Montreal, 31 May 2012
The trip started as a conversation about the future on 2 December 2011. We wanted to change to something new but what should it be? Where should we live? What kind of work would we like to do? Then one of us mentioned an old dream of driving around the world, to feel the distances and experience the gradual changes in nature and culture as the kilometers pass, to discover how big is the world!
So we started a period of intense planning and preparation before finally now, end of May 2012, we are sitting in Montreal, Canada, waiting to get our car Frida out of customs, waiting to get behind the wheel and drive, drive, drive!
Montreal, 1 June 2012
Two long days: Yesterday we struggled all day to make the car insurance, more about that later. Today we spent hours in the bus trying to get to the agent who is receiving our car here in Montreal in an industrial region by the airport (then he gave us a lift to the metro station, thank you Art!). Status is that Frida is going through full customs inspection and she will be released maybe Monday, possibly Tuesday. Then we have to go through a couple of hours of paperwork with customs. In the meantime the car insurance will hopefully be ready. So MAYBE we will be able to get behind the wheel Tuesday!!!
Montreal, 2 June 2012
Ok, this is how it works to get an insurance for driving a foreign registered car in Canada:
First you have to call at least 5 different car insurance companies/brokers and ask them to insure your car. They will all say no! They will say that it is impossible, you have to have Canadian plates, or even Quebec plates and a Quebec drivers license (if you are asking in the province of Quebec). You have to note down the sequence in which you call them and the full name of the person you speak with. Then, after being rejected at least 5 times you go to the IBC/BAC (Insurance Bureau of Canada/Bureau d’assurance du Canada), in Montreal it is located at 800 Place Victoria, bueau 2410, and you ask their assistance to get a car insurance. They will ask you to give them the list of the companies you called and then they will contact the same companies and force one of them to make you an insurance. You are guaranteed this by Canadian law. But if you don’t know about this guarantee and if you are just getting one rejection after another with your car already sitting in the port of Montreal, we can personally testify that you will be either shitting green pigs (as they say in danish) or green mice (as they say in italian) until you are finally taken under the wing of a kind and lovely lady at IBC/BAC who ensures you that everything will be allright!
Before realizing that everything will be allright we had already started going through the other options like: Registering the car in Canada = pay a lot of taxes = bloody expensive! Shipping the car again from Canada to US – but can we even get an insurance in US??? Shipping the car from Canada to Mexico – #@$%#&! we would be missing out on all North America and spend a lot of money and time on a new container shipment! And simply the fact that we would not get to drive our Frida out of Montreal was heart breaking.
So the good news from IBC/BAC were flushed down with plenty of good local beer 🙂
Montreal, 5 June 2012
We got the car insurance!!! Covering all of Canada and USA for 1 year, 1800 CAD (!) but they will reimburse us for the months we will not use. Now we just need to get poor Frida out of customs!
Montreal, 7 June 2012
This morning we are waiting impatiently to hear news about Frida! We heard rumours yesterday that she should be released from customs today, so we are checking out of the hostel and getting ready to go! Here is our usual morning “office” set-up outside the Montreal Centrale hostel:
Montreal, 8 June 2012
Finally we got our Frida out of Canadian customs!!! Today at 2 pm we had all the paperwork stamped, then we jumped in the metro to rush to pick up Frida at the warehouse and finally at 3.30 pm we were on the road, very happy both we and Frida! Now we just finished packing the final stuff in the car and soon we will take off to find a place to sleep for the night. Tomorrow morning will be a long day on the road going west towards Calgary and the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
The Russians say that it brings luck if it rains at the beginning of a journey. We had rain for 12 hours when we left Bergamo to go to Copenhagen, then we had strong wind and showers when we left Copenhagen to go to Rotterdam. And today as we left the warehouse to drive the first kilometers with Frida on Canadian ground we were rained upon by a mighty black cloud with thunder and lightning! So here’s for the wise words of the Russians and for good luck on the trip!!
Marco packing the skiis in Frida outside the Montreal Central Hostel. Thank you to the staff at the hostel for a lot of help and support!!!
Trans-Canada Highway, on the northern shore of Lake Superior, Ontario, June 10 2012
Yesterday late afternoon we crossed from the green farmland of Quebec province into the mighty forested hills of Ontario province. We made 800 km of road and then we slept like babies for almost 10 hours in the nice tent on top of Frida. In the morning we enjoyed a late breakfast with a good espresso before getting on the road again, heading west in brilliant weather. Now we are passing along the northern shore of Lake Superior with great views over the blue waters and the green hills.
Breakfast in Ontario
We are passing through small towns with street names like Ann’s Street (there was only one house), Cora Drive, Anderson Road, MacDonald Drive and the very italian Pronto Street! And in remote locations along the highway we are passing side roads with names like Rarely Seen Road and Handy Spot Road! We are also passing roads with names like Black Dog Road and Bear Road along with big signs that say, “Don’t feed the bears!” Actually, we were planning to avoid doing exactly that!
The landscape is beautiful here in Ontario and for sure there would be lots to explore if we did not have such a great urge to DRIVE after 10 days stuck in Montreal! We are fighting to be the one in the drivers seat as driving is a pure pleasure with long stretches of empty road and both polite and relaxed local driving habits. And what is better than to be in the 6th gear at 100 km/hr and Frida happily “talking” at 2000 rpm’s with an empty winding road in front of you and the husband sleeping contently by your side with his toes sticking out the half open window to enjoy the warm breeze? We are on the road!!!
Whitewood, Saskatchewan, 13 June 2012
Suddenly we have started lingering. After 3 days of driving like obsessed, we are now finding ourselves hanging around, pottering about, getting stuck for hours in small towns like Whitewood, drinking a coffee at the gas station cafeteria, speaking to the other customers in the local supermarket, waving to the passing freight trains. Where did the sense of urgency go?
It started yesterday. We had just passed from Ontario province into Manitoba – in the rain of course, as we now know that all good things are starting with the rain. Some friendly park rangers let us spend the night where we were actually not allowed to and in the morning, after driving maybe 20 minutes, we found the perfect trail in a wild and quiet park forest off the main road where we parked Frida and went for a 10 km run, completely alone, only meeting a couple of deer. Then, right there in the forest in the sunshine we took a very good bath, the first run and the first bath for 4 days. Aaaahhhhh! What peace and quiet, only the birds singing and the bears watching us from behind the bushes (Malene is very very scared about the bears!). But alas, the peace and quiet did not last. Marco suddenly found a tick crawling on his leg and Malene looked down to find other two crawling up her legs. Tick attack!!! In a split second we were in a tick panic, quickly shaking everything and packing all our stuff in the car to escape. In Winnipeg we stopped at Safeway to use their free WIFI internet from the parking lot and Marco, who is more scared about ticks than about bears, decided to double check the car for ticks. In about 5 minutes he found 5 ticks, one of them on the wife! And as a consequence we emptied the car of EVERYTHING right there on the Safeway parking lot to eliminate the enemy once and for all! The victory was inevitable but it was slightly delayed by all the interested Safeway customers who came to ask us where we were from, what we were doing, where did we get the nice car etc etc. Finally, after 2 hours, the car was clean and Marco was completely happy again. It was 5 o’clock in the afternoon, we had only driven 200 km but we could not care less. The lingering had started!
Now we are on the prairie, the steppe, the pampa, the big flat core of the continent. We are driving on a straight road through undulating farmland and watching the showers and the thunderstorms sweep across the land in the distance. Here the towns are called Indian Head, Manyberries, Eyebrow, Elbow, Medicine Hat, Seven Persons, Wild Horse, Antelope and the very optimistic Climax! We are less than 1000 km from Calgary and we have decided to make a small detour to look at dinosaurs!
Banff and Jasper National Parks, Alberta, 18-22 June 2012
So…finally we have had to realize that we will not be able to climb Mt Columbia. We are very sad…but at the same time happy to have finally decided not to do it for the sake of safety! The conditions at high mountain altitude in the Banff and Jasper areas are very dangerous right now due to recent heavy snowfall and subsequent high temperatures. Today when we arrived at the foot of the Columbia Icefield (ca 2000 m) it was raining and ca 15 degrees. The preferred glacier approach (over the Athabasca Glacier) was completely wet with unstable snowbridges and a high probability of serac collapse even early in the morning. We also considered climbing Mt Athabasca but the concerns were more or less the same including high avalanche danger. In June it seems that nobody climbed Mt Columbia or even attempted to cross the icefield. A good place to check for mountain condition reports is here: http://informalex.org or http://acmg.ca/mcr.
Marco and Freddie are sad not to go to Mt Columbia…
Apart from the disappointment of not being able to climb any of the grand mountains of the Canadian Rockies we are thoroughly enjoying the beautiful and very severe mountains of the Banff and Jasper National Parks. The views are simply magnificent. Enormous glaciers are hanging on ledges on the steep mountain walls or they hang frozen in gigantic icefalls down to the high valley floor. Occasional thundering cracking is evidence of the constant movement of the ice masses. The melting ice ends up in turquoise blue lakes surrounded by dense forest, which is the habitat of both black bear, grizzly bear, wolf, caribou, moose, elk, etc.
Mt Edith Cavell glacier
We are enjoying some very long and quite wild hikes. June is not yet the high season so the trails are almost empty. The day before yesterday we tried to get to the Amethyst Lake through the Astoria path but we had to give up for high snow. On the trail we saw tracks from moose, caribou, wolf, black bear and grizzly bear (much bigger and much heavier than the black bear) and some big grizzly bear droppings. The forest floor was beautiful green/yellow/orange with moss and all was quiet apart from the birds singing and the sound of the river.
Yesterday we hiked from Jasper up to the top of the Signal Mountain to enjoy the 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Fantastic! Unfortunately we had to first hike through 8 km of prime grizzly bear forest – we never saw so many bear droppings before! Very big shit = very big bear! Marco had to sing a lot of Italian alpine army songs. Whatever we could think of to make noise so we would not surprise any grizzly bear in the low bushes or around the next turn of the path – and whatever the husband could do to stop the wife from singing!
Big shit = big bear
Hiking with Mr Bear
Jasper National Park, 22 June 2012
Today, on Viola’s birthday, we were very lucky to see two black bear mothers; one with 2 baby bears and the other with 3 baby bears! They were eating the grass and the dandelions in the green meadows along the road to Maligne Lake.
Mount Robson and Valemount, 23-27 June 2012
Or: Never take your sweet Italian husband to the Swiss Bakery in Valemount…..!
Valemount….seemingly a quite insignificant small town but stop here to taste the cakes at the Swiss Bakery! And not only one cake because then you are missing out on all the others. You will have to eat as many cakes as you can and then you will have to take-away the rest to eat them later! And one more reason to go to Valemount: All the people we meet here are exceptionally kind; from Ranger Zimmermann in the Mt Robson provincial park to Liz at the visitor centre and Silvia at the Swiss Bakery. Valemount feels like a place were we could live!
To work away all the calories you consumed at the Swiss Bakery, you must now make the hike to Berg Lake and the north face of Mt Robson. We went for 3 days with the tent, one day up, one day at the lake making a good 7 hours day hike, and one day down (21 km up, 12+ km round trip to Hargreaves Lake and Mumm Basin plus some scrambling, 21 km down). This is the most beautiful hike we have done in Canada. The first part goes along the Robson River through ancient cedar forest with green moss covered floor.
Then the trail passes by the turqoise Kinney Lake before ascending up through the Valley of a Thousand Falls where numerous water falls plunge down vertical cliff faces. From there the trail climbs up through the Robson River Gorge till you reach the impressive Emperor Falls – go and stand close to the roaring waterfall, it is incredible!
From the Emperor Falls it is a pleasant walk along the upper part of the river until the trail reaches the southwestern shore of the Berg Lake and you get the first impressive views of the Berg Glacier creeping down the north face of Mt Robson and reaching right into the turqoise/blue lake. This view is worth the whole trip! There are campgrounds right on the shore of the lake and you can spend hours gazing at Mt Robson and the Berg Glacier in the changing light of the day.
The steep north face of Mt Robson (3954 m) has the preferred climbing routes for reaching the peak. But due to severe weather and mountain conditions, the climbing season is limited to August – and some years only one group makes it to the top.
We celebrated Canada Day – July 1 – at the quiet shores of Lac des Roches. Campsite, grappa and coffee was kindly sponsored by Luca – thank you Luca!
Now we are ready to depart by ferry from Prince Rupert on the B.C mainland to Skidegate on Haida Gwaii (Former Queen Charlotte Islands). The islands are the ancient homeland of the Haida First Nation and consist of some 150 smaller and bigger islands with a unique, wild and beautiful nature and with many remains of the Haida First Nation settlements.
Haida Gwaii – and rain, rain, rain
This is the only picture we got from Haida Gwaii without rain:
It is from our first night of camping at Rennell Sound and it was an absolutely lovely evening. Bald headed eagles were passing over our heads and deer were grazing in the bushes. The firewood was dry and we were very excited to be on Haida Gwaii.
Unfortunately then the rain started. At the moment of writing, it has been raining continuously for 23 hours and we have decided to take the ferry back to Prince Rupert and the mainland tonight. Apart from the rain, it also proved to be much more difficult than we thought to arrange a tour into the Gwaii Hanaas nature reserved at the south of the islands, which was really what we wanted to do the most.
So following our impatient nature we have decided to seek higher hills and better weather a bit further south. We will head for Garibaldi Provincial Park to see if we can put some altitude meters in our legs before Mt Rainier.
The yak, now with “tarp”! In Canada we learned a new word: Tarp. Only newcomers to B.C. can be stupid enough not to have a tarp to cover against the rain – and we were so stupid! The B.C. canadians seem to always enjoy being outside, come rain or shine. Today we were having breakfast under our new and lovely tarp with a view to a woman in a wetsuit hunting for crabs under the pouring rain. Impressive. And while we were staying dry “inside” our comfy tarp drinking coffee, she cought a bucket full of crabs in less than an hour. Hmm… (For those wondering what is the black “tent” attached to the back of Frida, this is the shower cabin!)
Ascent, descent, ascent, more ascent and then a lot of descent!
Finally we managed to climb a peak in Canada! Wedge Mountain is only 2892 m high but it is the highest peak in Garibaldi Provincial Park and a good technical climb. The trip starts at the parking lot at only 700 m so there is a fair altitude gain of 2200 m. And just to make the climb a little bit harder, this is what we did:Tuesday: Up 1100 m Wednesday: Up 250 m, down 1350 m, up 1100 m Thursday: Up 1100 m, down 2200 m
On Tuesday 10 July we went to speak with the visitor center and the alpine guides in Whistler. We find again and again that it is very hard to quickly obtain good and reliable info about mountain conditions when we arrive to a new area and this time was no exception. We were told that there was still meters and meters of snow in the mountains and that we would only be able to hike in the lower part of the valleys. So…quite disappointed with the bad news, we drove to the start of the trail to Wedgemount Lake, it was already late, about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, but we were eager to go and do something so we decided just to pack the rugsacks for an overnight trip to the lake and forget about climbing to the peak of anything. In 2 hours and 15 minutes we reached the half frozen lake with a view to the Wedge Mountain in the evening light. Beautiful!
We slept in the hut and the next morning we had a good look at Wedge Mountain with the binoculars. There were old tracks going to the top!! Hmm…we had no gear with us, it was all in the car! So instead we started scrambling up the hill to Cook Mountain just to do some more exercise. But after 250 m climb we looked at eachother, what are we doing!? And quickly we ran down to the hut, packed all unnecessary stuff in the rugsacks and started to walk the 1100 m from the lake down to the car to pick up our equipment, including the skiis, for climbing Wedge Mountain. We returned late afternoon with full rugsacks, again walking the 1100 m up to the lake, both very excited but now also a little bit tired in the legs!
We slept another night in the hut and got up at 03.30 in the morning, started walking at 04.30, at 05.30 we were at the glacier and mounted skiis and icefield equipment. In the beginning the snow was hard and allowed us to reach the end of the lower glacier quite quickly. At the bottom of a steep and iced slope we had to leave the skiis behind and continue with axes and crampons. The glacier was in a good condition and all the crevasses were covered by hard snow. From the Arete Pass, the further ascent goes along the North Arete Ridge with an exposed slope of maximum 45 degrees. Unfortunately, on the ridge we found the snow to be thick, wet and heavy! This made the ascent very slow and very hard but finally, after a total of 5 hours, we reached the peak in brilliant sunshine and with a 360 degree view to the mountains surrounding us. In the distance we could see the large white peak of Mount Baker. It was a fantastic view!
After a short break at the top we started walking down – very carefully as we quickly realised that the ridge slope was becoming very unstable under the sun. It was a pleasure to reach the skiis and to surf the rest of the way down on the lower glacier! At 13.00 we were back at the hut, ate something and took a nap! Then we packed the rugsacks with all our stuff – they were incredibly big and heavy!! And started the extremely hard last hike down to the car. We were destroyed!!!