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Onward Through the Fog


Wilcox Creek Campground
near Jasper, Alberta

Today I woke to a new and glorious Morn! The sun is shining, the peaks are layered and hung with dazzling white, and the sky is a deep and improbable blue. Ah, Canada at last. Time for another walk in the woods.

I need one. My first up here, a hike up to Glacier Crest in Glacier Park last Sunday, was something of a failure, other than to prove that whatever was wrong with my back has gone away. Only 4.7 kilometers. Sounds ridiculously easy. I walked 6 miles a day back home. But 3.5 miles of this was like a ladder. Jacob's Ladder, perhaps. I had thought my shoes were broken in, but broken in on the flats is not broken in for a climb, and my toes got a bit toasty after a while. I only took a liter of water, and that's not enough. I drank it all on the way up. Later, my mouth dry as cotton, I began to hear faint voices in the wind, and in the squeaking of my boots. Women's voices.

Then I heard the sound of water where there was none.

I left at noon, and, with many stops to gasp for breath and hallucinate, arrived at the top a little after 4 pm. The cirque below was filled with smoke and mist. The shadows were indistinct, and where the dim sun shone down it was refracted, hiding even more. It was like looking down into a gigantic bowl of thin grey luminescent soup. The autofocus on my Olympus immediately went crazy, and the manual focus showed no more. Even to my eyes, there was only a thin white thread of river down there. The peaks above merged with the smoky sky, all greyscale. I took 30 pictures, all of which had to be thrown out.

Back in the woods things were different, but no better. Detail was okay. But what appeared to my eyes was deep gloom and damp mystery, thin shafts of sunlight, mould and moss and figured bark and subtle silent movements among heavy needled branches hanging low.

What the camera gave me was pictures of trees.

I survived the climb, though. That's good. Lots of stops. I was a tired puppy when I got back, with not all my parts working happily together, but nothing amiss that would not be settled by a sound night's sleep.

Next day I headed east into Golden, with shopping and laundry to be done. At the laundromat I spoke with a farmer's wife from Saskatchewan. She was there because her baby son had thrown up all over everything they had with them. Smoke and strep throat had shortened their vacation, but all in all she did not seem sorry to leave.

"Lots to do back home," she said wistfully.

The local IGA grocery gave me a chance to try out Canadian junk food: Jacob's Creme Biscuits, Ritz crackers "with real Cheddar", Miss Vickie's Sea Salt and Malt Vinegar Potato Chips, Napoli Pepperettes, Feta Vinagrette, peppered jerky. Some disappointing Brie. Fresh fruit that looked worse but tasted better than what I usually get back home.

A young French girl with cheeks chewed by acne served up the Garlic Roast Beef and Pastrami with a snarl. "Is that all?.... Is THAT all?" I was having trouble figuring out what half a pound was in kilos, and she obviously had better things to do.

What the dickens? "A little more, Miss, please. Can I have some more?" A heavy sigh. Americains! Have they no schools? Have they no prisons?

Towards 4 pm I set off uphill and east for Yoho National Park, newly provisioned and in a good frame of mind. I found myself belting out the refrain from an old song: "Yoho! Yoho! A Pirate's life for me!" Fortunately I was alone, and nobody can prove a thing.

I stopped at Monarch Campground, near Field. It was spread along the foot of a massive rock wall, which an accompanying sign suggested was the home of mountain goats.

It lied.

I wasted half an hour with binoculars, scanning for them, then took the truck up to Takkakaw Falls. This glacier-fed torrent plunges from a great height, hits a ledge, then roars and rooster-tails up and away from the wall. It's hard to take a picture anywhere nearby because you are being drowned. A couple of rock climbers were waaay up there, right beside it, making their way down from rope to rope. They must have been cold and soaking wet all day.

I stopped for dessert and coffee on the deck at the Lodge on the way back. A tall glass of strawberries in whipped cream, dribbled with Marnier. Entirely pleasant, civilized, calm, and overpriced.

My neighbor back at the campground had a motorhome with Texas license plates. He turned out to be an Escapee from California, delivering his Canadian girlfriend back to her home in Manitoba.

Around 8 pm, one of those huge red German tour buses arrived, the sort with coach seats up front and a stacked warren of porthole sleepers in the back, each maybe a meter square. It stopped in the parking lot. Perhaps 20 passengers boiled out of the front door and immediately began setting up tables, chairs, silverware, carrying buckets of water, slicing melon. Very little looking up at the mountain. And little in the way of talk, except for the surly driver, who was "sheissing" the world in general while organizing a complete kitchen and pantry, which slid out on rollers from compartments within the bowels of the bus.

We grabbed a beer and lined up our lawn chairs. It was like watching ants at work.

In short order they were all vigorously eating some sort of boiled supper. The moment it really began getting dark, up they jumped and packed away everything and queued up to get back on the bus. I thought maybe they were leaving, but no. Silence descended. By 9:30 only one cubicle remained lit, third from the bottom, fourth from the front. No doubt a rebellious nightowl, reading herself to sleep.

At 7 am next morning I heard their diesel crank up. By the time I got up groggily and peered out, they were gone.

What a teutonic way to travel.


PS: Right after writing the above, I started having chest pains. I drove down to the Icefields Centre, and thence to Jasper by ambulance. The next morning I was in Edmonton at University Hospital. I got another angioplasty. I'm fine now, it's the 27th, I'm parked in front of the Police Barracks in Jasper, and about to resume my trip. More on this later.

Can't get on the Internet to deliver this. Verizon is "updating the computers", whatever that means. Well, I'm not going to have a heart attack over it. :o)

Good night Nurse!

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