How great it is to hang on to summer for a few more days as I attempt to absorb the glorious month spent in the Northwest, visiting my daughter, Cary, and her friends on Whidbey Island; my nephew, Frank Magill, jr, wife, Jessica Plumb, and daughter, Zia, in Port Townsend; and climbing for ten days in the Canadian Rockies with my Himalayan buddy, Jon Pollack, of Seattle. I also spent a day and a night with Nancy and Bob Quickstad—always an inspiration—an afternoon with Yana Viniko, with whom I traveled for a time in Myanmar, and whose reports from her 2008 trip to Myanmar with Lee Compton have appeared on this blog, and, finally, a few enjoyable hours swapping stories with the peripatetic Beth Whitman of www.WanderlustAndLipstick.com. She just published her practical guide to adventuring in India, part of her Wanderlust and Lipstick series, this one entitled, For Women Traveling in India. It’s crammed full of well-researched, helpful information for anyone visiting this fascinating country. Go get it, if you want a full rundown and Hot Tips on how to negotiate this elusive and enigmatic continent.
I also spent an evening with Dale Reiger, a Whidbey Island friend I connected with in Myanmar in 2007, and he showed me his art work (not his etchings!), which he sells to help finance a community clinic he built in Honduras. His son, a Cornell student, is the executive director and has managed to staff the clinic with volunteer doctors, most of whom come from the University of Arizona. If you want to know more about Dale’s extraordinary work visit: http://saludjuntos.org/
Hikers and travelers—if you haven’t experienced the unspoiled grandeur of the Canadian Rockies, add this to your “must see” experiences of a lifetime. If you are able to do it by camping in the wilderness, as Jon Pollack and I did, that gives you a special, unspoiled view, but it can also be enjoyed by a cross-Canada train ride or by car (once you dig your own oil well…those expanses are wide and the gas is astronomical!) or by helicopter. The national parks of Canada are well-maintained, tended by a plethora of helpful personnel, and provide campsites a well as cabins and lodges to fit most budgets. It saddened us to realize how many of our own parks have been affected by deep budget cuts and do not have the number of rangers or the new facilities found in the Canadian parks.
Before beginning our ten-day sojourn, we spent a long weekend climbing in eastern Washington, having been unable to carry out our original plan to camp at Divide Camp near Mt. Adams, which was now dangerous due to subzero, snowy weather. We went with old friends Carol Johnson, and Pat and Dennis Larsen, and pitched our tents near White Pass, climbing to Tieton Pass with some added hikes on the Pacific Coast Trail. Dennis, a consummate storyteller, regaled us every evening with tales from his historical books about the 1850’s and the beginnings of the famous Oregon Trail. He recounted the life of those times, marriage and courtship practices, and stories of Ezra and Elizabeth Meeker, two pioneers who were passionate about the preservation of the trail. Ezra was an entrepreneur in the early American tradition and lived to be well into his 90’s, having driven a team of oxen across country to Washington, D. C. (in his 80’s) to call attention to the trail. Title: The Missing Chapters: The Untold Story of Ezra Meeker’s Old Oregon Trail Monument Expedition, January 1906-July 1908. The book is available from the Ezra Meeker Historical Society on the web. Dennis’s second book, Selling Soup: Ezra Meeker’s Letters from the Klondike, 1898-190, will be published in 2009.
Returning to Seattle, we drove through Stevens Canyon with its gorgeous views of the Tatooch Mountains, the foothills of Mt. Rainier. This was all within Mt. Rainier National Park. I was appalled when I saw the damage done to Sunshine Point, where Jon and I had camped two years ago. It had been completely washed out by a violent storm and flood the previous year. All the trees were gone and a river now ran through where fireplaces and tent sites once stood.
On September 8, as we drove through Idaho to the Canadian border, we noticed the effects of the pine beetle, which is devastating the forests of Canada and creeping into northern Washington. Whole swaths of forest are brown, and the giant fir trees stand like ghosts, withered and bowed. It doesn’t seem to have reached the graceful, feathery larch trees, however, which were on the verge of turning yellow, then orange, before they dropped their needles. At first we thought the damage had been caused by forest fires, but the devastation was just too widespread. Both the U.S. and Canada are working, tirelessly, to solve the problem.
We crossed into Canada at Inverness and drove to the heliport at Mt. Shark for our flight into Assiniboine Provincial Park in British Columbia. The helicopter was a compromise, because we didn’t have time for the two-day hike over Wonder Pass into the park. We set up camp on a high spot a mile from the lodge and Magog Lake, one of the pristine glacial lakes in the area. Mt. Assiniboine, often called the Matterhorn of North America, could be seen towering above the other mountains, its chiseled peak gleaming and clouds trailing like wispy prayer flags from its summit. It was very cold our first night, but we did get glimpses of Assiniboine in the sunrise—fingers of gold carved into slabs of rock. Then came the sleet and we retreated to our tent for warmth. Fortunately, the weather improved, so we headed for The Nub, an 8,000 ft. peak affording perfect views of the park, and covered with a spotty blanket of snow. We climbed steadily through larch forests until we reached one grassy knoll overlooking Sunburst and Elizabeth Lakes. Continuing on we stopped at the Nublet, just before the summit. I chickened out on the last hundred feet, which had to be reached by a slippery corridor of jagged rocks covered with ice, and completely exposed on both sides. There were trees everywhere, even at this altitude. I’m always amazed at how high the forests reach in the West. In the White Mountains our tree line ends at 4,000 ft.
After our climb we stopped in at Mt. Assiniboine Lodge, a charming log house run by Barbara Renner. She informed me that my nephew, Frank Magill, had given me a birthday present of two dinners that evening (naturally, Jon ate one of them). Well, that was one terrific present, believe me! And the company was wonderful, too. I bonded with a Vancouver lady, originally from Holland, Ine Doorman, and found out more about the park and Barbara’s family. Her children are all skiers and one daughter won a silver medal at the 2006 winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. What a lovely spot to have been raised! For those of you who want a backcountry inn, accessible by hiking, on skis, or by helicopter, with a guide, comfortable rooms or cabins, and incredible meals, go to: www.assiniboinelodge.com. I just found out that it was the first cross-country ski lodge in the Canadian Rockies and is celebrating 80 historical years.
On our second day we moved to one of the small cabins in the Naiset enclave (like Assiniboine, this is an Indian name). Barbara suggested this. She was afraid that we would freeze, since the weather predictions were for more cold. She even offered me a down comforter and pillow. Did I look that fragile? (I should never have told her my age!) The day started out bright and sunny, but just as we reached Wonder Pass it started to sleet. Big time. We turned and hurried back down the path, which was fast disappearing. Snow followed. The biggest flakes I’d ever seen. It was like slogging through a Christmas card, the only sound being the crunch of our boots as we raced back to our cabin. It snowed all afternoon as we huddled in a newly-built cook house with hikers all trying to keep warm while enjoying a touch of winter in August. The afternoon was spent in conversation with our new cabin mates, Chris (Canadian) and Ladislav Malek (Czech) from Thunder Bay. Needless to say, the topic of choice at every gathering was the upcoming election in the U.S. The rest of the world is as eager for a change in our country’s direction as we are.
We spent the next morning exploring around Lake Magog and enjoying the fresh winter wonderland that greeted us. When the helicopter arrived I sat in the back and took movies. I had ridden in the front next to the pilot on the way over, which was much more exciting. Try to get that seat if you can.
The scenery as we drove down the trans-Canada highway toward Lake Louise was breathtaking. In fact, all the scenery was. Therefore, like a good travel writer, I will not use that word again. Perhaps just to say sublime would sum it up: the towering mountains as far as you could see, the rock formations, and the bear bridges built across the highway, planted with trees and underbrush so the animals could cross. We traveled through a charming small town, Canmore, and picturesque Banff, where I had led workshops twenty years ago. For the rest of our trip we were in the province of Alberta.
After settling into our campsite at Lake Louise, with a view of Victoria Glacier and Temple Mountain, we headed for Moraine Lake in the valley of the ten peaks, named because its deep turquoise waters were ringed by ten majestic mountains. We walked way up where we could look down at the sparkling water and the intermittent waterfalls descending from cliff walls. This is one of the most beautiful lakes in the region. For me it had a richer feeling than the light blue-green, almost opaque color of Lake Louise. And I liked the simpler lodge rather than the rambling European-style hotels at the Lake Louise resort.
Early the next morning we drove to the entrance to Lake O’Hara, another magnificent glacial lake, and climbed into a bus, which took us to our campsite in the woods near the lake. Here we set up camp and spent three days climbing, taking advantage of the beautiful weather before the cold and snow arrived. Our first hike was to Opabin Plateau, where we ate lunch at Opabin Prospect (viewpoint), an outcropping with views of the valley, the streams, and the amazing monolithic stone formations everywhere. In the afternoon we scrambled up a 300 ft. pile of sand and scree to Sleeping Poet’s Tarn, an unusual “hanging tarn” high above the ledges. The rest of the day we walked around the Yukness Ledges to Lake Oesa, another jewel of a lake. In addition to the waterfalls and glacial streams were huge square boulders that looked as if they’d been sliced deliberately and tumbled onto the trail. We were surrounded by immense rock creations, as if some giant hand had thrown every possible geologic design in our way—piles of thin granite slabs stacked up like pancakes, smooth lavendar stones at the foot of etched columns, fanciful designs intersecting at ten-foot intervals on cliff walls. Upheaval was everywhere, the result of cataclysmic eruptions millennia ago. My imagination ran wild. And I was happy about the fact that I seemed to have conquered my fear of exposure on the high ledges. It must have been my trek in Ladakh that cured me.
After negotiating a difficult trail back to Lake O’Hara, we peeked into the fancy lodge and met a delightful couple, Shannon and Tom Palmer, whose parents had come from the U.S. and settled in Canada years ago when oil was discovered. This was my first election news in days and you can imagine the ensuing conversation.
Our next hike to MacArthur Lake was halted for a time by a lightening storm, during which we sat huddled under the trees until the rain stopped. It turned out to be a wet, but interesting trail leading to the mist-laden lake. We returned via the Elizabeth Parker Huts used by the Alpine Club of Canada.
The final hike came hours after an all-night snowstorm had covered the area. We waited until mid-morning, when the sun had melted most of the ice, and started up the Big Larch Trail to Devil’s Rockpile…which is exactly what it was! The views of Schaeffer Lake, Mary Lake, and O’Hara were excellent. After lunch we climbed a very steep and slippery trail to All Soul’s Prospect, one of the best views in the park. And ahead of us was Yukness, where we had climbed two days earlier and a slew of other peaks, one of which was Hungabee Mountain. We stayed there a long time, grooving on the views and basking in the sun. By the time we left, much of the snow had melted, but the trail down was still muddy and treacherous.
On our drive home we traveled through Rogers Pass to Revelstoke and on into Kamloops, where I had stayed in 1991 during a cross-Canada train ride. We lost over 6,000 ft. of altitude in a few hours, dropping into a river valley leading to the town.
Did we meet a grizzly? Well, we didn’t meet one, but we passed one not many feet away in Assiniboine. And, yes, we kept going. At O’Hara we came close to a white mountain goat and some friendly marmots and chippies, but all in all it was pretty tame.
Again, nothing surpasses the beauty and the peacefulness of this part of the world. I’ve gone into more detail, perhaps, than you wanted, but if you have a limited time in the Canadian Rockies and want some good pointers on a perfectly planned and executed trip (thanks to Jon), you have them. Be sure to write if you want any more information. This trip was unforgettable, but I still like reminding.
Also, there was a mix up with my server a few weeks ago, about which I knew nothing. After receiving letters from friends, who told me my website was down, I remedied the situation. Know that I always like to hear from you, especially if this sort of thing happens again.
I won’t talk about my theater addiction this time, but want to urge all of you to see Taxi to the Dark Side, an excellent documentary from Alex Gibney, who gave us the film: Independent Lens: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. You may remember that excellent film. This one is even more harrowing and disturbing, dealing with the U.S. policy on torture since 911. I urge every American to see it.