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Archive for August 12th, 2009

Banff Departure - Wet and Cold

Banff Departure - Wet and Cold

When rain begins flowing off the front and back of your motorcycle helmet you can’t help but have a dampened riding spirit, but there is a saying in Alberta… “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.”

Well we waited several minutes, but the early morning departure out of Banff didn’t change the hard cold facts.  It was 47 degrees and wet!   Where did this damn winter weather come from?   Indeed there were ominous black clouds circling around the town and after we fueled up and traveled 10 minutes down the road they busted loose.  We were not caught unaware.  Parking under an overpass we climbed into full rain gear.  Yet, the steady downpour seemed to soak everything.

Frank Slide - Frank, Alberta

Frank Slide - Frank, Alberta

We determined our rain gear was worth every penny, but hardly a fashion statement as we fumbled around trying to get it all on.  They are typically a bit musty smelly after being rolled up for months, heavy to wear and somewhat long, but they did the trick and kept us dry.  The good news in all of this?   After about 30 minutes and before we reached Radium Hot Springs the rain was history, the road had dried out and we spent time discussing wildlife (Coyote, Deer etc) seen in route through Kootenay National Park.  Despite being named after a radioactive element the hot springs has none and is has the largest pool of 103 degree water in Canada.  As cold as the day started it was most difficult not to check in and grab a few hours in the hot spring!

Border - Chief Mountain

Border - Chief Mountain

Exiting Radium the posse split up.  Part of the crew wanted to travel more miles and make it to the “Going to the Sun Road” in St. Mary, Montana.  Others wanted to steer clear of any rain and elected to navigate toward a more southerly and warmer route to Cranbrook and then to Missoula, MT.

We were part of the “more miles” crew and the cold weather limited our sightseeing and photo stops, but a couple items stood out.  First was the Frank Slide in Frank, Alberta.  Frank is a coal mining town in the Crowsnest Pass.  Back in the early 1900’s the east side of Turtle Mountain broke free and the slab of limestone rock covered 1.5 miles destroying most of the town and killing 76 people.  It’s now a regional tourist attraction.  The second was tucked away in the rugged mountains — the little town of Fernie, BC.  It is fully encircled by the Rocky Mountains and has a ski resort (Fernie Alpine Resort) with the highest annual snowfall of any resort in the Canadian Rockies.

St. Mary Lodge and Resort - St. Mary, MT

St. Mary Lodge and Resort - St. Mary, MT

We crossed the Elk River, home of the cutthroat trout and forged on toward Pincher Creek, Twin Butte and through the Waterton Lakes National Park.  Finally we rolled into the U.S. border crossing at the tiny Chief Mountain Alberta/Montana outpost on Highway 6 (Alberta) and Highway 17 (Montana).  After riding for hours in very remote, very wooded and very sparsely populated areas, one is reminded that you’re on the world’s longest undefended border. It’s a catchy yet increasingly imprecise term for the U.S.-Canada frontier.  The northern border is mostly out of the spotlight.  As authorities on both sides ratchet up efforts to curb bustling traffic in illegal drugs and guns it’s odd that the U.S.-Mexico border draws far more attention — and more American resources.  But again I’ve wandered…

St. Mary Lodge Cabin

St. Mary Lodge Cabin

At about 6pm local we arrived at the Saint Mary Lodge on junction Hwy89 and the “Going to the Sun Road” which runs through Glacier National Park (Montana).  It was a long riding day.  Fortunately we’d made reservations weeks in advance and secured the remaining cabins vs. a replica Indian tepee.  The place was fully booked!  There was no cell phone service and the Hughes Net Satellite internet was malfunctioning… so, we were off the tweet grid!  Side note: if you plan to go this route an alternative is to stay in Pincher Creek, Alberta where they had several motels and you won’t have to make reservations months in advance for the Park service lodge. Had we known this we would have avoided the rustic cabin adventure.

After grabbing some fairly good grub at the Snowgoose Grill we crashed with four TV channels looking forward to the next days ride through Glacier park.

The 107 to 47 Journey – Part One HERE; Part Two HERE; Part Four HERE.

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Hazy Smoke Filled Ride

Hazy Smoke Filled Ride

We set out of Kelowna on BC97 along the lakeside, leaving both town and slow moving traffic behind. The hazy smoke filled skyline followed.

The road twisted and turned making for a spectacular ride with great views.  In the town of Sicamous the hazy smoke subsided as we headed east on the green and white maple leaf highway marked as the Trans-Canada Highway — also known as Hwy1.  Just prior to Revelstoke we passed through Craigellachie which is the site of the “last spike” completing the original Canadian transcontinental railroad back in the late 1800’s.

Avalanche "Sheds"

Avalanche "Sheds"

When riding, you never know what is around each bend, many of which are around rock faces, so there may be fallen rock or wildlife on the road.  But, on the other hand, you need to relax and mix riding with taking in the view which we did as we traveled along Hwy1 through Revelstoke and passed through the Selkirk Mountains and Glacier National Park (Canada).  At the summit we stopped at Rodgers Pass.  There are a number of snow sheds and earth dams used to protect the highway from avalanches and the area is home to the largest mobile avalanche program in Canada.

Rodgers Pass

Rodgers Pass

At Golden we connected with the junction of Hwy95 which is west of Lake Louise and passed through Yoho National Park.  It runs along the southern-most part of the Canadian Rockies just west of BC and the Alberta border.   At Kicking Horse Pass we rolled over the continental divide and the Spiral Railway Tunnels.  They were built to increase the length of the railway track and reduce the grade as trains made their way up a considerable ascent.  Sometimes called the “Big Hill” it had a ruling gradient of 4.5%…one of the steepest in North America prior to the Spiral Tunnels opening in 1909.

Banff, Alberta

Banff, Alberta

Alberta’s Mountain Parks are the jewel of the Canadian Rockies.  Approximately 7600 sq miles of preserved wilderness it’s easy to see spectacular scenery, watch wildlife and enjoy what has made the area famous.  We rode by the Weeping Wall, a massive limestone cliff with a number of waterfalls seeping out.

The day ended damp and cold – around 55 degrees by the time we dropped into Banff, Alberta.  In the late 1800’s workers from the transcontinental railway chanced upon simmering hot springs and the area became Canada’s first national park – Banff National Park.

Bow River

Bow River

At 4540 feet in altitude it is Canada’s highest town.  And with a cold front that had moved in we felt and saw the precipitation, fog and wind shifts of that altitude.  It was early August yet it felt like mid-October in Oregon!

We had a scheduled layover in Banff and spent “tourist” time kicking around town, trying local pubs and wandering the Fairmont Banff Springs grand hotel and national historic sites.  The hotel is steeped in history having been built back in 1888 and there is a long list of famous guests who frequented the resort.  We didn’t stay at this hotel.  I didn’t get the sense that many guests had turned in their Mercedes-Benz to lease a Hyundai!  In fact, our entire time in Canada seemed to indicate that the worst of any recession was long over for the folks who pass the puck.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

In the hotel lobby we met up with some riders who came from Calgary and soon learned there were many wild cards in the weather forecast.  It was going to be cold and wet.  Ugh!   Our original route had us heading east toward Calgary, but that pesky cold front brought torrential rain and high winds killing one and injuring 15 people.   Over refreshments we decided to avoid Calgary as nasty weather and hail was a certainty and we didn’t want any part of it.  As a side bar, my iPhone app, WeatherBug didn’t work in Canada.  I could get temps and current conditions, but I couldn’t pull up Doppler radar to re-route around any storms… bummer.

Refreshments At Banff International Hotel

Refreshments At Banff International Hotel

We determine that the west side of Banff National Park offered a reduced possibility of rain so, we would back track to Hwy 93 through Kootenay National Park.

It would mean a longer 400+ mile day to reach Highway 89 and the “Going to the Sun Road” in St. Mary, Montana, but riding dry was preferred over cutting 100 miles off the route in the rain.

The 107 to 47 Journey – Part One HERE; Part Three HERE; Part Four HERE

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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