I've been listening to a lot of Bluegrass this past year. It's nice. I don't think I'm going to be sitting in jam circles anytime soon, but the music is generally good and fun listen to. Or maybe I'm just really, extraordinarily white.
ANYWAY, BFX, DIDN'T YOU GO BACKPACKING OR SOME STUPID SHIT? YOU'VE ONLY BEEN POSTING ABOUT IT IN PUBSKI FOR MONTHS NOW.
Why Canada? Why Backbacking? The first is easy to answer. My thought is that our neighbors to the north have a beautiful country, and that the Canadian Rockies are a remote, rugged, and elegant wilderness. This was later proven to be true. Plus, Canada 150 is an amazing opportunity to travel for cheap, given that the National Parks are free this entire year even for people who aren't citizens of Canada! The latter isn't an easy or straightforward answer. I have a habit of wandering, both physically and mentally, and there's a draw to such an expansive and possibly difficult endeavor. There's a solace in backpacking, a challenge to yourself and the possibility for an increased awareness of and humility towards nature and your own abilities. It's worth mentioning that this was a solo trip.
Mostly a driving day to Kamloops, BC. The border was interesting, I was briefly detained and my car was searched. I don't think Canadian Border Patrol was very happy or trusting of the "I'm going on a solo backpacking trip" answer, and totally not trying to sneak in to bum around your country with my backpack! The drive got more and more scenic the farther from the Puget Sound I got. Things start to become high-desert and the hills are much unlike those of Western Washington. There really wasn't much to note here, it was a nice night at an AirBnB, I met an obnoxious naval engineer who was the type who felt entitlement simply because he is an Engineer. And then I went to sleep.
To Jasper! This day would be a 10km hike into camp, along a 24km loop trail off the town of Jasper. The way into town takes you past Mount Robson, a truly intimidating and prominent peak. It's the highest point in the Canadian Rockies, and a grueling mountain to try and summit.
My first attempt to start the trail was thwarted by a rather deep cut reopening, and having to spend a half hour tending to it. Nearly cut my knuckle to the bone a week before embarking on this trip, a great thing to do to yourself when you could really use all of your fingers...after getting that sorted out I somehow ran into a black bear about 2km into this. A little guy, off the trail, who was a bit too curious for comfort. Unclip the bear spray, talk to it, back away, and wait. Fortunately he went up and over the trail, and wasn't seen again after that. There was a bit of paranoia though, given how densely wooded and small the trail itself was.
On top of that, I didn't see a soul until hitting camp, which was surprisingly nice. The tent pads were relatively close to the lake, which was drinkable with a filter, and the bear poles weren't too far away. I ended up spending the night eating dinner with a few college age girls from Montreal. They had been trekking their way across Canada mostly via train, and were at the Calgary Stampede the night before (what would turn out to be a commonality of this trip)...got a nice wake up from one of them at 11pm as they couldn't figure out how to use a bear pole. When did I become the person to ask all these questions to. It's an odd transformation.
Cold and windy in the morning makes for an unfun time tearing everything down. Hike back out, once again not seeing a single person (which is oddly unnerving) and then into town for some lunch before hitting the next part of the backcountry. Found an odd laundromat/coffee house hybrid and had to try it.
Actually really glad I stopped in this place, it was so weird, so quaint, and so not touristy compared to everywhere else in Jasper. I met a really nice and interesting couple from NY, a Jewish Husband and Wife not much older than myself, who had recently done a three day trek through the woods. They were on their way back, but we spent a good hour chatting about life, jobs, and "figuring it out". We're now friends on Facebook!
I haven't really mentioned yet that there were and are some awful wildfires in the interior of British Columbia which made this a bit challenging. The air was heavy at times, and the views were hazy at best for large portions of jasper. Hitting Lake Maligne was stunning, mountains on either side...including the trail I would soon take.
Another 10ish km trek up to camp, at about 2150m of elevation. Except this time I got hit by a snow thunderstorm on the way up. Snow, thunder, lightning, sleet, wind, you name it. This went on for a good 30-40 minutes while I just huddled and hoped not to get hit by lightning. Once again I didn't see many people. There aren't many pictures of this part of the trip. I was cold, damp, and fairly miserable with this night and the next day. The conditions were not friendly towards me, despite having been prepared to be wet and a bit cold. I think the lack of people was putting a sour twist on my mood as well. You spend a lot of time thinking about why you're going this when you're on the down trodden side of things. Then you remember that it's the journey that matters, not necessarily the destination. Well, that and getting back down.
The original plan was to hike to another campsite on this thru-hike, and then hike back into town the following day. Waking up to 30 and up mph winds and cloudy skies with a chance of thunderstorms put an end to that idea, given the previous days conditions. Knowing when to turn back is important...I still don't know if this was the right decision to make, but I made it...I ended up booking a night at a hostel in Banff, and proceeding to drive down there.
The Columbia Icefields are insane. I've never seen anything quite like that. Massive glaciers which are all sadly melting down due to climate change...I doubt generations down the line will have this opportunity. I ended up day-hiking nearby, on a trial which takes you up and over the treeline and opens up into views of mountains in any direction and a gorgeous meadow. On the way up I met a couple, he of Pennsylvania, she of Germany. She had flown out here recently to meet up with him on his trip around North America, they've been working out a long-distance relationship for over a year now and he's hoping to move to Germany. A key point: A former Engineer who just doesn't want to do it anymore because it doesn't help people. Meanwhile, she just got a higher education job at one of the premier technical universities in Germany.
The hostel! Man, the hostel was cool! It was taco night and things were way cheaper than anywhere else in town. I met a couple of Australian girls from Perth, a guy from another part of Australia, some Germans, a Scotsman, an Italian, you name it, the nationality was probably there. Nothing like drinking, eating tacos, and getting to know each other. It's nice to now have connections in Australia should I ever want to go there (hint: I do!). The morning though...
Breakfast in the hostel, then off to the woods again!
Let's Talk About Bob
So. Bob. The guy in the bunk under me. An older gentleman, likely in his mid 50's who is travelling around with his girlfriend. A bit gruff, but talkative once you get him going and happy to share stories of his years of travelling. I mean years. Denali, long canoeing trips, backpacking in extremely remote places, you name it, he's probably done it. Unfortunately he's not able to as much, due to exposure to Asbestos robbing him of much of his lung capacity. There's a sense of longing from him, it's not extremely evident, but it felt like he missed being able to truly explore nature.
The Three Rules of Hiking
1. Lighter is Better.
2. You don't always get what you want, but you do always get what you need.
3. Learn as You Go.
Along with a variety of other little tips, tricks, stories, and one beautiful poem that I'm keeping to myself (sorry, Hubski). To think, this entire thing started over him asking me where the oatmeal was...
More trails. More amazingly gorgeous trails. Banff rules. I mean, look at this. So green. So mountainous. I was hiking this awful fire road for the first 4km, gravel, and uphill with nothing to look at...but at least I was doing it with this guy and his 18 year old son, they're both from around Calgary. He's an architectural technologist who would rather be working in the ministry and spends a lot of his free time supporting his son through hiking, camping, and mountaineering trips. Really great guy.
Camp for the night! Also the buggiest night I've ever experience. Swarms upon swarms of mosquitoes and flies, never ending and everywhere. Met a couple of people around my age who turned out to be employees of Parcs Canada in the information wing, and were backpacking their off days. One guy, one girl (his supervisor)...whom I'm pretty sure were interested in each other. They had a lot of questions about nature and parks in the US. I had a lot of questions about nature and parks in Canada. We shared some bourbon. It was a great conversation.
To the next campsite! I joined up with two girls from Maryland who were out here and heading to the same campground. It's surprisingly easy to meet people on backcountry trails and campgrounds, and to hike around with them. Well, as long as you're not creepy, I suppose. One o fthem is moving to San Francisco partly because of being jaded with her employment and situation on the east coast, the other is thinking of joining AmeriCorps. They're both in the midst of change, which I think is an odd theme of the backcountry. The backcountry doesn't change, maybe that's why we're all so attracted to it. The weather is unstable, our lives are unstable, but yet everything remains in its place.
Skoki Lodge! Well hello there, National Historic Site where a Royal Honeymoon recently occurred. We kind of invited ourselves in and had a rather awkward encounter with the two people living/working there. Our ultimatum: We can stay, but have to leave when guests start to arrive. The result: Sitting around in a gorgeous historic lodge, playing jenga, and encountering two Germans. One of whom decided to play piano while we were all sitting around. It was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip, I had been looking forward to seeing this lodge for some time.
The rest of the way to the campground was short and complete with some very fresh brown bear scat on the trail. As in, still steaming. There were reports of a bear in the area, but fortunately we didn't see it on the way to camp, another one nestled in a valley and picturesque views. And another thunderstorm, but this time I was at least already set-up when it hit...
A few of us did an evening hike (sun doesn't set until 10pm this far north) and caught a nice glacier-fed Alpine Lake not too far from camp. Which, by the way, makes me question the accuracy of distances on topographic maps. There's no way it was 6 miles round-trip, it was probably 5 or we were secretly going much, much faster than we though.
A trudge of a hike all the way back to the trailhead, some shifting weather, a long uphill section, and then a blistering downhill section. You really get some great views out this way. Leaving the backcountry was hard.
A solo trek passing people I met, almost none of whom I will see again. Past some places I hopefully will see again. There is a beauty and sadness in having awareness of how limited your time is. It was a long, slow, and somewhat sad trek back, leaving behind the life of a traveler is a difficult thing. Your conquests, connections, and battles are lost to the inside of a car as you drive back into town. Ended up meeting oyster and drinking and feeling way too fucking drunk after a single drink. I could be a super cheap date if I lived up in Banff. No Hubski stickers were exchanged, thank God. Boring is a new way to look at front country camping, but that's how I spent my night so I could get up early and head back home...and get Tim Hortons for the first time in a couple of years...
By the Numbers
Jasper/Banff by the Numbers:
Days: 7 (Excluding Travel Days)
Bear Encounters: 1
Porcupine Encounters: 1
Driving Distance: 1151 miles (1852 km)
Backpacking/Hiking Distance: 62.50 miles (100.6 km)
Backpacking/Hiking Elevation Gain: 9500 ft (2900 m)
Pack Weight (Start): 45 lbs
Pack Weight (End): 32 lbs
What Can Be Learned
lil, I was thinking of you when I started writing this section.
1. Just enjoy it! Let go of your anxiety and engross yourself in the moment.
2. Lighter IS better.
3. Inclined head helps with sleeping.
4. Two parks in one go is one too many. Depth over variety.
5. Coffee at high elevation isn't the best idea.
6. Bears really don't want to see people.
10. People in the backcountry are kind, resourceful, strong, and so incredibly interesting. Acknowledge that this is a niche group and continue to seek out their company.
What Can be Repeated
1. Interactions with others! Be confident. Be kind. Be respectful.
2. Food! Pack it lighter but generally the same items.
3. Knowing your limits and understanding when to stop.
There's one life, one body, those are two things we all share in common. What you do with them is where we differ. I have developed this sense of wanting to test myself and body to see what it is capable of. Throwing it against nature, and exploring the world as it currently exists. There is too much beauty to pass up, too many opportunities to grow and develop as a person. "What Ifs" are avoidable, and this is just the start.
Thanks for reading.