A Travellerspoint blog

The Icefields Parkway

Breathtaking Scenery, A VERY Cold Night and WOW!!!!!

(Saturday, July 23rd to Sunday, July 24th)

It did not occur to us as we pulled into our campsite just off The Icefields Parkway the other night that we were actually going to be sleeping in the company of glaciers. If we had thought it through, we would have planned, packed and provisioned very differently. However, because we did not know, we spent a VERY cold night with wakeful, shivery children, ice block feet and freezing cold noses. We awakened in the morning to cold, damp sleeping bags and the temperature in the single digits (probably around 7 degrees Celsius). Simon was the first one up at about 5:45 and I could hear Zachary and Max begging him to build a campfire.

I decided to leave the relative warmth of my bed to assist in the fire building and Simon and I swapped stories of the nights we had endured in our respective tents (I have been bunking with Michael in the little tent and Simon with the other guys in the big tent). With such low temperatures the previous night, the wood was very damp and it took us close to an hour to get the fire roaring. When Zachary came out to the fire he was so cold he was shaking from head to toe. I put him in his heavy raincoat, a vest and my down vest, pulled him into my lap and tried to warm him. He finally warmed up enough that I could leave him to make a cup of tea with the propane stove.

By that time the other two kids were up and were so ridiculously cold we decided we would pack up our camp as fast as we could and head out for breakfast. We broke camp in record time (we are starting to feel like a seasoned MASH unit) and thoroughly enjoyed the heat in our van on the way to breakfast.

The Icefields Parkway is completely uninhabited, no cell coverage and very few services. As luck would have it, we had been camping within about 15 minutes of a rest stop with a hot breakfast. The cafe had delicious hot food...the most delicious Western Omelette I have ever had...and just to make us a little bit happier, they were playing Ray Charles all throughout our meal. The great food and full tummies completely restored family morale and I think the kids were feeling back on board with our crazy family trip (they were ready to jump ship and catch a ride with the nearest RV a few hours earlier!!!)

With their spirits raised we were able to praise and acknowledge the kids for the seriously hard core camping they had done the night before. As much as they appreciated the acknowledgement they all made it abundantly clear they were NOT spending another night in single digit temperatures or we would have a mutiny on our hands!!!! We promised that we would be sleeping in warmer environs that night and made a plan to make it well beyond Jasper (and the glaciers) that night.

As we were pulling away from the breakfast rest stop we had absolutely no idea of the magic that lay ahead of us on The Icefields Parkway. The glaciers were so beautiful and so astounding it was almost hard to believe they were actually real; massive climbs of sheer rock face, huge crusts of ice hanging precariously off ledges far above our heads and the mark of ancient and untamed beauty as far as the eye could see. The word ‘wow’ must have been tossed around the van at least a thousand times as we drank in the magic and the splendour of such untouched beauty and we were speechless. All I can say is that I have never seen anything like the sights we saw that day and the whole experience truly defies adjectives!

We made it to Jasper by mid afternoon, stocked up the cooler and got some lunch. As we pulled out of Jasper, Simon and I were discussing where we wanted to camp that night. After consulting the map, we decided we would drive for another few hours and then look for a campground (as soon as we pulled out of Jasper we lost cell coverage again so any internet research or bookings was impossible- so weird to be without internet access for days). It was Sunday afternoon and our loose plan was to spend two more nights of camping before arriving in Vancouver (to my brother’s house). As we hatched plans in the front seat, Max called out from the depths of the back of the van asking to see the map and our planned route (which, by the way, was the long way or the scenic route to Vancouver).

After consulting the map Max declared that he did not want to go the long route. He proposed that we take the shorter route through Kamloops and arrive in Vancouver the following day. Michael and Zachary gave Max’s plans the four-thumbs-up and we were in danger of being voted off the island (again) if we did not comply. I had been feeling quite attached to the scenic route so it took me a few minutes to adjust. However, after The Icefields Parkway I figured we had done enough out-of-the-way scenery and any drive into Vancouver was going to be stunning anyway. So it was decided that we would camp in a Provincial Park somewhere around Kamloops that night. However, before checking out campsites, I was required by my glacier-shy children to check the predicted night-time low in Kamloops...turns out it was to be a balmy 18 degrees so we proceeded with happy kids and our new Plan A.

As I close this portion of our journey I must share the ‘we’ to which I have been referring during this missive...Simon and I are the ‘we’ in terms of the members of the family who were wowed by The Icefields. For most of the drive all three kids had their heads in books, DVDs, iPods and their Nintendo DS games. Every so often we would call out; “hey guys, check this out, isn’t it beautiful?” We would get a resoundingly lukewarm reply from the assembled throng in the back of the van and go back to our own enjoyment of the scenery. They did enjoy getting out of the van every now and again and madly snapped pictures on their respective cameras.

Simon and I were joking that, when asked how the western drive was, the kids would happily respond; “it was great, I finally rescued Princess Zelda, collected all the golden eggs in Angry Birds and downloaded 43 songs in one go on my iPod.”

Oh well...to each their own!!! Stay tuned for Kamloops to Vancouver...

Katie :)

(Don't forget to check out our pictures by clicking on The Icefields Parkway on our map at the top of the page)

Posted by simonge 11:13 Archived in Canada Tagged travel the family glaciers jasper icefields parkway Comments (0)

Calgary to Banff

Rain, Mountains and Yorkville Shopping

(We have been off the grid for over 48 hours so are a little behind on our blog. This entry was written on the evening of Saturday, July 23rd)

We awakened yesterday morning in Calgary to a cold and rainy day. The change in Calgary weather had us wondering about the forecast in Banff as we were to head there immediately after checking out of our hotel to pitch a tent for the night. Simon looked up the weather forecast and it was predicting cold rain through both the afternoon and evening. Now, there are campers and there are really hard core campers...we fall into the first category so a cold and rainy camp was NOT in the plan. Simon rode to the rescue by calling the VISA rewards number and, using his accumulated points, booked us into a hotel in Banff for that night- phew!

The rain was very heavy as we left Calgary and for the first half hour of the drive the only way we knew we were getting into the mountains was that the van was on a steady climb. When the rain stopped about 30 minutes outside of Banff, the clouds parted and we were astounded at the sight all around us. The Rocky Mountains of Canada are so breathtaking it is almost hard to believe they are real.

We arrived in Banff to a cold, light drizzle and located our hotel. Shortly after checking in we went into downtown Banff which felt more like Yorkville than a small western community; LuLu Lemon, Roots, Starbucks, Lush, North Face and Patagonia to name a few. We found the Safeway and jostled hundreds of fellow shoppers to provision our chilli dinner. It was raining hard by the time we were done so a walk around town was out of the question. We decided instead to return to the cozy comfort of our hot tub, steam room, sauna and swimming pool (thank goodness we weren’t camping!!!) Simon made dinner while I swam with the kids and after a yummy meal we went our separate ways; Simon and Max to the Fitness Centre and the little guys and I into downtown Banff for a wander. We had a great time buying yummy sweets, wandering around and topping it all off with a hot chocolate at Starbucks.

We awakened to a beautiful, clear sky this morning which promptly turned to more rain. Fortunately, by the time we were checking out at 10:30 the weather had decided to cooperate so we headed to the Banff Gondola for a ride up the mountain. We absolutely loved the views and the hiking up at the top and snapped lots of beautiful pictures. On our way out of town we took a swing by the local skate park so the kids could enjoy some vigorous exercise before logging more miles in the van.

As we left Banff we had a loose plan to head for Jasper to camp for the night. However, not far out of Banff the traffic was horribly backed up due to a mudslide on the Trans Canada Highway so we lost a lot of time. We finally made it to Lake Louise by mid afternoon and as we were heading in to check out the village, we noticed a sign for Moraine Lake (as we were leaving Banff earlier, a friend had sent a message to Simon not to miss it so we decided to follow his advice). The winding drive up into Moraine Lake was almost as beautiful as the lake itself and we were once again reminded of the gifts that lie in wait when we veer off both the plan and the beaten path.

Shortly after Lake Louise we stopped at a Banff National Park toll booth to pay a fee to camp in the park for the night. At this point it was almost 4:30pm and we were all feeling tired and ready to set up camp. The man at the National Park booth was very helpful and suggested three campgrounds that were all within 60km. After leaving the booth we entered The Icefields Parkway and had a stunningly beautiful drive to our campground.

We are camping just beside Aries Mountain on the Bow River and it is absolutely, stunningly beautiful! We are also near the Wapta Icefield and it is pretty chilly. We have set up our beds, had spaghetti and meatballs for dinner and devoured our yummy banana boats (bananas, mini marshmallows and chocolate chips all wrapped up in tin foil to bake in the fire- delicious!) We were hoping to stay up tonight to see the stars but the kids are tired and we are headed for bed.

Oyasuminasai (Japanese for good night!)

Katie :)

Posted by simonge 05:45 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

Drumheller a.k.a. The Badlands

Hoo Doos, Dinosaurs and Tornado Warnings

On Monday afternoon (in preparation for Simon's two-day workshop) we packed up all our worldly goods and left Shelley's house to check into a hotel for three nights. We had had such a relaxing time at Shelley's house it was hard to leave our dear friend and the comforts of her home. However, the 2 1/2 story waterslide at our hotel was calling to the kids so we decided to acquiesce. The hotel has turned out to be a big hit; friendly, clean, bright and perfectly laid out for the family (access to a really cool pool and waterslide is a slam dunk).

It was a bit of a shock when the alarm went off yesterday morning at 5:45 so that Simon could get up for work (amazing how much we have shifted into holiday hours; late nights, late mornings and complete surrender of both date and time). We stumbled down to the gym for the first workout in over a week and it was surprisingly hard to coax my body into demanding physical exercise (but it sure felt great when I was done!)

The kids and I had decided that while Simon was working, we wanted to make the 90 minute drive out to Drumheller, AB to visit the dinosaurs. After a quick breakfast and a long swim, we packed some food and water and hit the road. The kids were squabbly and cranky during the whole drive and all I could think was; what the heck am I doing driving all alone into the middle of rural Alberta with these rotten children? By the time we got to Drumheller they were so fractious and I was so frustrated I was close to packing them back into the van and returning to Calgary. I decided instead, however, to navigate us to the Tourist Info Office to plan the day. The young woman behind the counter was both knowledgeable and helpful (and I couldn't help but notice the sympathy in her eyes as she watched Michael and Zach holding each other in head locks while I was trying to plan our fun family time in the Badlands...shades of the Griswold family!!)

With an enormous map spread out over the dashboard we headed out to see the Hoo Doos...I had no idea what they were but the woman had assured me they were very cool and worth the 16km drive out of town. As I pulled into the parking lot the kids were still hitting each other and squabbling and I felt my patience snap. I turned around in my seat and yelled so loud it actually hurt my throat; "this is supposed to be FUN, this is NOT fun, you guys are NOT fun and I'm SO out of here!" Then I got out of the van, slammed the door and took off for the Hoo Doos...AND THEY ALL FOLLOWED ME!!!!! I think an aerial view would have looked like three baby ducklings swimming madly to catch up with their reluctantly attached mother duck- hilarious in hindsight but completely infuriating in the moment!

The Hoo Doos were so beautiful and so unlike anything we had ever seen before we were all awestruck and suddenly the struggle in the van was completely forgotten. We were walking around taking pictures when the kids noticed people walking around the ridge way above the Hoo Doos. They asked if we could hike up to the top and without giving too much thought to my footwear (Birkenstocks) we started up the mountain. It was a good deal harder, more steep and more slippery than I had anticipated and all I could think was; how am I going to get these three kids safely back down this mountain? However, the ridge at the top was so beautiful and the view so breathtaking we all felt giddy and delighted with our treacherous climb. We followed a path along the ridge and it felt like we were going to drop right off as we stood at the edge. It was so amazing to be able to follow the trail that the retreating glaciers had carved out of the landscape 600,000 years ago!

Zachary was nervous on the hike down and Max stayed in front of him the whole time coaching and encouraging him. I was so proud of Max as I watched and listened to him being such a devoted big brother. We all made it safely down the mountain and felt hot, thirsty and utterly elated.

Our next stop was an old suspension bridge with another hike and then 7-11 for ice cold Slushies. After that we headed to the Royal Tyrell Museum to see the dinosaurs. The Tyrell Museum is without a doubt the most beautiful and compelling museum I have ever visited and we spent a dazzling two hours in the company of the magic and mystery of these fascinating creatures.

The sky was dark and threatening as we left the Tyrell and the storm hit just as we were heading out of Drumheller for our return to Calgary. We had beautiful cloud formations (one that looked very much like a tornado forming- I took a picture) and fork lightning all the way home. By the time we were 25 minutes outside of Calgary we were in the middle of the worst storm I had ever had to drive in; high winds, torrential rain, thunder and lightning. I had the radio on to distract myself from worrying and was humming along to the tunes when a loud and long beeping started. The beeping was an emergency public broadcast to warn of imminent tornado activity. Needless to say, the kids freaked out and Zachary started to cry in complete panic in the seat behind me. There was nothing I could do to comfort him as it was taking all my focus and energy to navigate us through the storm. Michael and Max were talking Zach 'off the ledge' and being incredibly supportive and loving. When I glanced in the rear-view mirror my heart swelled as I saw that Michael was holding Zachary's hand tightly to comfort him. I think it is the first time I have ever seen them touch each other without it resulting in a punch.

We finally made it back to the hotel and the kids were so relieved to see Simon as we pulled up to the front door they hugged him tightly. I dropped them off and headed back out to the grocery store to pick up a missing ingredient for the curry dinner that Simon had prepared. By the time I was done the rain had let up and I was awestruck as I came out of the grocery store to a big, beautiful double rainbow right over my head. All I could think as I stood there drinking in the beauty of the rainbows was; all is well!

We had spent an absolutely magical day discovering all kinds of new and amazing things and twice I had watched my kids pull together and support each other when the chips were down. The day had begun in struggle and strife and ended in complete magic and mystery. For many reasons, yesterday in the Badlands of Alberta was truly a day we will never forget and I'm sure will be a day we fondly revisit in years to come!

Katie xo:)
p.s. To see the pictures we have taken at a specific location, go to the map at the top of the page and click one of the dots.

Posted by simonge 03:00 Archived in Canada Tagged travel family hoo doos dinosaurs badlands tornado Comments (1)

Playing in Calgary

A Few Days Out of the Car...Yay!

sunny 18 °C

We rolled into Calgary on Saturday evening after a short 511km drive from Swift Current, SK. Our friend, Shelley, was waiting for us to arrive at her house on the western edge of Calgary and we were happily anticipating a two-night stop at her beautiful house. We navigated our way through the city and, I'm sure, looked like Cheech and Chong spilling out of our van...however, instead of smoke billowing behind us it was coffee cups, chip bags, apple cores, banana peels, water bottles and more crumbs than I would care to imagine!

We had already decided on our usual Saturday night dinner of barbecued steak, baked potatoes, grilled tomatoes and Portabello mushrooms, so Shelley and I immediately headed out to provision for our feast. After a wonderful home-cooked meal, wonderful conversation catching up with Shelley and lots of bouncing on the trampoline, we settled down in our various beds for some well-deserved rest.

We awakened Sunday morning to a cloudless sky and an absolutely stunning view of the Rocky Mountains. After a very lazy morning, the five of us navigated our way downtown to partake in the final day of the Calgary Stampede. We were among the minority in the Stampede Park as we were not wearing cowboy hats, cowboy boots or (the newest fashion trend) Daisy Duke shorts (God forbid!!!) We spent a fabulous afternoon doing all the tourist-y things; ate junk food, saw a horse trick-riding show, went on rides, toured an army tank, pet some animals, came face-to-face with a 1000 pound bull and baked in the hot sun. To end off the day, we danced, sang and smiled as Marianas Trench closed the Stampede at an outdoor concert. They played some of the kids favourite songs and Max was absolutely delighted! It was 11:30 by the time we rolled back into Shelley's and, needless to say, the kids were absolutely exhausted (as were we!)

I am, as usual, the first one up and am savouring my alone time. It is another beautiful day and, as I write, I am looking out at the mountains in complete awe. We will be moving to a hotel this afternoon for a three-night stay as Simon has two days of work tomorrow and Wednesday. The kids are very excited about a pool with a waterslide!

I am planning on taking the kids to do some dinosaur excavating tomorrow at Drumheller (or Dinosaur Valley) while Simon is working...more to come on that.

We are still trying to figure out how to get our pictures organized by date on our site but will solve that soon...happy Monday!

Katie xo:)

Posted by simonge 00:30 Archived in Canada Tagged travel fun family calgary stampede Comments (1)

Swift Current to Calgary

Day 7

sunny 29 °C

We drove 966km from Falcon Lake, Manitoba to Swift Current, Saskatchewan yesterday. All I can say is...our children are fabulous travellers and Simon is a hard core long distance driver! :) After such a long day, we decided to sleep in a hotel rather than setting up camp and, I must say, it was nice to have a hot shower and climb into a comfy bed last night.

We have crossed two time zones in two days and my body clock is a bit mixed up so I was awake at the crack of dawn this morning. Shortly after awakening, I slipped quietly from our hotel suite and found a quiet little spot and my favourite peppermint tea in the lobby (yum!). I had two blissful hours to myself to sit quietly and write a blog post about being off the grid for three days in northern Ontario. http://katieg.ca/blog/

So far, this trip is surpassing all expectations! The weather has been amazing, the camping really fun and the kids interested, enthusiastic and open to all the new experiences coming their way. I wasn't sure what it was going to be like being in the car for extended periods of time but that has mostly been a pleasure. Watching our amazing country unfold before us seems nothing short of miraculous!

The highlights so far are Pancake Bay Provincial Park and Sleeping Giant Provincial Park (both in Ontario). I had no appreciation of how fortunate we are in Ontario to have the Provincial parks that we do; they are exquisitely maintained, well run and beautiful. It is fun to be getting little tastes of these parks along the way and planning to return in summers to come (we are even talking about a sea kayaking trip around Lake Superior).

The other highlight is that our kids are really great campers. Before this trip, our kids had only slept on the ground for one night (two summers in a row). We were not sure whether they would be able to tolerate camping across the country. They are not only tolerating but actually enjoying the camping and a whole new world has opened up to us as an outdoor travelling family. It also means that the rest of the trip has all the makings for success.

We have 511km to drive to Calgary today and will then stay put for 5 nights. It will be nice to settle for a few days before hitting the road again. The world outside my window is absolutely flat as a pancake (the prairies are so amazing) and I am happily anticipating the splendor of the mountains!

Katie xo:)

Posted by simonge 06:15 Archived in Canada Tagged travel fun family canada camping Comments (0)

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