June 16, 2017

Crazy people, nutty politicians, $12 avocado toast – Southern California, am I right? Hoping for a much needed hiatus from the urban jungle, my partner in crime Andi and I watched our cab appear through the misty 2am fog. Its headlights promised to take us far away – to the enchanted, mystical, awe inspiring Oh Canada! We were about to spend two weeks in Alberta and British Columbia exploring their world renowned national parks, chasing Northern Lights, and pulling on a little bit of plastic. Yellow taxi cab, take us far away from here!

Seattle wished us a Bon Voyage with a blanket of cloud cover. Reflecting back, I think it was actually an attempt to shield us from a depressing descent into the brown flat land of Calgary. Screw Calgary man. After experiencing all the wonders of Squamish last year with my fellow Cooper Nick – I was shocked that such a dismal stretch of world could be allowed to exist in Canada. We left the urban sprawl for mossy trees and glassy lakes, not more concrete. Between the drive to Edmonton, Deadmonton as the locals would call it, the even more depressing destination of Fort McMurray and missing the Northern Lights, we were hoping to erase our first two days from the memory bank forever. But, for your benefit only I share this story in hopes that you take our advice – when in Calgary drive West, and only West.

We like to think our trip began on day 3, driving into the wonderland of Jasper National Park. It’s hard to believe that there is a tiny little town tucked away in the middle of the towering peaks and dense forests of this gateway to adventure. The first day we stopped into the visitor center to ask a few standard questions like, what are the best hikes, secret spots, and what’s the best place to see the Northern Lights. When we enquired about the Northern Lights, the ranger looked at us astonished and said, “Did you not see them last night?” Andi and I shared a quick glance of sadness with each other, “no” we said. The ranger then babbled on about how it was the greatest Northern Lights Jasper had seen in 10 years, and forced these gorgeous pictures into our faces. We dried our tears and left.

Now the winter season was coming to an end, with spring in full force which meant thawing lakes and hungry bears. This meant that the winter tourists were leaving and it was still to frigid for Spring tourists to flock, so we were nearly alone everywhere we went. The first hike was my favorite, The Valley of Five lakes loop, which was a 5 mile loop around, you guessed it, 5 lakes. About midway through the hike we stumbled upon these two random red chairs.


It turns out that Parks Canada actually places these chairs all around the parks in beautifully scenic areas. Some have placards that tell you snippets of history or the types of animals who inhabit the area, this one however basically told us to sit down, shut up, and be aware of the nature around us. So we did and it was pretty rad. The rest of Jasper involved snowshoeing a couple of miles onto a giant frozen lake, trekking onto what is normally a raging river and finding a secret climbing cave, and driving onto an “authorized personnel only” road (I swear I didn’t see the sign) to the jaw-dropping Athabasca Glacier. Those little dots in the photo are tractors by the way.

canadaFrozen lake
canadaSecret climbing cave
canadaAthabasca Glacier

Our next destination was the quaint little town of Canmore. Being right outside Canada’s first national park, Banff, we spent the last 5 days exploring this jaw-dropping wilderness. This led to my absolutely favorite part of the trip, Lake Agnes. Originally we were just going to snowshoe up to Mirror Lake, which is about a half mile under Lake Agnes. The reason being is because after Mirror Lake, the chances for avalanche were fairly high. As it turns out we didn’t need our snowshoes at all for the hike to Mirror Lake, but that’s okay, better to be prepared! When we arrived at Mirror Lake we felt as if we were in a giant snow globe. Tiny little snowflakes danced down from the clouds onto our faces, the breeze had drifted away, and we were the only ones for what seemed like miles.

canadaMirror Lake

After soaking up the beauty and drying the drool from our mouths, we both looked at the avalanche sign marking the trail for Lake Agnes and decided to take the risk, man was it worth it. The first thing that comes into view after climbing the final stairs of the trail is a quaint little cabin facing the lake. During Spring and Summer, this is a Tea House, where hikers and tourists alike can sit and soak up the view whilst enjoying some refreshments and maybe a pastry or two. The Tea House was soon overshadowed by the sheer beauty of Lake Agnes. I had never seen something this gorgeous so up close, and we were the only ones there! It was all ours to take in. Andi and I looked at each other and without saying a word, raced to put our snowshoes on. Every step sunk 2 feet into the powder as we marched towards the mountains.

canadaSnowshoeing at Lake Agnes
canadaLake Agnes

When we got close enough to snap a photo I took my phone out, and that’s when I noticed I had one lonely bar of cell service. So what naturally came to mind? Calling my mom of course. So that’s what I did and when she answered, I gotta tell you guys, it was so hard not to contain my excitement. It’s as if that’s when the entire trip sank in, that I was for one, lucky enough to even be in Canada, but to see what I was standing in front of was so humbling and inspiring that I almost couldn’t contain myself. After I hung up the phone I noticed that Andi had taken a walk back towards the Tea House and I was all alone, so I sat down in the snow and stared up at this glorious view for probably about 20 minutes. We floated back down to the car on our clouds of psyche and dreamed up a proper victory meal.

Oh Canada, you did it for me again. Incredible hikes, beautiful landscapes and humbling moments both shared and selfishly kept to myself all remind me of why there will probably be a trip number five somewhere in my future. We spent two weeks in Canada. While we missed every opportunity to see the Northern Lights, we did create and share many wonderful memories. We pulled the plastic of a MoonBoard (more to come on this climbing dreamwall), we channeled our inner Leo DiCaprio when hiking in grizzly territory, and more than anything we enjoyed each other’s company in the great wide wilderness. But every trip must come to an end. Again we stood together, bags in hand, watching a yellow taxi cab pull up in front of us. Refreshed and completely at ease, we were ready to face the concrete jungle once again. However, we did spend the entire ride home dreaming up where to go next.

All Photos Courtesy of Devan Gutierrez