Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Adios, Canada (Don't Shoot!)

Sadly, it's time to say adios to the friendly Canadians and their pretty parks. I would have liked to stay for another week to check out Mt Robson provincial park. However, the van's title is on it's way to a post office in Montana and the current permit expires in two weeks.

I could have easily spent the rest of the trip in the Canadian Rockies, despite the winter-like weather. I had to keep reminding myself that there are other places to see, each with their own unique attractions. Still, it's hard to leave. The Canadians I met seem to have a deep appreciation for the beauty of their land. There was the old fellow who visited the same campground in Yoho twenty two times last year, the woman who left Hawaii and returned to work as a hut keeper in her favorite park, and the couple who returned each year to the campground where the husband had proposed to his wife.

Initially I thought that the Canadian parks lacked a remoteness and a preservation ethic. The huts and lodges in otherwise remote areas plus the popularity of flying in to places by helicopter lead me to this. After looking at a road atlas of Canada, however, I realized that "remote" probably has a different meaning in Canada. There are areas in Canada larger than most American states which are devoid of towns, roads, or, so it seems, any other mark of humanity. If you really want to get away from it all you can always head to one of those places.

It's clear that climbers have had a strong influence on the Canadian Rockies. There are a multitude of alpine huts maintained by the Canadian Alpine Club. I learned that a century ago the Canadian Pacific railroad company had brought over European climbing guides in an effort to promote tourism in the area. Many of the peaks were first ascended by these guides and their wealthy European clients. The guides imported the hut system from the Alps, and it's carried over into modern times. The huts lend an air of safety to what can be a harsh environment. The huts also mean that you don't have to haul as much gear as you otherwise would. In contrast, alpine climbing in the US seems to have more of a "you're on your own" quality to it. There is an American Alpine Club but I never hear much about them. The European influence can also be seen in the common use of guides and the strict guide certification process. It's interesting how choices made a hundred years ago have lead to such a differentiation.

So much for such generalizations. After the van repair I went on a backpacking trip covering ground in two provincial parks and one national park (Banff). The highlight of the trip was the Magog Lake / Mt Assinboine area, seen in the picture at the top. A former park ranger and a climbing guide independently recommended visiting this place. It was a good recommendation. Out of all the places I visited in Canada on this trip I think this was my favorite. Mt Assinboine is about the same elevation as Mt Hood in Oregon. It's often referred to as the "Matterhorn of Canada" due to it's similar appearance to it's more famous counterpart. The hike in was something like 17 miles, but you can fly in by helicopter and stay at a lodge next to the lake if you prefer. I didn't climb the peak, but I did go up a nearby minor peak called Nob Peak, mostly for the views. I had brought along a xeroxed page out of a guidebook describing the routes on Assiniboine and hiked part of the approach. The most popular route is a moderately easy (5.5) technical rock route along a ridge. Apparently no glacier travel is involved. There is an alpine hut near the base of the route. The route description warns that the route is "much more difficult" when it is covered in snow, which was the case when I was there.

The outing wound up being a big loop through valleys, over passes, past lakes and other peaks. In the mornings or late afternoons I'd take short spur hikes to nearby lakes or peaks, leaving most of my load at camp. I utilized the proven "slow and fat" style, carrying a large brick of cheese, a salami log, crackers, a bag of mixed nuts / candy, and several apples for snacking. Despite my best efforts I had to cut another hole on my belt once I returned. Next time I'll have to bring a bucket of lard with me.

The most impressive wildlife of the Assiniboine trip were a couple of moose. I saw two, a male and a female, on separate days. I had always thought of a moose as a deer with different looking antlers. After seeing one at close range I realized that they are much larger than a deer. If a bounding box were drawn around the bull moose I saw it would have been at least as tall and wide as my van, and maybe 80% of its length. For sure, it's not an animal you would want to upset. Fortunately it's the mating season for them so he had other things on his mind. I took photos of the moose but the camera had trouble focusing. There were plenty of signs warning of grizzly bears, but I never saw any. I did see tracks for what I initially thought was a cat-like animal. Later I realized that the claw marks indicate that the animal was not a cat, since their claws are retracted when walking. Most likely it was a coyote. One night I heard a cry from some large animal. Whatever it was it didn't last long, and it didn't sound happy either. Photos from the trip can be found here. I also uploaded a couple of short videos. The first one is a pan from the slopes of Nob Peak. The second one is from an exposed ridge higher up. It was pretty windy.

Next on my list is Glacier National Park in Montana. After that I'll likely visit the Sawtooth range in Idaho. The van's title is in the mail. I'll be picking it up in Kalispell, Montana. Once I have it I'll need to retitle it in another state and then get permanent plates. I contacted the Oregon DMV state offices and it sounds like I can do this without having to go to Oregon, but it also sounds like a time consuming and complicated process. I'll see if I can get plates and a title in Montana or Idaho. If not I'll continue on to eastern Oregon and do it there. In any case, it looks like my multi state DMV tour will continue for at least a bit longer. The WRX has been sold. Thanks go out to my sales team, Jeff & Ann.

Okay, you've made it this far. Here's the story on the subtitle. The most convenient place for me to cross the border back into the US turned out to be a pretty remote border station. There was literally nothing other than the two border stations there. The nearest town, gas station, house, or anything was about an hour's drive away. I arrived late and from all appearances it looked to be closed. A simple metal gate prevented me from crossing over. There were no cars parked at either station. It would have been be very easy to just walk across. If there had been another vehicle on the other side of the gate it would have been a simple task to transfer guns, drugs, nuclear warheads, etc. over the border. So much for homeland security, I thought. I remembered seeing a sign a while back saying that the station was only open from 9 to 6. Okay, I figured, I'll just park here for the night and in the morning there'll be some people there. I had dinner and fell asleep.

I was woken up by a bright light outside the van. I was still trying to remember where I was and how I'd gotten there when I opened the side door. The first thing I noticed was a bright light. The next thing I noticed was a gun pointing at me. Someone in the direction of the light and the gun was repeating the words "Put your hands up!", each time with increasing urgency. Other than the light, it was very dark out, windy, and raining hard. It all seemed very surreal. Still half awake, I was thinking that this was likely a dream. I figured I'd play along. After putting my hands up I was told to lean forward and put my hands on side of the van. Then I got asked a bunch of questions. "Where are you from? Why are you here? What are you doing in Canada? What's your occupation? Where did you cross into Canada? Where are you going? Is anyone else in the van? Are you carrying any weapons?" He was pretty wound up. I think some of my answers confused him, since I didn't really know the answers myself. (Is an ice axe a weapon? Where is it that I was going? What is my occupation if I'm on a leave of absence?)

I don't think he ever really believed that I was a former engineering manager taking the long way to Mexico, but he eventually calmed down. He said something about smugglers, told me that the crossing was closed for the season, and "advised" me to head over to the next closest crossing further east. He said that it was open 24 hours a day. I had already been pulled over earlier that same day by another officer, so I figured I'd better leave Canada as soon as possible before doing something else that would upset the local authorities. I really didn't want to be banned from future entry into Canada. I decided to cross that same night. Of course, when I arrived at the next crossing it was also closed. I turned around and this time got further away from the border station before stopping for some much needed sleep. As I bedded down for the second time that night I thought to myself: "If I run into another Canadian cop again I'm going to have to change some of my habits." No one came by. The next morning I crossed over.

The Canadians must have related their experiences with me to the Americans, because they spent half an hour searching the van. Finding nothing of significance, and looking somewhat disappointed, they were forced to let me back in. They did take my apples and the remaining salami log, saying something about mad cow disease as they did so. Later I regretted not having asked if I could eat the apples and salami while I waited for them to finish searching the van.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Vic, you're going to need a better cover story than "I used to be an engineering manager".

/****** Used to generate site stats *******/