Friday, September 18, 2015

Canadian Rockies ….a marvel to witness !

Planet Earth has three significant swells in North America. The Rocky and Sierra Nevada  in the West and Appalachian  in the East.

Of them the Rockies being  the larger and the bolder is wide and stretches covering much of Canada’s British Colombia [BC]; spanning from Alaska to the border of Central American. They are noted to contain the highest peaks in North America; Mount Elbert located in Colorado at 4,401 m above sea level and Mount Robson in British Columbia, at 3,954 m the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Mount Elbert located in Colorado at 4,401 m above sea level and Mount Robson in British Columbia, at 3,954 m the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.

With the Treaty Six and Seven signed in 1876 - 77 the land was taken over from the First Nations and opened up to agriculture and mining. However even before the treaties the need of a railway to the interior of Canada was to be a requirement. In 1872 the Canadian Pacific Survey commenced  for a new National Railway and by 1879 construction work of it had commenced. It was only after the Canadian Pacific Railway [CPR] was incorporated in 1881 that  work completed to a finish. The last spike on the track was driven in 1885; after period of four years.

Passing the Rockies happened to be the the stumbling block in the linking of the two ends of the railway that commenced from Vancouver to Revelstone in the west and to Lake Louis passing Calgary all the way from Quebec from the east.

It is this section of the Canadian Rockies that is the most picturesque and much of it  is park country with most of the High Peak National Parks Located.

Breath taking Canadian Rocky 

Much of the place names and other legend here is related to the railway where over 1000’s hands mainly Chinese from the mainland toiled and sacrificed their lives in making a pass through the Rockies to the Prairies. This was to be met with exception though with deviation from standard rail bed formation rulings where the authorities had to allow in-order to meet construction targets.  The standard norms of a 2.2 percent  gradient on a rail bed had to be overlooked at the Kicking Horse Pass for 4.4 percent. This was to result in numerous rail accidents and passengers having had to be accommodated in lodges built by the rail company until better weather came over for travel.

Therefore it was  the CPR who were the first to commence the leisure industry in the Canadian Rockeries building their own lodges for the traveler which later turned out to be better hotels as seen today. However the Trans Canadian Highway that runs parallel to the railway is the preferred mode of conveyance today given the extra time a train would take in these modern times. But the views of the canyons, precipices and the gorges over which the train passes are missed on the highway. A few passenger trains are still run for the tourist from Vancouver to Calgary with a overnight stop at Kamloops. This is in comparison to the numerous freight trains with over 100 cars that snake along the tracks everyday.  

National Parks in the Canadian Rockies

The National Parks in the Canadian Rockies are managed  by the agency ‘Parks Canada’. One could plan you excursions and stay-overs from the central location of Banff located between Kamploon and Calagary. 

Parks Canada has a general package for four spectacular locations discounted when purchased all at onetime and the tickets are valid for two weeks. However those interested in hiking, mountaineering, kayaking and camping on the listed nature trails can select locations separately. Those  doing the four locations package  at one time needs to plan a night stay over either in Banff or Jasper as two locations the Colombia Ice Field and the  Glacier Skywalk is over 150 km from the Sulphur Mountain Gondolas and the Cruise on Lake Minnewanka. A night over at Banff and a night over at Jasper is best when you do not need to rush the four sites.

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Yoho National Park

Yoho is a smaller park with much barren land and is the most strenuous section of the railway and the highway  that passes the Continental Divide of the Americas cutting through the Rocky. The divide designates the line at which the waters from the Rocky either flow to the Atlantic or to the Pacific Oceans based on which side the flow originates.

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The other spectacular is the viewing gallery of the twin spiral tunnels on the CPR that was created in 1909 to overcome the dangerous gradient of 4.4 percent. This unique piece of  innovative engineering of locating two spiraling tunnels with the railway having to cross the Kicking Horse River four times in opposite directions to get a  an extra  three miles for a height of 17 meters   to bring down the precipitous gradient to  the allowable 2.2 percent.

This is one of the main attraction of the railway today; and it could be enjoyed when a freight train with over 100 cars enter the tunnels. The last car is yet to enter the first tunnel when the engine has already approached the second tunnel.

Spiral Tunnels in Yoho

  Banff National Park

The Baniff National Park is the larger and most visited. Much of the locations here are also related to the  railway. As for wildlife, it is home to the Grizzly and the Black Bear also the Big Horn Sheep. However the main attraction are  the host springs of the Sulphur Mountain.  Again the springs were discovered  by CPR employees who described them as a mist filled cave in the Sulphur mountain due to the steam that emanated form the cave mouth. The railway men then built a shack near it and prepared to cash in the site for recreation.  However the Federal Government in 1885 set aside the land area of 26 sq km as the Banff  Hot Springs Reserve and the springs would be forever ….reserved from sale, settlement or squatting.

Today it is not  the hot springs that is frequented but the Gondola ride to the summit of the Sulphur Mountain which pass along side the springs.

Gondolas on their way up


A Gondola best accommodate four people but pairs are also allowed. One can reach the top in eight minutes says the information; rather disappointing to imagine for the price you pay. Once offloaded at the upper  terminal the boardwalk take you to the summit of the Sulphur Mountain  to enjoying the view of the peaks and the Town of Banff far below. This will keep you there for over an hour. The ride down is also equal to the climb both in time and the thrill.

Town of Banff as seen from Sulphur Mountain
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Banff Spring Hotel
Hues of  Blue
Three Sisters Range

Four Striped Ground Squirrel
A timeline of two hours is sufficient at the Gondolas and the Sulphur Mountain but we had  to stay over extra time when after all the fun we realized that the car key had gone missing. It was a horror to even imagine  looking for it back on the peak or in every Gondola………..but for our luck it had been found by a honorable visitor and handed over to the  lost and found. 

Yes….  everyone felt the the…….RELIEF.

Atop Sulphur Mountain
Lake Minnewanka

Not wasting anymore time we head for the Lake Minnewanka for the cruise. A cruise leaves every 45 minutes when the running is high. A time of approximately about an hour is spent  in the cruise. If one is not interested in the  interpretation of the  wildlife of the Banff that is narrated with pictures and touch and feel material related to bear and the Big Horn Dear in the park and the sustenance of the eco system with burning down of the forest every 15 year  etc etc ……one could walk out on the rear deck of the boat to enjoy  the splash.

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Lake Minnewanka

The carnivores of the park are represented of their dominance   based on the claw and talon sizes. However it is noted that the most human injury in the parks are from the ground squirrels; and this too is due to them being fed  by visitors and in return one ends up with them biting you.

Feeding wildlife in the parks is strictly prohibited and feeding bear will earn you a hefty fine or even land you in prison; and anyone entering areas that have been closed due to bear activity risks a fine of up to $25,000. A “fed bear is a dead bear” goes the saying, because once bears have associated humans with food, they will have a hard time keeping away.

The cruise over it’s a picnic lunch heated over a small propane stove.


We preferred to stay overnight  at Banff  instead of a rush to Jasper. A BBQ supper  had after a dip in a warm-water pool  and an electric sauna ended a day of much contentment.

Johnston canyon

Day two began with a hike along the Johnston canyon. The time being the peak of summer the crowds were high and one had to wait on the boardwalks for people to pass. We were happy with the walk to the first waterfall as it was a long ride to Japer for the Ice Fields and the Sky Walk.


Lake Louise was not to be as striking as seen in pictures. The effect of environment impact was all around. A forest fire in the state of Washington had pushed the dense smoke this far up leaving a obscure skyline with a blotched vista.

Lake Louise blurred in smoke 
Jasper National Park

Heading for Jasper now we hit trouble once again. Looking for the highway 93N to Jasper we are confident that we took the right turn, but after an hours drive we realize we are heading South way Vancouver. A ‘U’ turn back to Lake Louise we reach 93N and are nowhere in meeting the deadline at the Ice Fields. It will be a relaxed drive up to Jasper  giving more consideration to wildlife and the planed itinerary is rescheduled for the return journey. We drove all the way to Japser with a stop over at the Athabasca fall.

Wildlife in Jasper National Park

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The Athabasca Falls is created with the meltwater from the  Athabasca Glacier gushing into a narrow canyon creating immense energy carving out deep water ways in the bed rock.

When the adrenal levels of the onlookers also went high 

Maligne Canyon

Day three again was a walk down the Maligne Canyon …..the difficulty in keeping to time due to fitness was felt by all… we walk back uphill needing much extra time.

All on board after a buying  spree for souvenirs in this beautiful little township of Jasper; probably that comes into luster only in the summer, we are heading back to the much waited Ice Fields and the Sky Walk.

We are just in time for the 4.45 p.m. turn to the Ice Fields and the last visit for the day to the  Sunwapta Sky Walk.

Colombia Ice Field

It's huge.....
The visit on the Athabasca Glacier in the Colombia  Ice Field is definitely a lifetime experience. Colombia Ice Fields  is the largest sub-polar ice mass in North America and is said to be constantly on the move expanding, contracting and shaping the geography in the region.  First discovered in 1898 and is the largest accumulation of ice and snow south of the Arctic Circle covering an extent of 325 sq km and reaches a depth of 360 meters.

The continuous snow accumulation feeds eight glaciers including the Athabasca, Dome and the Stutfield in this region. 

All wheel drive Mercedes Benz Ice Explorer 
The Ice Field is considered a hydrological apex as its meltwater feeds the streams going all the way down to the Arctic,Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. The first exploration to them had been in 1904 by Jim Brewster. He later began to operate  adventure tours on horseback with horses equipped with spiked horseshoes for better grip. Today a fleet of massive Ice Explorer vehicles specially designed for travel on the glacier are operated by the company that Brewster started, taking the visitor on the3 Athabasca Glacier. One can also see vegetation that is  unique to this habitat that age over 400 years

Athabasca Glacier

The Athabasca Glacier which is said to build up 15 meters every winter melts down 20 meters in the summer, resulting in a decreases of 5 meters each year. It also reseeds at a rate of 5 meters per year and is said to have lost one half of its volume in the past 125 years. It is also moving down from the Colombia Ice Field by 6 centimeters per day. However today the  glacier is approximately 6 km  long covering an area of 6 sq km and is measured to be between 90–300 meters  thick.

Again the global warming having its effect; one could compare the movement of the trailing edge of the glacier during the years from the picture. Today the 93N highway is running over the land that the glacier was in 1917.

On Athabasca Glacier 

Non melting ice masses covered in weathering rock fragments 

Sunwapta Sky Walk

The latest technological addition to the Jasper National Park is the glass-floored observation walkway hanging  280 meters above Sunwapta Canyon jutting 35 meters out the side of a cliff.

It was opened to tourists on 1st May 2014 after five years of design and two years of seasonal construction at a reported cost of CAD$21 million ($19 million).

Sunwapta Sky Walk
In addition to the incredible views, owner Brewster Travel Canada says the attraction has an aspect on the educational side as well. However there is another side to the story when the environmentalists point out of the possibility of the negative effect on the park wildlife and its commercial resolve to charge money for a view that had always been for free.

Cantilevered Glass walkway 

Once in a lifetime
Our plan to return to Calgary via Red Deer was not to be as we were far off our planned timing. With supper  had at Tim Horton's in Canmore we reach home in Calgary late in  the night, not forgetting we have to catch the bus to Saskatoon and 6:30 a.m. in the morning.

A memorable excursion with Sandamali and Yasitha… friends of Hiruni who hosted us in the grandest way possible.

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