Rocky Mountain High

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
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Flag of Canada  , Alberta,
Sunday, May 20, 2007

The mudslide on the Trans-Canada Highway was rather a letdown. Visions of fighting our way through knee-deep mud and dodging around an obstacle course of massive boulders just didn't materialize. There were a couple of back-hoes clearing the ditches and a smear of mud across the road, and that was it. No delay, no chance to chat with fellow travellers, no adrenalin rush - everything was just quietly and quickly cleared up and the normal traffic flow resumed. If this had been Peru or Bolivia, it would have been a grand adventure and given us enough material for a whole TravelPod entry!

Of course, in the old days things were very different. When trails, roads, tunnels and railways were being forced through this inhospitable terrain during the 19th and early 20th century, there were many tales of incredible hardship, bravery, and challenges overcome. We stopped at the Spiral Tunnels viewpoint overlooking Kicking Horse Pass to check out one particular engineering marvel. The original railway line with an excessively steep grade of 4.5% led to many a crash and derailment, so a novel proposal was submitted based on a Swiss solution to a similar type of problem. Spiral tunnels were blasted through the mountains with an amazing degree of accuracy, and the circuitous route eventually reduced the grade to a manageable 2%. It is quite a sight to see the tail of a long freight train still entering a tunnel when the locomotives have already emerged and are snaking their way into the depths of the adjacent mountain at a slightly lower level.

Our trip up through the Rockies Mountains was certainly not a letdown! The snow-capped peaks and ice-shrouded rock pinnacles formed a stunning panorama. Over Rogers Pass and up into Yoho National Park, we arrived in Banff NP and camped near Lake Louise. The frigid summits of Victoria and Temple guarding the pass were catching the golden glow of the late evening sun. We had expected to be greeted by the emerald green waters of the lake, but instead found it was still a slushy sheet of ice just starting to melt around the edges. A few young people were goofing around in the middle of the lake, and luckily nobody went through the ice until they tried getting back onto terra firma. We wouldn't have thought ending up in icy-cold water to your knees would be much fun, but everybody seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The Icefield Parkway from Banff to Jasper is promoted as 'the most beautiful highway in the world' and it certainly is a very apt description. The 230 km corridor is lined with over 60 spectacular snow-covered mountains, and includes seven major icefields and 25 smaller glaciers. The area was explored and meticulously mapped by David Thompson over 200 years ago, and in 1807 he led the first Europeans across the Rockies. He travelled mostly on foot or by horseback, canoe and dog-sled, documenting the landscape, writing about the plants and animals, establishing trading posts and making contact with the aboriginal people who inhabited the area. As we quietly enjoyed the majesty and grandeur of the Columbia Icefield, we wondered what he would have made of the modern-day visitors to his isolated wilderness. Tourists from around the world now arrive by the busload, and the roads are jammed with RVs and SUVs even this early in the season. It is difficult to find a quiet spot where you are not suddenly ambushed by a multitude of camera-touting sightseers jumping out of the bus to have their picture snapped in front of the latest natural wonder. Oh for the isolated serenity of the Andes in the deep south of distant Chile and Argentina!

Arriving in Lacombe - a small town mid-way between Calgary and Edmonton - we were greeted with another royal welcome and enjoyed warm hospitality for a few days of strolling around down memory lane. Rick and Sue (aka Rice & Stew) were in Grad School with us in Guelph back in the mid '70s and had also been CUSO in the Caribbean. It really taxed our memories trying to dredge up names and dates from the far distant past, but we often ended up laughing helplessly to the point of tears as we recalled our antics from that bygone era. As Sue served lentil pie and a jelly cake (don't even ask!) on the first evening, we knew that we were in for large helpings of reminiscences, interspersed with discussions ranging from current issues to the joys and sorrows of raising children. Going to see Sarah Polley's recent film "Away From Her" certainly provided further food for thought (especially for our current age-group), although we felt that Robert Eyre's 2001 film "Iris" did a significantly better job of capturing the nuances of the difficulties of dealing with the tragic ravages of Alzheimer's disease.

On a lighter note (at least for some of us) the last two Senators play-off games against the Sabres provided some nail-biting entertainment, finally culminating in great jubilation as everybody's favourite Ottawa team finally made it into the Stanley Cup Final. GO SENS, GO!!
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