Winter is gloomy, lets plan a trip.

This probably isn’t the post you were expecting, as it isn’t what I normally write about. I wish I had some sort of epic adventure I went on recently to share, but truth be told winter sucks for outdoor activities. While you can go for a hike, trails are icy, and to be frank I’m not a fan of the cold. I could tell you about my snowboarding trip earlier this winter, but I didn’t take any photos and it was just at the local hill (nothing too noteworthy). Fear, not readers, spring is almost here which means the start of camping season!

If you camp you know what I’m about to talk about. The only thing I don’t like about camping is the bugs. Mosquitoes, black flies, horse fly, normal house fly, I don’t discriminate I hate all flying bugs… Okay I lied, I like dragonflies because they sometimes eat the others. Spring is prime camping season, I mean early spring when the ice has just come off the lake, the trails have no snow and start drying up, and it is hot during the day yet, cool and crisp at night. Spring camping is the best and this year I plan on upping my spring camping game.

On a recent trip to MEC, I picked up my first ever Jeff’s map of Algonquin Park (southern edition). This is the year I make it to Algonquin Provincial Park and do a big canoe trip in the park. If you’ve been a reader of this blog for a while, you’ll know that I went on a trip to Kawartha Highlands last year, which was an amazing time (linked to that post at the bottom). From that moment of my first canoe trip, well actually since way before then, I’ve wanted to go to Algonquin Park and see the beauty hidden in its borders. This is the year I will go.

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This map is amazing, the sheer detail and care that were taken in making it is incredible. All the campsites are on it and some are marked to be in bad shape, portages are re-mapped to be accurate to the true length and it has information about different areas of the park including the kind of trails flood, a nearby bog and even where you can find the otter slides and pictographs in the park. Not only is the map is incredible, but it is also waterproof!

This map will be key to planning my next real adventure. I plan to do a more classic route in Algonquin, starting on Lake Opeongo, which is on the east side of the southern map. It is a massive lake and has many different exit points to other lakes, therefore is a great start point to really explore the park.

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It will take a bit of time and effort to plan properly, plus I need to get some gear for this trip. I plan to rent a canoe from the outfitter on the lake, which will be a luxury as the canoe I have is not truly suitable for portaging. I’m confident that this trip will be one of the best. I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop!

The lost Kawartha Highlands Camping Trip

 

 

Exploring the land of Volcanoes!

Exploring new places is one of my favourite things to do anywhere I go, especially when it’s a place called Volcano National Park. This national park is in Hawaii, located on the Big Island. To put the Volcano National Park in perspective, it was bigger than the entire island of Oahu which is the island I spent the first part of my trip on and is the most populated. A place this big has lots of opportunity for exploring and I found some of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, and I even got to see LAVA!

There are 2 active volcanos in the park and each year they spew out new lava that forms more land or lava tubes, while also posing the risk of destroying forests, threatening homes, and covering roads. The start of this trip had us arriving at the park around 4:00pm (I don’t really remember the time – I think it was earlier) and we got to see the steam vent fields, and when I say fields, I mean it! There had to be 30+ steam vents in this area and huge clouds of steam were coming out of small holes in the ground that collected rainwater that got super heated from the lava and it came back up as steam. What came with the steam was the smell of volcanos. If you’ve ever been to a natural hot spring, a geyser, or a volcano itself, you’ve probably encountered the smell I’m about to say: eggs. But like rotten eggs. It does not smell good and sort of ruins the awe-inspiring scenery. In reality, it’s just a mix of Sulphur and Phosphorus (I think) that create the smell. Consider this your warning for when you get to a volcano. Below are the photos of the steam vents.

After the steam vents, it was time for the meat and potatoes, the lava pool at Halemaʻumaʻu crater. Picture it a giant pool of red-hot molten rock… That is not something you see in everyday life. I know I said this was the meat and potatoes but I lied to you, I’m sorry I had to! This visit at around 5 was just to tease you and me. When I got out of the car and looked at the crater, it just looks like a crater with a hole in the middle with more steam, not much to it. The lava sits around 30 meters below the surface and this was just to see what it was like in the daytime. When you go back at night, you get to really see the glow of the lava, see it splutter and pop out of the lake. You’ll have to wait until later to see the glow just like I did. But fear, not the view was still amazing during the day.

All over the park, we saw different signs of lava and the damage the unstoppable force can cause, but it was time to explore more the park and see the lava fields from when the volcano erupted in the 60’s. A short drive from the crater and we came to the fields. Just as the sun was setting, not only were we standing on lava fields, but also the sky itself turned into a sky filled with lava. We got to see a lot of the park, even the giant fissure that you couldn’t see to the bottom of (a fissure is a giant crack in the earth’s surface, I googled it). We also saw MASSIVE fields of just black lava rock, with some parts so smooth you didn’t need shoes, to parts that were so sharp and jagged you couldn’t even touch. The diverse scenes from the lava were incredible, and we even got to see where lava encountered a tree. I know you’re thinking about what I just said… “Lava and a tree meet? It would just burn to the ground,” but you’d be wrong in some circumstances. When lava is moving super fast it can reach and surround the tree and engulf it with molten rock, however it then cools, as the lava flow keeps moving. Since the lava was moving so fast, the tree couldn’t burn fast enough, therefore leaving a lava mold around the tree. The tree mold can be so detailed to the point that you see markings from the bark. This was probably one of the coolest things I saw in the park, but don’t take my word about the different things I saw in the park look at these pictures!

The hollow casting of the tree wasn’t the only tube in the park; one of the more famous attractions at the park is the 600-foot mega lava tube! The lava tube is an enormous tube much like a subway tube that is underground yet is not man-made like a subway (duh…).  It forms when lava is flowing again at a fast rate and it cools around the molten lava in the middle that keeps moving. Think of it like a straw the liquid is moving through a hollow tube, that’s how the lava tube is formed and when you’re walking inside the tube itself, it is magical. The tube is imperfect and the size varies throughout with some sections going up to 20 feet high, and some sections where I had to duck to keep walking. It is just raw and natural inside. I would highly recommend the tube at night, or rather when the park isn’t busy. It’s kind of eerie when inside.

The sun had set, we had explored the park and it was finally time to head back to Halemaʻumaʻu crater to see the glow of the lava lake. It was very different to drive up to the crater at night; you could no longer see steam, just the glow from the lava. There was a bright orange hue coating the crater and while you couldn’t see the source yet, we all knew that it was a lake of lava. I wish we were allowed to get close to the lava however it’s a national park and there are obvious safety concerns with that. However, I did snag this photo of a lava splashing through a telescope, and let me tell you I looked through that telescope in awe for a long time just thinking about how cool it was that a lake of lava was right in front of me!

It is now time to get back to my reality of the cold Canadian winter. My trip to Hawaii is over, but there is always an adventure at home! See you at there!

Scuba Diving in Manta Heaven, Hawaii

There’s something about being 60 feet under water and breathing air from a tank on your back that is calming, it’s something you just have to try to truly experience it. My diving career began in 2017 on a trip to Australia when I became a PADI certified diver and got to dive on the Great Barrier Reef! (*Link to both those blog posts at the bottom!!). Hawaii, however, is also famous for amazing diving, most significantly for giant Manta Ray night diving! Spoiler Alert: it’s not a happy ending, but I’ll get to that later.

Being that Hawaii is made up of islands, you might think it is easy to find these massive animals in Hawaiian waters, but in actuality, it is very rare. Sightings are not guaranteed at any dive site since Manta Rays are wild animals and obviously don’t answer to humans.  There are some sites with a higher chance of spotting the mantas based on a number of factors. For my night diving experience, I was on the west side of the Big Island near Kona at a dive site called Manta Heaven. More on the dive site later, let’s start at the beginning, it was time to get to the marina and hop on the boat!

On the boat, we were each given a small slip within the boat that housed our gear, which included 2 full tanks of air, 1 BCD (Buoyancy Control Device), weights, and a wetsuit. I also have my own mask, snorkel, and fins that I always try to bring on tropical vacations since snorkeling can be just as fun. We were also given a briefing on the Mantas and why we were headed to this dive spot specifically. We found out that mantas frequent this area because there is a “cleaning” station nearby. This means that cleaner fish clean other fish and mantas of any parasites that may be attached to them; the cleaner fish even swim in the gills or the mouths of others for a deep clean. For the night manta ray dive, they put giant underwater lights on the bottom of the ocean to attract phytoplankton which the mantas feed on. Millions upon millions of phytoplankton swarmed to the lights at night thus the mantas follow the phytoplankton allowing frequent sightings of mantas in this location.

I mentioned above that we were given two tanks, meaning we were doing 2 separate dives. The first was in the afternoon with the sun still up to explore the dive site and marine life, and the second at night to see the manta rays. After gearing up and jumping into the water we dove down to roughly 60 feet, sometimes a bit lower and sometimes a bit higher just depending on what part of the reef we were at, and there was life everywhere! We saw a multitude of different animals, including garden eels that are slim and look like stalks of seaweed on the ocean floor and will disappear into the ground, free swimming moray eels, a Moorish idol (Aka Gill from Finding Nemo), barracuda, trumpet fish and even an octopus! I didn’t get video/photos of everything but here are some of the better ones I captured on the day dive!

This is where I also have to say I’m sorry. I always find myself lost in the moment when I’m diving and never take good photos/videos of any of the amazing sea life, but here are a few screen grabs from the videos I got, next time I’ll do better I promise!

I also captured this photo of myself while diving and it has quickly become my favorite photo of myself doing anything water related.

With the first dive over, my post dive snack eaten, and the sun setting, it was time to gear up for the night dive. It was finally game time.

Once in the water, we dropped down to the ocean floor about 40 feet below the surface and sat around the lights, which were nicknamed “the campfire.” About 45 divers were also down there with me, just waiting for a manta to show up, everyone had hand lights and the ocean floor was so lit up it was like daytime in our own spot of dark ocean. Hundreds of fish were swimming in the lights eating the phytoplankton in the waters, and one trumpet fish came swimming right at me. Trumpetfish are long and narrow, kind of like a small spear and I was afraid (please don’t tell anyone) that this fish kept swimming right at me. We were told to stay as still as possible as to not scare the mantas so I wasn’t going to ruin it for anyone but this fish kept getting closer and closer! It didn’t seem like it was going to stop so I tilted my head to the most uncomfortable angle while trying to not to move my body all while trying not to be impaled by this fish. Thankfully I survived the encounter and kept my eyes open for the mantas.

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Unfortunately, this is the point where I must inform you of the bad news. No manta rays showed up during our night dive. While I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to see the infamously dancing mantas, they are wild animals after-all and there is never a guarantee to seeing them. This just means I have to go back to Hawaii and try again. Sounds like a good excuse to me! I’ll let you know how I fair next time, whenever I do go back!

See you on the next adventure, reader!

Certified to Breathe Underwater

Scuba Diving at the Great Barrier Reef

Beaches and Food Trucks

Hawaiian beaches, man they are a real treat! The sand was light and fluffy, the water is clear and turquoise, and massive waves crash on the beach. There are so many to choose from, it’s hard to know which one to go to. Being in Hawaii came with so much natural beauty that I doubt many places can compare to. There is dense rainforest, lava fields, high mountains formed by volcanoes but arguably the best part is the beauty of the beaches. The beaches of unique since parts of the beach can be sandy yet when you walk 200 meters down, sections of the beach are of smooth black lava rock that has lost its rough edges from the constant crashing of waves. It is definitely not like any beach in Ontario!

(I apologize for the bad quality of photos in this posting, salt water and cameras don’t mix well)

Although being in Hawaii wasn’t all fun and games. There was one saddening fact about all the beaches in Hawaii; it seems like everyone besides me could surf, bodyboard or skim board. Learning to surf has been the number 1 thing on my bucket list for a long time. Surfing is something I have to do, but unfortunately, Hawaii was not the place to learn. I was reminded of my hope to learn to surf every time I went to a beach and saw all the talent, however, I quite enjoyed watching the action from the warmth of the sand which I got pretty comfortable in.

But one thing I could indulge myself with was the food trucks and did I ever indulge! We spent two different days at a beach called Sandy Beach about 20 minutes east of Waikiki Beach and there was this one truck that specialized in shrimp. I’m not ashamed to say I had lunch at this truck both days we were there. The first time I had just shrimp, and the next I had steak and shrimp. I would 100% recommend either option, with the steak and shrimp being the better choice if you have the appetite. The food trucks actually became one of my favorite parts of my time in Hawaii as they were everywhere and you could get nearly anything depending on the truck. Below are pictures of the trucks and food from the beach, I didn’t get a picture of the steak and shrimp as I was eager to eat it.

I also had the opportunity to visit Waikiki Beach and Sharks Cove on the North Shore where I did a little bit of snorkeling. All the beaches in Hawaii are amazing and I highly recommend checking out as many as you can when you get to Hawaii yourself.

Do I even need to say anything about this photo?

Scuba diving at Manta heaven is whats coming up next! Don’t forget to press follow on the right side to get an email alert of when a new post goes out! 

Hawaiian Dragons

When you think of Hawaii, what do you think of? Fun in the sun? Beaches? Me too, but apparently it isn’t always like that. Unfortunately, there is some bad weather and you just have to find ways to deal with the not so perfect weather. How did I deal with this weather, you ask? Hiking. I like hiking in overcast weather, as it means I’m not getting baked alive in the sun as I scrabble over rock or uncovered trail. The trail I found on this overcast day was perfect for the weather.

The trail was called “Dragon’s Nostrils.” The name was very fitting I would soon find out; when I got to the final destination of the hike, there were these two blowholes that sounded like a dragon letting an exhale out. More on the blow holes later though, let me tell you about the hike itself.

The hike starts at Makapu’u trail which actually leads to a scenic lookout overlooking a lighthouse, not the blowholes. It is paved, very touristy and easy enough for people to push their kids in strollers up the “trail.” These types of trails I stay away from because I don’t find them very fun. I like unpaved, hard to find and not a lot of people. 3/4 of the way up the paved trail, we came across a plaque which talks about whales and off to the left of the plaque you can see a small footpath through the rocks which was no more than 6 inches wide with no markings and no indications of anything down below. We couldn’t even see the shoreline from the plaque but the shoreline behind the whale plaque was where we were heading.

We started walking this unmarked trail behind the whale plaque and as we got closer to the edge, we saw where we would begin the descent down to the edge of the ocean. Here we got our first glimpse of what this hike was going to be like, it was steep, damp, and with large, jagged, loose rocks. Everything that makes for a good trail. To provide some perspective on what I’m talking about, here are some photos of the trail towards Dragon’s Nostrils.

Once down at the shoreline, we got to experience the reason it’s called Dragon’s Nostrils. These two holes were side by side, about 2 ½ ft apart and went all the way through the lava shelf to the ocean. Then when a big wave came in, the two holes would make a rumbling sound like a dragon breathing and shoot water 30+ ft in the air! I’ve never been to a geyser or a blowhole before, so this was amazing to see in person. The sheer force of water shooting water 30+ ft in the air was insane.

There was also a much, much bigger hole that was approximately 4 ft by 2 ft wide and when a really large wave came in, it would shoot water up but not quite as high.

Knowing that people were pushing their kids on the paved trail about 250+ ft above us while we were down at the waters edge getting sprayed by salty ocean water made the experience so much better. It just shows that sometimes it is worth straying from the paved path.

Along with the blowholes were tidal pools. Small pools that when the tide was right, people could sit right in them. The waves were breaking on the shelf, slightly adding more water to the pool. I didn’t get to go in, but I wish I did.

As I had mentioned, it was a full overcast day and often with clouds comes rain. This is exactly what happened to us.  We had to hike up the cliff and down the trail to the car in the pouring rain, but somehow it added to the day as we were able to experience “Dragon’s Nostrils” in truly gloomy conditions.

The lost Kawartha Highlands Camping Trip

Rain, Rain, and more rain. This was the weather report for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on the weekend Tyler and I were to go backcountry canoe camping in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. Luckily for us, the weatherman lied (like usual) and the weather was better than we could have asked for, but I’ll get more into the weather later on. I first had to make sure I was properly packed; this was my mental packing list:

Canoe ✓

Paddles and Life Jackets ✓

Backpack full of Gear ✓

And most importantly Food! ✓

(I later learned that I should have been more detailed)

 

It was just about time to hit the open road and start driving to Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.

By the time 6 o’clock rolled around on Friday, the anticipation was finally starting to die down as the trip we were embarking on was becoming a reality. Before this trip, I had never done any canoe camping, backcountry camping, or anything that was close to this, but this was going to change in a matter of hours.

But first things first we had to get to the park and that meant strapping a 50ish pound (felt heavier) canoe to the top of my Rav4. I think strapping it down was the hardest part of the trip, but hey we got it done.

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Friday night was a little rough.  We arrived just as the sun was starting to set and the start of our trip had the longest portage of the entire trip! But before I go into details of what actually happened, I’ll give you a rundown of our travel route. We were to start our trip from the Coon Lake Access on Coon Lake and our plan was to traverse the south section of Kawartha Highlands from Coon Lake up to Lake Vixen going through several lakes and over multiple portages. We were booked in to stay at Little Turtle for the first night then on the second day travel all the way up to Lake Vixen where we would stay Saturday night. Then we would head all the way back to the south point of the park to complete the trip. Let’s hope things run smoothly.

With the canoe in the water and paddles in hand, we paddled across Coon Lake with the sun setting. We made our way to the first portage and we were about to realize what the whole trip was really about. Our goal was getting to our Friday night campsite as fast as possible since neither of us wanted to set up in the dark. I guess the saying ‘go big or go home’ really comes to mind as we came set foot back on the ground and looked at the trail ahead of us. Well, I should actually say looked up, since in front of us was easily a 100-meter hill (okay… I guess like 20 meters). We soon realized this trip was going to be a lot of physical work, as we both had bags that weighed around 30 pounds and an ancient canoe that weighs 50ish pounds and is just awkward to carry. After putting one foot after another and taking several breaks, we managed to survive the 600+ meter portage of muddy, rocky, uphill terrain. It was a rough go. Eventually, we made it to campsite #471 and settled in for the night.

I always hear the best part of arriving somewhere in the dark is waking up and getting to see where you spent the night, and this was no exception. The forest was dense and green, there were no clouds to be seen in the sky, and the water was calm. There was a light misting on the lake as it had rained a bit during the early morning and it was looking like it was going to be a beautiful day. We tore camp down, ate our breakfast and headed back out to the water to start heading deeper into the park.

With so much ground to cover, it was inevitable that we got into a rhythm. We knew what side of the canoe to paddle on, when to turn, who was navigating, and who carried what end of the canoe at the portages. We went through a lot of lakes and each had its own characteristic that made it stand out. One lake had an island, one had huge rock cliffs on the edges, one had a small hunting cabin on the bank, another seemed like it was perfectly round and alternatively one had a beautiful lily pad section we had to paddle through. I wish we had time to explore the whole park.

After 6+ hours of travel, we made it to our second campsite on Lake Vixen. We were rewarded with a pristine site that had a rock to swim off of, another rock to watch the sunset from, and wood left by previous park goers! It was going to be a great night at campsite #433 on Lake Vixen.

But this is where the bad news comes in. It started to rain, hard. I guess the weatherman wasn’t completely lying after all. It rained for over 2 hours but we got smart out there, we napped. There is just something about sleeping in a tent in the rain; it just makes it easy to nap. When I woke up though I was alerted to a problem. I had set up in a low spot and quite a large puddle had formed under my tent. With a bit of panic in my voice, I called out to Tyler and he and I got to action. He dug a trench from under my tent to a small drop off while I pushed all the water out from under my tent. This was all while it was still raining so I couldn’t just move my tent yet. After feeling like my tent was Noah’s ark and surviving it, the rain stopped and we got to see what it had left us with. We found a large amount of water in our canoe and a massive rainbow.

Night came fast, and with full stomachs and headlights to guide our way through our campsite we said goodnight to the fire and went to bed. After all we had to travel all the way back to the car tomorrow and leave Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. Till next time Kawartha Highlands.

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The Beauty of Banff

Banff, Banff, Banff, Banff, Banff, Banff, this was what I was repeating to myself over and over again after leaving Jasper National Park. Jasper treated us amazing, and we saw some incredible things but it was time to head towards one of the most well known parks in Canada, Banff National Park. It is also the oldest national park, founded in 1855, because of its natural hot springs. (Spoiler alert: We never found any nor went looking for hot springs)

We were only staying in Banff for a single night, so our plan was to pack in as much stuff as possible as we could. We made sure we started the day off with a bang. Since we were coming from Jasper, we got to drive along Highway 93, otherwise known as Icefields Parkway, and we quickly learned why it was called this. While driving along Icefields Parkway, we could see Glaciers like big ol’ thousands of year old glaciers, and it was insane. It’s hard to describe what it is like looking at a glacier because, in reality, it’s just ice. Yet the magnitude of having such a big block of ice hanging off the side of mountains and seeing where it had retreated, and the amount of force it has by the sheared off mountain faces was something that reminded me to never forget how powerful nature is. This is one of the many glaciers we saw:

Did you really think we were just going to drive past all the glaciers? As of 2014, there’s a new attraction in between Jasper and Banff and it’s called the Jasper skywalk. It’s a massive glass semi-circle that hangs 280 meters above the ground below, attached to the side of a mountain. Forget the CN-Tower glass floor, this is where you want to go if you want to walk on glass floors. Looking down and seeing the rock, river, and trees below makes you feel like you’re walking in the air. We even got to see mountain goats in the valley below! (Sorry no pictures I was too busy taking in the moment)

But all good things must come to an end. We were off to our next activity for the day, hiking at Lake Louise. We had planned on doing another big hike like we did in Jasper, to watch the sunset from atop a mountain, overlooking Lake Louise’s turquoise blue water.  Unfortunately, it was impossible to see the surrounding mountains from the lake because of the wildfires in the area. With the dense smoke, we knew there wouldn’t be a good view so we decided on a different option, a much colder option. We took the trail along the right side of the lake all the way to the far end so we were looking back towards the Chateau Lake Louise. When we got there, we decide to go for a dip in the glacier-fed lake. Now if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll remember I did a polar dip back in February where a hole was cut through the ice on the lake at my cottage and I jumped through said hole into the frozen lake. Having done this I thought I was prepared to handle the water at Lake Louise, but boy was I wrong.

The lake at the edges is shallow, no place to dive in or jump so you have to slowly walk in until you’re just far enough where you can build up the courage to jump. It was tough but we managed and all went swimming in Lake Louise. (How many of you can say the same?) I personally would not recommend it. It was freezing, so cold you couldn’t even scream. It was more like a panic of “holy shit, holy shit, this is cold I need to get out.” But all of this is said in your head, as you can’t manage to move your lips as your survival instinct kicks in and you’re swimming for the edge to get out. But don’t take my word for it, just look at these photos as my proof.

Although we were camping in Banff, as we did in Jasper, it was very different. The campground we stayed at (Banff – Lake Louise) had an electric fence around the entire campground and a slotted bridge as the only way in and out of the campgrounds. This was all in place to keep out the bears of Banff, apparently, there are a lot but we didn’t get to see any.

After seeing Lake Louise, we were told by a friend that we had to see this other lake because it was less touristy, was even more of a turquoise blue and was surrounded by more mountains.  How could we not go see that? We were up early in order to make it to the Lake Moraine before having another long day of travel. It was lucky that we arrived early, taking the last spot in the teeny tiny parking lot that was at the lake (so much for less touristy…). Nevertheless, the lake was much more epic than Lake Louise. Lake Moraine was blue, like really blue, I didn’t even know this shade of blue existed. This is Lake Moraine in all its glory (apart from the haze caused by the wildfire smoke):

This was it; the trip was almost over after seeing Banff.  The only thing left for us to do was drive to our destination and fly home. This journey took us across Canada, covering over 4900km, seeing 5 different provinces over 9 days. This was a trip of a lifetime, and I can’t wait to do again. I hope you too get to make this drive at some point.

 

Hiking in Jasper National Park

Rolling into Jasper National Park was surreal. I think it instantly became my new happy place. Coming from Ontario I’m not used to mountains surrounding me or even being within view. Besides in the few times I’ve been to BC I never really got to see the Rockies, yeah I got to fly over them but being able to actually see them on ground level and gauge the real size was incredible. Just take a look at these epic photos before I go any more in-depth about Jasper National Park.

The above pictures were taken along the Pocahontas Campground Trail, which is where we would stay while in Jasper. Jasper would be the only place on our whole trip (other than our final stop before flying home) where we would spend 2 nights in the same place and boy oh boy was it ever worth it.

Heres a bonus from the trial lookout of the view and Tyler.20170904_201400.jpg

Our original plan had us making another stop in the Prairies, to spend a night in Edmonton. But we realized that none of us had any desire to spend a night in a city, and we really didn’t know what we would do in Edmonton other than see the mall. We did still stop at the West Edmonton Mall, to see the largest shopping mall in North America. We grabbed lunch there and saw the indoor roller coaster, but we had been talking about the mountains since we left Ontario so we decided to keep heading towards Jasper. After all, Jasper is home to the freaking ROCKIES!

Being able to set up camp and know that we didn’t have to take it down in the morning was bittersweet. We definitely took our time in the morning, as we had nowhere we had to be. It was just the surrounding mountains and us. However, since we were in Jasper, we couldn’t just sit around all day so we talked to one of the park staff at the campground and he recommended a trail that was a personal favorite. We were told that we were in for a real treat (and a lot of panting). We were set to climb Sulphur Skyline: a 700m+ elevation gain to a total altitude of around 6600 feet, 8+km loop trail, a hiking time of 4-6 hours, a black diamond rating and epic views from the top.

 

Sulphur Skyline was my first hike in the Rockies and the park staff did not let us down. It was an insanely awesome hike. The trail starts off in a small parking lot used mostly for the hot springs, and those hot springs are presumably how the trail got its name… (from the sulfur smell, commonly keep up). The beginning of the trail is dense forest and the elevation gain was immediate. From the distance that we had to cover, I knew I was really in for it. Halfway through the trail the switchbacks start, steep trail then a 180 turn, steep trail then a 180 turn, and repeat. The switchbacks went on for what felt like forever. Then three-quarters of the way up the trees stop, and the trail opens to rock. We were above the tree line. This was officially the highest altitude I had ever walked to. This is when the real climb started, it was loose rock and it was tough going.

Eventually, we made it to the top. First to make it was Neil, then Tyler and last (but definitely not least) me. We had made it up in an hour and a half, and after all that hiking it was finally time to enjoy the view.

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We stayed for an hour at the top enjoying the view, eating lunch, and taking in the sights and sounds the top of a mountain can provide. Getting down was easy and according to our time check when we reached the car, we found out that it had only taken roughly 3 hours and 30 mins to hike to the top, eat lunch, and hike down. Our completion time beat the estimated hiking time, and we were proud of our modest feat.

We still had lots of time left for activities in the day so we piled into the car and headed towards Maligne Lake and Maligne Canyon. We arrived at Malign Canyon first, and it was one of a kind. The heart of the canyon had the raging Maligne River roaring through it, and it had waterfalls and rapids and narrow sections with bridges you could walk over. There were also sections where you could see huge boulders had ground areas away to be smooth and flat. Maligne Canyon is a must see in Jasper, even if it is a little touristy.

The last item was Maligne Lake and just the drive to the lake was worth any effort to get there. We saw everything from wildlife to mountains (bet you didn’t see that coming), and even where the wildfires had hit earlier in the year.

Jasper was a real treat, and spending 2 nights in the park was definitely worth it. I can’t wait to go back, but for now, it was time to head down to Banff.

Good Bye Pocahontas campground!

 

 

 

Crossing the Canadian Prairies

We crossed into Manitoba sometime late on Saturday afternoon, and we were headed straight for Winnipeg. If you’ve ever driven into Winnipeg, you know that Manitoba is the start of the prairies, not quite full on prairies but pretty damn close meaning it’s the start of getting really flat. It feels like you can see a couple days in each direction you look. The speed limit also increases from 90 in Northern Ontario to 100, probably the best part of crossing into Manitoba.

On our way to Winnipeg, we crossed 96 degrees 48 minutes and 35 seconds, meaning we made it to the Longitudinal Centre of Canada. At first with the increased speed limit, we drove right past it. We didn’t really know where it was, just that it was somewhere on the way to Winnipeg and there were no signs to prepare us for the stop. Regardless, we took the first turn around and went back for the sign. There was no way I was making it to the heart of Canada and not getting a picture with the sign to prove it. It’s pretty surreal knowing that you have equal amounts of Canada to the West and East, and you’re just in the center of the 2nd largest country on earth.

After Winnipeg, we left for the booming metropolitan of Moose Jaw, Sk. The drive to Moose Jaw was boring, nothing but flatness and wheat fields. There were these small shrubby plants and small trees but not much else. The sky and the land meet together at the horizon and you really get a feeling that the world may be flat after all… Maybe flat-earthers are onto something there. You can decide for yourself with these pictures.

Did I forget to mention the best part of driving the prairies was seeing the massive farm combines harvesting all the wheat? The clouds of dust they put up and the bare ground they leave behind really makes you appreciate how central Canada became known as the breadbasket of Canada.

On our third day, we finally made it to our 3rd province of the trip, Saskatchewan. Getting around in the prairies feels like you’re just driving and driving… It is very “dull” in the prairies; there is nothing that really keeps your attention. However, when you get closer to the heart of the prairies, the speed limit goes up again to 110 km/h. I guess police realized that you can see for two days into the distance, and allowed for people to get there a little faster. Fine by me.

The only cool thing we saw on day 4 (while still in the prairies) was this massive valley out of nowhere, with a lake covering the whole bottom. A road/bridge went right through the middle of the lake. It was a random hidden gem in Saskatchewan.

Our plan was to hightail it from Moose Jaw all the way to Jasper National Park, to the start of the Rocky Mountains. It took longer than we thought to cover so much ground but eventually, we made it into Alberta. We started to see glimpses of the mountains, but the Rockies deserve their own post.

But I can’t just leave you hanging, so here’s a view from our first night in the Rockies.

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2000 Kilometers of Ontario.

2 days and 2,000 km (Roughly). That was how long it took just to get out of Ontario. No one told me how long it would take; it felt like half the trip was just getting out of Ontario. As we drove further north, the more we saw of the Canadian Shield and the more appreciation I gained for the province I live in. Yeah, Ontario doesn’t have any big mountains, nor are we on the coast. But what Ontario lacks, it makes up for in sheer beauty and size. This became extremely apparent on this long drive.

But wait what drive am I talking about?

Well, from September 1st to September 9th two friends (Neil and Tyler) and I drove through 5 provinces from Toronto, Ontario to Kelowna, British Columbia. We covered over 4,900 km, camping in national parks, hiking mountain trails, visiting emerald blue lakes, seeing wildlife, and having a damn good time.

Our trusty steed for this drive was a 2016 Scion IM. It was a manual transmission because we didn’t want to get too bored in the prairies. The car was decked out with a whopping 137 Horsepower, which struggled to make it up big hills in any gear higher than third, a full ski box on the roof, one seat in the back as the other 2 seats got folded down to help the trunk carry all of our food/clothes/camping equipment and of course beverages for this 9 day trip.

On Friday, September 1st we made it our goal to leave by 8 am so that we would have plenty of daylight and time to make it to our first nights stop in Northern Ontario at Pukaskwa National Park. This drive alone was over 11 hours and it covered a majority of our Ontario travel. We stayed in national parks as much as we could since Parks Canada was celebrating Canada’s 150th Birthday with free admission to all national parks. This helped to keep costs low (I’m still a student after all).

The drive to Pukaskwa National Park was a major kick-off to the trip. We drove the first 4 hours without stopping to Sudbury where we saw the Big Nickel. This was my first time seeing the Big Nickel and it was also the farthest North I’d been in Ontario. If you don’t know what the Big Nickel is, imagine that small 5 cent coin you rarely use but a million times larger (to be more accurate 9 meters in diameter). Pretty freaking big eh? The best part is that it has heads and tails on it, so if you ever get into an argument with a giant there’s a coin that can be flipped.

After Sudbury, we didn’t have any planned stops or anything specific that we wanted to do until the next day when driving through Thunder Bay. But driving up the coast of Lake Superior (the greatest lake of the great lakes), our minds quickly changed when we came across a lookout on the side of the Trans-Canada highway.  We couldn’t help but stop and take in the beauty of the Canadian Shield on the coast and what seemed like a never-ending lake in front of us. It was just one of those times when the landscape puts you in awe, and you can’t do anything but sit there and appreciate the view before you. This happened a lot on this trip.

After the look-out, it was full steam ahead to Pukaskwa, as we were a little bit behind schedule due to a late start (ensuring we had everything), the long stop in Sudbury, and frequent bathroom breaks. Nevertheless, we managed to make it there just before 9:00 pm, after a rough 13 hour travel day. The setup and cooking were all done by headlamp, which is something we would get a lot of on this trip.

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Pukaskwa was the first ever National Park I’ve visited.

DAY 2

After driving and traveling for 13 hours the day before we treated ourselves to an 8:00 am wake up. We managed to organize and implement a morning routine that took 1 hour most days. We would come to follow this routine every morning when camping, which consisted of breakfast, camp pack up and car re-pack. I would cook breakfast, and Neil and Tyler would take down the tent and pack away the sleeping gear. Unfortunately, day 2 weather wasn’t looking good, moments after we started driving out of the park it started to rain. It rained and rained for 6 hours on and off as we cruised up to Thunder Bay and beyond.

In Thunder Bay, we had hoped to do a hike and see the Dorion Tower, but unfortunately, our schedule didn’t have room for a long hike. We had plans to make it to Winnipeg, where we had our one and the only hotel of the trip booked. Luckily we did have time to visit the Terry Fox monument along the Trans-Canada highway, which is something I’ve always wanted to see.

Past Thunder Bay, there really isn’t any big cities in Ontario. A few places that have populations above 5 thousand, but for the most part, it was trees and rock, lots and lots of both. The Canadian Shield was epic! It was super cool to drive through, to see the blasting lines and how they cut a massive chuck of a hill out for a road. Something I feel that is not very popular elsewhere in the world.

Eventually, we made it Winnipeg, Manitoba by crossing our first province border and even drove over a time zone change. Manitoba we would soon learn doesn’t have much to it… But then again it’s the start of the prairies.

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