Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spring Break with Dad (Day 4) - Lakes Galore

Today was a day of short visits to several lakes in the Banff National Park area.

Lake #1 was Lake Louise.  If you Google image search this location, you'll come to identify it by glacial blue waters...but if you visit during winter weather, you'll hardly recognize the place.  However, even when frozen over, it is stunning.  Most of the hiking trails in the area were covered in snow and in some patches were rather icy, so we elected to do a flat trail that walked around the lake.  We came across some ice climbers above us on the portion of the trail before we got back in the car to head off to our next lake visit.

Lake #2 was Bow Lake, still in Banff National Park, but getting close to Jasper National Park.  As we pulled in to see the "lake" (which was covered in snow so hardly resembled a lake) it began to snow in strong flurries.  We drove on to the parking lot of lake #3 (Peyto Lake) but didn't stay long since the snow was coming down more strongly and the snow on the ground was so thick in places that our feet sunk through to our knees.  As Californians living in an area that doesn't get snow, we were rather childishly enthusiastic about the large snow flakes.

snow enthusiasm

We headed down to lower elevations in hopes of finding a trail to hike without a thick carpet of snow.  We found one at lake #4 - Lake Minnewanka.  The lake is 17 miles long, with a trail that borders the perimeter so we set out to walk about an hour out before turning around.  It was raining just enough to make the scent of the forest electric, but not enough to make us dampened through.  The lake is fed by the Cascade River, and the trail alternates between moss carpeted conifer forests and cliff edge views of the river below. 

And our lake #5 was Johnson Lake.  There is about a 2-mile trail that goes around the lake, which we set out on.  The reflectivity of the lake was a highlight with the mountains in the distance but the biggest gift of the hike (and biggest gift of the day if not the entire trip) was sighting a bald eagle.  We stood speechless when we accidentally spooked it from a tree, and thanked God for allowing us to witness such a majestic creature in the wild.

hard to see, but the bald eagle is in the tree canopy
 We're pooped from a full day, and back to the States tomorrow.  However, if I should not be allowed to leave Canada, I wouldn't be too bothered by it.  I'm rather smitten.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Spring Break With Dad (Day 3) - Banff National Park

Today we drove from our hotel in Cranbrook to Banff National Park.

On the way, we drove through Kootenay National Park.  In the early morning light, the coloring of the landscape was most spectacular.  When you pay entry into the park, you actually get access to Kootenay, Jasper, Banff, and Yoho National Parks.  One payment is good for all. 

Then, you leave British Columbia, cross over into Alberta, hang a right on Hwy 1, and you get to the downtown area of Banff.  We arrived around 0945, parked the car (found this public parking structure that gives FREE parking for 12 hours...the benefits of visiting places in the off season) and stopped briefly at the visitor center to get a trail map.

We began the day hiking the Tunnel Mountain trail.  The hike is just under 3 miles round trip, lots of incline and switchbacks on the way up, but the views from the top make every step worth it.  Make no mistake, it is work.  Maybe it is because I am very much out of hiking shape, but even with just a day back I was breathing heavily and glad when the summit was at last reached.

View from Summit of Tunnel Mountain

Once back down, instead of heading back to town, we went on to the Hoodoos Trail which added about 6 more miles to our hiking for the day.  The trail goes through forests with moss carpets, and even down to the valley floor following the curvature of the Bow River.  The panoramas are hard to describe in words, but my overall feeling with both Kootenay and Banff National Park is - this much beauty should not be allowed in one place.  I mean it should, I am glad for it, but it is almost ridiculous how incredible the entire landscape is at every turn.  You are reminded of your own smallness and God's grandeur and His incredible artistic ability as a Creator. I am just thankful I have eyes to drink it in, and I can't drink it in enough.

Bow River

We walked around the town of Banff afterwards and got dinner and some frozen yogurt.  My dad ate Rangeland Elk Stew.  Seemed like the Canadian thing to order.

Rangeland Elk Stew

More of Canadian natural landscapes tomorrow.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Spring Break with Dad (Day 2) - Lake McDonald

Today we returned to Glacier National Park for a day hike around part of the opposite side of Lake McDonald.  We parked our car near a closed gate past the Apgar visitor center and then began hiking towards Fish Creek Campground and then on towards Rocky Point and then a bit beyond that for about 45 more minutes.  We didn't really have an objective in mind, and the trail we were on was 6 miles long, which we didn't have time to do in full, but we were out on the trail for around 4 hours.

We saw only 4 other hikers on the trail today, so, again, it felt we had this bit of Montana wilderness all to ourselves.  Most of the trail went through a forested area had been burned in the 2003 Robert Fire, and there was a lot of evidence of natural regeneration.

No rain today, but the weather was chilly and gloriously overcast.  It caused the mountains to have a deep blue hue, emphasized by the distance.  Their peaks were brilliantly white, a delightful contrasted to the rest of the landscape.

Around 1430 we headed toward the Canadian border, about 2 hours from Glacier National Park.  You pull up to a little drive-through-type window and answer a few questions and then you are on your way, into a new country.  No stamp on the passport though (grumble). 

We got another hour north and then stopped for the night...sight set on Banff National Park for tomorrow.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spring Break With Dad (Day 1) - Glacier National Park

So, I'm back in college for round 3 which means I get a spring break again!  Taking advantage of its return by spending it with my dad.

Day 1 got us from home and landed safely in Missoula Montana.  Highlight of my flight was seeing the very tip of the peak of Mt. Rainier (14,410ft) from an above-the-clouds perspective.

We immediately rented a 4-wheel drive and headed straight for Glacier National Park.  The day has been blustery, chilly but not freezing, delightfully grey, and rained off and on.  In other words - glorious conditions for a day hike.

Now, the end of March is not considered "winter" season but also not quite "spring," which means that many road and trails remain closed in the park.  This means that access to many of the more famous features of the park are unavailable to us.

Now, the benefit of going in such an off season is that you pretty much get the parts of the park that are open to yourself.  The park feels a bit like a ghost town, causing you to pause and wonder if the zombie apocalypse has come at last.  Empty feeling except for some furry friends:

white tailed deer (I think?)
There was not even a visitor use assistant at the park entrance to collect your entry fee...just a honor system box to pay and go. 

We stopped briefly at the visitor center to get a trail map and inquire as to what trails were open this time of year, and were happy to discover quite a few trails near Lake McDonald (which is the biggest lake in Glacier National Park -  almost 500ft deep and 10 miles long) were open.  By the time we got here it was about 1500 so we drove to the closest trail head we came upon and got out of the car to get a bit of Glacier in before the sun went down.
We hiked a small portion of the Sperry Chalet Trail (not sure how many miles, but we were on the trail just an hour and a half).  As soon as we got out of the car to hike, it began to rain, which made everything in the old growth forest come to life.  There was a little snow on the path (nothing too significant though) and some fallen trees we climbed over, and the sound of a nearby creek running swiftly and full of water was the only sound besides our footsteps.

We caught the very beginning of the sunset on Lake McDonald on our way out of the park, and are looking forward to returning for a different day hike tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Chico Weekend

About a week ago I drove up to Chico to spend a weekend with two of my friends.  Up to this point, I have spent almost no time with either of them in the United States.  Our friendship was founded in the remote corners of the world, having traveled together in Patagonia and New Zealand (or rather, having sort of accidentally invited myself to their trips in these places).

Having moved further north in the state, driving to visit them has become less daunting, which prompted the visit.

I was uncertain what to expect of Chico, but I am now certain that I am quite keen on the place.  It struck me as a sort of "Boulder of California."  The city is just enough of a city without being overwhelming, and the Great Outdoors are literally the back yard of this urban space.  As a college town like Boulder, it feels young and active, but also feels more down-to-earth and slow-paced in comparison to many places in Southern California (the "southernly regions"...if you will).  And, I quite like the agricultural accidents that abound in this part of the Valley.

The weekend didn't entail a whole lot to report for you, dear reader, to replicate in your own trip to Chico someday.  However, I will say that the weekend was truly a gift.  I was humbled by my friends' hospitality and kindness in allowing me to stay, even when they both are incredibly busy at the moment.  I was hard pressed to drive away at the end of it, but thankful that God has allowed me to befriend such sincere and selfless individuals.  

Some highlights are listed below along with pictures.  But before I sign off, I will say that my concluding thoughts on Chico were that I hope maybe to live there someday...perhaps in a shoulder season?

Weekend Highlights:
  • Coconut Soup at Cocodine Thai Cuisine (came highly recommended by the resident Coconut Aficionado)
  • Tour of my friend's home garden (quite Shire-like, if I do say so myself)
  • Ultimate Frisbee with the regulars
  • Trip to the Plant Barn to buy lavender bushes
  • Planting lavender bushes
  • Almond Blossom Bike Ride (included the snafu of running over a giant staple, thereby rendering my tire airless in moments)
  • Dinner at one friend's parent's cozy home 
  • Delicious lettuce wraps made my friend's girlfriend (far superior to the PF Chang's variety with ingredient purchased from a local farmers' market)
  • Run in Bidwell Park

  • Church
  • Drive up to Table Mountain (next time need to hike it properly)