The gang goes North: Part 2

June 19-23

Passports, check. Rabies vaccination card, check.

“Anything to declare?”

“Just a couple beers left in the fridge, two cans of beer spray. Some raw meat, a couple multi tools and a hatchet.”

The border agent went through their questions methodically, making sure we didn’t slip up about our doings in Canada.

From Camano Island in northern Washington, we’d be making our way onto the Sea-to-Sky highway north of Vancouver.

In no particular rush, Jamie picked out a spot to stop for lunch near North Van (as the locals call it). It was blustery and cold on Porteau Cove, the southernmost fjord in North America. We had PB&Js and some fruit. 

The folks on the picnic table next to us were celebrating Father’s Day with an indigenous cuisine, but had forgotten their lighter for the camp stove. I popped open our trunk kitchen and grabbed ours.

“Thanks! Can’t believe I forgot the lighter back home. Can I interest you guys in some bannock?”

We obliged, and the gentleman fixed up two extra for us. A mixture of flour, cinnamon, vegetable oil, and a few other things that currently escape my mind, it was subtle in flavor but delicious.

We left shortly after, and made it into Squamish within the hour. It seemed like everyone was on their way to mountain bike, climb a rock, or hike one. It’s just a part of their day in Squamish, I suppose. Jamie popped into the market and stocked up on a few groceries, and we continued on, up the Sea to Sky.

CAMPGROUND FULL, read the sign at Alice Lake Provincial Park. We moved on. It was decided that we should get out and stretch our legs on a short hike. It lifted our spirits to get out in the woods, and Brandywine Falls was dumping when we arrived to the overlook. A good stop.

We found our campsite at Nairn Falls Provincial Park. Situated along the Green River, the flowing water provided a subtle background noise for the night. Before dinner, we took the path along the river up to Nairn Falls, and were greeted with deafening booms as water frothed and caromed off the rocks below. So SO much water. Everywhere. The looming snowy peaks above showed themselves as the fog dissolved later into dusk. We suppered and fell soundly asleep.

Monday was primo. We got a late-ish start after eggs and engies, yogurt, granola and fruit. Coffee. Where to today? We decided another night at Nairn Falls was in order.

“Any idea on good hikes for today in the area? We’ve got our dog, and it looks like snow on a lot of the higher elevations,” I asked the park attendant.

“Last report I got was the snowline around 1200 meters.” 

We did some quick conversions in our heads. OK, we’d be looking for a lower elevation stroll today.

We found one at Cold Creek Canyon. Only 2.5 miles, the trail climbed well over 1000 feet, along a cascading, thunderous creek. There weren’t more than a couple other folks on the trail, so we had some solitude in addition to a good blood-pumping hike.

We made a quick stop at North Arm Farm on the way back to the campground. It had a quaint store with goods and artisan foods, but the real attractions were the penned up farm animals out back. The hog had just given birth what seemed like a dozen piglets 2 weeks prior, and we watched as they endlessly pestered her for food. The chickens in the coop came running as we approached, as they traditionally are rewarded with handfuls of feed. Sadly, we had no feed to feed.

It was time to test out our Walmart inflatable kayak. One Mile Lake was only a mile or two from our campground. We unloaded the raft and our lifejackets and got it prepped, dropped it in. Charley captained us around the lake for about an hour, as we saw the clouds lift and the sun bathed us for a bit.

When we’d confirmed the kayak would indeed float, it was time to make camp and rest for a bit. It felt like we’d been going nonstop. Jamie and Charley hung back at the site, and I went for a run along the connector trail from Nairn Falls back to One Mile Lake. The clouds had continued to dissipate, and I was treated to remarkable clarity of the surrounding mountains as I circled the lake along the (really neat) boardwalk. A bald eagle soared over the lake. Come on. This can’t be real, I laughed to myself.

We enjoyed a late dinner that evening, but with dusk lasting til after 10pm, no artificial light was needed. In fact, I wrote in our journal that night after dinner, maybe 10:30, with the dying light of the day, and no extra lumens needed. Jasper NP tomorrow, read the last line of the entry.

Despite being a “travel day” of about 400 miles, Tuesday was remarkably enjoyable. We’re having the time of our lives, and Charley seems to be (mostly) enjoying it too.

We left Nairn Falls around 8 AM, moving through nearby Pemberton and over the mountains to Lillooet. We passed Duffey Lake on our left, and snapped a time-lapse video as we laid rubber.

Soon, we made it over the pass, and onto 100km/h highways that provided more predictability in the curves and grades of the road.

Stopping in Clearwater for lunch and a hike at Wells Gray Provincial Park, we caught another waterfall, Spahats Falls, drop nearly 250 feet and proceed to drain into the Clearwater River far below. The afternoon shift of the drive continued us along the flooded North Thompson River, as well as a new hotly debated tar sands pipeline.

We didn’t see as much in the way of wildlife as we had hoped, but did spot a small group of bighorn sheep, some deer, and a roadkill moose.

Pulling into the Robson River Campground at Mt Robson Provincial Park in the evening, we picked out a level site and set up camp. We’ve gotten increasingly efficient at unloading the awning, chairs, tables, camp kitchen accessories, and popping the nest.

Mt Robson is the big boy. It’s the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, just under 13,000 feet. We caught glimpses of the base of the mountain, from the banks of the Robson River. The peak would stay hidden during our time there.

A light rain tapped on the plastic roof of the nest as we woke the next morning. Jamie whipped up a quick breakfast and I started reloading Archie with our camp items. Everything would be wet as it got packed up. Would have to get used to it. Alaska and the rest of the North Country are wet in the summer. So it goes.

It was 100km east to Jasper, and we made it in just under an hour. I was shocked to see a bustling town, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, as we just drove hundreds of miles without a sniff of anything larger than a small hamlet. It was comforting, in a way, to be among a community again, albeit for a day or two.

We popped into the visitor center, inquired about some hikes, wildlife viewing, and camping, and set out the Valley of the 5 Lakes hike.

A very popular route, the parking lot was near full. After we had finished the hike, we realized why. For a loop of just over 3 miles, it offers, you guessed it, 5 lakes of varying colors and vantage points. Despite the crowds, the walk was thoroughly enjoyable, and we left happy that we’d done it.

A trip 20 minutes farther south down the mountain-flanked Icefields Parkway, the highway connecting Jasper, Yoho, and Banff National Parks, got us to Athabasca Falls. This seemed to be even more trafficked than the hike we’d just left, so we spent 10-15 minutes walking to a couple observation decks before climbing back in Archie and heading north in search of a campsite.

We picked one out at Wapiti campground, and then drove back into Jasper and up to Pyramid Lake. Jamie and Charley enjoyed the stunning views from Pyramid Island, beneath the mountain of the same name. I went for a run through the impressive trail network nearby, and met them back in town for grocery shopping.

It was wet that night, again. We huddled beneath the awning for a bit, when the rain was hardest. We had dinner under a tall cedar that offered some dry canopy and I fixed a fire when the rain had let up. 

It’d rain relentlessly through the night and into the morning, and we again packed the car in the morning with wet stuff. We spotted some elk perusing a campsite on our way out. .The day in Jasper would be a wash, so the decision was made to not dwell on it. We headed back into town, took care of laundry and vacuuming and reorganizing our “home” and set out in the afternoon toward the AlCan Highway.

5 hours of driving brought us east, then north and northwest toward Grand Cache, Grand Prairie, and ultimately Dawson Creek.

Coming up: Stage 3- The AlCan Highway.

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