Monday, 18 April 2011

Ice, ice baby!

We've been on a mission today to spot a bear, or an elk, or a deer... even a mouse. Wildlife is what we're here for but so far we've not seen anything other than a bit of a blur as we whizz past on the highway.

The lady in tourist information said that the bears were awake, albeit a bit confused by the unusually cold weather for this time of year, and we were quite likely to see them up at Johnston's Canyon.

The roads up to the canyon were bad; it had snowed heavily in the night and the ploughs had not been out so we were pretty much driving on a sheet of glass. We managed to keep the car under control though and made it to our destination in one piece.

The ice on the footpaths was a foot and a half thick, a few inches above the bottom rung of the safety barrier. Paul slipped on one section, his legs went straight through the gap in the barrier - I though he was a goner but all those burgers we've been eating not only gave him a cushioned landing but also jammed him by the backside between the two bars. We put on crampons after that.

The gorge is older than the pyramids; carved out over thousands of years by the icy mountain water cascading over the rocks, carrying sharp pieces of stone and grit.

During the winter and well into the spring, all of the falls and most of the river itself freeze solid in rippling folds of blue and grey ice. Icicles metres long hang from the rocks, glittering when the sun shines just right.

During the freeze, a tree had been washed down the fall and been caught in time, protruding from the frozen fall, ready to continue its journey downstream when the ice melts.

You have probably guessed from my ramblings that we didn't cross paths with any bears or any other animals for that matter - we did spot some giant clawed footprints though on the ice just near an emerald pool.

After a four hour hike wearing crampons (it's really hard work walking in those things!), we were cold and very achy so we headed up to the thermal springs which have mountain views on each side. After fourth minutes in the hot 38 Celsius water, we felt almost human again... and very sleepy! So it's an early night for us tonight to give our aching bones chance tore over before doing it all over again tomorrow!

Location:Johnston's Canyon, Banff, Canada

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