The drive from Calgary to Vancouver wasn’t going to be direct. In fact, quite the opposite. The plan was to head north through Banff National Park and along the Icefields Parkway, one of the most scenic roads in Canada, arriving in Jasper National Park and spending our first night vanping in Fuego.
Along the way we stopped off at a bunch of spots marked out by Anita, including the expansive and still very frozen Bow Lake and the mammoth Crowfoot Glacier. We were planning on also hiking the five kilometre Parker Ridge trail but thick powder and a few close falls prevented us from making it even 100 metres in. We made one last stop at Columbia Icefield before entering Jasper National Park, stopping at Sunwapta and Athabaska Falls on the way to the Valley of Five Lakes. After our hike of the lakes we were well and truly ready to pack in for the night, so we took an inconspicuous dirt road down to Beaver River to set up camp. There’s thousands of little-known legal and free camping spots all around the world, the only catch is you usually need a set of wheels to reach them.
It was at Beaver River that we had our first attempt at a “bear bag”. A bear bag is basically a small, lightweight and waterproof bag that’s slung over a high branch at a safe distance from your camp. It keeps your food out of reach and campsite generally bear-free. We of course cut some corners and planned poorly, meaning we had to use a a few garbage bags and one oversized Ikea bag to hold the ridculous amount of crap we’d brought with us. Food, toiletries – anything with a scent had to be included, meaning we ended up having to roost a small shopping trolley up into that tree. The gods must of felt sorry for us that night because we managed to pull it off, even with the one and only pathetically sized branch we’d found to support it all. After high fiving we laid down in Fuego and quickly fell asleep to the sound of the nearby stream.
The next morning after retrieving our supplies and packing up Fuego we hit the road to Wells Grey Provincial Park where we saw some of the largest and most impressive waterfalls we’ve ever seen – Helmcken, Dawson and Saphats Creek Falls. After picking our jaws up off the floor it was time to make the drive to our next campsite, the appropriately named Deka-Sulphurous Portage. The site was quite isolated but very beautiful, meaning we had another night of nothing but the sound of water and birds to carry us off to sleep.
The following day on the way to our hike at Joffre Lakes, Fuego’s “check engine” light came on. Great, only two days in and already problems. As the light didn’t flash we knew it wasn’t anything too serious so decided to wait until we reached Vancouver to have a mechanic read the error code and diagnose the problem.
We continued on our drive when I suddenly noticed we were off the highway and onto a dirt road with no other traffic. I continued to put faith in our GPS which took us further down some more backstreets and onto a steep track leading high up a mountain. The mountain grew steeper and steeper as the road became more treturous and narrow. The combination of us being totally alone, on a steep and narrow treturous mountain track with Fuego’s “check engine” light on wasn’t exactly relaxing, but we continued on until we reached the peak and began our decent. We passed through logging sites and isolated farms as we continued down the bumpy dirt road, finally reaching the soothingly smooth paved highway road with relief. Turns out our shitty GPS app took us the shortest route, not the fastest (or safest for that matter).
After reaching Joffre Lakes and reading that it was an all-day hike we decided to just visit the lower lake and continue on to Whistler where we’d be meeting an old friend of ours, Antony. We spent the evening getting a tour of Whistler and catching up over dinner and our very first Caesar cocktails, then returned back to Fuego to get some rest.
The next day we drove down the scenic Sea to Sky Highway to reach Vancouver but the poor weather not only ruined our view but prevented us from climbing the Stawamus Chief, a mountain stretching 700m into the air with tree-clutching steepness.
As soon as we got to Vancouver we went to the mechanic to diagnose Fuego, which turned out to be a minor faulty thermostat, so we continued on to Gussy’s, an old friend of mine who’d been living in Canada for several years. It was so great catching up with him that night over a few randangs and Tigers.
It was once the clouds had cleared the following morning that we set out to conquer the Chief along the now visible Sea to Sky Highway and via Shannon Falls. The climb certainly wasn’t a breeze. It was a relentlessly steep climb with a few ladders and rock fastened chains, but once we reached the peak the view was absolutely spectacular. We sat down for a quick muesli bar to refuel but as soon as I did, two or three fearless squirrels came sprinting over. Instead of keeping their distance they actually crawled up my back to reach my food. Anita thought it was hilarious.
Saturday meant Gussy had the day off to show us around the city of Vancouver – and did he ever! He mapped out a rough plan of where he wanted to show us and we mentioned a few things we wanted to see too. We started out sampling the incredible foods on offer at Granville Island Markets, then caught a water taxi across to hire bikes and ride around Stanley Park, accidentally stumbling across a street market along the way. He then took us through the colourful Davie Street and along buzzing Granville Street to catch a bus to his old stomping ground Coronation Drive, an area Anita and I quickly aliked to Newtown’s King Street in Sydney. Our bus went via the notorious Downtown Eastside, an area known for it’s high levels of homelessness and drug addicition. It was a real eye-opener. We finished the day with an incredibly delicious deli sandwhich from Commercial Drive’s La Grotta Del Formaggio then headed back home to rest our legs over a few cold beers.
And so after a eventful three days in the national parks, a night in Whistler and five nights in Vancouver, it was time to continue on with our journey. Thank you to Antony and Gussy for showing us around their neck of the woods. Next stop down – Seattle!