It feels as if everybody is talking about Canada this year. On the 1st July the nation will be celebrating its 150th birthday and the tourism industry will be expecting an influx of visitors. For its own citizens the Canadian government is marking the year by giving its residents free passes to their national parks in 2017. It is great to think that there will be more people than ever taking the chance to appreciate Canada’s amazing outdoor scenery.
So while we can expect big crowds admiring some of Canada’s iconic landscapes I thought I would share some locations near me which are just off the beaten trail. They are perfect to appreciate this amazing country but away from the hordes.
The Hermit of Inglismaldie
In the summer many people flock to the banks of Lake Johnson to enjoy the sun in this beautiful location. But what most do not know is that tucked away in the woods by the lakeside is an abandoned cabin with its own story. Previously I had walked around the lake twice before and had no idea of its existence. When I was told about it I simply had to go back to find it.
The cabin was originally built by a man called Billy Carver. Like me Billy was originally from England and moved across the Atlantic to start a life in Alberta. He had travelled there to work as a miner when in 1910 he went off the grid and built himself a cabin away from any public knowledge. He was tucked in amongst the woodland by the side of Lake Johnson.
Trying to find it I retraced my steps around the path that took me around the lake, this time keeping a lookout for the structure tucked in amongst the foliage. It took a while to locate but eventually I saw what looked like a tin roof hidden amongst the trees.
Billy Carver lived in his cabin for 27 years in isolation. The only person to know he was there was a man named Gee Moy who was from the nearby mining town Anthracite. Anthracite no longer exists but it was located near Banff and Gee would help supply him with provisions.
Billy Carver was obviously a man of incredible endurance. The winters are harsh and he only had nature for company. The first time I visited the lake I actually saw my first grizzly bear there. Unbeknownst to me it was very close to the cabin and I was fortunate that the bear decided to run away rather than check me out.
He was eventually found in an ill state of health by some local youths who were exploring the lakeside woods and they notified the authorities. He later died in an elderly care home in Banff.
The authorities investigated as to why Billy Carver chose to live such a secluded life, but there was no evidence of any suspicious circumstances. While many people may look at him as a recluse or a hermit, what he did have every day was a view of the sun hitting the mountains with their reflections on the lake and the natural beauty that surrounds it. Here is a picture of Lake Johnson frozen over during the winter. Even during the harsh conditions it is a place of great beauty.
Johnston Canyon’s Cave
Throughout the year Johnston Canyon is a busy tourist attraction in Banff National Park. Hundreds of visitors come from across the world on any given day to walk through the canyon along suspended walkways to witness its natural beauty. Unless I make a very early visit to the canyon I can expect to be caught up amongst the crowds.
Fortunately for me the canyon has a hidden gem which allows me to escape those crowds. There is an amazing cave located off the main public trail which requires a little scrambling to access.
In truth the cave is probably one of Banff’s worst kept secrets amongst photographers. Finding any specific directions to get to it was a bit challenging, but with a bit of observance and exploration I was able to sneak off the public footpath and slip down an embankment where the humdrum of visitors became just faint echoes. It is a magical location where I can enjoy this large cave looking out towards a waterfall and river bending around a naturally carved rock. On this occasion the watering had frozen still as it had been cascading down the waterfall.
I love walking through canyons. There is something about wondering into the heart of the mountains surrounded by its cliffs that makes me feel as if I’m in my own little world. So for a less touristy experience than Johnson Canyon I like to head out to Grotto Canyon which is located in Kananaskis Country.
During the winter the river that runs through the canyon freezes solid and that becomes my footpath into the canyon. It is a special experience to attach the crampons to my boots and walk on top of the frozen water.
One of the first things to look out for on the walls of the canyon are old native pictographs. They are quite faint now so it is can be easily be miss them. Estimates of when they where painted seem to vary from anywhere between 500 to 1500 years ago. What is visible are the images of animals and people, one man is depicted playing a flute.
Weaving through the cliffs the river leads to a waterfall which in the winter is frozen solid. There are also pillars of ice frozen to the side of the cliffs where water would usually run out from. It is an impressive sight to see so much water in suspended in motion.
Walking back towards the parking area it was a beautiful sight to see the setting sun as we exited the canyon. This is a hike I always enjoy coming back to.
Canmore’s Cold War Shelter
Current world affairs often make me wonder what direction we are all headed. But Canada itself has a hidden location that I believe helps to put things into perspective.
Last century, in the midst of increasing tension surrounding the potential for nuclear conflict, a private company saw their opportunity to cash in. They managed to persuade the Canadian government that they would benefit from having a bunker built in the Rocky Mountains. So in the event of nuclear war important documentation could be delivered and stored there. What could be more important than maintaining an audit trail in the midst of nuclear fallout? I had to find this place.
Located just meters away from the Trans Canadian Highway it is easily accessible. It took a short 2km hike up the mountainside to just above the treeline where the bunker’s entrance is located. Without prior knowledge of its existence it would be almost impossible to notice this place from the highway. I guess in theory this would make it the perfect location. It is hidden while being easy and quick to access. However the project was doomed to fail. After exploding their way so far into the mountainside, the company went bankrupt and the project was never completed.
The entrance is unostentatious, merely appearing to be the entrance to a cave. But as we wondered down its first corridor there was a lingering smell of explosives. We needed to attach our headlamps as we turned our first corner into the bunker as all natural light dissipated.
It was fascinating to wonder around in the darkness looking at how far the company had burrowed their way into the mountain. While they definitely blew a significantly sized chamber, the project was obviously nowhere near finished. I would love to understand what they had ultimately envisioned as their end product. I guess there is a lesson here about allowing people to push their fear-monger agendas with projects which are ultimately wrong-headed and predestined to fail. That feels as appropriate now as it was then.