The Wows of Canada Day

This blog entry about the events of Sunday, June 30, 2013 was originally posted on July 07, 2013.

PART 2 (DAYS 4-5): “BAM!” Leigh-Anne proclaimed as we drove around a bend on the highway to reveal the Canadian Rockies, less than an hour from downtown Calgary. “This is the best part of living in Calgary. Being close to this.”

“Now I know why they call it *BAN*ff!” I said.

Mainstream tourism to the Canadian Rockies is often packaged under the word “Banff” — the town, the springs, and of course the national park — but Banff isn’t the only designation of mountain glory in the area. Like Yellowstone‘s juxtaposition to Grand Tetons National Park in the USA, Canada’s Yoho National Park shares a border with Banff National Park, not to mention its natural mountainous beauty. It was at the national park of Yoho — not to be confused with the millennial motto of #YOLO (although you might not be able to help it) — that Leigh-Anne planned a hiking/camping getaway for the two of us, to see the outdoors while Calgary got ready for its annual Stampede festival.

Not that we didn’t see Banff proper; we spent a night at the Fairmont Banff Springs on the way to Yoho, for an afternoon of croquet and martinis on a mountain view terrace. You know, roughing it. We took a stroll down the path, beyond the viewpoint of Bow Falls raging more than usual, and into downtown Banff amidst all the Japanese and Chinese tourists. We had pre dinner beers on a roof deck, followed by dinner at the Grizzly House, a former swingers club-turned-steak and cheese fondue restaurant that retained a lot of its 70’s kitschy mojo. On the way back between the town and the hotel, an elk crossed the road, making a few snap-happy Asian tourists happy, present company included. No flash photography required; it was still bright out at 10:30 p.m. when the sun only then begins to set.

“It’s a bluebird day,” Leigh-Anne announced the next morning, with its clear blue skies. Moreover, it was July 1st, Canada Day. And so, on the birth of the country, we packed our packs with gear for our trek into the backcountry of Yoho National Park. In one side pocket of the pack I’d borrowed from Leigh-Anne’s mom was a can of bear spray. On the other, something more useful.

“Happy Canada Day!” I greeted a fellow hiker on the trail, as I did everyone that day. (As an American, I never really get to say it, and I embraced its novelty.)

“Happy Canada Day,” the hiker replied before noticing my side pocket. “Is that a Tetra Pak of wine?”

“Yes it is.”

“I also have a Nalgene full of maple whiskey,” Leigh-Anne interjected.

“You guys are doin’ it right!” the guy’s female companion told us.

“Of course we’re doing it right,” Leigh-Anne said proudly. “I’m Canadian!” It was around then that she wondered how her selected quotes on this blog would make her recurring “character” come off as a frat boy.

We had made our way onto the trail about a 90-minute drive from Banff, cruising along the roads, under the highway’s wilderness passes, and across The Great Divide. Inside the car, we listened to the Garden State soundtrack, while eating cherries out of a bag, and spitting the pits out the window.

“Remember Shirley?” I asked Leigh-Anne, as she drove up the curvy road. (We had met Shirley on Easter Island when we met ourselves.) “Remember how she used the word ‘wow’ as a noun? Like, ‘That is a wow.’”

When we arrived at the parking lot of the trailhead near Yoho’s Takawakkaw Falls (not to be confused with Fozzie Bear’s wakka-wakka falls), it was definitely a wow.

“Now that is a wow,” I said. The only thing more “wow” than that was when I spit out a cherry pit and hit a guard rail so perfectly on the side of the road. (That one got me a high-five.)

With our Tetra-pak of wine and Nalgene of maple whiskey, we trekked about 9.5 km from Takawakkaw Falls to the Little Yoho Valley (not to be confused with the Little #YOLO Valley). The path we took brought us over streams, and to a lunch break at Laughing Falls. There was thankfully no evidence of bears around; the only thing we found were traces of greasy bobcat poop.

Canada Day remained a gorgeous one with blue skies and warm temperatures, which were offset by the mountain breeze. “This smells nothing like the fabric softener labeled, ‘mountain breeze,’” I commented. The scent in the air was that of sap, pine, and a hint of bug spray, and this authentic mountain breeze brought us through the woods and into the valley, our home for the night.

“Isn’t this awesome?” Leigh-Anne asked me. “This is what I wanted you to see!”

“This is a wow.”

It was in fact, an awesome sight: the Little Yoho Valley surrounded by glaciers and mountain peaks that reminded both of us of the French Valley on the W trek in Patagonia. Little gophers popped in and out of holes in the grassy field, as the frigid waters of the Yoho River (not #YOLO River) flowed nearby — our source of water. “[This] was probably in the glacier up there about 30-40 minutes ago,” Leigh-Anne told me, as she purified a bag of wild water with her gravity-based portable filtration system.

We based ourselves at the Stanley Mitchell Hut (altitude 2055m), one of the Alpine Club of Canada’s shelters with a spacious communal area, sleeping mats for about two dozen people, gas-powered kitchen appliances, and an outhouse out back that definitely didn’t smell like a mountain breeze — the fabric-softener variety or otherwise.

“Cheers,” I said raising my mug of box wine to my trekking companion as we sat down to dinner. We’d made black bean soup and “chicken enchilada”, cooked in pouches by simply adding hot water.

“Cheers!” Leigh-Anne toasted.

“Wait, wait, hold it up again,” I instructed. “Happy Canada Day.”

“Thank you.”

It might have seemed we were alone at the hut, but Stanley Mitchell was occupied with a several fellow hikers our first night there, including this quartet of two mothers and their daughters from Calgary and Toronto who carried up enough shredded cheese to feed an army, and Chris and Sarah, two British neuroscientists from Montreal. It was with the British Montrealers that we ended up playing Uno with, as Leigh-Anne and I wore some of the Mexican sombreros that were just hanging on the wall in the hut from previous hikers. It was suggested we play the card game “Asshole” instead, one best played when you’re a bit drunk.

“It’s hard to do that when you’re drinking tea,” Chris said. “It’s like, let’s get diarrhetic.”

Alcohol was inevitably poured when Leigh-Anne busted out the maple whiskey, which we eventually took down to the river for a sundowner — at 10:42 p.m. In lieu of Mexican hats, Chris found some brass goblets in the cupboard that made us feel a bit more nordic.

“Happy Canada Day!” I toasted everyone in that perfect setting.

“The only thing that would make this more Canadian is if salmon were jumping upstream,” Chris said.

“And if a moose just came over there,” Sarah added.

“And we had a bowl of poutine,” I joked.

The sun settled behind the mountains and eventually the horizon, bringing Canada Day to a close. In the end, it was definitely a wow. #YOLO


The Grizzly House in downtown Banff used to be a swingers club in the 70s, but has since made its way to becoming an emporium of meat and cheese fondue — so much that people can smell it on you when you leave. “If you’re on a ski lift [in the winter], people ask you, ‘So, how was the Grizzly House?’” Leigh-Anne told me.

That’s not to say the Grizzly House doesn’t pay homage to its swinger past. At each table, there is a telephone so you can call others at random to “make friends.” Leigh-Anne told me one of her friends actually ended up marrying someone she met through the phone system.

Randomly I called Table 37, which was out of my sight in another part of the restaurant.

“What can I get for ten dollars?” asked the guy’s voice on the other line as soon as he answered.

I was at a loss for words. “Uh, I dunno. What do you want?”

“No, you’re supposed to say, ‘Anything you want.’”

I mustered up by best impression of a Vietnamese prostitute from Full Metal Jacket. “Anyting you wan’.”

“Okay, let’s do this again,” said the voice. “What can I get for ten dollars?”

I really hammed it up this time. “Aannneeee ting you wannnnn’.”

“Listen to me, don’t ever fucking call this number again,” the guy said, his angry tone coming from left field. “YOU HEAR ME? DON’T YOU EVER FUCKING CALL THIS NUMBER AGAIN.”

I guess not everyone wants to be friends.

Next entry: Language of the Valley

Previous entry: Northern Hospitality After The Floodapocalypse

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This blog post is one of fifteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Cowboys, Duk-Duks, and Kiwis," which chronicled a five-week trip through the Canadian Rockies, followed by Calgary's Stampede rodeo festival, an assignment through different regions of Papua New Guinea, and a wintery jaunt to New Zealand's South island.

Next entry:
Language of the Valley

Previous entry:
Northern Hospitality After The Floodapocalypse


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