Monday, March 25, 2013

Dog Sledding in the Canadian Rockies

Dog-sledding is all about the dogs. I thought the quiet, snowy scenery would be the star of the show but those huskies steal the spotlight. They LOVE what they do. Before the tour begins and they're getting hitched up, their excitement builds until the barking is deafening.

Our tour had a total of five sleds, with two people per sled. Greg and I climbed in and were wrapped up in something like a sleeping bag. Then a canvas covering topped it off. We were told beforehand to dress as if we were going skiing, so despite the fact that it was 17 degrees F, we were snuggly warm.

The dogs were jumping, barking and straining to take off until our guide released the brake and told our team to go!

The sled bumped along the trail at first, kind of like a boat hitting waves. But soon the path smoothed out and we were able to relax and take it all in.

We stopped eventually so our guide could take a few pictures of us. The dogs wanted him to hurry up!

"Let's go!"

 And go we did!

We went under the arch which divides Alberta from British Columbia, turned around and stopped.

The dogs got a well-deserved break while we got out to stretch our legs. To show my appreciation, I scratched each good boy behind the ears and told him he was doing a good job. One of them jumped up and planted his paws on my chest because after all, we were buddies now.

Happy guys:

On the way back, Greg got to "drive" the sled. (All he did in reality was hold on. The dogs know what they're doing.)

We veered off the wide path and rode through the middle of the woods on a narrow trail.

That was my favorite part. We slid along back there in the deep snow, no other teams in sight. The snow was completely untouched save for the dog sled trail and these tracks that we stopped to look at:

Lynx tracks!! Everyone in the Lake Louise area has been buzzing about a female lynx and her cub spotted a few times near the highway. I wish I could get a photo of them, but the chances of that happening are very slim. This photo of her tracks will have to do.

So back we sped, the dogs occasionally looking at our guide for confirmation that they should just keep going.

Back at base camp, we were given the opportunity to toss each dog a treat of frozen meat. They snapped it up, rolled around in the snow and were completely satisfied.

But I wasn't. Greg said I couldn't take any of the dogs home. hmpf!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Doing Lake Louise

Photo by Caryl Zimmerman

I have a list hanging on my 'frig of all the things I want to do before we leave this beautiful country. Since our anniversary was this past weekend, I was able to convince my husband to do the most expensive item on it: spend a night at The Chateau Fairmont Lake Louise. As a bonus, we would also be able to cross off "skate on Lake Louise," "take a horse-drawn sleigh ride" and "go dog sledding." Woot!

Even though we've been to Lake Louise a gazillion times, we've never stayed over. I researched the hell out of the place, learning when the sun rises and sets, when's the best time of day to dog-sled, which restaurants other travelers get the picture. I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I wanted to do it right. I had notes, pamphlets and a schedule. Raise da roof!

We left early  when we were ready Saturday morning, full of coffee and high hopes. The weather forecast called for snow that night but that would only make our Sunday morning dog-sledding adventure that much better. One of the reviews I read said the first run of the day, in fresh snow is an unforgettable experience. Can I get a what what?!

Well, you can save your "what what." Everything went wrong. I wanted amazing photos of the lake at different times of day, but all was gray: the sky, the snow, my face- everything was a variation of the mixing of black and white: dark gray, light gray and grayish-gray. I managed to look like I was skating (even though I was a wobbly mess) in some photos Greg took, but they lack that punch of blue I was hoping for above the mountains. 

Photo by Greg Zimmerman

And when the sun went down after dinner, it must have done it someplace else. NO bright splashes of orange, pink or yellow. The view from our window just got darker, until all you could see was a ghostly light on the ice sculptures below. Creepy. The mountains could have sunk into the earth for all we knew. The whole world out there was black and still. And it looked cold.

Photo by Caryl Zimmerman

Time for our sleigh ride! (waah) I booked it at night because we've been to the back of the lake a few times during the day. I thought being there in the dead of night would be a unique experience. Apparently, I was the only one in the universe who felt that way because we were the only two people on a sleigh that could seat twenty people.

Here's a photo I took from our room during the day. Idyllic!

And here's a photo I took right before we climbed on. Scary!

I was looking forward to the silence of the forested trail while we hunkered down under a soft blanket. Instead, Greg and the driver struck up a conversation that lasted the entire hour we were out there. No silence, no hunkering and no moon illuminating the landscape. As a result, my other senses were heightened, which was unfortunate since my nose was in close proximity to the back end of two horses.

Wait- it gets better. 'Member earlier when I said my face was gray? We realized back at the hotel that my face was ashen because I had the beginnings of a cold. The introduction of illness added a delightful new emotion to our two hour dog sledding tour in the morning: fear. What if I threw up all over the sled? What if I needed a bathroom out there in the middle of the wilderness? What if I just stopped worrying about it and shut the heck up?

I rolled over in bed with a huff, determined to get a good night's sleep so I could see the freakin' sunrise from our window and enjoy a freakin' dog sled ride in a freakin' winter wonderland!! Happy freakin' anniversary!!

The alarm woke us at 7:00. Greg looked outside and reported that the black sky was slowly turning gray but due to a snowstorm, he couldn't see much of anything else. Of course he couldn't. I popped some cold medicine, showered and bundled up for the morning ahead of us. At least I'd get to see some dogs! The pamphlet said they love what they do and are very friendly. 

But when we arrived at the designated meeting place, we found the parking lot (and one car) buried under new snow. We called our tour guide who told us that -of course- the outing was canceled. They tried to reach me via email, but I hadn't been online all weekend. Apparently, there was an avalanche warning that day. So, no happy dogs, no fresh snow, no first run of the day.   

Greg asked me what I wanted to do since we had the room for a few more hours. I sneezed in reply and then said, "Let's go home."

Photo by Caryl Zimmerman

You would think that would be the end of the story but NO! Road conditions were so bad that it took us four hours to make the two hour drive home. Cars slid off into the ditches. Cars slid into one another.

NOT my photo. 
For the first two hours Greg called it an adventure! For the last two, he groused about all the "idiots" who didn't respect the snow and wound up sideways on the highway, causing delays for everyone else! I stupidly asked, "So, it's not an adventure anymore?"

I also received a silent glare when I said, "Now I can cross one more thing off my list: 'Drive home in a blizzard!'"  I can be kind of annoying in tense situations. 

The weekend wasn't all bad, of course. Any time you get to stay in a hotel and eat out it's a good time. Besides, I got some great snow pictures:

Photo by Caryl Zimmerman

Photo by Caryl Zimmerman
Photo by Caryl Zimmerman

Photo by Caryl Zimmerman

Photo by Caryl Zimmerman

Photo by Caryl Zimmerman