Today we head out of Vancouver headed into the wilds of the Columbia Mountains and onto the Canadian Rockies, crossing the high wilderness of the mountains from West to East. We hope to be into Banff on the other side in three days, following the gold trail through the mountain valleys of British Columbia and then crossing the valleys and rivers otherwise known as part of The Rocky Mountain Trench. It is some 1550klm long and it parallels the western slopes of the Rockies for its entire length.
We bought ourselves a road map at last… I say this because it is sorta like buying a roadmap for Adelaide to Darwin… there are not a lot of roads! Actually the Aus. run has fewer roads. Vancouver to Banff is around 850 klm through the wilds of the Columbia Mountains and onto the Rockies, while Adelaide to Darwin is 3,000 klm of mostly desert plain so it is a bad analogy. There are also few comparison’s to be had on these two runs but for some reason I equate them in my mind. Perhaps it’s the wilderness we expect to meet.
The check list runs like this:
- Dodge Caravan (people mover really)
- Equip Dodge with foam and bedding
- Tucker Box – snacks mostly, coffee, tea & munchies
- Matches, Bunsen stove, kettle, crockery of metal variety etc
- Warm sleeping bags
- Can opener (forgot that a few times… makings of a disaster!)
- Canadian monopoly money
- A few added items + camera’s
Deciding to leave the comfort of the resort in Vancouver early had it’s plusses … there was next to no traffic to contend with in the streets as the locals don’t seem to stir until 10am. Also we are still titchy about driving on the ‘right’ side of the road, those street turns are still a trial.
We liked the idea of getting out of the city before the city-siders even stirred. So having packed and prepared some the night before, we simply threw it all into the back of the Dodge (sorta in a organized way) and headed out through the older port side. This is the sadder side of Vancouver, which runs along the old docks near Chinatown. This is also where the homeless, drunk and addicted hang out, as always it is a sobering sight in any city.
By 7:30am we were off and away into our adventure and headed into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. One of the first things we have noticed is that Canadians and Americans do everything oversized, not only their fast food servings. Their mobile homes are truly mobile mansion’s, RV’s and caravans are completely oversized… I mean these things are Huge! If it isn’t a oversized trailer then it’s a slide on to an oversized truck/ute. Very few of them however are independent. We have to-date only seen one with a solar energy system, the rest rely on plug-in power it seems. No one seems to freecamp, everyone relies on services.
Freecamping is a ‘not gunna happen’ category unfortunately, unless you are truly out back of the bush and even the bears camp out up there, so you need to consider a RV campground destination. For our first night out we chose a Canadian Parks site called Juniper Beach and I think we will stick to the Canadian Parks for Canada. This river beach were we stayed is buried in forest logs carried down by the snow melt so ‘beach’ is a misdemeanour in terms.
After a long and interesting drive with some great stops we were happy to settled-in beside the fast flow of the Fraser River, which is buried in the foothills of the Columbian Mountains. The camp is moderately priced at CA $21 a tent site per night. The amenities are basic and the coin showers are a loonie… I’m even getting into the slang. The camp however is delightful, spacious and full of folk who love the outdoors as a lifestyle, as opposed to a holiday lifestyle. They are celebrating their spring into summer and everyone loves the sun.
The tow vehicles here are commonly huge, big powerful truck/utes (they call them pick-ups) and they rule in the Canadian mountain wilderness… even the motorbikes are monster cruisers. There is nothing small or compact about them at all. It is undoubtably the land of the oversized and well stuffed.
Our first ‘roadside diner’ experience today was also a charmer … right out of ‘Supernatural’ or ‘True Blood’ episode and a pleasant experience at that too. The diner even had serves of home made cherry pie in the counter glass cabinet and there were those having this for breakfast afters. Coffee was on the run all the time and for once it was drinkable, even quite delectable. The busy waitress was friendly, pleasant and helpful and we didn’t begrudge her an appropriate tip, which even surprises even me. I have learnt there is a vast difference between diner waitresses and restaurant staff. They are truly poles apart and vastly different creatures all together.
She took the time to explain to this Aussie what ‘easy-over’ eggs were and we had what she described as hash brown potatoes with our crispy bacon and toast for a hearty brunch. These hash browns were like Aussie baked chunky chips, not the commercially prepared and over-fried, preformed mush patties that pass for hash browns in most places. It was really a pleasant and rewarding experience that we hope to repeat it many times in the coming weeks.
We followed the Fraser River and the Thompson up into the foothills of the Rockies on the Pacific Coast side or western ranges. These smaller mountains are striking in their features and a prelude to the Rocky Mountains proper.
Many of the rugged mountains are tipped with the last of the summer ice and snow and the white tips are brilliant against the blue skies. Logging is also a big industry here and the rivers are still used to bring the logs down from the mountains which is like a breath of yesteryear which makes you think of beavers and log dams.
This is also ‘old gold’ country where miners washed the sandy soils in the melt from the winter snowfields. They were seeking those precious metal alluvial flakes and nuggets back in the 1860’s but the miners of yesteryear are no longer to be found.
You can still find a few old gold miners huts of weather worn forest pine and split planks with a shingled roof now likely collapsed. These can be seen along the river valleys if you look, along with other equipment that might have been abandoned in the last seasons of the gold rush 150yrs ago.
Now more common is the sight of the over-length portable donga’s, well settled into the graveyard towns they call RV parks and commercial depots. Many with bounded yards and growing gardens of rusting relic’s and other junk indicative of more permanent residents.
The goods trains run constantly along each side of the wild, winding river course in the Fraser Canyon otherwise known as the ‘Caribou Trail’ and in spring and summer the air is filled with summer snow. This is the fine pinecone seed which having escaped from the cones, drift about in the air like unseasonal snow in a dazzling dance.
Wildflowers are springing up in the harshest of craggy places along the winding lonely road in displays of purple, yellow and white mostly. They boldly spread out in blazes of colour dappled across the ground along the roadside or anywhere they can gain a hold.
The seasonal fast flowing snowmelt swells the rivers in a powerful rip, bringing logs down from the forest and the river smells like cedar and salmon. It is a rich earthy smell that instantly transports you back to childhood misadventures promised. Rafts and banks of logs can be found readily in the rivers and it is a fascinating sight.
I’m truly, loving it all. I’m enjoying the new experiences, the fresh, cold scent of the air and the gentle warmth of this strange northern sun. It is all totally enthralling. We have also seen our first marmot, who snuck out from his sandy burrow at the pathway edge. This guys is known by a few names such as a woodchuck, or groundhog… everyone has an opinion here.
We have also seen a squirrel make a dash across the road, looking for all-the-world as though he knew exactly what he was doing and there are big birds circling in the mountains looking for a summer feed.
I can’t wait to climb into the bold and wild mountains proper tomorrow when we slowly wind our way east of the Pacific Ocean. As it sneaks towards 10pm at night the sun has finally set behind the young mountains and I know it will be sidling up to the eastern horizon at about 5am… I’m off to bed.
Night all… travel well.
A few interesting notes are:
- A gallon of Petrol/gas is the same price we are paying for a litre of the stuff and they think it is expensive. There are four litres to the gallon btw.
- I have yet to see an ant in the forest… which is a very odd experience, or lack thereof.
- I have also yet to see a fly… another odd experience though the summer mozzies are about for sure.
- We have travelled around 350klm today from Vancouver to just east of Kamloops on our first leg to cross the Rockies.
Jan is an Australian author and writer. You can find our more about her publications at her official web site. Be sure to check out the reader discounts there.
Read the full travelogue of Jans adventures in the e-book ‘The Rockies and the Greater NW USA’ now available at Amazon for just $US1.99