Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Banff (part 2)

Late on new years day Ian's friend Dan showed up from Calgary with lots of metal toys for us. Apparently these toys were confiscated and had to be stored below deck as the bag passed through a metal detector - and the 6 ice tools and 2 pairs of crampons were not deemed "safe" carry on luggage! ChrisB sure had fun opening doors with the ice tools, and everyone had a look and thought how bad-ass we must be.

The next day Ian and I went Ice Climbing with Dan, this entailed a predawn start with Chris and a nice drive towards Jasper National park seeing a few mule deer enroute. We arrived at the Weeping Wall nice and early, there were two other cars with ice climbers who were also gearing up. They checked to make sure we would be well out of their way before everyone else slowly left us as they made tracks for the waterfall. The three of us watched one of the pro teams boost up a pitch and then we started setting up our own gear on the easiest climb - "Sniveling Gully", the route we had chosen for the day. Dan being the most experienced lead up the face and put in ice screws as protection as he went up. After setting up an anchor he belayed me up the face and into a very steep gully. Ian then came up, and continued on up the gully to see what was happening. Very annoyingly Dan and I could hear next to nothing from Ian in this position. After a lot of debate on what to do, I belayed Dan up, while Ian belayed from above. Dan then belayed Ian down to me before down-climbing to our trusty anchor position. This was followed by setting up a two rope belay off the anchor and getting us and all our gear safely off the cliff. It was very cool to see the experienced teams beside us do 3+ pitches of far harder ice climbing in the same time.

Ian had a paper to write so once we got home, everyone else started drinking and having a good time while he attempted to be productive. Morning came and he was still at it! Dan had missed the last bus back to Calgary and unfortunately had work the next day so Ian kindly drove him home and slept like a log before returning the next day. Meanwhile Kim and I left the apartment at the early hour of 3pm for a walk around Banff, we spent a while watching people skate on a frozen lake and enjoying the snowy forest before walking into town to meet up with Chris and Shawn for some shopping.

The next day was just absolutely fantastic... went skiing on a powder day at Lake Louise with ChrisB, Shawn, Ian and I. Ian arrived back at 7:30am from Calgary, meeting up with ChrisB at the "Meeting Place" before having an epic day of skiing. I was expecting the skiing to be completely different from New Zealand, I must admit weaving in and out of trees and the gorgeous light and fluffy icing sugar snow was... well words fail me. Got in quite a few more black runs than I usually do and had some really fast and fun green and blue runs too. I think Chris summed it up nicely when suggesting we rename it to "awesome-day". I can't get across how good the skiing was.

That evening we went out in Banff, I think we found the locals hangout as it was mostly old people. We got some strong glares as we danced to the country music at the pub. Strangely they lightened up when be began putting our own music on the jukebox. The place also had free popcorn, bit strange for a pub and I don't think it could be used much as the popcorn we got was very stale and salty!

The weather wasn't always perfect for driving, on the road to Ian's parents we passed 10 vehicles in the ditch within 10 minutes! It was so good to have a big meal cooked for us and proper beds to sleep in. Snow angels were called for once at his folks place in the morning before heading to the airport.

We had to drop off Shawn, Reb and Kim at the airport, on the way we went to a huge outdoor shop that had a waterfall and hundreds of stuffed animals. Once again flights didn't go quite as planned, Kim and Reb were delayed - they got put up in the Hilton though! Now I've still got a few days in Canada to see my moose!

Thursday, 7 January 2010


First impressions of Canada; It is cold. No, it is really cold. This wasn't unexpected as for the last 2 months every email I have had with my friend Ian has involved questions like would you be comfortable sleeping outside in minus 20, and absurd statements such as we will probably stay in if it approaches minus 30 because it no longer becomes fun to be outside! I was aware that the nice temperate climate of California I had been getting so used to was going to be all over even before I arrived in Canada.

I had a slightly bad experience at the airport; my tramping bag has had a sling and locking carabiner attached to it which was missing when I collected my bag... A locking carabiner is what we trust to anchor ourselves to the rock (or ice) when climbing, so there was about 0% chance of it coming off by itself. So I blame either the baggage handlers at Calgory or Los Angeles airport for swiping that.

Anyhow after walking outside, (then back inside to put on more jackets) Ian picked me up. Shawn had already arrived in Canada and the three of us went to a privately owned burger joint - Peters Drive-in. Against all logic we stood outside and ordered ice cream milkshakes.... in the balmy minus 18 degrees C and some wind! Brrr bad idea! Reb's flight was delayed until later so we went to a mexican pub and drunk some cold margaritas.

Sadly Ian's car didn't start after this so we were a bit late picking Reb up from the airport - Opps! Still it could have been worse; Kimi's flight was canceled so she got the pleasure of spending a night in the Denver International Terminal - united airlines didn't think it should put the passengers up for the night because the flight was canceled due to weather... even though our flights arrived after hers was scheduled to arrive. So instead of heading straight to Banff we stayed with Ian's brother Niel in Calgary. We then had the coldest night on the town ever! It was a matter of bundling up in multiple coats and walking very briskly between bars, once inside there were still scantily clad girls ripping up the dance floor at the clubs and tee shirt wearing guys drinking pitchers of beer at the pubs. We were planning on taking a train home, but after 20 minutes waiting at the station at 2am three people had offered to pay for a taxi just to get out of the cold! In the morning Niel made us waffles, which I am pretty sure is the first time I have had (I approve!).

So we finally picked up our missing small Asian from the airport. While still in Calgary we purchased a whole lot of food because prices in Banff have the reputation of Queenstown. The drive was rather uneventful, Ian kept telling us about the mountains that were around but sadly all we could see was white snow underneath, and white cloud/fog above, the most interesting section was through the forest where at least we could see some trees!

Michelle had left instructions of how to find her and ChrisB's apartment, they were of the "at the big tree turn right" variety and it took us a while to find it! So 5 extra of us squeezed in with Michelle and ChrisB with all our gear and proceeded to destroy their peace and quiet and take up their limited space for the next 4 days.

Kim and I outside our new temporary abode.

It was a good thing we bought so much food with us, it appeared Michelle had been serving snow men based on what we found in the freezer!
After getting all settled in and rested up we spent a day sightseeing around Banff. Chris unfortunately had to work almost every day that we were there, this meant getting up at 6am, stepping over the 5 or 6 bodies in the way and getting to the mountain where he is a ski instructor. We tried to find a moose for Kimi and a Wolf for me, but so unexpectedly it just didn't seem to happen! Here is Ian, Reb, Shawn and Kim playing tourist on the Johnson canyon walk.

The closest we found on our quest for big animals was this horse drawn sled at Lake Louise. Kimi was quite disappointed she didn't find her moose, although there was a convincing wooden board imitation. Snow ball throwing is kind of difficult here because the snow is all just a fine powder it refuses to clump properly - none the less Reb managed to make a massive chunk!

On the way back from our sightseeing day we saw Elk on the side of the road, I wasn't fast enough with the camera though - and it was getting dark. That evening just happened to be new years, we certainly had a good party with 7 people in a room fit for 2! I must say the game "F*** the Dealer" really didn't do it for me - or perhaps it did! Just before midnight we bundled up and walked into town to watch an impressive fireworks display from the bridge.

New years day was planned entirely as a day of recovery for all but poor ChrisB who had work. We learn that the only thing in the world that will phase Chris is if there isn't a single clean bowl for him at 6am for his bowl of special K before work! Once the rest of us roused we went for a walk down to Bow falls just outside of Banff. I decided to get creative with the camera, the above non-photo-shopped picture is the team as ghosts with Mount Rundle in the background.

There are a few more photos in the picasa web album here. Stay tuned for Canada part two!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Los Angeles for Christmas

So 2009 was my first Christmas away from home, the first away from my country and from my family. In the past we have gone out to Mavora Lakes for a quite camping Christmas with the family, we would load bikes, boats and tramping equipment and go set up a city of tents. Invariably it would rain and we would mostly rain and complain about wanting to go home. Still I can't deny I enjoyed those Christmas holidays immensely.

I spent this year with Kim's family in Los Angeles, I even got a stocking (well one of Kimi's old socks) with some presents! The main thing I remember about this Christmas was the food though, I just ate and ate and ate! I have found I rather like snapple, and I like it even more when mixed with sparkling apple juice.

So as I hinted at earlier I went out by myself in Los Angeles and managed to get lost. The two things that threw me were so silly - I had been going off my memory of when Kim had driven around pointing things out and I remembered that something was across the road to the right when we were travelling north.... I have since worked out that the sun is not always in the north half of the sky like in New Zealand - quite the opposite infact. Also across the road when walking I was thinking of driving on the left so turned the wrong way... Oh now that I'm thinking about it there was a third getting lost too - I went down 36th place instead of 36th street for a long time before realizing my mistake!

Back under the safety of Kimi's guidance we made it to the beach. I say beach but it really isn't the same thing that I called a beach... I mean it was hundreds of meters wide, kilometres long and all nicely cleaned golden sand - a far cry from the small oft rocky beaches we have in New Zealand! We went for a paddle but decided it would be indecent exposure to strip down to undies and go for a dip. Although its the middle of winter I swear the sea is warmer. Strange fact, the one way exits around Los Angeles - like at the university or the beach have one way spikes so if you were to reverse over them your tires would actually be shredded.... overkill much?

The other place Kim took me that improved the city immensely in my mind was the Griffith Park and the Griffith Park Observatory. We saw a wild coyote which I thought was pretty cool! It was really special when we went up to the top by the Hollywood sign at night to look out over the big (BIG) city lights.

We also went to some cool shops and places to eat - there was an amazing tea shop called Royal/T. The soymilk rose petal and vanilla black tea was truly an experience! It coupled with an art gallery - portable disco anyone? You could actually control the music in this thing!

Also while in Los Angeles we drove through Beverly Hills and Hollywood. It was all glitz and tourists taking photos of the glitz, well okay there were some (very) nice cars, some shops wrapped up as presents and a whole lot of Christmas decorations around.

Hmm, so I don't think Hollywood is quite right for me! Onwards to Canada!