The End, sort of. And some thank-yous

After a busy final day in Toronto, it was time for me to head home. Via St John’s….

Me and Nyssa had a bunch of post camp chores to do, and I had to close down my Canadian bank accounts ready for my return to the UK. I would be bringing some money home with me for university, as well a bunch of Nyssa’s clothes, ready for her to come over in September. We also managed to squeeze in one last drink with Jenn and Romina, before a late night packing session.

I awoke before dawn, and after a tearful parting with Nyssa I made my way out to the airport. My journey included a 12 hour lay-over in St John’s on Canada’s eastern most shores. It’s a new place for me, so I headed out of the airport into town for one last little adventure. To see up close the scenery we all see from the plane, when we’re flying between Canada and the UK.

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Classic Newfoundland scenery.

I sorted my things out after I landed, and headed down into town to take a walk up Signal Hill. It’s probably the biggest tourist attraction in St John’s, and gives a great view over the city and the surrounding coastline. I did a loop up the hill and then along a path that runs bellow the hill along the sea cliffs.

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Really nice day for it….

It was a really nice bit of fresh air and stretch my legs after the first flight, and there was lots of opportunities to learn a little bit about the historic port town, which has played a part in the foundation of modern Canada since the 1700’s. Nowadays the ships entering this harbour are much bigger and modern, they come from the Grand Banks oil fields, which form a key part of the cities economy. Looking at them on the quayside was a potent reminder of a world which I may soon go back into, in a strange way it felt like I was already transitioning into the next chapter of my life. Old knowledge was coming back, stuff that would come in handy when I get to university.

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One of the offshore support vessels (OSVs) loading up in the harbour…

As I made my way back up to the airport I knew I wasn’t leaving Canada forever, Nyssa and the friends I’ve made on this journey have changed my relationship with Canada entirely, but I felt it was definitely the beginning of something new, something I was excited to get started on.

At this point though I think some thank yous are in order. For their help on this trip I’d like to thank:

Michelle Renee and her family
For helping me settle into Toronto at the very beginning of my trip, and making me feel welcome when I had no immediate family and friends in the city.

Mike St.Eve and all the lifties at Whistler Blackcomb
For their support and the opportunities they gave me during my time as a lifty. I was very humbled to receive my I.C.E nomination, and thoroughly enjoyed working at Whistler.

The Canadian Immigration and Citizenship service
Well if they hadn’t changed the rules, I simply wouldn’t have been there for 3 years! So thanks CIC! Oh and I suppose the border force were nice at least!

Jon Chesnut and the Mountain Greeters at Lake Louise
For their support during my time there and, being able to help me see Nyssa at a very important time for us. Also thanks Phil for being a great room-mate!!

All my colleagues at Edgewalk and the CN Tower
All my fellow Guides, Grounds Crew, Imaging Agents, and Booking Agents! They’ve been a true second family to me while I’ve been in Toronto, including those that have left and I’ve been luckily enough to stay in contact with. I will try to stay in contact with as many of you as possible.

Jocanta Sowden
For encouraging me to starting writing this blog in the first place. The process of writing it has been really rewarding, and it’s been a great way to keep my friends and family up-to-date on my adventures I’ve realized that it will be amazing in later life to look back through and help me remember the trip for years to come.

Chris Hall, Jenny Pullon, and Rob Ng
For hiring me, training me, and mentoring me as an Edgewalk guide. Without them taking me on I wouldn’t have had the amazing opportunities in Canada that I’ve had, and without their mentoring I would have been so successful as a Guide.

Jocanta Sowden, Andrew Ross, and Jenny Pullen
For their references that I sent in during my Masters application. Without them I would not have had such a strong application and may not have been accepted at Portsmouth.

My Friends back home in the UK
For sticking with me during my years away from home and keeping in touch. Especially those who invested much time and money to fly over and let me drag them up a mountain, or for many miles around Algonquin Park, or up my very tall tower! Or all of those things combined!

Nyssa
For being the best girlfriend I could ever have dreamed of meeting, for loving me despite my flaws, and hopefully because of a couple of them. For being an unwavering source of support through my difficult times, and for giving me some of the best times of my life, with many more to come.

And Finally my family, especially my parents
With my parents support my trip would simply not have been the huge success than it was. They were always available to talk to on the phone and message, and I know for sure that they would have moved heaven and earth to get me home, or come over if I was in need. And that’s before all the practical assistance! They always insisted on bringing me too and from the airport, they forwarded mail, they were always willing to help me out with money, Uncle Phil even stored my snowboard for 3 months, and then he and my mum and dad got it to the airport and brought it home on they’re own trip! I felt homesick much less than I thought during the course of the trip and this was no doubt because I felt always supported, despite being thousands of miles away.

So there you go, I’ve completed my “trip”, made it safely back to the UK, and am now wading through my positions getting ready for my next chapter in Portsmouth, and my 30th birthday! This doesn’t mean the end of this blog though, I’ll still add things if I think they’re interesting, and helpful to anyone thinking about visiting Canada.

Thank you everybody!!!

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The Okanagan and Vancouver

After the heli-boarding I began my journey back to Toronto. There was a couple of places to visit along the way, the first of which was Summerland, and Uncle Phil and Nadine’s house! It was the first time I’d seen the Okanagan in winter time and it was pretty nice.

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Lovely snow…

Penticton and Summerland are pretty quiet in the winter, so the pace was pretty relaxed as we pottered around catching up and seeing a few places from holidays past. The area is famous in Canada for it’s fruit, so on the weekend we did a tour of some of the local distilleries, sampling some of the fruit based liquors, and a maple one (because this is Canada of course). The highlight was visiting Duhb Glas, a micro distillery in Oliver where we were treated to a tour and explanation of the process by the owner. I picked up my next newmake to put in the barrel at home and Phil and Nadine topped up their supply of gin!

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Quite a haul..

After a few relaxed days in the Okanagan I made my way to Vancouver. My time here had been cut short because of having to re-arrange the heli-skiing, so despite being tired from the early morning bus ride I made the effort to get out into the city and see some people. The first stop was the Vancouver Lookout. It’s sort of like the Calgary or CN Tower..

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If a little short…

The view over the city was great though, I hung out on the observation deck and took in the view for a while as it got dark.

That evening I met up with Tyson and Georgia, a couple of friends that I’d made in Lake Louise. They’re spending the rest of their visa in Vancouver, and knew all the good little places to eat near my hostel. That outing lasted until 2am, and conveniently finished a short stumble from my hostel! The next day I made a lazy start and headed to Stanley Park, probably one of Vancouver’s biggest tourist attractions. The huge park sits on a peninsula between downtown Vancouver and North Vancouver and was an important area for the First Nations in times past. I took public transport to get there, but misread the bus route and ended up taking the bus right through to the other side of the park, over the Lionsgate Bridge, and beyond to North Vancouver! I had nothing else to do that afternoon so I decided to walk back over the bridge, around the park, and back into the city and take in the views of the bay.

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It was a cloudy day, but I still had a great view of the city..

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On the other side of the park lay the Pacific. Vancouver is Canada’s big like to Pacific trade.

I made my way around the park and eventually reached the park’s collection of totem poles, which are unique to the nations of BC and Southern Alaska.

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Great imagery….

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Vancouver’s skyline was in full glory now….

That evening after getting back into the city I met up with my old uni mate Dan. Dan is attempting to cycle around the world, a trip that makes my travels look like a Canadian package holiday! Me and Dan caught up over our primary shared past time – Scotch.

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The Shebeen had a great selection to choose from!

After that Dan took me to one of the restaurants he works for and introduced me to Sushi (yes that’s right at 29 I’ve never tried sushi). It was pretty good! Apparently this place was the best in Vancouver!

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It was immaculately presented!

It was great to see Dan, who I hadn’t seen since before either of us left on our journeys. If you want to read more about Dan’s trip have a look here.

Cycle Earth

This had technically been the 3rd time I’d set foot in Vancouver, and the longest time I’d been there for, yet it never seems like I’ve spent enough time there. Its quite a place. I boarded my flight the next day feeling like it deserved more of my time, but as my plane glided towards my next destination those feelings changed to something different.  I could see a familiar shape out the window. A tall object…. Taller than anything for miles around, changing colour above all the other lights….. It marks a city I know very well, a place I have come to love, filled with very special people. A little cheeky part of me felt like it was coming home…

Heli-Boarding

I talk about Edgewalk all the time: “CN Tower this…” and “1168 feet that”, and I’d forgive you if you thought that the reason I was in Canada was to walk the Edge. Buuuut I’m actually in Canada to snowboard. To ride the hills and mountains of BC, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, and hone my abilities on some of the most challenging terrain in the world. More than anything I’ve sought to ride powder, the freshest, lightest, deepest stuff I can find, and this week with the aid of a helicopter I found what I was seeking. I was going Heli-Boarding.

Phil works for Purcell Heli-Skiing, based in Golden, BC, so they were the natural choice for me to go with, but making it happen proved to be a little challenging. The weather  was not playing ball and when I arrived an approaching storm had cut off the mountains and we were unable to fly. Not the best. I had been really looking forward to it, especially as I was going to do it with Phil. Significant re-arranging followed. I had to cancel all of my accommodation in Vancouver, talk to Uncle Phil about moving the dates that I was going to see him, and try to find a route that would use a couple of nonrefundable Greyhound tickets. But it paid off as the next time I arrived in Golden it was to blue skies and perfect flying weather. I arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed and was soon refreshing my avalanche training, and chit chatting with the other guests, with every other word being “send”, “stoked”, “gnarly”, “awesome “and “can’t wait”. It’s hard to adequately describe how excited I was as we finally boarded the chopper and lifted off. It felt like 3 years of planning, travelling, and riding had built up to this, I was finally doing it, this is what Canada is all about, I’m actually living the dream.

I love being around airplanes and helicopters in any setting, so unloading from a running Huey is quite exhilarating on its own, once you’ve unstrapped you pile out into the snow, keeping your head down from the rotor blades, and then turn to look up at the whirling beast before it leaps off the ground and dives dramatically out of sight. Leaving you in the quiet wilderness to collect yourself up.

Then there’s the snowboarding. Once I’d collected myself up I was then presented with a snow sports paradise a sprawling playground extending as far as the eye can see. Your guide’s job is to pick out the best (and safest) lines and then guide you in intervals down to the landing pad to wait for the chopper. Most runs ran pretty much the same way: start in the alpine…….

Then you make your way down through the treeline…

And then into the glades….

Then you meet the heli and back to the top!…..

Sometimes you go one at a time over a steeper slope, or you go with a bit of spacing and ride kind of as a group….

As you can see its pretty amazing! Obviously the tracks from your other group members are in the snow, and everyone is very polite about letting other people go first, but that has negligible affect on the amazing riding, the best I’ve ridden ever. If you are lucky enough to go straight after the guide you’ll get a view like this.

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Powder anyone?

The runs are 700-900m each and I got an extra one, giving me 6 for the day. Its not the cheapest day out, but for me it was an incredible once in a life time experience (although the guides did joke “welcome to your new addiction!”). As I loaded my board onto the chopper at the end of the last run, a thought occurred: This would be the last time I would be snowboarding in Canada. I was now going to make my way eventually back to Toronto, for the summer, and the end of my visa. It was quite a swansong really; I’d achieved the main goal of this trip, my last few tracks in Canada may well be the best of my entire life, better than I’d ever thought possible, and I felt satisfied and happy that I had managed to make it happen. My outlook on what was achievable in life had been changed for the better for ever.

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Living the dream.

Ice Climbing!

As February slipped into March I reluctantly left Lake Louise. The call of Nyssa and the Tower was growing in my heart, but also the start date was just before April and I had more adventures to tick off! The next one came rather unexpectedly, Tim (who came to visit in January) had sent me a voucher for an ice climbing course! I headed down to Canmore for a couple of nights to do Basic Ice Climbing 1, with Yamnuska, a local guiding company that knows the area very well. They provide all the climbing kit – appropriate boots, ice tools, helmet, crampons, etc, but I was also prepared with my warm winter gear, harness, and a brand new pair of mitts, to keep my hands warm and dry.

I’ve done plenty of climbing in my time, but this was a whole new thing and my instructor – Grant – spent the first morning showing me and my group the basics of moving around in crampons and on icy terrain, and then we graduated onto rope work and actually climbing stuff.

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Watch your step…

All the climbing we did that day was on top ropes, and on gentle climbs with not a lot of vertical, which made things much more comfy for learning. Despite this (and typical of my attitude to climbing in general) I was constantly eyeing up the more dramatic vertical features on offer and wondering aloud if we’d get a chance to climb them! The basic of ice climbing are relatively simple, try to use your axes mainly for balance and try to get your legs doing as much of the work as possible. It’s important to keep your hips forward, forcing your centre of gravity over your crampons to maximize their effectiveness.

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Working my way up…

Once you’re confident in your crampons it becomes much easier but at the end of the first day my arms and hands were still quite achy. The ice axes (referred to in the sport as tools) present an attractive thing to cling on to when you’re nervous, and like in rock climbing, your arms tire much quicker than your legs!

During that afternoon a large snowstorm (that had been bothering me for other reasons before the trip) settled into the area, and the next day due to the avalanche risk Grant was forced re-assess and pick another location for us to climb at. To my pleasant surprise this was Johnston’s Canyon! It was a great turn of fortune for me, as I now got a chance to climb the ice that I’d enviously watched other people climb when I’d been to the canyon with my parents. After a couple of warm-up routes (and some more wondering aloud from me) Grant set up ropes on some of the larger features in the canyon and I got to do a WI 4 – a respectably graded 12-15m route that went up close to all the huge icicles that hang down around the upper falls.

It was a really awesome couple of days, one of the big highlights of my trip, and a fantastic early birthday present from a great friend that I won’t ever forget.Next stop Golden, and (hopefully) some heli-boarding!

The quest for lightning….

Play this video while reading…

I’m a huge fan of thunderstorms. There’s something strangely primal about seeing nature’s fury play itself out over your head, completely out of control. I’ve seen lightning on the horizon from up on Edgewalk before, something which is truly spectacular, but even more amazing than this is seeing lightning hit the tower itself. (Not from Edgewalk of course!!) I’ve seen it a few times, but never managed to capture it on film.

Enter my new camera, a Sony A5000, that my parents helped me buy for my birthday. It’s not the flashiest/feature packed/expensive thing you can buy, but ideal for my amateur uses, and aspirations of taking cool pictures.

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It’s a proper camera

Capturing the lightning itself though has turned out to be quite tricky. The tower is struck about 75 times a year, so it’s easy to find a vantage point, but Mother Nature is an unpredictable beast, and a tease. In the lead up to writing this post I’ve spent many evenings flicking between other stuff and lightningmaps.org, watching storms developing to the west, hoping they hit the city, and gained a reputation at work for rambling incessantly about whether the next storm is going to hit Toronto.

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Its been burned into my retinas…

It’s taken some dedication, besides the late nights of Internet watching I’ve gotten up at 5am in the pouring rain, only to find the tower wrapped in rain and cloud, and lighting hitting on either side of it. I refer you to the video above….

Finally after 3 months of this I was finally gifted an opportunity. I was supposed to be going out with workmates, but with a big system approaching I packed a bag full of the usual waterproofs, camera in a dry bag, and lightningmaps on my phone. I got to the pre-drinks and after informing my workmates of my growing excitement, I was surprised to find them on board with what I was planning! Katie and Colin (whose apartment we were drinking in) took us upstairs to another room and a load of us sat down and watched the flashes coming in from the west. The pressure was slightly on me at the point; I’d essentially highjacked the night out, another “strikeless” evening could have made me very unpopular! Fortunately Mother Nature delivered the goods: 5 hits each more spectacular than the last, 4 of which I captured on video. Here’s the highlights below.

It turned out to be a great evening, it was really great to have everyone behind me, even though we didn’t make it to the bar (Sorry Romina!) I did a bit of crude image capturing from the video and got this picture. Something I’ll be proud of for the rest of my life.

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Simply awesome…

As I write this the next system is tracking this way. Who know’s, perhaps tonight will be the big one….

Me, Canada, and Whisky…

So my quest while I’m in Canada is to see, smell, taste, and experience as much as possible, and being into scotch, this includes the local spirits of course! Whilst I’ve been here I’ve been keeping an eye out for interesting whiskies from local producers to get a flavour for what the best Canadian whisky is like.

The quintessential Canadian whisky is Rye. Grown in the sprawling plains of Canada, rye is a cereal crop used mostly to make rye bread, but also whisky and vodka. Alberta is the world’s biggest producer of rye whisky and exports quite a bit to the US to be mixed with Bourbon or sold as 100% ryes. A 90% rye – Crown Royal’s Harvest Rye, was declared the best whisky in the world for 2016!

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I should probably try it….

Obviously then, I’m keen to try as many ryes as possible, and bring a bottle or two home. But how do I make my souvenirs special, make them mean something? A lot of the trinkets I’ve collected have meaning, tickets from ball games, my paddle from Algonquin, etc. Well why not age my own rye!? “Impossible!” you say, “whisky takes years to age and you’re only in Canada for another 12 months”. Well that’s with a big barrel, I’ve procured a tiny little 1L one. And that means I can fast age my spirit of choice over the summer!

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Ready for fill No 1.

To acquire my little summer project, I travelled up to the Toronto Distillery Company  and got to hand pick my barrel in their distillery, and try some of the things I could put in it. There was a wheat spirit and a corn one (the corn had a real “blow your face off” moonshine feel to it), but I wanted the pure rye experience and picked up 3 small bottles to age in my apartment over the summer.

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Me and my little bundle of joy!

I heard on a distillery tour a few years back that 98% of a whisky’s flavour comes from the ingredients and 2% comes from the marketing spiel from the distillery: The waves crashing on the distillery, the sheep itching their bums on the barrels stored outside, the earth of the riverbank where they collected the water, etc. This is the bit that most people clutch at in those tasting notes you read around. I’m hoping my 2% will be a flavour of time here in Toronto, perhaps there really is something in the air on Queen Street West.

The season ends, winter climbing begins!

Autumn/Fall wasn’t quite done in the early part of November. A sudden warm patch got me up on the roof for a couple of warm afternoons, and a couple of extra shifts at Edgewalk.

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Nice day for a roof!

We were now down to just weekends at Edgewalk, and the occasional midweek shift if the weather was nice and there was enough bookings. This meant that I was now looking to Joe’s for shifts as much as possible, to keep the money coming in. This means frequent visits to look at the bookings and sign up for whatever lessons and kids belaying that I can. I’d estimated that at best I’d be earning just half of what I’d been earning at Edgewalk, more likely to be somewhere near 25 – 30 percent. This should be enough to just about cover my rent, but I’d have to work hard to cover my planned winter activities. At this point my plans include numerous trips to the ski resorts around Ontario, at least one trip to Quebec for more snowboarding, a muse gig, and perhaps an ice climbing festival. On top of this I need to feed myself of course, and I need to invest in some winter boots.

Soon the temperature started to drop and signaled the end of the Edgewalk season. Safe in the knowledge that I would (probably) be coming back to Edgewalk, and that I wasn’t leaving all my friends behind this winter, I was considerably less emotional at this year’s end of season party. We started off on my roof!

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It was lighter than it looks!

With the season over, my activities at Joe’s have ramped right up. This means I’m at the wall at least 3 days a week, so there’s plenty of excuses to climb, and so lots of training! So hopefully I should be able to build up my climbing abilities pretty well for next summer! Here’s a video of my sending a mid-range 5.10/6a, hopefully I can work up into the 7s in the next few months!