Category Archives: travel

Escaping the City (with a 2016 Ford Escape)

Well this weekend was interesting.  Of course it started with Mark getting hurt at football on Friday night.  Hard blow to the lower back and really hurt his kidney.  Mark made a tackle and someone came in a fraction of a second late and hit him.  Weird thing with this is that it can way worse so the doctor gave us a list of what to watch out for.

So instead of getting up insanely early and heading north to Prince Albert National Park, we let him get more sleep while we loaded up the Focus.

Loading up the 2016 Ford Focus

He stumbled out of the house, into the Ford Escape, turned on the heat on the front seat, grabbed a blanket and went back to sleep.  He was in a lot of pain.  The good news is the heated seats made a lot of difference.

By the time we got up, the Park Cafe had a line of people outside the door.  After a quick vote, we went to Humpty’s and ordered some Splash Omelettes for Wendy, Mark and myself and a M&M pancake for Oliver.  They made the mistake of ordering pierogis as a side and regretted it, you always order the pan fries.  You know that means they all took some of my pan fries.

M&M pancake at Humpty's

The plan was to head up Highway 42 to Alveena and then cut across to the Battle of Fish Creek (and the cool looking Fish Creek Church) and then 28 kms up to Batoche.

Two days of constant rain had turned our roads to slop.  I decided to take the Fish Creek road and see what it was like.  I went a kilometer and even with the AWD of the Ford Escape, I turned back to the highway.  We went into Alveena and realized the same thing.  The top couple of inches of road was waterlogged and moving.  If I had to get through, I could have but it wasn’t worth risking it.

So we drove to the Watrous intersection backtracked and went to Batoche.  It was closed.  For fall, it closes on the weekends which makes no sense to me at all.  That would useful to have on the front of your website but it’s the Government of Canada, I should have known better.

So we crossed the river, headed north on Highway 11 and got into Prince Albert and then Waskesiu.

We had booked a lodge  at Waskesiu but then a week later they called back and said, “oh, we were overbooked”.  In other words they got a longer booking and we got bounced.  There is a big fun run up there this weekend and we quickly found out all of the other accommodations were booked.  W

e booked an oTENTik which kind of a hybrid tent and cabin.  At first the cost seemed way to high for what I was getting but when we got there, it was nicer than what we would have had at the hotel.

A muddy 2016 Ford Escape

Let’s chat about the oTENTiks for a second.

Mark and Oliver in front of a oTENTik at Prince Albert National ParkWendy, Mark and Oliver with an oTENTik at Prince Albert National ParkMark Cooper and an oTENTik at Prince Albert National Park

The first thing is that you need to stay in one.  They can sleep 6 really comfortably.  You bring your own sleeping bags and pillows and inside they had a platform with four single mattresses along the bottom and a double mattress up top.

There is a table with four chairs and a small bench to toss your bags.  Parks Canada also gives you a LED lantern for a light when you check in.  It looks cool but kicks out almost no light.  We had head lamps and are glad we had them.

The structure is half tent and half cabin.  The floor is raised, has laminate flooring, but the roof is a plastic canvas tarp.  You can also lock the door.  We didn’t need it but there was a propane heater.

There is also a metal bear cache out front for your food.  I’ll be honest, it was the only thing I didn’t like but maybe I am a little over sensitive after the wolf incident this summer.  I wish it and the barbecue was further way from the oTENTik.  It seemed to close but then again, I am probably over thinking this after what happened in Banff.

Finally there is a picnic table that is screened in alongside a fire pit.  It is a great setup and I’d rather stay in one of these then some of the cabin’s that are in Waskesiu.  It’s really nice.

I don’t know what it is like in the summer.  The widows open up but I am not sure how hot it would be but for the fall when crisp autumn weather is the norm, it is an amazing place to stay in and I would pick it over a cottage or lodge any night.

After unpacking, we drove from Beaver Glen campground to downtown Waskesiu.  On the way there, we saw a large herd of these guys just chilling out while the male acted aggressive (the rut has begun) and was walking around looking for a fight.

Elk patrolling the trailer campground at Waskesiu in Prince Albert National Park

These were taken with Wendy’s Olympus OM-D E-M10 II and her 75-300mm lens (which is a equivalent of a 150-600mm lens).  We were a long ways away as I am not sure how Ford Escapes handle being rammed by giant elk.

Elk in Prince Albert National Park

For those of you who have never been around an elk or a moose in a rut, they are gathering up all of the females to breed with and are constantly on the look out for any other elk or people that could be a threat.  They are more or less insane and quite dangerous.  I wasn’t being flippant when I said they would ram the Escape because they would.

From there we did some shopping in downtown Waskesiu.  Oliver was choked the entire time.  He knew Mark was hurt so he was constantly challenging Mark to races which he was sure he could win.  While he was right, Mark was too hurt to even walk easily so there were no races.

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We did go into a high end boutique that was blowing everything out from 50-80% off and Mark did find an Oakley hat that he liked.  I found a great looking shirt that was still $200 on sale.  So I passed.

From there, we went to Pete’s Terrace and ordered the Volcano Pizza to share.  You can order it in terms of heat from 1-5.  We had a two which was hot enough.  They did bring us a side of #5 and my mouth still burns.  Actually it hit all of us except Oliver who just said, “I don’t do spicy”.  Wise kid.

Here is the thing about Pete’s Terrace.  The pizza is good and affordable which means in the summer, EVERYONE IN WASKESIU and NORTHERN SASKATCHEWAN eats there which means long waits because the restaurant is packed, the deck is packed, the non-licensed sidewalk area is packed.  In the fall, it’s just kind of normally busy and the services is really fast.  So the summer of last night was great pizza, great service and I still shouldn’t have tried the #5 hot sauce.

Last night we took a slow drive just past dusk and when I say slow, I mean 30 kph slow.  Explaining to Ford why there is an elk lodged in the front seat is not a conversation that  I wanted to have (okay, it would an hilarious conversation to have but you know what I mean)

This is what we saw.  Elk sleeping on the shoulder and in the middle of the highway.  Right in the middle of the highway.   Is it because of the heat or because they are in rut (we never saw it but you could hear elk in rut challenging each other in the distance while out walking).  It was really weird to be driving (we were going about 30 kph) and seeing them and not moving.  Not that I would ever do this but from their non-reaction, it looked like you could have picked one up and brought it home as a (giant, destructive) pet.

I did discover something last night, the Escape’s headlights go from high beam to low beam automatically which is a feature I have waited for my entire life.  It really makes driving at night a lot more pleasant and safer.  We didn’t drive that long with them on but from what I can tell, they aren’t confused by yard lights in the distance which is also pretty interesting.  They only dim for car lights coming at you.  Great technology.

Sunday morning Mark was even in worse shape.  We were going to go to Mud Creek Flat to see if we could find some black bears but that was cancelled, also the road still sucked.  We talked to locals about Highway #263 and they are about to impeach the Minister of Highways over how long it has been under construction.  Also they said, “don’t take it after this rain.”

We had planned to hike to LaColle Falls Hydroelectric Dam today but as well but looking at Mark, he needed to head home so we grabbed some food and got him back to Saskatoon.

In talking with Mark, the heated front seat of the Escape made the trip for him.  Yes he was on painkillers but he said he felt uncomfortable as soon as the heated seat turned off and felt better as soon as the seat kicked back in.  On the way up, you would see it turn off and then a moment later Mark would take up, hit the button and go back to sleep.

In the end, it wasn’t the trip I had planed (we are blaming Mark for that).  If you have ever seen the excellent documentary 180 South, there is a great line in it where the main character goes, “It isn’t an adventure until something goes wrong.”  It was relaxing and it was nice to check out the Ford Escape on a trip like this.  Here are some thoughts.

  • We took 4.5 three season sleeping backs, a medium sized cooler, three camera bags, three tripods, four pillows and some extra blankets.  There were also four backpacks in there and we had lots of room in the back.  The Escape holds a lot of stuff for weekend trips like this.
  • It’s powerful.  When I had to pass, the engine didn’t even work up a sweat.  It never kicked into a passing gear despite firing us forward.  It may be the form of a SUV but it’s soul is a sports car.   The EcoBoost engine is one part of the equation but so is the really smooth and always ready to go 6 speed transmission.
  • I like the addition spot for your phone/fob on the console.  I think it’s new for 2017 and it’s a nice touch.
  • For the first time ever, I actually plugged my iPod Nano into the sound system and played music rather than just ESPN Radio.  The sound system is amazing.  Rich highs and lows.  Ford did a great job with this.
  • Fuel efficiency was good.  On the trip it was 8.7 litres per 100 km.  The highways were quiet and not a lot of passing but still, it was good mileage.
  • This the first time I have never noticed this but the GPS was a couple hundred meters off from the map at times.  Not a big deal when driving through Duck Lake but for those that rely on it, it may be disheartening.  That being noted, my Bushnell and Wendy’s Magellen GPS both have done this while hiking so I assume it is a GPS satellite thing.  Also it could have happened before but I just noticed it a few times on this trip.  Also to be fair, there was a heavy cloud cover and the GPS could have had a hard time acquiring a good fix.
  • I’ll be honest.  I didn’t do a fair test on the Escape.  I only drove it in drive, not in sport mode and kept it to within safe speed limits.  Hey it’s how I drive (despite getting two tickets this summer). Even when you aren’t in sport mode, it feels like a sports car.

I get grief every single time that I say that the Ford Escape is my favorite car out there.  We are a family of four.  We live for weekend trips like this or heading out to the mountains to hike in the summer.  We have a dog that is rowdy.  This vehicle works so well for us because when Mark was sick, it was big enough for Mark to ride up front and Wendy to be comfortable in the back.  It is big enough to hold our gear without thinking too much about it (although if I owned one, I would have a carrying rack up top for camping).  I could tow an ultra light tent trailer behind it.  Most of all, I really enjoy driving it.

I have been in love with the Ford Escape for years and in 2017 Ford made it better.

Oh yeah, Mark will be fine.  They did a CT Scan at Royal University Hospital and he lacerated a kidney.  We technically the kid that hit him lacerated his kidney.  He will miss practice this week and the game and start practicing next Monday.  He’s just sore right now and doesn’t want to aggravate the injury.   It’s football.  It could have been worse but he will be fine.

Escape the City

Well I was supposed to be on the road right now.  On the first short first leg of a road trip.  I was supposed to be eating at the Park Cafe right now but plans have a way of running into real life.

But let’s step back a second.

Ford CanadaFord Canada was cool enough great enough cool and great enough to lend us a 2016 Ford Escape which as you may know, is my favorite vehicle of all time.  Wednesday Wendy and I saw an Alfa Romero parked at The Springroll and while amazed to see it in Saskatoon, at this stage of life, I’d take an Escape (which Ford has for a week).

2016 Ford Escape

Not only has Ford lent me the Escape, they told me to get lost with it for the weekend.  After debating going south to Val Marie (home of NHL great Brian Trottier) and Grasslands National Park or north to Prince Albert National Park (home of noted fraud Grey Owl), we chose north for two reasons.  There is nothing to do in Grasslands National Park and Mark had a football game last night so driving 12 hours to get there and back is more than I wanted for two days.  (I’m not hating on Grasslands National Park or Val Marie, we are going down there for May Long Weekend next year for no other reason to get photos of the signs that say, “Do Not Step on the Burrowing Owls”)

Speaking of Mark’s football game, last night we went to a wet and cold SMF Field at Gordie Howe Bowl to watch Mark’s team get destroyed by Prince Albert.  Mark played well though and on the last series, he took a knee.  We wandered out of the stands to see what was up.  I was wondering if he took a blow the head.  Nope, he took a hard hit to the kidneys and was vomiting up blood.

To spare some details, he was hurt but will be okay and we had him checked out.  We talked about cancelling the trip or just Oliver and I going but he’ll be okay.  So this morning we let Mark get a bit more sleep (a plan that the dog did not buy into)  He is in a lot of pain this morning but he is good to go.  I have a list of things to watch for but if none of those things happen, he should be okay.  If not, in the words of The Guess Who, we’ll be “Heading back to Saskatoon.”  That didn’t stop me from suggesting that because of him getting hurt, we change his name to Tony Romo.

So right away we will be leaving for breakfast a little later than we anticipated but Mark is claiming the heated front seat in the Escape and will try to grab some sleep on the drive up to Prince Albert National Park.  As if he will be sleeping.  The Escape has ESPN Radio which means that we will be listening to countless stories about Vin Scully and college football today.   We will bond without talking.

So breakfast awaits.  Then a trip to Waskesiu via the site of the Battle of Fish and the Batoche National Historic Site.  Then we will go through St. Louis (where we will again have an argument over whether or not that bridge was ever safe for cars) and then Prince Albert.

We will post photos and more stories tomorrow. 

Some quick family updates

I get asked all of the time if Mark is going to keep working at Safeway though the school year.  The answer is yes.  He is working most weekends including the Labour Day weekend.  We had a long talk about what holidays were important to have off if possible like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and things like family birthdays and gatherings.  Then we talked about the non-important holidays where three times his regular pays was pretty important.  Labour Day fell into that this weekend.  It means that we are going to Moose Jaw to have wings at the Deja Vu Cafe while Mark is cutting fruit at Safeway.

As for his money, some asked how we handle that.  It’s been pretty simple.

  • He wants $1000.00 for next year’s holidays which means that $40 a paycheck has to go into his savings account off the top.
  • Then he pays his cell phone account which $19 month to month via Virgin.  He gets texts and minutes but no data.
  • He has a travel and adventure journal, in it he has a list of the gear he wants for next year.  Things like new hiking boots and some other gear he wants to upgrade.  He keeps an eye for that stuff on sale.
  • Also he wanted to take care of Christmas presents.  He has Wendy’s birthday and Christmas gifts taken care of.  He tells me he has mine purchased and is waiting until closer to Christmas to get Oliver one of his gifts.  So yeah, he’s done.
  • Then when he gets paid, he takes all of the money that was left in his checking account and dumps it into his savings account for travel.  He has saved most of this money from this summer.

The entire “It’s my money and I get to do with it what I want” doesn’t work in our household.  He’s not like that anyways.

He is working while going back to school.  Safeway allows him to restrict his hours.  Not only that but he has a department manager that played sports and worked so he has one of Mark’s football schedules and is going to work around that.  It will be fine and if it isn’t, we will help him out.  I don’t know what means now that I have written it but I guess I could suit up and play football again, kind of like Sinbad in Necessary Roughness.

For the record, I did go to YouTube as soon as I thought about Sinbad in Necessary Roughness.   Also, the movie holds up well.  As a side note, I was watching this in a hotel in Boston when the hotel caught fire. 

Also while the rest of you were posting cute first day of school photos to Instagram, Oliver gets ready, walks to the door and goes, “Later”.  He’s a pro at this school thing now.

Next year

Well with all of my photos from Banff and Yoho National Park posted, I thought I would write what we are thinking of for next year.

The big difference is we are doing a short trip on July 1st long weekend to Yoho National Park to hike Lake O’Hara.  Lake O’Hara has very restricted access but is considered one of the best hiking areas in the world.   So the plan is to drive out and the camp in the rustic Lake O’Hara campground before hiking the trails for two days.

We will take a longer vacation later in the summer.  We will also take Marley along for this one.

Day 1: Drive to Banff, get out and hike up Tunnel Mountain.  Die a little on top.  Walk back down.  Get back into car and drive to Lake Louise campground.

Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park

Basically we never did do this during this year’s vacation because my ankle was so swollen that it felt like it was going to snap.  I want to do this next year.   As for the campground, I loved the Johnston Canyon Campground but Lake Louise Campground is closer to Yoho National Park and there are no reservable spots in Yoho.

Day 2: Hike to Lake Agnes Tea House.  Hike up the Little Beehive and the Big  Beehive.

Another idea from this year that was derailed because of my ankle.  If all goes well, three mountain tops and one cup of tea in two days.  I am more excited about the mountain tops than I am the tea to be honest.

Day 3: Yoho: HIke to the the Twin Falls

Get up early and drive into Yoho and hike from Takakkaw Falls past the Angel’s Staircase to the Twin Falls.  Then back.

Day 4: Walk the Past Trail

It’s not a long trail but I have always wanted to hike the Walk the Past Trail in Yoho.  It is near the Spiral Tunnels and it is littered with the carnage of runaway trains and exploding boilers that plagued the Big Hill during it’s existence.  This history geek in me is looking forward to this.  Since it won’t take long, I plan to check out Emerald Lake in Yoho as well.

Day 5: Columbia Ice Fields

I haven’t spent anytime in Jasper National Park so this will be fun but we are planning to take the Columbia Ice Fields tour as we relocate camp from Lake Louise to the Columbia Ice Fields Campground.

Day 6: Hike to Wilcox Pass

One of the best hikes in Canada, this high alpine pass should be fun.

Day 7: Athabasca Falls and Exploring the town of Jasper.

Day 8: Mount Edith Cavell trail

Edith Cavall Trail in Jasper National Park

Day 9: Edmonton and then home.

A lot is going on here

Jordon Cooper

First of all, thanks to Mark for the photo.  I generally hate photos of me being taken which is why I am always behind the camera but the problem with being a part of a family of photographers is that they have cameras as well.

Now you will notice the pockets in my shorts being wet.  It has just poured and was cold so I put my hands in my pockets.  This resulted in them looking like this.  You win some, you look like an idiot in others.  Thanks to Mark for capturing the essence of what it means to be a dad.

I am off to find my cool, from this photo it looks like I lost it.

Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park

This is why we came to Yoho National Park.   “Takakkaw”, loosely translated from Cree, means something like “it is magnificent”. The falls are fed by the Daly Glacier, which is part of the Waputik Icefield.   Its highest point is 302 metres from its base.  The falls drop a total of 992 feet in four distinct steps, first dropping over two narrow plunges hidden within the slot canyon at the top of the falls (neither of which can be seen from the base of the falls). The river then hurtles 853 feet over the side of the Yoho Valley wall, then cascading down a narrow flume-like stairstep for an additional 94 feet.

Yoho is where the big mountains are.  The drive to Takakkaw Falls both terrified and inspired the family.  It was worth the trip before we even got there.  I have never visited the park before and I can’t wait to return next summer.

Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National Park

Some of Parks Canada famed red chairs.Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkIMGP3191Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkIMGP3212Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National Park

The appropriately named Cathedral Mountain.Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkIMGP3228Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkIMGP3232Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National Park

The tradition of dunking one’s head in frozen water continues on.Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkIMGP3236Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkTakkakaw Falls in Yoho National ParkIMGP3251Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National Park

The Natural Bridge

While driving in Yoho National Park I saw a sign for The Natural Bridge.  I would have sworn under oath that it was in Kootenay National Park but I have happy to be wrong and so we went and checked it out.

It was pretty cool and as we were leaving, a family asked if they could have a family selfie with Marley.  Again, who takes selfies with strange dogs in strange countries as part of their Canadian Rocky experience?  Apparently quite a few people do. 

The Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National Park

Wendy pointed out that it does look like a giant toilet bowl being flushed.  The Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National Park

Spiral Tunnels in Yoho National Park

So after a fun morning in Moraine Lake, we went to Laggan’s Mountain Bakery and Delicatessen for lunch.  That place is amazing and if you are ever driving by Lake Louise, make sure you stop there for something.

Instead of turning back towards the Johnston Canyon Campground or Banff, I went west towards British Columbia and we spent the rest of the day in Yoho National Park where the plan was to see Takakkaw Falls.  Soon after heading across the border into B.C. and the park, I saw the sign for the Spiral Tunnels.  The inner nerd in me forced me to turn out as we checked them out.

Spiral Tunnels near Field B.C. in Yoho National ParkSpiral Tunnels near Field B.C. in Yoho National ParkSpiral Tunnels near Field B.C. in Yoho National ParkSpiral Tunnels near Field B.C. in Yoho National Park

Quick nerd break to explain why this was so cool. 

To complete the Pacific railway as quickly as possible, a decision was made to delay blasting a lengthy 1,400 feet (430 m) tunnel through Mount Stephen and instead build a temporary 8-mile (13 km) line over it. Instead of the desired 2.2% grade (116 feet to the mile) a steep 4.5% (some sources say 4.4%) grade was built in 1884. This was one of the steepest railway lines anywhere. It descended from Wapta Lake to the base of Mount Stephen, along the Kicking Horse River to a point just west of Field, then rose again to meet the original route.

Three safety switches were built to protect against runaway trains. These switches led to short spurs with a sharp reverse upgrade and they were kept in the uphill position until the operator was satisfied that the train descending the grade towards him was not out of control. Speed was restricted to eight miles per hour (13 km/h) for passenger trains and six (10 km/h) for freight, and elaborate brake testing was required of trains prior to descending the hill. Nevertheless, disasters occurred with dismaying frequency.

Field was created solely to accommodate the CPR’s need for additional locomotives to be added to trains about to tackle the Big Hill. Here a stone roundhouse with turntable was built at what was first known simply as Third Siding. In December 1884 the CPR renamed it Field after C.W. Field, a Chicago businessman who, the company hoped, might invest in the region after he had visited on a special train they had provided for him.

At that time, standard steam locomotives were 4-4-0s, capable enough for the prairies and elsewhere, but of little use on the Big Hill. Baldwin Locomotive Works was called upon to build two 2-8-0s for use as Field Hill pusher engines in 1884. At the time they were the most powerful locomotives built. Two more followed in June 1886. The CPR began building its own 2-8-0s in August 1887, and over the years hundreds more were built or bought.

The Big Hill “temporary” line was to remain the main line for twenty-five years, until the famous Spiral Tunnels were opened on September 1, 1909.

The improvement project was started in 1906, under the supervision of John Edward Schwitzer, the senior engineer of CPR’s western lines. The first proposal had been to extend the length of the climb, and thus reduce the gradient, by bypassing the town of Field at a higher level, on the south side of the Kicking Horse river valley. This idea had quickly been abandoned because of the severe risk of avalanches and landslips on the valley side. Also under consideration was the extension of the route in a loop northwards, using both sides of the valley of the Yoho river to increase the distance, but again the valley sides were found to be prone to avalanches. It was the experience of severe disruption and delay caused by avalanches on other parts of the line (such as at the Rogers Pass station, which was destroyed by an avalanche in 1899) that persuaded Schwitzer that the expensive solution of digging spiral tunnels was the only practical way forward.

The route decided upon called for two tunnels driven in three-quarter circles into the valley walls. The higher tunnel, “number one,” was about one thousand yards in length and ran under Cathedral Mountain, to the south of the original track. When the new line emerged from this tunnel it had doubled back, running beneath itself and 50 feet (15 m) lower. It then descended the valley side in almost the opposite direction to its previous course before crossing the Kicking Horse River and entering Mount Ogden to the north. This lower tunnel, “number two,” was a few yards shorter than “number one” and the descent was again about fifty feet. From the exit of this tunnel the line continued down the valley in the original direction, towards Field. The constructions and extra track would effectively double the length of the climb and reduce the ruling gradient to 2.2%. The new distance between Field and Wapta Lake, where the track levels out, is 11.5 miles (18.5 km).

The contract was awarded to the Vancouver engineering firm of MacDonnell, Gzowski and Company and work started in 1907. The labor force amounted to about a thousand and the cost was about 1.5 million Canadian dollars.

Even after the opening of the spiral tunnels, Field Hill remained a significant challenge and it was necessary to retain the powerful locomotives at Field locomotive depot.

Even though the Spiral Tunnels eliminated the Big Hill, the mountains remained and so too did the Field Hill. The Ottertail revision of 1902 and the five-mile (26,518 feet or 8.083 kilometres) long double track Connaught Tunnel of 1916 were other improvements made to the original line in British Columbia. It was not until the late 20th century when a major new project of 20 miles (32 km) including the 9.1-mile (14.6 km) Mount Macdonald Tunnel reduced the grade to a very manageable average of 0.82%, (maximum 1%) opened in December 1988.

There is a hike along there that we did not take but I intend to next year that should be a lot of fun.

Moraine Lake, Alberta

I should have posted these sooner.  When you take several thousand photos on a trip, you have to edit several thousand photos.  When I mean edit, I mean hit the delete key a lot.

In our last full day in Banff National Park, we planned to hike some of the trails around Moraine Lake.  Those plans were changed when almost all of the trails in the Valley of the Ten Peaks were closed because of grizzly bears.   That disappointed Wendy, Mark, and Oliver but I had a plan B, even if they didn’t know it yet.

As we drove up to Moraine Lake, the sign said the road was closed and three cars ahead of us did the U-turn and drove back down the road.  A Parks Canada employee walked up and waved us past the closed sign so upward we went.  It’s an amazing drive and show a forest that we had never seen before.

We finally got to the full parking lot and parked about a 300 metres down the road which was pretty good considering at times, that road has people parked on it for miles.

The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

After turning my back on Oliver for about a second, he thinks he is in the Logdrivers Waltz and is jumping from log to log to go up the rock pile.  Luckily the kid has skills and made it back to shore.The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

Canoes can be rented for about $60/hour or you can take a well maintained path to the stream/waterfall at the far side of the lake.  We decided to walk.The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkIMGP3016

This is the end of the path but Wendy and Mark decided to test their luck and balance and keep going.The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

Marley decided to test her luck as well and wandered out into the water, fell in, got wet, hit her head and swallowed some water before getting out.  There was a Russian researcher there who had just gotten his permanent residency papers this week and was celebrating with his wife.  They loved Marley’s clumsiness and we had a great chat about the mountains, Trump, Putin, and dogs while waiting for Wendy and Mark to return.

The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkIMGP3063The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

I need to explain these photos.  Last year while at Sawback, I told the boys that there is a Cooper tradition of dunking you head into glacier waters the first time you head to a new lake or body of water.  There is no tradition, I just wanted to see if I could make them dunk their heads in the water.  This time Wendy and I were no so lucky as they made us dunk our heads in the freezing glacier water.Wendy dunking her head into Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy dunking her head into Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy dunking her head into Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy dunking her head into Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy dunking her head into Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy dunking her head into Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

Just before I did this, I think I said, “Mark hold my camera but no need to photograph this.”  He listens like his mother.

Solid hat don’t you think?

The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

Did I mention I didn’t wear a hat in the Banff heat (and no shade) the day before.  I was burnt.The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

Me taking a photo of a person taking a photo.The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

Don’t worry, it wasn’t a real bear.The views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National ParkThe views of Moraine Lake, Alberta in Banff National Park

While in the Gift Shop, I picked Wendy up a Moraine Lake t-shirt while Mark got her two bear figurines that made her day.  She was still on a high from seeing the black hear the day before.  It wasn’t quite as large as this one.

Vacationing with Mark

Several of you who are parents seem surprised that Mark enjoys going on family vacations still.  Many of you hated going with your parents at that age and some have kids who are resenting going on trips with them.

I don’t have a secret but here are some things I have done so Mark wants to go on vacation.

  • Scott Theede suggested we purchase Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies which is a book that evaluates hiking trails in the Rockies so you don’t take bad ones.   At first glance it seems expensive at almost $60 but it worth it when you consider it is 677 pages and if you are like us, refer to it often.   I have read the book cover to cover and so has Mark.  In fact he wants his own copy.   When we planned this trip (and are already planning the next one), I had Mark plan it as well.  I spent a lot of time getting his input and helping him figure out what he wanted to do and seeing how that can happen.  Mark suggested going to the Banff Upper Hot Springs and spent some time researching fun things to do.  He was also a part of decisions like, “Do we take the dog?”  It was Mark that convinced us that we should.  At the same time he also said, “I’ll help the dog on the Banff Gondola”, a decision that seemed a lot simpler in Saskatoon than it was in line at the base of Sulpher Mountain.

  • Mark and Oliver were comfortable in their own tent.  I kept hearing from people how much they hated sleeping in the tent/camper with their parents and how much of a different it made even as adults to have their own space.  Mark and Oliver have their own space.  They have their own duffel bags, sleeping bags, air mattresses, compact chairs, and gear.   They really appreciated having their own space.  It was worthwhile.   Parks Canada campgrounds only allow for two tents per campground (although I saw some that had a third small one) but I was clear to Mark that if he wanted his own space separate from Oliver, we would make that happen, even if it was a different campsite for him.  I’ll post the gear that we have for the boys in a later post.
  • I bought Mark the gear that he wanted.  In case it rained, he wanted a new deck of cards, a decent lantern for his tent and a great coffee mug.  The cost of all of those things was very low when you consider that they all made camping nicer.
  • I checked out the day’s itinerary with Mark every morning.  Now we have everything planned out a long time in advance but he appreciated the quiet conversation we had about what we were going to do and what ideas he had to make it better.
  • Despite being in the mountains before, this was the first trip he ever took where he was in awe with what he saw.  He fell in love with Castle Mountain and wanted to hang out and linger longer at the lookout.  He wanted to risk life and hypothermia by climbing up a stream and waterfall at Moraine Lake.  I just let him soak it in at his pace.  Same with Oliver.  Oliver’s camera is waterproof and at a certain time he sat on a rock taking underwater photos and was having a blast.
  • He had his own money from work but appreciated shopping with Wendy and I as he figured out what he wanted to get.  95% of that time was mocking what we saw but I know he did appreciate the suggestions on what to get.  My only disappointment was that he never got a onesie.

For next year we have started out debate about what we are going to do (the big picture is using Lake Louise Campground as a base camp to explore Lake Louise trails and some trails in Yoho National Park before pushing towards Jasper).  We are working on a budget and making a list of what gear to upgrade before next year.  He is a part of all of those discussions because I want it to be something we all like, not just Wendy and I.

Mount Norquay

After a day in Banff, I took everyone for a drive up Mount Norquay because Wendy and Mark wanted to see and sit in a Parks Canada Red Chair and I knew two would be up there.  At that point, I didn’t realize the upper Moraine Lake trails were closed because of grizzly bears and I hadn’t thought of going to into Yoho to see Takakkaw Falls yet (nor did I think they would have some red chairs.)

On the way to the chair, I got a phone call asking for Wendy.  She just got the word her father had died.  While she processed that news, a sports car pulls up and a guy and girl pop out because they want to pet Marley.  It was so weird and random but it happened that entire day.

Wendy soon joined us and as a family we walked down to this meadow and took in the views of Banff and the Bow Valley.

I should also take some time to point out that earlier in the day on the way to Banff and Sulphur Mountain, Wendy had her own bear sighting.  We were driving down the Bow Valley Parkway and a black bear popped up over the guard rail.  We had seen another black  bear and we are pretty sure we saw The Boss, a giant grizzly bear beside the road but they were in the middle of a bear jam and out of principle, we didn’t stop.  Wendy just mocked people for being stupid.  So when we saw this bear and we were by ourselves, Wendy was so pumped up.  It was hilarious and she was on a high all day.

Mt Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkIMGP2878Mt Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkIMGP2881The view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National Park

I am not sure how it happened but it looks like Mark got a hold of my camera.The view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkIMGP2907The view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkIMGP2920

I was accused of giving Mark the finger here but I think the photographic evidence is solid, I was just pondering what a bad kid he is.The view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National Park

We met this guy (or gal, I really have no idea) on the way up.  Wendy took some photos and we kept going.  On the way down he (or she) was in the exact same spot.  It was probably pondering what a bad kid Mark was as well.The view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National Park

Lake Louise

We headed out to Lake Louise for the day while in Banff National Park.  We got up early from the Johnston Canyon Campground and headed down the Bow Valley Parkway.  The plan was to hike up to Lake Agnes Tea House but my ankle was still swollen, I was still running a fever from being taken off the medication for my ankle.  We got there in good time and got a good parking spot (Parks Canada staff running the parking lots makes it run  very smooth).  As we walked up the path to the Tea House, I realized that a combination of rain, a fever, and a messed up ankle, I needed to understand my limits.  We’ll head back up there next year.

Before anyone feels sorry for us, did I mention we were still on the shore of Lake Louise?  It’s pretty spectacular view and we were about to find out that our fellow tourists were pretty great.

Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkIMGP2683Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkIMGP2695Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkOliver at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper, Mark Cooper, and Oliver Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper, Mark Cooper, and Oliver Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National Park

From there we headed down the mountain and stopped at Laggan’s Mountain Bakery and Delicatessen

Laggan's Mountain Bakery and Delicatessan

Everyone I know that has been to Laggan’s raves about how great it is.  You have to see and smell it to believe it.  Wendy picked out some Jamaican Patties and got use some of the best pizza I have ever tasted.  The bakery is worth the stop if you are even close to Lake Louise.