Published: March 2nd 2015
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I was lucky enough to see two spectacular places that are just an easy drive out of Calgary. I had been told that Johnson's Canyon Ice Walk was a nice place to see and a 'must do' so I decided to go on my own adventure and see this amazing place. Little did I know that not far from Canmore a place called Grotto Canyon would be another one of mother nature's spellbinding sights that would have me captured under her spell.


Last week end I caught the train nervously with $2700 in my back pack, my evidence of registration and my international drivers license. I wasn't nervous because I was carrying $2700 in my bag and on the train with the odd shifty character around the place. What would be so nerve-wracking about that? It was because I was about to buy a 2003 Grand Prix Pontiac, my first car on Canadian soil, and then face the challenge of driving on the wrong side of the road. I met Jeff, the man who I was buying the car off of at the Crowfoot Train Station and drove to the registration office to get my registration plate. One part of this that is special is I get to keep that license plate forever. If I was to buy a new car, I take that license plate with me and put it on that car. They only have one at the back of the car as well, unlike the cars back home where you have one on the front and back. What I thought would take hours took only minutes as I was processed through and given my license plate. The funny difference I find weird is that each letter falls in a different month to pay your registration. So if the first letter of your last name was B you could have your registration renew in March, if it began with an L it could be due for renewal in June. Mine happened to be November which may be quite convenient for me since I leave in December.

I had laid eyes on her before, but this time it was as my own car. The first time I saw her it was like going to the pet shop and looking at a pet you weren't planning to buy but suddenly had this connection with, this feeling deep down inside that you were meant to be together. Now, I that feeling was coming to tuition. A quick talking over about little aspects of the car and putting the registration plate on and I was ready to drive. My first fair was the slipper icy road that would be my first few metres of driving once I had reversed out the drive way. My second fear, how do I get home? Lucky for me Mel had left a GPS! I had never used one in my life so I got a quick crash course in how to use it and then I was off. It was like being a teenager again, driving on the road for the first time all by yourself once you got your 'P' plates. It felt amazing, it felt exhilarating, I felt free. The wrong side of the road, the lights and the turning rules had no impact on me as I sat back and enjoyed the 20 minute drive home. My only hiccup was I couldn't take the keys out of the key hole once I parked the car and stopped outside my home. It was stuck! Don't you hate it when that happens. I also went to pull the hand break up in the middle of the car. No hand break!!!! I looked around everywhere for it and couldn't find it. So I rang Jeff and through some silly awkward and embarrassing moment I managed to take the key out, I had just turned a bit to far. I also become aware that the hand break was a pedal on the far left of the floor near the break which you pushed down. I take the keys out and the radio is still going. I look around confused and perplexed by this phenomenon. How was it still going? I sat there and waited for it to switch off! It just kept on going. Was even a good song to listen to either! I decided to open the door and see what happened. Suddenly silent! I was definitely in a different world and I thought reaching on the right hand side for the seat belt was the silliest thing I would do in the driver's seat!!!!! The ironical thing about driving a Pontiac as my first car in Canada is that by chance my Nono left me his big blue pontiac in his will which was unofficially my first car. It had one seat belt and two bucket seats you could fit a total of 10 people combined. The boot and bonnet stretched out for metres and I remember that being just the most amazing car I have seen and it always will be. The odd drive I had with my Nono was special! I felt in ore every time I would sit in it. I never got to drive it as Dad, rightly so, said you couldn't handle that car. It didn't have power steering and the thing was to big to park. So we sold it! Funny reason why this car feels just a little bit special!!!!


It was another week of challenges and firsts but this time I would experience it through school programs. I knew that the skating program was coming up and this would be my first opportunity to get out on the ice . . . in my life. I had only ever had one very brief experience with ice skates, so brief that I can not remember much about it, other than the Skates I used spent most of the time in the air and I was lying flat on my back on the cold rock hard ice. So to say it was experience I was slightly dreading would be an understatement. Not to mention that at staff meeting it was brought to the attention of the whole staff that an Aussie was going to have his first crack on the ice. Suddenly it was talk of you tube and pictures to capture every moment of my long awaited ice skating debut and the butterflies in the stomach started to flap their wings just that little bit more.

I was invited onto the ice for my free lesson as to get an idea of how to run the Skate Shack for when it was my scheduled time to chaperon the kids for the skate program as well as have a test run with only a few kids on the ice. I nervously walked across the field to where the conveniently placed ice rink, literally a 150m walk was located. We ensured all the kids had their skates on and the second teacher was on the ice, as teacher must be on the ice for the kids to be able to skate. I searched the shack for a pair of size 10's even checked the blades to see if they were sharp as heaven forbid if a slipped over and cut a student with my sharp blades. Blunt! Later on I was told that sharper blades work better. I also had to wear a helmet for safety reasons and finding one that would fit my scone tended to be a bit tough as most of the helmets were designed to fit kids.

With a slight twitch in my hands, and a less than convincing pull of the laces, I tightened my skates (well I thought they were tight, it turned out they were a bit loose) and slowly and awkwardly took a few steps towards the ice rink. When man stepped on the moon, that moment was monumental for the entire world, this step was monumental for my own battle, my own demons, that of conquering another skill I had feared and kept from experiencing until this moment. That first step on the ice was shaky and slippery, with the left ankle having a little wobble. I quickly grabbed my safety net of the edge of the rink, along with about 10 year 5-6 students who were experiencing a similar unique moment themselves. I shuffled along the edge basically stepping and wobbling around as if I was inventing new movies for the hippy hippy shake. Gradually I would give my self a chance to attempt gliding a bit further from the wall of the rink, only to be like a magnet and connected to it again within seconds. As I shuffled past, I saw the young kids getting a lesson on how to skate, a lesson I soon received after noticing that my case for being the next Steven Bradbury was not quite going to plan. I was told to point my skates out and keep my hands up and slowly learn to push from my back leg and glide for a moment before pushing again. To start off with it looked like I was attempting the Cha Cha on ice but slowly and unconvincingly, I started to get the action of gliding with my knees bent and my weight forward and started to feel a similarity to the X-Country skiing I had learned the week prior to this experience. I would feel a sense of pride followed by a sudden wobble and determination to get my balance before I slipped and fell on the ice.

My second time on the ice my glide was getting better and suddenly I was feeling a sense of enjoyment and fulfillment. I was starting to enjoy it. I even ventured out across the ice away from my comfort zone of the wall. I was starting to learn how to glide and change directions as well but there was only one thing I needed to know . . . how to stop. I was told to slow my self down to put my hands on me knees. I soon discovered new moves that would go well with my first attempt at figure skating such as how to slow and spin and have no idea how you were doing it. That one was turning out to be my personal favourite! While stopping is still something I will work on, and again the Spaghetti/pizza talk has been given to me, my gliding has got better and I actually can glide along the ice. My own stack so far was my last moment on the ice when the other teacher called the kids in and a group of kids started to head back in my path. It was like kids crossing the road and not seeing the car coming. They didn't know I couldn't stop! Crash! My knee thudded into the ice taking most of the fall followed by the awkward looking sight of my body and momentum trying to catch up. I am fine by the way, not even bruised, just struggled to walk the next day at school but can't wait to get back out there again and improve some more. I had conquered my first slippery slope!

My second experience was driving for the first time on the icy snowy roads and facing the dreaded black ice. I was actually surprised by how well the car held in the snow and on the roads or at how well I managed to handle it anyway. While it on the scale of 1 to 5 in slipperiness, it was 0.5 I still think I managed to do quite well.

My third experience with ice was a more sticky situation. The school, celebrating French week had bought in a man who made maple toffee, then would pour the hot, sweet, bubbling goo onto cold ice that had been placed in this long, thin, rectangular wooden box. After a few moments the maple had become solidified and they would place a pop stick on one end and roll it up. The pop stick was then lifted up with this ball of sticky, delightful maple toffee waiting to be engulfed and appreciated by the stomachs of mouth watering onlookers. I was invited down to have a taste of this delicacy and braved the minus 14 degree temperatures (-20 wind chill) to investigate this taste sensation. Let me tell you, it was pure sweetness! It was amazing! I didn't mean to have a second one, it just somehow got placed in my mouth when my hand subconsciously picked up the pop stick and placed it in there.


It was the first journey by myself, in my own car out to the mountains. I had waited all week for this! I still had some kind of love with the mountains after Canmore and like that special girl that takes your heart for a moment, you long to see them again just to see if what you felt was real. I had planned to use the GPS to try and direct me but the silly little technological contraption could not plot the journey as it couldn't find an address. I was left to suddenly work out the route myself. I was lucky I had heard that Highway 1 took you to Banff and that I had seen Highway 1 signs on the nearest main road, Anderson Road. I was also lucky that I knew the mountains were in the west and that I had to go in a westerly direction to get there.

Driving along, not really knowing where I was going, I suddenly reengaged that eye contact with beauty that had captured me only 2 weeks ago. The mountains! I drove past a few signs that said 'Distractions cause accidents' or something of that nature along the highway. Well I had one pretty big distraction ahead of me that made it hard to concentrate on what I was doing. It felt like I had just driven through the gates of heaven and was being welcomed by angels, as every place you looked, there they were. As beautiful as they were the last time I saw them. I got to the Banff Provisional Park entrance and bought my weekend pass and asked about how to get to the Canyon. With some very good help of the lady at the desk, I managed to find my way there.

I had been advised to get there early to avoid the rush, so naturally I arrive 2 hours after I intended to, but lucky for me, the place only had a couple of cars in the car park. I looked around and checked a sign to ensure I was indeed at the right spot as I was convinced I had managed to pull this off just yet. Even the sign that said Johnson's Canyon pointing to the car park still wasn't enough for me to believe I had managed to find this place of amazement. I walked along a pathway and came to a bridge which I crossed and was suddenly distracted by the iced up creek. If that wasn't a clue that I was in the right place, the purely slippery, iced up stair case that took me up to the beginning of the official path sure was. I had to grip the rail tightly as I maneuvered the slippery surface of the icy flat levels to get to the path. Now when they said Ice Walk, I actually thought you would walk on normal paths and view the frozen water features that surrounded the whole journey, but no, you were actually walking on ice! Apart from the odd bit of powder that looked like a bathroom floor after someone had spread talc powder all over their body, there was a dull glass looking surface that went on endlessly like the yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz. I had been advised to get Yack Tracks or transitional walking spikes to aid me in my quest. I had decided that I would tough it out and see how I go! I might as well have been ice skating back at the rink at school. Mixing my concentration from being a Japanese tourist taking photo every 5 steps, to admiring the amazing natural ice sculptures that I would walk past surrounded by snow covered pine trees I was watching very carefully where to place my foot when I walked. You looked for any sort of traction and sometimes it meant going slightly off track. The walk to the lower falls was breath taking. As you walked along the man made structural path you saw frozen water with the sounds of natural fresh water some how flowing steadily underneath it. The canyon walls surrounding you with a mixture of ice and tree enclosing you in the beauty you walked beside. Once I reached the frozen waterfall at the lower falls, in amongst the ice you could see flowing water flushing past the ice into a 10 metre diametre pool of clear blue water that had you in a trance of wonderment. I walked down the path through a small cave to get a closer look at this natures gift. If it wasn't for the fact that the look out could only hold four people and a few people were eagerly waiting to get in to share in this astonishment I would have just stood there and watched that water flow.

This is also where I met 3 lovely ladies that unknown to me at the time would suddenly become my companions for the upper falls walk. They were hardly dressed for walking this icy terrain as two of them were wearing ugg boots. It all started when I saw them at a look out point and I asked them if they wanted a photo together. Smooth you might say, I'm telling you I was being polite! They agreed and then suddenly they asked if I was walking up to the upper falls and the next thing I knew I had a can of vodka and lime in my hand, walking with two girls from Quebec and a girl from Edmonton called Sarah. This girl was fascinating, for many reasons! It wasn't the fact that she was hungover from a night of full on partying and did smell like alcohol. It wasn't the gum ring she had that circled her two perfectly white teeth. It wasn't the skin tight leggins and nicely cut figure, beautifully tanned face and long blonde hair. It wasn't the colourful language she used to describe things or the fact she had to stop every 100 metres to have a smoke. It was the fact she was walking up a 120 metre incline from the Lower falls to the upper falls with a can of vodka in one hand, a fag in the other, wearing ugg boots and had a broken arm. I had seen people wearing profession ice climbing spikes and have all the kit and caboodle on and there was this girl with this casual get up. What made things even more amazing, is that I was having more trouble keeping my balance than she was. Her two friends spoke fluent french all the way to the falls while I found out more about Sarah and what she did and how she broke her arm and occasionally was her grab hold to support her up the mountain. She was actually a really nice girl just a free spirit and was very interesting to talk to. What was even crazier was that both she and I decided to walk the other side of a slippery down bridge to avoid slipping. The silly part was that it was our path was a ruler's length from the edge of the bridge to a 50-100 foot fall to the bottom of the creek. She never blinked an eye lid and just did it. Neither did I as I saw foot prints I could track in but it didn't kick in until halfway along that I asked the question 'What the hell am I doing?' After dealing with creative, problem solving ways to avoid slipping with off track routes and calculated foot work to conquer the icy pathway, we arrived to the upper falls and again they were simply mesmerizing. I couldn't believe there were a couple ice climbing up the iced up water fall which had to be 100 foot high. The eldest of the girls Catherine and myself rebelliously climbed off the bridge and onto the ice of the upper falls for a closer look. You just looked around and couldn't help but be amazed! This was where I said farewell to the three girls as I was going to go to the Ink Pools, a further 3kms on. I only went a few hundred metres on as I wanted to check out Grotto Canyon and thought if I didn't go now, I wouldn't see them. It was also the first time I had really contemplated this thought. 'How do I get down?'

Well there was a could of interesting moments. I walked past people falling over and a wide range of people from dressed in sneakers or no grip shoes to professional walkers with spikes and walking sticks but apart from one little incident I managed to make it back in one piece and with the enjoyable chance to see the wondrous views all over again. My one incident was a small steep down hill which I had no choice but to slide down on my butt as there was literally no way of walking it, the powder had all but disappeared and it was now an icy slippery dip! Now this moment started out to be fun until I realised I was sliding towards the edge of the path and the 100 foot drop. What also could my attention was a strategically placed branch of a tree sticking out, with my know trajectory looking like my special area heading straight for it. I was lucky I stuck my foot out in time otherwise I was going to be in a world of pain, and parenthood may have escaped me.


It seemed as though I was playing hide and seek with Grotto's Canyon. I used the last remaining stores of my phone battery to try and work out where it was and then missed the turn off for it. I had decided I would come back tomorrow when I remembered the GPS and switched it on only to find another turn off to the road I needed. I did have to back track a bit but managed to find my way. Then there was no signage for it at all. The only sign I saw was for Grotto Pond and I had decided that couldn't be it, only has the same name as it. I ended up driving up to Gap lake which I had seen on my map before my phone battery had decided it was done for the day. I knew I had past it and decided that the pond must be where I go. I get out the car and find a hut like structure I thought would have the answers. The only ironical part of this structure being a toilet was that I really needed to go! I then saw a pathway leading around the pond but that was not of any use really at all and if it wasn't for the fact I saw a couple who found the path I probably would have got in my car and driven home. I walked along this more customized traction path until I came to a large opening that overlooked the Gap Lake. It was to my right I had finally found the entrance to what would be one of the most amazing walks of my life. The weirdest feeling was as I walked along the icy surface that in summer, this would not be possible as it would be flowing water. What was also awe inspiring was you could hear the water flowing underneath you and for a moment, you felt a bit almighty. The canyon walls slowly grew higher and higher around me directing me through this 10 metre pathway to a high cliff wall with a small frozen water feature at the bottom. When you see the pictures, you will see what I mean by how high these walls had become. You will also see how simply photogenic this experience was, and again I was jaw dropped by what mother nature was capable of.

As I approached this breathtaking sight, I heard a couple talk about the ancient pictographs that you may find on the walls of the canyon and at that moment they had spotted them right where I was walking past. It had been said that hundreds of years ago that the native people sort solitude in the canyon walls in search of guidance from the spirit world and they recorded their visits with these pictographs. I'm not sure I found it as amazing at the time as I do now reflecting on it, but it was still quite interesting to see.

I weaved my way through what felt like a 1 lane labyrinth before suddenly opening up into a world of wonder. There I was in this huge valley with mountains either side of me guarding the pathway of a wide river flowing. Obviously it was now a mixture of mainly snow, ice, rock and broken trees, but it was like a bug to light, you just wanted to keep walking up and up through this spectacular canyon. I must have walked about an hour knowing that at any moment, I had to turn back but yet something was drawing me to continue on. I had this internal fight with myself for about half an hour as I knew it was getting dark and I didn't particularly want to drive back in the dark. I knew I had to come and explore this place again and reluctantly I turned to go back. What was the good thing about going back? My sister would have said 'walking down hill' but in this case was that I got to see the views all over again. On my way back there was a cave i noticed in the mountain a little way up. I tried to climb up towards it but with the wrong shoes on the steep pathway was making it difficult for me to investigate. It felt like I was walking on a conveyer belt and my legs were sliding on the spot before I gave in and slid back down the hill. I saw another pathway that I thought I could venture up to get to the cave but alas it was not to be. I also found a frozen water way I wanted to have a closer look at as well on my way back next to the large water feature on the edge of the high cliff. I could hear and see the water again gushing down through the ice and disappearing to a place unknown before trekking up this slippery and steep water way.

I was beginning to feel tired and weary from the day of hiking and it was hard to say good bye to the enigma I had just seen. It may have been a days adventure but it was one I will always remember. The say a picture says a thousands words, I regrettably believe my pictures paint more but no where enough to describe it with justice. These two places are a must see! They were just simply amazing.

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