We woke, on our next day off, to misty dreary skies. After the rain of the previous day we had low expectations. It was a bit of a dilemma to decide what to do, so much here is geared around the outdoors and another lazy day seemed a bit if a waste. By 10am though, the skies were clearing and plenty of blue was visible.
We started our excursions off Highway 40. We were looking for the pull in for Twin Falls but just missed it and had to drive on to find somewhere to turn. Ray had mentioned that it was opposite Gun Range Rapids and in looking for a suitable place to do a U-turn we spotted the rapids. We parked back at the turning for the Falls and walked back to where we’d spotted the rapids between the trees. You don’t get many people walking along these roads, not when there is over 100km between places. There are no pavements but a roadside track for ATVs, All Terrain Vehicles or quad bikes, in English. We scrambled down the tributary creek and I was able to devour my first wild strawberries of the season, absolutely delicious. We pottered around at the water’s edge and I spotted some moose/elk hoof prints in the sand. We were just about to leave when a guy approached, he was with Wild Blue Yonder who organised white water rafting trips down the Smokey River and was preparing to meet a boat which had been put in just below the town. We decided to stay and watch them negotiate the rapids, with appropriate shrieks and screams, before making our way back to the Jeep.
The vehicle carefully climbed the steep rocky track up to a clearing where we left it alone, as usual. It was a fairly short ascent up to the falls but with all the recent rain we were very aware that the path wound close to the edge of what appeared to be an unstable undercut. We were walking, or hiking as it is called in this part of the world, through a lovely messy deciduous forest with more wild flowers lining the path along with copious amounts of honeysuckle and loads of wild gooseberry bushes, although far too early for their fruit. As we rounded a bend we surprised a group of white tailed deer who looked up startled and then leapt, almost silently, into the undergrowth. We achieved an opening where we did get a super view of the falls. If you enlarge the photo you can see a cairn has been built at the top of the lower fall which must have taken some feat as it is pretty inaccessible.
Not content with this level, we resumed our ascent into the ‘not recommended’ section despite there being a reasonably well worn path. It was significantly steeper and again we took advantage of the root system crossing the incline as well as another considerately positioned rope and emerged at the top of the falls. The view down the Smokey valley was worth the climb. We didn’t dare get close enough to the edge to see the waterfalls from this angle as we were reluctant to let go of the only secure looking tree although this resulted in getting covered in pine sap which I was unable to wash off for several hours!
By the time we were reunited with the Jeep it was still only 1pm and the skies looked good so our next stop was along the unmade Beaverdam Rd which wouldn’t be a dustball after the recent rains. We turned off and started another ascent up part of the course for the Canadian Death Race (Ruth and Lewis take note!) which takes place here annually. 24 hours to complete 125km including 3 mountains and a wild river, Canada’s toughest foot race, strewn with rocks and roots, mud and bugs and maybe even a few bears! So we drove up the first 6.5km! I’m not sure of our height by this time but the flora had changed to……lupins! We hadn’t seen any since New Zealand where they were commonplace. These were still budding but there was something comforting in seeing them. We set off on one of the described trails, to Mount Ambler, following what was an ATV route, although without any peace shattering (but the signpost had been peppered with shot!) We climbed through evergreen forest and climbed, and climbed some more! Hill climbing in Britain seems to involve ups and downs but not so here, just up, and we could see nothing through the density of spruce trees.
The path petered out (would it ‘peter in’ when we returned?) quite suddenly. We were unsure of our route but noticed fluorescent orange tape tied to some trees ahead, much as we had done with Bailey when chartering a new route on the horse trail ride. The guide leaflet had advised us to ensure that we could retrace our steps as some of the paths were infrequently used and therefore indistinct, but we had nothing with us. We decided to trust our unknown trailblazer and followed their course with blind faith. They took us through rarely used deep undergrowth and past some blackened trees and lichens from previous forest fires, possibly 2-3 years ago, judging by the regrowth. The Old Man’s Beard seemed particularly spooky, much as one would buy from a gimmick shop near Halloween but this was real. Not sure if it was black from singeing or soot or perhaps it was Young Man’s Beard, but certainly must have been an inspiration for the Adams family or even Snow White!
Our restricted path eventually joined an ATV route again, so thank you anonymous trailblazer. We continued our ascent, past tortured tree stumps, impersonating Elk-like skull skeletons, their upturned roots mimicking antlers. At one point we came across some really weird looking white stuff at the side of the track. We were wearing light trousers and T-shirts but still sweating profusely in the muggy heat and exursion so it didn’t occur to us, until we touched it, that it could be frozen!! We had reached the lower snow line. We were so deep in the trees that it was difficult to comprehend our altitude, where we were and when we would emerge. The hillsides are so completely covered with woodland that it was quite conceivable that we wouldn’t ever find an exit! What if we got lost? All the forest looked alike. No-one really knew where we were going. I’d told Bailey that we might try part of the route to Mount Hamel but the top of that was covered in snow so we’d changed our minds (haha). We could turn around at any time but what if the top was just around the corner? There was no way of knowing, just more trees and poo! Lots of poo, presumably moose or elk, much like the reindeer droppings on sale in the west around Christmas but not actually disguised in chocolate. We only learnt afterwards that moose aren’t very friendly either! But so much dog poo! really? thinking about it, probably not too domesticated, i.e. coyote or wolf! Thank goodness I was still clinging to the bear spray.
I was getting somewhat disheartened and bitten and would have turned back when faced with yet another steep climb. Not because of the ascent so much as the prospective descent; steep downhill is not my forte. Roger’s positivism kept me going further. Our surrounds had altered from tall spruce trees to those of merely 10-12 feet. Then, without any further warning, we emerged into an alpine meadow. Amazing vistas captured us in every direction. Underfoot, petite plants and flowers blossomed and bloomed as a carpet of delicate structures and colours.
A group of kestrels (is there a collective noun for these solitary creatures?) played amongst the adjacent tree tops, presumably fairly young predators with few predators of their own. We could see across to adjacent mountainsides and were able to establish that we were now above the tree line as well as the snow, not that there was any white stuff here as we were south facing. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that in this environment, which has probably changed little in many centuries, we were very avant garde and took a selfie!
It was tempting to linger indefinitely but finally we bade farewell to the meadow and disappeared back into the trees. Our descent took a fraction of the time of the ascent and we tumbled back to the ranch after an excellent day which had such an unpromising start. Bailey came round later and introduced us to Kent, her boyfriend and Coolers, 7% non-sweet lemonade, far too nice, and Kent was nice too. He brought us a voucher for canoeing in Jasper National Park, where we hope to go next days off. After testing the Coolers we took her horse, Johnny, into the arena to lunge where he performed beautifully and lapped up all the fuss and adulation afterwards. Just a massive shame that he wont let her ride him!