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“The most-beautiful place in the world?” Gerry Feehan finds out at Lake O’Hara Lodge, Yoho National Park

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Lake O’Hara, by Gerry Feehan

A Red Deer friend described Lake O’Hara Lodge in Yoho National Park, B.C. as the most beautiful place she’d ever been. I have done a fair share of travel to earth’s exotic and amazing places, so my expectations for our three-day visit to O’Hara were tempered with a grain of salt.

“…At every turn a mind-blowing vista opened before us. But always – far below – lay Lake O’Hara, an artist’s palette in aquamarine, the Lodge a tiny wooden appendage at its shore…”

The Lodge, accessible only by bus up a dusty gravel road, is tucked in the mountains west of Lake Louise. We were fortunate to secure a stay. Demand during the short summer season necessitates booking a year in advance – and priority is given to repeat clients, many of whom travel from around the globe to enjoy the natural beauty of this unique Rocky Mountain destination.

Our trip had an inauspicious beginning.

The O’Hara bus departs daily for the Lodge at 9 a.m. sharp from a parking lot near the TransCanada Highway. Rather than arise at 5 a.m. and drive from Red Deer to the O’Hara pick-up spot, we elected to spend a night at a BnB in Field, B.C. It was record-breaking hot that evening. Dinner was excellent – rainbow trout on a bed of wild rice – but the moment we turned in for the evening the hotel power quit. No lights, no TV, no a.c.; just darkness and heat.

A young woman came ‘round with a flashlight in the pitch-black offering solace: “Wow, this happened last week too. No power for 47 hours. We had to throw out most of our food.” I tossed and turned through the night’s sultry darkness, wondering whether my supper had endured the earlier blackout and was contemplating a fishy re-appearance.

Miraculously the power returned moments before our 8 a.m. checkout, in time for the hotel’s Visa machine to accept payment.

The drive into O’Hara was unimpressive: a bumpy ride on a school bus with six friends, plus a bunch of solemn strangers, all of us overburdened for the short stay with luggage, backpacks, hiking poles and superfluous personal items (in my case ineffective fishing gear). Eleven kilometers later we turned the last dusty corner. The Lodge and lake appeared in timeless beauty. Smiles erupted at the sight of rough-hewn timbers meeting cerulean waters.

The boys fording a creek.

While the staff discreetly unloaded our bags we were briefed in the rustic lobby and offered a pack lunch for our first day-hike. Camelbacks filled, our best lederhosen donned, off we went a wandering.

One of our companions, a Red Deer Judge, is not renowned for his hiking prowess – he’s usually meting out justice in a courtroom. But as a veteran of Lake O’Hara – and the one who was able to finagle rooms for four couples during peak season – he was the natural choice to lead our troop up the steep paths and along the precipitous ledges of O’Hara’s vast trail network.

The Judge leads the troops along a precipitous ledge.

We skirted the lake’s north shore and began the climb up Oesa Lake Trail. After an hour we reached an alpine meadow painted with delicate yellow columbine, fiery-red Indian paintbrush and shaggy green anemones – hippies on a stick.

“…The most-beautiful place she’d ever been…”

As we gained elevation the summer air became cooler. Lake Oesa was still dotted with orphaned chunks of ice sailing randomly in the wind. Spruce pollen weaved intricate patterns along the lake’s frigid shores.

Spruce pollen and ice intermix in Lake Oesa.

At every turn a mind-blowing vista opened before us.

But always – far below – lay Lake O’Hara, an artist’s palette in aquamarine, the Lodge a tiny wooden appendage at its shore.

Although he performed admirably as pack leader, the Judge was noticeably absent when our damsels fell behind and needed a chivalrous hand fording the hazardous creeks. After tackling 16 kilometers of the toughest O’Hara could throw at us, in late afternoon we descended steeply to her cobalt shores and the luxury of a hot shower, a cold beverage and one of the better meals I’ve had the pleasure of sticking a knife and fork into.

Plate of amazing food.

You don’t get appetizers like this when back-country camping.

After dinner the sated guests retired to the common room. Giant logs crackled in the open fireplace. Comradery ensued. I uncased my trusty ukulele. My Calgary buddy grabbed his guitar. He isn’t usually shy about sharing his musical talents but on this occasion I had to cajole him into playing. His reticence vanished after our first tune, when the whole Lodge clapped approval and started shouting requests.

Eventually the accolades turned to yawns. It had been a long day.

The Feehans were bunked in the rustic main lodge – with (how quaint) shared bath. Two of our snootier friends were booked into a private cabin on the lake’s edge. The rest of us selflessly included them in the group by appropriating their lakefront deck for cordials each evening.

O’Hara provides plenty of recreational options: one can tackle an oxygen-depriving climb along an alpine ridge, saunter slowly around the lake’s pristine perimeter, or just sit in the lodge and knit – admiring a view that evokes a Group of Seven painting.

The view from the Lodge is like a Group of Seven painting.

But sitting and knitting is not my forté – having dropped a stitch or two in time I’ve now cast off that pursuit. I was here for the great outdoors, to experience the handiwork of Lawrence Grassi, park warden at Lake O’Hara during the 1950’s. He designed, built and for many years singlehandedly maintained the Alpine Circuit Trail. Generations of hikers have enjoyed his skillfully arranged rockwork. An elaborate staircase of stone skirting Victoria Falls is one of his masterful works. A simple plaque on the rock face beneath the falls honours his remarkable achievements.

“…I grabbed my pack and scrambled to safety – behind my wife Florence…”

On our second day we tackled another longish ramble but one involving less altitude. As we descended into a lush valley and neared a narrow bridge a rumble of distant thunder surrounded us. I looked up, puzzled by the sky’s uniform blue. Near the summit above us a torrent of meltwater and ice was erupting into the watershed. The Odaray Glacier was calving. A fresh blue gash scarred its frozen grey mass. We hustled across the flimsy log bridge and safely upward into the forest before the flood arrived.

We stopped for lunch on a rocky ledge overlooking Lake McArthur. The others sat and rested their tired feet. I stood, vigilant, acutely attuned to the surroundings. I was intent on photographing the rare hoary marmot. This elusive mammal lives a solitary life tucked amongst craggy alpine rocks.

Marmot for lunch?

As I scanned the distant horizon the Judge shouted, “Gerry, look out for your trail mix.” I turned my binoculars and was confronted with a nostril-hair close-up of a large blond rodent. The critter was within arm’s reach and marching my way. His long marmot claws suggested this was a business meeting. I grabbed my pack and scrambled to safety – behind my wife Florence.

For the balance of the day I remained at the back of the group – to ensure we weren’t attacked from the flank by a malicious herbivore.

A few years ago Florence and I bought all the gear required for serious backcountry camping: lightweight sleeping bags, thinsulate mattresses, gas cooker: the whole outdoor shebang. Then we discovered places like Lake O’Hara Lodge, where mountain air and comfort co-mingle; filet mignon, a glass of quality red goof and a soft bed are the reward for a gruelling day in the alpine.

As for our Red Deer friend’s assessment that Lake O’Hara is the most beautiful place she’s ever been? Let’s just say I still respect her opinion. I had better. She’s organizing our trip to Bhutan this fall. She says it’s the happiest place on earth. I’ll let you know.

www.lakeohara.com.

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer.  He and his wife Florence live in Red Deer, AB and Kimberley, BC.

Thanks to these great local sponsors for making this feature possible!

 

Read more stories of Gerry’s Travel Adventures.  Click below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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8 miles off the coast of Ireland Gerry Feehan’s “Buddy-Hike” discovers the Skellig Islands

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Skellig Islands, Ireland (part 3 of a 3 part series)

Click to read Part 1, Gerry’s buddy trip to Ireland

We will travel again but in the meantime, enjoy Gerry’s ‘Buddy Trip to Ireland’

Click to read Part 2, Hiking in Ireland

Hiking in Ireland (part 2 of a 3 part series)

 

The remains of Skellig Michael’s 6th century monastery

Although the fine details of our trip to the Emerald Isle had been neatly settled months before leaving Canada, the folks at www.irelandwalkhikebike.com contacted me shortly before our departure to suggest a change in the itinerary. We could skip a day of hiking Ireland’s west coast and instead visit the Skellig Islands, a craggy set of rocks poking forlornly out of the Celtic Sea, eight rough miles off the Kerry coast. Initially I was reluctant to dedicate an entire day to seasickness. But there was something in the tone of the email that suggested this was an opportunity not to be missed. And so, foregoing my own health and thinking first of others—as I am wont to do—the boat trip for our group of six was booked.

We arrived in the sleepy seaside town of Cahersiveen on the fourth day of our weeklong Irish trekking adventure. Elaine, our hiking guide, drove us to the boat and cheerily waved goodbye. She doesn’t fare well at sea either and was happy to keep her feet dry for the day. When we arrived at the pier the sky was grey and the sea looked rough. There were a lot of anxious-looking people milling about the wharf. I wandered over to a fellow who was tying knots or scaling barnacles or some such other salty-dog task that identified him as a mariner. He was in fact the first mate. I inquired as to how the boat ride might be.

He turned to me, squinted, looked up at the sky and said, “It’s going to be terrible.”

“How terrible?” I asked.

“Miserable terrible” he said, with conviction.

“Can things get worse than miserable terrible,” I asked.

“Aye,” said he, “there’s awful terrible. That’s when, as you leave the pub, you hold your hand over your face so the wind don’t blow your teeth out.”

Reassured, I stepped around the back of the boat, practiced my vomiting stance, then returned to the gangplank, stepped aboard and prepared myself for a truly awful experience.

The 90-minute motor out was windy, choppy and exposed. The small boat rolled and rocked in the constant swell. But I’ve learned from vast seafaring experience that the best method to prevent seasickness is to stand up, hang on and concentrate unfailingly on the horizon. This I did for an hour and a half and landed with a full stomach—which is more than I can say for the pretty young Irish lass who, by the time the Skelligs came into sight, was tossing her breakfast of rashers and black pudding over the stern.

We weren’t sure what to expect of the Skelligs—other than the rough boat ride, a lot of nesting seabirds and a steep set of steps up a cliff to some ancient Gaelic ruins. As we neared the tight landing at Skellig Michael, birds were soaring and diving in a feeding frenzy. “What are they?” I asked the first mate.

“The big ones, those are gannets,” he answered, “And the little colourful fellars, them are puffins.”

My wife Florence looked up from her knitting. (Yes, she can knit onboard a dinghy in a gale.) “Puffins? Did you say puffins?” “Aye, Atlantic puffins ma’am, in breeding plumage.”

Florence was so excited she nearly dropped a stitch. She has yearned to see puffins for years. I thought we’d need to visit Greenland or Labrador or some other remote, inaccessible place to view these remarkable birds. And lo, here, on a last-minute Irish hiking side-trip, the cute little cliff dwellers appeared in unexpected, colourful brilliance—magnificent mating feathers on full display.

The small boat rocked into the landing. The first mate quickly tied off as the captain helped us hop-step onto the pier. Within seconds the boat was gone, back into the rough offshore sea, where she would wait, bobbing like a cork, for the two hours of our Skellig visit. We stumbled off the landing, regained our land legs and looked up. A narrow, exposed staircase, carved into the uneven rock face rose steeply upward, beyond the ken of craned necks.

Access to the islands is forbidden without a local guide. Our escort, Sinead explained that Skellig Michael was inhabited by Gaelic monks starting in the sixth century and then abandoned a few centuries later. It was these early voyagers who had carved the sheer staircase directly into the rock. At the precarious summit 180 meters up, they had built a few lonely stone structures. Here they lived a life of cold, isolated austerity, living off fish and bird’s eggs—scraping a meagre sustenance from the infertile rock.

The guide told us the steps were steep and uneven, with no handrails – and that those with even an ounce of acrophobia in their veins should not attempt the climb. Properly forewarned and with eyes cast downward to avert the consequences of a misstep, we began our ascent up the 880 steps to the monastery on the stony peak.

It’s 880 precarious stone steps to the summit

As we climbed nesting puffins, mere feet away, went about their business, oblivious to our presence. These birds evolved in an environment lacking predators. With its magnificent ruins and endemic unworried birds, Skellig Michael is a perfect mix between Machu Pichu and the Galapagos Islands.

Atlantic puffins in full breeding plumage

When we reached the top, the summit flattened into a small walled compound of beehive structures made entirely of stacked stone. And despite the absence of masonry, these lonely dwellings have withstood a thousand battering years of Irish rain and wind.

 

The Skellig Islands poke forlornly out of the Celtic Sea

The opening scene in the newest Star Wars movie was filmed at Skellig Michael. An unfortunate bi-product of this Hollywood notoriety will be a “Star Wars” chaser industry, where tourists converge on the island, not to observe the stark beauty of a 6th century monastery or the glorious plumage of horny puffins, but to see where Luke Skywalker eerily pronounced, “It is time for the Jedi to end.” Even without the boat ride, it makes one want to puke.

When we returned to the wharf, the weather had softened. The return boat trip was reasonably benign. Elaine awaited us when we docked, looking refreshed after a quiet stroll in the green fens above Cahersiveen. “Well, how was it?” she asked. The others gushed on about the stone stairs, the view, the ruins and the Darwinian fauna experience. I looked at her, holding my hand over my mouth in feigned illness, and said, “Wow”.

If you go: www.irelandwalkhikebike.com

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He and his wife Florence now live in Kimberley, BC!

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management and Ing and McKee Insurance for sponsoring this series.  Click on their ads and learn more about these long-term local businesses.

Angling and adventure greet our intrepid traveller on Padre Island

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Because it’s Friday – Here’s WAFFLE NYC – Unbelievable video shot in a moving train

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Happy Friday from Todayville!

Here’s a short pick me up that you’ll want to be watching and sharing all weekend.  This incredibly talented group is WAFFLE.  Their bio is below.  You may want to hit up their Facebook page if you just can’t get enough.  Get ready for the best subway ride of your life!

Hands down the Best Subway Ride ‼️🚇🕺🔥🧇

Tag a friend 👥👀 || #Wafflenyc #Dance #viral #viralvideo #AGT2020 #GoldenBuzzerFollow our Socials 📱⬇️IG: WaffleNYC TikTok: WaffleNYC 🧇🍽‼️

Posted by WAFFLE NYC on Friday, July 10, 2020

WAFFLE (We Are Family For Life Entertainment) is an innovative New York City-Based artist collective from almost all 5 boroughs. The group was founded by Andrew Saunders (Goofy), Yushon Stroughn (Sonic), and Joel Leitch (Aero Ace) in 2011. The inspiration behind the name came from hearing “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge.

Many of the members knew each other in their mid teens through weekly LiteFeet battle events but were in different crews at the time. On their way downtown to these events, they would perform on the subway to be able to pay the entrance fee. You wouldn’t win anything but it was a way to gain exposure in the neighborhood/NYC boroughs. After a while it became very repetitive and the exposure wasn’t enough. Select members from other crews came together with the common goal to branch out and reach a bigger, more diverse audience. What better way to achieve this? Continuing to perform on the NYC subway was just the thing to do and this was the beginning of WAFFLE.

Learning how to work together and taking commuter’s advice built their character as young entrepreneurs and helped save their parents’ money. After a while, other LiteFeet dancers caught on to what WAFFLE was doing routinely. Many were afraid of judgment so they didn’t perform. Other dancers started catching on and non-dancers started copying their daily routines. Many didn’t know how to make the transition from just dancing to actually entertaining. At first people enjoyed the performances but due to the rapid growth, there were more complaints.

Luckily the crew’s mindset was on reaching above ground before this all occurred. The money earned was invested into growing the crew. Buying uniforms & business cards helped separate them from others around this time. The crew would randomly hand out business cards without knowing whom exactly they were given to until people started to reach out. Social media also played a big role in their success.

WAFFLE has also had the opportunity to do work outside of New York City. They’ve traveled to Los Angeles, Atlanta, Paris, Argentina, London, and Turkey. People weren’t exactly familiar with LiteFeet so they would label them as break-dancers and call them “Showtime Dancers,” which is the popular catch phrase for subway performances. Most people had some knowledge of what LiteFeet was but for those who didn’t, a brief explanation was given to them.

LiteFeet is an underground dance style that originated in Harlem in 2005 and ventured into all five boroughs of NYC. Its creativity began once it hit the Bronx. It has even expanded to countries such as Japan, Paris, Argentina, Russia, etc. The term means being light on your feet while dancing. Some of the basic moves of LiteFeet consists of dance trends blended together such as the “Chicken Noodle Soup,” the “Harlem Shake,” “Tone Wop,” and the “Bad One.” There are many more. You can also blend any type of dance style with LiteFeet as long as you use some of the basic moves and lock in. “Lockin’ in” is the term used to describe the finishing move just as a period would end a sentence. What differentiates LiteFeet from any other dance style is the use of props such as sneakers and baseball caps. Using any type of sneakers doesn’t work so Adidas Superstars are favored when doing shoe tricks. Many believe LiteFeet is the rebirth of hip-hop culture not only from dance, but also from the music aspect of it. It has a boom bap feel with an extra kick to it. The thumping beat box tunes is called LiteFeet Music, which mixes hip-hop, funk, electro beat & any other genres with a hip-hop structured sound.

WAFFLE Members Kid The Wiz, Chris Designs, & Lil Live serve as producers to help create the unique sound for the LiteFeet community. People don’t realize that the culture is still growing. WAFFLE’s ultimate goal is to expand the knowledge of LiteFeet and to be a positive influence to everyone around the world

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