In this journal:
- the hidden kingdom of El Dorado;
- a polished marble canyon;
- elks destroying lawns.
Look! El Dorado! The city of gold! This could be our destiny! Our fate!The Road to El Dorado
Miguel, if I believed in fate, I wouldn’t be playing with loaded dice.
The Golden Season
Nothing beats the fall in North American mountains, and nothing gives a better golden shower than the needles of the larch trees. This is the motivation of my last outing in 2020, which was originally scheduled with insanities such as Singapore Airlines First Class, U.S. Virgin Islands, Algeria, and much more instant-classics on this blog, all of which were unfortunately cancelled by the soup-inhaling habit of a random Wuhan citizen. But hey, as long as my mom and I get to go enjoy the great wilderness in great mood and health, what else can I possibly ask for?
I have previously visited the rockies earlier during the year in summer, and saw a completely different side of these beautiful lands, including roaring waterfalls, turquoise lakes, frozen tundra, rejoicing animals, and carving glaciers. I recommend taking a read of the summer Rocky Mountains journal before continuing on this fall one for a better context, as I will skim over a lot of similar destinations this time around.
I hope you are ready, because I sure am! Let’s embark on a quick 4-day roadtrip to find the most Rocky Mountains have on offer in the ephemeral fall!
When I first heard of the word “larch” a few months ago, I thought it would be a gang word used to describe crack distribution centers in your local gas station. However, after a quick, yet fruitless, urban dictionary search, and a much more fruitful google search, I happily concurred that I was mistaken. Seeing a field covered in gold with remote peaks abound with snow, my heartstrings were vibrating: I gotta go there, when the time comes!
Yet the enigmatic larches are hard to catch. They only turn gold rapidly during one week in mid-fall, and then, even quicker than they turn gold, shed their leaves. One has to strike fast and precise to earn a chance to even have such honors. The last week of September, I got the news: it was in full swing, and that day, I finalized plans with my mother to depart the next possible 4-day span available, and she even took two friends with us!
And if you have been keeping track of my non-aviatic adventures this year, you would know the drill: long drives through Hope, Kamloops, and the lonesome Highway 1. For lunch, we stopped for a picnic at our good-ol’spot next to the wharf in Salfmon Arm, yet this time, the water has retreated significantly, showing barren mud flats nearly the entire way.
Right before nightfall, we arrived at the stunning Louise Lake, after driving a solid 9 hours. I collapsed onto my bed after an exhaustingly long meal at the foothills. This is good, because next day, I would have to rise up extremely early.
According to the ever-trustworthy internet, in order to secure a guaranteed spot in the most coveted thing in entire Canada, one has to wake up at 4:30am. Forget about the puny Olympics, this is the real deal. Covid-19 might have postponed the worldwide sports event, this competitive sport was only getting more crowded. What is it, you ask? Well, it is the skillful and luck-based art of snagging a parking spot at Moraine Lake. Some say you had to be there right before the cut-off near 6am, or you shall not gain access to the lake, as well as Larch Valley before noon. In order to let my mother and her friends have the most time possible navigating the steep terrain, I had to get a parking spot before sunrise, and luckily, they were more than happy to rise early than I ever would. By 6am, we were shivering in the car, parked squarely at the lakeside.
However, the tales of the strangers lied, they failed to account in the fact that a majority of the folks who were there at this ungodly hour was only there for the sunrise, and on this gloomy day, the parking lot was not filled until 7:15am! I was bamboozled! Played like a fiddle! Like how those girls played with my heart! But hey, at least we got a nice view over this breathtaking lagoon.
However, this was definitely not as good as our summer visit here when the sun was out. Take a look of my summer journal if you wanna get a perfectly still Moraine Lake and me reflected in canoes. The boat rental place was already no more, completely closed down with “see you in 2021” painted at the front. This lake access road would be closed in merely 2 weeks as the first snow shuts down the entire area. However, our goal was beyond this lake, and we began climbing the side along a well-marked trail. Larch Valley lies beyond these evergreen bretherens, on the other side of ridge.
As we zig-zagged our way higher, and higher, the trail took us near the height of surrounding glaciers, staring at us menacingly and solemnly. The lake, now viewed between the tiny gaps of trees down below, has changed color to a deep greenish blue thanks to the higher angle of sight. Coupled with the glaciers and the chirping birds, we were truly advancing to the gates of heaven.
Nearly 2 hours of climb later, we ascended the mountain immediately next to the lake, which would normally take younger, fitter folks less than forty minutes I presume. We encountered numerous other hikers from around the country, each greetings us with a smile, and, sometimes, words of encouragement. By the top, at the beginning of larch patches, we found a new world, facing us with nothing but orange, gold, and yellow.
Is this the fabled El Dorado? The golden land of forbidden treasure? Even though half of the golden leaves had already fallen to the ground, the tips of the trees were still covered with thick hues of fiery colors. Meanwhile, the ground was carpeted with a dense layer of extravagant golden coating, completely surrounding, no, coating us with the joy of autumn.
In paradise, fatigue is not an item on the list of things to worry. Even though I, along with 3 old ladies near the age of 70, woke up in the wee hours, and hiked up nearly 500 meters of steep terrain, we had completely forgotten to take breaks. The squad delved deeper and deeper into the forest, which ridded itself with the last few stubborn evergreens and instead, brandished its last few days of pure ecstacy.
The gentle hills became a perfect playground for anyone who has a heart of appreciation for nature, beauty, and inner zen. A small stream trickles down the narrow valley, adding a hint of fluidity into the brilliant mix of color, motion, and tranquility. I sat by the twinkling water, watched a few fellow paradise dwellers play with the golden needles stuck between the rocks, and fell, in love.
Upstream, the valley opens up to a snuggling, yet wide field, complete with dominating peaks at the horizons, and glacial white beneath them. Larches abound in all directions, and I simply could not imagine how glorious the place might be when it is at the peak of foliage, merely a week ago. I am not regretting my slow pace, though, as I am sure that there are many opportunities to come in the next years! I meandered through the soft grass, looking for the best place to lie down and enjoy the moment.
There is simply no better view than this in the season of harvest and gratuity. My eyes were full of happiness, contentment, and appreciation, and I had not even had my breakfast yet! Life sometimes can suck, as dozens of my flights were postponed, cancelled, rescheduled, refunded, or simply wasted, and so many trips were affected, all because something beyond my control demolished my lifestyle. However, it gave me a few blenders to make lemonade too. I have found a new way to cope with my domestic confinement in Canada, and now, sitting among the eye-wateringly saturated leaves, I would even dare to say, I have managed it pretty well. Whatever hardship comes, I will face it head-on, and I shall adapt, overcome, and survive.
We continued up, and up, and up. Even though there were still quite a few steep sections, the gang with an average age of 55 somehow did not feel a damn thing. Quickly, we ascended over the altitude of trees, and came out on top of the field filled with vibrant colors. Right in front of us, the mighty Sentinel Pass, and beneath us, the larchy land of everglory.
The grandmas decided to stop here, and I unpacked my backpack to reveal a large amount of lunch items. The picnic was done in the gorgeous foliage, a first even in my books, and it was absolutely fantastic. I had never been happier picking out leaves from my water bottle in my life. The azure glacier on top of Mt. Bowlen and Tonsa Peak watched over us graciously, as if it was enjoying our company as well. This is the silverlining of being trapped: I found ways out, in a different way. A cage or a policy can never confine a truly wanderous spirit, for my heart already belongs to the great world itself.
After lunch, we slowly descended down to the base of Moraine Lake, taking as long as needed for our farewell to fall in Canada. Another year had passed, and 2020 sure is a doozy! My brief stay of 15 days in Canada had turned into 200, and now, still counting. What a strange time we live in! No wonder they like to curse:”May you live in interesting times”!
After a well- deserved afternoon nap, I decided to take a walk around the puny settlement of Lake Louise, which is consisted of two gas stations, a dozen souvenir shops, a handful of restaurants, a park management house, and a few hotels. Not one single building serves normal lifestyles, as there is not one functional supermarket, post office, or cannabis dispensery. We walked down Bow River, and found ourselves at the other side of the town, at a restaurant converted from the old train station, which is still in use today, though very infrequently.
For historical purposes, a few old carriages were preserved and renovated, turned into large dining cars that look extremely romantic. However, thanks to the pandamic, it was unfortunately closed. The main hall was all wooden, and a large fireplace emitted warmth with the crackle of the most fragrant firewood. Food was not the highest quality but definitely serviceable, and looked especially appetizing with all the historical skis, gloves, trophies, and photos scattered around the walls.
According to my mom, the bison ribs was scrumptious, but to me, it was just bigger beef ribs with a heavier price tag. We took a walk along the Bow River, as the sun was slowly setting in the most magnificent mountain range in this world. A few willow trees had already turned golden by the bright blue glacial water, and they formed a perfect juxtaposition as we slowly watched the leaves fall into the shallow stream.
Next morning, we hopped to Lake Louise just for a short hike along the nearby hills before it gets crowded as the tourists drive here from Banff en mass, and definitely before the borders open up in 2023 (if we are lucky). One of the most hidden secrets is the Fairview Lookout, a small platform that has been offering great views of the lake, as well as the chateau sitting beside it, since late 1800s.
The thirty minute uphill climb was a solitary venture, and we were rewarded with a milky blue lake perfectly reflecting the neo-renaissance style hotel on this windless day. A few red canoes dotted around the waters, as if they were floating on cloud nine. Truly one of the least expected, yet most rewarding view in the rockies, and I cannot believe it was my first time enjoying it!
Passing chipmunks and eagles on the way down, we took one last view of Lake Louise in 2020. It was nice and all to have it all to Canadian ourselves, but I sincerely hope this global crisis can pass as soon as possible, as it would be criminal to selfishly have this little piece of heaven all to ourselves. The clear rocky shores and azure blue depths were all a heritage of this planet, deserved by every human being that has lived on it. Thank you, Lake Louise, for granting us the privilege to enjoy your beauty.
Kootenay National Park
Rolling down the perfectly smooth Bow Valley highway, we continued along the rocky mountains. I have already visited three out of the four famous Rocky Mountain National Parks: Yoho, Banff, and Jasper. The last remaining one was Kootenay, so there were no more excuses to miss out on this one any more. I turned off at Castle Junction, and cruised along the wide open Highway 93. Within minutes, we officially crossed the watershed and returned back to British Columbia, as well as entered Kootenay National Park.
Along a river full of energetic fishes, we finished the last remaining food in our picnic bags, and the first hiking stop was the famed Marble Canyon. This is one of those granite canyons that is so deep that nobody can possibly fathom by simply looking at photos. The trail meandered across the abyss, with only the sound of the water roaring beneath audible in the valley.
The geological feature is created with the continuous cutting of Kootenay River for tens of thousands of years. Originally cracked by a small glacier during the last glacial period, this giant piece of granite has been slowly carved down to a narrow and unfathomable slither ever since. The multiple bridges spanning its width could clearly give us a perspective, as each one upstream revealed a canyon double its depth, until it became completely shrouded in darkness by the last one.
At the end of the walkway, there was a large waterfall that goes straight into a hole of unknown terminus, and that is the active carving rockface. Beyond it was the Kootenay River moving elegantly on the marble surface. Years of erosion has polished these boulders into a smooth gradient of colors, and now it presents itself as a perfectly photogenic place for rests. You may have noticed the many dead trees around here, that is because a lightning triggered a wildfire that raged through a quarter of the national park in 2007, and the new growth was just slowly catching up to the corpses of their dead forefathers.
Just a few kilometers down is the Painted Pots trail, and we got off for a short hike to the sacred mountain that the locals used to frequent. They used the colorful mud of a few mineral-rich ponds as paint, and I was keen to explore anything that has vibrant colors. The trail began as a gentle walk to cross Kootnay River, now significantly opened up thanks to dropping down to the bottom of the valley at Marble Canyon.
The other side of the river was a large mudflat on the floodplain of a particularly brown stream, causing the entire plain to be full of deadpan swamps that support little life. It was as if we were transported into another world, where trees have been eradicated by toxicity and only the most resilient of the weeds can survive.
Scattered around the barren lands were some old mining equipments used in early 1900s to harvest the mineral-rich soil and sediments here, usually sold as some sort of coloring. It stopped after the establishment of the national park, and they were left to rot out in the open. Scaling against a trickling stream up a hill eventuall led us to the source of all this iridescent madness, the three ponds that have been dubbed as “Painted Pots”. Entire way was flooded with broken leaves and branches, and frequently, entire tree trunks, all coated in a thick layer of Mars-colored mud, probably a sign of infrequent flashfloods that come crashing down from uphill.
There are three “pots”, one red, one green, and one brown. The soil here is extremely rich in iron, as just a small dip of one’s finger could let the rusted metal smell stick to the hand for hours. The small pools allowed the sediments to slowly deposit out, coating everything in the lake with a layer of powdery, smooth precipitate. It can be easily mixed with water to create a paste of numerous colors, no wonder the first nation people had been using it for painting purposes for centuries!
The pleasant drive continued in the sunny afternoon. A few minutes down, we encountered a small bridge spanning over a large waterfall. Waterfalls have become nothing but boring by this point of Rockies, but this one cuts through hard, shiny black rock surfaces, like a goth queen of all waterfalls, absolutely elegant and proud. This is Numa Falls, whose waters got so high one year that it destroyed the old bridge that sat above it.
Radium Hot Springs
Finally, an hour on the road later, we descended more and more and was approaching the town of Radium Hot Springs. This is one of those towns situated in nowhere, but famous for, or perhaps exists for, one thing solely because of its namesake. Don’t worry, I will get to the hot springs soon, but first, in order to enter the town proper, one has to pass through the gates of trials, in the menacing Sinclair Canyon.
This deep slip in the rocks was the only way to get into town from the east, and pretty much summurized the wild nature of this place. While looking for our way to the hotel, a group of elks were casually grazing on somebody’s lawn, completely unphased by our photographic molestation. It was not an uncommon sighting either, as nearly every single time we pass by, some deer, big horn sheep, or other animals would be munching their way through a grass field right beside a pit stop diner, or motel, or gas station. So much so that every tree in every yard has a fence around them to prevent it from being devoured.
For dinner, I took the gang to an authentic Austrian restaurant, more specifically, a Salzburg style eatery. Many Austrians and Germans travel to the Canadian Rockies every year, and fell in love with this place, so quite a few of them decided to settle down, and brought their home cooking to the region. This restaurant was no exception, and brought me flavors that straight transported me back to those days when I could freely travel to Germany and Austria, ahhhh… The kasespatzle in Nordlingen, the wooden fire in Kirchdof am der Krems, and new year’s eve in Hamburg, now they all come flooding back…
After dinner, there was no better way to relieve my muscle pain of driving 1000km than taking a dip in the famous Radium Hot Springs. This government-managed facility takes hot water directly from the source underneath, and purifies it to a standard so high that it reopened after rigorous testing that it would not aid in the transmition of the pandamic. Most importantly: it costs 7 dollars! 7 DOLLARS!
We sat in the shallow pool, with perhaps 20 other people in the facility tops, and admired the last ray of sun slowly descending over the yellowing treeline. Water was perfectly hot, not lukewarm but definitely not burning my skin off, and the original plan of a 1 hour dip turned into an indefinite one. Cold air slowly seeped in, and I could hear a few bighorn sheep meowing in the distance. (Do they meow?) If not was for the pestering administrators urging me to leave so that they could close down the pool, I would have spent the entire night here.
The four day vacation came to a close as I began the long drive back home. We passed the golden leaves of Golden, large gorges of Revelstoke, deep blue waters of Shuswap Lake, and the deserts of Kamloops, eventually arriving back to Vancouver. The rockies were truly a gift to us Canadians. No place up there is like anything on flat grounds, as even the air was a bit more refreshing and adventurous. The golden larch needles, the glacial Lake Louise, the roaring Marble Canyon, and the soothing hot springs, there is no better place to spend a week in fall other than the roof of O Canada, our home and native land!
I never expected to return so soon after my summer peruse of the area, and yet, here I am, writing another journal about rockies, not because I have nothing else to write, but because there is so much to share. Every season, the great mountain mama changes her beautiful outfit, and I saw her flowery dress in exciting summer, and now I have witnessed her elegant golden gawn in relaxed fall, and maybe, just maybe, I am falling in love after all.
-=ForeverYoung|Rockies in Fall 2020=-