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Western Canada Memories - Caroline Alamy
Chance brought me to fly for the first time to Canada. At that time, I was more dreaming about Patagonia and Australia and, not sure why, but Canada was not particularly on top of the priorities. However, a combination of circumstances and… here I was on a plane to Vancouver, with my brand new Nikon D4. After 2 weeks driving around Western Canada, I was completely in love with the country. And to be fair, I was probably won over after the first couple of days.
Large lake in front of moutains in orange vegatations
Amazing nature, vastness of landscapes, nice people, cosy bed and breakfasts, the list can go on and on. However there are 3 main aspects I was not expecting to be as impressive as they were. And that are the 3 main reasons why I am looking forward to a next trip there!

1) Wildlife in a snap

Brown bears, grizzlies, elks, squirrels, you can cross their paths fairly easily and un-expectingly! Discovering in the mirror a brown bear crossing the highway? Check. Having the car blocked by a group of elks when getting out of a parking? Check. Spotting whales while coming back on a boat from an excursion to watch grizzlies on Vancouver Island? Check as well. Getting « gently » bitten by a mother racoon with her baby in Vancouver (awesome) Stanley Park? Yep, done as well. But above all, swimming, snorkelling and « hanging out » with seals? THAT was the highlight of the trip to me.

Black bear crossing highway in Canada
Animals…
Elk roaring at end of day
…are never too far
We went on this tour in Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island. We were given some diving suits (it was summertime but the water was around 10°C), we put on our fins, grabbed a mask, and off we went! The captain/guide drove us with another couple in a small boat next to Snake Island, a small island actually where plenty of seals are resting. Half of them swam away when the other couple swam (very loudly…) towards them.
Seal swimming in the sea
They got quite close
Girl in diving suit lying on the shore in front of seals on Snake Island
Me trying to blend with the masses
Luckily by the time I got there – I may not swim very fast with fins – there were still seals both in the water and on the island. I quietly crawled on the « beach », benefiting from the waves to push me a bit further. After a few minutes I was lying on the sand very close to the seals. The smell was not the nicest but it didn’t matter. Most importantly, the seals didn’t seem to be bothered by me.
After a while I went back into the water and I spotted this little fellow who was floating and sleeping in the water.
The water was not deep as we were still very near the shore. I could actually « walk on my knees ». I got closer, and closer and closer from the seal. Eventually I was like at 10-15cm from this little guy.
Diver and seal swimming at the surface next each other
My little friend
From time to time, all of a sudden, he would open his huge round eyes with super long eyelashes. He would look at me for a few seconds, and then, he would go back to sleep. We stayed 30 minutes like that. I was a bit freezing since I was not moving much but being so close from a sleeping seal? Him looking at me peacefully and not afraid? No way I would leave!

When we came back on the boat, the guide told me that’s the first time he sees something like that and asked me if I tried to touch the seal. I actually haven’t. But I guess that’s also probably why he was not afraid of me. My main regret is not having my DSLR camera with me – I don’t have any waterproof case for it. There were some amazing portraits to capture on that day!

Seals lying on Snake Island

2) Alone in the wild

Yes, Canada is known for its amazing hikes. It is known for the wideness of the landscapes. I knew all that, though I was still surprised by how wide it is. Trees, roads, forests, lakes, mountains. Everything is wide. Everything is large. And it is even more telling that many times you will end up alone on the road or on the hiking trail. In most of the hikes I have done in Europe, I would meet other hikers along the way. In Canada, on some days we hardly met anyone. The perfect place if you need some time away from the crowd!

Chain of mountains with a lake at the bottom and trees in the foreground
The most extreme solitude we experienced is probably the couple of nights we spent in Kootenay National Park, in a tipi in the middle of the forest. We reached the place by a road particularly bumpy and rocky. Super tall trees, a thin river, a few rabbits wandering around, a cute wooden house to welcome guests, a few cottages nearby, and, a bit further, 3 tipis. No Wifi. No phone network. At all. So we would be the 2 only guests on the first night, sleeping in a tipi in the middle of the forest, without any network. And the cook was walking around, carrying a knife at his belt. That was enough to get our imagination going for a few minutes!
Portrait of a wild rabbit in green lush
Neighbourg for the night
Inside of wooden cottage with wall in window facing forest
Inside the main cottage
White tipi in the forest in Canada
Our home for the night
But hopefully both the cook and Rob, the owner of the place, were very friendly, welcoming and helpful. We discovered our tipi. It could probably fit 4-6 people. A few logs to set up a fire were already placed in the middle, surrounded by several blankets on the floor. We were showed how to make a fire and Rob helped us start our own. He also told us all the wild encounters he had around the tipis, the most memorable being with a wolverine found inside a tipi…
Inside a tipi with the light of a fire and blankets on the floor
Our bed for the night
Hiker open anti-bear bin in a park in Western Canada
Anti-bear bin
The security guidelines were pretty clear: do not bring food or anything with a smell inside the tipis (hello bears) – so any shampoo, soap, toothpaste had to be used within the main house, any food had to be eaten before, none of that could come with us in the tipi (otherwise hello bears!). And, of course, we should not forget a light to check the surroundings in case we would need to go out of the tipi during the night (a couple of toilets are set up a few meters away from the tipis).
With all that in mind, we got a relatively early dinner and made our way back to our tipi as soon as the sun started to set.
Black board with menu written in white
Lost in the wild but with pretty damn good food!
We were inside our tipi early but both nights went fast. We had books, magazines, cameras. I can’t say I had a good rest on the first one as our fire kind of lost its strengths at 2am so it was a bit freezing. But it was worth it 100 times. For the quietness. For the stars in the sky. For the fire (second night was closer to success). For the light footsteps noises I heard while lying on the ground in the early morning. I was not sure it was an elk but it sounded very close and was a very lovely noise for an alarm clock.
Fire in the middle of a tipi at night
We made it!

3) Diversity

We drove 4,000 kilometres within 2 weeks. However it never felt boring at all. I don’t think I have seen such diverse landscapes within a few minutes or hours. On some parts of the trip, you could see a mountain covered with snow followed by one covered with green trees, a lake, and all of a sudden huge plains and rivers. I remember I was falling asleep (on the passenger sit of course) but would force myself to stay awoken as it seemed that at every corner the scenery was different and worth a look and a picture. Impossible to get bored on those roads!

But diversity is also about the weather… It was early September, so not autumn yet. However we experienced the 4 seasons. And not only we experienced the 4 of them but we experienced them on the exact same day and exact same location!

Car driving on highway in Western Canada towards a huge mountain
Bridge in orange hue forest whith sunset light
Red bus on a glacier, with a mountain in the background and in the snow
We were off for a hike. Weather in the morning was fairly sunny. But it deteriorated quite fast. All cloudy. Weather forecasts were showing clouds as well. So we decided to maintain our hike, it would be refreshing. The hike was supposed to end on top of a mountain, with a great overlooking and panoramic view. We were less and less sure about the quality of the view given all the fog but we kept on. It started to rain.
Man with an umbrella in a hiking trail
It’s just some rain
Bird hidden in a tree with snow flakes
The snow won’t last
The rain turned into hail… and the hail turned into… snow! But the snow didn’t turned into anything and it kept snowing, snowing and snowing. In the blink of an eye, everything around us was covered by snow. Our hands were starting to freeze and hurt. We pushed a bit further but realised the hiking trails were hard to see. We eventually decided to turn back before we get completely lost.
Hiker surrounded by snow
Actually it did last
By the time we were back to our car, the snow was a bit less strong and everything was back to « normal » within a few hours. So we’ve never seen that supposedly amazing view but it left some pretty strong memories nevertheless.
Turquoise lake in the shape of wolf head

If you want to see more pics of Canada, this is here.

Quick Photo Tips

Canada offers so many photo opportunities that it makes it difficult to know which equipment to bring. Pretty much everything would be of good use at some point (macro, wide angle, tele etc.). Unless you have a very strong preference for specific type of pictures, if you want to be adaptable while not carrying 20kg of equipment, I would recommend to bring along:

  • « all you can do » lens: that’s how I call my 28-300mm. It is not the best lens but I can capture pretty much any type of scene. When there is a good amount of light, it will do the job easily. If you have some room left, I would probably opt for a wide angle as a good complement.
  • Tripod: even more useful if your lens is not particularly bright and/or your camera body can’t handle high ISO. Tripod will be particularly a must in the forest or at night to shoot stars. It can be a pain to carry but would worth it here.
  • Several batteries and memory cards: long trips, photo around every corner, « live view » shots, photo sessions in the night … always good to have spare cards and batteries. Useful investment.

And don’t forget to check your equipment before you leave, especially if it’s a new one. Don’t do like me: I thought the remote control I used to have for my Nikon D90 was working on my D4… I realised my mistake as I was trying to shoot low light pictures in the tipi!

Quick Travel Tips

We could probably write a very long list but on top of my head, here are the few points to remember:

  • What to do in front of a bear: while we wanted as much as possible to see bears or grizzlies, we were not sure what to do if/when it happens. Along the way we were given a few key insights. The first one is to actually prevent a close encounter: Make noise while hiking so the bears can hear us, avoid us, and not get surprised (and, so, afraid). When a grizzly had been spotted in the area recently, smaller group (less than 4 people) are not allowed to go on the trail. Then, if the encounter does happen, stay calm, don’t show your back, and certainly don’t run, but walk away very slowly. This website gives more detailed safety recommendations.
  • Plan in advance: fuel stations may be scarce on some roads between two spots. Be careful to fill up the gas tank when you can and be mindful of the distance.
  • Prepare your hikes: it goes without saying but especially true in areas where you may be alone – have a map, have gloves, hats in your bag just in case, check the weather forecasts. And if you go completely alone, let someone know about your location.

And here are few cool activities to check while in Western Canada:

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