In Search of Bears – Days 36 & 37 (9 &10)

It is glorious autumn weather with clear blue skies as we set off for Lake Louise, keeping a sharp eye out for the bears that we hope to see. This morning, Canadians have woken up to a landslide victory by new prime minister liberal Justin Trudeau, son of Pierre. Our first wildlife spot is a deer trotting across Safeways’ car park. We drive along the scenic Bow Valley Parkway. The Vermilion Lakes are a valuable wetland habitat for migratory birds. Moose also like wetlands and can dive up to five metres in search of their preferred food, aquatic plants. We see no moose. Most of the trees are lodge pole pines, which will only regenerate at temperatures of 45 degrees C, hence the need for controlled burning. We see elk damage to the aspen trees, whose bark has been stripped. We see no elk.

The road we are travelling on was built by Ukranian internees after the First World War. The grain trains often have spills that attract animals. These are meant to be cleared to stop wildlife getting killed but bears are still often spotted by the railway tracks. We see no bears. We pass the Valley of the 10 Peaks and Morant’s Curve on our way to the village of Lake Louise, the highest permanent settlement in Canada and location for Doctor Zhivago. Lake Louise was named for Queen Victoria’s daughter who was married to the then Governor General of Canada, the Marquis of Lorne. The Lake itself is glacier fed and is frozen for eight months of the year as the surrounding mountains block out the sun. We walk round the lake and notice a significant drop in temperature as we move beyond the sun’s reach. I am still feeling a bit wobbly so it is a very gentle stroll. We see squirrels and birds (unidentified). We see no bears. Another coach party are all sporting natty orange scarves. We enquire why our group have not been similarly garbed.

316 Emerald Lake 20 October 2015At some point in our day we photograph Emerald Lake, with its wonderful reflections. The Bow River flows west to east, as do all rivers east of the continental divide. We cross the divide into British Columbia; on this side the rivers flow into the Pacific instead. We see Mount Hector, nicknamed Mount Snoopy because of its appearance. Other points of interest are the spiral tunnels, which enable the Canadian Pacific Railway to cope with a 106 foot level change without exceeding an acceptable gradient. Completed in 1907, the tunnels took 1000 men 75 car loads of dynamite and twenty months to build. That sounds like the basis for a maths problem. We also see the overpasses and tunnels that have been created along migratory paths; these have reduced animal fatalities by 99%. Our final stop of the day was at Natural Bridge, a bridge-like rock formation over Kicking Horse River. I am more than ready to lie down and hope I feel better for what is to be a long day tomorrow. We see no bears.

The next day my ailments have ‘resolved’ themselves into an excruciating backache, which I do my best to ignore. We are leaving the Rockies now and retrace some of our steps from yesterday, through the Yoho National Park (yoho means awesome, we have learnt and it is well named). The Bow River has been abandoned in favour of Kicking Horse River. Between 1857 and 1860 the Palliser Expedition, surveying modern day Western Canada and the US, included Dr James Hector. He was kicked by horse at what is now Kicking Horse Pass and it was only discovered that he was still alive when he was being lowered into his grave. This route was adopted by the Canadian Pacific Railway and we see the spiral tunnels again but as yesterday, they are devoid of trains. More wildlife fails as we see no big horned sheep, which normally frequent this area and we still see no bears.

We pick up the course of the Columbia River, which is 1200 miles long. There is low lying cloud as we pass through the Rocky Mountain Trench that separates the Rockies from the Columbia mountains. The trench is one of the earth’s features that is visible from outer space. There were plans to flood a vast area here in order to supply water to the western US but project ‘big bath tub’ was abandoned because of fears that the ecology and weather would be irretrievably altered.

Wolves were hunted to extinction in the 1940s but were reintroduced into this area; we see no wolves. Beaver are also found here. At up to a metre long, including their tails, they are North America’s largest rodent. A beaver will use two hundred deciduous trees a year. We see no beaver. Next we are in the Glacier National Park, which contains about 400 glaciers and we are crossing the Rogers’ Pass, discovered by Albert Bowman ‘Hells Bells’ Rogers in 1882. Rogers was given a $5000 reward by Canadian Pacific for discovering the route but he framed the cheque instead of cashing it. The road is protected from avalanches by tunnel-like ‘snow sheds’, as the area gets 50-60 foot of snow each year. The army used to use howitzers to shoot down imminent avalanches but now explosives are dropped by helicopters.

We stop for lunch in Mount Revelstoke National Park. We are consuming sandwiches purchased at our previous stop. We are told that grizzly and black bears are found here. Grizzly bears have more of a hump and different shaped faces but black bears aren’t exclusively black. We see no bears of either variety. Next stop is the point at which the final spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway, joining the east and west coasts, was driven in. Most of the line was built from east to west but the westernmost section was sub-contracted so the final joining spike was here at Craigellachie in 1885. The railway runs for nearly 3000 miles, with bridges over more than 1000 streams. We hear the story of Lady Agnes, wife of Sir John A MacDonald, who strapped herself to a seat attached to the cowcatcher for some of the journey when travelling on the newly opened Canadian Pacific coast to coast railroad. The Trans Canadian Highway was completed in 1962.

328 Ice creams at Swan Lake 21 October 2015At Grindrod we see a house decorated all over with hub-caps – each to their own. The first Europeans in the area we are now entering, like many others, were fur traders, followed by gold seekers. The favourable agricultural conditions encouraged permanent settlement. The 100 mile long Okanagan Valley is another fruit and vine growing region. There are random large piles of sawdust everywhere. We stop at Swan Lake for refreshments and plan to have ice-creams. Fortunately we were not first in the queue. Our fellow travellers have opted for double cones; they really should not have done that. It is going to take us a considerable while to get outside our ‘single’ scoop cones, which each have five scoops of ice cream piled precariously upon them. The final photo stop is at Kalamalka Lake – the lake of many colours. We see no bears.

We have carelessly lost another hour on our journey and I am trying to catch up with what has been happening at home. I am excited to find the corrected proofs and cover of Remember Then in my inbox as well as yet more Swords and Spindles booking enquiries. For the first time, we have a ‘reception’ at our hotel and cookies and drinks are awaiting our arrival. Not wanting to pass up the chance of free refreshment we partake – having first sniffed the fruit juice suspiciously. It looked like tomato juice, which is not a favourite but was actually mango.

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