Monday, January 25, 2010

Enforced Rest

Now that my arm is out of its sling I can catch up my ramblings here - yes, I dislocated my shoulder again last week. The last week hasn't been quite as active for me, but I have managed to get out & see & do a few things. I think it was Saturday over a week ago that Tristan & Margie (Adele flatted with them for a while in Timaru) turned up from the west coast - we had a great dinner catching up & teaching the group how to play Monopoly Deal (the card game I was given by the guy next to me on the flight over). Much hilarity ensued - the game has proved to be quite a hit & seldom a day goes by without at least one game. My enforced rest started right at the top of my first back-country ski touring day - Megan & Alex took Adele & me out for a taste of touring. We headed about forty-five minutes out of Canmore in to Kananaskis Country & headed for Chester Lake from the parking lot. With skins on our skis, we were able to walk/shuffle (the heels of the boots are clipped down, so one can perform a walking action, but really you just slide the ski along the snow) up the trail that immediately started climbing up towards the lake. It was great to be out amongst the trees & seemingly a million miles from anyone else - I instantly loved touring (I'm a little weird, I've always found some enjoyment in working up hills - whether on a bike, hiking or on skis, as it turns out). The day was a little overcast, & perhaps a little over freezing point - but the touring proved to be a good work out, so we were soon shedding layers, gloves & toques (Canada-speak for beanies). Once we reached the lake after a good ninety minutes - two hours, Alex led us off the trail up much steeper hill; it may not have been much stepper, but there was a lot of powder & that made it a little tougher.
We finally got above the trees (after some challenging turns on steep uphills) & went up a nice slope we were going to stop & have lunch & admire the view. In the end, the cold wind persuaded us to take our skins off & find a lunch spot further down the hill. Unfortunately my downhill skiing in half a metre of powder on telemarks (no touring skis left at the rental shop) was not really up to scratch & I bailed a few times. That in itself wasn't so bad as the powder was nice & soft; getting up proved to be a bit more difficult as it was had to get any sort of coordination on such a soft, steep slope. In my flailing around the third time I managed to put my arm behind me, put some weight on it & pop my shoulder out - not that I was sure I had done it. But my inability to use my arm seemed to suggest that I had. After a bit of drama trying to get off the slope & on to a reasonably flat spot to try & relocate the pesky arm; it took a few attempts to get it back in & then I was slinged up, lunch was had, my skins were put back on & we were off again. Getting back through the powder & trees proved to be a bit difficult for both Adele & me (Adele spent a good few minutes looking for a ski that she lost in the snow, & I had trouble getting up the few times that I fell), but once we were back on the trail the going got easier. Around the lake the trail was overall pretty flat, so I as able to keep ahead with one arm & two skins. Skinning down the hill was more work that going down should have been, but it meant I didn't ever get out of control & crash. Eventually we were all safely back at the car - quite the adventure & apart from the fifteen minutes of pain, it was a great day & I loved it.

I took it pretty easy on Monday while Adele, James, Craig, Tristan & Margie hit the slopes again. Don't think I did a lot, did manage to make the seventy minute walk in to town through what snow remained & along the river, meet Becca for her lunch break, get a round of cards in & then try out the much talked about chocolate-chai (delicious) at the Bagel Company. I tagged along when Craig took Tristan & Margie ice-climbing at the Grotto on Tuesday - a good chance to get out of the house & it still wasn't too cold to be standing around at the bottom of an ice wall. We donned our crampons for the walk up the frozen stream, it was quite pretty walking up the narrow (but shallow) gorge to the ice. There were two faces to be climbed, but we had to wait awhile for a couple of groups to get off it before the others had a go. I spent the time looking around & chatting to whoever was not halfway up the wall.
Due to the recent warm temperatures & snow fall, the avalanche risk was too great for our planned overnight trip in to Bow Hut. Therefore on Wednesday we (James, Becca, Craig, Tristan, Margie & Adele on touring skis, me on snowshoes) headed back to Kananaskis Country for the Burstall Pass trail. The parking lot was pretty much opposite where we started the ill-fated trip to Chester Lake three days prior. This day was clearer, & a little colder. The trail started off a lot flatter than Sunday's & snowshoes turned out to be pretty easy (especially on the packed trail) & it wasn't nearly as much of a work out as touring skis & skins; I don't think I had to strip off any layers all day & I was pleased not to be holding everyone up with my one arm & snowshoes (apparently, I looked pretty funny). We reached the bottom of a few lakes on the river down the valley & as they were all frozen & snowed over we dived off the trail & walked up the lake through more powder & in to the sun for quite a while, before having lunch sitting on skis in the sun & out of the wind - it was surprisingly warm. After lunch & above the lake, the trail got a lot steeper & the snowshoes once again proved an asset. A couple of skiers coming down told us that the fog was rolling in above the trees, but thankfully we got a few good views when it got a bit flatter out of the trees. The others' eyes were salivating at the sight of the powder slopes ahead, but as the fog was rolling in & I was not so excited about such slopes on snowshoes, I turned around to get a bit of a head start on the (supposedly) faster skis for the run down hill. I had a very pleasant solitary walk back down through the snow & as it turned out I got down almost two hours before the others. Another great day out in the wilderness - it's beautiful here.

Thursday was a bit more a restful day (except for James & Craig who had a great day on the hill) & after Becca eventually won a game of Monopoly we picked up Margie & Tristan & headed for Banff to meet James & Craig & spend an hour or so soaking in the hot pools again - this time it wasn't snowing & it was daylight, so we could see the mountains (on the way in we saw the Olympic torch making its way slowly towards Vancouver). Friday I had another morning resting my arm while Adele went rock climbing with James - she was very excited on returning, having led for the first time. Becca somehow got the afternoon off work, so she took Adele & us out for a little outing to Johnston Canyon - basically an hour or so walking up a beautiful canyon to see the very frozen Lower & Upper Falls. Adele's friend, Mark (he worked in Timaru Hospital for a while & is now back living & working in New Hampshire), arrived for a week's vacation & was quickly initiated in to the ways of Monopoly Deal.

As Mark had been working so much recently, Saturday was declared a non-strenuous day & we (Adele, Tristan & Margie included) had a nice late start to the day & we drove the hour or so up to Lake Louise to check out the ice carving on the lake. There was a thirty-eight hour competition spread over Friday, Saturday & Sunday; the large works were starting to come together beside the lake. Back down in the village, we were just in time to catch the speed-carving competition - billed as one man, one block of ice, one hour. It was very neat to see the twelve competitors create some magnificent sculptures with chainsaws, chisels & who-knows-what-else from just one 300lb block of ice. There was even a Kiwi having a go (apparently his first weekend ice carving) - his Maori face with moko was pretty cool; none of us really liked the one that won, but there was plenty to keep us interested before we returned to the lake (after a spot more gear shopping) for ice-skating (I sat that out, in deference to my shoulder, & walked across the lake instead - it was finally getting cold, my the moisture from my breath on froze my scarf & ruined any insulating properties my scarf previously held). I was most pleased to see a traditionally uniformed Mountie; I was very tempted to break in to song though - " I cut down trees, I eat my lunch, I go to the lavatory, on Wednesdays I go shopping & have buttered scones for tea". Back at the ice rink the others were finishing up around this cool fire in a stump - there was no wood inside it, it was burning the stump from the inside-out. The large carvings were coming along nicely too. We split to return to our favourite (& only that we know of) restaurant in Lake Louise - the Alpine Club. We had to get the poutine (sounds remarkably like pootang), heart attack in a bowl apparently - a dish from Quebec (I think) that is basically fries with gravy & cheese curd, absolutely fantastic.
After a discussion on tipping, our waitress turned out to be a bit of a plonker - didn't bring ordered drinks, brought out two lots of burnt nachos, brought us the bill after Mark had just paid & brought two mints for a table that had had five people at it all night. Luckily, the guy that we had last time was around to keep things going.

By Sunday, Adele & I had gone to stay with Mark at the cabin he is staying in & I seem to remember a lot of trips to the supermarket. The cabin is a short walk from town (much shorter than the hour from Three Sisters) & I popped in to town to find a post box & get my bearings for this part of town. I was surprised to see all the wild domestic bunnies loping around the straight. Apparently a few/many years ago someone's pet rabbit(s) escaped & they have since breed like rabbits do. The first two were pretty cute, but after seeing a dozen or so in a short space of time chewing away at what grass they could find amongst the snow I could see how they could be a pest. They are particularly prolific around this part of town as it is further from the hills & the predators (coyotes & so on) up there. Apparently the town has taken a vote on whether the town should let them alone or push them off their mortal coils. It would seem the cuteness factor won out. We seemed to be going to the supermarket quite a bit, the last time was to stock up for our traditional January barbecue - Tristan & Margie's last night in town. January barbecues make a lot more sense in the southern hemisphere; it was quite novel to be out grilling steak & sausages in the snow & -8ºC - can't think why no one would come out & join me for a beer around the barbie. A great night (unless you happen to be a plate or handle - they somehow ended up endangered species) with pretty much everyone Adele & I know in Canmore.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The first week in a lot of snow - Canmore, Canada

At last - after just over a week in Canada, as chance to sit down on the couch & sort many photos & to remember all that I've done in the last ten days. The biggest accomplishment of the early part of the trip was just making it to Heathrow on time. London had got a couple of inches of snow the day before my flight & of course it was wreaking havoc with London's transport system. As my flight wasn't until 1330, I gave myself four and a half hours to get across London & check-in (what should be a two hour trip). It was quite novel walking to the station pulling my case through a fair bit of snow. What wasn't novel was there being no trains through Sidcup to London due to a shortage of drivers. So it was back walking the way I came to catch a bus to Eltham station (on a different branch). By the time I got there, the platforms were full & there were no trains for twenty minutes - when one did arrive it was packed & no one could get on; seeing my chances of getting to Heathrow disappearing with London's ability to run public transport in a little bit of snow, it was a walk back up the hill to Eltham to see if I might get a bus towards London. I could - but it was painfully slow & it was about now I was pretty sure I would miss a plane for the first time. After a painfully slow DLR ride, I was on the much quicker Jubilee through to Central London & on the slower Picadilly line out to the airport - my chances were improving all the time. I made it with twenty minutes to spare & Air Canada check-in was a breeze (c.f. Virgin Atlantic last time in T3). As the day was quite clear, flying out over a completely snow-covered Britain was absolutely stunning. The flight passed very quickly chatting to the guy next to me, playing cards & watching District 9; Air Canada exceeded my expectations - but that was probably because they were low. Naturally, flying over Canada & Hudson Bay it was just as white as Britain & quite spectacular. Alex kindly picked me up from Calgary (returning the favour of Trish & I dropping him at Gatwick very early in the morning a few months ago). It was cool being in a place where there a few feet of snow everywhere & the roads were still working well. It was just over an hour to Canmore (home for five weeks - about twenty minutes from Banff) & I could just make out the Rockies standing in the darkness. The rest of the night was spent catching up with Megan & Alex & discussing plans for the next few weeks.

Friday, Megan & Alex were both at work so I had a nice relaxing day getting organised, braving the cold & walking in to the big smoke of Canmore - it was a wonderfully clear day & a little bit colder than I was used to London (about -5°C). It took about forty minutes to walk down the side of the Bow Valley, cross the Bow River - I managed not to slide over or get run over by looking the wrong way when crossing the road (Canadians out here seem to be very courteous to pedestrians & will stop for you if you show the slightest signs of attempting to cross the road). Don't think I did much except wander around getting my bearings & head back to the grocery-store & buy a few supplies; I'm getting used to London prices, but even so groceries here seemed a tad expensive. Another fair chunk of my day was spent catching up on all the recent third season episodes of The Big Bang Theory - after a couple of self-aware episodes, the hilarity was back.

Megan had Saturday off work, so we went out trying to get a few essentials for Sunday on the skifield (Sunshine). In gear shops in Canmore & Banff we caught up with Adele's friends James & Craig and later on we met James's wife, Becca (& I hired skis from her too). Adele had organised to stay with James & Becca when she arrived on Monday & as the furnace in Alex & Megan's place was driving me mad by waking me up at 0330 & then keeping me awake, I didn't need much persuasion to join her later the next week. On the way back we stopped at the first big frozen lake that I had seen - Lake Minnewaska, there were people fishing through the ice, others writing big letters by walking through the fresh(ish) snow; on the way back to Canmore, I saw my first herd of elk. Dinner with Craig & his flatmate, Kelly - enjoyed sharing USA roadtrip photos & my Kenyan ones. Sunday, we were all up early as Alex started work at 0700 (he works at Sunshine) & Megan & I were going to hit the slopes for the day. Alex had organised for me to have a lesson as I had only once previously been skiing & that was a few years ago when Adele was living in Queenstown. Coming from NZ, Sunshine was a huge skifield ( which really encompasses three mountains & has twelve lifts - & there was so much snow. As we had a bit of time before my lesson started, Megan took me up the beginner's lift & sent my down an easy run. It turned out my balance was much better than I thought, which is just as well as my stopping was non-existent & I spent most of the time going side to side down the small valley trying to scrub speed. The lesson (turned out to be a private lesson as I was the only one on it) was great, there was a lot to take in as such sports (or any sports really) don't come naturally - by 1400 I was knackered & struggling to keep my arms in the right place. I had a few little crashes, nothing too serious but I was surprised that when I fell on my left shoulder (supposedly the good one) it hurt quite a bit - thankfully not another dislocation. I was a lot better by the end of the day (not that that is any measure of ability), very tired, but keen to get up the mountain again.

Lazy Monday morning before James & Becca picked me up for the trip to Calgary to pick up Adele. We had most of the afternoon to spend before Adele arrived - we spent driving around in circles & at a mall. The (ice) hockey store was immense & quite overwhelming; the most amusing shop was the Western shop - I have never seen so many cowboy boots & some of them are just outrageous. Apparently, walking around Calgary can make one feel that you have fallen in to the set of a Western. After a bit of a wait for a late plane, it fantastic to see Adele again - we had a bit of extra time catching up in the car due to me instigating a rather circuitous trip around the NW corner of Calgary, we made it home eventually.

Tuesday was another easy day - a chance for Adele to hopefully get over all the flights, the eight night shifts previous & a bit of sickness. Becca had a split shift day at work, so after we finished the first half we hired skates & went down to the local ice-rink (just a small, shallow frozen pond) - James joined us in his lunch break & I tried to relearn ice-skating. I made even slower progress than normal - I attribute to the skates being hockey skates (blades curve up at both ends), as well as me being rather uncoordinated. By now the weather had become positively balmy - well in positives (perhaps as far as 5ºC) & a lot of the snow that I had a seen around town the first few days of my visit had melted. After a couple of hours around town when everyone else had gone back to work, Adele & I went out for a beautiful night skate.

Up at Sunshine on Wednesday, we (Becca, Adele & I, later joined by Alex) found some nice new powder - which the girls quite enjoyed; I found it a bit hard to get used to as it was different to what I had learnt on. We had a great day on the snow & after the others took me on a few blue runs (one up from the green runs I had been doing) & I had a few inconsequential backward falls, I was more confident to hit the green runs by myself & practise my turns, balance, stopping & let the others go off & try some black runs. I had a blast that day & really enjoyed the progress - another lesson might be in order after another day or two on the slopes. Becca found her favourite patch of powder near the end of the day, so the girls hit that a few times & I eventually got around to it - bit steeper than I was used to, in the end I got halfway down turning before I just gave up & headed straight down towards the big powdery run out. Adele's exhilaration & amazement of all the snow was very enjoyable to hear. I think we will be back up there quite a bit.
A few different plans were kicked around for Thursday - in the end the weather was sufficiently good enough for James, Becca, Adele & I to head out on a road-trip to the Columbia Icefield (this contains the glacier that James & Becca guided on last summer). We took the TransCanadian Highway past Banff & at Lake Louise (after calling in on a friend working at yet another gear shop) turned off towards the icefield & towards Jasper. We stopped at anything along the way that caught our interest. It was great to be back on snowy roads & Adele & I were amazed by the scenery of the Rockies. The next stop was at the frozen Bow Lake - we tried to walk the few hundred metres to see the lake in our boots, but stopped half way after getting sick of wading through waist deep powder. We will be back this way next week for a back-country skiing overnight trip to Bow Hut. Off in the distance we could see the (frozen) Bow Falls that James & Craig have recently climbed. With a few more photos stops we were in to the summer playground of Becca & James - they were intrigued to see rock faces that they climbed during the summer completely covered in ice. Unfortunately, we couldn't see their glacier as it was covered in cloud - but the wind was fierce & the snow so dry it was drift in quite a large way. After watching a couple of climbers start off on the Weeping Wall, we continued on to Tangle Falls & the others spent an hour or two climbing up there. I'm still a bit dubious on ice-climbing & what all that work will do to my shoulders, so I was content to take pictures & admire the scenery. Bit of a slow drive back to Lake Louise, but we quickly had our skates on & were skating around a rather bumpy rink that is in the corner of the lake. The facade of a castle had been built out of ice on the rink, that was quite beautiful - along with all the fairy lights still on the trees in front of the hotel. Dinner with said friend & late home.
Banff called yesterday & we caught a ride in with Craig for the day. A lot of time was spent in various gear shops as Adele ended up buying a touring ski set up. It snowed pretty heavily all day & we enjoyed wandering around in that & checking out various parts of the town - it wasn't very cold. In some souvenir shop there were some very impressive stuffed animals - bears, moose, wolves, bison & even a couple of pheasants amongst a lot of others. After Adele had successfully given her credit card a thrashing & a couple of lunches, we took Craig's van up the hill in the snow to the hot pools. It was nice to be driving again & I was surprised at how easy it was to be back on the right hand side. It was some what surreal sitting in a 39ºC pool with big snow flakes falling & melting on one's head.