The Van At The Columbia Icefields

Mountains are the best

Wow! I did not expect that. I threw my last post online and just went to bed. The next morning I checked my phone and I had loads and loads of Whatsapp messages, comments on Facebook and this page. Support from all over the world. Thanks a lot! It really helped! It’s been a while since my last post but internet has been crappy and life busy. I’ll try to make things better.

How can so much have changed in so little time. The weather went from freezing, rain and wind to blue skies and time for shorts and flip flops. The landscape went from endless flatness to beautiful mountains. The campsites went from empty and closed to queues to get in.

So I left Regina, hoping that I would have to go back the next day to get my van fixed again. I drove a detour from the boring straight and flat Trans-Canadian Highway through the hills in southern Saskatchewan. With blue skies and sun the prairie is beautiful. The van got its power back and even though the oil consumption isn’t zero yet it is much much lower. That night I ended up at a campsite in Maple Creek. I picked a campsite further away from the highway this time hoping for a quieter night. I hoped wrong. This campsite was next to the Trans-Canadian Railroad which is apparently used quite heavily. And as a friendly service the trains all blow their horns while driving by a campsite, just to make sure nobody falls asleep.

From Maple Creek I drove to Dinosaur Provincial Park. My navigation found a cool road there which was slightly shorter but gravel only. Let’s say it was good gravel practise for later during the trip. Also my van is a bit dusty now. The Dinosaur Provincial Park is the spot in the whole world where most dinosaur fossils are found. In the middle of the empty flatlands there is a huge canyon. They had two dinosaur fossils on display right where they were found (including a cheesy “Gone for lunch, be right back” sign the excavators would have left.) Sadly enough the park is quite “North-American” as in that you drive everywhere by car and then do short 30 min to 1 hour hikes. The area is small enough to make it hike only, but now everyone is driving their ridiculously large trailers all through the park. Anyway I had some great walks through the beautiful scenery and saw some pretty hoodoos. A hoodoo is kind of a rock on top of a pile of sandstone looking like a mushroom and also my new favourite word, hoodoo, hoodoo. From the park I drove to Calgary, where I found a campsite close to the Olympic Park and the city. On the campsite my van was spotted by Dutch people for the first time during my trip. Twelve travel agents who were trying one of their own trips for a week. Today was their last day so they asked me if I wanted their leftovers. I would be gone that evening but they would leave the stuff at my van. That evening I met up with Jason and Kiersti for dinner in Calgary and a walk through the park. The place where we got burgers was actually not too far from my campsite so I decided to walk. I did have to cross two construction sites and at least three “absolutely no trespassing” signs but I made it. They way back in the dark was a bit dodgy though. Coming back to my van was like early Christmas. The leftovers turned out to be more than a few things. I was really tired and wanted to go to bed but did not want to leave the food outside (animals eat everything), but it was too much to just put in my van and still have space to sleep. So I used the second bed (under the pop-up roof) as my storage space for the night.

The next morning I started sorting out all the leftovers. I had to completely empty my van to get everything in there. I leftovers included: 12 cans of soup, 10 rolls of toilet paper, a whole collection of spices, pasta, rice, wine, chips, nuts, marshmallows,charcoal, a coffee machine, cleaning stuff, chocolate sprinkles (!!!) and much much more. I don’t think I have to go shopping the next month. A big thanks to the ladies from Personal Touch Travel. I got everything in the van and left for Calgary (this time by train + 10 min drive). The weather was so nice that I spend most of the day sitting in parks, reading a book, doing some planning and watching people. Calgary doesn’t have any must sees but it is a nice city to walk around in. That evening I met up with Jason again a last round of drinks. He drove me back to my van so I could show it off to him.

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Early Christmas

The next morning more Dutch people showed up at my van. One couple just started their 6 week trip so I gave them the coffee machine (since I don’t drink coffee). Another Dutch couple just finished their trip and donated me their leftovers (everything you need for pancakes: pan, pancake mix and maple syrup. Thanks!). From Calgary I drove towards the Rockies. I stopped in Canmore where I saw a lady in an RV run over some parked motorbikes… And again… And again… She didn’t stop but kept going fort and back against/over the bikes until the owners of the bikes started yelling at her and hitting on the doors… Weird… I then drove into Banff National Park to Banff village. They have some huge state owned campsites there. The lady at the first one send me to another one because that one is “less like a parking lot”. It was still early in the day so I walked to Banff village with a nice detour along the river and past some hoodoos (Hoodoo, Hoodoo, such a fun word to say). I spotted some elks on the way. In town I asked for hikes. Turns out they had 30 cm of snow last week and most hikes were closed and you could only do 1-2 hour hikes (I was aiming for 6-7 hours). But Jason had recommended the Yamnuska hike just outside of the National Park so I decided to try that one.

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Just so you know…

The Yamnuska hike was great! 10 km long with 1000 height meters. It started easy not to steep in the forests. But it quickly turned into some steep rocks where you really needed to use your hands to climb up between the canyons. I ended up talking with a Canadian couple who gave loads of travel tips for the parks and the way to Alaska. We did most of the hike together talking about travelling. The fun bit of the hike is where you have to walk over a 10cm edge next to a steep wall going 6m straight up and 6m straight down next to the edge. You have to hold on to a chain to make sure you don’t fall. Lunch was at the top of the mountain (2200m) with awesome views and some mountain climbing, lunch stealing squirrels. On the way down there was a steep slope of loose rocks. Only way down is to run while your legs disappear halfway up to your knees in the loose rocks. This was the bit where I had my first bit of bodily damage of the trip. A bit of a hole in my back, but you should see the other guy… (the other guy was a tree, it is now missing a branch).

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Me on top of Yamnuska (2200m)

The other great thing about the Banff and Jasper parks is the driving. Beautiful roads with stops at mountain view points, reflecting lakes and waterfalls. So I drove from Banff to Lake Louise I saw some more elks and deer along the way. It was cloudy but still very pretty. From lake Louise you can hike to a tea house up at another lake. I did the hike but being early in the season the tea house was closed. At the parking lot for the supermarket I had some more Dutch people walking up to me. Turns out they were from my hometown Deurne, I didn’t know them, they didn’t know me. The campsite in Lake Louise was kind of like a parking lot.

The drive from Lake Louise to Jasper is called the Icefields Parkway. It is emptier (but still very busy), has more hills and better views than the already great road from Banff to Lake Louise. The first stop was ridiculously blue Peyto lake. Most people walk from the parking lot over the paved path to the viewing platform. I knew that there should be another viewpoint a bit further up. It took me some GPS work and knee deep snow walking but this viewpoint was great and even better there was nobody else around. I stopped at glaciers (sadly no option for glacier hikes, too early in the season) and the van got over a 2100m pass. I also stopped at multiple waterfalls where there were some Canadians very interested in my van and trip. They had spotted me earlier on the road and wanted to know if my car really came from Europe. I wonder how Banff and Jasper are in high season. Half of the campsites were still closed but it was extremely busy. I couldn’t stop at a single parking lot without Dutch people walking up to me and there were people everywhere. That night I was working on my van when a German guy knocked on my window and invited me over for beer at his campfire. He is travelling with his wife through the US and Canada for a whole year. He had also shipped his van so we had loads to talk about. He also gave me some addresses of some Germans in Ecuador where he had stayed with his German van on a previous trip. The couple didn’t speak any English so it was good practise for my German again. But beer and schnapps make these things easier.

A big thanks to all the supporters around the world for keeping me from quitting my trip.  A big thanks to Jason and Kiersti for hanging out in Calgary and the travel tips. A big Christmas thanks to the ladies from Personal Touch Travel for the lifetime supply of food.

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