UPDATED: October 2020
Aside from an awesome experience snowshoeing to a remote backcountry shelter, my time spent enjoying the Canadian winter was also filled with other new and novel experiences. (Especially considering I have spent most of my adult life in warm places!) Read on to see what I got up to, and see some photos of my time there.
Having just arrived in from Dallas, the city of Calgary (where Candace is from) is where I began my Canadian journey. We only spent a couple of days here to get together the supplies we needed for our backcountry experiences which meant I learned all about the wonder of MEC! (The Canadian equivalent of REI (US), Blacks/Millets in the UK, or Kathmandu in Aus/NZ)
I was also very excited to experience real cold for the first time in my life, but upon landing, the local ‘Chinook’ winds had elevated the temperatures to a mere minus 4° Celsius. (24° Fahrenheit) Chinook Winds (called snow-eaters by the Blackfoot people) are a type of Föhn wind – warm and dry winds that occur in the lee of mountain ranges, and can raise temperatures dramatically.
As luck would have it however, the winds soon abated, and it wasn’t long before temperatures plummeted once again. I realised that growing up in the wet, moist, and dreary UK that I really had no idea what ‘true’ cold actually was. Below zero (32° Fahrenheit) temperatures in the UK are not common, and by minus 5° Celsius, the country effectively shuts down. So you can imagine my glee to learn that average day-time highs in wintertime Calgary hover between minus 15° Celsius and minus 20° Celsius! (5° Fahrenheit/-4° Fahrenheit). By the end of my time in Canada, I had reached a new lowest temperature of minus 36° Celsius. (-32° Fahrenheit).
The photo above is a Canadian Pacific Railway locomotive stopped just west of downtown Calgary in the midst of an oncoming snowstorm. Eighteen months later, these trains would go on to provide ever-present company for us as we cycled across Alberta and British Colombia in late summer of 2019. Following the route of the iconic railway, we were never too far from the rumbling of these huge trains, which can often be several kilometres long!
After our Bryant Creek Hut hike, We made a trip up to Lake Louise, a stunning lake nestled amongst majestic mountain peaks, with a fancy hotel on the lakeshore to complete the scene. I have been reliably informed that during the summer months the lake glows an azure shade of blue/green, and the photos of it that I have seen online certainly do seem to be mesmerising. However, during our visit, it was well and truly frozen over with a layer of snow settled on the top. The mountains were no less impressive however, and arguably the ominous low clouds, heavy with snow that cloaked the steep-sided mountainsides only added to the magnificence of the scenery. Nature has a way of making one feel small and insignificant.
Unfortunately, it seemed that drinking melted snow during the Bryant Creek hike the day before didn’t agree with my Caribbean-made constitution – accustomed more to jerk chicken, fried plantains and lashings of rum. Therefore, my time at Lake Louise was spent feeling very sorry for myself and trying not to be sick in front of the girl I was trying to impress! (The photo below captures that nicely as I pose for a photo while my stomach is doing somersaults.)
Although there was no chance we could afford to stay at the grand hotel on the lakeside at the time, we did head inside for a snoop around. The dining room and café was nothing short of spectacular – the gorgeous landscape outside was framed superbly through the tall, palatial windows. Certainly beats a Starbucks!
To keep within our budget during our time exploring the mountains we spent lots of time cooking for ourselves. Our MSR ‘Pocket Rocket’ camping stove did an awesome job, even in the low temperatures, and we had an entire plastic bin in the back of the car dedicated to food. It did amuse me when Candace was worried about buying perishable foods in case they went bad due to lack of a refrigerator – I had to gently remind her that we were in the midst of a Canadian winter and food going bad was the least of our concern, rather the issue was actually how to thaw out anything we wished to eat!
The photos above and below were taking during our chilly picnic lunch stop at Lake Minnewanka. Meaning ‘Water of the Spirits’ in the Nakoda language, this long lake, located in the Banff National Park, is a stunning area in the Albertan Rockies that is well worth a visit. Similar to Lake Louise, the photos I have seen of the lake during the summer show it be an azure blue colour, but in winter, it once again was a vast, flat plain of ice and snow. It certainly made it feel more other-worldly!
A Hydro-electric dam built in 1941 to supply power to the local area raised the level of the lake by 30 metres, (98 feet) and as a result flooded the lakeside resort village of Minnewanka Landing that had been there since 1888. The submerged village, perfectly preserved by the cold water, now serves as an attraction for SCUBA divers – perhaps another good reason for me to visit again in the future. (during the summertime!)
Next, we headed across the provincial border into British Colombia to the ski-resort town of Panorama where Candace’s sister owns a condo. She had kindly allowed us to stay there in order to relax and use it as a base to explore the local area. We repaid her kindness by cooking up big stinky curries every night during our stay which apparently you could still smell the following week! Sorry! I also spent plenty of time carrying out my perferred pastime – finding a favourite chair, and reading a book. (no ‘old man’ jokes please!)
One of our little day excursions was a trip down to the Lussier Hot Springs. Sitting literally in the middle of nowhere just off White Swan Forestry road, these quiet and tucked-away natural pools are a real treat, especially to a ‘fish-out-of-water’ Caribbean boy like me who was still getting used to ‘real’ cold! It felt incredible to warm my bones in these gorgeous hot springs. To further amplify the experience, we had the whole place to ourselves aside from another couple who left shortly after we arrived. Each of the pools are a slightly different temperature ranging all the way from cool/tepid, through to sizzling hot. The latter of which is indeed so scorching that one needs to build up to it gradually by spending time in each of the other pools first to acclimatise.
Being a sucker for punishment, not to mention never being one to turn down a dare, it wasn’t long before I was taking a break from the steaming waters of the hot springs to go do a push-up in the icy-cold river that runs alongside the forestry road. I cannot claim to be truly manly though, as I do admit I stood ankle deep in the frigid water for a couple of minutes building up the courage. Also, there perhaps was a small part of me that did it because I didn’t want to look weak in front of Candace! (Who did it too!)
Needless to say, having completed my challenge, it didn’t take long for me to literally scramble up the rocks and back into the balmy water of the pools again!
In the picture below I have no memory of what I seemed so shocked about. I can only imagine it was the distressing changes in my anatomy resulting from the extremely cold water. Ahem.
Being a keen cyclist, I was also keen to try fat-biking for the first time, something I have always seen online and been aware of, but never actually tried. A ‘Fat Bike’ is basically a mountain bike that has been built in such a way as to accommodate extremely wide tyres which provide lots of surface area to navigate difficult surfaces. Fat bikes are all the rage these days and allow off-road cyclists much easier access to terrain that even the toughest regular mountain bike would struggle with. They especially shine on loose and soft terrain such as thick mud, sand, and of course, snow. So, we rented the bikes from the resort, consulted the maps that the shop provided to us, and then headed out to the trails.
Panorama Ski Resort, as well as offering the ski hill itself, also has loads of trails for cross-country skiers, snowshoeing, and fat-tyred bikes. As would soon become apparent, fatbiking is in fact way harder than it looks – even for someone who is fit and active like me. And once again, I found myself struggling to prove myself in front of Candace! My first winter in Canada trying to impress a girl was continuing to be much harder than I had originally anticipated! So, while Candace elegantly and smoothly tackled the snow-covered hills with ease, I was busy trying to balance the fine line between getting off and pushing the bike (embarrassing) or pushing myself to the point of vomiting. (more embarrassing!)