The Mountains were Calling...
One of Canada's greatest natural glories are her mountain peaks and rushing rivers. Exploring some of her wilderness, lake shores and wide open spaces was one of my greatest joys on my journey west across the nation. Whenever I had a chance I would stop, breath in the fresh mountain air and enjoy the scenery. With a national parks pass in hand, the infamous Rockies welcomed me home, and although I was too late to take advantage of the free pass for new immigrants, the fact that Canada offered such a gift revealed just how important the wild spaces and Canadian landscape are to the national identity of this country.
Blessed with a week in Banff, I enjoyed the hospitality of a local artist and the Peruvian chef she shared her house with. Although the town is extremely commercial and inundated with international tourists, I felt I got to experience Banff from a unique perspective, through the eyes of long term residents. Every day offered me a new opportunity to hike and discover: from glacial blue lakes, to waterfall trails, to open fields displaying late summer wildflowers.
We also shared conversations around the campfire about working at remote resorts, running in the parks, unexpected cougar attacks, bears and deer in the garden. Conversations about who built the trails and put up the swings; how much the town had changed and what keeps people there... and about the necessity of carrying bear spray when hiking out in the woods.
My host, a resident artist, welcomed me into her abode with wilderness tales to tell and stories on space and winter, highlighting why she loved being Canadian. The wilderness is so much a part of Canadian identity, and where I equally felt right at home.
One of the renowned landmarks of this world heritage site is the Banff Hotel. With a vision to bring the beauty of the Canadian Rocky Mountains to the rest of the world, this impressive luxury hotel was built as one of Canada's great railway hotels in Canada's first National Park. To date, it remains a symbol of the visions that brought Canada to nationhood.
Originally, Banff was the staging point for travelers, when 26 square kilometres was set apart around the hot springs in the area. Set in the mountain landscape, this reserve marked the beginning of Canada's national park system. Included in the natural spring area are interactive exhibits telling the tale of how this became the famous location it is to date. Dipping into the public hot tub, sourced from this spring, was a warm welcome in the chilly August air. There were plenty of people who shared my opinion, enjoying their daytime swim.
Not everyone was interested in living in a frontier town and so Western Canada's first natural history museum was set up to introduce people to some of the wonders around. I was thankful to drop by for a humorous educational play on a bison relocation and a chance to sketch some stationary animals. It was as close as I was going to get to any wild animals, other than deer. They proved the perfect models to draw though, and so I indulged in the opportunity to do a few short sketches of a bison, bear, wolf and burly mountain sheep.
I loved to hike the nearby lakes, pull up a chair, put my feet up and drink a cup of herbal pine tea while I waited and watched. Interesting to note, 100 grams of fresh pine needles has 3-5 times the vitamin C of an orange. Another recipe to add to my tea collection!
If "Earth laughs in flowers", as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, the local environmental education and natural recreation groups had regular "Don't stand on the flowers" signs to preserve these beautiful, wild, floral displays. Ever an enthusiastic conservationist, I always feel closer to God in nature, surrounded by majestic mountain peaks and wide opens spaces. Flowers can add such a touch of elegance and color in somewhat hostile regions.
My parents met in the mountains, near Lake Louise, and I truly felt right at home in this beautiful setting.
While early visitors came to Lake Louise by rail, horseback and snowshoe, I was thankful that this iconic spot was easily accessible by car. Finding a parking space was another mission though, and if you didn't get in early enough you ended up in a remote parking lot with a shuttle service.
The Canadian Pacific Railway brought the first Swiss guides to the Rockies which sparked a mountaineering tradition that continues to today.
A climber, walker and a tourist, there is a place for everyone on this iconic glacial shoreline.
It must be one of the most beautiful places in Canada! And hiking up to a viewpoint of Lake Louise was no exception. The majesty of the mountain view did not fail to deliver.
Climbing up to this view was a proudly Canadian moment, and the lake where my parents had their first group photograph.
And what better cabin to find on the way up, than a cabin full of teas! Started as a rustic shelter from the sudden storms that came through, this tea house became the "highest situated Tea Room in Canada".
And with a view like this, how could one not stop to sip a cup of herbal freshness, and take the time to smell the wild roses of Alberta. As the famous author C. S. Lewis said, "Our father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns but will not encourage us to mistake them for home."
This was indeed a pleasant inn, with a long line of visitors waiting outside the door and down the staircase. It was worth the wait though, and it was interesting to find out that all the food which is brought by backpack to the tea house, comes up the mountain daily on foot. If you want to experience this unique tea house, you have to be willing to hike the hike.
Definitely one of the most beautiful stops for me was at Lake Monroe. The August winds and winter chill, and slight rain made for an uncomfortable arrival. Huddled near the restaurant, outside with a handful of visitors, who had braved the weather, I was determined to experience the trails on foot, rain or shine. I can't imagine coming in the fall, winter or spring, which would boast a better time to get the photographs of snow peaked mountain tops.
From bubbling brooks, to forest bridges, I made my way to the far side of the lake, watching others row in waters that soon became too perilous to continue in. I hiked up to a vantage point on a rock, as the sun had eventually come out, and enjoyed the company of a squirrel. You just never know the little friends you may find in the mountains.
By the time I arrived in Jasper, the weather was shifting to fall. After meeting a local pastor in town, I headed out in the hopes that there were still a few campsites available for a lone ranger like myself. Friends in Calgary had lent me a tent, and I had to have at least one camping experience. This proved to be my only camping experience, and as bundled up as I was, I'm so thankful for a night out under a partially cloudy sky. The weather forecast was rain, but thankfully it held off, but for a light drizzle on arrival. As I drove through the gate, a Parks worker from Quebec, asked me an intriguing question. Finding out that I was from Africa, she wanted to know if Zonkeys did indeed exist. An unusual question in the North American wilderness, but a question I actually had an answer for. A friend, who had worked for Parks in Zimbabwe, had rescued a Zonkey and added it to his wildlife sanctuary of vulnerable animals.
After camping out for the night at the Snaring River campsite, I headed into town for a breakfast scone at the famous Bear Paws bakery. It took a little bit of time to finally place my order because the customer line was busy and all the way out the door. From there I headed south, where I stopped for a quick view of a renowned receding glacier.
After miles and miles of driving past scenic landscape, along well kept roads I arrived for some breath-taking views. I had to stay a little while at least, in order for the mist to lift.
This Athabasca glacier is part of the Columbia Ice-field which is a basin of snow and ice about 165 square km. Once a secret military training ground during the Second World War, Canadians had taught British and American soldiers winter mountaineering skills like skiing, ice climbing, glacier travel and crevasse rescue, for mission operatives in Europe.
So much of Canadian identity is linked to snow, water and ice, but how do we protect these receding glaciers? They have melted significantly in the past 30 years, and continue to do so.
And what a glorious view I beheld from an opposing mountainside. With the need to get a few hours south by sunset, my hike was brief, but well worth the trek. And with beauty like this, who cannot be amazed, when one finds oneself in fresh air surrounded by snowy peaks?
Always "game" for some wild life sightings, I was delighted to see an elk up close , and a grizzly running through the wide open spaces. He looked so free, bounding along the terrain.
Jasper is a special place, and I'm thankful that wild places like this still exist today, and are accessible to those adventurous souls that find so much joy in God's natural wonderland.
With mountains in my blood, I was so grateful when my friend Jenna, who I stayed with in Victoria, did a quick 5 min sketch of what my journey to Canada personified. She is an amazing artist and this piece was both spontaneous and intentional.
I had been introduced to the mountains by my dear mother at the age of 3, and have been climbing them ever since. It is something we still do to date, as part of the Mountain Club of Zimbabwe. How cool that I should actually visit with a couple in Vancouver, who she had actually met on one of those hikes back in 2018.
Some mountains are harder to climb than others, and the hardest mountain I have ever had to climb was the mountain of forgiveness and reconciliation.
How amazing to finally get to the place of the Shulamite in the Song of Songs, where I too could say -
I’ve made up my mind.
Until the darkness disappears and the dawn has fully come,
in spite of shadows and fears,
I will go to the mountaintop with you—
the mountain of suffering love. Chapter 3:6 TPT
Indeed, reconciliation is a mountain of suffering love, but a climb that it truly worth trying.
A few months later I made it up to Whistler, Canada's iconic ski mountain, where the Winter Olympics were held in 2010. I spent much of my week walking through the woods in my snow boots and exploring the village. I ate donuts at a community Channukah party hosted by the Whistler library, and visited local art exhibits in the area. I even attempted glass etching on a wine glass in a free art class connected to the Audain Art Musuem. I was treated to a delicious dinner with friends of my hosts, and got to try a variety of Canadian meats. The party host was actually a Canadian kayaker, and had interesting tales to tell of her river experiences.
I even got one day on the slopes, where for a brief moment I could enjoy being above the clouds! I think this is definitely my "happy space", and I indulged in every moment I had to explore new slopes, dodge snowboarders and ski down in the end of day slush. It was a warm winter thus far, and not much snow had fallen. I can only imagine what it's like in peak season!
Nothing like a fun loving, hard working, adventurous photographer to have as your host!
As they say - Work hard and play hard. I'm so thankful for the generosity of new friends who you meet along the way. I sure hope I'll be back...
My final hours in the surrounding area including capturing eagles on camera, and thinking of how sad it was that my time was coming to an end. So many memorable moments.
If you're hungry for adventure, Canada is the perfect place to visit! I'm so thankful for every experience I had exploring the great outdoors. The Canadian West is truly something!
The mountains were calling, and I'm so glad that I went!