Where the Wild things are
AUSTRALIANS have an insatiable curiosity when it comes to Canada. Whether it’s the moody shift in seasons, the surging rivers and snow-capped peaks, or that sickly sweet maple syrup – Canada is an exotic land. And like the 230,000 Australians that venture across the Pacific Ocean to satisfy their curiosity each year, she worked her magic on me during a recent visit.
My wanderlust for Canada bit hard, landing me in the sleepy town of Nelson in British Columbia for around 15 months. Tucked in the heart of the Kootenays, Nelson’s snow capped peaks never failed to impress, but truth be told, they were molehills in comparison to the endless peaks in the Rockies. There’s a reason that glamour shots of the Rocky Mountains are pasted on postcards and marketing material – everything else is a like a tasty prelude to the main event; the Rockies.
The Icefields Parkway is at the heart of the action, stretching right through the mountain range from Edmonton in the north to Calgary down south. Hailed as one of the world’s most scenic highways, the stretch of road from Jasper to Lake Louise is where the ‘ohhs and ahhs’ involuntarily kick in, with over 100 glaciers, waterfalls and impressive rock spires dotted on each side of the highway. Think emerald green lakes, dramatic peaks, lush green meadows and gob smacking views around every corner – and you’re on the right track.
The bustling ski town of Banff is like the Whistler of Alberta – and it reels in Aussies like Bondi does Brits. The number of Australian tourists is on par with Canadians in some bars and clubs, but drinking VB with Aussies in a packed pub isn’t what we came here for, so we head on to the little town of Canmore about 20 clicks south.
Canmore is like Banff’s little sister, attracting just a fraction of the visitors – but that’s part of its charm. With just the right mix of boutique clothing stores, art outlets and no-frills restaurants – without the crowds – it ticks all the boxes for travellers who want to take in the great outdoors rather than the nightlife. And that’s why we’re here.
Truth be told, we’re here for the climbing which is world class – or so we’re told. But with metres of snow still on the ground at the most popular climbing haunts, we dust off the boots and settle on the hiking trails instead.
With literally hundreds of kilometres of trails to choose from, we settle on a sedate 4km venture along the Grassi Lakes trail, just outside of Canmore. Surrounded by young families, we opt for the ‘difficult’ trail to shake the crowds and strollers, and we’re soon rewarded with birds eye views of lush green meadows strewn with yellow daffodils. We’re off to a good start, bounding over rocky trails with panoramic views of Canmore below, but about 20 minutes into our venture, the clouds start to blow over, as if issuing a stern warning.
Without mention, we press on along a scenic wooded trail en route to the waterfall which we’re promised ahead. But as the billowing wind picks up, the chances of claiming our reward seem dashed. And as the lashings of rain sting our eyes, it doesn’t look good.
Soaked through, we press on figuring that there’s no way back after reaching the point of saturation. Struggling to see the joy in a sodden hike, we reach the waterfall having seemingly achieved what we had first hoped – there’s not another person in sight. But as if on cue, the rain eases almost apologetically, revealing a pristine turquoise lake bordered by towering evergreen pines.
Returning to the car, sodden and cold, we admit defeat and decide to press on from Canmore to Radium Hot Springs on the recommendation of dozens of locals back in Nelson. The GPS tells us it’s a two hour drive, so we towel off and hit the road in anticipation of the warm mineral waters ahead.
With the dramatic mountain scapes behind us, the heater blaring, we make our way along the wide Canadian roads with a renewed sense of optimism. As we settle into our heated leather seats, we spot a black bear and her cubs along the side of the road and can’t help but pull over for a look. Almost certain that there’s a rule book somewhere that says it’s not a good idea, we keep our distance and press on for the hot springs, pulling into the tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Radium Hot Springs a few hours later.
Surprisingly busy for a tiny town of just 800 people, we waste no time dipping into the pools which serve up steaming mineral waters backed by an impressive backdrop of towering pines. We laugh off our misfortune with Mother Nature as our muscles relax. But our Canadian curiosity not yet satisfied, we begin plotting the next leg of our adventure. Next stop, Penticton.