The Journal Vol.6
For the month of December, we made it to the great white north - Canada. From our first time driving on ice, to sleeping in a frozen car at -16°C, this month had plenty of rough times, learning curves and times where we questioned if we were doing the right thing. Above all the struggles were plenty of beautiful moments in the mountains and spending time with new friends who we met along the way. We think that aspect is the best part of travelling anyway. Get ready to be bombarded with snowy photos. This Journal will be more of the visual side, so think of it more as a gallery of our adventures and enjoy the photos.
First Time Driving On Ice: An Experience To Say The Least
Welcome to Canada. After spending five months in the US we were finally ready to head to a new country, one we had heard so much about but had never explored. We had our visas and passports ready to go and made sure our van was up to scratch, and in early December drove across the border into beautiful Canada. We were back in the land of 'litres and km/h' much to our relief. We had no set plans for what we wanted to do once we entered the country, so our schedule was flexible and we were willing to drive. Our initial idea was to travel a bit and then find a place to work and live around Vancouver for around six months. Fast forward three weeks and a lot of those ideas changed, but we'll get to that later.
Snowstorm dropping 30cm of snow overnight.
Obstacle #1 - Icy Roads
Words by Madison
Our first obstacle in Canada was the roads. Being from Brisbane, neither of us had any experience driving in snow or on ice, so any time we were in the van it required a lot of concentration. In the first few days we found ourselves heading to Banff as we were hoping to meet up with a few friends there. It was a big drive with so many different road conditions - our snow tyres that we installed a few days ago were absolute lifesavers, they were the only thing that kept our car safely on the road. We started to pass cars and trucks that had slid out and run off the road, when we heard on the radio that quite a bit of snow was forecast overnight, so we found a rest stop as soon as we could to park overnight. We opted for our UltraTek sleeping bags in the back of the car and it was a great decision! We woke up the next morning, nice and toasty, to the sound of snow plowing outside our door. The windows were covered in snow so we couldn't see anything. Harrison slowly opened the sliding door to see what was happening outside - there was a foot of snow on everything in sight and it was still coming down hard! Though it was super cold outside, I felt like a little kid seeing snow for the first time all over again, so I had to get out and have a play. Harrison was out with his camera and I was just in awe of how much snow was on the car and a little bit worried about actually getting out of the parking lot. Luckily there were some friendly truckers that gave us a few tips and directed us out and back onto the road. The next few hours of driving to Alberta were stressful but we made it!
Obstacle #2: Frozen Washer Fluid
So, here is a tip for you…if you are going to be driving in subzero temperatures, you need to have something other than just water in your washer fluid tank. Who'd have thought? Not us. By the time we got to Banff, we were starting to get confused as to why our washers had stopped working. It was so inconvenient because when driving along icy highways it's a given that snow and dirt will constantly be flicked onto your windscreen from passing cars. A simple google search revealed that there is in fact a different solution that you are meant to fill your water tank with. The next thing we had to figure out was how to defrost our fully iced tank when the temperature was not forecast to get above 0°C for a week! It took us a few days, a turkey baster, hot water, a warm underground spot to park and a LOT of patience. Finally! We managed to fix our problem by boiling water, pouring it into the reservoir, using a turkey baster to suck out the defrosted water over and over again. It was a tedious process and one I hope we never have to relive.
Emerald Lake, British Columbia.
Morning Mission To Lake Minnewanka
While we sorted our car troubles, we opted for the night in a hotel in Banff, with the heater turned right up. When we look for hotels we immediately check if breakfast is included for a little treat. Luckily for us, a buffet was ready for us at 6am. Getting stuffed with food, we ventured out into the cold -20°C air to 'warm' our van up and test our wipers, and they worked. The short drive to Lake Minnewanka was so beautiful, the air was glistening as the sun began to rise and we were driving slow to take everything in as it unfolded. I stopped off to photograph a few spots while Madison stayed toasty in the van. It was -20°C at this point and the ice crystals were glistening in the golden morning light. It was a surreal experience.
The sun rising over Banff on our drive into Lake Minnewanka.
The first time walking on a frozen lake is a pretty big deal. Especially when it's the beautiful Lake Louise in Alberta. I'd seen photos of this place for years, mainly from the summer and often got this lake mixed up with Moraine Lake, just further down the road. We came to this lake on two occasions, once in a snowstorm and another in calm conditions. Here's some photos from our visits to Lake Louise. Having some fun in the snow and making the most of the cold, snowy conditions we're not used to.
Madison's Snowfall snow jacket keeping her warm at Lake Louise during a snowstorm.
The Icefields Parkway
Driving along the Icefields Parkway at 8am. The temperature was hovering at -24°C and I couldn't feel my feet…no joke. Madison and I woke up in our van to -13°C in Banff after a pretty warm night (thanks to our UltraTek 900 sleeping bags) and met up with the crew we were spending the day with. We'd met up with three of them the night before for dinner in Banff and got to know each other a bit. Kyle, Mio and Angela were out in Banff shooting some projects so we made the most of it and tagged along with them for some extra company. It was time to finally drive this famous and beautiful road. We were amped.
We met up with another photographer, Mike, at Tim Hortons for coffee and before we knew it we were on the road, about 40-minutes' drive from the parkway entrance. After driving through a snowstorm and arriving in Alberta a few days earlier it was a surreal experience to finally be able to see the mountains, especially the pre-sunrise alpenglow.
Rocking a Merino neck gaiter, the Hamersley long sleeve shirt, my Pro Elite Climber fleece jacket and the Peak 700 down jacket. Such a killer combination to combat the cold.
Around every bend on this road was something special, either a towering mountain or a picturesque road shot. To be completely honest, it couldn't have gotten much more perfect.
An incredible day in the Rockies.
This was my favourite day in Canada. The others had left, and it was just us two again. We stayed the previous night in a hotel in Canmore, a town we hadn't been to before. Canmore was a lovely town but freezing cold in the afternoon shade. I really want to go back there in summer and do some backpacking into the Kananaskis Country. It got down to -16°C overnight but we were sweating in our wooden cabin and outdoor hot tub, a luxury vs our van.
We woke up early on the 10th and decided to head to Jasper, a small town in the heart of the Rockies which is known to be even colder. Soon enough we were back on the Icefields Parkway, but this time the road was a lot icier. It was pretty scary actually. You can see in the photos below how icy it actually was. Black ice was my main concern, so we took it slow. We stopped around 10 times on the drive to Jasper as the light got better and better. Eventually making it to Jasper in the dark we had no other place to camp than in the car at the train station. Warming ourselves up with a big meal and a pint of beer we eventually hopped into our Ultratek 900 sleeping bags for a warm sleep.
Icy roads meant that travelling down the Icefields Parkway was slow and steady at best.
Despite the challenging conditions on the road, we were still spoiled with scenic views everywhere we looked.
There's this famous photo in Canada, and as cliche and overdone as it is, we wanted to shoot it. We might never be in Canada in the winter again, so I thought I may as well give this a shot. On our first attempt, our group of seven patiently waited in the cold for two hours, just hoping and praying a train horn would sound and reveal itself around the bend. It never came. We got too cold and hungry, so we abandoned the mission two hours later.
Fast forward three days, and it's just myself and Madison driving along the Bow Valley Parkway early in the morning. The road has been plowed but only up to a certain point, then it's thick, fresh snow - probably 20-30cm deep. I was panicking driving through it, not knowing if I could stop but knowing for certain there'd be no way I was turning around. After 20 minutes of panicking, we arrived at the carpark for this shot. We sat around for 15 minutes, patiently waiting for this train, and out of nowhere I heard a distant horn. I sprinted out of the car to the viewpoint and got the shot. So worth it.
A photographer needs skill and vision, plus a little bit of patience. This shot was a few days in the making but was easily worth the effort.
Splashing about near the Bow Valley Parkway, Madison standing out brightly in her Cumulus GORE-TEX jacket.