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Todayville Travel: A ‘soft egg’ in the Nahanni Pt. 1

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This is the first in a three-part Yukon road trip series.

In German weichei means soft egg. It defines a person’s character. In Canada we call them wimps. Charly Kudlacek is from Frankfurt, Germany and, as eggs go, is hard-boiled. We met Charly and his wife Marion in a remote campground at Summit Lake on the British Columbia portion of the Alaska Highway. The place is so-named because of its location on
the highest point of this international byway.

The “Alcan” starts in Dawson Creek, BC and ends 2237 kilometers later in Delta Junction, Alaska. Remarkably the highway was built in just eight months during 1942, designed to stave off a possible World War II Japanese invasion. Although June was nigh, Summit Lake was still covered in ice. We arrived late evening and set up camp. A solitary beaver, freshly emerged from winter lodging, coolly went about its business. Canadian summers are brief. We Albertans tend to enjoy them near home, with perhaps a visit to the mountains or a couple of weeks sunning and boating on a warm lake
in the Okanagan. I’d never been north of Grande Prairie, so we decided it was time to see more of Canada in its season of warmth; the great white north converted green by boreal springtime.

The Alaska Highway’s largest wooden bridge near Dawson Creek, BC.

My trip planning is poor: peruse a map, devise a vague strategy, perhaps talk to a couple of friends who have been to the parts unknown. I’ve attempted advance planning – reading about the sights, the flora, the fauna – but somehow it just doesn’t sink in for me until the experience actually happens. I learn as I go, waiting to see what’s around the next corner.

Charly was apologetic. “In former times I was not so slow and the distance would be much greater.”

A stranger at a campground in Fort Nelson told us about a bush pilot who flew floatplane charters from Muncho Lake, B.C. to remote Virginia Falls in Nahanni National Park, in the Northwest Territories. I had no idea where Muncho Lake was. I checked the map and found it was two days up the road, directly on our path to the Yukon. I phoned and spoke to Marianne of Northern Rockies Lodge. She and her husband, Urs the bush pilot, own this beautiful spot on Muncho Lake. “Urs is in Vancouver getting the
floatplane ready for the season,” said Marianne in a thick Swiss accent. “The lake still has ice and he can’t land until it clears. Perhaps call again in a day or two.”

That was the night we camped at Summit Lake and met Charly and Marion. I asked them if they’d like to join us on a trip to Virginia Falls – if the ice cleared and Urs could fly in. I waxed eloquently, inflating my meager knowledge of the Nahanni (which I had gleaned from a guide book fifteen minutes earlier). The floatplane seats nine and Marianne had told me Urs wouldn’t fly with less than four paying customers. Germans have a propensity for austerity exceeded only by Scots, so I was not optimistic that our Alaska Highway adventure would include a spur-of-the-moment side trip to the Northwest Territories.

“We shall sleep on this,” announced Charly. In the morning crispness Charly informed me in a precise clip that, “Marion and I have slept on this and agree that we shall join you if the conditions permit.” We spent the next two days in the company of our newfound German friends, enjoying wonderful hiking in this remote corner of northeastern BC, enchanted by the sight of moose, grizzly bear, stone sheep, caribou, wood bison, and a countless variety of flying creatures.

Charly and Marion have made five trips to Canada. They have seen more of our home and native land than have I – an embarrassing admission. They never arrive unprepared. Their well-appointed rental camper van was fully equipped, except for an axe. Charly brought his own finely-edged Fiskar from Germany. After a particularly tiring day-hike up a melting mountain creek, Charly asked if I would like to join him for a short run down the highway. Naturally, I was stupid enough to acquiesce. 10 kilometers and an hour later I stumbled back to camp, lamely following his tireless legs.

Charly was apologetic. “In former times I was not so slow and the distance would be much greater.” When I collapsed into bed that night Charly was alternating between calisthenics and wood chopping. In the morning I stumbled out into the bright sun and found him washing in the cold creek. He’d been up for hours, eaten his morning repast of eggs, meat, cheese,
tea, fruit and five pieces of bread and had completed 50 pushups and 100 sit-ups. Then he buckled down to real breakfast: a hearty bowl of Muesli.

Charly surveys a dicey path on the rotting ice

Did I mention that Charly is older than I? He is no weichei. They say the Irish (my heritage) would rule the world were it not for Guinness. After
observing Charly for a few days I have concluded that there is somewhat more to the equation. When we arrived at Muncho the lake was still half frozen and, crucially, ice still surrounded the lodge where the plane was to land. But Marianne told us Urs was en route from Vancouver and would be arriving soon. Sure enough, as we set up camp, a canary-yellow de Havilland floatplane droned overhead.

Marion is no weichei either

In the morning Urs told us that the landing had been dicey. He had spent a good portion of the night breaking a slushy path to get the plane ashore. “Night” doesn’t mean dark here in late May. The sun sets after 11 pm and is up again by 4 am. The interval is simply dusky. “What about tomorrow?” I asked Urs. “Can we fly to the Nahanni?” Urs is a big man, clad always in blue jeans and red suspenders. His name means “bear” in Swiss German. He looked at me, then warily at the lake. A wind had come up. We could
see a wide river of rotten ice moving northward. Open water was within 300 meters of the Lodge. “Perhaps… if the wind continues and does not reverse direction.” I crossed my fingers. Our window of opportunity was closing. Charly and Marion had only one day to spare before continuing on to Whitehorse, Yukon. Our schedule was more relaxed, but without them we couldn’t do the charter.

 

Urs wouldn’t be caught dead without his red suspenders

In the morning the ice had moved. It was a bluebird day. But still Urs was worried. He would decide at noon. I’m not renowned for my patience; but I am a biblical Job next to Charly who paced the morning away, unable to control the situation, awaiting word from Urs. “Impatience. This is a minus point for me,” Charly admitted.

A stone sheep casts a stony gaze

In the past I’ve mentioned a phenomenon known as “the Feehan thing”. This entails arriving at the last possible moment, uninformed, ill-prepared, sans reservation, but expecting top-notch service. Invariably it works like a charm. At noon Urs announced the flight was a go.

The de Havilland sits ice-free in Muncho Lake


He gently lifted the retrofitted 1959 de Havilland off the emerald waters of Muncho Lake and banked over the Lodge. Our hour and a half flight crossed the BC border at 60 degrees north, swiping a corner of the Yukon Territory before entering the NWT. Urs treated us to a spectacular 360-degree view of Virginia Falls before landing upstream of the cascade. He touched the plane down softly, wary of deadheads floating down the swollen Nahanni River. We were Nahanni’s first visitors of the year, arriving even before Parks Canada set up camp for the season.

The Falls, a world-renowned UNESCO site, are twice the height of Niagara Falls. An icy spring pillar hung precariously down the center of the water’s 102-meter descent. Downstream the torrent curved through ochre cliffs en route to its confluence with the Mackenzie River and the Arctic Ocean three thousand kilometers away. Our stay in the Nahanni was brief – after just a few hours aground we were skimming back up off the river. Urs offered us a last spectacular glance at the Falls. Then the old plane banked southward, skirting vast unexplored ridges of the Northwest Territories. In the early evening light, the northern-most tip of the Rocky Mountains appeared, signaling our return to British Columbia.

Virginia Falls roars with Nahanni’s spring melt

It was well past 8 pm when the de Havilland touched down perfectly on the calm waters of Muncho Lake. The sun was still high in the sky. We hopped from the plane’s floats to the dock and bid goodbye to our German friends. Before heading down the road Charly offered a heart-felt hug – confirming that, inside, all good eggs are soft.

The Rocky Mountains end where B.C. meets the Yukon

Next time: Dawson City and the Dempster Highway

Gerry Feehan QC practised law in Red Deer for 27 years before starting his second life as a freelance travel writer and photographer. He says that, while being a lawyer is more remunerative than travel writing, it isn’t nearly as much fun. When not on the road, Gerry and his wife Florence live in Red Deer and Kimberley, BC. Todayville is proud to work with Gerry to re-publish some of his most compelling stories from his vast catalogue developed over more than a decade of travel.

Gerry Feehan

Thanks to these great sponsors for making this series possible!

Click here for an adventure with Gerry in Texas.

 

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Alberta

7 Exciting Excursions To Take in Canada

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As we await the lifting of lockdowns, let’s dream a bit about travel.

7 Exciting Excursions To Take in Canada

Whether you live in Canada or plan to visit from another country, there are plenty of fascinating things to see and do. Canada is the second-largest country in the world in total area, so it would probably be impossible to see every part of it in a single lifetime. Therefore, here are some of the most worthwhile things to see and do across the breadth of this beautiful and welcoming country.

1. Vancouver

Rocks on the beach at sunset on the coast of Vancouver, BC

Vancouver is located on the West Coast of Canada. It is accessible by water via all inclusive cruises and by train, bus, and automobile as well. Vancouver offers multiple opportunities for fun excursions. You can tour the Canadian Rockies, take the Sea to Sky Gondola to Whistler for some skiing, or go whale watching from the southern end of Vancouver Island.

2. Jasper National Park

Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park

In Alberta, you can find one of the best outdoor attractions in Canada: Jasper National Park. Covering 4,200 square miles, or 11,000 square kilometers, it is home to mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and springs. Points of particular interest in Jasper National Park include the Columbia Icefield glaciers and Maligne Canyon, which becomes an otherworldly realm of frozen waterfalls and ice caves with cold temperatures.

3. Churchill

Churchill is a small community located on the banks of Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba. It is known as the polar bear capital of the world, and you can indeed see polar bears there during their annual migration. However, Churchill also offers opportunities to see other natural wonders. In the summer, you can see beluga whales as they travel to their calving grounds in the estuary of the Churchill River.

Because Churchill is so close to the North Pole, winter nights get very long. This combined with a lack of light pollution makes it a good place to observe the aurora borealis, which appears when solar activity is high. Bear in mind, however, that there is no way to guarantee that the northern lights will be visible during your visit.

4. Niagara Falls

the famous Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is located on the border between Canada and the United States. It is a short distance away from the city of Toronto in the Canadian province of Ontario. Though one of the most famous waterfalls in the world, Niagara is poorly understood by many. Most people do not know that it actually consists of three different waterfalls. You can see them all from the best possible vantage points by booking a tour.

5. Quebec

Once a French colony, Quebec is the main francophone center of Canada. The French influence is still very strong in Quebecois language, culture, and architecture, so a trip to Quebec is a little like taking a mini-European vacation without going too far from home. You can see majestic waterfalls and quaint little villages in the idyllic Quebec countryside, or you can experience the cosmopolitan excitement of Montreal, its biggest city. Points of interest include the Old Port of Montreal via the Place Jacque Cartier and Mont-Royal Park, one of the largest greenspaces in the city.

6. Ottawa

Ottawa is the capital city of Canada but tends to get outshone by larger and more popular cities, such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. This may be to your advantage if you’d like to avoid crowds of other tourists on your excursion. Because Ottawa is the seat of Canadian government, you can visit the Royal Canadian Mint and see Parliament Hill during your visit. There are also boat tours and bus tours of the city available.

7. Maritimes

The Maritime Provinces are located on Canada’s east coast, along the Atlantic Ocean. There are four maritime provinces altogether: Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador (which coincidentally lends its names to two different breeds of dog), Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. Each has something unique to offer, from the red rock cliffs and literary heritage of Prince Edward Island to the Cape Breton Highlands of Nova Scotia to whale watching in New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy to the world’s largest fossil park in Newfoundland and Labrador.

There are many opportunities to take guided tours of notable Canadian locations. You can also explore on your own.

Read more on Todayville.

 

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Alberta

#AlohaGate – Kenney Announces UCP Resignations in Response to Outraged Albertans

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On January 4, 2020, Alberta Premiere Jason Kenney announced the resignation of a number of United Conservative Party members following the Christmas holiday abroad scandal being referred to online as “AlohaGate”. This scandal, which has occupied much of the recent news coverage and trending Twitter hashtags in Alberta, has led to massive public backlash and political destabilization for the ruling provincial party. 

Political careers are often characterized by upheaval and public backlash, as politicians are required to cater to the diverse and disparate needs of the many while under constant scrutiny from the public eye. The year 2020 arguably posed an even greater challenge for political leaders, as they struggled to manage the devastating implications of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Government officials have faced constant backlash for implementing restrictions, or lack thereof, in their attempts to strike a balance between maintaining public safety and supporting the survival of the local economy.  

On December 13, many Albertans were disappointed by the Kenney administration’s updated COVID-19 restrictions, which extended lockdown measures through Christmas and into the New Year. While not necessarily a surprise, these restrictions, which banned inter-household social gatherings and further discouraged non-essential travel, meant cancelled plans and a solitary Christmas for many. Difficult sacrifices were made by thousands of Albertans who were unable to spend quality time with their families, many of whom shared stories of elderly or ill family members who celebrated the holiday and rang in the New Year alone. 

Under these circumstances, countless Albertans were outraged to learn a number of staff and members of the United Conservative Party (UCP) neglected to cancel their non-essential travel plans, choosing to spend Christmas abroad with their families in international locations like Mexico, Hawaii, Las Vegas and more.
According to an article released by the Calgary Herald on January 3, “To date, nine senior government officials in Alberta have been confirmed to have travelled abroad in December.”

The absolute outrage expressed by many upon learning of government officials who failed to abide by the same rules and make the same sacrifices as countless Albertans did this Christmas has made for a rocky start to the New Year for the UCP. The apologies made by members of the government who travelled abroad over the holidays have been met with scathing responses from Albertans, who have expressed feelings of anger and betrayal at the lack of accountability shown by the province’s political leaders.

In perhaps one of the most devastating responses to the controversial AlohaGate, an Alberta family expressed their anger and hurt towards the UCP government after having cancelled their own 2020 trip to Hawaii as a result of the pandemic. This was not a typical family vacation, however, and the cancellation of these plans went far beyond disappointment. The Make-A-Wish Foundation funded the Lousier family trip to Hawaii for their 9-year-old son Braeden, who suffers from Hadju-Cheney syndrome. Braeden, who has struggled with his health for his entire life, is not expected to live to see his teenage years as a result of his condition. “While the family was crushed over the cancellation of their dream vacation,” Global News reported, “Lousier said the recent controversy revealing Alberta government officials travelled over the holidays has turned devastation into anger.”
This is a sentiment echoed by many who have suffered loss of livelihood, decline of mental and physical health, and forced separation from family members as a result of government lockdown mandates. Simply put by the Edmonton Journal, “The moral authority that the Kenney government must wield in convincing Albertans to obey public health recommendations is now severely diminished by the apparent double standard.” 

Jason Kenney’s initial response to the scandal, in which he condemned the actions of those who travelled abroad during the holidays but neglected to impose any disciplinary action against them, was met with major public backlash. Following his address, a torrent of responses from the public labeling Kenney a coward, among other things, and asking him to step down as Premiere flooded the Internet. Many used the hashtag #resignkenney in addition to others such as #alohagate and #alohallard.  

On January 4, Premiere Jason Kenney released a statement declaring he was “listening to Albertans who are sending a clear message that they want real consequences for these actions”. Therefore, as of January 4, 2020, he has accepted a number of resignations from the individuals who “demonstrated extremely poor judgment” by choosing to travel abroad this Christmas. 

Tracy Allard, Tanya Fir, Jeremy Nixon, Pat Rehn, Jason Stephan, Tany Yao, Jamie Huckabay are among the officials who have since resigned or been demoted from their positions in Alberta’s UCP government. 

For more stories, visit Todayville Calgary.

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