine Bar for breakfast, so we were off at 9.20am.
After a short section beside the lake, the path to Wiwaxy Gap went left, through trees initially, then zigzagging quite steeply uphill. It didn't take long to move from the shade into the sun, but longer before we took layers off. The wind was cool again today. We overtook about 11 people before reaching the Gap, 500m above the lake, which was gradually shedding its mountain shadow as the sun rose, revealing its deep blue-green hue.

It was cold at the Gap, so we dropped down the far side a little way to eat our second breakfast of another muesli bar, and admire views into the next valley.

The path contoured round the hillside, gently descending through the Huber Ledges, bands of red rock. Ahead was the glistening Lake Oesa, with cascades dropping to smaller lakes, set in the yellowing larches. A Least Chipmunk scurried amongst the rock here.

Our path turned right at the lake, where a climbers path continues to Abbot Pass, where there is an alpine hut.
Lake Oesa was so lovely that we decided to have lunch number 1, although it was only just midday. The glacier-rounded rock on the shore made a good seat for a while.

Another small climb took us over a boulder and scree field to the start of Yukness Ledge, another narrow, mainly contouring path, high above Lake O'Hara, that was still shaded and cool. The path was well-constructed, with rocks placed as steps in many places. The ledge ended with a descent over boulders to the lake below Opabin, where we enjoyed lunch number 2 of hard-boiled eggs with mayo, crisps and fruit, with a view of the shallow lake, and a copse of yellow and green trees under the blue sky. A dipper moved on as we arrived to use a flat rock as a seat.

It was a delight walking through the trees, where we were yesterday afternoon, albeit on different paths, aiming for the All Souls' Alpine Route. This ascended again, over rocks, to a path that climbed gradually to a prominence, over a steep screefield. Our first mountain goat was seen (thanks to some folk coming the other way); it was sitting on a ledge overlooking the valley, and its white coat stood out well although it was some distance away.

The views here included Lake O'Hara below, and across to the morning's route. We got close to three ptarmigan youngsters, with white feet and flecks of white in their mottled feathers, the start of their transformation to white for the winter. 
The high point had a magnificent view, but the wind was cold and soon moved us on, descending steeply down the hillside. Care was needed but it didn't take long to drop back into the trees, passing Schaffer Lake, and walking out via the Elizabeth Parker (ACC) hut. It was surprisingly small but the two wooden buildings are set in a meadow, with views of the surrounding peaks.

We were back at camp at around 4pm, and have spent a sociable time in the sun in the communal area, chatting to Janice and Dan, making a cup of tea, then dinner. Hot and sour soup was followed by a small portion of chicken and rice curry (a freebie from the TGO Challenge, and rather delicious), pasta and tuna, and hot chocolate (courtesy of the hotel at Sun Peaks) and a mini-muffin! It is 6.30pm, the yellow school bus has just stopped to pick up those leaving, and it doesn't feel as chilly as it did last night.

We chatted with Janice and Dan before heading to the tent after 8pm when the light started to fade. The exciting conclusion of my book was read, and a new one, The Bone Clocks, started.'

13 km with 800 metres ascent, in 6.5 hours.

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Lake O'Hara - Day 3

Lake McArthur

Up by 8.30 to get the last unoccupied picnic table for breakfast, if you can call a mug of tea and a muesli bar 'breakfast'.

It was overcast and Sue had heard a couple of short showers in the night. Dan and Janice decided to get the 9.30 bus and go to Lake Louise. Their holiday time is more limited than ours.

We stayed with our plan and ascended to Lake McArthur via the Big Larches Trail and a High Level Circuit, pausing for elevenses/second breakfast on the way.

The lake was slate blue from a distance, a brighter shade of blue close up. Two goats and a goatlet grazed in the scree above us. It was very tranquil - just a few folk quietly dotted about, taking in the scenery.

We decided that once noon had passed it wasn't too early for lunch.

Just as well. The moment we finished, it started to rain. Steadier and steadier, for the rest of the day. 

A pleasant enough, if not photogenic, walk down the Low Level Circuit and onto yesterday's descent via the Alpine Club hut brought us to Le Relais by 1.50. It was crowded outside with people waiting for the 2.30 bus, and steamy inside with lots more folk taking advantage of the heat from the wood burning stove.

I bludgeoned Sue into continuing our walk for an hour by way of a circuit of Lake O'Hara. It's a nice stroll. We finished that just in time to visit the well appointed Lodge for an hour or so. As part of their licence from the Park authorities, they are obliged to provide facilities to all comers at certain times. We gorged ourselves on the afternoon tea buffet that they serve for $14 between three and four o'clock. Lots of small cakey items, big bowls of fruit, and a selection of teas and juices. Easy chairs and a chat with a young couple from Calgary made it an altogether delightful experience. Then it was outside for a kilometre of lakeside footpath in the rain to a convivial cooking shelter from which we emerged, over-replete in my case, at about 6 pm. The only place to go that is out of the rain is our tent, so after finishing this blog entry I'll enjoy a long session with Kerry Wilkinson's 'Two Sisters' novel. Sue finished Ken Follett's gripping read 'Eye of the Needle' last night so she will be able to get some way into 'The Bone Clocks' by David Mitchell. (BTW HMP3, she did enjoy 'Dark Matter'.)

14 km with 350 metres ascent, in 6 hours.

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Lake O'Hara - Day 4

Overnight rain intensified around 5.30 am, but thankfully a short break between 8 and 9.30 allowed us to enjoy breakfast and get packed up with just a wet tent to show for the rain.

The 9.30 bus rattled us down to the main road, and Charlie delivered us to the Trailhead Café at Lake Louise for an early elevenses. An excellent bookshop there had us salivating over its many and varied offerings.

The short drive to Banff found us enjoying lunch with a couple from Portsmouth, back at the Jump Start Café. We had seen no Europeans at Lake O'Hara apart from a Dutch couple.

We'd been told that a visit to Fairmont Banff Springs would be an interesting excursion, so we went there. It turned out to be a reincarnation of Dracula's home in Transylvania, built in the early twentieth century in the style of a Scottish Castle pretending to be a French Chateau, to house the railway construction gangs shipped in from eastern Europe. It now serves as a tourist trap. We perused the galleries, but with limited edition prints going for over $2000, and originals selling for up to $30000, we decided to move on through the pouring rain to Canmore,  a further 22 km down Highway number 1.

Bow Valley Motel, our home for the next week, was soon located. It looks typically unattractive motel like, but here we have a living/dining room with a kitchenette that has all you could want including an oven, a spacious bedroom, and a bathroom with a bath (which was much needed after three days without a proper wash!).

Just next door is The Grizzly Paw Pub, which is also a brewery, where we were served an excellent meal washed down with pints of Powder Hound Blonde and Grumpy Bear Honey Wheat beers.

About 2 km of bimbles, and 100 km for Charlie.

The photos are all from our Lake O'Hara visit, chronological as usual.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

A Canadian Adventure - Day 38

Saturday 9 September 2017

Rain

We had encountered just three bursts of rain in five weeks until last night. After going to bed we could see flashes of lightning and hear booms of thunder before rain slashed the windows for much of the night.

Views were extremely limited today. For once we'll put that down to the weather and give the smoke the benefit of doubt. We are just lucky to have arrived at the haven called Fireweed Hostel, a home from home after ten nights in the tent. The campsite at Banff had no cooking shelters, so life there would have been a bit grim. Food in tents is an absolute no no.

A slow start found us chatting to two interesting Polish ladies. Aneta lives in Ontario and is studying for a PhD in environmental sciences. Her old friend Ela is over from Poland to help Aneta celebrate her fortieth birthday. She works as a historian researching 19th century newspapers and is also interested in the history of Japanese medicine.

We gave them a lift up the Yoho Valley Road to Takakkaw Falls, where they will camp tonight. They were most grateful as this saved them a 17 km uphill road walk in the rain with Very Heavy rucksacks. On the way we passed six or seven elks by the roadside.

The original target was a youth hostel, pictured top, where the ladies are booked in tomorrow. It would have been helpful for them to stay there tonight but despite it being the end of the season, with views limited by smoke, everything apart from some campsites seems to be fully booked. This was no exception.

Takakkaw Falls, fed by Daly Glacier, are 254 metres high. Pretty spectacular - see second picture. A boiling river (third picture) had to be crossed to reach a close viewpoint, but many people just make do with the excellent view from the red chairs (fourth picture).

Despite the rain, Sue and I decided to hike about 9 km in the rain up to Twin Falls, via a number of other waterfalls that I'll save the tedium of naming. The camera didn't come out much anyway due to the rain. There were a few people about but it was far from crowded, and the wildlife was certainly sheltering.

Just near Twin Falls there's a cabin that was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1905 and has been added to over the years. It operates as a teahouse in the summer season, which is apparently now over. They were closed and in the process of tidying up before locking up for the winter. It's pictured, above the picture of nearby Twin Falls. We were allowed to eat our lunch on the verandah under the eaves. No tea was offered.

We had risen about 300 metres up the valley, on a walk designed to keep us out of the cloud that would have been encountered on our original plan. We had no proper map but the idea of a circuit (more a sort of lolipop) appealed. We regretted this, as after we had passed Marpole Lake on our 'circuit' our expected descent turned into a 200 metre ascent for a good kilometre across a very gnarly rockfield.

After that we took a wrong turn down an unmaintained path. After dodging various obstacles we turned back, dodged them again, and eventually found the correct path. This mini adventure just delayed us a bit. The rain eventually took a short break and the bottom picture taken back near the second highest falls in Canada shows that the atmosphere has cleared a bit.

Dinner at The Sidings café/bar was adequate but not inspiring. Then we sorted out gear and food for the next three days. We are going in to Lake O'Hara for three nights. There will definitely be no phone signal or internet so you won't hear from us until Thursday morning. This is an area that has to be pre-booked, with great difficulty, three months in advance. Sue spent hours on the phone trying to make the booking. I would have given up. We have to leave the car at a road head and get a bus into Lake O'Hara at 10.30 in the morning. It should be something of a wilderness experience, albeit strictly controlled and always fully booked.

19 km with 500 metres ascent, in 5.5 hours.