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.

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