Through the mountains..
Leaving Kamloops I was immensely excited; I was heading for some serious mountains. The ride up to Whistler and across to Lillooet had been just incredible but there were even bigger mountains to come with the Selkirks and the Rockies before me. The first couple of days out of Kamloops were fairly uneventful. There were a few small climbs and nice views as I headed first to Squilax, and then to Sicamous, but the morning ride to Revelstoke was the start of the truly spectacular stretch. The road runs along the Eagle River and the mountains rise up around you. Occasionally there were views along the valley up to the snowy peaks. Ahead of me were the challenges of the Rogers’ Pass and I couldn’t wait to get started.
I grabbed lunch in Revelstoke and picked up a few supplies and headed out onto the road into the wilderness. For the entire afternoon I was gaining height. The views were magical as I gained altitude and started being able to see up to the glaciated peaks. The constant climb was draining, the weather was perfect and I was so in love with the mountain scenery. It was easily one of the best days of the trip. I grabbed water at a very expensive camping resort and headed on up into the pass. There were a few National Park campgrounds further towards the summit and I intended to stop in one of those for the night. I knew they were not yet open for the season but guessed they would be accessible on a bike. I had completed about 120 km and was ready to stop for the day. Some people in a car coming down the opposite direction shouted something to me but I couldn’t hear so I pushed on. There was a rest bay to put tyre chains on cars so I used this to move away from the traffic but suddenly something caught my eye. There was movement at the side of the road. Holy s**t. A huge mother Grizzly Bear and two cubs were feeding on dandelions. I was already passed before I realised what was going on and I moved to a safe distance before stopping to take photos. She was beautiful but massive. My adrenaline was pumping. You know there are wild animals in the mountains but this really brought home the importance of doing everything possible to deter bears from your camp.
Less than 1 km later, there was the turnoff to the camp. The bears had really scared me but I had no other option. There wasn’t anywhere safer to sleep. There was a sign saying that the camp was closed until all the snow was melted (it was over 1000 m in altitude), but you could proceed at your own risk. It was very scary. There was nobody else anywhere nearby and I had no phone signal. There were picnic tables, fire rings and a river for water. Even better, there were animal proof bins, so I could store my food well away from my tent. I cooked dinner and lit a huge fire to deter animals, but as night fell I was still feeling pretty wired and on edge. Just as I was preparing for bed, I heard something moving. I looked over into the bushes and there was a brown animal caught in the beam from my headtorch. I froze. Should I move closer to see what it was? I slowly edged nearer and was relieved to see that it was a porcupine, searching for food. It suddenly sensed me and dashed up a tree. I got into my tent but barely slept. Every slight sound was amplified in the darkness and seemed certain to be an approaching bear. By morning I was exhausted and almost as soon as it was light I was making noise to scare animals and getting ready for the day. I hit the road and was soon at the summit of the pass. The views in every direction were spectacular. Glaciated peaks were visible in every direction. I was in heaven.
Having called in to the visitor’s centre in the pass to refill water bottles, it was off onto the descent. 15 km without pedalling. Wow. It was one of the most remarkable feelings of my life. Trucks were grinding up the slope and in contrast I was flying down, arms outstretched and no hands on the handle bars. It is just about the most free and alive I have ever felt. The rest of the day was wonderful. A few ups and downs but generally descending into the town of Golden. I checked into a hostel, desperate for a relaxed night and some proper sleep, but unbelievably delighted with my life. Next up were the Rockies and the Kicking Horse Pass. The Rockies had a totally different character. They are a much younger mountain range and as a result much more jagged and rugged. I followed the Kicking Horse River to Field, where I got some lunch and then tackled the pass. It was a stunning route up amongst the peaks and I went over 1600 m in altitude. I did feel slightly affected by the lack of oxygen but more than anything I was in awe of the mountains. I crossed the continental divide; the point at which all rivers drain east and descended into Alberta and the Lake Louise village. I dropped my stuff off at a hostel and headed to Lake Louise itself. The views were unreal. I had reached the highest point of my trip – over 1700 m – and just loved the mountains, glaciers and icy lake. Despite the surface ice I had to go for a swim. When would I get this chance again. The water was breathtakingly cold but felt amazing on my tired muscles.
Next up was a short, fast, downhill run to Banff. It was a glorious ride, despite a few showers and ahead of me lay my first day off for 11 days. I was tired but so happy. I checked into another hostel and was delighted to meet some other guests for dinner and a few beers. For my day off, I was joined by another traveller from the hostel and we decided to tackle Mount Rundle. Steph was from the UK and touring Western Canada and it was great to have her company on this amazing hike. The route headed up through the forest and finished with a scramble up towards the summit. We reached about 2600 m and the views across the glacial valley above the surrounding peaks was indescribably good. We decided to head down just short of the summit, with a lot of cloud rolling in. It was a great decision. Just as we made the treeline, thunder rumbled overhead and we were caught in a torrential storm. We got soaked but it was certainly better than being on the exposed upper part of the mountain. After a long, 8 hour hike it was good to head back into town and grab a beer and an amazing elk burger. It hadn’t been relaxing but it had been a wonderful day off.
That just left me with 130 km out of the Rockies and down into Calgary. It was a straightforward ride, but left me feeling incredibly empty. All I had ahead of me were hundreds of kilometres of flat prairies. The mountains had been incredible. There is something about being up there that just makes me feel alive; a connection I can’t explain. It had been the best two weeks of my trip and the Rockies were the highlight of that. I was sad to look back and see these towering mountains fade into the distance. I truly miss them.