British Columbia, Washington, and Alberta - July 2014

We centered this trip around a math education conference in Vancouver (at UBC) that Sandra attended. Christina and I tagged along and we extended it into a family vacation that crossed two Canadian provinces and one American state. This trip was different than our trip to BC last year, this time we drove through the Canadian Rockies and flew home from Calgary. We also headed South into the islands of Puget Sound rather than North into the interior of BC.

Many years ago we visited the pretty little inlet town of La Conner, Washington and we've remembered it fondly since then. It is surprisingly small, and runs along the side of a channel that leads out to the ocean. The main street has many art galleries and restaurants, and of course, the channel is full of boats. It's a great place to wander around in, and even has some small hills.

The most majestic part of the trip was definitely the drive through the Rockies - the mountains are spectacular and Lake Louise, which we also haven't been to in many years, was as beautiful and turquoise as ever.

Ending the trip by visiting old friends and riding an epic mountain bike trail in Alberta was a lot of fun. We were impressed by Canmore, Alberta, a gorgeous town with a fantastic indoor rock-climbing facility that we loved. Christina and I had never rock-climbed before, and after doing it three times on this trip, we are hooked!

Click the map to the left to get a larger image where you can actually read the city and town names. The topmost map to the left shows flights in red and driving in blue.


We arrived in Vancouver a couple of days before the conference, and went directly to Vancouver Island to spend a couple of days in beautiful Victoria. The hotel was a surprise, on the other side of the Inner Harbour, and our view from the bay window was great. We could see the Empress hotel, the Parliament buildings, and the harbour all the way over to Fisherman's Wharf. We could have spent hours just watching the harbour activity, with boats, yachts, water taxi's, seaplanes, and even paddleboarders passing by.

We enjoyed eating at our favorite restaurants again, and continue to think seriously about the possibility of retiring here. I took Christina up to the University of Victoria (UVIC) to show Christina what yet another university looks like. It won't be very many more years before she has to make the choice of which university to attend.

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This video shows the view of Victoria's Inner Harbour from our hotel room.

UBC - University of British Columbia (Vancouver)

The conference lodgings were student residences that are rented out during the summer. There was even a stay-through student in the room across the hallway. However, these rooms are MUCH nicer than the dormitory rooms I stayed in while attending UBC many years ago. The university has really expanded since Sandra and I lived here, particularly down around the TRIUMF area, where it seems like a little city has sprouted up since we left.

We spent time walking around the campus, even going into some of the buildings that I had taken classes in, and also walked through the streets of the Endowment Lands, like we used to do when we lived just off-campus. Nitobe Gardens was really pretty, it seemed like every few feet there was another great picture to be taken.

Christina and I went to the Student Recreation Centre to use the elliptical machines and ended up trying out the "bouldering cave". It was a ton of fun and we went back two days later, to discover that our forearm and back muscles were still really stiff from the earlier climb. We climbed anyways and really enjoyed it!

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This is the bouldering "cave" at UBC, my very first climbing location ever. This is actually the second time Christina and I climbed here, and even with a day of rest in between, our muscles, which apparently never get used, were still very stiff.

La Conner and Deception Pass, Washington state

The scenic Chuckanut Drive from Bellingham down to La Conner was very scary for Sandra, particularly since she was on the "cliff" side of the car. There are a lot of great, but fleeting, views on this winding road, and we didn't get any pictures that we could use here. That is, other than the one below left, where Sandra was very pleased when we were suddenly slowed to 15 mph behind a backhoe, with no opportunity to pass for miles!

To the left is the bridge over the nearby Deception Pass, which is a very high bridge with a lot of history (plus a lot of traffic and tourists). Walking the bridge is an interesting experience since the railing seems to have been built for people with a lower center of gravity than mine. In the picture below middle, you can see a logging truck crossing the bridge, and of course that would be a thrilling experience if you were up there with it. The orange bridge on the left side below is La Conner's own bridge.

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This video was taken from the Deception Pass bridge on Whidbey Island in Washington State.

On the way to the Rockies

I was shocked to discover that a reality tv series, Highway Through Hell, is filmed on the Coquihalla Highway, and not way up in Alaska. In the show, the road looks very dangerous, with freight trucks shown split open at the bottom of ravines! Of course, in the summer it's not so bad, but we did actually see a freight truck split open against a rock wall in the ditch, with people transferring the contents to a truck on the road. As you can see to the left, we passed a huge mine truck being carried by a lowbed. Compare it to the size of the freight truck carrying it.

In the row below, the first two pictures show a sawmill yard in Merritt, and the last shows Mabel Lake.

Two rows down on the left, you can see the remains of the Ashton Creek sawmill. My Dad worked there and our family lived in a company house in the mill yard. You can't see it, but there's a river behind the burner, at the bottom of that hill, and we loved to swim in it. We also loved to climb and run on the hundreds of lumber piles that were there at the time. Mabel Lake is much fancier than I realized: the picture on the right, two rows down, shows the golf club, where we ate lunch with my uncle and aunt. I love the rolling hills and river scenery in this part of the country.

Driving through the Canadian Rockies

Just spectacular. I wonder if REAL rock-climbers were climbing any of these mountains as we drove by? I used to watch the climbers in Squamish, parking my car in the lot at the bottom and looking up, amazed that people would actually do that. Now that I've been a few feet up a climbing wall, I have even more appreciation for the courage these people must have. I wonder if any of them are scared of heights, and just force themselves to overcome it?

Canmore, Alberta

I don't think I had heard much about Canmore, if I had even heard of it at all, but the hotel at Lake Louise was so expensive that we used Hotwire to locate a room for us, and it selected one in Canmore - about an hour away. We were really impressed by the beauty of this town, since it is completely surrounded by majestic stone-topped mountains, and has a river running through it. Christina was so impressed that she says she wants to live here. Of course, she hasn't seen it in the winter! But then, I'm sure there's lots of snow sports, and no doubt the mountains will be beautiful covered in snow.

We found a large rock-climbing facility here, Elevation Place (left), and it was really fun for Christina and I to do some more climbing, especially with all the different routes that even beginners can climb. They even have a coffee shop and sitting area, behind glass walls, where people can watch the climbers! Sandra watched us from there, while sipping a coffee and getting some work done using the free wi-fi. Two rows down, on the left, you can see a class being held for young climbers. Same row, far right - see the mountains through the windows? The whole town is surrounded by them! Click the picture to see a larger version of it, as with all of the pictures in this trip report.

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One thing I really liked about this place was the large number of lines that, even as beginners, we could complete. I've since been to Planet Rock in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and it was difficult to find more than a handful of lines that I could actually climb. Christina really enjoyed climbing here, and I was very happy to see her having a good time.

Lake Louise, Alberta

Lake Louise is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Sandra and I travelled here with her parents back in the early 90's, and it doesn't seem much different now. Back then, we did the hike to the teahouse and I was very impressed that her Mom was able to do it, since it involves miles of uphill hiking. I remember that we had to walk along a narrow cliff ledge at one point, but that we were so far into it that turning back was unreasonable. This time, it seemed much less dangerous, not much of a cliff ledge at all, and they've installed a cable that people can hold onto (two rows down on the right). We saw rock climbers here, too (below right). Unfortunately, my camera battery ran out before I could take any pictures of the tea house, which is a cute little two-storey chalet-like log building. My cousin Laurien came out from Calgary and did the hike with us, and we had a good visit along the way. Two rows down, all four pictures were taken on the hike to the teahouse, so you can see that it is a long hike.

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In this video, we were about 3/4ths of the way up to the teahouse. You can see people riding horses on a separate trail, going back down the mountain. When I zoom in on the lake in the distance, you can see the hotel that we started walking from, as well as ski hill runs behind it.

Bragg Creek, Alberta

West of Calgary and in the foothills of the Rockies, this is the little town that our friends from Vancouver (originally from England), Jo and Simon, moved to at about the same time that we moved to Michigan. Simon and I went mountain biking, and this was REAL mountain biking, unlike what I'm used to in Michigan. Nearly two hours of uphill, and while I mostly pushed the bike up the trail, Simon managed to ride it. I didn't know that he now does marathons, and I was severely outmatched! The ride back down was of course MUCH faster, even with stopping to take pictures of some cool stunts on the "Race of Spades" trail. I rode a couple of the little ones, but the big ones require much more skill and courage than I have.

We visited their pony, Lacey, and Sandra and Christina got to ride her. Below middle, Jo is leading Christina on her ride. Simon made a zip line for the kids, as you can see below left, in their back yard, where Charlie is riding it. He also built a cool playhouse for the girls in the back yard. We loved their house in the country, which overlooks a lake and tree-covered hills. Laurien came out for dinner one day, and we all watched a (sort of) distant lightning storm from the dinner table on the deck.

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It appears that no boards were used on this stunt, what looks like a deck with boards is actually made up of pieces of trees. This must have been an incredible amount of work, but at least they didn't have to haul lumber into the site. I wonder how long it will be before it rots?
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It would be fun to try this stunt if it were only a foot off of the ground! Up this high, though, the penalty for failure is just too high. I did try one like this that was lower to the ground, but at that point I was just basically too exhausted to do a good job on it. After a few tries I gave up and we continued on.