Another peanut butter and jelly breakfast to get us fed and on the road. We stop at the Revelstoke Dam so I can get some nature photos and give heed to the sign that warns me that I may drown should I venture over the concrete barrier, past the chain-link fence, and jump either into the reservoir or the river. It’s when I turn around to see my husband’s excited face over the view we could get from what appears to be aluminum and toothpicks sticking out the side of a mountain on two different height levels that I begin to worry.
Luckily, someone has beat us to that conclusion and has locked the tiny gate leading to the small ladder and posted another death sign. I’m beginning to like Canada’s bluntness – ‘do this and die. This isn’t America where we try to tame nature and the dangerous workplace. We let you learn from others’ examples so that we have more impressive pictures and place names to add to our signs.’ And what the police don’t catch you doing, perhaps the Citizens on Patrol will.
This is it. The moment we have waited for ever since we saw the first sign that told us gas was $138.99 for Regular. We had to remember that it actually meant $1.38 per liter and that we would be paying more for gas here, sometimes by 30% depending on the province and the exchange rate with Alberta averaging the lowest price. This means that filling our tank with our usual 13 gallons would equate to an increase of $18.
I wanted to say that we are used to having an information booth readily available as soon as we enter a national park in the States, but some offer paths and monuments that can be seen without payment. And it’s not for lack of signage. Perhaps we weren’t quite awake and thought the hiking paths on the map were roads and wanted to make sure we were on the correct side of the highway to get a more detailed park brochure.
To get to the summit of Mt. Revelstoke one can either drive the Meadows In The Sky Parkway up 16 miles or hike the Summit Trail that is 6.2 miles one-way. It’s not the highest peak in the region, but we are unaware of that. We aren’t even sure of the summit when we set off on the Nels Nelson trail. Short, steep, and a lot of switch-backing. What really gets our attention here is the history of this hike. We are able to get near the base of the judge’s tower and look down at the slope where Mr. Nelson broke many world records.
We parked the car directly in front of the information booth. I’m sure the parking lot was to our left, but we were soon joined by another couple that left just as quickly. It seemed there would be no issue of our car being left here. From where we stood we were left with three trail options: the Summit, Nels Nelson, and Soren Sorenson with two loop length options. I almost detour us, but Caleb is able to follow the trail markers – we want the hike only trail, not the hike/bike trail.
This hill was a worldwide winter attraction for spectators and athletes and used for competitions between 1915 and 1974 when the interest in ski jumping declined and the cost went up. Nels was from Norway originally and wasn’t allowed to participate in the Olympics in Switzerland in 1928 because the officials didn’t find it suitable for him to work his way there. I can’t speak for him, but I would be proud to have a place named after me and to be inscribed in multiple halls of fame for my accomplishments.
There are lots of green trees, yellow flowers, and medium-sized rocks (hard to tell if critters remodeled their homes or if dirt and rain were the only cause of the piles). The trail is just wide enough for one person to walk it at a time with that as it ruins less of the surrounding environment. It seems even Canada’s easy trails are built to backcountry standards – meaning no paving, no handrails, and a warning sign. We are able to walk in wet forest and dry field and look at a city resting in the valley under the clouds – all before the park gate opens.
We’ve arrived at our fair share of closed parks and met with disappointment in having to leave, but we’ve never had to wait in line to get in. The people in front of us don’t seem to be from here either as they consult their maps and technologically advanced devices, but unlike us this isn’t their first park and they are waved on. The daily fee is $7.80 each, but we plan on visiting multiple parks and want to get the best money-saving deal.
The ranger tells us about the Parks Canada Discovery Pass – only $67.70 each. Whoa, we are used to paying $80 for the both of us and this year we got a free military card. We get the map out and do the math. It will be cheaper to pay the entrance fee at each park instead or to buy two days here as each park price varies – just as it does in the States, but one park receipt won’t get you into another. So we buy a two-day pass and it’s good from 18 Aug at 8:00 am until 20 Aug at 4:00 pm giving us an extra ‘half’ day to enjoy the parks for $31.20 with the ability to upgrade to the Discovery Pass within the next thirty days.
As we had neared the gate we passed a sign telling us to ‘watch for amphibians on road’ with levels of low to high, also color coded. What a great sign, but the sun is up and the only frogs on the road are the ones that got smashed while crossing it under the cover of darkness while the street was still moist. It’s so neat to have to drive slowly out of a camping area in fear of putting a dent in the frog population. I’m happy to see them so fruitful and venture-minded.
For many years I’ve wanted to visit Australia if I had a day to live, or won the lottery, or could ride with the chickens on a cargo ship. I feel bad for not feeling that same earnest desire for Canada and other countries I have yet to visit. I’ve only seen the big city of Victoria and the most wonderful outdoor countryside that British Columbia has to offer, but to me, this is my Redwoods or Yellowstone. I now realize the significance of a national park. They aren’t just some great place that you can brag about your country having; they are the places anyone lucky enough in the world to know about it would have to be incapacitated not to go or want to very badly – and to secretly try to live there until caught.
I once read a blog post that questioned whether trees and mountains and clouds were really different or is it our mind that differentiates between Thailand mountains, and Russian clouds, and the trees of Africa. I know it’s the unique setting and natural occurrences and tourist presence that makes each rock and plant and bug special from the next, that make it worth traveling the world to learn about the history and culture that the bark and grain of certain trees made possible by cabins, canoes, and carts.
The trailheads on the road are marked by tiny signs. It helps that you should be driving slow so you don’t miss them. We take a few stops along the way to see the red wooden benches, the bright white rocks, and the purple dew-moistened flowers. We park the car in the shade and make our way to the Upper Summit Trail that will take us from Balsam Lake to Heather Lake through subalpine forest. We see some Indian Paintbrush, unripe blueberries, other red flowers, and some seeds in a pod.
Once we reach the parking lot at the top we hike up the Firetower Trail to the 6,360 foot summit where the lookout was built in 1927. It remained in operation until 1988 and still offers spectacular views of the valley, river, mountains, and clouds below from the viewing platform that surrounds the tower. We’d love to christen the place, but it seems an older couple has beat us to it. When we return to the bottom lot with cars unloading people we’re glad we didn’t pick such an obvious spot.
Outside the park boundary are boardwalks that explore the other ecosystems of Revelstoke National Park. Our first will be Skunk Cabbage. We figure why not bring the stinky dogs on a perhaps smelly trail – why, because Piggy is blind and it’s one thing for her to bounce from bush to bush on land, but it felt like she was walking the plank into a swamp bath. I kept her leash short and we were able to see a small rapid river, the brown plant life living in the clear water, the giant cabbage that appeared to be a bear’s nest, swampy grass that was flattened into a design, and a pointy nose frog with golden lips.
The next boardwalk is Giant Cedars. I like that the short plants can continue to grow and water to continue to flow as we walk over them. I’m happy to see that these wooden paths don’t have railings or no trespassing signs and I see no evidence of people detouring from the scenic route to find the path less traveled. Perhaps others that visit here are just as awestruck as me that Canada isn’t all maple leaves and accents. It has something else to offer that is worthy of respect and comparison when people are able to come back.
It seems that the same person wrote the history of the trees of the Muir Woods in California and the Giant Cedars in British Columbia as both compare time using the first voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492. The difference is that his crossing was merely another annual ring for the midlife of a redwood, but the cedar was a simple seedling. Either forest has been around for over 500 years and has seen its fair share of history – if only trees could talk we could finally have the answer to, ‘If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it still hurt your feelings when they choose to fall on you?’
We get to walk by such an accident. A tree fell on the boardwalk and instead of clearing it twice (the path was arched around another tree), they let nature do its thing and built another beside it. I feel great to be in a country that has such an appreciation and the power to command obedience. America makes wide paths, not just for the handicapped, but in an attempt to keep people on the part of the park that they destroyed for the visitors enjoyment. And yet visitors feel they have the right to piss on that ideal, where in Canada I didn’t notice one footprint out-of-place. But that could’ve been me blinded by the lust.
On the road again and we soon pass through a tunnel that reminds me of a scene from a video game called Need for Speed for the lattice-like structure on one side that lets light in. We had passed through a snow shed also known as an avalanche gallery built to keep traffic flowing in hard to clear areas with lots of snow fall or if in a natural ravine that directs avalanches. These are especially important for trains that pass through plenty of mountainous terrain that are threatened with high winds as well.
This brings us to Hemlock Grove where we encounter another couple that we saw at the Skunk Cabbage boardwalk and that unbeknownst to us we would need later in the day. They asked if we were touring too. I’m surprised we didn’t talk more with another pair our age. Usually our fellow travelers are members of the retired group, but we seemed equally in love with our companions and the moment we found ourselves in. I hope they were able to have as much fun as we did if not more in the next park.
to be continued…